When videogame systems went from the hard-wired self-contained game format that the Pong Era systems came in during the 1970s to the "programmable" game system format from the late 1970s onward, game system manufacturers originally provided the bulk of the software that would play on their own systems before Activision came along and allowed independent third-party software developers to add further to the choices of games for the game systems. However, since a game system that required a cartridge or some other form of storage media to play a game wouldn't be much fun without a game to play them on, and since game rentals didn't start up until the late 1980s, game system manufacturers would more often than not include a free game that came with the system for people to start their gaming with. Of course, the interesting thing about the "pack-in games" that came with each of the systems was that not every game system came with the same type of free game, but rather the powers-that-be chose one that would emphasize what kind of game system it was intended to be.
Combat (Atari/Atari 2600) -- Interestingly, this freebie game for the 2600 came just one year short of Space Invaders coming into the arcades to redefine what an arcade video game was about, and probably two years before said game became a home game cartridge for the 2600. Nevertheless, Atari wanted to emphasize the 2600, known at that time as the Video Computer System, as an arcade-action game system, so they brought forth a translation of their Kee Games division's Tank coin-op game from the mid-1970s and packed it with 27 different game variations, which included air battles with biplanes and jet fighters, plus invisible tanks and ricocheting shots for tank battles. However, the downside of having this pack-in game is that all its game variations require two players, so unless someone is living with family or friends who truly like to play videogames with them all the time, it leaves the solitary VCS owner looking for something else unless he feels inclined to just play target practice with the unmanned opposing player's vehicle. Eventually, Atari replaced this freebie game with their slipshod 2600 version of Pac-Man that, despite its shortcomings, at least lets one player go at it alone. The Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade machine, which was a licensed Atari 2600 clone, included Target Fun, a relabeled version of Atari's Air-Sea Battle, as its pack-in game, while the Coleco Gemini included either Donkey Kong or Mr. Do!, both from Coleco.
Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack (Mattel/Intellivision) -- Mattel's game system competed against Atari not only in the type of games being offered in their growing library of games, but they also competed in the area of the offered freebie game. Being that the Intellivision system was aiming for an older audience of gamers who would want to buy games that would make use of their 12-function keypad controllers (such as their sports titles, their strategy games titles, et al), Mattel offered an adaptation of the classic poker and blackjack games, complete with a shifty-eyed animated casino dealer who smiles viciously at you when you lose and scowls vehemently at you when you win, as the pack-in game for the original model Intellivision. (The Intellivision II model that I bought years ago offered no pack-in game, though at one time its purchasers could send away for a free copy of Mattel's version of the coin-op game Burgertime for the system.) I haven't played this game to give much of a review, but at the very least it allowed one player to play against the computer. This game became the model for the later-released Ken Uston Poker & Blackjack game Coleco designed and released for the ColecoVision.
Speedway/Spinout/Crypto-Logic (Magnavox/Odyssey 2) -- Magnavox's game system aimed for the audience that would recognize the Odyssey 2 as the choice system for both gaming and educational purposes, so their pack-in cartridge included three different games. The first, Speedway, was an overhead racing game where the single player must try to get the most mileage points while racing with other drivers within a limited amount of time on the clock. The second game, Spinout, was an overhead track racing game similar to Atari's Indy 500 for the Atari 2600, where two players try to outrace each other on four different tracks, two of which have additional borders to make the racing challenging. The third and final game, Crypto-Logic, was an anagram-type game where one player would enter in a word or words and the other player must figure out what that word is (after the computer scrambles the letters of the entered word) by typing in his answer with the keyboard.
Donkey Kong (Coleco/ColecoVision) -- Coleco's "one-hit wonder" programmable system was the game console that truly brought the arcade games home, and what better way to show it than to have the system come packed with an adaptation of Nintendo's classic 1981 platform run-and-jump game, Donkey Kong. While it lacked the animated intermission scenes and was short of the "pie factory" screen that graced the original game, ColecoVision's home version of the game was a close enough approximation to help sell this system into people's homes. Coleco's later-released Adam Family Computer System came equipped with an extended version of Sega's popular Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom arcade game adapted for home use. Unfortunately, the Adam didn't sell well enough to merit continued support from Coleco, which dropped the system at the end of 1984.
Super Breakout (Atari/Atari 5200) -- Competing against the ColecoVision as the "videogame system that brought the arcades home", Atari decided to pack a game with their 5200 SuperSystem that would emphasize this intention. However, the chosen pack-in game, an adaptation of their classic 1970s arcade game Super Breakout, was rather ill-fitting, even with a system that had analog-style joystick controllers that were somewhat suited for this type of game. Atari would replace this pack-in game with Pac-Man, which, despite the ill-designed controllers, was a much suitable choice to compete against Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision.
Mine Storm (GCE/Vectrex) -- The "one-hit wonder" vector-scan game system of the early 1980s had this game, a clone of Atari's Asteroids game, built into the system so players could have fun with their Vectrex just by turning it on. It was a perfect choice of a starter game, whetting the appetites of Vectrex owners for the library of games they would soon get their hands on, and a pretty fun game in its own right, too. Of course, the Vectrex would also fall prey to the American videogame market crash of 1984.
Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo/NES) -- The Nintendo Entertainment System would emerge at the right time, when the American game market had collapsed and very few people would really want to own a game system, and proved with its library of games that would emerge during the late 1980s and early 1990s that videogaming was NOT a fad, but a way of life. Though by the time the NES came out Nintendo already had translations of their classic coin-op games Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior readily available for the system (when it was originally released for the Famicom, the Japanese NES counterpart), Nintendo decided that a translation of a new coin-op game that came out in the mid-1980s, namely Super Mario Bros., would be a better choice for the system's pack-in game -- and indeed, it was, eventually becoming a classic game in its own right for any system. For those who bought the game with the NES Zapper light gun included, Super Mario Bros. was also saddled with Duck Hunt, which was a fun enough game to get the light gun zapping even with the annoying dog snickering at you for missing your targets.
Hang On/Safari Hunt (Sega/Master System) -- Nintendo's main competitor tried to bring gamers to their Master System with an arcade racing game adaptation and a light gun shooter in one freebie game combo pack. Of course, Super Mario Bros. proved to be all too popular for either of those games to compete, so Sega later replaced these games with their Mario imitator game Alex Kidd In Miracle World, followed by an adaptation of the Genesis game Sonic The Hedgehog.
Pole Position II (Atari/Atari 7800) -- Alas, the poor Atari 7800, which got shut down during the Crash before it was ever released, and then came out a few years later when Nintendo was king and Sega the runner-up in a new generation of videogaming. It didn't help that the system had as its pack-in a sequel to a popular but dated Atari/Namco arcade game that became just as dated as its predecessor. But given that the Tramiels were going to market the system anyway after having a change of heart regarding being involved in videogames when they bought Atari Corp., Pole Position II was what Atari 7800 owners got with their new system. It was still a good translation, though it just couldn't hold a candle to Super Mario Bros.
Altered Beast (Sega/Genesis) -- When Sega fans tore into their fresh new Genesis systems in 1989, Sega gave them an arcade game translation to start off with, which was Altered Beast, a one to two-player beat-em-up where you lead your warrior through four levels of slaying mythological beasts and grabbing power-up orbs to transform your warrior into a powerful werebeast to take down the big bad boss at the end of each level. As fun as it was, Sega would later replace this game with a new pack-in featuring their soon-to-be legendary mascot, Sonic The Hedgehog.
Keith Courage In Alpha Zones (NEC/TurboGrafx-16) -- This system's debut in North America came with an oddly named run-and-jump platform/fighting game which did very little to impress potential owners of this system as well as keep their current owners wanting more of the same. NEC eventually replaced this game in their TurboDuo package with their run-and-jump platforming mascot game Bonk's Adventure.
Tetris (Nintendo/Gameboy) -- With the release of their first programmable handheld game system, Nintendo made sure it had a game that would make people buy Gameboys and take them wherever they go. That game was the popular Russian block game Tetris, which was at the time already a popular hit on the personal computers and had just started to make some headway on the NES with little thanks in part to Tengen's unauthorized adaptation before Nintendo took them to court and caused them to stop publishing it. With connectable two-player head-to-head gameplay, it became just as popular to play anywhere.
Super Mario World (Nintendo/Super NES) -- By the early 1990s, the idea of pack-ins with videogames was becoming increasingly a thing of the past as videogame console manufacturers eventually opted to release their systems without any pack-in game. For Super NES owners, the pack-in game was a sequel to the NES system pack-in Super Mario Bros., and like the previous game, Super Mario World became a classic game, introducing gamers to Mario's new animal partner Yoshi the dinosaur. It also had built-in game saving which made going through its 96 levels less troublesome than going through the previous game Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES without it. Any way you look at it, Nintendo surely made the game for making the transition to 16-bit gaming a masterpiece.
Sol-Feace, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and Sega Classics (Sega/Sega CD) -- When the original model Sega CD first came out for the Genesis system in America, Sega bundled it with not just one game or two games, but with three games on three discs. Sol-Feace was a scrolling shoot-em-up game based on the Genesis title Sol-Deace, the Sherlock Holmes game was an interactive movie game where you must solve three cases in as fewer moves as possible, and Sega Classics was basically four Genesis games -- Revenge Of Shinobi, Columns, Streets Of Rage, and Golden Axe -- put unto one single disc, boosting the overall total number of games to six. With the release of the Sega CD 2, however, Sega scrapped these pack-ins and instead put in the Digital Pictures first-person tube-shooter game Sewer Shark as its freebie game.
Mario Tennis (Nintendo/Virtual Boy) -- For players who want to put this half-baked idea of a game system through its punches with its attempt at 3D gaming, Nintendo put Mario and his ensemble cast on the tennis court as the Virtual Boy's freebie game. Not that it scored enough points to merit potential buyers, as the reddish 3D graphics had a way of messing with your eyesight after prolonged playing.
Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo/Wii) -- Although the Wii originally came with no pack-in game, eventually the popularity of the system and its motion-controlled games led to two of its popular titles to be bundled with new Wiis, Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, so newbies to the system can have something to play with. The second title is noteworthy because it uses the Wii Motion-Plus controller adapter to give the Wii Remote more maneuverability along another axis, which comes in handy when playing the swordfighting game. In 2010, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first Super Mario Bros. game, Nintendo included New Super Mario Bros. Wii as the Wii's pack-in game for North American game players.
Nintendo Land (Nintendo/Wii U) -- With the introduction of their Wii U system, Nintendo packaged the deluxe version of the system with a multiplayer game that was sort of that system's version of Wii Sports, taking elements from several of Nintendo's franchises and turning them into theme park attractions to showcase the use of the system's touchscreen GamePad controller. This game is divided into twelve sub-games, each having different uses of the Wii U's controller. Three of the games can be played with multiple people playing as a team, while three other ones can only be played with multiple people, and some are only played solo. A year after the system's debut, Nintendo released the deluxe Wii U package with another game, an HD remake of the classic Gamecube game The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
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