11 weird vintage video games that were based on classic TV shows

'M*A*S*H' and 'Gilligan's Island' are classic shows, not-so-hot game cartridges.

Licensed video games have a rather patchy history. For the most part, games based on a popular Hollywood property have been cheaply produced, shallow knock-offs or maddeningly difficult. Atari, Nintendo, Coleco, Sega — landfills are stuffed with flop cartridges. Literally. The infamous 1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial game for the Atari 2600 was such a bust, millions of unsold cartridges ended up buried in the New Mexico desert.

While most licensed games have been movie tie-ins, there have been a small variety of video games based on television shows, too. While some were obvious choices for vintage consoles, a few were unlikely, if not kooky, adaptations of adult dramas. What kid wouldn't want to perform surgery during the Korean War just like Hawkeye?

In hindsight, they are all quite amusing. Let's take a look at this small subgenre of classic video games. Did you play any of them?

1. Space Battle & Space Attack


Intellivision / Atari 2600 (1982)

A subsidiary of toy giant Mattel, Concepts 2000 had a license to produce electronic games based on Battlestar Galactica. Mattel assumed these rights would carry over to video games, and began producing a Battlestar Galactica game for its Intellivision gaming system. Midway through production, however, the company learned it did not have a license. No worries — they just changed the name of the game. The graphic remained the same, which is why the enemy ships look like Cylon Raiders. At that 8-bit resolution, it was hard to tell the difference anyway.

2. M*A*S*H


Atari 2600 (1983)

The brilliant sitcom made for a so-so game, which altered between a helicopter stage, in which you picked up soldiers while avoiding tank fire, and a surgery stage, which was akin to the classic Operation board game, but with a sad, pink man.

3. Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator


Atari 2600 (1983)

Star Trek computer games date all the way back to 1971, just two years after the Original Series ended. (Yes, kids, there were computers back then. At least Trekkies fans had them.) That early game was text-based and made with BASIC. Sega's Star Trek: SOS was a big step up. Originally an arcade cabinet released in 1983, the game was ported over to various home consoles later that year. Though, on the Atari, the Enterprise looked more like a capital letter A flying between tiny pieces of Cap'n Crunch cereal.

Image: Sega

4. Dallas Quest


Commodore 64 (1984)

In this computer game, you play a detective hired by Sue Ellen to find a map that will lead to riches. Of course, you have to avoid J.R. along the way.

Image: Datasoft

5. ALF: The First Adventure


Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64 (1987)

Essentially, this was a Pac-Man clone, only with cats instead of pellets and ghosts. You can play it right now at Archive.org.

6. The Munsters


Amiga / Atari ST (1988)

This computer game proved that 1960s sitcoms had staying power. Reruns helped. The side-scrolling action game let you play as Herman, Lily and Grampa, wandering through a creepy mansion, bashing monsters.

Image: Universal

7. Fester's Quest


Nintendo Entertainment System (1989)

Unlike The Munsters, this adaptation of The Addams Family focused on one particular family member, Uncle Fester. The beloved bald guy wandered around a town shooting pink arrows from a horn.

Image: Sunsoft

8. The Adventures of Gilligan's Island


Nintendo Entertainment System (1990)

Gilligan's Island continually resonates with new generations thanks to perpetual reruns. It was no different in 1990. The whole gang was here. Well, minus Ginger, of course. Still, despite the show's popularity, the game bombed. Perhaps due to the bizarre gameplay. You played as the Skipper — not Gilligan, who merely followed you around — clubbing apes to death around the island. That was a little too dark for this lighthearted tale of castaways.

9. The Lone Ranger


Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)

"Hi Ho Silver!" The iconic TV cowboy galloped along in this shooter. The NES had better Western games, notably Gun.Smoke, which had no relation to Gunsmoke. Though, frankly, we pretended and assumed it did at the time.

Image: Konami

10. Mission: Impossible


Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)

Peter Graves made a comeback as Jim Phelps, IMF leader, in the 1988 Mission: Impossible TV reboot. That led to this Nintendo tie-in, which featured the immortal theme song and a whole lot of punching.

Image: Konami

11. L.A. Law


PC (1992)

What sounds more fun than clicking around digitized images of an office building and reading text? That was the crux of the game play here, though it did at least feature shots of the stars. These was cutting edge graphics in 1992. You could actually tell that's Corbin Bersen!

Image: Capstone Software

SEE MORE: 11 board games based on classic TV shows


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rhindle 44 months ago
Knock the 2600's simpler graphics all you want, guys. The port of 'Star Trek' is still really good.
Lacey 52 months ago
Sears sold a cartridge game called Stellar Track, which, at the time, was a really fun game with basic graphics probably only slightly more advanced than he 1971 text version you referred to.
RobCertSDSCascap Lacey 52 months ago
Some Sears stores had arcades in their toy departments in the 80s, too.
Nothing fancy, like 8-12 different games. Still, a decent place to pass time
and tokens.
rhindle Lacey 44 months ago
Like all 2600-compatible games sold under the Sears brand, 'Stellar Track' is by Atari. And, yes, it's pretty dull. One of the reasons they didn't sell it at all under their own name.
RobCertSDSCascap 52 months ago
I enjoyed #2, even with only 8 notes of its theme song.
rhindle RobCertSDSCascap 44 months ago
I'm pretty sure I had that shirt, too. That's actually a pretty sophisticated game for the ol' 2600.
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