"Welcome, video challengers, to 'Space Challenge'! I am your commander. I have a most urgent mission
for you. Intergalactic aliens have invaded the Earth and our Solar System. You must escape from the
Jupiter station and fight your way through their defences to save our planet!"
"Video Challenger" was a toy made by Bandai, in 1987. I'd never heard of it at the time and picked mine up
about a decade later in a charity shop for £1.50.
The box describes it as an "Interactive Video Arcade System". This is a bit of a stretch. What you get is an
ordinary VHS tape and a bulky electronic toy gun. The gun takes 4 AA batteries and is the
brains of the operation. It has a score counter in lovely red LEDs, a speaker for bleepy sound effects, a gun sight, and a
yellow light that flashes when you get zapped by the 'intergalactic aliens' (or Breadstick Man - see below).
When you play the VHS tape that comes with the system, you are treated to computer animation that must have
looked cheap even in the 80s, and some marvellously cheesy narration. It begins with the description of
Earth's dire peril (as above), and then goes on to detail the various threats. You get to test out your gun
on the 'practice screen,' where it becomes clear how the thing actually works. The various targets all flicker alarmingly, and the gun can detect what kind of target you are pointing at because they flicker at
different rates. If you had two guns, two people could play at once, as depicted on the box cover.
If you pull the trigger whilst pointing at a target, you get a little explosion flash in the gun sight, a
happy bleepy noise, and some points appear on the gun's counter. If you manage five successive hits without
ever getting the sad 'you didn't hit anything' noise, the gun makes a very excited trill and begins to
double points until you miss. Different targets are worth different amounts, according to no particular
scheme that I could detect.
There are also threats. If you so much as wave the gun in the direction of a threatening object, you
needn't even pull the trigger before the little yellow light on the end flashes and the gun makes a bloopy
noise and deducts some points. Most of the threats are fairly intuitive - don't point the gun at an enemy
spaceship that is firing weapons, or an exploding asteroid. Some of the threats are arbitrary - whilst the
green and yellow asteroids are valid targets, woe to the video challenger that should point the gun at the
completely unarmed and apparently harmless red asteroid!
The strange thing is that the game, for all its tackiness, is actually kind of fun. Over the 11 minutes that
the tape runs for, you shoot at all manner of objects - asteroids, comets, galaxies (must be a powerful gun), satellites, generic spaceships, a
number of spaceships that look suspiciously familiar, such as TIE Fighters and the Starship Enterprise (
take that Kirk!), and some really weird things like spaceships with the heads of snakes (watch out, they
bite!), or spaceships that, I'm sorry, are clearly giant space-dildos. The whole thing is accompanied by
stilted corny narration - comments like "Watch out! It's SPACE SLIME!" are helpful because most of us are
unable to recognise 'space slime' for ourselves.
There really is skill involved, too - the gun is pretty sensitive and so it's hard to keep hitting the
targets and rack up maximum points. Since it's a video tape, the targets clearly can't react to being shot
at, so you just shoot each target as many times as you can before it flies off the screen, or randomly
explodes, as happens occasionally.
After you have successfully defeated the intergalactic aliens, the video presents a score table, relating
various scores to different ranks, from 'Space slime' up to 'Admiral'. Last time I played I ranked
Lieutenant, fourth out of the six available, so it's hardly a walkover. It has genuine replay value - how
dare some 1980s game rank me as a mere Lieutenant? I must defeat it!
My 'Video Challenger' also came with an expansion video (originally sold separately) based on the Teenage
Mutant Hero Turtles. The principle is the same, but this time the targets are pizza, dustbins, and
assorted unidentifiable squiggles. The threats are the Turtles' blimp, and a horribly pixellated monstrosity that I
dubbed Breadstick Man. None of this makes the slightest bit of sense. Why am I shooting at pizza and
dustbins? Why are the Turtles shooting at ME from their bloody BLIMP?
'Turtle Challenge' is absolutely dire. 'Space Challenge' may have been cheesy but at least they made an
effort. 'Turtle Challenge' is just the aforementioned bizarre targets superimposed on an apparently random
assortment of clips from the TV series. There's not even a narration to explain why Breadstick Man must be
destroyed. It is the ultimate in cynical cheap cash-ins and my heart goes out to any kid in the 80s that
spent hard-earned paper-round money on it.
Let us say no more about this sad Turtle Challenge debacle. I'll leave you with uplifting closing narration from
'Space Challenge' -
"Congratulations, video challengers! You have defeated the alien invaders and saved the Earth!"