Up'n Down - Arcade, Atari VCS, ColecoVision, Atari 8-Bit, Commodore 64, Apple II, IBM PC, Saturn (1983)
Not every game is an original idea, and with the increasing market of modern games already having thousands of existing ideas occupying the thought market, it's not necessary to think of a 100% new concept to market a good game. The incredibly famous Space Invaders produced a myriad of style clones, some of which were minimal effort but others (like Galaga) improved the formula, added their own touches, and made a product even more famed than its forefather. The Data East classic Bump 'n' Jump, a racing combat game wherein you bump other cars off the road or jump right on them, was a fun romp but did not had too many imitators. Still, it was noteworthy enough that the enterprising Sega took cues from its formula and added a twist to make their own thing off of the basic premise. This brings us to Up'n Down, which is essentially Bump 'n' Jump put in an isometric perspective, not unlike Solstice, The Immortal, and a bunch of old computer adventure games. Except that this is also a driving game as opposed to a platformer. Of course, isometric views aren't new to Sega, as their seminal iso-shooter Zaxxon released one year prior to Up'n Down, and their iso-Donkey Kong ripoff Congo Bongo premiered the same year as Up'n Down. While not as famed as its other angled brethren, Up'n Down is still a fast, tough, and interesting game worth anyone's attention.
Your avatar is the "Baja Bugger," a garish pink compact car which strongly resembles a Volkswagen Beetle. The goal in each stage is to collect a total of ten different colored flags strewn all over the level's twisted pathways. The course loops over after you've gone far enough, and specific colored flags tend to pop up in more than one place. Every flag you run over turns white, indicating a place where a flag would normally appear were it not for your possession of it. There are also several bonus items like cherries and balloons which appear every now and again, and you'll come across a vehicle which carries a flag that counts towards your goal if you forcefully take it (i.e., destroy the enemy car).
Levels are structured as multiple roads which branch out and intersect over each other. You simply hold the joystick up to move up the straight road, tilting it towards the direction of intersections when you want to go down a specific path. Your beetle also has the ability to jump, useful to avoid obstacles on narrow roads and crush potential competitors. While your bug has enough magic to jump high, it isn't magic enough that it can change its direction mid-jump. If you leap and don't meet with the road as you land, you crash and burn. It doesn't seem to make sense for your car to explode if you land on soft grass, but that's just the rules of the iso-road. If you need to, you can actually drive backwards, but you are unable to jump while doing so and it is a risky prospect mostly reserved for emergencies.
Inevitably, you will crash, and you only get three lives barring any extras you may rack up with points. Up'n Down is danged hard, as most isometric games often turn out to be. Instead of goblins and wizards being your cause of death as in so many ZX Spectrum platformers, you just have a bunch of different opposing vehicles that will collide into you. You can squish them for extra points, jump right over them, or just straight up avoid them altogether. The enemies become more threatening the longer you play the game; for example, the second level factors in low flat cars that drive the wrong way down the dang road, forcing you to jump over or on them instead of slowing down. Later stages feature F1 racers which zoom up behind you super-fast and malicious roadrunners which know how to brake and reverse, potentially chasing you even after you jump over them. The roads themselves become more haphazardly designed, with slopes that cut down or quickly increase your speed, and unfinished roads which provide a literal dead end. One round even features a supremely improbable multi-way bypass which has absolutely NO proper intersection over a body of water, forcing you to jump and land on the other side. Later rounds even penalize you for running over white flags by reverting them to their original color, forcing a re-collect.
Up'n Down takes a lot of practice to do well at, but despite its steep curve, it's a well-designed game with an interesting premise and a catchy appearance. Its graphics are bright and pastel-ish as was the norm for most early/mid-eighties Sega games, and its main music is an unbelievably jaunty rock-and-roll sort of beat that's catchy and energetic. It's not quite up there alongside Fantasy Zone in terms of feel-good sugary design, but it's almost up to that degree. There also wasn't any other game quite like it at the time, save for Bump 'n' Jump as previously mentioned in terms of "jumping car able to squish enemy racers." Even with that basic element in place, Up'n Down is ultimately a vastly different game than what could potentially be considered its forefather, as no other game to come before or after it balances the elements of speed (and your control over it), precision (with jumps), pressure (opposing vehicles coming from behind), and perspective (iso-racers are decidedly uncommon). It's a bit lamentable that Up'n Down isn't one of Sega's better-remembered games, as it's a challenging and entertaining title that's always good for a play any day. Plus, the Baja Bugger totally deserves to be in the Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing series.
Even if not Sega's best-remembered arcade hit, Up'n Down was released at a time when every game worth its salt received ports to the gradually increasing home market. The most prominent port was the Atari 2600 release, notable for the system history in that it was one of the few games that constantly played music, a bold feat for Atari's lower technical ceiling back then. The music isn't particularly good - it attempts to match the arcade version's upbeat peppiness but ends up as maddening panic music, but it's nonetheless impressive that the sound effects don't take center stage as in 95% of other 2600 releases. It's certainly playable even if it does have an awful amount of sprite flickering, but it gets points for representing the original's isometric perspective fairly closely, a feat for the old system's hardware.
There was also a port for Atari's 8-bit family of computers that more closely resembles the original arcade product and plays admirably, even though the graphics look remarkably dark compared to its parent. The Commodore 64 version is a lot like the Atari 8-bit rendition with the control being about as tight and the graphics slightly cruder but brighter in comparison. There was an Apple II port which scrolls at a slightly choppy rate and doesn't look quite as good as most other ports, but it's still not bad even if one of the less favorable renditions in comparison. There's the ColecoVision port, which appears the closest in aesthetic and mechanical design and despite the bright white roads, just may be the best version released at the time. The most accurate port was released on the Saturn, as part of the Sega Ages Memorial Selection Vol. 1. Since it keeps the vertical orientation of the arcade original, the right part of the screen is mostly blank, with the score data moved over to this space. The graphics are also slightly redrawn, most noticeably the sprites for the cars, though the rest of the course graphics are slightly squished. Otherwise, it's very faithful to the original.