Microsurgeon – “Dammit Jim! I’m playing a video game, not actually saving a mans life!”

by Pat B on August 8, 2012

Hello Everyone!
Growing up, one of my all time favorite movies was Innerspace. You know, the movie where Dennis Quad pilots a small pod that gets miniaturized and injected into Martin Short’s body. Well, not long ago, I found a game for Intellivision that’s pretty much the same as Innerspace, Microsurgeon. Playing this game, I was surprised by it’s level of detail. For an Intellivision game, it packs in a lot and you know what? It totally pulls it off!

Microsurgeon – Intellivision, Texas Instruments TI-99, IBM PC jr.


Microsurgeon was released back in 1982 and was developed by Imagic. This game has a pretty interesting history behind it that goes all the way back to the great video game crash in the early 80’s and the beginning of third party developers. Back in the day, console developers such as Atari, would develop all of the games for their consoles in house. So, every launch title for the Atari 2600 was a first party title that was developed by Atari itself.
This was common practice for console developers back in the day but this practice was flawed. For example, if Night Driver for the Atari 2600 sold a large number of units, the developers of that game wouldn’t see any of those profits the game generated since all the money went to Atari. This development process was short lived as a small number of developers left Atari and started their own game studios, Activision and Imagic.

Imagic had a club you could join which got you a subscription to the numb thumb newsletter. Only two issues were published before Imagic went out of business.

Imagic was fairly successful as it released over 20 titles in the early to mid 80’s. Though, not all was well in video game land as video game stocks crashed in 1983. Imagic never recovered from the crash and went out of business in 1986. Activision absorbed Imagic and we all know where it went from there, anyone want to play a little Modern Warfare?
Game Play
The story of Microsurgeon follows Dr. Weissblut of the Xenon Medical Facility. He’s heading up the medical response to a tanker accident. The tanker is leaking out noxious vapors which, when inhaled, severely impairs a persons immune system making them highly susceptible to tumor growth, bacterial infections, viruses, and even tapeworms.
The game never says what the noxious vapors are and only refers to it as a “weird gas.”
The story continues on as it’s used to explain every part of game right down to scoring. Your score is measured by the total dollar amount of the doctors bill. The story says that “as a Microsurgeon, you’re more interested in curing patients than making money” so all of the money you make from a surgery gets donated to charity. This little nugget is used to cover up the fact that nothing happens when you complete a surgery. All you see is a status screen that shows what you completed and how much the patients bill is. The fact that this game has no ending shouldn’t deter you from playing it though. Swords and Serpents doesn’t have an ending yet it’s extremely fun to play, so is Microsurgeon.
So, lets get into it now. Microsurgeon is a 2-D side scroller of sorts. You look down on a patients body with an X-ray view so you can see everything inside. You control a small robot probe that goes inside the patients body to eliminate or operate on whatever is ailing your patient. The game starts out by showing you a status screen. This screen shows all of your patients vital signs such as their pulse, your remaining power which I will explain in a sec, and the status of your patients vital organs.

Microsurgeon for Intellivsion Game Play

The status of your patient varies from good to terminal. This also applies to your patients organs. The object of the game is to help those organs that are most in trouble and restore them to good condition. Determining what organs to treat first is determined by looking at their status. If an organ is listed as fair, it’s not a priority. If it’s listed as serious, you need to keep an eye on it. If it’s listed as critical, get your ass to that organ immediately. If it’s listed as terminal, it’s too late. If two of your patients organs go terminal then your patient will go terminal and the game ends.

The patient status screen, check this often!

You’re probably wondering how you actually treat the patient. You control a state of the art robot probe that flies around inside your patients body. So it’s not exactly like Innerspace where you’re actually inside the probe. Anyways, you control the probe by traversing your patients circulatory and lymphatic system moving from organ to organ shooting infections with antibiotics, viruses with Aspirin, and everything else with ultrasonic rays.
While moving through the body, you have to be careful to stay inside the circulatory and lymphatic systems. If you venture outside the red arteries, purple veins, or the orange lymph, white blood cells will detect your probe as a virus and try to destroy it. You can also move through bone tissue but it slows your probe down making you more vulnerable to while blood cells. Your probe can go two speeds, fast and slow. Moving faster will use more power which can limit how long you can stay inside the body. Moving slower will conserve power but limit how quickly you can respond to organs in critical condition.

The controller overlay for Microsurgeon

Planning out where you want to go based on organ status is important. You want to make sure that you get to the organs most in need of attention while leaving yourself enough power to get out. The robot probe can exit out through the ears, mouth, nose, and eyes which are all obviously located on the head. If you’re down in the lungs or intestine and power is running low, you need to stop what you’re doing and get to the patients head. Even when the probe’s speed is set to fast, it can be a long and tedious journey to navigate the maze of veins and arteries to get back up to the head. Since this game has no ending though, there’s really no point in getting out before the probe runs out of power except to stick to the games story.
Controlling the game can be a pain at times since you have to use the Intellivision number pad and dial. Your probe can rotate, move, and shoot in any direction similar to Asteroids. This can be a good and bad thing. Moving through the body can be tricky since bacteria and viruses move all around you. Lining up a quick and accurate shot can take a few attempts since you have to make sure you stay inside the circulatory and lymphatic systems while doing it.

Here is a picture of the right lung. The black spots are tar deposits that you have to shoot off the lung with the ultrasonic ray. The grey spots in the arteries are blockages that can also be cleared with the ray.

Also, your shots have a very limited range. I found myself in many situations where I had to use a lot of power and time to navigate through the maze of veins and arteries just so I could get close enough to make my shots hit something. You have to be quick to let go in this game. You won’t be able to kill or cure everything and that’s why it’s important to take a minute to plan out what you want to do before you start.

A nifty diagram in the instruction manual

Once you get the hang of the controls, this games fun opens up. If you put the fact that there is no ending to this game out of your head, you can really get into it. Things actually get suspenseful as you race against your dwindling power and the patients deteriorating condition as you try to cure as much as possible. If and when you stabilize the patient, racing back to the head can be a rush. If you make it out, you actually get a sense of accomplishment. The fact that a game with no ending can make you feel that way is a testament to just how fun and immersive the game play is.
This game looks pretty good for an Intellivision game that tries to do a lot. This game is very colorful and the game play heavily relies on it being so. Sure, the diagram of the patients body is very basic looking but it doesn’t take you out of the game any. The developers added enough detail that there’s so much to look at that you really don’t have time to notice the overall roughness of in game objects.

Here you can see the head with the exit out of the mouth and nose visible. Also, I see this face in my nightmares now.

There is none. Ok, there’s some classic video game sounds to be heard here but not much else. During the game, you can hear the faint beat of your patients heart. As you move closer to the heart, the louder the beating becomes. There’s also beeping of your patients pulse at the status screen that’s either steady or not steady based on your patients condition. It can get annoying but if you’re really into the game, it’s extremely helpful.
Collectibility – Moderate
This game isn’t extremely collectible but it is worth owning if you have an Intellivision. It’s easily one of the funnest games I’ve played so far for the system. So with that being said, if you’re a completest collector, buy it. If you’re looking for a valuable game to possibly resell, skip it. If you’re just a gamer that likes to play fun or unique games, BUY IT!
Average Value – $4 loose, $28 New in Box
Rarity – Uncommon with a 37% rating on RarityGuide.com
Happy Gaming and Happy Collecting!
Follow me on Twitter @PatsGameReviews or check out the Retro Game Review Podcast right here on Planet Arbitrary or on iTunes!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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Rick Levine January 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

A few times a year I like to see if there are comments about my game, “Microsurgeon”, that I haven’t read yet. I thoroughly enjoyed designing and programming this game, and I also enjoyed reading your detailed review.

Currently, I write Science Fiction and still dabble in game design and programming.

Regards and Happy New Year,
Rick Levine


Pat B. January 4, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Wow! Thank you so much for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed the review! I am honored to have the actual developer of Microsurgeon comment on this review. You did an awesome job and I’m glad I could give this game something back by writing up a review of it for the masses. It’s a gem of video game history and I hope it finds its way into the hands of more gamers for years to come. Thank you again for your game and kind words about the review, it was a pleasure to write.


Andrew Garofalo October 13, 2017 at 8:24 pm

My cousin had this on his TI 99/4A.
Had tons of fun playing it. Funny story, we actually bought the game laser surgeon: The microscopic mission thinking it was going to be the same game, shortly after we bought a Tandy 1000 ex. It wasn’t but it was just as fun


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