Archive for the ‘Atari 2600’ Category


Sunday, August 12th, 2007

I mentioned the other day that Chopper Command was a lot like Defender. How can this be? One is set on Earth and has you piloting a helicopter, and the other is set on an Earth-like planet and you are piloting a spaceship.

The main difference between the games is that instead of the enemy forces simply trying to destroy a convoy, these aliens are attempting to kidnap the people on the planet’s surface to turn them into ‘mutants’. Ideally, you’d want to destroy the ships before they have a chance to kidnap the folks on the surface. Failing that (and you will fail) the poor schmucks will get snapped up and transported to the top of the screen. If they make it, they’ll be lost, transformed into ‘mutants’ that you have to kill. It’s not all over if your guys get picked up. They’ll let out a noise when they get nabbed, and the ships fly pretty slowly toward the top of the screen, giving you a few seconds to rescue them. Of course, after you blow up the ship that’s got your buddies, you have to catch them and deposit them back on the surface, lest they splatter on the ground.

Kill all the aliens and a new wave appears, faster and more aggressive than before.

I found the game to be kind of dull, so I would let all of the people get kidnapped right away. Doing that would make all of the enemies you fight the ‘mutants’ and makes all of the buildings disappear (civilization falls, it seems). Though even that couldn’t hold my interest for long.

Chopper Command

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

In the heyday of the Atari 2600, there were a lot of games that I only played a time or two. These were the games that were passed around my neighborhood to everyone that had systems because we couldn’t afford too many games, but we could each afford a few different ones each.

One of the games that made its way through my doors was Chopper Command. It, like a lot of games for the system, is pretty straightforward. You have a convoy of trucks at the bottom of the screen that you must protect from enemy fire. You control a helicopter (a choppa!) that is quite maneuverable and has a gun powerful enough to vaporize the enemy aircraft with one shot. Once you eliminate all of the enemies you go to the next stage where the game gets slightly harder.

It’s kind of fun, but it’s a whole lot like Defender. If you’ve played that game, then you know what to expect here… more or less. If you haven’t played Defender, you might want to give this a try over that one, it’s slightly less complicated.

Donkey Kong Jr.

Friday, July 6th, 2007

It’s pretty obvious from the ‘ending’ of the first Donkey Kong game, that the big ape was incapacitated by being dropped off a multi-story building onto his head. Apparently Mario, being the enterprising carpenter that he was, decided to capture Donkey Kong and keep him in a series of cages in the jungle.

It’s a good thing that Donkey Kong had a son.

Donkey Kong Jr. is easily recognized by the giant ‘J’ plastered on the shirt he inexplicably wears. Donkey Kong himself would later go on to wear naught but a tie, but that’s another story. Jr.’s goal in this game is to climb a series of vines, power lines (?), and chains in an effort to break pops out of jail.

Jr. is almost as fragile as Mario was in his adventure, he can only take one hit and can’t fall more than about 3 feet without dieing. It’s pretty pathetic.

The first two stages are set in some kind of jungle. You have vines to climb, fruit to drop on your enemies, birds that drop eggs on you, typical jungle stuff. The third screen is some weird stage with electricity-themed enemies and computery-sounding background noises. I don’t really understand how this one fits in. The last screen has DK and Mario at the top of the screen, and a series of keys conveniently attached to some chains. Climb up the chains, push the chains into place (while avoiding the birds, of course) and…

Well, you’ll just have to play to find out. Or search the Internet if you’re lazy.

Donkey Kong

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Everyone knows about Donkey Kong, take Mario to the top of a construction site and rescue the kidnapped damsel in distress from the giant monkey. It’s ubiquity is pretty impressive.

Its ubiquity also means that it was crammed into any system in homes, with as many concessions taken as needed to ensure that every man, woman, and child on the Earth could play this thing whenever they wanted to.

The Atari 2600 was barely capable of displaying anything that resembled… well anything. Imagine what it would look like if you tried to sculpt a monkey out of Play-Doh, though you’d never seen a monkey before and you were actually deathly allergic to said putty.

Levels? Sure, some of them are here. You get the iconic ’tilted girders’ level, you get the ‘kill the monkey by destroying the building’ level (though no actual monkey death takes place). And that’s about it. No pie factory here, folks.

This is just about the shoddiest home version of Donkey Kong that you’re going to be able to find, it’s also going to be one of the easiest. Pass it by and look for something better.

River Raid

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

River Raid is an interesting game in a few ways. It was programmed by Carol Shaw, who is considered to be one of the first female game designers (or programmer, or both depending on where you get your information). It also featured massively long, non-repeating terrain, which was a pretty tough feat to accomplish on the marginal hardware of the Atari 2600.

But what was it? It was a shooting game (a.k.a. a Shoot ‘em Up, or Sh’mup) where you had to travel down a fictitious river, shooting down enemy ships, helicopters, planes, and bridges. You also had to keep an eye on your fuel gauge. Once it runs out, you = dead. So you have to make sure you hit the fuel tanks spaced throughout the river (which you can also shoot for points, natch). Your plane is pretty flimsy, it will crash if it takes a direct hit from anything but a fuel tank. Fuel tanks will give you gas. But, this is mitigated by the fact that the enemy vehicles and structures also become completely demolished with one shot.

Your goal, of course, is to get a high enough score to take a picture and send off for the super-sweet patch (the kind you sew on). I never managed to do that, though I did manage to destroy a bridge by hitting it with a plane. That counts for something, eh?


Thursday, May 24th, 2007

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, video games made in the 1980s were weird. It’s probably what drew me to them in the first place. Joust rates pretty high on the Weird List.

Joust takes the Medieval sport of jousting and replaces Mighty Steeds(tm) with Flying Ostriches. You, the mounted ostrich rider, must fly around and defeat the other riders (which greatly outnumber you), not by jabbing them with your pointy jousting stick, but by skillfully flying and landing on their heads, causing them to be trapped within egg, and then collecting the eggs before they hatches.

See? Weird! Although it does make a certain amount of sense within the confines of the game’s universe.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

The first Pitfall game was a very good game for the time, so it was only natural that a follow-up game be developed. Pitfall II takes the formula of the original Pitfall! game (Pitfall Harry is running around a jungle collecting things) and expands it with several new features that make this game quite memorable:

It had a soundtrack that looped endlessly and was very catchy, resulting in it getting stuck in my head for days on end. There were still long horizontal stretches of screens, but the screens had the ability to scroll vertically, a huge accomplishment for the time. Pitfall Harry learned to swim. You had unlimited lives (although dieing cost you some points). And it had a definite ending, you won once you rescue your pet mountain lion, your niece, and a ponderously large diamond.

I, unfortunately, was never able to rescue any of those things, although I did manage to get on the same screen as the mountain lion once, that’s got to account for something, right?



Monday, May 21st, 2007

Pitfall Harry is on a mission: He has three lives and twenty minutes to collect 32 treasures strewn throughout a mysterious jungle. Will you help him achieve this goal?

Will you?

Pitfall! has 255 screens laid out in a gigantic straight line, each one unique, 32 of which have treasure. He can run and scroll the screen to the right or the left in search for the treasures. The sheer scope of the game was quite a feat for the time. Each screen has some combination of a vine (for swinging, and yelling like Tarzan), logs (rolling or stationary) that impair your movement and steal points somehow, a stationary lake that may or may not have crocodiles (you can jump on their heads when their mouths are closed, otherwise they eat you), a lake that will open and close you can drown in, a tar pit that’s either stationary or opens and closes that you can drown in, a ladder (or holes) that lead to an underground area that may or may not have a Deadly Scorpion in it. Whew! Like I said, the game was crazy-detailed for a game on the Atari 2600.

Sadly, although I played the game for months on end, I was never able to get all 32 treasures. It somehow never occurred to me to make or use a map. I was, however able to run to the right for the entire twenty minutes without losing a life. That has to account for something, right?

Moon Patrol

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Lots of video games from the 80’s were set on or around the Moon, probably because it’s reasonably familiar, yet still just out of reach for most of us. I suppose, then, that developers looked to the near(ish) future and wondered what it would be like to live, work, or play on the Moon. Unfortunately, thus far it doesn’t appear that any of them has been particularly accurate.

I have recently learned, just minutes before writing this entry, that the pilot of the Lunar Buggy (that’s you!) is a Lunar Cop that works to keep the citizens of Luna City safe from Lunar thugs by going on Lunar Patrols in Sector 9 (home of some pretty tough customers!).

The top of the screen shows your progress, it looks like a zoomed-out view of the playfield, which is to say that it’s a line with a dot on it, I believe that these are called ‘mini-maps’ these days. On your patrol, you just drive in a straight line, from markers on the ground that are labeled from ‘A’ to ‘Z’, with checkpoints every so often. Littering the landscape are craters and rocks, and if you collide with either one, your buggy explodes. But don’t worry, you’ve come prepared.

Your buggy can jump over the craters and the rocks and can shoot the rocks (shooting the craters does very little good). You can also shoot straight up as well as straight-ahead, which comes in handy since the tough customers I mentioned before attack you from above… In their Lunar Space Ships.

So you have to get to the end of your patrol while:

  • Jumping over craters
  • Jumping over or shooting rocks
  • Shooting down spaceships and
  • Avoiding fire from enemy spaceships

Quite a series of activities that they packed into a game with a two-way joystick and two buttons, quite a feat for 1982. As you can imagine, it’s got a fairly steep learning curve. I could hardly manage to finish one patrol.


Saturday, May 5th, 2007

Nearly everyone who’s ever heard of video games has heard of Pac-Man. There have been sequels, ports, and spinoffs for just about every video game system ever created, and this ubiquity virtually guaranteed that no matter what video game system you owned that you’d never be very far away from Hot Dot Munching Action ™. Unfortunately it also guaranteed that not all of the ports would be, shall we say, good.

The Atari 2600 was especially suited to mediocre ports of good games, and Pac-Man was no exception. The game was superficially identical to its arcade namesake: it had one unchanging level, it had ghost-shaped monsters, the main character is a roundish disc that must eat everything in the maze to progress.

There weren’t too many problems with this game. The maze layout was completely different than the arcade version, there were only three ghost-shaped monsters instead of four (and they were all the same color), the dots looked more like wafers, the sounds were completely wrong, there were no fruit-bonuses (but there were some bonus square-shaped things), the escape tunnels were on the top and bottom of the screen instead of the left and right sides, there were no acts between levels, and the game was ridiculously easy.

But otherwise it was completely identical.