Archive for the ‘Atari 2600’ Category


Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

If you’ve ever seen the Smurfs television show, you already know way more about the weird little blue things than you really need to to get the full amount of fun out of this game.

Like just about every game I had for my Atari 2600, I didn’t have a manual for this, so I don’t really know what’s going on. All I know is that you, in control of Generic Smurf have to rescue Smurfette. I assume she’s been kidnapped by Gargamel, but he doesn’t make an appearance. All he did was capture her and put her on a shelf over his kitchen table.


It’s not just smooth sailing, though. Gargamel or no, there are still numerous hazards to deal with. Hawks, snakes, spiders, fenceposts, rivers, kitchen chairs, two-inch drops, and more are in your path and every one of them is instantly fatal. But you’re not completely helpless. You have two (yes, two!) kinds of jumps. A feeble hop, and a soaring leap. Your feeble hop doesn’t actually do anything worthwhile, but you can’t do your good jump without doing it first. So every time you come across an obstacle, you have to hop twice to get over it, like you’re on some kind of tiny pogo stick.

This game has six screens filled with anti-smurf everything. None of them are particularly hard to navigate. You just need to jump at the right time to not actually touch anything except the ground (it and air are the only two non-fatal things in this game, walking into a wall kills you). You rescue Smurfette and then have to do it all over again, except with more enemies, and maybe some of the screens will repeat themselves. You’re going to see everything this game has to offer within ten minutes of turning it on.

And the thing is, I used to play this game a lot. A whole lot. It was probably because I was too uncoordinated or to dim to remember that you have to jump twice to actually jump over anything. Once that finally stuck, I sailed through the game about a dozen times in a row without losing a life. And that would be the last time I would ever play this game. My streak has crested 20 years so far.

Here’s to another 20.


Monday, January 21st, 2008

Most of the Atari 2600 games can be summed up in one or two sentences max. Kaboom! is no exception. There’s a ‘Mad Bomber’ at the top of the screen dropping bombs and you have to catch them in your buckets of water to defuse them. Every time you miss you lose a bucket, lose them all and it’s game over.

Okay, it’s kind of lame, and I knew that when I was playing it. Still, it was kind of fun for a little while. Especially since I got it at some yard sale or other for a pittance. So I didn’t feel very ripped off.


Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Combat is one of the oldest two player competitive games. It’s pretty simplistic, but that’s okay. This makes it a truer test of player skill that way, I suppose.

All Combat is is a competitive artillery game. You and your opponent travel around the screen trying to off each other. Each time you shoot your opponent, he’s temporarily disabled and you get a point. Get the most points and you win. You can play with tanks, invisible tanks, rubber bullets, little planes, big planes, big planes v. little planes, etc. For the time, this was a heck of an accomplishment.

It kind of looks like a boring game, but it got pretty intense. That may be because when I was playing this game my age was in the single digits and I just didn’t know better. But I don’t think so. A good game is a good game, and lots of those early games were built on solid ideas that endure today.

Missile Command

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Missile Command is a bit of an oddball game. It’s more of a defense game than just about any other game I’ve ever played. It’s quite simple, you have to defend your cities against an incoming hail of missiles with your own stockpile of missiles by hitting them in mid-flight. If one of the enemy missiles hits a city, it’s gone, and if you lose them all you lose the game.

The game’s not real hard, but it’s also not real engaging. I played for several evenings, and ended up racking up a respectable score… that’s now lost to the mists of time. After that I shelved it, and haven’t really thought about it since.


Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

The Atari 2600, though revolutionary in its day, was a pretty simple system. This dictated that the games had to also be pretty simple. Take Barnstorming, for example. It’s a game about flying a biplane through a series of barns, avoiding birds and inconveniently-placed windmills. Your goal is to fly through ten barns and set a low-score record. Hitting windmills and birds just slows you down, so you don’t want to do that.

I like looking back on games like this and marveling at its simplicity. It’s almost like peering through a gateway to a simpler time. There is no deep, complex storyline, there are no cutscenes, heck, the main character doesn’t even have a name (as far as I know). It just takes a simple idea and recreates it in electronic form without getting too wrapped up in itself.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to be entertained for a few minutes.


Monday, October 8th, 2007

The Superman game for the Atari 2600 was, like most of the games for the system, incomprehensible, unbelievable, and inane. It took me a while for me to figure out what was going on in this game, but after years of playing this game off and on and lengthy cogitation, I think I’ve figured it out: Superman, a.k.a. Clark Kent, must repair a bridge and capture the criminals responsible for blowing it up, so he can get to work. In fact, I found a video that shows the game in its entirety:

You now know everything that’s worth knowing about the Atari 2600 Superman game, and can share the pain that that knowledge brings.

Night Driver

Friday, September 21st, 2007

1976 was a simpler time for video games. You, as a developer, could take any activity, no matter how humdrum, and turn it into a game. Let’s take driving a car down a dark road at night, for example. Not that fun in real life, but what if you had a fast car, and it didn’t really matter if you hit anything? Well, then you have the makings of a game that would barely make it as a Flash game today.

Since it’s perpetually night, you can’t actually see the road, but you can see the reflective road boundary markers. You’re going to want to stay between them. You also can see the tail lights of the cars in front of you. You’re going to want to not actually hit them. And that’s it! Stay on the road, don’t crash, get a high score, and you’re a winner! I can guarantee that you won’t get bored with this game after 30 seconds.*

*Not guaranteed.


Friday, September 7th, 2007

Video games don’t have to make sense to still be fun. I kind of wish that there were more games these days that were a little more off-the-wall, games where you had to suspend truckloads of disbelief to enjoy the story. In other words, the story is immaterial.

Frogger is a game about getting a frog across a street and across a river to the docks on the other side. The street? Full of traffic. Successfully dodge and weave your way around the cars and trucks or you’ll be squished. Then you make it to the band in the middle where you get a brief reprieve. You then have to navigate floating logs, and the backs of turtles who will dive at a moment’s notice because your frog, for reasons yet unexplained, can’t swim. Pick up the hot female frog and catch the fly for bonus points. Oh, and don’t get eaten by the alligators, dogs, or snakes.

Why can’t the frog swim? Why was the frog across the busy freeway to start with? Who cares? The game is fun anyway.


Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Though Q*Bert has starred in exactly 2 games (three if you count the unreleased prototype of his third game), he’s still very recognizable. Maybe it’s because he has a very memorable appearance: Orange ball with legs, eyes, and a big hose-like nose. Maybe it’s because his game came out at a time when video games were in their peak level of popularity in the early 1980’s. Or maybe his game was simple to learn and difficult to master, which made it accessible to nearly everyone.

Q*Bert lives in a world consisting of a series pyramids floating in empty space. His goals are: hop on the tops of the blocks of the pyramids, changing their color, collecting things that are green and, avoiding everything else.

Changing the color of the tops of the blocks starts out simple enough, a single hop changes them to the right color, but eventually it will require more hops to get to the right color, with the colors changing back if you hop on it after it has the correct color on it, forcing you to use your noodle a bit.

This video’s a little small, but was the best one I could find that had the voices

There are some enemies in this game, red balls that meander down the pyramid, purple balls that meander down the pyramid, but turn into a coily snakes that persue Q*Bert when they reach the bottom, purple pigs and gremlins (Ugg and Wrong-Way), and little green guys (Slick and Sam) that hop on the blocks and change them back to their original colors. All of the enemies are deadly to touch except for Slick and Sam. They’re green, so you can collect them. There’s also a green ball that you can collect to temporarily stop the action, it’s the only actual powerup you get.

One of my favorite things about the arcade version of this game is that it uses a rudimentary speech chip to produce voices. The voices sound really weird, and almost sound like reversed speech, but not quite. Q*Bert’s speech when he runs into an enemy character is expressed in a word balloon as, “@!#?@!”. Could the word be a veiled nod to a curse word that some players may express when they play the game, or is it just onomatopoeia for the weird alien-like language he speaks? My other favorite thing about the arcade version is that the machine was fitted with the knocker that’s in pinball machines, the one that typically goes off when you win a free game. This knocker would go off when you would fall off the pyramid, simulating the sound of Q*Bert smashing unceremoniously into the bottom of the cabinet. Cheesy, but a nice touch.

Q*Bert is one of those games that I forget about for a few years, and then go back to test my skill (which was never particularly great, unfortunately). I’m pleased to say that it holds up after over 20 years.


Friday, August 24th, 2007

Breakout is boring. Even when I all I had was a second-hand Atari and no other games that the dog hadn’t eaten, Breakout bored me to tears. I’ve never quite understood that fascination with this game, or why it seems to spawn so many clones. In fact, this shaky, cockeyed video of the arcade version is the best one I could find.

See, in Breakout you control a paddle at the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to bounce a ball against the wall of bricks at the top of the screen. Hitting a brick will make it disappear, make them all disappear and you win. Your only method of control is sliding a paddle across the bottom of the screen, bouncing the ball back into play. Allow the ball to fall off the bottom of the screen 3 times, and you lose. Then you get to go play a better game.