April 3, 2013
Here it is – my final article about Activision Anthology. After 41 straight days of articles and 44 games covered, I’m fixing to discuss the final two games on this magnificent compilation. These are unlike anything else on the collection as they were originally unreleased.
First up is Kabobber, a game discovered in 2000. I’m not sure of the story behind its discovery, but it was cleaned up before being released to the internet. In fact, much credit is presumably due to Dave Giarrusso, the man responsible for the manual. It can be found here, at AtariAge. The game was designed by Rex Bradford and is a weird action game.
Players control a small squad of Buvskies and progress down a grid, growing their squad and avoiding or destroying enemies in the hopes of reaching the Princess Buvsky before she exits the stage. The controls were very precise which allowed for no uncertainty when playing, but the overall game lacked polish. This is understandable as it was unreleased, but even as is, I didn’t find a sweet enough set of mechanics or rewards to enjoy it for long periods of time.
Next up is Thwocker. This game’s rediscovery is so cool. Imagine shopping at a local thrift store and stumbling upon an unassuming Atari 2600 with a stock red label on it. Being the video game enthusiast you are, you pick it up anyways because it’s a pittance and it might be a game you don’t have. For AtariAge’s d8thstar, it was more than just another game; it was an unreleased prototype that had been floating around for twenty odd years.
Like Kabobber, Thwocker is an interesting action game that, unsurprisingly, isn’t all there. Controlling a little composer, players bounce around stages trying to pick up musical notes in the correct order. This composer is made of flubber though and controlling him is easier said than done. I found it to be a little frustrating. The game looked advanced compared to many of its contemporaries, but overall, it was a little flat.
If 10,000 points are scored while playing Kabobber in Activision Anthology, a commercial will be unlocked. This commercial is a montage of some early Activision titles that features truly amazing transitions of pixilated characters into the real life counterparts that games are replicating.
If you’ve been reading along with every article or even just a few, I’m truly appreciative. Also, thanks to those who liked my articles. I’m grateful for that outreach and the community we can create on WordPress with our likeminded blogs. I’ve had fun keeping my schedule of an article a day and look forward to a similar challenge. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve had fun discovering Activision’s early catalog of video games. The majority of these are undisputable classics. Thank you!
Starmaster, Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space, and Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator [Atari 2600] – Reviews
April 2, 2013
Like my last article, this one will cover a few games that I passed over writing about, and that my friend and I passed over playing. Unlike Bridge and Checkers though, these three weren’t really meant for competition. All are flight simulators of different stripes. Starmaster is a sci-fi flight simulator akin to Atari’s Star Raiders. Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space simulates a NASA operation and lastly, Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator lets players act out the role of a top gun.
What’s fascinating about these games is how the designers were able to implement them on the Atari 2600. After all, the platform’s main method of input was a joystick with a single button. My first thought when approaching these was how the heck they were going to make something decently complicated like a flight simulation using a controller with one button. The answer is ingenious.
Turning and pushing the plethora of knobs and buttons found in the cockpit of these flying craft is done by hitting the toggle switches on the console itself. This blew my mind. What a stunning workaround that allowed these simulations be complicated. And really, that’s what players of these games are looking for, right – something complicated?
I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been a fan of flight simulations, although I think I can understand the appeal. Humankind has desired to make flying craft since we first saw birds. For the past one hundred or so years, this has become a reality. Still, piloting airplanes is a task that appears to require a high level of smarts and skill – let alone flying spacecraft. Replicating this act makes for a solid use of the medium.
That being said, I don’t know much about these games having only played a smidgen of them on Activision Anthology. I’ll admit, they seem mighty complicated, so much so that I wasn’t ready to invest time learning how to play them. The manuals for these three range from the average manual size of around eight pages to the gargantuan thirty-two. That last one is Space Shuttle and its manual highlights something that makes these early Activision titles so great. The passion that oozes out of these manuals and the refined gameplay so often found in the games I’ve written about. Although these three aren’t titles I’ll delve into, I know someone has, and they loved every minute of the experience.
These three games were designed by Alan Miller, Steve Kitchen, and Dan Kitchen, respectively and were released in 1982, 1983, and 1988, respectively. When played in Activision Anthology, a commercial and four patches can be unlocked for Starmaster, two patches for Space Shuttle, and nothing for Tomcat.
April 1, 2013
Bridge and Checkers are two of Activision’s earliest games. Designed by Larry Kaplan and Alan Miller respectively, both were released for the Atari 2600 in 1980. These should’ve been some of the first games I wrote about, but I skipped over them because they’re not that interesting. They’re self-explanatory and lack any wacky modes that set them apart from other simulations of these games. If this article was written in 1980, it’d be another story. Having the ability to play bridge or checkers without having a human opponent and do so in the comfort of my home would’ve been great. Chances are though, if you like either of these games enough, you have a friend or two who is similarly into them.
Honestly, I didn’t play enough of these to render a qualitative judgment either. For the 2012/2013(/2014?) Game-a-Thon Olympics, my friend and I passed over these, opting to have them as “in case” games. You see, if one of us barely won the Atari 2600, the other could then ask for a competition in one of these, hoping to sway the platform. Thus, I can’t speak to how the computer AI is in either of these games, or even how to play bridge, which would be the most useful information from a review. Sorry.
March 31, 2013
Dan Kitchen (at this point an employee of Imagineering) had the honors of following up Carol Shaw’s impressive River Raid, and even though there were a handful of years separating the two games, not much changed. Released for the Atari 2600 in 1988, River Raid II is a vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up that has the player worrying about fuel and altitude management.
The only gameplay addition to this game over its predecessor is taking off and landing the fighter jet. Without a manual or the internet to rely upon, it can be tricky doing either the first time. It’s a function though, that once learned won’t be much trouble on later attempts. Players still fly over rivers shooting down enemy jets and helicopters, partake in aerial refueling, and eventually, destroy an enemy bridge. I prefer the original game to this one for what I perceive as “tighter controls” but this is a still a pretty good game.
March 30, 2013
Known simply as Baseball in Activision Anthology, Pete Rose Baseball far outpaces any other baseball game on the Atari 2600. Then again, as it was released by Absolute Entertainment in 1988, it was out years after any of its contenders.
Designed by Alex DeMeo, the biggest difference between this game and other baseball games on the Atari 2600 is the perspective. Instead of playing the game like a passenger on the Goodyear Blimp, when at bat or pitching the camera is situated behind the pitcher so that he and the batter are both on screen. This allows for a more realistic simulation of America’s pastime.
With a crack of the bat, the viewpoint switches back to an overhead view, allowing the defense to play the field properly. I’ve got to say that playing baseball games on the Atari 2600 is a much simpler affair than it is on Mattel’s Intellivision. Without a fucking telephone controller to fiddle with, I rarely found myself making mistakes when stealing bases, pitching, etc.
March 29, 2013
While it’s one of, if not the, pioneer of the run and gun subgenre of shoot ‘em ups, I never used to appreciate Commando. Until last year, I preferred the games it influenced such as Ikari Warriors and Guerrilla War. Which is kind of weird liking the former since it plays practically the same; Guerrilla War however is much faster. Last year, when my friend and I were in the heyday of the NES in our still ongoing competition, I realized playing Commando effectively required running and gunning.
If you had watched me play Commando previously, you would’ve seen me shooting from a stationary position. This is a terribly ineffective way of playing this type of game and explains why I never spent much time with Commando, just an attempt or two every now and then. After this epiphany though, I’ve grown to appreciate, and enjoy the game, whether we played the arcade original via Capcom Classics Collection, the NES version, or the Atari 2600 version. Well, about that version…
Adapted by Imagineering employee Mike Reidel and published by Activision for the platform in 1988, this version of Commando is surprisingly recognizable. Despite there being a fraction of the enemies attacking at any given time and the aspect ratio being wider and shorter than its arcade counterpart, the actual gameplay is pretty keen on the source material. Perhaps not though as, ironically enough, I find it harder to run and gun in this version. Stopping and popping is a viable method in this version, so all things considered, perhaps this version is unrecognizable as Commando. A great effort, but there are better ways to play this game.
March 28, 2013
Adapted from Alex DeMeo’s Atari 7800 original, Title Match Pro Wrestling for the Atari 2600 is more of a conversation piece than an enjoyable game. Published by Absolute Entertainment (formed by a wealth of Activision employees) it was released in 1987. 1987! This game came out ten years after the Atari 2600 launched, amidst the heyday of the NES, and just two years before the Sega Genesis. I find it bewildering to consider games were still being commercially designed for a system that Atari had already released two successors to.
Regardless, it was included in Activision Anthology thanks to Activision’s later purchase of Absolute Entertainment. The most enjoyment to be gotten from this game should stem from the multiplayer, but my friend and I didn’t have much. Honestly though, I can’t speak too much to the game’s quality considering my limited exposure with it.
For me, one of the big downfalls of older wrestling games like this one is the limited or confusing move sets, brought about by the limited number of buttons on a controller. I find that to be the case with this game. My friend and I spent very little time playing Title Match Pro Wrestling, and even with a single button and a joystick, we didn’t divine much information about the controls. Some more time spent with it and its manual would likely alleviate this issue, but whatever. It’s a functional game, is technologically proficient considering the platform, but most of all, surprising considering when it was released.
March 27, 2013
Serving as Alan Miller’s last game for Activision, Robot Tank is a game that’s… familiar. Very much Activision’s answer to Atari’s Battlezone, Robot Tank plops players down in their very own tank and has them countering an invasion of enemy tanks onto U.S. soil. The ultimate objective is to prevent the enemy force from reaching Santa Clara, California. With gameplay that’s just as good as the majority of Activision’s catalog, it’s the heads-up display and mechanics that merit the most discussion.
The heads-up display is a big part of Robot Tank. The actual “window” looking out of the tank is arguably more important, but without the dash of devices housed inside the tank, players wouldn’t get far. The radar is a must as eyesight will only detect so much, especially in unfavorable weather conditions. Damage sensors assist in knowing what functionality has been lost – if it wasn’t already apparent. There’s a clock relaying the time and a counter of the enemy tanks destroyed as well as how many lives are left in the player’s stock.
One of the coolest mechanics of Robot Tank was the deterioration of the player’s tank. Rather than a one-hit kill scenario, the tank slowly lost functionality as it was barraged. There were a few parts that could be destroyed – video, cannons, radar, and treads – and when they were, the corresponding function would no longer work. It seemed random as to what would be destroyed, but it was challenging having to manage the tank when it wasn’t operating completely. Every kill in this weakened state was all the more enjoyable.
With that noted, one of the weirdest mechanics of Robot Tank, and probably one caused by the technology of the Atari 2600 rather than this game’s design, is the ability to guide the cannon fire. After being shot out of the cannon, it would move from side to side if the player did. This is something that has been present in quite a number of Activision’s games. It makes for interesting offensive and defensive maneuvering, but strips away any sort forethought into planning when and where to aim and shoot. The employed method is more in line with the fast-paced gameplay though, more so than one that would require thoughtful timing.
I wasn’t captivated with the gameplay of Robot Tank, but I appreciated the handful of interesting features and think it deserves a place in Activision’s catalog of quality Atari 2600 games. Originally there were three tiers of patches to earn. Each was awarded after destroying 48, 60, and 72 enemy tanks. Only the first is present in Activision Anthology. Although there is an additional gameplay mode to unlock with 37 kills – “breathing mode”.
March 26, 2013
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is the sequel to one of the most popular and prolific games on the Atari 2600. Released in 1984 for that platform and a handful of others, Lost Caverns is even more advanced and expansive than its predecessor.
While the core gameplay of tracking down treasure via exploration and platforming is the same, there are many differences from the first game. Players are no longer racing against the clock to complete the game, nor are they limited by a set number of lives. This time around, when the player is injured, they’re taken back to the most recent checkpoint; Harry has an infinite life as it were. This makes it less of a burden to explore the caverns that Harry has found himself in, although that doesn’t make it an easy game.
Thanks to the game’s setting, it’s logical that the environment is deeper than it is wide. The caverns are eight screens wide but an astonishing 24-plus levels deep; because of this, Lost Caverns offers a style of platforming not seen in Pitfall! – vertical movement. Personally, I found it had a lot in common with Metroid, a game I played through and mapped out shortly before starting My Brain on Games. Again, because of the verticality of Lost Caverns, there’s much tougher navigation due to the increased possibilities for dead ends and tricky ways to enter rooms.
Lastly, just jumping and evading enemies is a challenge. Even in Pitfall!, I was surprised by how accurate players had to be when jumping over enemies. I felt like I had to wait until the very last moment to successfully complete jumps. It’s no different in this game, but it seems like there’s increased risks from flying enemies. Evading these requires a keen eye on their patterns and swift timing to take advantage of their upward movement.
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is very appealing to me. The expansive environment is begging to be mapped out on graph paper and the elimination of a time limit and set number of lives should make it a more manageable task. More than that though, it’d be an entertaining and challenging trial.
When played in Activision Anthology, achieving scores of 45,000 and 99,000 points will unlock a new gameplay mode and patch. Again, this patch requirement matches what player’s originally had to strive for.
March 25, 2013
This article will mark a doubleheader of sorts for John van Ryzin. My previous review was another of his games – Cosmic Commuter. While in that article I mostly praised the manual over what the game actually had to offer, H.E.R.O. itself is just as good as its manual. If not better!
Assuming the role of Roderick Hero, or R. Hero for short, players navigate him through dilapidated mineshafts searching for trapped miners. Utilizing his propeller pack, R. Hero can hover about and swiftly maneuver around bats, lava, and other nuisances. A few other items like a microlaser beam and dynamite come in handy very often.
Each stage has a trapped miner at the end of it and players are scored for the amount of enemies they destroy (bats and snakes, etc.) and for how quickly they can rescue the miner. With a limited number of lives and stages that progressively take more time and maneuvering to get through, H.E.R.O. could be considered an early puzzle platformer. At the very least, it’s a lesser known classic in Activision’s library of Atari 2600 games.
What I find most appealing about this game is the process of solving stages. A lot of the game is trial and error; for instance, dropping into a room via one of two entrances only to find an enemy occupying that shaft results in a lost life, but knowing not to take that shaft again. Many of the “puzzles” revolve around progression like this so not a lot is made the first few attempts, which may not suit everyone. But there is satisfaction in making it just a little farther each time.
In Activision Anthology, there are two related unlockables. Scoring 25,000 and 75,000 points will unlock a new gameplay mode and the game’s patch, respectively. H.E.R.O. is in the minority of the games in this compilation as its patch requirement matches what players originally had to score.