When I realized that Tennis was designed by Alan Miller, I had low expectations for it. Ice Hockey was also designed by him and that is my least favorite Activision game from this era, thus far. I was pleasantly surprised though as Tennis has some of the briskest gameplay I’ve seen on the Atari 2600.
Playing matches against a human opponent was great. There’s not much variety in the way of different shots (only one button on the Atari 2600) but the sheer speed more than made up for this. With a little practice, my friend and I were having contentious volleys that were won on errors more often than not. Playing against the computer is another story though. The computer is adept and winning a volley takes a lot of effort. More than I was willing to put in.
I’d like to think the more my friend and I trash talk each other, the more comfortable we feel with a game, and the more we like it. If that’s a positive sign then Tennis is one of the best multiplayer games we’ve played on the Atari 2600.
Winning a match against the computer nets both the commercial and the patch for Tennis in Activision Anthology. I could not triumph and so inserting the hyperlink to the commercial will also be the first time I view it.
Up for discussion today is yet another David Crane game, Laser Blast. It was published by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1981 and in a sense, flips the player’s role in the fixed-screen shoot ‘em up that was so popular in this era.
Rather than controlling an Earth defense force of some type, protecting our home planet, Laser Blast has players controlling the invading aliens. Flying UFOs and destroying the enemy artillery is the task at hand, but after a few rounds the game grows extremely stale. Screens are comprised of three moving enemies and with them destroyed, the player flies to the next screen, with the same makeup. Rinse and repeat forever. There is no end and it makes a good score attack game, but the gameplay is just so tepid. The best thing about Laser Blast is the ability to control the UFO after it has been shot down, enabling players to kamikaze the ground targets.
There are two patches and a commercial to unlock in Activision Anthology. The commercial comes after losing all lives while the patches require 10,000 and 100,000 points. 10,000 isn’t too bad but 100,000 requires a half-hour or so of formulaic shooting. It’s easy to get, but there are better things to spend time on. Unfortunately I realized that after getting the patch.
Demon Attack was designed by Rob Fulop and published by Imagic for a variety of home video game consoles and personal computers in the early 1980s. At some point, Activision acquired Imagic, gaining access to their intellectual property and so the Atari 2600 version of this game is included in Activision Anthology.
Like any number of shooters from this era, Demon Attack challenges players to shoot down increasingly difficult waves of enemies that are descending towards the ground. There are generally three rows of enemies whose movement are quite erratic. When it comes down the final enemy, it can be tough to figure out a pattern and nail him. Of these rows of enemies, only the bottom row shoots at the player. Different enemies have different attack styles and farther into the game, enemies break into multiple smaller enemies, eventually attempting kamikaze attacks.
Stages are brief with what seems to be about a dozen enemies per. As such, the pace of the game is stepped up compared to its contemporaries. I enjoyed this quicker pace and liked having to constantly adapt to new enemies. Demon Attack is one of my favorite games included in Activision Anthology.
Kaboom! is the first of Activision’s games that was not released solely on the Atari 2600. However, it is the version I shall discuss (by way of Activision Anthology on the PlayStation 2 that is). Released in 1981 and designed by Larry Kaplan, versions were also released for the Atari 5200 and their line of 8-bit computers. It would’ve been nice to see these additional versions included in Activision Anthology, but the package was quite the focused effort.
I want to say this is the simplest game of the bunch I’ll write about, but they’re all pretty simple. If I took this game to my parents, they’d instantly get it, and be hooked for a short while too. The “Mad Bomber” resides at the top of the screen and will drop bombs as long the player has buckets to catch them. Miss three bombs and that’s it. This is a score attack game through and through.
On the Atari 2600, Kaboom! utilized the paddle controller which featured a knob not unlike a radio dial. Turning it moved the buckets. This aspect of the game doesn’t hold up in Activision Anthology. Using the analog sticks or the d-pad just doesn’t cut it 100%. It’s workable, but I think it’d be tough to really excel. I have played the iOS version and using the touch screen is a good alternative, but that makes it too easy. I know, I know – I’m hot, I’m cold, I don’t know what I want! Either way you play it, play it; I really like this game.
With the PS2 version being my main version, I did put in the time to unlock Kaboom!’s patch and commercial. Unlocking the patch was a walk in the park compared to what was originally required; unlocking it required at least two hundred points compared to the original sum of at least three thousand!
I found plenty to like in Activision’s catalog of Atari 2600 games, but Ice Hockey didn’t really rank for me. Designed by Alan Miller and published by Activision in 1981, this two-on-two representation of the sport didn’t have the control or speed I was looking for.
Teams were comprised of two players, of which only the one closest to the puck would be controlled by the actual player. Also, the goaltender couldn’t exceed the middle of the rink; the other skater could be on both ends, but it got a little sketchy when both teammates were on the same side. What irked me was their movement.
They moved as though they were walking on the ice rather than skating on it, fumbling around trying not to fall. Basic control of the puck I found to be “off” as well, or perhaps, required a greater knowledge of the mechanics of the game. A player could hold the action button and flail about without repercussion; in fact, I found this to be a pretty solid defense. It was hard to be offensive like this, ironically enough. What worked was a more subdued presence on the rink and some strategy to have the opponent “misplace” their offensive player in a spot away from the fray. This was done by hovering around the center and forcing the opponent to alternate between their two skaters.
Regardless of understanding a valid strategy or two, Ice Hockey wasn’t my cup of tea. That doesn’t mean I didn’t unlock the related patch and commercial in Activision Anthology though. All I had to do was win a game against the computer and score four points in less than two minutes against the computer. After all, how else would I have figured out a valid strategy or two?
Freeway will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Frogger, but it has a leg or two of its own to stand on. Designed by David Crane and published by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1981, Freeway centers on the timeless question of why the chicken crossed the road. While it provides no answers, it does provide a good time.
Meant for two players but playable solo dolo, the objective is to get as many chickens as possible to the other side of the freeway in a limited time frame – two minutes and sixteen seconds to be precise. Great playability and a fun premise are two positives but this game truly shines with a human opponent. With ten stages of varied difficulty, Freeway is something to crow about.
Unlocking Freeway’s original commercial and patch are two bonuses players can find in Activision Anthology. The commercial requires at least 30 points in game 1, which is attainable after a round or two, while the patch amps the challenge up requiring at least 10 points in game 3 or 7 – much more difficult, but not impossible.
Qualifying as both a great score attack and time attack game, Skiing was, personally, an unexpected pleasure in Activision’s Atari 2600 catalog. Designed by Bob Whitehead and released in 1980, Skiing was an exemplary game for my friend and I’s ongoing competition, the Game-a-Thon Olympics.
In the early going, the skier seemed awfully stiff because movement was limited to slight degree changes either left or right. Soon enough though, this was a boon. Rather than holding a direction to avoid obstacles, I could instead push in the direction once (or more if needed) and change direction. In my mind, this lent to more “twitch” style gameplay which had me addicted.
Beyond the simple design and addictive gameplay, Skiing had two types of downhill races, multiple difficulties, and even random courses so there was a lot to do before growing bored. A simple game, like Dragster, that’s deceptively enjoyable and replayable. Finally, included alongside it in Activision Anthology is an unlockable patch (awarded upon completion of game 3 in under 32 seconds) and its original television commercial which includes a faux-Frenchman and lots of cheese.
What could’ve been a laid back fishing trip to the piers is anything but in 1980’s Fishing Derby for the Atari 2600. In it, two opposing fisherman aim to out fish each other, which in this game means reaching ninety-nine points first.
Fish are arranged in rows and are worth more points depending on how deep they reside. Getting a bite seemed hit and miss in my experiences with the game, but with a human opponent, this wasn’t as much of a detriment since both were facing the same problem. If one person was getting strikes consistently and the other wasn’t, it could be a tad funny, maybe. When a fish was on the line, managing it didn’t simply entail reeling it in as fast as possible thanks to the opportunistic shark roaming near the surface. A cute and easy to pick up and play game that, like Boxing, is at its best with a human opponent.
Fishing Derby was designed by David Crane who was arguably the most prolific designers of Atari 2600 games with titles like Dragsterand Pitfall! to his name. He continued developing video games until the mid nineties and is perhaps most known post-Atari 2600 for A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia.
As is the case with most every game on the platform, Boxing for the Atari 2600 is a simplistic version of the real thing. Fortunately, it’s easy to pick up and play and well suited for multiplayer.
Viewed from a top-down perspective, the boxers appear to be two Geodudes in a pigpen in the eyes of Pokemon fan such as myself. The boxers are almost magnetically attracted when they near each other, locking gloves and making it difficult to get a punch in. Only through a side to side shuffle does the opportunity present itself to land a punch; hopefully prompting a long combo, but if the other boxer isn’t against the ropes, there’s slim chance that’ll happen.
The first boxer to score one hundred points is deemed the winner and this roughly translates to one hundred landed punches. When I’ve played it though, I noticed points increasing in value during a combo. Then again, my opponent has had me seeing birdies more than once too – only human counterparts though, the computer boxer is a chump. Without a human opponent, Boxing wears thin fast and I can’t imagine playing more of it without one.
Bob Whitehead designed Boxing, and a healthy list of other games for the Atari 2600 that I’ll discuss in the coming days. He was one of the four designers who cofounded Activision who originally published this game in 1980. Included alongside Boxing in Activision Anthology is a corporate commercial that highlights a few commercials interspersed with commentary from some of Activision’s designers.
Released on November 25, 2002 in North America, this compilation collects the majority of Activision’s output on the Atari 2600 and a little more. There are other versions of this game out there on various platforms and truth be told, the PC version appears to be the most complete, but hey, this is what I have. The Wikipedia entry for this game has a wonderful breakdown of what each version includes by the way.
Activision Anthology is nearly over the hill with a list of games that almost numbers fifty. Although many are rather simplistic – requiring the player to learn to uncomplicated mechanics and progressively improve their score – that doesn’t mean these games aren’t worth playing. This simplicity is these games’ selling point. Understanding the mechanics of these games comes quickly, but having a fantastic session and lighting up the scoreboard is something that requires practice.
With the passage of time though, Activision’s games grew more complicated and some, like Pitfall!, revolve more around the experience of a single player. Though sparse here, these games offer a break from the monotony of shooting waves of advancing enemies. Should this offering wear thin after a sojourn with each title, multiplayer should reinvigorate one’s time with Activision Anthology.
One thing the PS2 game has going for it that perhaps not every version does is top-notch presentation. Barking Lizards Technologies and Contraband Entertainment really knocked it out of the park. Be it through these companies or someone at Activision, it’s clear that there was a real affection for Activision’s output in this era. Rather than a list of games to choose from, the “main menu” is instead stylized after a room as it might look in the 1980s. Situated inside are the Atari 2600, a rack of cartridges, and an old stereo among other goodies.
Hands down, the coolest feature has to be the ability to unlock patches for high scores or other criteria. After achieving a specific goal, a player back in the early 1980s could submit photographic proof to Activision in return for a patch signaling the accomplishment. These patches are quite the collector’s item today and spotlight a cool appreciation program from the past. Also spotlighting the past are the cheesy, premise-based commercials that can also be unlocked; these are definitely worth viewing.
The wealth of games to play, not to mention the numerous unlockables have kept me satiated longer than anticipated, and I don’t have a particular fondness for the Atari 2600! After a week or so, I’m still playing some of these games trying to beat personal best scores and to experience new enemies and stage designs. That’s the bread and butter of this package. Despite the wonderful presentation, the games are the reason to pick Activision Anthology up.