Besides Kangaroo, Sssnake was the other Atari 2600 game I used to take a break from the Sega Master System. It was developed and published by Data Age in 1982 and it wasn’t much fun.
I played as a big game hunter who had an unfortunate role reversal. Holed up in an Amazonian fortress, I navigated said hunter (represented by a lemon, fittingly) around the inside perimeter of his enclave while all manner of beasts attacked the outside walls. My range of movement was limited to a fixed track the hunter’s cluster gun resided on. Thankfully, the beasts posed no threat and served only as score fodder. Snakes on the other hand would slither along a predetermined path, occasionally entering the hunter’s fortress.
Although the rate of play gradually increased, the difficulty level was never much of a concern. Avoiding the snakes, the sole threat, was easily done since they never varied from their routes. The lack of difficulty meant obtaining a high score wasn’t anything to squawk about, let alone strive for. Speaking of limited variation, the entire game took place on the same unchanging stage, which fit with the backstory, but didn’t do much to keep me interested. Finally, movement was awkward due to direction limitations based around my position on either horizontal or vertical walls. It seemed like the game would’ve functioned better with paddle controllers, but that’s Sssnake in a nutshell. Had a few decisions gone differently, it may have turned out differently.
After completing Ys: The Vanished Omens, I decided to pause my Sega Master System playthroughs and turn my attention to a couple of recently acquired Atari 2600 games. Kangaroo was the first on my list. Published by Atari in 1983, it’s a port of the Sun Electronics (Sunsoft) arcade game released the year before, itself a derivative of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. Playing as a mother kangaroo, I had to scale three distinct stages to rescue her captive joey. Along the way, I dealt with an endless barrel of apple throwing monkeys by boxing them into submission or avoiding them altogether. Continue reading Kangaroo [Atari 2600] – Review and Let’s Play→
As is often the case with video games released before the mass use of the internet, hard information on Eggomania is scarce. Best I can tell, it was developed by James Wickstead Design Associates and published by US Games for the Atari 2600 in 1982. Essentially, it’s a clone of Atari’s Avalanche or Activision’s more popular Kaboom! While I’ve only played the latter, this is a style of game that I found to be enjoyable and with additional players, can easily turn into a heated score-chasing competition.
Using the Atari 2600’s paddle controller, I assumed the role of a top hat wearing bear. Normally, this would be reason enough to celebrate. Unfortunately, this particular bear was being pelted with eggs by a swift turkey. The bear’s strategy to combat this was to catch the eggs in his top hat and then hurl them back at the turkey. After a wave of eggs was caught, I had the opportunity to assail the turkey with its own ammunition. But, if I missed catching enough eggs, the egg white and yolk from these would eventually fill the screen and drown the bear, resulting in game over.
Truthfully, Eggomania isn’t a game I played much of, maybe an hour tops. But, within the first minute, I had experienced all I was going to. From there, the premise of topping my score, or another player’s, was the sole appeal. Visually and audibly, the game is impressive, but there’s little variety in what’s displayed in either category. The responsiveness of the bear is great although the hit detection when attacking the turkey left me confused why some of my throws were damaging and others weren’t. Eggomania compares well against its contemporaries and in the right environment, can provide a fun competition.
My Atari 2600 has been getting some love this week! Now that I’m done with Vanguard, I’ve returned to Phoenix, which I was playing beforehand. In fact, it’s the reason I’m playing these games at all; my recent acquisition prompted me to hook up the console and try it out. Like Vanguard, it’s a space-themed shoot ‘em up (you want me to stop there, right?) although being a fixed shooter, it has more in common with its contemporaries, such as Space Invaders and Galaxian. I enjoyed this game’s fast-pace and responsive controls, the most important factors causing my return to it.
As was the case with Vanguard, Phoenix was originally released in the arcades courtesy of Centuri. At least, in the United States; elsewhere it was published by Taito. It was introduced in 1980 and as best I can tell, was the sole output of developer Amstar Electronics. After obtaining the rights to produce a home console version, Atari outsourced development to General Computer Corporation and the final product was released in 1982. A little research reveals Michael Feinstein to be one of the port’s programmers and likely, the project lead.
The objective of Phoenix is to destroy the adversarial mothership. To reach it, players must defeat four waves of birdlike enemies. The first two waves are host to rudimentary foes that could easily be mistaken for Space Invaders fodder. The next two waves feature enemies that move faster along less predictable paths. These foes are larger and have wings that can be destroyed, but they regrow if the core of the creature isn’t shot. Finally, the penultimate stage hosts a large alien vessel that has to be whittled away until the player can eventually strike its alien pilot. With the leader destroyed, the game recycles these stages in perpetuity.
At this point, the game becomes about setting a high score. I wasn’t drawn into playing the game for so long because of this element per se, but having a competitive nature didn’t hurt! I found this to be a challenging game and I believe I’ve only been able to make it past two full sets of stages thus far. Each time I die, I feel like it was totally on me. Because the player’s spaceship moves quickly and is so responsive to input, I’m always left feeling as though I could’ve evaded the shot that killed me. This draws me in and makes me want to continue improving in an effort to get just a little farther. So even though it’s challenging, it feels like the scales are evenly tipped between the player and computer.
Phoenix is a stellar shoot ‘em up and as described is a challenging, fast-paced, responsive game that I wanted to continue playing in spite of the constant death. There’s more to it then my brief descriptions highlight, such as reaping more points for destroying closer enemies, but this tactical element didn’t factor into my sessions. That’s the sort of element that I foresee giving the game a longer tail once I move beyond just trying to see new waves and convert over to strictly score chasing. Until that point, I’m content to continue enjoying the game and my Atari 2600 as I have been.
Vanguard is a space-themed shoot ‘em up from the early 1980s. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Oh, you have? That’s right; basically every other video game from that period was a space-themed shooter. This isn’t bad in itself, there were many good games that could be reductively described as such, but so many were innovatively lacking. That’s not an issue with Vanguard.
It debuted in the United States during the “golden age of arcade games” in 1981 courtesy of Centuri. In its native Japan it was released by SNK and purportedly developed by TOSE, although they don’t want you to know that. My focus isn’t on that version though (haven’t played it) but instead the Atari 2600 port. It was released in 1982 (or maybe 1983) and was ported by Atari, or rather Dave Payne at General Computer Corporation.
One thing that set Vanguard apart in arcades was its status as a multidirectional shooter. When it was originally released, it featured a joystick to pilot a spaceship and buttons arranged to fire in one of four directions. In essence, it was a dual-joystick shooter, minus a joystick. With a joystick and a single button, the Atari 2600 wasn’t the ideal platform to port it to, but it was the most popular home console at the time, and Dave Payne ultimately made it work.
The solution was to have the button govern the player’s attack along with directional input from the joystick. To fire to the left, push left and press the button, etc. This works, but it does present an issue: the ship continues to move in the direction the joystick’s being pushed. Initially, I found it difficult to attack enemies that were heading towards me since my attempts hastened our collision. Accordingly, evasion became a focus of mine when dealing with faster enemies. Progression, as best I could tell, was dependent upon destroying enough enemies or reaching a points threshold, so confrontation was inevitable. Ultimately, I had to direct my aggression towards easily targeted enemies while zipping around others.
Progression presented another unique aspect of Vanguard: stage variety. There’s some semblance of a story that involves human space colonists attacking an antagonistic alien species on an asteroid they call home. The caves and crevices that the player flies through are set against distinctive backdrops and feature varying enemies. Before each stage, the player is shown their position within a tunnel which corresponds to the direction of forward momentum in the succeeding stage. This entailed the game featuring a mixture of horizontally and vertically scrolling stages, something very rarely seen in the genre.
Despite an awkward control scheme, my time with Vanguard remained fresh thanks to the variety of stages and enemies I had to contend with. I was able to adjust and devise strategies to defeat enemy waves, although I never became totally comfortable within the half-hour or so I spent playing. In this time span, I beat the first set of stages and it’s my belief that they simply repeat in tougher iterations, ad nauseam. It’s a remarkably colorful game and quite detailed considering the platform but is audibly devoid, save for a handful of sound effects. Vanguard is definitely more than just another space-themed shoot ‘em up and is well worth a look for Atari 2600 owners.
I’ve got the Atari 2600 hooked up and have been playing with it the past few nights. That’s when I got the idea for this fun little video. These four games were acquired at a garage sale or flea market and up until this recording, I had no idea what they were. So, watch me discover what these four unknown games are. Except for Frogger. That one’s on the house.
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
If I’m not mistaken, I acquired this game at the 2014 Oklahoma Video Game Expo for about a buck. That was many months ago now and I’ve yet to play it. I don’t anticipate playing it anytime soon either. It looks like a fast playing shoot ‘em up for the Atari 2600, not too dissimilar from Tempest. The player’s ship remains in the center of the screen, surrounded by about five pathways on either side. Enemy ships zoom between each side of the screen while the player attempts to stay alive by destroying or avoiding them.
Perhaps the most interesting factoid about Turmoil is the fact that it was designed by Mark Turmell. He later went on to design Smash T.V., NBA Jam, and NFL Blitz, among others. He was working for Sirius Software at the time and the game was published by 20th Century Fox. It was released in North America around 1982 on the Atari 2600. It also had releases on Atari’s line of 8-bit computers, the Commodore VIC-20 and C-64, and on MSX computers.
I’m going to skip over posting about the box art for Pokemon Colosseum as there wasn’t much difference between the various regional releases. Gyrusson the other hand, so a handful of releases in the early eighties. Parker Brothers published the early home versions and used the above box art for these releases. Those looking to play a home conversion of the Konami arcade shooter were in luck if they owned an Atari 2600, 5200, Coloecovision, Atari 8-bit computer, or a Commodore 64. The cover depicts a triangular space station. Perhaps these are the satellites that surround the power-ups in the game?
The next set of home conversions came courtesy of Konami themselves. Released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan and the NES here in America, this box art evoked the stage progression of the game. Many planets are ahead of our starship pilot and there’s even the attention to detail noting the tubular nature of the gameplay. Very impressive! The FDS box art is practically the same and can be seen as the featured image to this post, kind of.
And that’s pretty much it for home conversions of Gyruss. It has been featured on a few arcade compilations published by Konami, but they don’t do those too often. Beyond those, it was released onto Xbox Live Arcade very early in the Xbox 360’s lifespan. This was a pure emulation of the original arcade game with little distinguishing features. Gyruss appears to be a game that hasn’t won over a lot of people. Regardless, it’s a stupendous golden age arcade game.
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!
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.