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→
Having grown up in the 1990s and 2000s, I didn’t really have the opportunity to spend time at an arcade. When PJ Gamers opened up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and did so with dozens of arcade cabinets, I was excited. More so than any other, Gyruss has captivated me. It’s a 1983 space shooter emulating the gameplay styles of Galaga and Tempest, in fantastic fashion. Besides featuring pure gameplay that’s so common in most arcade classics, a high score competition between my friend and I has kept me hooked.
Controlling a spaceship and having it revolve around the screen in a tubular manner took some getting used to. The spaceship mirrored the position of the joystick, which I haven’t experienced too often. Likewise, the waves of enemy spacecraft entered the screen any which way across the twenty unique stages. There were enough enemy types and wave formations to keep the game fresh and the sole power-up was fun to obtain, and definitely worthwhile. Another holdover from Galaga were the challenging stages breaking up the pace. Memorization proved to be influential in succeeding, but so too were quick reflexes and calmness.
Having spent enough time learning the gameplay and adapting to the rule set, success was ultimately, in my hands. After a month or so, my friend still reigns supreme with a score only 10,000 or so more than 200,000 odd points. I’ve lost the fire to try multiple times a week, but I do give it a shot every time I visit PJ Gamers. Gyruss has tuned into one of my favorite arcade games and I believe it to be incredibly indicative of the golden age of arcades. This, because of its pure, simple gameplay and rule set and its emulation of the pioneers that came before it. Ironically, these elements make it feel unique, while still feeling so similar to its golden age contemporaries.
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.
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”.
Seaquest is a very straightforward game. As the pilot of a submarine, the player’s sole task is to rescue treasure-divers from the clutches of sharks and enemy submarines. Shooting enemies and rescuing allies provides points for as long as a player has lives.
Taking place on a single screen, players evade or destroy waves of enemy subs and sharks as they enter view. Occasionally, a treasure-diver will float onto the screen. With six divers onboard, returning to the surface will end the “stage” and players will begin anew with a full supply of oxygen. Oh yeah, players have an ever-depleting supply of oxygen they need to be wary of.
The simplicity of the gameplay coupled with the relatively unimaginative concept of the game lead to me losing interest quickly. Not Steve Cartwright’s best.
With a score of 35,000 points in Activision Anthology, players will unlock the “Sub Club” patch. Originally players had to achieve 50,000 points. For me, this would be a futile effort reminiscent of scoring 100,000 points in Laser Blast. I say this because that was another game that I found less than stellar, yet I still went after the patch. I’m not going to do that anytime soon with Seaquest.
Ironic that I write about Pressure Cooker after mentioning how Steve Cartwright sought to instill proper dental hygiene in the youngsters with Plaque Attack. Not because hamburgers are detrimental to a healthy mouth, but because they’re a prime culprit in his game. While that game was lighthearted, Pressure Cooker is a little less frivolous, gameplay wise.
Taking on the role of Short-Order Sam, players must assemble burgers to the specifications of customers. At the bottom of the screen is an electronic order board which lists what the next three customers want on their burgers. Burger patties ride on a nearby assembly line and players must catch ingredients as they’re shot out of a food dispenser. Should they let an ingredient hit the wall or let a patty drop, points will be deducted from the player’s performance rating. If this number reaches zero, it’s game over.
With a completed burger in hand, players need to move to the wrapping room and place the burger in the proper receptacle. Filling an order with the incorrect ingredients will also subtract points from a player’s performance rating. However, successfully assembling and delivering burgers will increase a player’s score, the ultimate motivation.
With Pressure Cooker, there were a few gameplay mechanics players had to understand. This was a much needed break from the simplicity found in the majority of these early Activision games. Not that it’s an inherently better game because of that. I enjoyed it and liked that I didn’t immediately understand the game, but I wasn’t in love with it.
With a score of 15,000 in Activision Anthology, players will join the “Short-Order Squad” and unlock the game’s patch. Originally players had to score 45,000 points of more.
Steve Cartwright’s attempt to introduce proper dental hygiene to youngsters may not have been the most effective method, but damn if it isn’t fun. Plaque Attack was released for the Atari 2600 in 1983 and is a shoot ‘em up where players control a tube of toothpaste and destroy junk food before they rot a person’s teeth.
Positioned between the junk food and the pearly whites, players shoot their toothpaste at the junk food as it attacks in waves. Every “stage” sees an alteration to the wave pattern and type of junk food. The game’s difficulty picks up pretty quickly but it makes for a good score attack game. Another novel premise coupled with great gameplay and some pretty visuals makes Plaque Attack a highly recommendable Atari 2600 game.
Scoring 7,500 and 10,000 points in the Activision Anthology version unlocks a new gameplay mode (whirl mode) and the “No Plaque Attack” badge. The original requirement was 35,000 points, so like most games in this compilation, it’s much more attainable.
Retelling the Three Little Pigs is Mike Lorenzen’s Oink!, a 1983 Atari 2600 video game from Activision. Players assume the roles of the three little pigs and survive as long as they can against Bigelow B. Wolf’s antics. As the wolf huffs and puffs and tries to blow their houses down players lay down pieces of straw, wood, and bricks to rebuild where the wolf has destroyed. Although it looks as though the wolf is using his tongue, the manual ensures that he is huffing and puffing. Should he be able to create a large enough opening, he’ll be able to suck that piggy out and control transitions to the next one until all three are gone.
I did not much care for this game. It was visually quite good but the way the gameplay was executed seemed to favor the wolf. As a piggy I had to move much more than the wolf did and rebuilding was, understandably, a labor intensive task. While I’m not a fan when playing the computer, I do find it stellar with another player.
There are two multiplayer modes. The first is a score attack mode where the players alternate control of the pigs and try to outscore each other. That’s okay but it’s the mode where one player controls the pigs and the other controls the wolf that my friend and I had a good deal of fun with. Although the pigs still seem handicapped, it’s more competitive against a human opponent and can be a riotous affair.
With 5,000 points or more in the first game, the patch will be unlocked in Activision Anthology. Originally players had to achieve 25,000 points or more. I didn’t/won’t get either most likely.
Taking inspiration from the Keystone Cops, a series of slapstick films from the 1910s, Garry Kitchen’s Keystone Kapers nails the humorous exchange between Officer Kelly and Harry Hooligan with animation alone.
Harry has ripped off Southwick’s and Officer Kelly is hot on his heels in the expansive four-story department store. Although Harry has a massive head start, Officer Kelly runs comically fast; and whoever said white men can’t jump must have never met Kelly. Regardless of speed or mad hops though, knowing the stage layout is the most important factor.
With four floors, getting around and catching Harry can be difficult, even with elevators and escalators. I found that I used different methods depending on the stage because Harry would immediately run the opposite direction as soon as we were on the same floor. These updated strategies were prompted by the ever-growing amount of obstacles that I’d have to have Kelly jump over and duck under. There was a puzzle solving element to the game as I advanced to new stages and had to combat the obstacles.
Originally released on the Atari 2600 in 1983, Keystone Kapers was ported to a few other home consoles/computers of the day. Scoring 10,000 points or more in Activision Anthology will unlock access to “The Billy Club” and the game’s related patch. The original requirement was 35,000 points.