Tag Archives: 1984

Kabobber and Thwocker [Atari 2600] – Reviews

You really ought to check out how well Dave Giarrusso duplicated Activision's manuals for this game.
You really ought to check out how well Dave Giarrusso duplicated Activision’s manuals for this 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 the little squad of blue creatures. Gameplay is similar to a mode in Tetris DS actually.
Players control the little squad of blue creatures. Gameplay is similar to a mode in Tetris DS actually.

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.

Would you pass this over in a thrift store?
Would you pass this over in a thrift store?

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.

White men can't jump, but they sure can bounce.
White men can’t jump, but they sure can bounce.

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!

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Pitfall II: Lost Caverns [Atari 2600] – Review

I love the opaqueness of the box art. It hammers home the feeling of exploring a cavern, even if the gameplay isn't totally represented as such.
I love the opaqueness of the box art. It hammers home the feeling of exploring a cavern, even if the gameplay isn’t totally represented as such.

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.

The red cross represents a checkpoint and that feller down there is Quickclaw, Harry's cowardly cat.
The red cross represents a checkpoint and that feller down there is Quickclaw, Harry’s cowardly cat.

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.

H.E.R.O. [Atari 2600] – Review

At first glance, I thought this was an elderly lady.
At first glance, I thought this was an elderly lady.

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.

As R. Hero drops into the mine shaft, his first priority is to destroy that wall with dynamite.
As R. Hero drops into the mine shaft, his first priority is to destroy that wall with dynamite.

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.

Cosmic Commuter [Atari 2600] – Review

Dude's shoe incorporates the familiar Activision rainbow.
Dude’s shoe incorporates the familiar Activision rainbow.

These Activision games on the Atari 2600 have such fantastic manuals. Rather than a rudimentary guide detailing basic information in a bland format, these manuals have some character in the back stories they lay out and the way they explain the games. Cosmic Commuter is no exception. Its manual is designed as an employee handbook for those entering the Galactic Transit Authority.

It opens with a humorous bit about the visionaries of space travel and their lack of foresight when it came to traffic jams. That’s where the player comes in. Piloting a futuristic space bus, players pick up commuters in sets of eight and blast them off to their next destination.

Even though this game doesn’t offer the mechanically rich gameplay of Pressure Cooker or the repetitive, yet addicting gameplay of Demon Attack, it’s still neat thanks to its zany premise.

It's important to note the Route Scanner Strip on the lower left-hand side of the screen.
It’s important to note the Route Scanner Strip on the lower left-hand side of the screen.

Designed by John van Ryzin and released for the Atari 2600 in 1984, scoring 6,000 points will unlock the “Tilt-o-Vision” gameplay mode in Activision Anthology. This is the first, and one of the few Activision games to not have a related patch.

Private Eye [Atari 2600] – Review

Activision began moving away from their original box art template in 1983.
Activision began moving away from their original box art template in 1984.

Taking inspiration from Pitfall!, Bob Whitehead’s Private Eye is a video game with simple gameplay mechanics, built around a larger, single-player orientated adventure. As one would suspect from the title, this game is about sleuthing.

Pierre Touché is on the trail of Henri Le Fiend but to book him properly, he needs evidence. Controlling Pierre, players travel through an expansive (in Atari 2600 terms) version of New York City tracking down the required items to proceed with a criminal prosecution. There are five cases in the game and they’re outlined well in the manual. Also outlined in the manual is a rough sketch of the city, helping players navigate without getting lost or being forced to make their own.

I think a big factor in my preference of Pitfall! over this game is platforming. Conceptually, both games are practically identical. I wouldn’t say it’s reductionism to call these games fetch quests in a large environment. A core conceit of the former is platforming. While the objective is to collect treasures, the platforming involved in this task takes up the bulk of the game. It’s challenging and getting timing down can be fun. I don’t see the same emphasis placed on platforming in Private Eye, and without it, I don’t find it as fun.

The little platforming required sends Pierre launching out of his 1935 Ford Model A.
The little platforming required sends Pierre launching out of his 1935 Ford Model A.

Originally getting the “Super Sleuth” badge required players to complete the third case in Private Eye. In Activision Anthology, all that’s required is to start it. So yeah, games are way easier than they used to be.

Cobra Command (iOS) – Review

Cobra Command’s opening theme song is fantastic.

When I picked up my iPod today, I discovered that the world has been in a state of chaos thanks to a group of terrorists. Without a force for good, anything can happen, so I decided to join cobra command. The task force is comprised of elite helicopter pilots and a network of necessary support staff and is the focus of the video game, Cobra Command. Originally released as an arcade game in 1984, it was developed by Data East and thanks to Revolutionary Concepts, it’s playable on iOS devices.

Cobra Command is a combination of Saturday morning cartoons and action-based video games. Instead of graphics composed of pixels or polygons, the game is an animated cartoon. Like the Saturday morning cartoons from the 1980s, some of the drawing, animation, and transitions are imprecise. However, the fact that it’s hand drawn is impressive and this style sets it apart from other games.

The terrorists are attacking worldwide and a player’s tour of duty takes them to the Grand Canyon, New York City, jungles, and many other locations.

The terrorist’s primary weapons are also helicopters and shooting them down requires pinpoint accuracy and swift timing. As my helicopter flew on its predetermined path, I would wait for an indicator to pop up on my foes, at which point I would shoot them and hope I destroyed them before a timer ran out. If I didn’t, I’d have to restart from the previous checkpoint.

I found the game to be very hard at first, but when I turned the difficulty down to easy, I blew through Cobra Command. On easy, I didn’t have to manually take sharp turns by utilizing my iPod’s accelerometer as much as before, and the timing required to shoot down my foes seemed more lenient. Still, deaths often felt cheap and to succeed I had to rely heavily on memorization and quick reflexes.

On harder difficulties, helicopters are only susceptible to machine guns and other vehicles only to missiles.

Games like Cobra Command don’t get made often anymore and for good reason. Building a game around a cartoon or any predetermined video limits how a player can interact, and developer’s implementations almost always rely heavily on memorization and quick reflexes. These aren’t negative traits, but they can lead to frustration quickly. Unless you have a sweet spot for games like this, I’d avoid enrolling in cobra command.