Tag Archives: activision anthology

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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Starmaster, Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space, and Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator [Atari 2600] – Reviews

Here we have three deep and different flight simulators for the Atari 2600. And no, that's not an oxymoron.
Here we have three deep and different flight simulators for the Atari 2600. And no, that’s not an oxymoron.

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.

If you know what this is, you're infinitely more prepared then I am to conquer Starmaster.
If you know what this is, you’re infinitely more prepared then I am to conquer Starmaster.

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.

I love how the double windshield is replicated.
I love how the double windshield is replicated in Space Shuttle.

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.

That guy better watch out!
That guy better watch out!

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.

Bridge and Checkers [Atari 2600] – Reviews

Let's play spot the differences.
Let’s play spot the differences.

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.

Which one's which?
Which one’s which?

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.

River Raid II [Atari 2600] – Review

 

Now that's an eye-catching box!
Now that’s an eye-catching box!

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.

The aircraft carrier that begins and ends stages.
The aircraft carrier that begins and ends stages.

Pete Rose Baseball [Atari 2600] – Review

Sailing alone, around the room.
Sailing alone, around the room.

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.

Pete Rose Baseball is an adequate contemporary to its NES peers.
Pete Rose Baseball is an adequate contemporary to its NES peers.

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.

Commando [Atari 2600] – Review

Is that the guy from Rogue Trooper?
Is that the guy from Rogue Trooper?

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…

Two enemies is about the most that are ever on screen at any given point.
Two enemies is about the most that are ever on screen at any given point.

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.

Title Match Pro Wrestling [Atari 2600] – Review

Such attention to detail was paid to the hair illustrations.
Such attention to detail was paid to the hair illustrations.

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.

It's not wrestling until there's someone in bondage.
It’s not wrestling until there’s someone in bondage.

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.