A baker's half dozen games for the Atari Computer. (evaluation) Arthur Leyenberger.
A Baker's Half Dozen Games for the Atari Computer
Like many Atari computer owners, I began my gaming/computing career with an Atari VCS. This was about the time that after-market companies began producing video games for the 10 million or so existing units. The scenario unfolded in a predictable fashion. Ex-Atari employees got together to form their own small video game company, producing games for the popular home unit. The rest is history.
One of the first of these entrepreneurial ventures was a company called Activision. Their hallmark was the VCS game that stretched the hardware to its limits and beyond. Graphics were usually better than anything seen before. They continue to be a leader in this area and have now begun to convert some of the more popular titles to the Atari 400/800.
When I first played Kaboom! I was impressed by its graphics. Moreover, I was amazed that a game with such a simple theme could be so engrossing. A cartoon convict, called the Mad Bomber, dropped an endless supply of bombs with lighted, crackling fuses from the top of the screen. My task was to catch these bombs in one of my water buckets.
Initially I was armed with three buckets, and the bombs came faster and faster as the game progressed and the Bomber's zig-zagging movement across the screen became less predictable. If a single bomb was missed, the remaining on-screen bombs would explode and I would lose one of my buckets. Since I was a videogame novice at the time, I could never get past the third or fourth wave.
The new computer version of Kaboom! has some additional features, but before I describe them let me finish explaining the basic premise of the game. As mentioned before, the object of the game is to score as many points as possible by catching bombs dropped by the Mad Bomber. I don't know if the Bomber is angry, crazy, or both, but he is relentless. This is a game of skill and stamina.
The bombs are dropped in groups. The first level contains 10 bombs. After that, the count increases by 10 each level until level 6 is reached where there are 75 bombs. Level 7 has 100 bombs and level 8, the highest, has 150. The point values for each bomb caught equals the level number. The rate at which the Bomber drops the bombs steadily increases to the hectic pace of 13 bombs per second by level 8. That's 13 per second, Obiwan, so the Force had better be with you.
When a bomb is missed, you lose a bucket, and the number of bombs drops to half the number of the previous level. This is to give you a short breather, since the game cannot be paused. Let's hope that future Activision translations incorporate a pause feature. The individual point value also comes from the previous level.
For every 1000 points you get an extra bucket if you have less than the full complement of three. As each bomb is caught, part of the 1812 Overture is played. This musical feature is just one of the several enhancements the game received during its translation to the computer.
There are three game variations: one player vs. the Mad Bomber, two players taking turns against the Bomber and a pitch and catch game in which the two players alternate roles of playing the Bomber and catching the bombs. There are several control modes, and the control action is quite good. You may choose either large or small buckets and either paddle or joystick controllers. Your selection is displayed at the top of the screen with a little symbol of a large or small joystick or paddle.
This type of reaction game typically requires a paddle controller to make the game last more than a few microseconds. However, using the joystick was equally as good, and playability did not suffer at all. New features for the computer version in addition to the musical theme and the pitch and catch variation include a high scorers screen for the top four players' initials and a grin on the Mad Bomber when you miss.
Kaboom! for the Atari computer is just as much fun as the VCS version, and the additional features make it more enjoyable. It was initially designed by Larry Kaplan and adapted for the computer by Paul Willson. Good job, fellas.
There are several climbing games for the Atari computer. One of the most popular is Miner 2049er by Big Five Software. Many of the other games are look-alikes that don't really add anything to the genre. Jumpman Junior is different. It is a climbing game that has enough challenge, features, and variation to satisfy any gamer. Let's take a closer look at this exciting game from Epyx.
The situation is grim. The Jupiter Command Substation is being attacked by the Alienators who are bent on destroying this valuable outpost. Jumpman, Jupiter's super secret agent, is busy trying to restore communications at the Command Station. He is too busy to find and diffuse the bombs that have been placed throughout the twelve levels of the Station. That's where you, Jumpman Junior, come in.
Your task is to roam up and down the ladders, ropes, and elevators to reach and disarm the bombs. Your only weapons: your speed, agility, and jet boosters that let you leap away from bullets, electrocution traps, and moving walls.
Up to four players can compete, with each player taking a turn at the one joystick control. At the beginning of the game, the Jumpman's speed is selected for each player and lasts for the remainder of the game. Each player gets four lives. There are 12 different screens. Since the first two levels are fairly easy you begin the game with a feeling of confidence. This feeling is short-lived since, by the fifth level, the challenge is considerable.
You would expect the jumping movement to be short and precise given the increased gravity of the planet Jupiter, but it is actually quite the contrary. The jumps are slow and J-man Jr. appears to drift in the direction that he is headed. A nice effect.
Jumpman Junior was designed and programmed by Randy Glover. In addition to giving us a very playable and enjoyable game, Randy included a pregame show. That's right, when the title screen is first displayed, a group of Jumpmen perform a little dance to the sound of a light-hearted tune. This is just one of the many nice features of this game.
Necromancer is one of the strangest, yet most imaginative, games I have ever played on the Atari computer. This old gamester has seen a lot of games and very few match the originality and playability of this one. It is a fascinating combination of fantasy and action.
The title screen depicts a lonely tree sparkling like a gem while a hauntingly beautiful melody sets the mood for a trip into the world of fantasy. Darkness is upon the land. You are Illuminar, a druid, defender of truth and protector of the human race. You alone must face the mighty conjurer, the Necromancer.
The game resembles a three-act play. The first screen is the problem definition and sets the mood for the players. Screen 2 is the conflict and screen 3 is the resolution.
In the first act of this fantasy, you must restore the forests by planting a glade of enchanted trees and protecting them from handes of attacking Troglodytes. Your only weapon is a magical wisp that is hurled at an opponent and obediently returns to your hand. The wisp is also used to plant the seedlings that will eventually become your army of trees.
The ogres like to stomp down young trees, so as the trees are growing you must destroy the ogres while planting new seedlings. This is all done with your joystick-controlled wisp. Full grown trees are safe from the attacking Troglodytes but are prey for the forest spider.
The spider will poison any adult tree that he finds. When this happens, a face appears on the tree, and it begins to cry for help. You must then wipe off the face with your wisp before it dies and becomes a useless stump. Your goal is to grow as many trees as you can since they will aid you in attacking the evil Necromancer himself.
When your strength runs out in act one, you and your trees are transported to the spider vaults. In act two your mission is to destroy as many spider larvae as you can before descending to meet the Necromancer. As bizarre music plays, you use your wisp to pick up a tree from the tree bin and walk it to the top of a spider vault. Once the tree is placed there, its roots begin growing and eventually break up the bricks, causing the tree to come crashing down on top of the spider larvae. After the larvae are destroyed, the tree is returned to your bin to be used again. The tree bin contains the arsenal of trees that were grown in act one.
As you move your druid and trees about the vaults, you must avoid the Hands of Fate that descend from the ceiling. If they grab you, you will be pulled screaming into the sky. If they grab one of your trees, you have lost that tree for good. The hands occasionally drop objects such as mystery prizes and janitors.
Mystery prizes are indicated by a question mark and are claimed by walking over one with your druid. The first mystery prize lowers ladders which offer access to the level below. Additional mystery prizes may raise ladders, give you bonus points, or deplete your strength.
The Necromancer employs Ceygolian Janitors to pick up stray question marks left by the hands. The janitors wander aimlessly around the vaults until they are picked up by the hands or walk off the screen. If your druid happens to bump into a janitor, you will get extra strength.
Throughout act two, you must avoid the deadly salivating spiders which evolve from the spider larvae. These nasty devils eat trees and spit poison. Your wisp is the only defense against the spiders. When you exit the fifth level of the vaults, you get a bonus for every tree you have left in your tree bin. You also enter act three and get a chance to meet the Necromancer.
Act three is the Necromancer's lair. Your mission is simple: destroy all of the Necromancer's graves to rid the world forever of his evil. The gravestones are removed by walking your druid over them. The evil one appears only on graves that still have their headstones. He appears and disappears. If he touches you, he will suck your strength until you either kill him or escape. Killing the Necromancer with your wisp gives you strength, but he will reincarnate himself.
The Necromancer hatches all of the spider larvae you have left behind in act two and turns them into zombie spiders which can also suck your strength away or be killed by you. You can never destroy all of the zombie spiders because the Necromancer continually reincarnates them.
If things were not bad enough, there is also a mother spider that looks for zombie spiders and mutates them into immortal spiders. Immortal spiders cannot be killed. When you have removed all 13 headstones, you get bonus points and advance to the next level. When you grab the last headstone on level 5, you have succeeded in ridding the world of the evil Necromancer. The forest explodes in a rainbow of colors.
Bill Williams has created a game that has real staying power. Necromancer is well conceived and beautifully implemented. The sound and graphics are out of this world. This game has and will continue to get a great deal of play on my Atari. Synapse, you have done it again.
What do you get when you cross chess, dungeons and dragons, and combat? Give up? You get, to quote Monty Python, something completely different: Archon.
Archon from Electronic Arts combines the strategy of a board game with the excitement and action of an arcade game. It depicts the classic struggle between light and darkness, good and evil. The battle between the opposing forces is drawn from myth and legend and begins as an electronic boardgame. The strength and number of the Light Side and the Dark Side are equal. However, the players and their individual powers are not.
There are 18 icons per side, each made up of eight different players. Each piece can move in a particular manner which is displayed at the bottom of the screen as the piece is moved. The first screen is the board screen. A 9 X 9 grid composed of black, white, and luminosity squares. The black and white squares maintain their color throughout the game while the luminosity squares vary in brightness during the game.
The luminosity cycle continues throughout the game, back and forth from dark to light, shifting gradually after every other turn. The lighter the square, the more power the light icons have doing battle on that square and vice versa for the dark pieces.
Did I say battle? I sure did! Unlike chess where mere possession of a square grants ownership, landing on an occupied square in Archon requires that the two icons battle it out for ownership. The battle is a real-time fight under joystick control displayed on the second screen, the battlefield. Good coordination, a quick wit, and a thorough understanding of the various weapons that each piece possesses is mandatory for success. It is tantamount to suicide to challenge an opponent on his own colored square.
In addition to the luminosity squares, there are five Power Points. Their position is indicated on the board screen by flashing dots. Capturing all five points wins you the game, as does eliminating all of your opponent's pieces. Icons residing on Power Points heal faster than usual and are protected from the effects of magic spells.
Archon is primarily a two-player game. You can challenge the computer but you would probably be more successful trying to jump start a 747. The best way to learn the game is to watch the computer play itself. This will occur within two minutes after the game is loaded. With the excellent manual in hand, watch the strategy and action take place on the screen and follow along. The game can be paused at any time to give you a chance to see who is fighting whom and what their specific powers might be.
Archon is a great game, a classic. Like all of the games from Electronic Arts, it requires total involvement. Electronic Arts views the computer as a new creative medium. They view their program authors as artists and their product managers as producers.
Jon Freeman, Anne Westfall, and Paul Reiche III are the artists responsible for Archon. The packaging resembles a record album, complete with liner notes and artist biography. The manual is also excellent. It contains the rules, strategy, tips, and even a question and answer section.
Archon is one fine game from Electronic Arts, a company from which I look forward to hearing more.
The hundreds of games for the Atari computer fall into a handful of categories. There are shoot-"em-ups, adventures, climbing games, simulations, maze games, and jumping games. In the latter category is a new game called Mr. Cool from Sierra On-line.
Mr. Cool is a jumping or hopping game that pits the player against such formidable dangers as sizzling hot plates, fireballs, and hot and cold running springs. No, I am not making this up. Our hero must turn the fireballs into snowballs and cool off the hot plates.
Mr. Cool is really a square--er, a cube. His goal is to match the color of the hot plates with the top border of the playing field. If he is hit by a fireball or spring he melts to death at the bottom of the screen. If he is lucky, he can absorb the springs and fireballs and earn extra points.
The joystick action is diagonal which, for some people who tried the game, posed a coordination problem. There are 15 rounds per level, and the levels go on forever, or at least until your fingers fall off. The main task is to hop onto a plate and change its color to match the color at the top of the screen. Sometimes one bounce is all that is needed. At higher rounds, several hops onto a plate are required to get it to the correct color. Extra points are awarded for completing a screen within a specified time period.
Programmed by Peter Oliphant, this game resembles the popular arcade game Q-Bert, but without the beautifully colored screen. That is not to say that the game is not fun to play or challenging enough.
Indeed, the game is very difficult above the second level and results, at least for this gamester, in frustration. Perhaps someone under 30 would fare better with Mr. Cool. But for some reason I like Mr. Cool and at least until Q-Bert becomes available for the Atari, I'll put my mittens on and keep trying to beat Mr. Cool.
Joining the glut of such movie spin-off products as Pac-Man cereal, T-shirts, and lunchboxes, is the recent rash of E.T. dolls, bubblegum cards, and jewelry. Why not, then, have an E.T. game for the Atari computer? A better question might be: Why have an E.T. game?
Atari bought the rights to E.T. for more money than the gross national product of most third-world countries. They then rushed the product to market faster than you could say, "E.T. Phone Home.' As a result, the game is simplistic and will appeal primarily to children under the age of ten.
The scene opens with Elliot, E.T.'s friend, searching his neighborhood for parts that can be used to build an intergalactic telephone. The joystick-controlled Elliot is scrolled through a map of suburbia and the forest. Elliot gets telepathic messages from E.T. concerning what parts are needed.
During play, scientists and other bad guys roam the area in search of the extraterrestrial. The parts are invisible to them unless Elliot is carrying one, in which case they can take and hide it. E.T.'s life energy continually diminishes so Elliot must hurry.
Once all of the parts are located and returned to Elliot's house, the player hears "E.T. Phone Home' through the television speaker and must guide E.T. to the forest landing site to be picked up by his pals. The space ship lands, and E.T. slowly disappears into the waiting ship. E.T. goes home.
The easier levels require Elliott to collect only four parts. At higher levels, as many as ten parts must be returned to Elliot's house before E.T. runs out of energy. Each time E.T. is asked to telepathically remind the player what parts are needed, some of his energy is drained.
Nine different difficulty levels lengthen the duration of the game rather than add to the excitement of it. The graphics are crude and the game does not have much staying power. Clarly a child's game, E.T. from Atari is a disappointment for anyone old enough to be reading this review.
When I first booted Super Cobra, I thought, "Oh, no, just another horizontally scrolling shoot-'em-up like Caverns of Mars II.' After logging over a dozen hours at the controls, I have changed my mind.
The game scenario puts you in the pilot's seat of a helicopter equipped with two weapons. You have a machine gun that fires directly in front of the ship. The sound of the machine gun is excellent and almost requires that you attach an amplifier and speakers to the video/audio monitor jack of the Atari 800.
Bombs, your other weapon, are released from the bottom of the 'copter. They have a good trajectory and sound very realistic when they explode. But what do you use these weapons for? That depends on the particular screen you happen to be viewing.
Throughout the game, the horizontal movement is always from left to right. Your speed is constant but you may move forward or backward within a window. At first your enemies are below. Missiles are launched vertically and tanks fire at you diagonally as you fly over the cityscape. The graphics are very colorful and add to the enjoyment of the game.
The scene changes every two screens. After the cityscape, you must fly through a cave. Sometimes the cave width is quite wide. At other times, the opening is very narrow and requires absolute concentration to navigate correctly. Then meteors appear in open space. The rocks appear out of nowhere, and you must maneuver quickly and shoot accurately to destroy them.
This scene is followed by meteors guarding the cave openings. The meteors must be dealt with before the cave can be entered. Next come flying saucers over a mountain range followed by flying saucers in the caves. The final screen, and the one I have yet to complete, is a maze with right angle corners. Moving forward and backward while climbing or descending is extremely challenging. This one screen alone will keep you busy for hours.
The game can be paused at any time, which is quite useful given the hectic pace of the game. An especially good feature of Super Cobra is that when you have lost all of your ships and continue playing, you can resume at the same level. This is a very intelligent arrangement that should be implemented by more game vendors.
Parker Brothers has done a respectable job translating this arcade hit to the Atari computer. Although similar to other horizontally scrolling games, Super Cobra is much more challenging and has better graphics. It will please any shoot-'em-up fan, especially if the sound is cranked up all the way.
Photo: Jumpman Junior
Photo: Mr. Cool
Photo: Super Cobra
Products: Kaboom! (computer program)
Jumpman Junior (computer program)
Necromancer (computer program)
Archon (computer program)
Mr. Cool (computer program)
E.T. (computer program)
Super Cobra (computer program)