I’m not actually very angry

Hey gang,
I thought I’d mention that I’ve started reposting my 2600-360 entries at www.angry-gamer.net.  Since those posts have a two-month lead time on this here journal, there’s no real reason for you to go to Angry Gamer to read them.  However, if you enjoy the series, you might wanna check the site out, for they have a sensibility quite in-sync with my dumb little game reviews. 

41. SwordQuest: The Earthworld

SwordQuest: The Earthworld
Atari 2600
1982

I had no idea what this cartridge really was when I stuck it into my Atari last night.  Based on the name and the art, I assumed it to be some unremarkable crap-ass adaptation of somebody’s D&D campaign. And while this is more or less the case, it turns out that the story of this game is far more grandiose, weird, and terrible than your typical fantasy protoRPG. 

SwordQuest: The Earthworld is nothing less than the first round of a real-life quest for a real-life sword. Those who would dare solve the game’s mysteries could find themselves with actual, tangible treasure and one step closer to “The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery.” 

No, really. Of the eight people who actually managed to beat this game during the contest period that followed its release, one of them won a diamond-encrusted, solid gold “Talisman of Penultimate Truth”. My mind is blown just thinking about the raw geekcore awesome. This piece of bling has to be the single nerdiest artifact to have ever existed in the entire history of nerding. 

One might be stunned that with a national contest with a prize made of gold and diamonds appraised at being worth TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS as motivation, a mere eight people were able to complete this video game. This shock may evaporate if you were to actually play the game.

Gameplay consists of randomly picking up and dropping items in different rooms. You are supposedly guided by vague “clues” but the clues are worthless, and the game amounts to trial and error.  It also has minigames that are sorta like WarioWare but more like total crap. Completing these games is a unique experience, because not only is it not at all clear what you are supposed to do, but if you do manage to complete them, it is not at all clear what doing so was supposed to accomplish. Beating SwordQuest is not a test of wit, merely a test of patience. The eight (I’m just gonna go out on a limb and assume) dudes who took the (I’m going to go out on another limb and further assume) hundreds of hours required to beat this game, took lameness to a previously undiscovered level.

Sadly the epic scope of this dork-off was ultimately unfulfilled. Only three of the four SwordQuest games were ever made, and only two of the five planned contests’ prizes were awarded. The rest of the treasure was claimed by Atari CEO, Jack Tramiel.

All of this raises an important question: What the hell does “Penultimate Truth” actually mean, anyways? If there is deeper layer of truth beyond the truth that this talisman represents, then isn’t basically a talisman of lies? Or a talisman of guessing?

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

41. SwordQuest: The Earthworld

SwordQuest: The Earthworld
Atari 2600
1982

I had no idea what this cartridge really was when I stuck it into my Atari last night.  Based on the name and the art, I assumed it to be some unremarkable crap-ass adaptation of somebody’s D&D campaign. And while this is more or less the case, it turns out that the story of this game is far more grandiose, weird, and terrible than your typical fantasy protoRPG. 

SwordQuest: The Earthworld is nothing less than the first round of a real-life quest for a real-life sword. Those who would dare solve the game’s mysteries could find themselves with actual, tangible treasure and one step closer to “The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery.” 

No, really. Of the eight people who actually managed to beat this game during the contest period that followed its release, one of them won a diamond-encrusted, solid gold “Talisman of Penultimate Truth”. My mind is blown just thinking about the raw geekcore awesome. This piece of bling has to be the single nerdiest artifact to have ever existed in the entire history of nerding. 

One might be stunned that with a national contest with a prize made of gold and diamonds appraised at being worth TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS as motivation, a mere eight people were able to complete this video game. This shock may evaporate if you were to actually play the game.

Gameplay consists of randomly picking up and dropping items in different rooms. You are supposedly guided by vague “clues” but the clues are worthless, and the game amounts to trial and error.  It also has minigames that are sorta like WarioWare but more like total crap. Completing these games is a unique experience, because not only is it not at all clear what you are supposed to do, but if you do manage to complete them, it is not at all clear what doing so was supposed to accomplish. Beating SwordQuest is not a test of wit, merely a test of patience. The eight (I’m just gonna go out on a limb and assume) dudes who took the (I’m going to go out on another limb and further assume) hundreds of hours required to beat this game, took lameness to a previously undiscovered level.

Sadly the epic scope of this dork-off was ultimately unfulfilled. Only three of the four SwordQuest games were ever made, and only two of the five planned contests’ prizes were awarded. The rest of the treasure was claimed by Atari CEO, Jack Tramiel.

All of this raises an important question: What the hell does “Penultimate Truth” actually mean, anyways? If there is deeper layer of truth beyond the truth that this talisman represents, then isn’t basically a talisman of lies? Or a talisman of guessing?

Five things that rock about this week!

1. My girlfriend is awesome! Brandise and I hit the 6 month mark this week,
and neither of us has yet run away from the other in a manic fit of raving
horror. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

2. Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday! The fact that once a year I am
given a huge stack of (theoretically) the best books every company in the
industry has to offer fills me with raw, unfiltered joy. Comics are great!

3. I am beardy! I was afraid the moustache dilemma was going to tear my
world apart. The internet wanted me to grow a moustache, while my
girlfriend forbade it. Who’s counsel should I follow? While it is true
that my girlfriend and I share an intimate bond of love, it is also true
that the internet had been getting me off long before I ever met Brandise. I
decided to cut the Gordian Knot of this problem and grow a beard.

4. GTA:IV! San Andreas was the best video game I’ve ever played, and yet
I’m weirdly confident that this game will hit or surpass the impossibly high
bar that SA set for it. This is the first video game I’ve ever pre-ordered.
I’m taking tomorrow off work so I can play this all damn day.

5. I know many many wonderful people! Seriously, my world is overflowing
with the greatest family and friends any person could ever ask for. Sometimes
I panic and freak out that I don’t get to spend enough time with any of
them. This is basically the best problem in the universe. If I don’t see
you every week, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

40. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Atari 2600
1982

If you’ve ever seen Empire, you know that The Battle of Hoth is one of the greatest battles in the history of space. Not only did it have the awesome ice planet background, but it had tiny ships zipping around over the ice fighting AT-ATs, cool-as-hell walking tanks. Taking them down took ingenuity and gave us some rockin visuals. I think it is great that somebody put it into a video game.


When I played this game as a kid I used to wonder “how many of these gosh darn AT-ATs do I need to destroy before I can get to the rest of the game?” As an adult, I know the answer to that question, and that answer is “Fuck off.”

And so I shall.


Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

40. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Atari 2600
1982

If you’ve ever seen Empire, you know that The Battle of Hoth is one of the greatest battles in the history of space. Not only did it have the awesome ice planet background, but it had tiny ships zipping around over the ice fighting AT-ATs, cool-as-hell walking tanks. Taking them down took ingenuity and gave us some rockin visuals. I think it is great that somebody put it into a video game.


When I played this game as a kid I used to wonder “how many of these gosh darn AT-ATs do I need to destroy before I can get to the rest of the game?” As an adult, I know the answer to that question, and that answer is “Fuck off.”

And so I shall.


39. Star Raiders

Star Raiders

Atari 2600
1982

Star Raiders is one of the very earliest first person space dogfighting games, and the intriguing thing about it is that they came up with a novel gimmick of packaging it with a pad of buttons that you plug into the second controller slot. By today’s seventeen-button standard, this raft of additional buttons may not be much, but when you are used to nothing but games that only use one button, the Video Touch Pad is a orgy of button-pressing decadence.

This game sounds sooo cool in that I was in a Star Trek Fan Club in high school sort of way.   With the Video Touch Pad, not only can you can toggle your shields and targeting computer on and off, but you can enter hyperspace to outmaneuver the raiders you are fighting.  That an assload of button pressing!! Unfortunately, the 2600 lacks the horsepower to really do much with these concepts, and the gameplay ultimately lacks any real variety.  To compensate for these deficiencies, when I played it, I just pretended I was playing a good game!


But sadly, without the power of pretending, one is forced to admit that  the game is crap.  All the button-pressing just added a layer of annoyance on a shoddy game.  Still, the game was had a reach that dared exceed its grasp, and that’s why I kinda love it.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

39. Star Raiders

Star Raiders

Atari 2600
1982

Star Raiders is one of the very earliest first person space dogfighting games, and the intriguing thing about it is that they came up with a novel gimmick of packaging it with a pad of buttons that you plug into the second controller slot. By today’s seventeen-button standard, this raft of additional buttons may not be much, but when you are used to nothing but games that only use one button, the Video Touch Pad is a orgy of button-pressing decadence.

This game sounds sooo cool in that I was in a Star Trek Fan Club in high school sort of way.   With the Video Touch Pad, not only can you can toggle your shields and targeting computer on and off, but you can enter hyperspace to outmaneuver the raiders you are fighting.  That an assload of button pressing!! Unfortunately, the 2600 lacks the horsepower to really do much with these concepts, and the gameplay ultimately lacks any real variety.  To compensate for these deficiencies, when I played it, I just pretended I was playing a good game!


But sadly, without the power of pretending, one is forced to admit that  the game is crap.  All the button-pressing just added a layer of annoyance on a shoddy game.  Still, the game was had a reach that dared exceed its grasp, and that’s why I kinda love it.

38. Spider Fighter

Spider Fighter
Atari 2600
1982

It is a frequently argued bit of science fiction philosophy that life is only made sweet by the foreknowledge that it must eventually end. While I’ve always found that line of thinking to be a load of horsecrap, I have to say that Spider Fighter makes a solid argument in favor of dying for the sake of better living.

The game is, on its face, pretty damn sweet. It is a pretty solid Space Invaders clone that moves at a face-rockingly fast clip. The action is frenetic and engagingly twitchy, and so it takes a while before you notice that the game doesn’t end.

I mean, it CAN end. If you play poorly enough you can run out of lives. However, assuming one is moderately skilled at video games, you will accumulate 1ups at a faster rate than you will die. This is damn shame, because playing the game endlessly means you aren’t playing toward a goal. Your score is meaningless because it can grow as high as you want.

This “play until you get bored” style of play curses Spider Fighter to the same fate as Laser Blast and the crappy Atari version of Asteroids. That’s darn tragic because it would be a wonderful game, one of the best available on the Atari, if only it would kill you properly.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

38. Spider Fighter

Spider Fighter
Atari 2600
1982

It is a frequently argued bit of science fiction philosophy that life is only made sweet by the foreknowledge that it must eventually end. While I’ve always found that line of thinking to be a load of horsecrap, I have to say that Spider Fighter makes a solid argument in favor of dying for the sake of better living.

The game is, on its face, pretty damn sweet. It is a pretty solid Space Invaders clone that moves at a face-rockingly fast clip. The action is frenetic and engagingly twitchy, and so it takes a while before you notice that the game doesn’t end.

I mean, it CAN end. If you play poorly enough you can run out of lives. However, assuming one is moderately skilled at video games, you will accumulate 1ups at a faster rate than you will die. This is damn shame, because playing the game endlessly means you aren’t playing toward a goal. Your score is meaningless because it can grow as high as you want.

This “play until you get bored” style of play curses Spider Fighter to the same fate as Laser Blast and the crappy Atari version of Asteroids. That’s darn tragic because it would be a wonderful game, one of the best available on the Atari, if only it would kill you properly.

37. Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space
Atari 2600

1983

Like a billion other video games before it, this game is about flying a space ship. However, unlike all those other games, this one attempts to semi-accurately recreate the act of piloting an honest-to-god Space Shuttle, making for a game quite unlike anything else on the Atari.  

Upon first consideration, the Atari 2600 doesn’t seem the ideal system for a simulator game.  While I’ve never actually seen a real Space Shuttle piloted, if the films Armageddon and Space Cowboys can be believed, Shuttle operation requires more subtlety than can be provided with a single joystick and a single button.  However, while the Atari’s joystick famously only has one button, the console itself has an assload of extra switches. In addition to a power switch and a reset switch, there is a switch for mode select, a color/b&w toggle, and two difficulty switches, one for each player.  Steve Kitchen, the designer of the game, cleverly appropriates those switches for his own ends, turning them into a status toggle, a primary engine ignition, a secondary engine ignition, and cargo bay doors switch.

Utilizing your bank of switches and your flight stick, Space Shuttle takes you from countdown, to launch, to orbit, and back to Earth.  Each step of the way, you will need to carefully consult the instruction manual for directions on how to safely control the Shuttle on your mission to repair a damaged satellite.  Given the limitations of the system, the game does a marvelous job in providing a Space Shuttle Experience. 

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the funnest game ever made. Making minor adjustments to velocity doesn’t have the same zing as blasting invaders.  I don’t care.  It is wonderful.  The point of this game is not to test your skills, but to get lost in the act of make-believe.  To pretend that you are actually an astronaut. Short of something involving dinosaurs, there is nothing I’d rather pretend.  


Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

37. Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space
Atari 2600

1983

Like a billion other video games before it, this game is about flying a space ship. However, unlike all those other games, this one attempts to semi-accurately recreate the act of piloting an honest-to-god Space Shuttle, making for a game quite unlike anything else on the Atari.  

Upon first consideration, the Atari 2600 doesn’t seem the ideal system for a simulator game.  While I’ve never actually seen a real Space Shuttle piloted, if the films Armageddon and Space Cowboys can be believed, Shuttle operation requires more subtlety than can be provided with a single joystick and a single button.  However, while the Atari’s joystick famously only has one button, the console itself has an assload of extra switches. In addition to a power switch and a reset switch, there is a switch for mode select, a color/b&w toggle, and two difficulty switches, one for each player.  Steve Kitchen, the designer of the game, cleverly appropriates those switches for his own ends, turning them into a status toggle, a primary engine ignition, a secondary engine ignition, and cargo bay doors switch.

Utilizing your bank of switches and your flight stick, Space Shuttle takes you from countdown, to launch, to orbit, and back to Earth.  Each step of the way, you will need to carefully consult the instruction manual for directions on how to safely control the Shuttle on your mission to repair a damaged satellite.  Given the limitations of the system, the game does a marvelous job in providing a Space Shuttle Experience. 

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the funnest game ever made. Making minor adjustments to velocity doesn’t have the same zing as blasting invaders.  I don’t care.  It is wonderful.  The point of this game is not to test your skills, but to get lost in the act of make-believe.  To pretend that you are actually an astronaut. Short of something involving dinosaurs, there is nothing I’d rather pretend.  


36. Space Invaders

Space Invaders
Atari 2600
1978

Oh sweet hell yes. After two hard months of playing games like Crystal Castles and Ghostbusters, games that make me want to hate the very concept of the “video game”, this, at long last, is my payoff.

Space. Fuckin. Invaders.

The game is elegant in its simplicity:   Aliens want to invade Earth. You are the last line of defense. You have three cannons with which to destroy the invading army, one wave at a time. Although the Invaders are tactically retarded, they have an infinite number of troops to throw at the planet. All it takes is a single slip-up to damn mankind forever. Your mission is simple:  Hold off the Invaders for as long as you can.

The great thing about Space Invaders is that while it is a pretty easy game, you only have to screw up once to end the game.  And as you kill more Invaders, the surviving ones move faster and faster, so that a split-second’s slip up will end the game.  The game has a constant  tension built into it, you can never autopilot through.  This tension is why, 30 years after its release, the game holds up perfectly.  

Oh dang, do I love every little detail about this game: I love the sound of the ever-quickening Invader’s march.  I love shooting through your shields.  I love killing two Invaders with one shot on the bottom row.  I love that you can  cheat.  

I love the look of the game.  While the game isn’t exactly pretty looking, it sure has got graphical style. Just look at the Invaders: Bicycle Helmet Alien, Billy Crystal from Monsters Inc. Alien, Squiddy Alien, Jumping Jack Alien, Sorta Looks Like a Skull Alien, and Goofy Antennae Alien. They’re all awesome looking!  Also awesome looking: Your shields, your cannon, and the missiles.

And Intended or not, Space Invaders presents a strong artistic statement : The Invaders will never stop. There are no 1 ups. When you fail, and you will fail, the whole planet dies with you. All you can do is hold the monsters at bay for as long as possible before succumbing to inevitable death.  That sort of doomed romance is what I’m all about. 

Space Invaders is one of my very favorite video games, and I mean THIS one, the Atari version.  The game is an arcade port, but to me, it feels less like a port, and more like a full-remake. The graphics are more attractive and the gameplay has been sharpened. The end result is perfection. Without this game, there really isn’t sufficient reason to own an Atari. However, since this game exists, the Atari 2600 is a necessary component of any video gamer’s library.  This was the first perfect video game. 

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

36. Space Invaders

Space Invaders
Atari 2600
1978

Oh sweet hell yes. After two hard months of playing games like Crystal Castles and Ghostbusters, games that make me want to hate the very concept of the “video game”, this, at long last, is my payoff.

Space. Fuckin. Invaders.

The game is elegant in its simplicity:   Aliens want to invade Earth. You are the last line of defense. You have three cannons with which to destroy the invading army, one wave at a time. Although the Invaders are tactically retarded, they have an infinite number of troops to throw at the planet. All it takes is a single slip-up to damn mankind forever. Your mission is simple:  Hold off the Invaders for as long as you can.

The great thing about Space Invaders is that while it is a pretty easy game, you only have to screw up once to end the game.  And as you kill more Invaders, the surviving ones move faster and faster, so that a split-second’s slip up will end the game.  The game has a constant  tension built into it, you can never autopilot through.  This tension is why, 30 years after its release, the game holds up perfectly.  

Oh dang, do I love every little detail about this game: I love the sound of the ever-quickening Invader’s march.  I love shooting through your shields.  I love killing two Invaders with one shot on the bottom row.  I love that you can  cheat.  

I love the look of the game.  While the game isn’t exactly pretty looking, it sure has got graphical style. Just look at the Invaders: Bicycle Helmet Alien, Billy Crystal from Monsters Inc. Alien, Squiddy Alien, Jumping Jack Alien, Sorta Looks Like a Skull Alien, and Goofy Antennae Alien. They’re all awesome looking!  Also awesome looking: Your shields, your cannon, and the missiles.

And Intended or not, Space Invaders presents a strong artistic statement : The Invaders will never stop. There are no 1 ups. When you fail, and you will fail, the whole planet dies with you. All you can do is hold the monsters at bay for as long as possible before succumbing to inevitable death.  That sort of doomed romance is what I’m all about. 

Space Invaders is one of my very favorite video games, and I mean THIS one, the Atari version.  The game is an arcade port, but to me, it feels less like a port, and more like a full-remake. The graphics are more attractive and the gameplay has been sharpened. The end result is perfection. Without this game, there really isn’t sufficient reason to own an Atari. However, since this game exists, the Atari 2600 is a necessary component of any video gamer’s library.  This was the first perfect video game. 

34. River Raid

River Raid
Atari 2600
1982


I don’t have any idea how a 2600 game this technically advanced can exist. I’ve played enough Atari games recently to know that you can’t have continuous scrolling on this system, and yet River Raid is a top-down vertical shooter in the vein of 1942 or Ikaruga. It is like somebody
stuck an N.E.S. game into an Atari cartridge. Black magic may have been involved.

This technical voodoo nearly hides the fact that this game’s protagonist is clearly a bad guy.  You play a jet plane reigning fiery death upon planes, ships, helicopters and bridges.  As long as you fly true and continually steal fuel, you can continue bomb these poor bastards on your sick reign of terror.   All the targets in this game are unarmed, and presumably civilians.   River Raid is the most cruelly immoral mass market game this side of Manhunt.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

34. River Raid

River Raid
Atari 2600
1982


I don’t have any idea how a 2600 game this technically advanced can exist. I’ve played enough Atari games recently to know that you can’t have continuous scrolling on this system, and yet River Raid is a top-down vertical shooter in the vein of 1942 or Ikaruga. It is like somebody
stuck an N.E.S. game into an Atari cartridge. Black magic may have been involved.

This technical voodoo nearly hides the fact that this game’s protagonist is clearly a bad guy.  You play a jet plane reigning fiery death upon planes, ships, helicopters and bridges.  As long as you fly true and continually steal fuel, you can continue bomb these poor bastards on your sick reign of terror.   All the targets in this game are unarmed, and presumably civilians.   River Raid is the most cruelly immoral mass market game this side of Manhunt.

33. Real Sports: Baseball

Real Sports: Baseball
Atari 2600
1982

Real Sports: Baseball is not a satisfying re-creation of the sport that it seeks to simulate.

Y’know, at this point, I feel I should point out that I’ve never actually gone out and purchased an Atari game. I was an infant during the Industry Crash of 1983, so all my Atari gaming has been secondhand.  Each of the six Ataris that I have owned have been inherited and each came with a box fulla cartridges. I’ve never had to go out shopping for Atari games.

But all of the games in those boxes were, long ago, purchased individually. Somebody, at some point, consciously chose to exchange cash money for each and every one of these games. I get that novelty was a big factor, but I can’t quite grasp why every collection of Atari games consist of such a random grab bag of crap.

Is there a rule written somewhere that dictates that every collection of Atari games must include Pac-Man, at least one unplayable sports game, at least one game you can’t figure out how to play, and two games you can’t figure out why you’d want to play? Was there a time when baseball fans would happily play Real Sports: Baseball because it was the closest simulation of the sport that they could get? And what about me? Why haven’t I thrown away any of these awful games? Furthermore, while I’m asking questions, why did Barnstorming get made?

So many questions, so few answers.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

33. Real Sports: Baseball

Real Sports: Baseball
Atari 2600
1982

Real Sports: Baseball is not a satisfying re-creation of the sport that it seeks to simulate.

Y’know, at this point, I feel I should point out that I’ve never actually gone out and purchased an Atari game. I was an infant during the Industry Crash of 1983, so all my Atari gaming has been secondhand.  Each of the six Ataris that I have owned have been inherited and each came with a box fulla cartridges. I’ve never had to go out shopping for Atari games.

But all of the games in those boxes were, long ago, purchased individually. Somebody, at some point, consciously chose to exchange cash money for each and every one of these games. I get that novelty was a big factor, but I can’t quite grasp why every collection of Atari games consist of such a random grab bag of crap.

Is there a rule written somewhere that dictates that every collection of Atari games must include Pac-Man, at least one unplayable sports game, at least one game you can’t figure out how to play, and two games you can’t figure out why you’d want to play? Was there a time when baseball fans would happily play Real Sports: Baseball because it was the closest simulation of the sport that they could get? And what about me? Why haven’t I thrown away any of these awful games? Furthermore, while I’m asking questions, why did Barnstorming get made?

So many questions, so few answers.

32. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Atari 2600 1982



Raiders of the Lost Ark is quite a bit more ambitious than your typical based-on-a-Spielberg movie Atari game. It includes such mechanics as multiple weapons, buying things, exploration, and an inventory system that you use a second controller to navigate. They really tried to make something cool with this game. Unfortunately, Raiders is cursed by the same problem that has plagued so many Atari games: It is an Atari game.

I tried to play this game several times and each playthroughl followed the same basic pattern. I started on the “whip” screen. I collected the whip and avoided a snake, before moving on to the next screen.  On this screen, the “random shit” screen, I wandered around causing things to appear in my inventory magically.  Because the manual told me that they had different functions, I used the other joystick to try equipping the various items I had collected. Perhaps some of them do things, but I couldn’t achieve any positive results. While fiddling with the other controller, a snake appeared and killed me. 

In order to avoid further snake related deaths, I ventured onto the next screen. This is the “tree branch” screen, and you sort of fall through this one. Despite it being painfully obvious that I’m supposed to use the whip to snag the tree branch and swing into what I assume to be a cave, I think the programmers may have forgotten the part about making that possible to do.   I could not snag that branch.

So, I fall through that screen and land in the “get robbed, then killed” screen. On this screen some dude takes my stuff and then kills me. Consistently. In multiple attempts, I just can not kill this guy, despite landing on the screen with a pistol, a whip, and a hand grenade.  Maybe the programmers forgot to make him killable. 

To fulfill the obligations of the license, all this game needed was a screen of running from a goddamn big boulder and a screen of hitting Nazis with a whip. And maybe a screen with a monkey. Instead, the game designer chose to  make an overcomplicated, unplayable mess of a game.  I applaud the ambition, but not the game. 

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

32. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Atari 2600 1982



Raiders of the Lost Ark is quite a bit more ambitious than your typical based-on-a-Spielberg movie Atari game. It includes such mechanics as multiple weapons, buying things, exploration, and an inventory system that you use a second controller to navigate. They really tried to make something cool with this game. Unfortunately, Raiders is cursed by the same problem that has plagued so many Atari games: It is an Atari game.

I tried to play this game several times and each playthroughl followed the same basic pattern. I started on the “whip” screen. I collected the whip and avoided a snake, before moving on to the next screen.  On this screen, the “random shit” screen, I wandered around causing things to appear in my inventory magically.  Because the manual told me that they had different functions, I used the other joystick to try equipping the various items I had collected. Perhaps some of them do things, but I couldn’t achieve any positive results. While fiddling with the other controller, a snake appeared and killed me. 

In order to avoid further snake related deaths, I ventured onto the next screen. This is the “tree branch” screen, and you sort of fall through this one. Despite it being painfully obvious that I’m supposed to use the whip to snag the tree branch and swing into what I assume to be a cave, I think the programmers may have forgotten the part about making that possible to do.   I could not snag that branch.

So, I fall through that screen and land in the “get robbed, then killed” screen. On this screen some dude takes my stuff and then kills me. Consistently. In multiple attempts, I just can not kill this guy, despite landing on the screen with a pistol, a whip, and a hand grenade.  Maybe the programmers forgot to make him killable. 

To fulfill the obligations of the license, all this game needed was a screen of running from a goddamn big boulder and a screen of hitting Nazis with a whip. And maybe a screen with a monkey. Instead, the game designer chose to  make an overcomplicated, unplayable mess of a game.  I applaud the ambition, but not the game. 

31. Pitfall

Pitfall!
(Pitfall Harry’s Jungle Adventure)
Atari 2600
1982



Pitfall! is one of the true Atari classics. It was my first favorite video game, and it had been one of the small number of Atari games I had actually been eager to replay. It makes you jump on the heads of crocodiles!

It kinda sucks.

Pitfall! is a game of jungle exploration. As Pitfall Harry, you delve into a huge jungle setting, searching for 32 treasures hidden deep within. The game enabled this premise of exploration in ways never before seen on a console. First of all, it had a large, nonrandomized environment for you to explore. It also presented shortcut routes through this very large jungle, and then presented you with a tight time limit, spurring you to find the shortest route to the treasure possible. 

Pitfall! was like nothing else at the timeNot only is Pitfall! is the only console game I’ve ever played that encouraged a player to make their own map, but it is a sidescroller in every sense, save actually scrolling sideways. Pitfall! is an innovative game, mixing exploration, new run and jump gameplay, and a evocative environment. It is no wonder that this is a staple of every Atari collection ever and it is for these reasons that it is a bona fide classic. 

However, in the years since its design, developers have invented a new gaming technology.  A technology known as “Metroid.”   This “Metroid” technology, is an advanced, “non-suck” method of exploration found in games such as Metroid and Metroid III. While the details are complicated and difficult to explain to the layman, suffice to say it blows Pitfall!’s draw-your-own map approach out of the water. 

Compared to Metroid, to Castlevania, to Legend of Zelda, exploring in Pitfall seems more like running around in your back yard than finding your way through an exotic jungle.  What you are left with is a game with a very small number of obstacles, slightly remixed hundreds of times over. 

When released, this game was a marvel, a rejection of the previously understood limits of Atari cartridges. It was a game that pushed the boundaries of what video games could and should be. And even though Pitfall! sorely lacks timelessness, this game is still a damn classic. Just not one worth playing.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

31. Pitfall

Pitfall!
(Pitfall Harry’s Jungle Adventure)
Atari 2600
1982



Pitfall! is one of the true Atari classics. It was my first favorite video game, and it had been one of the small number of Atari games I had actually been eager to replay. It makes you jump on the heads of crocodiles!

It kinda sucks.

Pitfall! is a game of jungle exploration. As Pitfall Harry, you delve into a huge jungle setting, searching for 32 treasures hidden deep within. The game enabled this premise of exploration in ways never before seen on a console. First of all, it had a large, nonrandomized environment for you to explore. It also presented shortcut routes through this very large jungle, and then presented you with a tight time limit, spurring you to find the shortest route to the treasure possible. 

Pitfall! was like nothing else at the timeNot only is Pitfall! is the only console game I’ve ever played that encouraged a player to make their own map, but it is a sidescroller in every sense, save actually scrolling sideways. Pitfall! is an innovative game, mixing exploration, new run and jump gameplay, and a evocative environment. It is no wonder that this is a staple of every Atari collection ever and it is for these reasons that it is a bona fide classic. 

However, in the years since its design, developers have invented a new gaming technology.  A technology known as “Metroid.”   This “Metroid” technology, is an advanced, “non-suck” method of exploration found in games such as Metroid and Metroid III. While the details are complicated and difficult to explain to the layman, suffice to say it blows Pitfall!’s draw-your-own map approach out of the water. 

Compared to Metroid, to Castlevania, to Legend of Zelda, exploring in Pitfall seems more like running around in your back yard than finding your way through an exotic jungle.  What you are left with is a game with a very small number of obstacles, slightly remixed hundreds of times over. 

When released, this game was a marvel, a rejection of the previously understood limits of Atari cartridges. It was a game that pushed the boundaries of what video games could and should be. And even though Pitfall! sorely lacks timelessness, this game is still a damn classic. Just not one worth playing.