There is a new game that makes most of the other Odyssey 2 offerings seem pale by comparison. It isn't original, but it is fun and fast. It was written by John Dondzila and it's called Amok!.
Anyone who has a Vectrex has probably heard of John, as he has made new games for that system as well. John has also branched out and created two games for the ColecoVision (plus a demo). He has initiated continued programming interest in those two systems, and now it looks as though he may spur another look at the Odyssey 2 (which can only be a good thing).
Having never favored this system, I would not have expected to purchase a new game for it. But Amok! is a Berzerk clone; I have recently acquired a newfound interest in Berzerk, and coupled with the fact that John has made great Vectrex games, it prompted me to send my money off in a hurry.
First off, Amok! isn't an amazing technical achievement. It does not have amazing graphics or even animation. It doesn't use the Voice to create speech effects, as one might expect a Berzerk clone to do (in fact, on John's website, he says that he decided not to use the Voice after finally reading its technical documentation). But it makes up for all of this with a surprising speed that compels the player to play over and over. Your small, green character appears in a maze very similar to Berzerk's, but there is a few differences between the games.
In Berzerk, Evil Otto appears after you have been taking your time picking off robots. Once he appears, it means that the player had better leave the room rather quickly, because Otto is much faster than the player. But in Amok!, Smileybot (Otto's equivalent) appears onscreen almost immediately after the player appears. Luckily, he moves slower than the player. Using precise joystick movement and observation skills, it is possible to premeditate Smileybot's actions, thus avoiding death. Also, Smileybot enters at one of only two locations.
From the Computer Intro! manual, I have deduced that the machine's internal characters are used for much of this game (which makes it a bit too similar to the crowning Odyssey 2 achievement, Alien Invaders Plus!). Enemy robots appear to be hex 32 and 35, with their explosions both being 3A. On occasion, explosions seem to be random characters; I have seen robots die and become trees ($37) or right arrows ($36).
The characters' movement is smooth but uninspired. They all just seem to slide along; nothing is animated. This is the only aspect that I feel could have been improved upon. The player could have been given at least one extra frame.
Amok! contains twelve different rooms, with level ten being the highest we've reached (Chris reached, actually). The action gets faster and the exits become more difficult to get to. The level of difficulty proceeds at a slow, natural pace. With enough practice, I'm sure I could even make it to level twelve myself. If anyone has gotten that far, let us know.
Amok! does have its problems. Collision detection is strange; the player and bullets are allowed to touch the bottom halves of the robots. While none of my shots have passed through an enemy harmlessly from the hip up, they never affect the legs. The robots' shots, which are about three times as large as the player's, also pass through the bottom part of the player. This is all obviously intentional; I just wonder why.
Oddly, the robots' bullets can kill the player before he is actually hit by them. It doesn't really distract from game play, as it is predictable and seems to affect all parts of the game. Smileybot doesn't actually have to touch the player either; a close call is often enough.
All of this probably sounds worse than it really is. What appears to happen is that the player's next position is calculated, a collision is checked for and then the player is moved. This means that he would have been hit anyway, but it looks like Smileybot or a bullet has just missed him. Once this quirk is understood, the game is unaffected.
If Amok! had been released in 1981 or '82, it would have sold very well -- not only because Odyssey 2 owners were starving for new games (which they were), but because it has solid game-play value. Of course, if Atari thought that K.C. Munchkin! looked like Pac-Man, then Stern would have undoubtedly mentioned to John that Amok! was just a bit too similar to Berzerk. He would have had to change it (and that doesn't just mean putting sunglasses on the robots) to release it. I'm looking forward to seeing another fast-action game like this for the Odyssey 2. Keep up the good work, John! -- AT