Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 2    February 1998

The OC&GS Review Panel

By Chris Federico and Adam Trionfo

To reiterate the idea behind this column: We've often found game reviews, commentaries and perspectives to be terribly one-sided and narrow, so we're both expressing our feelings about certain Atari 2600 games, printed here as separate commentaries. Apply and/or enjoy as you will.


      Airlock, Data Age
      Commando Raid, U.S. Games
      Dig Dug, Atari
      Grand Prix, Activision
      Mario Bros., Atari

Command Raid -- Play-testing. Those are two words that U.S. Games didn't have as part of the company vocabulary. If a few minutes had been spent play-testing this game by someone outside the company, or at least by someone honest, it would have been a lot better. Just a little time polishing up the details is all it would have taken.

The premise: You are some guy with a BIG gun at the bottom-center of the screen, shooting at all these baddies that are falling from helicopters onto your towns so that they can tunnel toward you, underground, and blow you up. But (you might not know this) there is a special feature included to make the game more fun. You see, some of these guys, some of these horrible commandos, have special suits that let your bullets pass right through them! I know that this sounds like a bug of some sort, but it isn't! It adds an exciting element to the game that just would have been missing otherwise. (Ahem.)

Yet another powerful feature involves some stray plane from Air-Sea Battle flying by and dropping a bomb on you. It's indestructible. You see, this plane is actually a B-2 Bomber using stealth technology to avoid your bullets! Although your shot might look like it's hitting the target, it's really missing by a mile! (In fact, the plane is in another country altogether by the time you even see it!)

If this view of the game were accurate, I suppose I would have some great things to say about the programmers at U.S. Games. But, as you may have guessed, this poor reviewer just got frustrated when the collision detection failed nearly all the time. Sometimes bullets pass through one soldier five times. Sorry -- not fair. But since I don't ever plan to play this game again, I don't care all that much! -- AT

Command Raid "Special feature?" Very funny, Adam. Actually, I agree with you on all counts (which rarely happens, I know). There is nothing more frustrating than playing a game that could have been good, or at least mildly addictive, and then seeing it ruined by a bug or oversight. The graphics are excellent, and the cannon-at-the-bottom concept is actually unique in this case; you don't have to worry about threats to the cannon itself, since it's not harmed by paratroopers (which is a good thing, since you can't move anything except its aim). You just have to protect the cities to either side from men who want to fall on them, because when enough fall on one city, they can get underground and start tunneling toward your gun. This interesting mixture of U.S. Games' own Gopher and Atari's classic Missile Command could have been good, especially with these graphics and this fluid movement.

But it's NOT a good game. Not at all. You pegged it, Adam; the collision detection routine in the code fails at least half the time. Also, deployment of the paratroopers wasn't well-thought-out; you find yourself flipping the gun to only the extreme angles and shooting at its lowest aim constantly -- probably because you have to shoot a trooper two or three times before the game realizes that he's dead. You can almost hear the ol' 2600 saying "Oh, yeah. Sorry."

The gun can't aim very low, adding to this frustrating aspect; by the time you've managed to register a shot, opposing troopers have fallen below your gun's extreme shooting angle.

The bad elements stick out much further than the good ones, reducing a potentially good game to an exercise in frustration. -- CF

Dig-Dug -- While on vacation in the Catskills in the early eighties, I spent my five dollars' worth of daily quarters on this game in a little game room. This wonderful game sat next to Defender, which was too difficult for me. My cousin played that, but I wouldn't say that he was much better at it then I was. (Then again, playing Defender for an extra thirty seconds is like playing most other games for seven minutes!)

The concept of Dig-Dug, like in most past arcade games, was very simple: Dig through the earth and pump up the balloons until they explode. Why were these balloons dangerous? I didn't ask; I was just following orders to get rid of the putrid scum! It was a fairly easy game, which was why I liked it. I could play for quite a while without dying.

A short time after I played the coin-op version of the game on that vacation, I got a Commodore 64. Dig-Dug on the 64 was exactly as I remembered the arcade version. But I never played the 2600 version until I began collecting a few years ago.

The 2600 version is also very close to the arcade game -- for the 2600, anyway. (Of course, I haven't played the arcade version for about thirteen years, so forgive me if I am being a bit lenient.) The game is fun, if a bit too easy. It makes good use of color, and the graphics are well-defined. Everything I remember about the arcade version is there. There is nothing I would change about this translation except to perhaps give it a few more difficulty levels.

One last thing. Is there anyone who can explain why the earth has horizontal lines running across it? They look like the lines in Surround that appear when you move. You know -- how come it can't just look solid? -- AT

Dig-Dug -- They did a good job of leaving in all of the elements. This was always a feat on the 2600, especially before later programming techniques were developed. So I have no complaints there; if you wanna play Dig-Dug, this is definitely Dig-Dug.

Tragically, this translation's downfall resides in technical 2600 limitations. I know that that's not a terribly fair thing to attack, but the whole reason that the free-form, create-your-own-maze mechanic of Dig-Dug is a lot of fun is that you can turn on a dime and make a new tunnel anywhere you want. In this home version, however, there are bigger non-diggable spots than in any other version; certain huge bits of ground act as permanent medians, often forcing you to move a little farther and THEN start making a tunnel. This often results in death.

Other than this annoying byproduct of low-resolution limitations, it's a good translation, but not one of the best. -- CF

Mario Bros. -- I can't think of anything actually important to the game that could have been done better in this version. Mario and Luigi look like Mario and Luigi, the other characters look like their coin-op counterparts, and the ice guy even freezes platforms, like in the original. The "Pow" box doesn't say "Pow," but graphical compromises like this are compensated-for by very minimal, barely noticeable character blinking instead of the usual drastic flickering. The only thing that should have been increased was the inertia; one of the fun things about the coin-op version was that you could skid to a stop and bonk under a bad guy as you slid, knocking him off his platform and down onto yours for disposal. Also, you can rarely knock off a dazed baddie protruding off the edge of a platform by jumping from below (another mainstay coin-op strategy), because Mario and Luigi don't have very minute moving capabilities.

But that's it. Other than that, it's one of the better 2600 arcade adaptations. This is completely objective, because I never found the game too thrilling in the first place. It's kinda boring, and that definitely doesn't change in the slightly slower, more limited-movement 2600 version. But I guess that if the usual tricks of knocking enemies off their platforms were retained, it would be too easy. -- CF

Mario Bros. -- This game is fun, if you play with two people. Playing this game alone has no appeal at all for me. The graphics are some of the best on the 2600, but the play control does not match the coin-op's quite so neatly.

Plug in the second controller and get your brother, your mother, your dog, anyone! This game's replay value is multiplied by ten when you are engaged in "friendly" competition. "Oops! Sorry. I didn't mean to turn the baddie right-side-up just before you got to him. I won't do that next time. I promise!"

One of the biggest drawbacks of this game is that you don't have very precise control on Mario's jump or run/stop. It detracts from the game; but by the time you really notice, your friend has just "accidentally" killed you. Some promise! -- AT

Grand Prix -- I know how much Chris likes to annoy me. I know that he might say something good about this game. So I need to make sure that my negative reaction is enough to leave you with a bad impression of Grand Prix, no matter what Chris has to say.

Activision might have released crap once in a while, but at least it was good crap. This game has some of the better graphics on the 2600, a nice use of colors, and good joystick control -- everything you'd come to expect from the quality programmers at Activision. But for some reason, the game, much like Barnstorming, is like so many of the PC games available nowadays.

I could go into hysterics and name everything I don't like about the game, but I think there's an easier way. I could wrap it all up in one nice statement. Yes indeed, this will get my point across: Grand Prix is the Atari 2600 equivalent of Myst: So pretty, and yet such garbage. -- AT

Grand Prix -- Adam's always talking about how simplification in a game, a minimum amount of elements programmed well and made into an entertaining set of challenges, is a strong point. In fact, he praised Surround (original title: Lots o' Squares) last issue.

To be fair, let me point out one thing: Neither Adam nor I have ever liked driving games. Having said that, I kinda like this particular driving game. For one thing, you can use the joystick. I'm much more comfortable with a joystick than a paddle. Another thing is that it's a side-view race; it's hardly an actual driving game at all, which is a strong point with me. Driving games are usually boring, but this is a simple, exciting test of reflexes; you could substitute spaceships for the cars and the basic idea would be the same. Using the fire button to speed up and the left joystick direction to apply brakes, you drive your car along a scrolling road, moving up and down to dodge other cars and maneuver over narrow bridges.

The game has the same excitement as Kaboom!. Once you get going really fast, the immediate, constant test of reflexes throws your synapses into panic. It has that same quality. The graphics are great-looking, their detection is accurate (like in any Activision game), and everything scrolls smoothly and quickly. There's something satisfying about this one, but for some reason the simplistic qualities have escaped Adam.

I do admit that it's only slightly more complex than, say, Pong, and I can't help but wonder why there weren't a few more aspects added to this well-done program. Y'know, like multi-lane bridges to cross, or cars that would try to bump you off the road, and which you could do the same to. Maybe one "shoot the car in front of you" option per race. Stuff like that. Was the code used up because of the detailed graphics? That's never worth it. It ties into the graphics article elsewhere in this issue: Graphics don't mean a thing compared to the actual game play. I would have liked to see this game added-to a bit; it's a great blueprint, but it is really basic. It's really great, but it's kind of a teaser: "Just think of what we could have done with a little more memory...and maybe more time before the deadline!" -- CF

Airlock -- If "I Feel All Right" by Iggy Pop and the Stooges hadn't been playing, screaming that constant assurance into my ear even now, I would have tossed the Airlock cartridge across the room. Yeah, Iggy, I feel all right! Stick-man floating across the screen with no actual animation, Iggy! I feel all right! Sure! Some kinda tractor noise for the running sound, Iggy! Hit something blocky to open the airlock, Iggy! I feel all right! He he he he!!!! Get to the top and the game ends, Iggy! I feel...I feel used! I feel used! Data Age has used me! But there is a god, and its name is OUT OF F%!#ING BUSINESS!!!! -- AT

Airlock -- I'm very worried about Adam. I fear that this game has psychologically damaged him. There might not be another issue, folks. I'm looking forward to his recovery, and your sympathy cards would definitely be appreciated; but I'm not sure when he'll be out of the mental hospital. If there is a next issue, we'll see you then...

(I certainly hope he never gets hold of Journey Escape.) -- CF