We start the second Atari 8-bit list with a game I already recorded a Let's Play video
of sometime during last year: Spelunker. It's one of the rare games that I actually played
on a real Atari back in the day, and as such, one of only two left-overs from the previous
list. And if you saw my Let's Play video of this game, you can tell that it's one of those
games that kind of REQUIRES a lot of revisiting, if you're wanting to become or remain being
good at it.
Spelunker was one of the first platforming games to have a massive...
well, a relatively massive map, and in its original form,
a rarity in being one that was pretty much handdrawn from start to finish.
Our protagonistcan only jump a certain length and cannot move in mid-air, so it's a very early platformer
in that sense. But the environment is built around that consideration,
so that shouldn't be much of a problem.
There are only a couple of types of enemies to mention - the reappearing ghost
and the rather vast number of bats, but the further down you proceed into the mines, the
more often the ghost will reappear. There are a number of items you can pick up, such
as dynamite, flares, energy items, extra lives, keys and whatnot, but as I learned the hard
way during the making of that Let's Play video, you have to strategize when to pick up items,
as they all act as checkpoints to where you will respawn after dying.
This is definitely a game that has left an impression on modern independent game developers,
and continues to hook new gamers in for good reasons. If you're not familiar with Spelunker
yet, and want to get into it, I have to be clear: stay clear of the NES version, and
only play either the original - which is this one - or some direct port of it. If you want
some clarification on that, you can find a comparison of Spelunker from my blog, and
a link for the comparison is below in the video description.
Here's an Atari-exclusive arcade-action game from English Software: Captain Sticky's Gold
by Steven Riding. At first, it looks like a Frogger-variant, since your job is to get
across the field of moving things - which in this case are fishes and other nautical
creatures - to grab a gold item that moves around along the pipeline with three pick-up
points. But here, you can shoot the fishes and other such things, which is a nice deviation
from the form. Speaking of which, the fishes and such also change their direction every
ten seconds or so. You also have an oxygen meter to keep an eye on, which can be replenished
by surfacing on aboard the ship, which is a nice additional element. You're also inconvenienced
by bombs getting dropped from helicopters and other singular annoyances for each level,
which can, for example, eat up some of your oxygen or kill you instantly.
Captain Sticky's Gold is an enjoyable, if a bit steeply toughening game, and well worth
having in your Atari collection. Too bad it didn't get the originally planned sequels,
but a game by Tim Ferris called Cosmic Tunnels claims to be the fourth game in the Captain Sticky
saga. Whatever the truth is, that's another story, which we might get into in a later episode.
Montezuma's Revenge has been mentioned before in My Nostalgia Trip Games, actually as the
very first game in the Commodore 64 series. But I will have to mention it again now, because
when I finally got to experience more Atari 8-bit games through emulation, I found out
about the original prototype, which differs from the commercially released version quite
Of course, being a prototype, it's obviously unfinished, so it's impossible to beat. But
the surprise is, whereas the commercial release makes you go through increasingly large sections
of the pyramid as clearly defined levels, the prototype only has one large map, which
ends in a special room where you have a confrontation with King Montezuma himself. Unfortunately,
he cannot be defeated.
Perhaps more interestingly, the proto-Montezuma feels more like a puzzle or strategy game,
in which you need to really figure out the best way to use and obtain keys, and use the
other items when absolutely necessary. Because Parker Brothers figured that a 16K cartridge
release would have broader marketing potential and limit piracy, they dropped the 48K prototype
and left Robert Jaeger, the programmer, to make it more compact. Happily, the prototype
still exists, but I have to admit, I would rather play a fully working version of this
than the squeezed release that it had. Either way, Montezuma's Revenge is as great on the
Atari, if not better, than on the C64.
One of the best shooting games to ever grace the 8-bit Atari computers is Archer Maclean's
Dropzone. It's basically Defender on steroids, but there's an added objective of picking
up little blue things close to the ground level, which the game refers to as "men",
and bring them to home base, before they get blown to smithereens by all sorts of alien
enemies. As such, it's nothing particularly interesting, but the speed of the game is
mind-blowing, particularly for its age, and the gameplay is extremely fine-tuned.
I actually don't have this game as an original on the Atari, but I do have an original tape
on the Commodore 64, which actually says "UK Gold" instead of US Gold, making this the
only game to have that logo on the cover - mind you, the Atari version has the regular US
Gold logo on it. Anyway, I made a comparison of Dropzone about five years ago, which basically
confirms the popular opinion, that the game is best played on an Atari, but as I said
back then: Dropzone is highly recommendable to any shooter fan, but gamers with low reaction
times will find it difficult to enjoy. But it's definitely worth checking out, and it's
a great nostalgia trip game for quick blasts, if you're into this sort of a thing.
The last one for today is famous for having tape loading music, which was definitely an
oddity on the Atari computers. The game in question, the Lone Raider, had a dual-audio
tape, in which the other channel - assumedly the right one - played the data while the
other one, probably left, played music; so unlike tape loaders on the C64, the music
was actually recorded onto the tape, instead of programmed in as a part of the loader sequence
itself. But I'm still lacking a working Atari cassette drive, hence the emulated loading
experience approximation, and obviously, I'm loading this game from an SD-card reader.
As a game, the Lone Raider isn't anything particularly special, although it has a structure
and a storyline that makes it a bit more interesting than your other run-of-the-mill Pac-Man variants
and other space-themed action games. You start off by teleporting yourself onto the alien
planet, where you first must fend off enemies to gain access to the Pac-Manish segment,
which you must get through in order to get into the heart of the planet, destroy the
core and return to surface. Repeat indefinitely.
Sure, it practically reeks of 1983, but as it is,
it's one of the more fun and interesting Atari-exclusives, and it's a regular part
of my Atari Nostalgia Trips, even without the tape.