Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Joust is a 1982 video game developed by Williams Electronics.  John Newcomer was the primary developer of Joust and his goal was to develop a two player arcade flying game totally different than the multitude of space themed games of the era.   Joust was definitely a unique concept for the time and was a good seller for Williams with more than 26,000 arcade units sold.  It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table.  The cocktail table units were unique in that both players sat on the same side.  This allowed Williams to use the same ROM in both types of arcade units.  The cocktail units are pretty rare as only a few hundred were manufactured.


In Joust, you must ride your ostrich and compete against enemy knights riding buzzards.  You can ‘kill’ an enemy knight in a joust by ramming him by being at a slightly higher flying level.  When you kill an enemy knight, he will turn into an egg that you must then capture before it hatches.  If the egg hatches, the knight will become the next more-challenging nemesis (a Bounder will become a Hunter, a Hunter will become a Shadow Lord and so on). After the egg hatches, a buzzard will fly out to pick up the new enemy knight.

In the first two waves, the platforms at the bottom of the screen allow you to walk over the lava pits, but in later waves, the platforms will be burned away.  Also, in later waves, flames will start to burn in the lava pits.  Sometimes, a pterodactyl will show up, in later waves, and try to fiercely charge at you.  The only way you can ‘kill’ the pterodactyl is to ram him in the mouth to disintegrate him.

If you fly too close to either of the lava pits, a lava troll can reach out and grab your mount by the legs and pull you both into the lava. If this happens, you must have your mount repeatedly flap really hard to escape.  Also, in later waves, the platforms will collapse and disintegrate. Occasionally, there will be an egg wave where you must collect all the enemy eggs before they hatch.

2600 Version…

Released in 1983, the 2600 version of Joust has dramatically simplified graphics, mono-color sprites, and no fire pits.  Additionally, the eggs will bounce around, rather than remaining stationary.   As far as the game play goes, the 2600 version is one of the better arcade ports of the era.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and it is fun to play.  With today’s technology such as the Melody board, I am wondering if someone will take advantage of 32K of memory and the ARM cpu to develop an updated 2600 version of Joust.  Even if this doesn’t happen, Joust for the 2600 is a solid port and worth having in your collection.

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Joust was also released in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it really looks awesome!  With the exception of the simplified, mostly mono-color sprites, it is, graphically, almost a perfect arcade port.  The 5200 version looks and sounds great and belongs in every 5200 collection.  I will say that the game play does suffer from the 5200’s analog joystick.  Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements of my ostrich.  If the 5200 is your only system, I am sure that you will adapt as the control isn’t impossible, just more challenging than in the 2600 version.  All in all, Joust is easy to come by and inexpensive and belongs in every 5200 collection.  BTW, there is an almost identical version available for the Atari 8-bit computer line.

7800 Version…

The 7800 version of Joust was developed for the 1984 release of the console.  As one of the early releases, millions of copies were manufactured and it is still possible to find sealed copies for less than $10.  If you have a 7800, this game positively  belongs in your collection.  It is even closer to the arcade version than the 5200 version and the control is much better with a digital joystick.  In fact, since only one button is required for this game, I prefer to use a standard CX40 joystick.  There is absolutely nothing bad to say about Joust for the 7800…Joust, in fact, demonstrates that the 7800 was definitely a most capable home arcade system!

Joust for the 7800

Joust for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I really didn’t know that much about Joust.  Obviously, I was aware of the game, but can’t remember playing it in the arcade and I didn’t have a copy of the 2600 version back in the 80’s.  All I can say is that I really missed out on a classic game that definitely differentiated itself from all of the space shooters of the early 80’s.  No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Joust in your collection.  If you have multiple systems, the 7800 version is the hands down winner!



One thought on “Joust…

  1. I got pretty good at Joust. There was a table top version at a local salad bar restaurant that my friends and I went to several times a week, during lunch. I had forgotten all about it

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