Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!

Caverns of Mars…

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Caverns of Mars is a fairly unique gem in the Atari game library.  It was developed in 1981 by Greg Christensen for the Atari 8-bit computer line.  Greg was a high school senior when he wrote Caverns and sent it to the Atari Program Exchange (APX).  APX was a division of Atari that was set up to sell programs developed by others for Atari’s 8-bit line.  Caverns won the 1981 APX game contest and was released by Atari in cartridge, cassette, and floppy disk formats.

Caverns is similar to Scramble, except the action is vertical, rather than horizontal.  The idea of the game is that Martians are surrounding Terra IV (your planet) and you must defeat the Martian forces by sabotaging their defense system.  The goal of Caverns is to guide your ship to the bottom of the cavern, while avoiding enemy fire and laser gates.   There are four types of enemies that you can shoot to gain points:  transmitters, creon rockets, pyxias rockets, and space mines.  You can also shoot fuel tanks, which will give you additional fuel.  If you are good enough to navigate your way to the bottom of the cavern, you must land on the fusion bomb, activate it, and escape from the cave before it explodes!

5200 version…

The Atari 5200’s design is similar to an Atari 8-bit computer, except that its memory is limited and some memory locations are mapped in different locations.  Thus, it has been possible to port over a number of 8- bit games to the 5200.  Steven Tucker has developed a multi-cart for the 5200 and he has also ported over a number of 8-bit games, including Caverns of Mars.

The 5200 version is available to be played in Steven’s multi-cart or may be purchased in cartridge format.  Caverns plays well on the 5200 and control on a standard 5200 joystick is not too bad.  Although not as easy to control as a digital joystick, after some practice, Caverns is fun to play.  If you are a fan of Scramble or like space themed games, you will enjoy Caverns on the 5200.

Caverns of Mars for the Atari 8-bit/5200

Caverns of Mars for the Atari 8-bit/5200

Flashback 2 version…

Caverns of Mars was included as one of the forty-two games on the Atari Flashback 2.  This version was probably a prototype that Atari developed for the 2600, but never released as there is no credit to any programmer in the Flashback 2 manual.  Although the graphics are simplified and there is quite a bit of flicker, Caverns is fun to play on the Flashback 2.  In fact, the rapid fire capability in this version, makes the game a little easier to play and, thus, a little less frustrating for beginners.

2600 version…

In 2006, John Champeau, released a 2600 version of Caverns which he titled ‘Conquest of Mars’.  This is an excellent port featuring improved graphics over the Flashback version and little to no flicker.  While the graphics overall are not quite as good as the original 8-bit version, they are very well done for a 2600 game.  The gameplay is also intact and had this been released by Atari back in the 80’s, it would have been a monster hit for the 2600.  John keeps the laser torpedo fire rate similar to the original 8-bit version, so his Caverns is more challenging to play than the Flashback version.  On the other hand, control with a standard Atari joystick, is much better than with the 5200’s analog version.

Conquest of Mars for the Atari 2600/7800

Conquest of Mars for the Atari 2600/7800

7800 version…

Sadly, no 7800 version of Caverns has been developed, but John’s 2600 version plays perfectly on the 7800.  With recent advances in cart boards for the 7800, maybe someone will develop a 7800 version that will be able to improve on the original.

Overall thoughts…

Conquest of Mars is an outstanding game that can be played on Atari’s entire 8-bit line of computers and game systems.  It may take a little searching to find a copy of the computer version, but the 2600 and 5200 versions are readily available and, at about $30 a copy, are, relatively, affordable.  As mentioned above, anyone who likes Scramble, Super Cobra, or space themed games, will love Caverns.  All of the versions of Caverns are fun to play and worth having in your collection!

@Atarigameguy

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