This is the third time that I have written about Scramble. All the way back in 2012, I wrote about Bob DeCrescenzo’s 7800 version and, then, just a couple weeks ago, I wrote about John Champeau’s 2600 version. Imagine my surprise when I found out that a 5200 version had recently been developed. To save you having to look up my previous blogs, here is my info on the arcade version:
‘Scramble is a video game developed by Konami in 1981 and distributed in the United States by Stern. It is a side scrolling ‘shoot ‘em up’ with outstanding graphics and game play. In Scramble, you control an aircraft with the goal of getting as far into the Scramble system as possible. In addition to controlling the movements of the aircraft, you must also use your guns and bombs to destroy rockets, UFO’s, and fuel tanks. You must keep an eye on your own fuel and destroy a fuel tank to increase your fuel level.
In Scramble the terrain is constantly changing, and you must fight your way through six stages:
Stage 1: Launching rockets
Stage 2: UFO’s
Stage 3: Meteors
Stage 4: Launching rockets from tall buildings
Stage 5: Mazes
Stage 6: Base
The Scramble arcade units were powered by two Z80 CPU’s and two AY-3-8910 sound generators. It was ported to the Commodore 64, Vic 20, and Vectrex, but not to any Atari systems. Scramble was succeeded by ‘Super Cobra’ which was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems.’
Thanks to Paul Lay, it is now possible to play Scramble on the Atari 5200. At this stage, you can download it to play on a 5200 emulator or on real hardware via an Atarimax cart.
Paul had worked on the graphics for Scramble a while back but didn’t really get started on programming it until the beginning of this year. For the most part Paul worked on it, quietly, by himself, but, then, Harvey Kong Tin (long time Atari graphics artist) pitched in and helped with the graphics.
Paul’s Scramble 5200 is extremely well done, plays like the arcade, and includes all six arcade levels. Paul takes advantage of the 5200’s keyboard controller to allow several options as follows:
Difficulty (normal or easy)
Tunnels (wide or narrow)
Ship size (normal or small)
Rockets (normal or fast)
Auto Fire (off, fast, or slow)
Trigger 1 (missiles or both)
Lives (3, 4, or 5)
Scroll (normal or fast)
One area where Paul’s Scramble shines is with the sound. Unlike TIA sound on 2600 and 7800, Scramble for the 5200 takes advantage of the 5200’s pokey chip. The Defender inspired ship explosions do differ from the arcade version, but are a blast (pun intended)! Also, the stage and score are at the bottom of the screen versus the top in the arcade version.
Scramble 5200 Stage 2
Scramble 5200 is addictive and takes a lot of practice. I have played for hours and have only made it to level 6 once. The game options, that Paul has programmed in, make it easy to get started and work your way up in difficulty.
Scramble 5200 would have been a massive hit back in the day and would have helped the 5200 live up to its billing as the ‘Super System’. Scramble for the 2600 and 7800 systems are awesome, must have games for those systems, but Scramble 5200 is as close to the arcade as you are going to get, unless you go and buy yourself an authentic arcade unit.
Scramble 5200 Stage 5
Let’s hope Paul authorizes a cart/manual/box release for Scramble 5200. Not only do I highly recommend this game, I want to be the first in line to order a copy!!!
Super Cobra is a video game developed by Konami in 1981 and distributed in the United States by Stern. A further development of Scramble, it is also a side scrolling ‘shoot ‘em up’ with outstanding graphics and game play. In Super Cobra, you control a helicopter with the goal of getting 10,000 miles, grab the booty, and carry it away. In addition to controlling the movements of your helicopter, you must also use your guns and bombs to destroy rockets, tanks, and fuel tanks. You must keep an eye on your own fuel and destroy a fuel tank to increase your fuel level.
In Super Cobra the terrain is constantly changing and you must fight your way through eleven stages:
Stage 1: Mountainous terrain against fast and slow firing rockets
Stage 2: Arcing missiles over a mountain terrain
Stage 3: Smart bombs flying in groups of four over mountainous terrain. Rockets appear, but do not fire
Stage 4: Single smart bombs over mountainous terrain. Again, Rockets appear, but do not fire
Stage 5: Flying through a cavern-like terrain against falling mines
Stage 6: Rapidly firing, roving tanks over mountainous terrain. Rockets appear, but do not fire
Stage 7: Maneuver through a field of meteors which explode when hit with bombs or 3 times with laser, plus a single, green, shadow meteor directly in front of chopper which explodes when hit five times with laser. Rockets appear but do not fire
Stage 8: Mountainous terrain with rapidly firing UFOs. Tanks and rockets appear, but do not fire
Stage 9: Arcing missiles over tall buildings
Stage 10: Firing rockets in a building maze
Stage 11: Base-maneuver your helicopter over tall buildings, missiles, and tanks to reach the Booty and safely carry it away.
The Super Cobra arcade units were powered by two Z80 CPU’s and two AY-3-8910 sound generators. It was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit systems, Intellivision, and Colecovison. Most recently, and updated version has been ported to the Atari 2600.
In 1983, Parker Brothers released their port of Super Cobra for the Atari 2600. At the time, it was considered a decent port and received a certificate of merit at the 1983 Arkie Awards. With the recent release of Super Cobra Arcade for the 2600, this 1983 port is now one to skip.
Thanks John Champeau, it is now possible to play an almost arcade perfect port of Super Cobra on the Atari 2600. John took advantage of the work that he had done on Scramble and adapted his code to produce an outstanding port of Super Cobra. Super Cobra was released by AtariAge at the 2017 Portland Retro Gaming Expo with a color manual, poster, and an amazing box. Several other AtariAge forum members contributed to the game, including Nathan Strum (graphics), Michael Haas (music, sound effects, label, box, and manual design), Darrell Spice (level generation and code) and Thomas Jentzsch (level generation and code).
Super Cobra for the 2600 is amazingly close to the arcade version and, when playing it, you have to keep reminding yourself that it is an Atari 2600 game. Like a few other recent homebrew games, John takes advantage of the Melody board to make the 2600 do things once thought not possible! The graphics and sounds are outstanding, and all eleven arcade levels are included.
Super Cobra Arcade for the Atari 2600/7800
A really cool feature that John built into the 2600 version of Scramble is the ability to use a Sega Genesis controller. If plugged in before your 2600 is powered up, Scramble will auto-detect the Genesis controller and allow two button game play (for separate control of firing bombs and missiles). John also takes advantage of the 2600’s color/B&W switch to implement a pause feature in the game as well as the difficulty switch to allow for single shot or ‘burst mode’ when shooting missiles.
Like Scramble, Super Cobra is a fun game, but takes a lot of practice. John has built in four difficulty levels into his 2600 version which will keep you coming back for more. Also, John has included the ‘continue’ feature of the arcade, so you can play on, even when the game should be over. Super Cobra Arcade for the Atari 2600 is a must have game for your collection!
The 5200 version was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983, is faithful to the arcade version and includes all eleven levels.
Super Cobra for the Atari 5200
I have seen reviews that state difficulties with using the 5200’s analog joysticks. It probably would have been a wise idea to either make the caverns wider or do so via a menu selection or difficulty setting, but I have played it with a 5200 joystick and a CX40 (via a masterplay clone adapter) and find it challenging, but not impossible. Obviously, the better your joystick, the easier it will be to score higher at Super Cobra. Like John’s 2600 version, Parker Brothers included the continue feature which adds significantly to the enjoyment of the game.
Unfortunately, Parker Brothers did not take advantage of the keypad on the 5200 controller and add any game options. The only option is for the # key to select a one or two player game. Additionally, only the lower fire button is used, which fires both missiles and bombs. Despite these shortcomings, Super Cobra is a definite ‘must have’ for your 5200 collection.
A simple graphics hack of Bob DeCrescenzo’s Scramble has been made available by Good Deal Games and, until John’s 2600 version was released, this was as close as you could get to Super Cobra on the 7800. John’s 2600 plays great on the 7800 and includes all Super Cobra levels and features, so it’s buyer’s choice as to which way to choose if you have a 7800.
Donkey Kong is a 1981 video game developed by Nintendo and is one of the earliest successful platform games. Although there had been a couple of other platform arcade games, Donkey Kong was the first to introduce jumping. Programmed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong was a monster hit that established Nintendo as a serious player in the video game market. There are four different ‘platforms’ in Donkey Kong: The construction scene, the cement factory, the elevator scene, and the rivets screen. The goal in Donkey Kong is, essentially to climb to the top of the screen and rescue Pauline. Only in the rivets screen is this different where Mario needs to knock out all of the rivets.
At the time that Shigeru developed Donkey Kong, it was a radical departure from the space shooters and maze games that had been dominating the video game market. In fact, Nintendo America was not sure that it would be successful. The Nintendo America staff is credited with naming the characters in Donkey Kong. Originally they were only known as Jumpman and Lady. They renamed them Mario and Pauline and had graphics made for American versions of the arcade cabinets. They tested a couple of Donkey Kong arcade units in a couple of bars and, much to their surprise, the public loved the game. They ended up converting over 2000 surplus arcade units into Donkey Kong units and the rest is history. Donkey Kong went on to become one of the most popular and most recognizable game franchises in history.
Donkey Kong was ported to a number of home game consoles and computers including the Colecovision, the Atari 2600 and 7800’s, the Intellivision, and the Atari 8-bit computer line.
Coleco won the rights to produce cartridge based home console versions of Donkey Kong and decided to make it the ‘pack in’ game for their system which helped them sell over six million consoles. The Colecovision (CV) version of Donkey Kong featured three of the arcades screens (the cement factory was left out home console versions) and no climbing or intermission screens. The graphics were impressive, but the game was a little too easy to play. In the elevator screen, Kong doesn’t throw any barrels, which makes this screen incredibly easy compared to the arcade version. Still, the CV version was impressive for the time (1982). Coleco also ended up producing Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 and Intellivison.
Donkey Kong for the Colecovision
Gary Kitchen programmed the 2600 version of Donkey Kong for Coleco. I had the chance to meet Gary last year and hear him talk about the development of this game. He was only authorized to make a 4K non-bankswitched game, so he was very limited with what he could do. He managed to get two levels (Construction and Rivets) into the 2600 version, but the graphics (impressive for the 2600) were no match to the CV version. Gary managed to capture essence of Donkey Kong, but it is not one of the better games for the 2600.
Today, there are two new homebrew 2600 efforts underway: Donkey Kong Arcade and Donkey Kong VCS. Both feature improved graphics and sound, all four screens, and intermissions. The developers of these games have taken different approaches, but both are creating awesome versions for the 2600. Due to Nintendo’s licensing policies, these will probably not be able to be made commercially available, which is a real shame. However, if you have a Harmony cart, you can try out the prototype versions of these games on your 2600.
Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600
5200 (8-bit) version…
Coleco did not develop a 5200 version of Donkey Kong, probably as they saw the 5200 as the main competitor to the CV. Fortunately, Atari had obtained the rights to produce home computer versions of the game and developed an excellent port for their 8-bit line. Atari’s 8-bit version has all four screens and well as the ‘how high’ intermission screens.
The 8-bit version has been converted to run on the 5200 and can be played on the Atarimax cart or can be obtained in cart form. Playing Donkey Kong with the 5200’s analog joysticks takes some adjustment, but it turns out to be one of the better games for the Super System. The game also takes advantage of the 5200’s Pokey chip to produce near arcade quality sound.
Donkey Kong for the Atari 5200
The 7800 version of Donkey Kong was released in 1988 and is an excellent good port of the game. As with all of the home console versions, it is missing the Cement Factory screen as well as the climbing and intermission screens. Also, like most 7800 games, the sound could have been better had Atari included a Pokey chip in the cartridge. Even with these limitations, the 7800 version of Donkey Kong is probably the best original port of the game for a home console and demonstrates the 7800’s home arcade capabilities.
Thirty years after the release of the 7800, a new version of Donkey Kong is now available for the Pro System. Perry Thuente spent over a year working on improving the 7800 version. Originally, he had only intended to develop a version that would improve the sound by taking advantage of Atari’s Pokey chip that will be in the XM expansion module. One thing led to another, and Perry ended up completely re-building the game. He has added the climbing and intermission screens as well as the missing cement factory level. He also improved the graphics and added the ability to play the game in either the Japanese or US arcade order. Perry’s version is called Donkey Kong XM and needs the XM module in order to hear the sound. Unfortunately, the delivery of the XM module has been delayed. Also, due to Nintendo’s licensing policies, Perry can’t make this commercially available and is only making a few copies of the game for friends. Since the XM module has been delayed, Perry has made a handful of Donkey Kong PK cartridges which take advantage of CPUWIZ’s Versaboard and include a Pokey Chip. This version produces arcade quality sound on a stock 7800. Being one of the lucky ones to have a copy of Donkey Kong PK, all I can say is wow! The only way to have a better home version of Donkey Kong would be to put an actual Donkey Kong arcade cabinet in your house!!!
Donkey Kong XM for the Atari 7800
If you are a Donkey Kong fan, there are no really bad versions of the game and they are all readily available. The Colecovison, 2600, and 7800 versions are plentiful and cheap, but a copy of the 5200 version on cart will set you back a few $$$ (however, is a pretty awesome game for the 5200!).
Perry’s Donkey Kong XM or PK version is, however in a league by itself. If you own a 7800, and are a fan of Donkey Kong, then you simply need to get yourself a copy of this game. Make friends with Perry and convince him to make you a copy.
Also, if you are a 2600 fan, don’t forget about the new versions of Donkey Kong that are nearing completion!
Xevious is a 1983 arcade game developed by Namco and released by Atari in the US. Xevious is a top down, vertical scrolling space shooter developed by Masanobu Endo. The game was designed to run on Namco’s Galaga hardware with 3 Z80CPU’s and a Namco sound chip. It was a monster hit in Japan, but never achieved quite the same success in the US. Xevious was ported to a number of game and computer systems of the era including the Atari 7800, the NES, and the Commodore 64. Versions were planned for the Atari 2600 and 5200, but never released.
In Xevious, you must pilot your ship called a Solvalou against various enemy air and ground targets, including tanks, stationary bases, flying mirrors, and black spheres (8-balls). The Solvalou is equipped with both a zapper for air targets and a blaster for ground targets. There are sixteen areas in Xevious and the game loops back to area seven, if you are able to clear all of the areas. One of the cool things about Xevious is that if your are 70% of the way or better through an area and are ‘killed’, the game restarts at the beginning of the next area. The terrain in Xevious varies from dense forests, to rivers and oceans, to developed areas. This makes for a variety of background graphics and adds interest to the game. Another interesting thing about Xevious is that you don’t really have to ‘kill’ anything to keep advancing. If you can manage to fly your Solvalou through the game and not get ‘killed’, you can advance through the entire game without shooting anything.
The 2600 version of Xevious never made it past the prototype stage. Programmed by Tod Frye of 2600 Pac-Man fame, it had the beginnings of a pretty good port. Tod was able to accomplish the scrolling background (all be it with simplified graphics) and have multiple enemies on screen, with little to no flicker. Of course the 2600 has only one fire button, so Tod had the CX-40 fire button do double duty and it fires both missiles and bombs.
Tod had managed to get four types of enemies programmed (discs, mirrors, 8-balls, & tanks) into his 2600 version before the plug was pulled by Atari, during yet another management shake-up. Hopefully, one day, one of the 2600 homebrew programmers will develop a new version of Xevious. With today’s cart technology, it should be possible to develop a great version of this classic for the 2600. For more information on the 2600 version of Xevious, check out Atariprotos.com.
2600 Xevious Prototype
The 5200 version of Xevious was programmed by Jim Huether in 1983, but never formally released by Atari. Happily, the final prototype version has been preserved and made available to the gaming community. It is really unfortunate that the 5200 version was never released as it is complete and it is a pretty good game. Jim managed to program almost all of the arcade’s enemies and the sound effects are nearly spot on. The two biggest complaints about the 5200 version are that the graphics seem a little ‘washed out’ and your bullets appear as ‘bars’. Other than these two complaints, Xevious is an awesome game for the 5200. It is a shame that Atari never formally released it, but thankfully, the prototype code was preserved and is playable on the Atarimax multi-cart. For more information on the 5200 version of Xevious, check out Atariprotos.com.
Xevious for the Atari 5200
The Atari 7800 version of Xevious is the only officially released version for the Atari home console family. Programmed by Tom Flaherty of General Computer Corporation, it was intended to be one of the launch titles for the 7800 (had it been released as planned in 1984). Tom did an outstanding job porting Xevious to the 7800 and his version includes almost all of the enemies and features of the arcade version. The graphics are extremely well done, colorful, and crisp. Also, the sound is pretty good for a standard (non-Pokey) game. The 7800 version of Xevious can be played with either the two button Pro-line joystick or a regular CX-40. When using the Pro-line, one fire button controls the Zapper (missiles) and the other the Blaster (Bombs). When using the CX-40, both missiles and bombs are fired at the same time, like in the 2600 prototype. I had owned a copy of Xevious for nearly two years before I realized that it could be played with a standard CX-40. This is not something that Atari included in the Xevious manual, but I think it definitely makes the game more enjoyable to play!
Xevious for the Atari 7800
The 2600 version is clearly an unfinished prototype and is interesting, but not really anything to get worked up about. Both the 5200 and 7800 versions are excellent ports and deserve a place in your collection. While you will need the Atarimax multi-cart to play the 5200 version, the 7800 version is easy to find and normally can be had for less than five dollars. If you have a 7800 and don’t have a copy of Xevious, you should pick one up the next time you visit your local retro game shop!
It is hard to believe that in 2014, multiple new games for the Atari systems are under development. Here is just some of the current game news…
There are several outstanding games in the works for the 2600. A couple of the most notable are Star Castle Arcade and Stay Frosty 2. These two games are complete and will be released as soon as enough cart boards are available for a production run. Several other homebrew games are also in the works including Circus AtariAge, Frantic, and Zippy the Porcupine.
Just after I posted my last blog about Caverns of Mars, two developers (Paul Lay & Aking) converted Caverns of Mars 2 and 3 to the 5200. Caverns of Mars 2 is a side scroller very similar to Scramble and lots of fun to play on the 5200. Caverns of Mars 3 (Phobos) is very similar to the original game, but with improved graphics. If you are a C of M fan, then you should head over to AtariAge and check out these 8-bit conversions!
Speaking of 8-bit conversions, Paul and Aking have converted more than dozen 8-bit games to the 5200 in the past few weeks. In addition to Caverns 2 and 3, they have converted titles such as Ant-Eater, Bacterion, and Pooyan. Thanks to Paul, Aking, and a few others, 2014 is turning out to be a banner year for the 5200!
Master 7800 programmer Bob ‘Pac-Man Plus’ DeCrescenzo has recently completed Astro Blaster and is now working on a port of KC Munchkin. Bob plans to make a cart run of Astro Blaster as well as a run of ‘Bentley Bear: Crystal Quest’ in the next few weeks.
2014 may go down as the year of Donkey Kong for Atari Systems. Perry Thuente has recently completed one of the most accurate ports of Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong XM) for any home system. He spent months updating the 7800 version to be as arcade accurate as possible. His version has all four screens (only three were included originally) and Pokey sound (requiring the soon to be released 7800 expansion module (XM)). Perry has been busy assembling over 100 carts and may also release a Pokey cart version that will run without the XM.
No less than two different 2600 versions of Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong Arcade and Donkey Kong VCS) are under development. Both versions are absolutely amazing and totally blow away the original version for the 2600. It is absolutely amazing to see what can be done with the venerable 2600!
It is hard to believe that so many great games for the Atari 8-bit game systems are going to be available in 2014…it seems like the 2600, 5200, and 7800 will live on for many years to come!
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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!
Kangaroo is a 1982 arcade game developed by Sun Electronics and distributed by Atari. The game is similar in play to Donkey Kong (as I am sure was intended by Sun) with a Kangaroo as the main character and monkey’s as the antagonists. The goal of Kangaroo is to score as many points as possible by collecting fruits and ‘punching’ the monkeys. The monkeys are diabolical and will throw or drop apples and apple cores at the kangaroo. If an apple hits your Kangaroo, you will lose a life and have to start over at the bottom of the screen. You can advance to the next screen (and score some bonus points) by rescuing joey at the top of the screen. You can also score additional points by ringing the bell, which will regenerate the fruits.
The arcade units of Kangaroo ran on a Zilog Z80 microprocessor with a General Instruments AY8910 sound generator. Kangaroo was ported to the Atari 2600, the Atari 5200, and a version was developed for the Atari 8-bit computer line, but never officially released.
Although Kangaroo was only a modest hit in the arcades, Kangaroo was featured on the CBS Saturday Supercade cartoon lineup in 1984.
In 1983, Atari released Kangaroo for the 2600. Given the limitations of the 2600 back in the eighties, Kangaroo is a pretty good port. The graphics, although monochrome, are pretty well done and the flicker found in many 2600 games is minimal. Kangaroo for the 2600 has solid control with a standard CX-40 joystick and the 2600 version features three of the arcade’s four levels. Given the limitations of the 2600’s TIA chip, the sound for Kangaroo is also pretty well done. Kangaroo for the 2600 is not an easy game to play and it is surprising addictive….you will find yourself hitting the reset switch over and over!
The 5200 version of Kangaroo was also released in 1983 and is a solid arcade port. The graphics are well done, but still mostly monochrome. The 5200 version does feature all four levels of the arcade version and the sound is also well done, but not substantially better than the 2600 version. Control with the standard 5200 joystick takes a little practice, but Kangaroo does not suffer from the control problems that many 5200 games have. One strange thing about Kangaroo for the 5200 is that there is not any ‘game over’ message. When you have lost your last life, the game just stops. The first couple of times that I played it, I thought that the game just froze. Even the 2600 version at least takes you back to the start screen.
Kangaroo for the 5200
7800 & 8-bit versions…
Sadly, no 7800 version of Kangaroo was ever developed for the 7800. For the Atari 8-bit computer line, the 5200 version has been ported over and is available to be played.
If you like Donkey Kong, you will also like Kangaroo. Both the 2600 and 5200 versions are inexpensive, easy to come by, and fun to play. If you have a 2600 or 5200, you should pick up a copy of Kangaroo. Hopefully, one of the 7800 programmers will develop a 7800 version. With the latest advances in cart boards for the 7800, it should be possible to produce a near arcade perfect port. Also, with the advances in cart technology for the 2600, I would not be surprised to see one of the 2600 programmers develop a more arcade perfect version for the trusty old VCS!
In October, I had the opportunity to attend the Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) in Portland Oregon. This year the expo was held downtown at the Oregon Expo Center. The expo center is a huge facility and can host multiple events at the same time. In fact, I almost attended a used book show that was also being hosted by the Expo Center at the same time by mistake!
I wasn’t sure what to expect as this was the first retro game show that I had attended. This show was well organized and had an estimated attendance of 4000. Part of the 60,000 square foot area was called the ‘Super Arcade’ and numerous vintage arcade machines that were available to be played. About two thirds of the floor space was available for vendors. It seemed to me that the vast majority of the of items for sale were for the NES and SNES with only a small amount of Atari items.
One booth where there was plenty of Atari games to be had was the AtariAge booth. I had volunteered to help out with the booth which game me the opportunity to meet a number of folks from the AtariAge forum. AtariAge released four new games at the PRGE, including Space Rocks, Frenzy, Ixion, and Seaweed Assault. Darrell Spice, the designer of Space Rocks was on hand and signed carts for anyone who asked.
Games at the AtariAge booth
My favorite Atari system is the 7800 as it has great graphics (for an 8-bit system) and plays most 2600 games. What surprised me at the show was the passion for the Atari 2600. Perhaps this is because so many were sold (over 30 million) that virtually everyone had or had a friend that had one. Despite the improved games and graphics on the 7800, the 2600 is still the king of Atari 8-bit game systems!
Prototype XM with Bentley Bear for the 7800
Another aspect of the PRGE are the workshops. I was able to attend a couple of these and it was really cool to see and hear from Atari veterans (gods?) like David Crane (Pitfall), Bob Smith (Moonsweeper), and Gary Kitchen (Donkey Kong). The stories that they are able to tell about the early days at Atari, Activision, and Imagic are really amazing!
If you are a retro game fan and are able to make it to Portland, a visit to the PRGE is a must see. The PRGE is usually held in late September or early October. For more information, click here.
Berzerk is a 1980 video game developed by Stern Electronics of Chicago. Supposedly Alan McNeil, the designer of Berzerk, had a dream about a black and white video game involving fighting robots. During the development of Berzerk, Defender was released and the decision was made to release Berzerk in color instead of B&W. A few early units were, supposedly, released in B&W with color overlays. The color units were produced in two distinct batches with the second batch having more variety in the colors of the robots and the number of bullets that they fire. The Berzerk arcade systems are based around a Z80 CPU and it is one of the first video games to feature speech synthesis. This may not seem like a big deal in 2013, but it was really amazing in 1980. The first time anyone played Berzerk, they had to be amazed to hear the game talk to them!
Berzerk at Funspot
The concept of Berzerk is pretty simple…the player is a humanoid in a maze with a bunch of killer robots. To survive, you must shoot the robots before they shoot you. You also have to avoid running into the robots, the electrified walls, and Evil Otto. Evil Otto adds a significant amount of complexity to the game as you must avoid him as you can not kill him. Alan supposedly named Evil Otto after the security chief at a previous employer. The robots in Berzerk are not the ‘sharpest tools in the shed’ as they have a tendency to kill themselves by running into the walls or each other. Although the concept of the game is simple, players would find themselves putting quarter after quarter into the game. Berzerk was the first popular ‘shoot em up’ video game and all of today’s popular shooter games can trace their roots back to 1980. Berzerk was ported to the Vectrex and the Atari 2600 and 5200 consoles.
In 1982, Stern followed up Berzerk with Frenzy. Frenzy was similar, but a little more difficult than Berzerk. There are several key differences between Berzerk and Frenzy. In Frenzy:
The walls are not electrified
Portions of the walls can be shot through, other parts ‘reflect’ bullets
The humanoid will not die if he comes into contact with a robot
Crazy Otto can be shot and ‘temporarily’ killed
Every fourth screen, there are interactive maze elements
At least in Frenzy, it is possible to kill Evil Otto. Frenzy was ported to the Colecovision, but not to any Atari home consoles.
The 2600 version of Berzerk was released in 1982 and was a smash hit. Berzerk’s simple graphics were faithfully replicated on the 2600 and the game play was almost identical to the arcade. Atari included 12 variations including ones with and without Evil Otto, non-shooting Robots, and even one where Evil Otto can be shot and will disappear for a few seconds. I fondly remember playing Berzerk over and over on my Sears Video Arcade (Atari 2600) in the early 80′s. It is a fantastic game and there was something cool about the green label and box. There was one big thing missing, however, from Atari’s 2600 version…voice synthesis. Back in 1982, most of us figured that this just could not be done on a 2600.
In 2002, Mike Mika proved this wrong when he developed an improved version of Berzerk featuring voice synthesis. In ‘Berzerk Voice Enhanced‘, Mike also improved the graphics to make them more closely resemble the arcade. At various points in Mike’s version you will hear ‘intruder alert!’, ‘chicken, fight like a robot’, and ‘humanoid must not escape’. Berzerk is a great game for the 2600, but Berzerk VE is an outstanding game that belongs in every 2600 collection!
The 5200 version of Berzerk was released in 1983 and became an instant classic. Like its 2600 cousin, the 5200 version faithfully replicates the arcade graphics and game play. The 5200 version takes it to the next level, however, and features full voice synthesis. Mike’s Berzerk VE for the 2600 is pretty awesome, but the 5200 version is one step better. The voice synthesis is tied to the game play so that when Evil Otto is about to appear, you will hear ‘intruder alert!’. The 5200 port is one of the best arcade conversions in the 5200 library and belongs in every 5200 collection. The only thing missing is a coin slot and ‘coins detected in pocket’.
Sadly, no 7800 version of Berzerk was developed. Until this week, 7800 fans had to settle for playing the 2600 version of Berzerk or Berzerk VE on their 7800. This coming weekend, at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, everything changes as Berzerk/Frenzy will be released for the 7800 by AtariAge. The latest game(s) from 7800 master programmer Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo, will be released with a full color box and eight page manual. Bob has managed to pack both Berzerk and Frenzy into a single 48K, non-bank switched cart. Even more amazingly, the games feature voice synthesis for an authentic, arcade quality experience. If that wasn’t good enough, Bob includes two player versions of the games as well. Having tested the latest release candidate for these two games, I can say that Bob has done a fantastic job! For those lucky enough to be in Portland this weekend, be sure to pick up a copy for your collection. For those of you who can’t make it to Portland, don’t worry, Berzerk/Frenzy will soon be available in the AtariAge store.
Berzerk for the 7800
One really cool note that I should add is that Alan McNeil was an adviser on this project and assisted Bob with tips and ideas for the games. Thus, Bob’s 7800 versions are as close to the arcade originals as possible, given the constraints of the 7800.
Frenzy for the 7800
Berzerk is now available for all three Atari systems and there is no bad version. If you have a 2600, go for the Voice Enhanced version as the voice really makes this game. The 5200 version is one of that console’s best arcade ports and belongs in every library. For 7800 fans, Bob’s Berzerk/Frenzy is destined to become another classic that fills a void in that console’s library. No matter which console you have, Berzerk belongs in your collection. If you are lucky enough to have a 7800, you will absolutely want to get a copy of Bob’s new game!
I wrote about Atari 8-bit game systems back in February…today, I will expand a little on the 5200…
Released by Atari in 1982, the 5200 was intended to compete with the Intelivision system, but also ended up being Atari’s answer to the Colecovision. Atari had attempted to develop a system to replace the 2600, called the 3200 (based on a 10-Bit CPU). This system was difficult to program and was cancelled. Needing a solution in a hurry, Atari took the design of the their 400/800 computers and made that the base of the 5200. The 5200 has unique controllers with a keypad and analog, non self-centering, joysticks. These controllers are notorious for failing and contributed to the limited success of the 5200. The other limiting factor was that it was not backwards compatible with the 2600. Eventually an adapter was released, but it did not work with early versions of the 5200. This is too bad as the 5200 is actually a pretty awesome game machine and has arcade quality graphics and sound.
The 5200 is powered by 6502 8-bit CPU running at 1.79 Mhz. It has 16 KB of ram and 2 KB of rom and can accept cartridges up to 32 KB without bankswitching. The 5200 also includes a Pokey chip that allows for 4 channel sound. Two different models of the 5200 were released. The early models had 4 joystick ports and a ‘high tech’ RF switch box. Later models had two joystick ports and a standard RF switch box. A few games (such as Pitfall) only work with the 4 port version and the 2600 adapter only works with 2 port versions and a few late release 4 port units. A total of about 1 million 5200′s were sold between 1982 and 1984, when the system was discontinued.
The 5200 was not a commercial success for Atari and is typically rated low against other home consoles. Atari certainly made some marketing blunders, such as making Super Breakout the pack in game for the system (later, they would change it to Pac-man), and by not making it backward compatible with 2600 games. The controllers and their failure rate were also a major issue. The engineers at Atari developed better, self centering controllers and separate paddle controllers, but these never made it out the door before the system was cancelled. The amazing 5200 track-ball controller did, however, make it into production as well as the 2600 adapter.
In order to review 5200 games for this blog, I purchased a 4 port 5200, a couple of Best Electronics second generation rebuilt controllers, and a trackball. In the past few months, I have really come to enjoy my 5200! Back in the 80’s, the knock on the 5200 was that the games were just the same old arcade ports such as Dig Dug, Galaxian, and Kangaroo. Today, these arcade ports are the strength of the 5200’s library. The 5200 controllers are still analog and non self-centering, but the issues with excessive failures have been mostly solved with upgrades from the folks at Best Electronics. The 5200 track ball is relatively easy to find and typically sells for under $40. Several awesome arcade ports such as Missile Command, Centipede, and Space Invaders are coded to take advantage of the trackball controller. The difference in playing these games with the joystick versus the trackball is significant.
Centipede for the 5200
Although there have been a few great homebrew games developed for the 5200, there are not nearly as many as for the 2600 or 7800. the ones that have been released such as Adventure II, Tempest, and Castle Crisis are all really amazing additions to the 5200 library. Also, many complete or nearly complete prototypes that have been released such as Millipede, Jr. Pac-man, and Xevious fill out holes in the 5200’s library. Finally, many 8-bit games such as Caverns of Mars, Donkey Kong, and Demon Attack have been converted to run on the 5200. The 5200’s official library was only 69 games, but homebrews, prototypes, and conversions, take the 5200’s library to over 200 games today!
It is a shame that Atari cancelled the 5200, after only two years on the market, and it is almost criminal that they held back several completed games. It is also too bad the the updated, self centering controllers never made it into production. However, if you really like 80’s arcade classics, playing games like Centipede (with the 5200 trackball) is about as close as you are going to get without finding a real arcade machine. The Atari 5200 is a pretty awesome game system and, if you have previously discounted it, you should give it a second look!