Retro Game Guy

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Tank Games for the Atari 2600…

Tank games for the Atari 2600 are based on Battlezone, a 1980 arcade game developed by Ed Rotberg for Atari.  Battlezone uses vector graphics and a monochrome display with green and red overlays.  It is driven by a 6502 CPU, a POKEY chip for sound, and came with a 19” CRT.  In Battlezone, the player controls a tank via an innovative periscope, first person view.  The object of the game is to shoot as many enemy tanks, super tanks, UFO’s, and missiles while avoiding getting your own tank shot.  Each of these enemies are worth different point values:

  • Tanks-1,000 points
  • Super Tanks-3,000 points
  • Missiles-2,000 points
  • UFO’s-5,000 points

A radar screen and status board tell you when an enemy is in range and in which direction you need to turn your tank to engage or avoid attack.  The status board also shows your score and the number of tanks (lives) remaining.  When your tank is ‘killed’, a simulation of your periscope screen cracking is displayed.

Battlezone was ported to several computer systems of the day and an Atari 2600 version, using raster graphics, was released in 1983.  An Atari 5200 version that uses a combination of vector and raster graphics was in development, but never released.  A copy of a playable prototype is available and seems to be about 90% complete.  Activision also developed their own tank game for the Atari 2600 called Robot Tank.

Atari 2600 Battlezone…

Released by Atari in 1983, the Atari 2600 port of Battlezone uses raster graphics versus the vector graphics of the arcade.  Instead of a periscope view, the game features a pseudo 3D view of the front of the players tank.  The game includes enemies from the arcade; tanks, super tanks, and UFO’s (saucers), but substitutes the missiles for fighters.  The 2600 version plays like the arcade version and the graphics are nicely done; even the radar and status displays are included.  The one thing missing, which does detract from the game, however, is the battlefield obstacles.  Use of the obstacles by both the player’s and enemy tanks is an important part of the strategy of the game.  Extra lives are rewarded at 50K and 100K points.

BZ

Battlezone for the Atari 2600

Activision Robot Tank…

Designed by Alan Miller, Robot Tank was also released in 1983.  Robot Tank is similar to Battlezone but adds several new twists.  First, no points are awarded; instead, the number of enemy tank kills are tracked.  Extra lives are awarded after an entire enemy squadron of tanks are destroyed.  In Robot Tank, damage to the player’s tank is possible which can cause the screen view to black out, the radar can be lost, cannons to be damaged and fire erratically, and, finally, tank treads can be damaged, making it difficult to maneuver.

Additionally, a full day period is modeled, causing visibility to be limited at dusk and at night.  Alan also modeled fog, rain, & snow which also limits visibility and forces the player to rely on the radar screen.  If radar is lost at night or in the fog, you will be driving blind!

One weakness of Robot Tank is that, if the player turns the his/her tank so that an incoming round is no longer in view, it will miss the player’s tank.  This is, of course not realistic and is, honestly, a flaw in the game.

RT

Robot Tank for the Atari 2600

Overall thoughts…

Both Battlezone and Robot tank are great games for the Atari 2600.  The graphics in both are outstanding and they are both fun to play.  One note of caution for Atari 7800 owners is that Robot Tank is one of a handful of games that does not work on most 7800’s.  I was able to pick up boxed copies of Battlezone and Robot Tank for around ten dollars each.  At that price, why not get both of these great games?

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Wild for Atari 2600 Tank Games!

@Atarigame guy

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Draconian for the Atari 2600…

Bosconian is a 1981 arcade game developed by Namco and released in the United States by Midway.  The arcade version uses three Z80 CPU’s, a Namco PSG for sound, and a custom DAC for voice.  In Bosconian the player controls a fighter ship that fires both forward and backward simultaneously. In each round, the enemy space stations must be destroyed. Each space station has six pods, surrounded by a central core. The player must either destroy all six pods or destroy the core.  In later rounds, the space station core defends itself, by firing missiles.

Additionally, the player must avoid or destroy asteroids, mines, and a variety of enemy ships.  The enemy will also launch a squadron of ships (in formation attacks).  Destroying the leader causes all remaining enemies to disperse but destroying all enemies in a formation scores extra points. A spy ship will also appear, which must be destroyed, or the round will go to ‘Condition red!’.  Condition red also occurs if the player takes too long to complete the round.

During the game, a synthesized voice alerts the player:

  • ‘Blast off!’ (ready for action!)
  • ‘Alert! Alert!’ (enemy in vicinity)
  • ‘Battle stations!’ (enemy formation approaching)
  • ‘Spy ship sighted!’ (Spy ship in vicinity)
  • ‘Condition red!’ (enemy send entire attack fleet; occurs when the player takes too long to clear a round, or misses the spy ship)

Until now, Bosconian had not been ported to any of the popular video systems of the day.  Recently, it has been ported to the Colecovision by OPCODE games (for use with their super game module) and to the Atari 2600 by Darrell Spice, Jr.

Draconian is the name that Darrell picked for his Atari 2600 port of Bosconian.  Darrell started working on Draconian in early 2014 and finished it up just in time for release at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo last fall.  Darrell has developed several great games for the 2600, including Medieval Mayhem and Space Rocks, but Draconian is really some game.

For starters, the game includes the synthesized voice alerts as in the arcade version.  In what I believe is a first for any Atari 2600 game, the voice happens fluidly during the game action.  Previously, without add-on hardware, voice could only happen on the 2600 between game sequences, due to the limited processing power of the 6507 CPU.  Additionally, the game is flicker free.  There is so much action, so many enemies, scrolling in all directions, and almost no visible flicker.  This is made possible by the hardware of the melody board used for this cartridge and some incredible programming.

Draconian

Draconian for the Atari 2600

Darrell credits Chris Walton and Fred Quimby for help with the CDF driver for the Melody board; Chris Walton for additional programming; Nathan Strum for the label, box, and manual design; and several other folks for help with quadrant designs and game testing.

Another thing that stands out is the incredible presentation of the Draconian game.  A full color, eight-page manual, beautiful box, custom labels, and a 10”x14” color poster are all included in this game release.

In comparing Draconian to the arcade version of Bosconian, Darrell has done an amazing job.  There is less variety in colors of some objects and the scanner is simplified, but the game is all there.  Darrell includes five quadrants (yep five) of action, including Namco, Midway and random versions. He also includes the spy ship, formation attacks, and firing weapon pods on the space stations.  Extra lives are granted at 20K, 70K, and, then, every 70K.  Some of the recent AtariAge releases for the 2600 are awesome games, but Draconian, with the in-game voice, takes it to another level.  Draconian is a ‘must have’ for your Atari 2600 collection and should make everyone’s list of top ten Atari 2600 games.

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Wild for Draconian!

@Atarigameguy

P.S. Draconian also plays great on the Atari 7800!


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Super Cobra…

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.

2600 Version…

Parker Brothers…

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.

Champ Games…

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.

2600SCA

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!

5200 Version…

The 5200 version was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983, is faithful to the arcade version and includes all eleven levels.

5200SC

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.

7800 Version…

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.

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Wild for Super Cobra Arcade!


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Keeping old controllers alive…

Last year, I picked up an Atari 2600, two joysticks, a set of paddles, and ten games at a local thrift store.  The console worked perfectly, but the joysticks were iffy and the paddles all jittery.  I had never re-built an Atari controller before, but I am pretty handy with a soldering iron, so I thought I would try rebuilding these joysticks and paddles myself.

Re-building the joysticks…

The two joysticks were in good physical condition, so I used one of those damp, anti-bacterial cleaning cloths to get all of the dirt and dust off of the outside.  To open up an Atari joystick, just unloosen four screws on the bottom of the joystick and the top will separate from the bottom.  Be careful as fire button and spring will come loose and one of my springs went missing.  There are a few dealers that still have original Atari CX40 joystick circuit boards for sale, but I opted for a re-build kit from Best Electronics.  Best includes a new joystick handle and a new circuit board, with gold contacts, that is an exact fit for the original Atari circuit board.  I had already turned my soldering iron on before I realized that no soldering would be needed as the Atari wiring harness is connected via slide clips.  I carefully removed the wires from the original board and installed them on the new Best gold board.  The Best gold board includes markings that indicate which wire should be connected to each contact.  I then carefully re-assembled the joystick and tested it.  This actually took me a couple of iterations as I didn’t have the spring lined up correctly and fire button wasn’t working.  Also, since I lost a fire button spring, I had imagineer one from a ball point pen spring.  Thus, I highly recommend ordering a couple of those from Best when you order the rebuild kits.  Once I had the springs properly aligned, the joysticks worked perfectly and are now better than new!

CX40parts

Original CX40 Parts

Gold CX40 PCB

Gold CX40 PCB

Re-building the paddles…

The Atari CX-30 paddles are infamous for becoming ‘jittery’, after many hours of use.  Some people have had success using contact cleaner to solve this problem, but most of the time the potentiometers are just worn out.  As far as I know, it is almost impossible to find original replacement potentiometers for Atari paddles.  Thankfully, Best Electronics has been able to locate a source of replacement ‘super pots’ for Atari paddles that are actually better quality and a perfect fit.  To replace the pots in a set of CX30 paddles is pretty straight forward.  I removed the two screws from the back of the case to separate the case halves.  I then loosened the nut that holds the pot in place and carefully removed it.  I used my soldering iron to unsolder the two wires from the existing pot and, then soldered them to the new super pot.  Using the new nut that comes with the super pot, I re-installed it into the case and re-assembled the case.  I repeated this process for the other paddle in the CX30 set.  Once they were both back together, I tested them and they worked flawlessly, but one of the paddles had a rattle.  I took it back apart and realized that the plastic housing had cracked around one of the screw holes.  Not wanting to wait to order a replacement case, I used a little silicone adhesive and shored up the post with a wire tie.  Problem solved, rattle gone!  The re-built paddles are smooth and jitter free!

CX30pots

Old & New CX40 Pots

Fixing a CX24 joystick…

One of my CX24 joysticks for my Atari 7800 wasn’t working very well, so I had also ordered a replacement circuit board from Best.  It was a simple effort to swap this board, in my failing controller, and restore it to full health.

Overall thoughts…

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to give new life to old Atari controllers.  There is more than one on-line Atari dealer that have repair parts for Atari joysticks and paddles, but Best Electronics seems to have the most complete selection.  Their ‘gold’ joystick circuit boards and ‘super pots’ are easy to install and will give your controllers new life.  Don’t continue to settle for a failing controller and don’t think that your only option is to buy new ones…get some replacement parts and re-build them yourself!

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@Atarigameguy


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Atari 7800 missing classics…

The Atari 7800 was planned for release in 1984, but was not actually released until 1986.  By then Atari had lost the momentum to Nintendo and only about sixty games were originally released for the Pro System.  Also, many third party publishers moved on and developed games for the NES.   In the past decade, an active homebrew community has developed and released more than twenty additional games for the 7800, but there are still a lot of holes in the 7800 library.  I think it is interesting to consider the games that should have been developed for the 7800.  Here are my top ten missing classics for the 7800:

Battlezone-Atari made a great version of this game for the  2600 and Activision developed a similar game (Robot Tank) for the 2600 as well.  It would have been awesome to see a simulated vector graphics version developed for the 7800, but a version in the style of either of the 2600 games would have been fine as well.

Defender-Atari made awesome versions of this game for both the 2600 and the 5200.  In fact, the also made Stargate (or Defender II) for the 2600 as well.  Bob DeCrescenzo hacked Defender II to make an almost perfect version of Defender for the 2600 (Defender Arcade) and the Atari 5200 version is widely respected as one of the best games made for the Super System.  Seriously Atari…what were you thinking…where is Defender for the 7800?  At least we can play Bob’s great 2600 game on our 7800’s!

Galaxian-Atari made Galaga for the 7800, so I guess they figured that they didn’t need to make Galaxian as well.  The 2600 version has been hacked and updated into a pretty good game and we can play that version, but it would have been nice to have an official Galaxian for the 7800.

Kangaroo-Atari developed great versions of Kangaroo for both the 2600 and the 5200.  In fact, the 5200 version is almost arcade perfect.  Kangaroo is clearly inspired by Donkey Kong and, maybe since Atari was able to produce Donkey Kong for the 7800, they felt that they didn’t need to develop Kangaroo as well?  Too bad as the 7800 would rock this game!

Millipede-the 7800 version of Centipede is pretty awesome and is a blast to play in the two player cooperative mode.  Millipede is an Atari classic and it is surprising that they never developed a version for the Pro System.  The 7800 was designed to be able to display up to one hundred objects without flicker…Millipede would have been a showcase game for the Pro System.

Missile Command– Given that General Computer Corporation developed the 7800 and they got their start as a company by making upgrade kits for the Missile Command Arcade units, this is one of the most stunning omissions from the 7800 library.  You can certainly play the 2600 version on your 7800, but imagine updated graphics and all three missile bases!

Pitfall-Activision developed two games for the 7800 (Double Dragon & Rampage), but never updated their 2600 classic.  It would be cool to see what could have been done with the 7800’s improved graphic capabilities.  David Crane, we know you are still out there…show us 7800 fans some love…return to your roots and give us an updated version of Pitfall for the Pro System!

Star Raiders-this was an awesome game on both the 2600 and 5200 consoles.  Atari, already had the keypad for the 2600 version which could have been reused for a 7800 version.  A 7800 version of this game would be a blast and could have been a big seller for Atari.

Tempest-it took thirty years, but Tempest was finally completed for the 5200.  One homebrew developer started on a 7800 version, but never completed it.  With the ability to add Pokey chips to the 7800 cartridges, it should have been possible to develop a near arcade perfect port for the Pro System!

Zaxxon-back in the day, I was jealous of Colecovision owners as they had great home versions of both Donkey Kong and Zaxxon.  Atari develop a similar game for the 7800, called Desert Falcon, that is actually pretty good, but not Zaxxon.  Zaxxon is a true ‘80’s arcade classic that should have found its way to the Pro System!

Honorable mention…

One game that I would have included in my top ten would have been Frogger…who played video games in the ‘80’s and didn’t play Frogger?  Up until now, 7800 owners have had to be content playing the Parker Brothers 2600 version of the game.  Fortunately, a near arcade perfect version of Frogger (called Froggie) has recently been developed for the 7800 and should be released later this year.

Froggie 7800

As for the rest of my list…any of you 7800 homebrew developers reading my blog?

Follow me on twitter @Atarigameguy


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My top Atari 7800 games…

It was two years ago this week that I decided, after a long absence, to get back into gaming. After looking at several options for a console, I chose to get a refurbished 7800 and figured that I would pick up 10-12 games for it. Some hundred plus games and four additional Atari consoles later, the 7800 remains my favorite. The ability for the 7800 to play almost all 2600 games is a factor, but it is the Pro System’s capabilities as a home arcade system that continues to draw me to it. While it doesn’t have anywhere close to number of games available as for the NES, it has some of the best arcade ports available for any system. Here are my ten favorite games for the 7800:

Asteroids Deluxe-developed by Bob DeCrescenzo and currently available from AtariAge. The original Atari version of Asteroids (3D Asteroids) for the 7800 is pretty good, but Bob takes it to the next level. Asteroids Deluxe features simulated vector graphics, killer satellites and is about as close to the arcade as you are going to get on a home system. As a bonus, a simulated vector edition of Asteroids is also included (just hold down the pause key when you power up your 7800)!

b*nQ-developed by Ken Siders and currently available from AtariAge. Ken has developed a near arcade perfect port of Qbert for the 7800. Qbert is an arcade classic and Ken’s version is a blast to play and good for hours and hours of fun!

Centipede-one of the original games for the 7800, programmed by General Computer Corporation (the designers of the 7800). The 5200 version of Centipede is probably the closest to the arcade, but the 7800 version is still a great game and a blast to play. One thing that sets Centipede for the 7800 apart is the two player team variation. This game is fun to play, but even more fun with two people. 7800 Centipede carts are plentiful and can usually be had for five dollars or less.

Commando-developed by Dwain Skinner for Sculptured Software/Atari and released in 1989. I prefer the traditional arcade games like most of the ones in my top ten, but Commando stands out for its game play, awesome graphics, and Pokey sound. In order to save space on the motherboard, provisions were made to allow for Pokey sound chips to be added to 7800 cartridges. Unfortunately, due to costs, only two 7800 games actually had Pokey chips in the carts (Ballblazer and Commando). Commando earns its way onto my list as it shows what Atari could have with the 7800. Unfortunately for the collector, Commando is one of the harder games to find.

Dig Dug– another one of the original 7800 games developed by GCC for Atari. This is an awesome port and belongs in every 7800 collection. It would have been better had Atari choose to include Pokey sound, but is still a great game, is a blast to play, and can typically be had for five dollars or less.

Donkey Kong XM (or PK)-by Perry Thuente. The best port of Donkey Kong for any home console…period. See my recent post about this awesome game. Perry spent more than a year developing the most accurate port of Donkey Kong …ever! The only way to get a better version of Donkey Kong at home would be to buy your own arcade cabinet!!!

Galaga-yet another one of the original 7800 games developed by GCC for Atari. The 7800 version is probably one of the best ports available for a home console. Even with all of the motion on the screen, there is no slow down and no flicker. This game is a blast to play and can typically be had for five dollars or less.

Moon Cresta– developed by Bob DeCrescenzo and currently available from AtariAge. If you like Galaga, you will love Moon Cresta. Bob to great efforts to get the alien movements as close to the arcade version as possible. Even on the ‘easy’ setting, Moon Cresta is a challenging game that will have you hitting the reset button over and over.

Pac-Man Collection– developed by Bob DeCrescenzo and currently available from AtariAge. I get to cheat here as this cart includes a whole bunch of Pac-Man games including: Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Hangly Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Ultra Pac-Man. Bob had originally developed these separately, but with efficient programming, he was able to squeeze them all onto a single 32K cart. This cart will give you hours and hours of fun and belongs in every 7800 collection!

Space Invaders– developed by Bob DeCrescenzo and currently available from AtariAge. Like most everyone that had an Atari 2600 in the early 80’s, I played Space Invaders over and over again. The 2600 version was actually pretty darn good, but Bob shows how great the 7800 can be as a home arcade system. His version totally rocks and has all kinds of options such a moving shields, zigzagging bombs, and invisible invaders.

Space Invaders for the Atari 7800

Space Invaders for the
Atari 7800

Ok, I am going to cheat a little and have a couple of honorable mentions:

Alien Brigade-developed by Ken Grant for Atari. One of the later releases for the 7800 (and challenging to find), Alien Brigade is an awesome game with outstanding graphics. It is the best of the five light gun games developed for the 7800 (although it can also be played with a normal controller). Atari never released the light gun for the 7800, so you will have to find an XEGS model or get one from Best Electronics.

Plutos-developed by Kevin Franklin at Tynesoft and never officially released. An unstable prototype was discovered by Curt Vendel in 2008 and Bob DeCrescenzo, Mitchell Orman, and Eckhard Stolberg collaborated to get the code stable on stock 7800 consoles. The graphics in Plutos (and its sister game Sirus) are stunning and really show what the 7800 is capable of. Had this game been released in the 80’s, it would have been a top seller for sure!

Overall thoughts…

More than half of my favorite 7800 games are homebrews by Bob, Perry, & Ken. It is really amazing that, some thirty years after the 7800 was designed, new games are still being developed. In fact, several new games have been recently finished and will be released soon. It also shows that had Atari released the 7800 in 1984, as originally planned (vs. 1986), that many more games probably would have been made available.

Follow me on Twitter:  @Atarigameguy

 


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Donkey Kong…

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.

Colecovision version…

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

Donkey Kong for the
Colecovision

2600 version…

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

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

Donkey Kong for the
Atari 5200

7800 version…

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

Donkey Kong XM for the
Atari 7800

Overall thoughts…

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!

@Atarigameguy