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!
Today, the postman brought some video game history…he brought Crazy Otto for the Atari 7800…
In 1981, MIT classmates Kevin Curran, Doug Macrae, and John Tylko got together and formed General Computer Corporation (GCC). Their first project was to develop an enhancement kit for the arcade version of Missile Command that they called ‘Super Missile Attack’. As players got good at arcade games, they were able to play the games longer and, thus, spent less money. The enhancement kit would add complexity to the game, helping restore the order of balance for the arcade owners. Atari was not at all pleased and sued GCC. Ultimately, the suit was settled with GCC actually developing games for Atari, such as Food Fight. In the settlement, GCC agreed not to sell any more arcade enhancement kits without the game developers permission.
Prior to the suit by Atari, GCC had also developed an enhancement kit for Pac-man called Crazy Otto. The enhancements included new and varying mazes, moving fruits, a Pac-man like character with legs (Crazy Otto) and ghosts that had morphed into cute little creatures with antenna’s. After settling the suit with Atari, GCC approached Midway with Crazy Otto. Midway was still waiting on Namco to release the follow on to Pac-man and loved the work that GCC had done. In a stroke of marketing genius, Midway took the Crazy Otto enhancements and turned them into Ms. Pac-man. Ms. Pac-man was a monster hit for Midway, selling over 100,000 arcade units.
Crazy Otto for the 7800
Very few people have had the opportunity to play Crazy Otto as it was never officially released back in 1981 (since Midway had turned it into Ms. Pac-man). In 2010, through persistent efforts of the gaming community, Crazy Otto surfaced at the Pax-East conference in Boston. It also surfaced on the AtariAge forum through the efforts of Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo. Although Bob shared his work with the community, the only way to play Crazy Otto was if you had a Cuttle Cart 2 (multi-cart for the 7800) or via emulation. Finally, after more than a three year wait, AtariAge has made copies of Crazy Otto available on cartridges. Last week, when they went up for sale, I wasted no time in ordering a copy for my collection.
Like most of you, I had never seen Crazy Otto running on a real arcade machine, but a couple of ‘poor quality’ videos are posted on the internet. Comparing these videos to the 7800 version shows that, once again, Bob has done his usual great work. The game play, graphics, and sounds are spot on. He even modified the intermission graphics to match those of Crazy Otto.
If you like Pac-man games or just want to hold some video game history in your hands, you need to head over to AtariAge and get yourself a copy of Crazy Otto!
BurgerTime is a 1982 video game developed by Data East and distributed by Bally-Midway in the US. The game was originally called Hamburger, but was re-named before being released in the US. BurgerTime was a major hit for Data East and it was offered as both an upright cabinet and as a cocktail table. The BurgerTime arcade units were powered by a 6502 CPU, had mono sound, and used a standard 19” CRT.
BurgerTime is a maze game where the object is to complete hamburgers by walking on them and causing them to ‘drop’ one or more levels. The main character in the game is chef ‘Peter Pepper’ and he must avoid being ‘killed’ while making hamburgers and maneuvering around the four different mazes. Peter has to deal with three antagonists:
Mr. Hotdog: the red guy that chases Peter
Mr. Pickle: the green guy that chases Peter
Mr. Egg: the white guy that chases Peter
Peter must avoid these antagonists to keep from losing a life. He can either out maneuver them, cause them to drop, drop hamburger ingredients on them, or spray them with pepper which ‘freezes’ them for a few seconds. Peter has a limited number of pepper sprays but, periodically, a bonus food will appear on the maze, allowing Peter to earn an ‘extra’ pepper spray. BurgerTime was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.
The 2600 version of BurgerTime was released by the M-Network (Mattel) in 1982. As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored. In fact, the graphics are pretty horrible as the hotdog, pickle, and egg are just flickering colored squares and it is hard to judge exactly where they are at and, therefore, it is hard to ‘drop’ them. Control with the standard CX40 joystick is pretty bad and BurgerTime for the 2600 is not really much fun to play. I paid a $1 for a copy of BurgerTime and that was about 99 cents too much. Unless you are a die hard 2600 and BurgerTime fan, don’t waste your time or money on this horrible port. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, someone in the homebrew community will develop an updated and improved 2600 version of BurgerTime.
An official 5200 version of BurgerTime was never developed, probably due to the video game crash of 1983 and Atari’s cancelling of the 5200 in 1984. Fortunately, in 2004, Ken Siders developed a BurgerTime clone for the 5200 that he named ‘Beef Drop’. Ken started this as an April Fool’s joke on the AtariAge forum, initially claiming that he had found a lost prototype. In fact, Ken was planning to develop Beef Drop for the 5200 and posted an early version of his work as a tease. Ken’s 5200 version has all of the arcade elements and the graphics, while simplified, are pretty awesome for a 5200 game. Ken includes all four arcade screens and took full advantage of the 5200’s pokey sound chip to replicate the arcade sounds. Control with a standard 5200 joystick is good and the game does not suffer from analog control like many other ports for the 5200. If you are a fan of the 5200, I can highly recommend that you obtain a copy of Beef Drop for your collection!
An official 7800 version of BurgerTime was also never developed, so for many years 7800 owners had to make do with the horrible 2600 version. In 2006, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he also called ‘Beef Drop’. Ken’s 7800 version looks and plays like the arcade and includes a cool intro screen. Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick. Two versions of Beef Drop were developed for the 7800. The initial carts that Ken made available had a Pokey chip for arcade quality sound. My copy is the standard copy without the Pokey chip, but Ken still did a great job with the sounds for the standard Atari TIA chip. There is absolutely nothing bad that I can say about Beef Drop for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect! If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!
Beef Drop for the 7800
Before doing the research for this post, I didn’t really know too much about BurgerTime. I had purchased Beef Drop for my 7800 about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and, like b*nQ, it was just taking up space in my collection. In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have really enjoyed learning about BurgerTime and playing Ken’s awesome versions for the 5200 and 7800. Although I recommend skipping Mattel’s 2600 version, you can’t go wrong with Beef Drop for either your 5200 or 7800. If you have multiple systems, Ken’s 7800 version is almost arcade perfect and a must have!
One final note is that Ken also as developed an 8-bit version of Beef Drop for the XEGS and Atari 8-bit computers. This too is available from AtariAge.
Q*bert is a 1982 video game developed by Gottlieb. Warren Davis and Jeff Lee co-developed Q*bert and gave him a long nose so that he could shoot projectiles. Fortunately, the shooting aspect of the game was dropped and Q*bert became the lovable character that we all know. In fact, Q*bert was the third most merchandised game, after Donkey Kong and Pac-man. Q*bert was a major hit for Gottlieb with more than 25,000 arcade units sold. It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table. The cocktail table units are fairly rare as only a few hundred were manufactured. The Q*bert arcade units were powered by an Intel 8086 cpu and had mono sound and used a standard 19” CRT. Q*bert was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, & 5200, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.
Q*bert is an isometric 2D platform game that fools you into thinking that it is 3D. Q*bert must jump diagonally from cube to cube and change the colors to the target color. In advanced stages, Q*bert must change the cube colors multiple times to reach the target color. Q*bert has to deal with several antagonists including:
Coily the snake: The purple snake that hatches and chases Q*bert
Ugg and wrong way: the purple guys that move along the side of the cubes
Sam: the green guy that changes the cube colors back
-Red balls will appear at the top of the pyramid and bounce down and off the cubes
Q*bert must avoid any of the red or purple advisories to keep from losing a life. To avoid Coily, Q*bert can jump onto one of the color disks besides the pyramid of cubes and be whisked away to the top. If Coily is close enough, he will follow and jump off the cubes. Occasionally, a green ball will appear. If Q*bert contacts this ball, time will stand still, allowing Q*bert to change cube colors unimpeded. When all of the cube colors have been changed to the target color, Q*bert advances to the next level. If Q*bert loses a life, he will say something like…@#?&!
The 2600 version of Q*bert was released by Parker Brothers 1983. Later on Atari released Q*bert under their own label, so you may run across this version. Both versions are exactly the same. The 2600 incarnation of Q*bert is typically highly rated and definitely plays like that arcade. As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored. There is no intro screen and, sometimes, it is hard to tell what level you are at. Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and Q*bert 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 Q*bert. This game just screams for an update…any 2600 homebrew developers listening?
The 5200 version of Q*bert was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it looks much better. The 5200 is capable of some pretty good graphics, so I wonder if the developers at Parker Brothers just settled for ‘good enough’? The game has mono-color sprites and no intro screens, but the cubes look pretty good . It also suffers from the 5200’s analog, non-self-centering joystick. The game designers tried to compensate by having you hold down the fire button in addition to moving the joystick in the direction that you want to move Q*bert. Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements and I found my Q*bert periodically committing suicide by jumping off the pyramid. 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, Q*bert is easy to come by, inexpensive, and worth having in your 5200 collection.
Parker Brothers never developed a 7800 version of Q*bert, so for years 7800 owners had to make do with the 2600 version. In 2007, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he has called b*nQ. B*nQ is looks and plays like the arcade version and includes intro screens and to help the player know which level they are on and what the target color is. Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick. The 7800 version doesn’t suffer any of the control problems of the 5200 version and is a blast to play! There is absolutely nothing bad to say about b*nQ for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect! If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!
Before doing the research for this post, I hadn’t really played Q*bert very much. I had purchased b*nQ about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and b*nQ was just taking up space in my collection. In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have almost become addicted to this game. No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Q*bert in your collection. If you have multiple systems, Ken’s b*nQ is amazing and blows the others out of the water!
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
Warlords is a 1980 arcade game developed by Atari. Atari released the game in both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table version. The upright version featured a 23” black and white monitor that was reflected in a mirror onto a castle wall background to give a 3D effect. Color overlays were used to give each castle a different color. The cocktail table version featured a 14” color monitor.
The concept of Warlords is to ‘attack’ the other players by deflecting the fireballs to break through their castle walls and kill their king. At the same time, you must protect your own castle. You can either deflect an incoming fireball or catch it and aim it at another player. As you hold the fireball, however, sparks will attack and slowly destroy your own castle. When another player’s king is destroyed, an additional fireball is launched. The upright cabinet version allowed for 1 or 2 players against the computer, but the table version allowed for as many as 4 players to play simultaneously.
Warlords was only a moderate success for Atari with a little over a thousand of each arcade type sold.
In 1981 Atari released a port of Warlords for the 2600. The 2600 version was programmed by Carla Meninsky. Carla was one of only two women programmers at Atari and had previously programmed the award winning Dodge ‘em. Compromises were made with the graphics, but the game play survived the conversion to the 2600 intact. On the 2600, Warlords was played with paddles and as many as 4 players could play simultaneously. Warlords was one of the top selling games for the 2600 and became the ‘ultimate party game’ back in the early eighties. I can remember playing Warlords with my friends over and over !
In 2006 Darrell Spice set about to develop a better version of Warlords for the 2600. With a little help from some friends, he developed Medieval Mayhem with improved graphics, AI, and sound. Taking advantage of a 32K cart and bank switching, Darrell was able to develop a 2600 game that was much closer to the arcade version than Carla’s 1981 port. Darrell’s version includes an on screen menu with a number of options including fireball speed, catch, and multiple fireballs. The graphics are dramatically improved and include the dragon that starts the game by launching the fireball. You can read more about the development of Medieval Mayhem here.
Atari never developed a version of Warlords for the 5200, but, in 2004, Bryan Edewaard developed a version which he called ‘Castle Crisis’. Since the Arcade units, used the same 6502 CPU and Pokey chip for sound as the 5200, Bryan was able to make Castle Crisis look and sound almost arcade perfect. In fact, it was so close to the arcade that Atari was not originally happy with Castle Crisis being released. Castle Crisis supports up to 4 simultaneous players, but, of course, you need to have a 4 port 5200 to take advantage of this. You use the standard 5200 joysticks to play Castle Crisis and I found the control to be satisfactory, but not as easy as with paddle controllers on my 7800. Some 5200 enthusiasts have developed their own paddle controllers to play this great game.
Sadly, no 7800 version of Warlords has been developed. Fortunately both the 2600 versions of Warlords and Medieval Mayhem play perfectly on the 7800.
It is always hard to decide which version is the best and this time it is particularly difficult as all of these versions are awesome. Although Castle Crisis is almost arcade perfect, I am going to give a slight edge to Medieval Mayhem as it is just more fun to play this game with paddle controllers.
As a side note, Bryan has also developed an Atari 8-bit version of Castle Crisis and you play that one with paddles!
So…if you have a 2600, 5200, 7800, or Atari 8-bit system, make sure that you get yourself a copy of either Medieval Mayhem or Castle Crisis! Both of these great games are available from AtariAge.