Donald Duck’s Speedboat (Atari Prototype, Developed 1983)
My first encounter with the word “tentative” was while reading an Atari game catalog packaged with my Dig Dug cartridge. In that catalog – published in the very eye of the ’83 crash hurricane – there were several upcoming games with their release dates described as “tentative” or their very release listed as such. One of these was Donald Duck’s Speedboat, which would have been one of a series of “children’s games” (really, aren’t they all?) for the 2600 including Sorcerer’s Apprentice and others. Indeed, Donald Duck’s Speedboat never saw the light of day in North America, although it was released commercially in Brazil so it’s kind of a prototype but not exactly. While it’s nothing special, the game has some definite charms. It starts out with a jaunty rendition of Anchors Away and from there you must guide the titular fowl and his trusty boat through a number of water obstacles including rocks, schools of fish, swamps and even Donald’s own nephews Huey, Duey and Luey. Speaking of which, the three nephews award you with a gold, silver or bronze cup depending on how quickly you make it through the obstacle course. This is a pretty rudimentary game, but I must admit I got a kick figuring out how to maneuver around the various obstacles thrown in my path, sometimes at a moment’s notice. The graphics are good; Donald himself is particularly unmistakeable. Worth a play or two. C
Double Dragon (Activision, 1989)
Okay, so you’re Activision in 1989. You’ve obtained the licence to produce home versions of the hit arcade game Double Dragon. You also apparently have a mandate to continue your decade-long tradition of releasing games for the Atari 2600 (it obviously must still be a profitable venture or you wouldn’t bother). The question is, should you release Double Dragon for the Atari 2600 – the same system that debuted 12 long years beforehand with Pong (aka Video Olympics) as one of its launch titles?
Well, my answer would be a resounding “no” if they really couldn’t do better than the effort put forth here. And they probably couldn’t. Games like Double Dragon and Street Fighter – in their arcade and other home platform versions – ushered in a whole new era in video games. Graphically speaking, they were far and away from anything else at the time; the human-looking sprites had rudimentary personalities and facial expressions, with characters wincing in pain when hit. In that respect they brought the realism of video game violence to a whole new level, for better or for worse.
Gameplay-wise, Double Dragon was a button-heavy affair, so any home system it was translated to had best have at the very least two action buttons. Given this plus the Atari 2600’s more-obvious-than-ever graphical limitations, I don’t think I have to explain why Double Dragon was completely inappropriate for the 2600. The arcade game’s larger-than-life characters are reduced to tiny, faceless sprites that would have been at home in a game from 1982. The button-heavy action is replaced by a batshit control scheme that hopelessly combines the action button with a number of joystick manoeuvres in a manner similar to Chuck Norris Superkicks from 1983. That game cast doubt on the Atari 2600’s potential as a platform for MMA games a full six years previous and if anything Double Dragon is a huge step down. As such, Double Dragon is virtually unplayable and easily ranks among the worst games for the system ever released by a generally reputable company. They really shouldn’t have bothered. F
Double Dunk (Atari, 1989)
Here’s another late-period cart that tried a little too hard to get mileage out of the Atari 2600’s one-button controller and failed, although not on a par with Double Dragon. As far as I’m concerned, Atari’s 1978 Basketball is the only b-ball game the system ever needed, but apparently Atari felt it needed to up the sophistication level by releasing Double Dunk, a half-court version of basketball with all of the (yuck) rules you’d find in the real-life game, such as penalties for travelling or forgetting to take the ball to the end line. The manual lists all kinds of joystick-button tricks you can use to set up shots; however, you will most likely forget them the heat of gameplay. This is not a bad game and its adherence to the actual rules of half-court basketball is ambitious, but I recommend it only for purists. The rest of us will continue to have a brainless good time with the dumb, old (and much easier to find) Basketball cartridge. C
Dragonfire (Imagic, 1982)
Ya know, if you want to prove to your friends that you’re pretty hot stuff at early-‘80s hand-eye coordination-heavy video games, Dragonfire would make for a pretty good showcase of your talents. In other words, this game is HARD. Not unplayably hard, but in a way in which difficulty ramps up very quickly and you’re likely to hit a wall of difficulty you will find extremely hard to scale (much like its fellow Imagic title Atlantis, at least in my experience). Dragonfire only has two separate screens with varying colours signifying difficulty, but those two screens are enough to kick your ass to shreds. You’re a knight or something attempting to enter a castle while a dragon in the castle shoots fireballs that you have to jump over, duck under, or duck-jump over (no, I’m not joking). Once in the castle the beautifully-rendered dragon (no Adventure-style half-duck be this) furiously shoots fireballs at you that you dodge while collecting all of the treasure in the room. Once you collect the treasure you can leave the room but now you’re back on the bridge, again dodging even faster fireballs. Rinse, wash, repeat. I highly recommend playing the actual cartridge with a real joystick; the non-stop movement quickly made my wrists sore when attempting to play via computer keyboard. Dragonfire is one of the ultimate challenges available on the 2600 and one at least worth attempting. B
Dragster (Activision, 1980)
Dragster is one of the most unique racing games available for the 2600 and one of the most unique racing games available, period. It was probably the first racing game to incorporate actual gear shifting action, which is precisely why I’ve dreaded reviewing it for some time. Every time I have ever attempted it before I have almost always had a blowout. Not surprising considering I never learned to drive a real-life stick shift until I was about 26 years old. However, with close reading of the manual I was able to somewhat master Dragster’s control system and at least put some times on the screen. That challenge overcome, is Dragster any fun? Well, this family seems to be having fun, although that could just be because they’re pumped up from the killer 8-track of Foghat’s Slow Ride on the other side of the cartridge. Seriously though, it does kind of grow on you, even though it’s functionally limited by the fact that the goal is just to get your car to the other side of the screen. Seeing how quickly you can do this without blowing out can offer some significant challenge. However, I’m not sure Dragster has much in the way of extended play value. C+