Hunchy II (Homebrew, 2005)
Chris Walton, you magnificent bastard. “Who’s Chris Walton?,” you might rightfully ask. He’s the twisted mind behind Hunchy II, the best Atari 2600 homebrew I’ve played to date.
Hunchy II is a multilevel platformer that serves as an unofficial sequel to the 1983 coin-op Hunch Back, which was based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve never even heard of the arcade game so I have no idea how similar Hunchy II is to its predecessor. However, this self-published effort stands on its own merits.
Like the best Atari games from the classic era, the object of the game is deceptively simple. Your goal is to capture every bell on the screen as quickly as possible without falling off the screen, getting hit by arrows or, later in the game, what appear to be evil priests. The game has a neat Bubble Bobble feel as you adjust your falls in mid-air, which proves to be an invaluable tool. Each level is like a mini-puzzle, evoking the feeling of – again – Bubble Bobble as well as other mid-‘80s platformers such as Lode Runner and Miner 2049er.
But we can’t kid ourselves: Hunchy II is HARD. The Video Game Critic calls the level designs “diabolical” and that is still the best description I’ve seen yet. The game isn’t particularly randomized – once you figure your way around the levels it’s easy to repeat the same pattern over and over again. However, there were certain actions I found particularly difficult; double-jumping over holes, for one, which caused me to lose the majority of my lives on the fourth level.
The game’s graphics are serviceable if blocky. It’s obvious that Walton was more concerned with compelling gameplay than pretty graphics, and that’s fine by me. If Hunchy II was released back in 1982, it would have been a huge commercial hit. A
You can purchase Hunchy II at the AtariAge store.
I Want My Mommy (Zimag, 1983)
I knew it would come to this eventually. Inevitably, I knew I would have to string the five words “I want my mommy” together on my blog. I’ve never been too fond of that fact. However, I’m dedicated to giving every game for the Atari 2600 a chance. After all, marketing is marketing and the graphical world of Atari 2600 games is pretty abstract anyway. The verdict for I Want My Mommy? Maybe not quite as bad as legend would have it, but still pretty bad.
In I Want My Mommy – a platformer intended for “kids ages eight and under” – you play the role of Teddy who, as the title suggests, has lost his maternal parent. He is separated from said parent by two screens containing five platforms, each one featuring a “dream demon” out to get Teddy. To get to the top of the screens Teddy must put up ladders, climb them, and then either avoid the demons or kill (yes, kill) them upon catching a power pellet that bounces slowly across the playfield.
And that’s the biggest problem with I Want My Mommy – it is so damnably slow. Teddy moves slowly and the demons move slowly and yet the score reward is based on how quickly you can complete the level. Even though the enemies are slow it’s very easy to get trapped on the wrong side of a ladder, only to wait for an eternity for it to come and kill you. Speaking of killing, I found it amusing that the dream demons grow a halo once the pellet-energized Teddy touches them. I thought this was a game for kids – I guess Teddy is a secret badass.
If there is an upside to I Want My Mommy, it’s that once the bad guys are dead, they stay dead – at least until Teddy dies and everything is reset mid-game (which is also frustrating – if you’re on the second screen the game will send you back to complete the first one).
My theory is that I Want My Mommy wasn’t originally intended for young children at all. In fact, I suspect Zimag realized they had designed a poor game and then decided to sweep it under the rug as mere kids’ stuff. The result is a game that’s too hard for little kids and too boring for older players, all the while carrying a name that’s off-putting to virtually anyone over the age of five. D
Ice Hockey (Activision, 1981)
My review for Ice Hockey comes right around the time the NHL playoffs are beginning; appropriate because this is the game I would play to channel my excitement over the event back when I was a kid (I’m a Canadian who never actually learned to skate, or rather I learned to skate every year and inexplicably forgot how to do so the next). Ice Hockey is a one-or-two-player, no-frills pickup-style hockey game featuring only a forward and a goalie on either team. The game foregoes potential slowdowns like icing and roughing penalties (you know – “rules”) in favour of nonstop hockey action. And yes, you can body check to your heart’s content without fear of penalty.
The players are colourful and well-animated. The computer opponent is strong if a little predictable, although there is generally more fun to be had playing the two-player variations. Ice Hockey is an elegantly simple classic. It is one of the best sports games available for the Atari 2600 and a cart I enjoyed endlessly as a youngster. If I have one complaint it’s that the play could be a little faster. Otherwise, I have few quibbles. A-
Ikari Warriors (Atari, 1989, Europe Only)
I know I often say graphics don’t matter, but damn – so many mid-to-late ‘80s arcade games just seem so inappropriate on the 2600. Ikari Warriors for the 2600 plays well enough, but with so many graphically-superior versions of the game available on other systems, I wonder why you’d want to. Granted, you could say that about Dig Dug or any number of early arcade ports but for some reason it just feels wrong when the 2600 attempts to replicate the Nintendo/Sega era.
One drawback of the game is the grenade-throwing system; you have a limited number of bullets on hand but you have to hold down the fire button for two seconds to throw a grenade, in the process wasting ammunition. Another shortcoming is the playfield size – at least on emulator, it only takes up half the screen. I find this common among PAL-exclusive games. Does this have something to do with how PAL games respond to North American-developed emulators or are they like that on cartridge as well?
The sound and music are pretty good, especially the explosions (I can picture it sounding particularly good on one of those modded-up 2600s you see on YouTube sometimes). Gameplay-wise, I prefer 1983’s Front Line, which is for all intents and purposes the same game. Ikari Warriors’ graphics are better but at least Front Line’s are more in line with its era. Ikari Warriors is okay but nothing special. C
Inca Gold (Zellers, 1982)
Absolutely wretched Donkey Kong-style platformer that was apparently available only in Canada through the now-defunct Zellers department store. The villains are flashy to the point I would warn those with epilepsy to avoid the game due to legitimate risk of seizure. I encourage everyone else to avoid it simply due to the fact that it’s boring. Inca Gold almost makes one embarrassed to be an Atari 2600 fan. F
Interesting side note: there are a lot of ROMs kicking around out there that apparently use Inca Gold as their source code. So if you’ve played Pac Kong or Spider Kong or Spider Maze, you’ve more or less played Inca Gold. The more you know, I guess.