Indy 500 (Atari, 1977)
Let me give you an idea of how much I love Indy 500: even though my only option for playing the game is currently on emu – which means no access to the game’s exclusive driving controls – I still absolutely adore it. There’s just something about learning to whip around the corners on these simple tracks, even with less-than-optimal controls, that just makes me giddy.
Indy 500 includes all kinds of neat variations on its standard lap-your-opponent gameplay. One of my favourites is the Crash ‘n Score variation in which you test how many times you can crash into a randomly-appearing dot. Sounds silly in writing, but it’s insanely fun. Another one I really like is Ice Chase, which is basically the standard Indy 500 layout on ice. For such a primitive game, this variation actually manages to simulate the extra skill needed to race on a slippery surface. All of the variations except for Tag come with a single-player timed option in which you have 60 seconds to see how many laps you can complete or how many times you can crash into the square.
Indy 500 is gaming simplicity at its best. It’s tied with Air-Sea Battle as my favourite of the VCS launch titles. It was games like these (as well as Combat) that kept the 2600 viable through the lean years that would end with the Space Invaders revolution. A
For the record, I intend to buy a copy of Indy 500 with the driving paddles as soon as I can make room in my budget for it. My dream is to own the original text label version in the gatefold packaging for the full 1977 experience. That might be a pretty rare item, but I can dream, can’t I?
Infiltrate (Apollo, 1982)
I owned Infiltrate as a kid, and I swear I actually enjoyed it. Mind you, I bought it during the dark days of 1985 when VCS games were becoming hard to find at retail, so I suspect I may have just been happy to find a 2600 game to buy. Infiltrate is basically a very poor man’s Elevator Action. You’re a space spy of some sort and your job is to retrieve documents while avoiding and destroying enemy robots. Once you capture the documents on top of the structure you repeat the process, this time descending the construct to grab the documents on the bottom. And on and on it goes. I like the fact you can duck to avoid enemy fire, but that doesn’t help much when robots can basically spawn right on top of you and snuff you out in an instant. Just poor game design all around. Games by Apollo may not have released as many disasters as, say, Data Age, but I don’t recall any real triumphs either (at least DA had Frankenstein’s Monster). Mind you, I’m only a third of the way through the alphabet so I hope they surprise me. D+
International Soccer (M Network, 1982)
I’m afraid a full review of International Soccer is going to have to wait until I get it in cartridge form. My ROM seems to have some scrolling issues. It seems like a pretty decent soccer title from what I’ve been able to play of it.
Ixion (Sega Prototype, Developed 1984)
For almost all of its existence and the decades beyond, so much discussion about the Atari 2600 has focused on the console’s limitations. What we so often fail to talk about is the system’s strengths, and I believe one particular strength was its ability to handle fast-paced, single-screen, frequently-abstract action puzzle games – a category that in theory can cover games as diverse as Solar Fox, Turmoil, Quadrun, Q*Bert and (far too belatedly) the brilliant Ixion.
“Abstract” is a term that frequently springs to mind when considering Ixion. “Delightfully demented spin on pinball” is another. You are a spaceship in a field of tiles and your goal is to capture five squares which together spell “Ixion.” You can only travel between the tiles. However, by nudging or shooting at spheres, you can create new tiles and thus new pathways to the white squares. Enemy craft will shoot at you in the process. However, as they too are limited to the available tile pathways, you can either shoot at them (which also takes out their corresponding tile) or, better, send spheres crashing into them.
The real fun begins when you complete a level, at which point you’re treated to an enemy-free bonus round in which you attempt to crash and bash the spheres until the entire screen is filled with tiles. The game then repeats with new tile setups that prove increasingly more nefarious. It probably all sounds pretty confusing, so the best thing you can do is simply play the game.
Ixion is a port of an obscure coin-op. According to Atari Protos, Sega developed the game on a number of platforms but did not release any of them. Although it’s been my policy to not give letter grades to prototypes, you may not have any other option but to play Ixion as a proto. And that shouldn’t matter, because this proto is so much better than so many commercially-released games. I want the good people of the world (or at least the few who read this blog) to know the joys of Ixion, so I unreservedly give it my highest recommendation. A+
James Bond 007 (Parker Brothers, 1983)
This game made me angry like few games ever could, and I’ll admit that it’s partly my own 007 fandom driving my unseemly rage at what, at worst, could be considered just another poor Moon Patrol rip-off. First off, why is it a Moon Patrol rip-off at all? A whole advertising campaign in comics and magazines in 1983 promoted a game based on the scene in Octopussy where Bond fights bad guys jumping from railway car to railway car. It looked absolutely kickass, but it never saw the light of day.
Instead we got this – an inauspicious introduction to what would (eventually) become a beloved and profitable video game franchise. The James Bond films offer limitless potential for video game scenarios – even on the limited hardware at hand – so what was Parker Brothers’ excuse for this finished product?
Even if you put 007 out of your mind, James Bond 007 is a pretty sorry excuse for a game even as a Moon Patrol knock-off. In the (supposed) Diamonds Are Forever level you have both satellites and helicopters shooting down at your land/aquamarine vehicle. Guess what? You can’t even shoot back at them (as if 007 would have any qualms about blowing the living hell out of them). Instead, there are diamonds in the sky you’re supposed to shoot down. Remember that scene from the movie? Neither do I.
It gets worse once you get to the ocean stage. In this part you’re supposed to hop your vehicle over the radioactive blasts created when the satellite shoots down from overhead. These blasts sometimes seem to materialize out of nowhere, giving you little to no time to clear them. Worse still, your end goal is to land on an oil rig – something I’ve yet to accomplish. Unfortunately then, I can’t yet describe the Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me levels, although I doubt they’re much of an improvement.
If there are two positive things I can say about the game it’s that it looks good and sounds good; Monty Norman’s James Bond theme is given true 8-bit justice. But geez, Parker Brothers – you were capable of so much better than this. Unnecessarily difficult, derivative, and worst of all a broken promise to both 007 fans and video game fans, James Bond 007 is awful. D-
Jawbreaker (Tigervision, 1982)
Almost everyone who plays Jawbreaker loves it, yet they still do it the disservice of labeling it a Pac Man clone. While it does borrow the basic concept of Pac Man, Jawbreaker adds so many twists and turns to the formula that it practically becomes an original game unto itself.
First of all, Jawbreaker does not take place in a maze – at least not one in the Pac Man sense. Instead, the playfield is a series of horizontal alleyways, each containing left-to-right moving portals to the adjacent alleys. Mastering your timing around these portals is the key to success at Jawbreaker as using the vertical side alleys will frequently put you on a collision course with a marble (which play the role of the monsters in Jawbreaker). Like the monsters in Pac Man, the marbles each have their own rudimentary personality (some move faster, some move slower etc). However, if there’s a pattern to how and where they spawn I’ve yet to detect it on any more than an intuitive level.
Ultimately, the highest praise I can give Jawbreaker is that it’s colourful and fun. Even if you get to hate their smirking asses, the marbles are beautifully rendered, as are your chomping jaws. Tigervision was another hit-and-miss supplier of Atari video games but they definitely outshone themselves with Jawbreaker. A