Lost Luggage (Apollo, 1981)
Describing “gameplay depth” in the context of the Atari 2600 is a tricky thing. As always, these things are relative; games like Pitfall II, Adventure and Raiders of the Lost Ark – all featuring multiple objectives, gameplay devices and just generally requiring the use of the old grey matter – represent the pinnacle of play depth on the Atari 2600. Meanwhile, a game like Lost Luggage, a highly-randomized game that exists only to test your hand-eye coordination to the limit, represents the shallowest. Everything else falls somewhere in the middle.
So what makes a game like Kaboom! (which Lost Luggage is so clearly an imitation of) contain an iota of gameplay depth that Lost Luggage does not? Well, the key is that Kaboom! isn’t random. Even though it may seem impossible at first, it features patterns and strategies that become apparent with enough gameplay. And that means your chances of a high score are not random either, which makes all the difference.
A big fault with Lost Luggage lays in the control scheme. It should have been a paddle game, and considering paddles almost always came with the VCS at the time of its release there was no excuse to make it a joystick title. At first I was excited that the game offered a full range of movement, but I soon found out it didn’t really help much – starting at about the third wave your men move too slowly to vertically catch up with the baggage anyway.
Lost Luggage isn’t a complete disaster. Considering its age and status as a product of a second-rate third-party developer, its sounds and graphics are actually quite charming. Dropping a suitcase causes the contents of all on-screen bags to expose their contents (underwear, combs and – in a slightly macabre twist – apparently an entire human body). But it’s not a good sign when the most entertaining thing in a game happens when you lose. Lost Luggage simply does not offer enough fun, depth or opportunity to succeed to warrant extended play. D+
M.A.D. (U.S. Games, 1982)
This is not so much a review but a service announcement. I’ve technically already reviewed M.A.D. as Angriff der Luftflotten, a PAL version of the same game. Click that link for my review.
M*A*S*H (20th Century Fox, 1983)
Younger people who catch the odd M*A*S*H repeat may find it odd that the classic comedy/drama – with its adult humour and often devastating anti-war commentary – was ever considered suitable material for a kid’s video game in 1983. The surprising fact is there was a considerable effort back in the day to market the show to kids; there were playsets, action figures and miniature vehicles (no colouring books that I can find in spite of that one Simpsons gag), so video games were not completely out of the franchise’s wheelhouse. The question is how the source material – which was not exactly action-oriented — could ever translate into a video game.
The answer is, not badly. As wiseacre Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, you compete with “Ferret Face” Frank Burns to rescue as many soldiers as possible while avoiding enemy fire (I’ve seen every episode of M*A*S*H and don’t recall either Hawkeye or Burns ever flying a chopper, but oh well). The trees that slow you down can be frustrating, but once you get the hang of zipping around them the action can be quite fun.
Once enough men have been rescued, the game switches to an OR scene similar to the board game Operation. In this section you have 15 seconds to take as much shrapnel out of a soldier as possible. Touch any part of the body with the shrapnel and the game calls you a “ferret face,” returning you to the helicopter rescue level. The game continues until either you or Burns has scored 999 points.
But there’s more. In addition to an easier variation with smaller helicopters and no enemy tank, there’s another where you attempt to catch Colonel Potter’s skydiving medics who, for whatever reason, are jumping out of a plane without a parachute. The final variation focuses solely on the OR portion of the game. Each variation includes an option for two players which, considering the competitive nature of the game, may be the ideal way to play M*A*S*H.
The game features some nice graphical and audio flourishes, including the first bar or two of the theme song as well as an ambulance (apparently driven by Klinger) that picks you up whenever you’re hit by enemy fire. Unlike the TV series and movie, the M*A*S*H video game isn’t a classic but it’s perfectly enjoyable fun. B-
Malagai (Answer Software, 1983)
Is it just me, or did it seem like back in the ‘80s whenever a character on a sitcom played a video game the game always seemed needlessly complicated? That’s what Maligai felt like to me. I’m gonna try to keep the game description short here (c’mon – I provide those links to AtariAge for a reason) because I could easily dedicate most of this entry just to describing how to play the game. Suffice it to say that Maligai is a cross between Dark Cavern, Pac-Man and Blueprint (all games I like, by the way) combined with a strong element of memorization. However, the game does not rise to the sum of its parts on account of its lousy graphics, sound that will make you reach for the nearest Ativan and collision detection as unforgiving as VCS Pac-Man (and we all know how poor that was/is). The hardest variation relies entirely on luck, and it’s annoying that the “A” difficulty is actually the easier game (don’t even try playing this one before reading the manual which, again, can be found at the handy link below). It’s amusing that the game was released by a company called Answer Software, because Malagai is the answer to a question no one asked. D+
Mangia (Spectravision, 1983)
Food has been a consistent theme in video gaming going all the way back to Pac-Man, but few have taken eating to such an on-the-nose extreme as Mangia, a game that dares to set its premise exclusively around the dinner table to predictably boring results.
In a premise that would probably be considered politically incorrect (if not borderline racist) today, you are at the dinner table of your doting Italian mama who is determined to feed you pasta until you (literally) burst. Luckily, you have a hungry dog and cat you can toss food to, but do so while Mama is looking and she’ll give you even more food to deal with. You lose a life when there is so much food on the table that it collapses or you literally eat yourself to death (seriously, your stomach bursts and everything, almost putting the game in a category alongside the notorious mid-‘80s torture porn game Chiller).
The graphics go for a certain pixelated realism, which is ill-advised on the 2600 as it just makes the game vaguely creepy. There’s a nice Italian ditty at the start of every round, but the screeching sound effects that occur every time the dog or the cat appear get real annoying really fast. The controls are imprecise at best; eating and throwing upwards aren’t too hard but you have to be really exact in order to throw your vittles at whichever pet is on the floor. Although it scores points for originality and humour, Mangia is simply too gross and one-dimensional to be any fun. D
Marauder (Tigervision, 1982)
Marauder is a case study in not judging a game by its sound and graphics. It looks and sounds like a bag of smashed assholes, but is it ever fun, especially if you like games like Berzerk and Frenzy. Speaking of which, Marauder is like an overhead version of those two games with some crucial differences: one, you don’t see the robots until they’re in your line of fire. Two, there are power-ups (and plenty of them) you can use to go around knocking robots out to your heart’s content. And three, you can touch the walls without electrocuting yourself! Hurray! Destroying the power centers can earn you some considerable points depending on how much is left of your timer. The good news is the game will often start you on the screen with the power center (conversely, in higher difficulties it will often put you right in the middle of a bunch of robots, but I guess you take the good with the bad). The default game variation is a little on the easy side, but considering how many games I’ve played lately that don’t offer practice games, I consider this more of a feature than a flaw. Besides, the highest difficulty level is definitely no joke. Marauder doesn’t look like much but it deserves a shot. B-