Pizza Chef (CCE, 1983)
Geez, you know a game is bad when even ZiMag – not exactly arbiters of high quality themselves – declines to release it. Instead, CCE released Pizza Chef in Brazil exclusively; although I feel bad for that market, I’m glad it didn’t come close to North America. I’m not entirely sure what Pizza Chef is all about even though I’ve attempted it several times. All I know is it has awful controls, awful graphics and your chef gets knocked over by virtually anything on the screen. Atari Protos can give you a better idea of the game if you really feel like putting yourself through that kind of misery. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. F
Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox Prototype, Developed 1983)
Planet of the Apes is a prototype that had a lot of potential, but 20th Century Fox’s game division shut down before it could be completed. After that it had a long and strange history. Apparently the prototype was placed in a case labelled Alligator People and was thought to be that game until some research by Atari Protos revealed that it was, indeed, the long-lost Planet of the Apes prototype.
Planet of the Apes is playable and may very well have been released as-is by a company with lesser standards, but my gut feeling is Fox still had some extra ideas in order to flesh it out. The goal of the game is to make your way to the Forbidden Zone while avoiding or shooting apes of varying lethality. Getting caught by some apes will place you in the village prison, in which case you will have to use one of your allotted six escapes to get out. The game eschews lives for a life meter, which was fairly innovative for its time.
It’s a map game, with the map becoming a little more complicated every time you make it to the Forbidden Zone with its crude rendition of the fallen Statue of Liberty (sorry, you’ll have to provide your own Charlton Heston-like shrieks of “You blew it up! God damn you all to hell!”). Although you can shoot the various apes for points, your best bet is to run like hell and hopefully avoid falling into pits. I admit I had the classic E.T. problem with these pits as I fell into them over and over again, costing me an escape every single time.
The graphics are blocky but colourful. The running sounds recall Donkey Kong, leading my wife to believe I was actually playing that game. It’s a pleasant enough fast-action game but to me it was clear Fox was not yet done with it. It’s worth a play or two.
Planet Patrol (Spectravision, 1982)
Planet Patrol has something of a mediocre reputation among Atari 2600 fans, but I quite like it. It has its share of problems, but cut it a little slack and you just might discover it to be a satisfying side-scrolling shooter.
The game looks damn good; Activision-quality in fact. Playwise, Planet Patrol is a fixed right-to-left shooter in which you fire at or dodge larger red missiles and avoid smaller blue missiles. You can’t just fire pell-mell however, as you risk hitting the black ship which allows your ship to land and refuel. Before that, however, you must destroy the enemy’s three refuelling depots. This creates a series of mine fields that you must navigate around. Get through these fields unscathed and, if you successfully docked with the black ship earlier, you will be eligible for a fuel refill. The process then starts afresh (faster, of course) but with a bit of a twist. On the second round the sun goes down, meaning you have to fire continuously in order to see the missiles flying towards you. It’s actually a lot of fun when you get the hang of it.
Like I said, the game has its faults. Much has been said about Planet Patrol’s collision detection. The game is not so much collision-faulty as it is collision-precise; you pretty much have to hit the red missiles head-on. Also, the mine fields are sometimes positioned in such a way that it is impossible to navigate a course through them. Still, Planet Patrol is an above-average effort for a Spectravideo game and it’s clear that the company put more effort than usual into its development. It’s not a must-have, but if you like side-scrolling shooters you could do far worse. C+
Plaque Attack (Activision, 1983)
Though known primarily for their Pitfall titles and the non-stop overhead military action of River Raid, Activision released their share of silly games as well, like Oink! and Spider Fighter. Just don’t compute “silly” with “not fun” because Plaque Attack is as fun as no-brainer arcade-style action gets.
You play a tube of toothpaste (how many modern Triple-A games can say that, huh?) defending a set of teeth from a bevy of goodies such as candy canes, ice cream, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, french fries, strawberries, cherries and donuts. The food groups approach the teeth slowly and predictably at first but eventually start moving in increasingly difficult patterns (I won’t say “unpredictable” patterns because like most Atari games you can usually figure these things out). You get a bonus tooth for every extra 2,000 points you score.
Plaque Attack looks gorgeous, with programmer Steve Cartwright going out of his way to make sure the foods look like what they’re supposed to look like (that might sound silly, but consider Megamania’s version of a hamburger from a couple of years before). The game turns into a very fast shooter with some twists – I really like the fact that you can save a tooth in the middle of an attack by blasting toothpaste at it. Plaque Attack does not have a lot of play depth, but that’s not what it’s there for. If you like fast arcade-style shoot-em-ups with a sense of humour, check it out. B
Pleiades (UA Limited Prototype, Developed 1983)
Although Pleiades never qualified as a classic in its arcade incarnation (probably because no one could pronounce its damn name), it’s gained a certain mystique for its reputation as the sequel to Phoenix – a claim that is only partly true. Although both games were released in North America by Centuri, Phoenix was developed by Taito while Pleiades was developed by Tecmo. Gameplay-wise, 2600 Pleiades is actually more similar to Gorf in that it is a collection of distinct mini-games of which only one resembles Phoenix.
Pleiades’ first screen recalls Galaga for the fact that the aliens dive in on you, although these guys are much more trigger-happy than those of the latter game. The 2600 adaptation skips the arcade version’s second screen – which is very much a Phoenix clone – but includes a take on the mothership battle from that game, complete with alien birds that must be hit head-on. The final screen is kind of a space relay race in which you must use your thrusters to reach the warp drive at the top without crashing. The only similar game I can think of is the awful Out of Control, but this is much better.
For a prototype Pleiades seems very complete. Perhaps its coolest feature is its game variations. Not only can you give yourself infinite lives by switching the left difficulty to “A” but there are three extra game variations focusing on each of the title’s three mini-games. These are very useful for practice as the default multi-screen game isn’t exactly kids’ stuff, at least after the initial level of difficulty.
Pleiades isn’t the greatest game in the world and certainly doesn’t come close to the majesty that is Phoenix, but it is a good little omnibus game. UA Limited only developed a handful of games and to the best of my knowledge never released any of them. However, they did a very good job with Pleiades, perhaps knowing how important it was to get their only medium-profile arcade adaptation right. C+
Pleiades can be purchased at the AtariAge Store.