Atari 2600 Game Reviews: Room of Doom through Saboteur

RoomOfDoom_AtariGameRoom of Doom (CommaVid, 1982)

CommaVid really took a page from Atari’s playbook with Room of Doom, including an astounding number of game variations and even an Atari-style game variation matrix in the manual. The result is a game that – while faulty in some ways – achieves hidden-gem status.

This Berzerk-flavoured run-and-gunner puts your protagonist in the middle of an arena where gunmen outside the playfield shoot at you through either open or opening and shutting doors. Inside the arena is a monster that comes after you constantly (picture Evil Otto if you could never escape from him). You can shoot the monster but it constantly regenerates. Take too long to shoot the gunmen and the monster becomes invincible.

There’s a lot of variety in Room of Doom to keep things interesting. You can set the gunmen to fire diagonally or for you to move faster or for gunmen to shoot faster. There are even variations which supply you with guided bullets, although I didn’t find these to be particularly useful. The difficulty ranges between moderately challenging to full-on heart-stopping Robotron 2084-style exertion.

For all of the game’s wide range of variations, I wish CommaVid would have included just one where there were no monsters. The game is already hard enough without them, and they add insult to injury by taking forever to blow up – you die if you run into an exploding monster so you frequently find yourself trapped while it’s busy dying. Graphics and sounds are fairly standard 2600 fare, but the gameplay is something else, with lots of room for strategy amidst all the pixelated carnage. Room of Doom is a winner. B

More Info: Room of Doom on AtariAge. For current listings of Room of Doom for sale on eBay, click here

RubiksCube_AtariGameRubik’s Cube aka Atari Video Cube (Atari, 1984, 1982)

I’d like to start this review off with a plug for one of my favourite Atari-related sites. Regular readers may have noticed that I refer to Atari Protos quite regularly and there’s good reason for that: the site is simply an amazing resource for information on prototypes for not just the 2600, but for the whole range of Atari consoles and computers. And it’s not just good for info on prototypes – in this case, both Rubik’s Cube and its predecessor Atari Video Cube were commercially-released. I urge anyone with an interest in the secret history of Atari to check the site out.

Basically, Rubik’s Cube and the 1982-released Atari Video Cube are the same game with some minor cosmetic differences. I missed Atari Video Cube alphabetically back in the “A’s” but its successor has given me a chance to correct that mistake. For the record, this review is based on the Atari Video Cube version – not that it makes much difference.

If there are two popular cultural phenomena that scream “1982” they are the Atari 2600 and the Rubik’s Cube. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Atari decided to put the two together to create a game that captures the spirit – if not the actual mechanics – of the Rubik’s Cube. And thank God for that, because like many people I struggle with the meatspace Cube and a faithful video game rendition of one would be simply tedious.

Rubik’s Cube/Atari Video Cube features a little man – “Marvin the Cube Master” – that you navigate around the six-sided cube (you only see one side of the cube at any given time). Marvin does what most of us used to do with our Rubik’s Cubes in real life: remove and replace the stickers until it looks like we’ve mastered it. However, it’s not quite that easy in this case; Marvin adopts the colour of every square he’s replaced and he can’t walk on any square with which he shares the same colour. This requires some strategy to work around, especially at the point where most of the sides have been completed.

Rubik’s Cube/Atari Video Cube is oddly addictive for a brief period of time but once you’ve completed the cube it doesn’t have much more to offer. There are a lot of game variations, but a number of them are either demonstration or “blackout” modes where you only see the squares when rotating to a different side, which didn’t sound like a lot of fun to me (I admit I didn’t play those variations). Timed variations allow you to attempt to beat your best time, so there’s that. Rubik’s Cube/Atari Video Cube is undeniably colourful and fun but don’t expect much long-term play depth. C+

More Info: Rubik’s Cube on AtariAge. For current listings of Rubik’s Cube/Atari Video Cube on eBay, click here

RubiksCube3D_AtariGameRubik’s Cube 3D aka 3D Rubik’s Cube (Atari Prototype, Developed 1982)

The good news is that Rubik’s Cube 3D plays exactly like a real-life Rubik’s Cube. The bad news is that Rubik’s Cube 3D plays exactly like a real-life Rubik’s Cube. If you were at all disappointed by the loosey-goosey approach Rubik’s Cube/Atari Video Cube brought to the mechanics of the Rubik’s Cube, then you’re in luck here. If, like the rest of us, you find the actual Cube to be frustrating and ultimately somewhat boring, you’re better off not wasting your time. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some handy concessions for those among us who are not Cube prodigies; there’s a “cheat” mode in which players can set cube colours to whatever they want and even a “solve” mode where you can watch the program solve the puzzle for you. Thinking about it, Rubik’s Cube 3D might be a nice primer for those interested in the puzzle but lack the chops to master it.

The graphics are beautiful and the prototype appears complete from a gameplay perspective. Personally I find it all a big yawn, but if you’re an avid Cubist feel free to up my grade by a couple of letter grades. C

More Info: Rubik’s Cube 3D on AtariAge. For current listings of Rubik’s Cube 3D for sale on eBay, click here

RushHour_AtariGameRush Hour (CommaVid Prototype, Developed 1983)

Not much to say about this prototype other than it’s obviously unfinished. Rush Hour is a flipped-on-its-side Spy Hunter-type game where you blow up other cars on a five-lane freeway. Your main goal is to reach a set of five car carriers and destroy them. The game controls poorly, particularly the vertical control which becomes choppy at some point for no apparent reason. Cars on the playfield start flashing for no reason and the collision detection is suspect. There are oil slicks all over the freeway but it appears the project was abandoned before anyone wrote any collision code for them. Rush Hour is playable (barely) but it’s more of an insight into what could have been than an actual game. CommaVid generally produced strong games (Mines of Minos, Cakewalk, Room of Doom reviewed above) so Rush Hour probably would have turned out to be a quality title, but we can only speculate.

More Info: Rush Hour on AtariAge. For current listings of Rush Hour for sale on eBay, click here

Saboteur_AtariGameSaboteur (Atari Prototype, Developed 1983)

(A bit of a disclaimer: the version I played is a little different in the Warhead Battle level than the one described in AtariAge’s manual. In the version I played Hotot is replaced by a ship and there is no on-screen warhead. Instead, there are Qotile-from-Yars’ Revenge-style commas that shoot up at you. The level has an unfinished feel with suspect collision detection. However, I have played the third level of the A-Team prototype, which is exactly the same game but with different sprites. If anyone can illuminate me on this mysterious alternate Warhead Battle I’d really appreciate it.)

Saboteur is probably the best game Atari never released. Of all the projects the company cancelled around 1983-84, it was probably the one that stood the best chance of becoming a hit. However, Atari hijacked its chances by deciding to attach Saboteur’s gameplay to an incongruous A-Team theme and ultimately releasing neither version. A shame, because to me this highly unique three-screen shooter is the spiritual sequel to Yars’ Revenge (it was even designed by the same programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw).

The goal of Hotot – the hero of Saboteur – is to prevent the construction and launch of a warhead by the Qotile (sound familiar?). The first – and best – screen features Hotot on the fourth row of a six-row matrix as he furiously uses his eight-angle firing capabilities to destroy construction robots and enslaved Yars as they carry warhead components to the right side of the screen. Meanwhile, from the top of the screen the Master Robot fires down on you and the friendly Gorfons who take away pieces of the warhead (you have to be careful not to hit the Gorfons yourself, an element which prevents the game from becoming a mindless kill-fest). You can destroy the Master Robot but it just keeps regenerating.

The next level requires Hotot to destroy the pieces of the warhead, represented by square blocks winding along the bottom of the screen. However, you can’t just fire your lasers at them – you have to bounce your shots off the Master Robot, creating an intriguing extra step in the timing of your shots. The final level is a straightforward battle against the warhead. It’s also probably the hardest screen of the entire game.

Saboteur would be a top-tier game even if it only included the first level – the extra two screens are gravy. Whether or not you liked E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark (I consider Yars’ Revenge beyond dispute), it’s hard to argue that Howard Scott Warshaw was one of the most creative minds in the Atari era of video games. Saboteur is further evidence of this. A

Saboteur can be purchased at the AtariAge store. It is also available on several of the recent plug-and-play Atari Flashbacks, including the most recent as of this writing, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold. For eBay listings of the Atari Flashback 8 Gold, click here

More Info: Saboteur on AtariAge. For current listings of Saboteur for sale on eBay, click here

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