Sky Diver (Atari, 1978)
Sky Diver is one of the most entertaining VCS games of the pre-Space Invaders era. Based on a monochrome arcade game also produced by Atari, Sky Diver is a dead simple but moderately challenging game that particularly shines in two-player scenarios, although it can also be fun flying (falling?) solo.
The goal of Sky Diver is to jump out of an airplane, pull the rip cord on your parachute and float down onto a platform which can be large or small or moving depending on the game variation. A wind sock at the bottom of the screen indicates wind direction, giving you an idea of when best to jump. The longer you wait to pull your rip cord, the more points you get if you land successfully. Figuring out how long you can let your guy fall before putting up your chute is possibly the most fun aspect of the game.
One thing I love about Sky Diver is that you have to watch everything on the screen at the same time. You have to determine when to jump from the plane and when to pull your cord at the same time you’re watching the wind sock and the locations of the platforms (their positions change with every jump and there’s even a game variation in which the platforms move). The graphics and sound are obviously simple yet colorful and effective, and the flailing parachuter is well-animated. Sky Diver may not look like an obvious contender for a great game, but give it a chance and I think you may be pleasantly surprised. B+
Sky Jinks (Activision, 1982)
One of many things I’ve always liked about Activision’s Atari 2600 games is that they always set a standard to shoot for with its patch awards. Not only could you get something real and tangible as a reward for your gaming efforts, but in the absence of people to play with it gave you some satisfaction that you played a good game. I regret to report that I never achieved the 37.0 time necessary to get the “Sky Skipper” patch for Sky Jinks as a youngster, which may be the reason why I’ve never thought of it as highly as other games I owned in my youth. But playing it recently revealed it to be an enjoyable little game.
As Atari Protos pointed out, Sky Jinks is basically a slalom race in the sky, making it for all intents and purposes an upside-down Skiing. Your goal is to weave your plane through a course of 25, 50, 75 or 99 pylons as quickly as possible while avoiding obstacles such as trees and hot-air balloons. Failing to clear a pylon will cost you three seconds at the end of the race while crashing into obstacles will slow you down. A fifth game variation gives you 99 pylons plus a new course with every play while setting the difficulty to “a” randomizes the layout of the trees.
I generally don’t give out game hints in my reviews (mainly because I usually don’t have any) but I have to share one here: you only crash into the balloons if you hit the basket, not the balloon itself. This means you can fly right through the balloon, making the course easier to navigate.
Sky Jinks’ graphics and sounds are some of Activision’s very best, which is saying something. Every object in the game has a shadow and you can even judge your plane’s altitude by its shadow’s height. Seeing as I gave Skiing a B+ I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t give Sky Jinks a comparable grade. However, I found the former game to be just a bit more compelling. B
Sky Patrol (Imagic Prototype, Developed 1982)
“You know what would make a fun video game? A hot-air balloon simulator!” is something no one has ever said, at least in the past twenty to thirty years. However, in the early days of video games developers experimented with all kinds of ideas that wouldn’t likely see the light of day in this day and age. Sky Patrol is one of these, and even in its time Imagic abandoned it mid-development.
Although the company had planned for Sky Patrol to be a more exciting experience, as it is right now it barely qualifies under my policy on reviewing prototypes. It’s a playable game in a very rudimentary sense. Basically, you maneuver your balloon by increasing or decreasing the flame that powers it, attempting to capture wind currents that will take you either to the left or right. You get points simply by seeing various objects on the ground (most of these seem to be to the right and – surprise! – there are far fewer right-blowing currents than left-blowing ones). The objects in question suggest the potential for a more action-oriented game; for example, there are tanks and cannons that shoot at you but do not cause any damage.
The mechanics involved in operating the balloon seem to be pretty sound, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fun. Sky Patrol is obviously unfinished and really not worth much of your time unless you want to imagine what might have been.
Sky Skipper (Parker Brothers, 1983)
Classic arcade games were always a little abstract, to say the least. Why was Pac-Man eating all those dots and why were the monsters defending them? Why was Q*Bert hopping on those blocks and what did he have to gain by changing the colour of the entire pyramid? In that same tradition, Sky Skipper – a port of a mostly-forgotten 1981 Nintendo machine (although the cart seems to have little to do with the original in either gameplay or graphics) – seeks to combine bombing monkeys with rescuing animals.
Sky Skipper puts you and your trusty airplane in charge of rescuing some kidnapped animals from gorillas (what was with Nintendo and gorillas anyway?) that are holding them captive in a maze. The first thing you have to do is bomb one of the gorillas, knocking it off its feet – after which you have a limited amount of time to rescue one or more of the creatures. Once the gorilla is back on its feet you have to repeat the process again. Your fuel is depleting the whole time but can be refilled by rescuing one of each of the four animals (cats, turtles, rabbits and ducks) in consecutive order. This adds to the challenge of the game, although in some ways it makes it harder than it needs to be. Otherwise, you do your best to not crash into the walls of the maze, which can be quite a challenge in itself.
Sky Skipper does not have the greatest reputation in the (admittedly limited) Atari 2600 blogosphere. However, I thought it was okay – if a little repetitive – and featured some classic video game mechanics. The idea that you can crash into a cloud is a little stupid even by the standards of video games of the time, but like I said, you have to approach these things abstractly. I hope the Nintendo original eventually makes it to the Virtual Console everyone is talking about these days. B-
Slot Machine (Atari, 1978)
Wow, did I ever have a hard time finding a working ROM for Slot Machine (it’s not the kind of game I would ever buy). I ultimately had to settle on the “Atari Greatest Hits” app on my cell phone just to find a version in which the controls would work. Just goes to show that those responsible for Atari 2600 emulation – all fans, presumably – couldn’t care less about this game. All told, it’s a reasonable sentiment.
The elephant in the room where it comes to Slot Machine is “What’s the point?” It’s not a game of skill and you can’t play it for money (well, I suppose you could do so with friends, but with the modern prevalence of video lottery terminals these days – depending on where you live – why would you want to?). Secondly, if you’re going to make a slot machine game, make it colourful; even the humble Fairchild Channel F’s stab at slots has the VCS version beat in that respect.
All that said, I suppose if you have a burning desire to play slots on the Atari 2600, Slot Machine works well enough. The spinning sounds aren’t bad. You have choices between jackpot and payoff games (just about wrote jackoff and paypot) and center or multiple paylines. I preferred the payoff games mostly because there’s a greater variety of objects to cut through the monotony. I can’t imagine Slot Machine holding much entertainment value for the average gamer. D