Super Football (Atari, 1988)
Well, this is it. Until some ambitious home brewer comes around to top it, Super Football is by goodly measure the best single-player experience you’ll ever have on the Atari 2600 (the game allows two-player action as well, but I can’t really comment on that). Unlike its Atari-produced predecessors, Football and RealSports Football, Super Football contains all of the baseline elements you would want from a football sim.
Super Football scraps the overhead views of Atari’s previous football games (not to mention Mattel’s Super Challenge Football) for a vertically-scrolling playfield. It’s a vast improvement. But even that’s secondary to the smooth and Atari 2600-realistic way the players run around the screen. Basically, they look like they’re doing the things they’re supposed to do: when they throw, catch or kick a football, it actually looks they’re throwing, catching or kicking a football. They even throw their arms up in celebration upon a touchdown or interception.
The only players you ever control are the quarterback and wide receiver on offence and the cornerback on defence, but you also call the offensive and defensive plays and patterns (with the exception of the novice variation, in which the computer selects these). The wide receiver immediately becomes the player you control once the quarterback throws the ball, which means you have to shift your perspective pretty quickly. This takes some getting used to, but it’s not insurmountable.
I admit I struggled with selecting plays and patterns, but then again I always struggle with that aspect of the game regardless of the video football game I’m playing. You do have to be quick on the draw, however, or the computer will simply select a play for you.
Super Football wouldn’t be an Atari gridiron game without some quirks, and this game is no exception. In the novice game your teammates are so effective at covering your quarterback that in many cases you can easily run the ball all the way to the goal line and bypass the wide receiver completely. But hey – it’s the novice variation for a reason. It took ten years, but Atari finally delivered a quality football game, so thank heaven for small miracles. B
Surround aka Chase (Atari, Sears, 1977)
“I was excited to play Surround” is something no one has said in about 40 years, but when I had the opportunity to play it around ten years ago I actually was pretty stoked. Y’see, I really enjoyed the Intellivision game Snafu when I was a kid, which employs the exact same “box your opponent in or survive until he crashes” mechanic as Surround (which, it should be noted, Atari ripped off from the Gremlin arcade game Blockade). But when it comes to games as basic as this, it really is the little things that make a big difference; Snafu was vibrant and colourful – Surround has that early Atari VCS washed-out look with its accompanying questionable colour combinations.
In Surround’s defence, I was playing its one-player variation, while if I remember correctly Snafu was a two-player-only game. Being the Lonely Video Game Critic, I usually complain about such things but the Surround/Blockade/Snafu category of games is one that really benefits from head-to-head action. Single-player Surround’s AI is actually pretty good by 1977 standards, especially in the “A” category when it becomes a downright tricky little bugger. However, I can’t forgive the fact that Atari made both yours and your opponent’s blocks the same colour; two colours would have benefited the game significantly and was something the 2600 was perfectly capable of.
All the really fun stuff – horizontal movement, wraparound screens and erase – is limited to the two-player modes. Graffiti allows you to doodle around with your joystick (that sounded really bad – sorry). Kind of a neat feature, especially for the time, but it didn’t really capture me.
I’m bumping Surround up from my intended poor-side rating to an average one because – although it could have easily been designed better – I think there’s some great potential here for some fun two-player action. C
Survival Run (Milton Bradley, 1983)
This first-person maze-based shooter looks promising, but in practice it’s really quite tedious. Most of Milton Bradley’s marketing for Survival Run (including the instruction manual) focused on the special Cosmic Command Control ($100 on eBay the last I checked) that came with the game. Unfortunately, that focus is reflected in the game itself. From the best I can tell, the special control is a mere novelty – a joystick will do just fine with the cart, while I recommend using a good mouse if playing on Stella (shoot me an email if you need to know how to set up your mouse in Stella).
The goal of Survival Run is to navigate a maze while shooting a variety of enemies that rarely present any real threat even in the more difficult variations. Occasionally you will come up against a force field which requires you to shoot a switch or risk a collision. You shouldn’t have too many issues with this as long as you’re playing with a joystick, mouse or presumably the Command Control. The biggest danger is turning into a dead end in an intersection, resulting in an automatic crash. The end of the maze features the easiest-to-kill “boss” since Vanguard – either the arcade or the 2600 version.
I’d like to say that Survival Run’s first-person, pseudo three-dimensional action is innovative, but there were actually a lot of similar games for the system which employed the method much better (Star Strike and Tunnel Runner come to mind). It’s obvious MB was more interested in selling a toy than a video game. D
Sweat: The Decathlon Game (Starpath Prototype, 1983)
My longstanding policy on prototypes has been if you can use an Atari 2600 controller to play even a rudimentary game on it, I’ll review it. Sweat: The Decathlon Game qualifies, but just barely. Heck, as far as I know the game – which appears to have been halted fairly early on in production – isn’t even available as a ROM in one piece. My own package includes four variants: two can play running/hurdle events, one can only play shot put, some have title screens with a nice rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner while others don’t. Odd controller setup too; you select your event with your paddle in the left controller jack and play the handful of games it offers with a joystick plugged into the right port. The few events that were coded for Sweat before its cancellation look good and control similarly to The Activision Decathlon (ie. joystick-shaking city). Honestly, I’m acknowledging Sweat here more than I’m reviewing it. It’s simply a look at what might have been. If you want to know more about the proto, Atari Protos will happily fill you in.
SWOOPS! (Homebrew, 2005)
SWOOPS! may be a collection of three 1K minigames, but the cart packs a lot of addictive play value in spite of its modest aspirations. It’s a collection that Thomas Jentzch submitted to a minigame competition in 2004. Two of these games – Cave 1K and Splatform – came in first and second place, respectively. Crash ‘n Dive rounds out this fun little compilation.
My particular favourite, Cave 1K, is a helicopter game using your joystick’s action button to regulate your aircraft’s altitude while avoiding obstacles and the roof and floor of the cavern itself. The helicopter and cavern are finely and colourfully rendered, although the obstacles are represented by straight lines coming from the floor and ceiling. As primitive as that might be, it doesn’t interfere with the simple challenge of the piece; guiding your helicopter is a precision endeavor that will likely take more than a few plays to get the hang of, let alone master.
Splatform is an innovative platformer featuring a smiley-faced ball that you bounce across a series of platforms without falling into the void. The game penalizes the player for bouncing in place, so your best bet is to just keep bouncing to the right.
Crash ‘n Dive requires the use of your paddle controls to guide another smiley-faced ball down an endless tunnel where a series of platforms are fall along with you. Capturing yellow platforms gains points while hitting other platforms subtracts from your score. I’m not entirely sure if hitting a bouncy platform costs you points but it certainly slows you down. Crash ‘n Dive is a lot of fun, but still my least favourite of the three minigames.
The games in SWOOPS! may not offer a lot of play depth, but if you like simple, addictive twitch gameplay, you’ll want to seek it out. SWOOPS! is available through the AtariAge Store. B