Tax Avoiders (American Videogame, 1982)
Tax Avoiders is a horrible, horrible video game that literally had no reason to exist from the moment some misguided individual came up with the concept. Who would have ever wanted this thing? Kids were the primary audience for video games back in 1982 and I’m pretty sure the very words “Tax Avoiders” would have instantly put most of them into a boredom-induced coma. I can’t see the era’s few video game-playing adults being very interested simply because it’s so miserably un-fun. That leaves the libertarian crowd who probably thought it was a brilliant way to bring the message of laissez-faire capitalism to the younger generation. It wasn’t.
The goal, according to the manual, is to “become a millionaire, after taxes, in one year. As in real life, there are obstructions to your progress, bureaucratic levels to go through and obstacles to overcome such as . . . bad investments that lose money, taxes and IRS audits.” I don’t object to the subject matter of Tax Avoiders any more than I object to fantasizing about being a gangster in Grand Theft Auto or a cold-blooded murderer in Hitman. In a more sophisticated context, a game whose goal is to cheat on your taxes could work.
But Tax Avoiders is really only about that because the packaging says so. Otherwise, it’s a clunky platformer with flickery, migraine-inducing collectables and awful gameplay mechanics. It also appears to have lifted whole chunks of code from Porky’s (or vice-versa), of all games. And that is certainly not a good foundation for any video game.
Anyway, this game sucks. I’d rather talk about the manual, which is far more entertaining. Here are some of the unintentionally hilarious clunkers you’re treated to:
- “The year is divided into 635 days, 12 months and 4 seasons.” (You’d think people so concerned about taxes would be better with numbers.)
- “This takes you to the various levels, slowly like normal governmental action.” (Whoa, sick burn on the government dude.)
- “Here, you are being pursued by a character who is consistently moving into and out of the private enterprise system and governmental employment.” (Thanks Ron Swanson – I really hope “governmental” was a clever albeit stupid play on “mental.” Otherwise, it’s just grammatically-questionable.)
In the spirit of the game, I declare Tax Avoiders creatively bankrupt and a poor return on investment. F
Taz (Atari, 1983)
I’ve actually reviewed this game before; except for the licensed content, Asterix is the exact same game as Taz – same game mechanics, same playfield. In retrospect, I underrated Asterix by giving it a C+. Taz/Asterix may be one-dimensional, but they are incredibly immersive in the way we used to describe a video game as immersive: like Kaboom!, it moves so fast that you have no choice but to give it your full attention.
Taz features Looney Tunes’ lovable if bunny-hungry Tasmanian Devil as he stalks a grid in pursuit of a well-rounded diet of burgers, root beer, ice cream and other artery-hardening, Type 2 diabetes-inducing fare. However, whatever gods are giving Taz this bounty of junk food are also throwing dynamite at him, and it takes some mastery of the twitchy controls to grab the goodies while avoiding the explosives.
Like Asterix, the Taz title screen features a pixelly but detailed rendering of the titular character. Of the two games, I prefer Taz simply because Looney Tunes was a fixture of my typical North American youth and I get the overall aesthetic. However, either one will serve you equally well. Asterix is slightly inferior in the graphics department as it’s sometimes hard to differentiate the good items from those that will kill you. However, I’m eventually going to go back and give it a B while Taz gets a B+.
Telepathy (Atari Prototype, Developed 1983)
Telepathy may be the best Atari game ever designed to support one of Atari’s goofiest ideas. Nobody knows if it was even intended to be a game or a demonstrator for Atari’s ill-fated Mindlink controller (you control it with your brain!). As it is, designed with joystick control as an alternative (thank God), Telepathy is a fun multi-screen platformer with a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Telepathy features seven unique screens, each with its own mode of gameplay (lending some credence to the theory that the game is a mishmash of action scenes thrown together to demonstrate the Mindlink). It doesn’t really matter either way; if anything, it acts as a proto version of the kind of platformers that would dominate the NES/Sega era.
The first level – or “mine” – features four screens: The Plain, Spiders, The Miner and The River. “Spiders” is a run, fall and avoid obstacles endeavour similar to Pitfall 2: Lost Caverns. “The Miner” is a bit of a throwaway (essentially, rescue a miner H.E.R.O style and avoid very slow-falling rocks), while “The River” is a vertically-scrolling screen in which you must swim through holes in a series of platforms while avoiding becoming piranha dinner. The least thematically-connected of these is “The Plain,” where you walk across a sandy dune collecting a series of objects that incrementally increase in point value until you miss one.
Each new mine introduces a new screen. Mine 2 brings us “Elevators” which challenges you to get to the bottom of a mine even as elevators attempt to pick you up and waste valuable time. “Ledges” appears in Mine 3 and is possibly the hardest screen of the game as you attempt to fall down a mining shaft without being hit by lightning-fast fireballs. Mine 4 gives us “The Mashers” which I regrettably have never played because I’ve never made it past “Ledges.”
Although lives are lost in Telepathy, your real enemy is the rapidly-diminishing clock which makes every second of gameplay count. Graphically, the game is in line with most other Atari-produced product from 1983 (which is to say pretty good) although the audio leans towards the scratchy side. All in all, Telepathy is far better than anyone could have expected a prototype – and an experimental one at that – to be. B. Thanks to Atari Protos for its description of the game – very little documentation of Telepathy exists otherwise.
Tempest (Atari Prototype, Developed 1984)
No. Just no. Tempest is one game that should have never, ever been attempted for the Atari 2600. I know this is a prototype, but I have a hard time believing Atari could have made many improvements. It passes my standards for review (you can take a controller and play it as a game) but my bigger reason for inclusion is the fact that this prototype has found its way onto several Atari Flashbacks at the expense of far worthier efforts such as Telepathy above.
To be fair, it’s hard to think of any contemporary system (aside from possibly the Vectrex) that could have handled Tempest’s complex geometry, vector graphics and 3D perspective much better. At the same time, why attempt to port a game as sophisticated as Tempest to the 2600 when a version for the 5200 or Atari’s computer line would have been more appropriate?
I’m sure if you’re reading this blog you have some idea what Tempest is about, but if you don’t, it’s a geometric, 3D, fixed-rail shoot-em-up and one of the Atari arcade division’s finest hours. The 3D effects and enemy scaling were way ahead of its time. Here we have 1977 hardware attempting to replicate highly-advanced 1980 tech – the results are not pretty either from a gameplay or graphic perspective.
The good news is that the spirit of Tempest is imprinted throughout the 2600 catalog. Activision’s Beamrider partially mimics its gameplay with primitive but effective 3D effects, while Turmoil and even Taz take the grid-based gameplay and place it in a more realistic 2D environment.
Tempest is readily available on ROM or Atari Flashback, so I’m sure you’ll want to check out what could have been. Whether you’ll ever want to play it again is another matter completely.
Tennis (Activision, 1981)
I know they don’t offer points for style in tennis, but Activision’s Tennis gets plenty of style points in terms of graphics and faithfulness to the real-life game. Where it fails is its extreme difficulty in changing the course of the ball, resulting in endless – and boring – volleying between yourself and the CPU player.
Comparisons to Atari’s RealSports Tennis (released a couple of years later) are inevitable in this instance. RealSports Tennis uses the same perspective as the earlier game but just plays so much better. The biggest problem with Activision’s Tennis is its system of hitting the ball with the edge of your racket in order to drive wider-angle hits. This might work in two-player games but it rarely matters when playing the CPU, which is a virtual ball magnet. It is possible to learn some very fancy footwork and racket-handling to overcome this, but you’re gonna be bored stiff in the meantime.
Tennis is a rare misstep for Activision’s 1980-84 golden era, but it’s still not terrible. I’m gonna give it a benefit of a doubt and assume it’s a lot more fun in two-player mode, but single players competing against the CPU will likely be disappointed. C-