A look at the new-old Atari game Arkyology

Arkyology_NewAtariGameBack in my review of Activision’s Thwocker I speculated that the world would be a nicer place (for some of us anyway) if a new Activision prototype appeared out of the blue every few years. Well, something close to that has just happened. It’s not by Activision, but it’s no mere prototype either: it’s a fully-functional, ready-for-store-shelves-back-in-1983 genuine article of an Atari 2600 game. After years of discussion in this thread on AtariAge, one of the game’s developers dropped this ROM just a few days ago. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Arkyology – the latest addition to the Atari 2600 canon.

ARKYOLOGY TITLE SCREEN

Arkyology opening screen

It’s better to follow the real-time unfolding of the Arkyology story in the link above, but I’ll summarize. Back in 2015 an AtariAge user named “pwalters” started talking about a couple of Bible-themed games he had worked on for the 2600 by way of his employment with a company called Enter-Tech Ltd. After gamely responding to the usual, understandable skepticism and discussing some of his own history in the industry, Paul Walters was eventually cajoled by AA users into posting a video of Arkyology (the other game – David and Goliath – was never completed). Much excitement ensued, with tentative plans made to use AtariAge’s resources to cart up and box the game – the whole package.

And then the trail went cold. Walters literally went years without posting, although he was apparently in touch with a contact from AtariAge. And then, just a few days ago, he drops the Arkyology ROM on the exact same thread where the discussion started. Just like the Judeo-Christian God on the seventh day of the world’s creation, we looked upon it and found it to be good.

Arkyology is a Donkey Kong-style platformer with unique game mechanics all its own. As Noah, your first job is to unlock the pens of the animals on the ark so you can feed them. However, some animals have escaped their pens and appear to have a beef with their holy captor. These include exceptionally fast-moving turtles, birds, a rat-like thing that apparently launches a lethal poop every time you pass under it and – in higher levels so I’m told – alligators. The “lock” is constantly appearing and reappearing all over the five-by-three pen gamefield, meaning you are constantly jumping over, ducking under or just plain avoiding these obstacles.

Once Noah unlocks all of the doors, his next step is to feed all of the animals, including ducks, zebras and cats (oh my!). The basic mechanic is the same as the unlocking piece except instead of a lock, an animal’s head randomly pops up in the eligible pen. Once that’s done, a nice cutscene of Noah taking a well-deserved nap appears and then it’s on to another, faster level.

Arkyology is a legitimately good game which deserved a commercial release. The game mechanics are solid, based on familiar territory with some twists all of its own. The game can be quite challenging but far from impossible – just the mix you want for any video game. Graphically, all backgrounds and sprites are colourful and animated well. The stationary graphics of the animals in their pens are also very well-detailed. In fact, it kind of reminds me of an Activision game – right down the company’s familiar house style score counter. So in a way I kind of got my wish.

My only complaint is that getting off of ladders can be tricky. Walters admits this was a problem early on in development that the developers decided to revisit later. However, they never had the chance due to deadline pressures. I must admit having an audience with a game’s developer makes me more forgiving of a game’s faults, of which Arkyology has mercifully few. A

Now the most important part. Click on this page of the discussion thread to get your own .bin file of Arkyology to play in your favourite emulator. You’ll have to scroll down just about to the bottom of the page to get to the right “pwalters” entry.

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