“Why does the Atari 2600 need minigames?” asks the noob. “Aren’t all Atari games minigames?”
“Well,” I say to the imaginary plebe. “Because you’re a noob, I’ll forgive you for not knowing just what the Atari 2600 is capable of and how some games are much bigger and more involved than others. I’ll even let the generic ‘Atari’ reference slide. But in the future, define what kind of ‘Atari game’ you’re referring to. 2600? 5200? 7800? 8-bit computer? Lynx? Jaguar? Arcade? That AtariVCS thing we still don’t know is going to see the light of day or not?”
Kind of went off-track there for a second – sorry. The 2005 Minigame Multicart remains one of AtariAge’s coolest projects: seven games in one cart including ports of very old and obscure arcade and computer games, a revision of checkers and an original idea or two. Most of the games – regardless of how basic in presentation and intent – even come with their own backstory: an Atari concept if there ever was one.
Individually, none of the games on the cart are much to get worked up over. But put them together and they make for a fun, unique experience. Although I’m not sure which programmer designed which games, the Minigame Multicart includes games by Chris Walton, Fred Quimby, Bob Montgomery and Zach Matley – all pretty well-known names to those who follow the world of 2600 homebrews. The cart itself features short, basic instructions for each game – something I’ve never seen in a 2600 game before (including homebrews).
Hunchy. The word “Hunchy” still kinda gives me the chills when applied to a video game. The homebrew Hunchy II by Chris Walton (I assumed he programmed this minigame as well) was a game in an AtariAge High Score Club contest a couple of years ago and DAMN was it hard! I gave it an A in my review because it deserved it, but I honestly haven’t played it since because my accumulated success in the game over a week-long period could have been measured in micrometres.
Unlike Hunchy II – which was comprised of Walton’s own ideas – Hunchy is based on an obscure (and rightly so) arcade game called Hunch Back. You take the hunchback through a series of obstacles (jumping over holes, jumping over holes with soldiers, dodging spears). It’s okay if unspectacular until you come to the first rope-swinging obstacle, which features the worst rope-swinging mechanic I’ve seen since, well, Hunch Back (points for accuracy). I’ve managed to cross the chasm a couple of times but entirely by chance.
Walton made Hunchy hard, but at least he gives you unlimited lives. On the other hand, between no score and unlimited lives there doesn’t seem to be much point to the game. I know minigames are supposed to be simple, stupid fun, but I didn’t find much enjoyment here. Stick with Hunchy II.
Jetman. Although still very much a “mini” game, Jetman is probably the Minigame Multicart game most worthy of its own plastic. Inspired by the 1983 computer game JetPac, you play an intergalactic gas station attendant refuelling rocket ships (via fuel pods you catch by flying around the screen) while avoiding shots coming from off-screen. The game could use a scoring system, but honestly if you put too much effort into it it’s no longer a “minigame” is it? A fun and challenging diversion.
M-4. Ah, the art of war, in which two men (it was 1977, dammit – it would have been men) driving tanks go up and down a vertical plane, shooting each other’s shields (and each other) without ever rotating their turrets. M-4 is based on a 1977 arcader by Midway and is one of the more entertaining games on the Minigame Multicart. Like many ‘70s video games, you have a limited amount of time (in this case 90 seconds) to shoot your opponent (as well as shields and either a car or a plane for bonus points) as many times as possible. I don’t know for sure, but I would bet good money that the original arcade game was two-player-only. If it wasn’t, I doubt any computerized opponent would have been as perceptive as the one on display here – you really have to work to get a lead on the game. Too bad the instructions don’t tell you how to reload your cannon. Nice beigey colour scheme. Fun.
Marble Jumper. Those gold squares don’t look much like marbles, but whatever. Marble Jumper is good old-fashioned (and frustrating) board game fun. It’s basically checkers with a twist. The point is to make every marble disappear – checkers style – from the 33 square board except for the one in the center. Marbles can be only be moved horizontally and vertically – no horizontal jumps allowed. The game features a generous 24 variations of the game and I suck at every one. Still, a good effort.
Nightrider. Video game home brewers are often more than exceptional programmers – they tend to be amazing players as well. As such, maybe they don’t understand just how difficult video games are for us mere mortals. Motorbike obstacle game Nightrider is pretty hard right off the hop and it’s a bit of a chore as a result. It would have been nice to gather up a good head of speed and deal with some easy challenges at the start, but instead you’re more likely to hit your head on a platform than jump onto the next one. Nightrider is okay but not a game I want to put a lot of effort into.
Rocket Command. I throw around the term “leading your shot” in my reviews a lot and tend to assume readers know what I’m talking about. I’m not even sure I have the definition right, but the way I think of it is this: think of the last invader in Space Invaders or the missiles in Missile Command. Rather than fire directly at the target, you have to fire a little ahead of it so the target actually hits the shot rather than the other way around.
Rocket Command is a minigame dedicated to this concept. Enemies fire upwards from various points at the bottom of the screen and you attempt to shoot them with your top rocket on the left side of the playfield. Naturally, it’s all about timing. Darn game penalizes you 100 points for every missed enemy, but that didn’t bother me too much this time. Rocket Command is intuitive and enjoyable.
Zirconium. A little bit of a bore, this one. Kind of reminds me of Worm War I, complete with the mixed feelings I have towards that game. Goal is pretty much to blast coloured blocks, collect power and periodically battle blocky bosses which you must destroy brick by brick. Colourful but not particularly engaging.
The 2005 Minigame Multicart is available through the AtariAge Store.