Dem bells, dem bells, dem… blue bells… wait, I think I’m confusing at least two unrelated things there, aren’t I?
Ahem. Anyway. This is Quasimodo by Synapse Software, brought West by U.S. Gold’s early imprint Synsoft. It’s an unusual platform-action game that involves flinging rocks at Bad People climbing ladders, swinging from bell-ropes, swearing at bats and collecting crystals.
And despite its hunchbacked hero, it most certainly is not a clone of the arcade game Hunchback. Give poor old Quasi the respect he deserves!
Pharaoh’s Curse is legitimately one of my favourite games on the Atari 8-bit, and one I frequently revisit to unironically enjoy every so often.
Developed by Steve Coleman, who we last saw at the helm of Mastertronic’s Ninja, Pharaoh’s Curse is an early example of an open-world 2D action adventure, allowing players to explore 16 screens arranged in a 4×4 grid in an attempt to recover all the awkwardly positioned treasures before escaping.
16 rooms doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, you clearly haven’t counted on the intervention of the mummy. And the pharaoh. And all the traps. And that stupid bastard absolute penis of a flying thing that always shows up at the worst possible moment. Not that I’m bitter at all, no no no.
“Digging games” were a bit of a mainstay of the games industry in the ’80s.
Some tried their best to ape the formulae of successful arcade titles such as Namco’s Dig Dug and Universal’s Mr Do! — we’ve already seen one example of the latter here on Atari A to Z in the form of Adam “Elektra Glide” Billyard’s quick-and-dirty cash grab of a game, Henri.
Others, like DataSoft’s O’Riley’s Mine, did something a little bit different by eschewing the usual “falling boulder” hazards in favour of other ways to meet your maker beneath the earth. Better keep one step ahead of that rushing water…
Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind! Pushing diagonally backwards and up while holding the fire button to swing your sword, however? Somewhat less intuitive…
Enter Mastertronic’s Ninja from 1986. This was a game developed by Steve Coleman (who was previously responsible for Pharaoh’s Curse, which we’ll be coming to in a few weeks) that combines open-world 2D adventuring with a fusion of one-on-one fighting and beat ’em up mechanics to produce something altogether unique.
Ninja was a game of “firsts” for me growing up. It was the first time I saw a ninja and learned what it was. It was the first time I saw (and learned the name of) a lot of pieces of traditional Japanese architecture such as torii gates. And it was one of the first games I played where fighting mechanics were a little more complex than simply mashing the fire button to do a single type of attack. It’s still pretty fun, too… though it puts up a lot more of a fight than I remember!
“Platforms and ladders”. That’s what we used to call platformers before the more well-established, compact term we use today really took off.
Actually, there is a bit of a distinction; when one is referring specifically to a “platforms and ladders” game, one tends not to be referring to a side-scrolling title like a Super Mario Bros. game, but instead something that unfolds a single screen at a time, usually tasking the player with reaching a specific point or visiting every part of the level at least once.
Bill Hogue and Big Five Software’s Miner 2049’er is a great example of this format — and a game that remains one of the most enduringly popular titles in the Atari 8-bit’s library to this day.
Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.
Any kid who watched the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter longed to hear those words for real — to put the skills they’d learned in video games to the test with real conflict against invading forces!
Unfortunately, Atari’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of the movie didn’t quite make it to market in time, instead finally seeing the light of day in 1986 as the hastily rebranded Star Raiders II. However, the original, fully playable prototype of the game in its original The Last Starfighter format has been well-preserved over the years… so it’s that we’ll be taking a look at today!
This week on Atari A to Z, it’s another game by Arti Haroutunian and Tronix that… pays homage to a popular arcade game.
Much as last week’s Juice! was clearly inspired by Q*Bert, so too is Kid Grid more than a little bit like Amidar. That’s no bad thing, though; both Amidar and Kid Grid are a good time. If a bit difficult.
Okay, quite a lot difficult. But don’t judge me too harshly; I couldn’t even beat the first level of this when I was a kid!
It was pretty common in the Atari 8-Bit era for games to offer a bit of a new twist on established formulae. You had to make your games stand out, after all!
In Juice!, a game developed by Arti Haroutunian and published by Tronix, you take on the role of “Edison, the kinetic android” who is essentially a mechanised electrician. It’s up to you to connect all the wires on the board to get things up and running again while avoiding the unwanted attention of various electrical-themed enemies.
If you watch the video, it probably won’t take you long to notice that the game bears an uncanny resemblance to Q*Bert in some ways — but there’s enough different here to keep things interesting, and this remains a great, highly playable game for Atari 8-bit computers.
Let’s shoot some Nazis!
Pandora’s Into the Eagle’s Nest, first released in 1987, is an early example of the “stealth” subgenre of action adventure, with elements of survival horror, such as resource management. Interestingly, its Atari 8-bit port followed a year after its initial release — which included 16-bit platforms such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga — when Atari decided it would make an excellent game for their last-ditch effort at pushing the 8-bit range, the hybrid computer-console XE Games System or XEGS.
It’s an interesting game with some cool twists on the usual top-down action-adventure formula… and hordes of Nazis just waiting for you to mow them down. Just make sure you aim properly.
Today’s Atari 8-Bit game shows us that even back in the 1980s, programmers weren’t above churning out something just to make a quick buck.
Enter Henri by one Adam Billyard, a developer who would later go on to produce great things for The English Software Company — specifically the technically stunning (but exceedingly irritating) racer Elektra Glide, and the well-animated one-on-one fighting game Chop Suey.
At the time he put out Henri, however, he was just trying to scrape together enough money for his air fare to get home. The result was a competent, if relatively unremarkable Mr. Do! clone. I hope you like the sound of Bach…