If, in 1978, you ever entertained any childish fantasies of being a fireman, then Atari had the video game for you!
Fire Truck was an unusual spin on the top-down driving game in which you took control of a distinctly retro (even at the time) fire engine on its way to deal with some sort of flame-related emergency. The fire truck has limited fuel and thus is unable to ever get to its destination, but at least you can score some points along the way! Because as we all know, real firemen are rated according to how close to the emergency they got.
Obviously this is mostly made up; the “fire truck” concept is actually an excuse to provide some interesting and unusual two-player cooperative driving gameplay, in which one player steers the cab of the truck and the other the trailer. You can play it single-player too, but for maximum amusement, bring a friend.
As we’ve previously seen with Canyon Bomber, sometimes all you need to make an addictive, enjoyable game is a simple concept… and perhaps some gimmicky controls.
Such is the case with Destroyer, a game that featured some satisfyingly clunky physical controls on its original arcade release, which are obviously lost somewhat in this home translation. Interestingly, this never got a home port of its own prior to the release in Atari Flashback Classics; it was instead incorporated into the Atari 2600 port of Canyon Bomber, which was developed by David “Pitfall” Crane.
It’s a simple idea, but an effective one… and one that really does not like being captured at 30fps, so if you can’t see the depth charges for part of this video… uh, sorry! Such are the limitations of my hardware!
Do you know what “trimetric projection” is? If not, take a good look at Atari’s Crystal Castles. That, dear reader, is trimetric projection at work.
This 3D perspective take on the Pac-Man formula is a popular game from Atari’s early days, and enjoyed numerous home ports over the years, particularly on Atari’s own platforms. It’s a fun — if challenging — game, and remains noteworthy from a historical perspective for being one of the first arcade games out there that it’s actually possible to “beat”. Although good luck with doing that.
Also, if you score first place on the high score table, you get to enjoy your initials presented in 3D trimetric projection for everyone to admire on the first level of each new playthrough!
Not every retro game has stood the test of time quite as well as others. But one I think we can all agree remains just as fresh today as it was back in the day is Centipede.
Developed as a specific attempt to appeal to a broader audience than just the stereotype of young male gamers, Centipede’s bright colours, energetic gameplay, trackball controller and relatable concept made it a big hit with male and female players, both young and old.
This game was a favourite of my whole family growing up… and my mother was nigh-unbeatable at both this and its sequel Millipede!
Time after time in gaming, we’ve seen that the simplest concepts can be some of the most effective and addictive.
Atari’s Canyon Bomber, originally released to arcades in 1977, is a prime example of this. You only need one button to play, and that button drops bombs. The concept is so simple anyone — even someone not at all familiar with video games — can understand and enjoy it. Drop bombs, hit things, score points. Whoever scores most points, wins.
And one of the best things about this game when compared to some of its contemporaries is that the simplistic concept means that it was very straightforward to implement a “computer-controlled” opponent to compete against if you didn’t happen to have a friend handy. So even those of us with no friends can still enjoy this game… and end up playing it a lot longer than you might expect!
I don’t like spiders. I do, however, absolutely LOVE Black Widow, a delightful vector-based twin-stick shooter.
In Black Widow, you play a spider trying to defend their web from all manner of incoming creepy crawlies. And, unfortunately, it seems that they are sick and tired of you doing your spidery thing, and as such are more than capable of taking you out with a single, fatal touch.
Fortunately, you aren’t just any spider. You are the Black Widow, a laser-spitting spider of doom, the kind of thing that you really wouldn’t want to find under your toilet seat when you wake up in the middle of the night to go for a dump…
I don’t… really play sports games. I don’t generally like them, I don’t generally understand them and I am certainly not good at them.
However, I have discovered over the course of the last few years or so that late ’70s/early ’80s sports games are about on a level I can understand for the most part, since the games simply weren’t capable of playing host to complicated mechanics or rules that you’d have to understand the actual sport to be able to fathom.
My time with Atari Baseball may have ended in crushing defeat, but I didn’t hate the experience. In fact, I can see this being quite fun in its original double-sided incarnation, facing off against a fellow player across the top of the cabinet. I suspect I’d still suck, though.
1978 arcade title Avalanche is a game I’d not heard of prior to encountering it on Atari Flashback Classics for Nintendo Switch, and it’s entirely possible you might not have come across it either.
The reason for this is that its official home port (developed by the creator of the arcade game, Dennis Koble) only came to Atari 8-bit computers rather than the popular 2600, and even then only through Atari’s “Atari Program Exchange” system, whereby community-developed games and software would be published by Atari.
Meanwhile, Activision, seeing a good concept that wasn’t being leveraged as much as it could be for the home market, decided to release Kaboom! for the Atari 2600 in 1981, and as a result, the idea of paddle-controlled platforms catching falling things at an increasingly unreasonable tempo tends to be credited to them rather than Atari.
You now know the truth! Shout it from the rooftops!
How do you make Asteroids better? Add the word “Deluxe” to its name, obviously.
Okay, 1980’s Asteroids Deluxe adds a bit more to the basic Asteroids formula than that, but it’s still very much recognisable. The whole experience is a bit smoother than the original, the presentation is sharper and cleaner (and blue!) and there are some additional enemies to deal with. But you’re still rotating and firing and dodging. And dying. Dying a lot.
I’m still no good at Asteroids, Deluxe or otherwise, but I actually enjoy it a lot more today than I did back when it was “current”. It’s a game that’s held up extremely well, and it’s a pleasure to revisit both of its most famous incarnations in the Atari Flashback Classics collection for Switch.
Asteroids is a longstanding classic with good reason: it made a solid impact on the early video games industry, and it has influenced a great many subsequent games over the years ever since.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to the sparse black and white vector graphics of the original arcade game, and it’s still enjoyable and playable today… so long as you can get your head around the whole “turn and thrust” movement system, which is something I’ve always struggled a bit with over the years!
Still, if you want to play early era space games, it’s a mechanic you better get used to pretty quick… and there’s no better place to practice than the original never-ending field of space rocks.