Crystal Raider from Mastertronic is not a game I’d come across prior to recording this video, but it seems it was rather fondly regarded back in the day — and likewise a lot of people today seem to like it, too.
It’s an interesting puzzle-platformer with a peculiar jumping system similar to that found in Atari’s arcade title Major Havoc: so long as you hold the fire button down, you continue the upwards arc of your jump. Mastering the crazy moves you can do with this is essential to success — and Crystal Raider certainly demands some inhuman agility at times!
What does any self-respecting dictator do when he gets the smackdown from the allied forces? He strikes back in a sequel, of course — and that’s exactly what happens in Access Software’s Beach Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back.
Offering a series of competitive minigames that can either be played against the computer or a friend, Beach Head II is an enjoyable game that feels like a noticeable improvement over its predecessor in many ways. Just a pity that the Atari 8-bit version missed out on the Commodore 64 version’s digitised speech!
Early takes on the racing game genre often seem quite primitive by today’s standards — but some of them still had some ambitious ideas.
Epyx’s Pitstop for Atari 8-bit is a good example. While its game structure is fundamentally flawed if playing solo and its racing action is nothing special, it was the first game to not only incorporate pit stops as part of a race, but also to allow you to take control of your pit crew and actually perform the pit stop yourself.
The 8-bit home computing era played host to some great single-screen platform games: Donkey Kong, Miner 2049’er and Jumpman, to name but a few.
I hadn’t come across Karmic Caverns before. There might be a good reason that people haven’t talked about this much over the years — but it does have a few interesting ideas, most notably with how it’s more of a mobility puzzle than an action platformer.
Although their name might suggest otherwise, Adventure International put out many different types of game for the Atari 8-bit.
One interesting example from the relatively early days is Triad, a game that combines noughts and crosses with shoot ’em up action, in which each square on the board contains a specific type of enemy — and each type of enemy requires a specific means of defeating them! It’s a fun combination of shoot ’em up and puzzler that is still surprisingly addictive today.
Shamus is one of those games that probably every Atari 8-bit enthusiast has played at one point or another; like many other games from publisher Synapse Software, it’s an all-time classic.
Developed by Cathryn Mataga (credited as William Mataga in the game), Shamus is a top-down action adventure that draws some inspiration from the classic shoot ’em up Berzerk and combines it with a more coherent world that you need to explore in order to proceed to the next level. Offering massive mazes and tons of replay value, Shamus is still a great time today.
River Raid is probably my favourite game on the Atari 8-bit. The Atari 2600 version is arguably more well-known, but the Atari 2600 version — which also appeared on the ill-fated Atari 5200 — is superior in pretty much every way.
For the unfamiliar, River Raid is one of the original vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups, and made use of some clever programming techniques to squeeze the entire game into a tiny amount of space. It’s one of Activision’s finest games of the 8-bit era, and a game I still enjoy on a regular basis today.
Today’s Atari 8-bit game is not one I’d heard of before, and with good reason: it never sold any copies!
Despite this, it somehow managed to find its way out into the wild — as a lot of unreleased, prototype or otherwise difficult-to-find software tended to do back in the day — and, many years later, the original author even made a video talking about the making of the game on YouTube.
Sadly, said author — one Jeffrey McArthur — is no longer with us, as he passed away in 2017. But we can honour his memory by enjoying his work today! So let’s take a look at Icky Squishy. Don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube for more!
Back in the early days of home computing, developers were experimenting not only with how different game genres worked, but also with using game-like mechanics in various contexts.
One pioneer of these experiments was Douglas Crockford, who we’ve seen a couple of times on this series previously. Today we look at his Hollywood Medieval project, which combines music effectively arranged by the “player” with the game-like mechanic of navigating a maze — with your location determined by the musical phrases you’re hearing.
Today’s indie scene is quite rightfully regarded as one of the most creative spaces in the games industry. But it’s been that way for a lot longer than most people realise.
Some truly fascinating games came out through the Atari Program Exchange or APX, a programme run by Atari where consumers (or indeed Atari employees) could submit their pet projects and get them published by the company — perhaps the earliest take on today’s “indie specialist” publishers such as Devolver Digital and its ilk.
One such example that it seems never quite made it to final release was Gossip, a fascinating game by Atari’s master of simulations, Chris Crawford. Gossip is an attempt to simulate social interactions using a mathematical model of affinity as a basis. As a game, it takes a bit of getting used to, but as you start to figure out what’s going on it becomes a fascinating experience. Check out my attempts to woo the virtual ladies in the video below, and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube for more!