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.
I love it when game developers get creative. This is not an altogether unusual sight these days, of course, but back in the early to mid ’80s, it was always a real treat to see someone step outside of genre “norms”.
Such was the case with Time Bandit by Bill Dunlevy and Harry Lafnear, a top-down action adventure with elements of text adventures, role-playing games, Pac-Man and all manner of other goodness. While superficially resembling Gauntlet — which actually came out after Time Bandit was fully developed — there’s a hell of a lot of depth here, and some fiendish puzzles to unravel.
If you want a game that pretty much sums up what the Atari ST gaming experience is all about, you can do far worse than give Time Bandit the, uh, time of day.
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.
Dandy is another early Atari release that would go on to be extremely influential… even though relatively few people seem to know its name today.
Released through the Atari Program Exchange (or APX), an initiative by Atari that allowed amateur and professional programmers alike the opportunity to get their projects distributed commercially, Dandy by John Howard Palevich turned out to be rather important.
Originally intended as a multiplayer networked adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons before being simplified and refined into the four-player action dungeon crawler it ultimately became, Dandy would be a defining influence on Atari’s later arcade hit Gauntlet… and it’s not hard to see why.