Saturday, November 12, 2016
Big Dumb Lists: 10 Atari Games That Turned Me Into a Vidiot
Joystick, CX10 and the rare CX40. Paddle control. Channel sector switch. Television Interface Adapter. Heavy Sixer and Light Sixer. Turning it over. Enduro. RealSports. Yar's Revenge. Darth Vader. If you really know classic Atari, you know the latter refers to the all-black 2600 console versus the traditional model with the faux wood splashed across the front base.
It's not easy explaining why Atari is a far superior video gaming experience to modern PlayStation and Xbox games, which are more cinematic and astonishingly detailed than Atari's antiquated 128 RAM, 40 x 192 pixel scheme. It's strictly a generation thing, I grudgingly admit. You had to have been there like I was, at the dawn of the video game revolution to get it. Otherwise, you're coughing into your sleeve trying to muffle the word "fossil."
You hear recollections of the deadpan blip-blip-blip metronome of Pong and it really was like that. The first true video game in history could make you halfway drowsy. When the Atari CX2600 premiered in 1977 (the same year the original Star Wars and the death of Elvis Presley likewise changed the world), even Combat and the original Breakout games could leave you numb. Super Breakout at least upped the ante in game play and noise selection as Atari became less a geekspeak phrase, bursting into a common household name. Enough of the history lesson.
Author Tim Lapetino has assembled a beautiful Atari retrospective coming from a different approach than merely celebrating the company that launched Missile Command, Centipede, Warlords and Asteroids, all represented on the cover of his book, Art of Atari. This rad book is released through Dynamite Entertainment, who have become guardians of time-honored franchises and trusted engineers of reinventing nostalgic properties. Lapetino's Art of Atari focuses on the wonderful packaging paintings for those giddy game cartridges by Steve Hendricks, Cliff Spohn, John Enright, Susan Jaekel, George Opperma and of course, Ralph McQuarrie, whom many will recognize as the go-to concept artist on the Star Wars films.
We had zillions of games back then, most produced by Atari directly, many of the best by ActiVision. Some were produced by Parker Brothers, who gave it their best shot trying to replicate arcade classics like Q-bert, Popeye and Frogger onto the small screen and came up short, except in the case of Frogger, which was sheer addiction once you got a handle over the leery jumps. Some of the most notable are Pitfall, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Yar's Revenge, Phoenix, Video Pinball, Berserk, Kaboom! and The Empire Strikes Back, which was terrific fun blowing up AT-ATs, but monotonous and frustrating in the fact you'd never be able to beat the damn game. Lesser-known games such as Surround, Burger Time, Sssnake and the wonderful Atlantis are Gen-X treasures, while nobody will ever again own the flubbed Atari game adaptions of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the notorious E.T. game. The latter, was of course, destined for a landfall burial and the subject of scrutiny in the 2014 documentary Atari: Game Over.
In my comic shop haunt, we had a blast looking at Tim Lapetino's book as we began recollecting the noises of those old Atari tapes, i.e. the blip-bloop-bleep ricochets in Combat, the skin-frying ersatz in Berserk, the ratcheting digs in Night Driver, the digital Tarzan whoop in Pitfall and the rancid fart sound when your cannon got decimated in Space Invaders.
We got to talking about turning the game over, which for you young bucks, means reaching 100,000 points on a game like Asteroids before the counter flipped back to zero. You could, at one point, take a picture of your score at 99,999 and send it in for a hypothetical prize from the folks at Atari that nobody ever earned, to my knowledge. Like my peers, I spent a ton of time plugged into and zapped by Atari that I was a classifiable "vidiot," as the jargon went. That being said, here are the top ten offenders who glommed onto my gray matter and turned it into squeezable cheese...
2. River Raid
4. Space Invaders
5. Super Breakout
7. Missile Command