Tag Archives: atari

FGC #396 Centipede: Infestation

GrossCentipede: Infestation is a 2011 Wayforward/Atari jaunt that sees heroic Max attempting to destroy legions of giant, irradiated bugs. It is, basically, a twin stick shooter on two different systems that don’t really have twin sticks. The 3DS version utilizes the crosspad and the traditional ABXY buttons, while the Wii employs some manner of sorcery and requires the player to point the wiimote in their desired aiming direction. And that’s lame, so just use the classic controller. Beyond the control scheme, Centipede: Infestation is basically just a shoot ‘em up with a familiar, ancient license attached. Thanks for playing, please look forward to Dig Dug: Earthquake.

But Centipede: Infestation does have the faintest glimmer of a plot, and it goes something like “sure, bugs are gigantic, deadly nuisances, but are they really the enemy?” We should love nature! And are insects the enemy for the minor crime of creeping across the kitchen counter? That doesn’t seem right! So let’s look at a few of the little buggers.

We’re going to look at real live bugs now, so you’ve been warned…

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

So I figure there are two ways we can go with this article. One, we could take a look at this:

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And laugh uproariously at this primitive attempt at a portable Pac-Man. It’s super tiny! They couldn’t fit the entire maze on the screen! There isn’t an attempt at “new” mazes, despite the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was released years before. There’s no color!

Or, second choice, we could address Pac-Man for Gameboy as the most important game that was ever released.

Let’s go with that second choice.

I did not purchase, new or used, Pac-Man for Gameboy. I did not have a legit Gameboy as a child, and the few games I purchased for my Super Gameboy were significant and precious. Pac-Man was never even in the running. Pac-Man, even by the release of the Super Gameboy, was fairly played out, and, if we’re being honest, primitive. OG Pac-Man had like one maze and four directions. There wasn’t even a jump button! I want to say that I didn’t consider purchasing a Pac-Man game until The Age of the Download, because, seriously why bother? Besides, ol’ Paccy seemed to pop up often enough in other, more complex games. So, ya know, screw it. If I want to get lost in a maze, I’ll just play god-damned Fester’s Quest again.

No, I did not ever think to purchase Pac-Man for Gameboy. This game was inherited. This game once belonged to my grandfather. And that’s kind of important.

According to Pokémon Go (this is how I do research), the local arcade was founded in 1976. Pac-Man, according to Wikipedia, was released in the spring of 1980. Given my grandfather notoriously enjoyed Space Invaders since its initial release two years earlier, I’m guessing the man first played Pac-Man in that arcade. Here, for reference, are the two “original” Pac machines still floating around that arcade, nearly forty years later:

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You’ll notice that OG Pac-Man is not pictured. That’s because the old man got tossed sometime around when The World’s Largest Pac-Man Cabinet showed up. Then again, it may have gone to the dumpster well before that, as Ms. Pac-Man has always, no questions, been better than her hubby. It’s a Pac eat Pac world, and even Junior can conquer the old man. Regardless, I’m going to ahead and assume Pac-Man was first played by my ancestor somewhere around that general area pictured above.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Pac-Man, despite being a boring old man compared to the rest of his family, was ubiquitous for nearly a decade. In my youth, I saw Pac-Man cabinets in every restaurant lobby, hotel, motel, and Holiday Inn in the country. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few of the sit-down Pac-cabinets in doctor’s offices. Pac-Man was everywhere for a while, and I could see my grandfather first playing the game at any of those locations. He was a dedicated husband and father, but my mother has always eaten about as slow as a particularly anemic snail, so I could easily imagine my grandfather sneaking off to a diner Pac-Man cabinet to munch pellets faster than his daughter could devour potatoes. … Or maybe I’m just confusing my own childhood with his adulthood…

Regardless, I can tell you one place my grandfather did not play Pac-Man for the first time: his living room. It’s hard to even imagine now, but gaming used to be exclusively an outside activity… or at least outside the home. You could not play videogames in your living room, you were stuck going to any of those (many) locations listed to get your gaming fix, because the technology just wasn’t there. Did you see those arcade cabinets? No way anything like that would fit in your bedroom.

But when you did get something home…

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It might not have been so hot. That’s Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. I know for a fact that my grandfather owned that game, because I played “his” Atari roughly 28,000,000,000 times as a kid. But I didn’t play Pac-Man that much (Combat, man, Combat), because, even as a toddler, I knew a compromised port when I saw it. And my grandfather agreed. In the same way one might have a cherished memory of an elder telling a tale of a bygone age/lemon tree, I can distinctly recall my grandfather sitting me on his lap, and saying, “Bobby, let’s save this game for the arcade.” And we did. And it was good.

Looking back, it’s obvious why Atari Pac-Man was so terrible. We didn’t know the numbers at the time, but the Atari literally had 32 times less memory than the Pac-Man arcade board, so trying to get ol’ Pac going “perfectly” on an Atari was about as likely as running Windows on the Sesame Street Cookie Counter. But back in the earliest of 80’s, the message seemed to be that, no matter what, we were never going to get “arcade realism” on the humble home console. I’ve spoken of this phenomenon before, and, yes, it even applied to games where the hero is a yellow circle and no participants even have recognizable appendages. Regardless, it seemed like that would be the status quo forever, and “home computers” would never be advanced enough for something so complex as a yellow pizza man.

The originalAnd then… they were. Whether you want to point to the Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, or even the later Atari 5200, we did eventually get an “arcade perfect” port of Pac-Man (or close enough to forget that that earlier Pepto-Man ever existed), and Pac-Man actually could be enjoyed at home. We made it! What could be better?

Well, Pac-Man anywhere you want, of course.

Pac-Man had a few portable iterations in his heyday. I’ve never seen one in person, but google the Tomy Tronic Pac-Man if you ever want to see the glorious old days of pac-portability. And the Coleco portable Pac-Man “cabinet” had a similar, early portable styling in that whole “light up blocks” a number of people remember from the Tiger Electronic portables. Oh! And those Pac-Man electronic watches! I hear people have died over those things. All of those whacky devices technically provided a portable pac-perience, but if Atari Pac-Man was a compromised port, this was an excuse that was somehow even less. I’m pretty sure you could get a more robust experience out of a damn wall mural than those stupid watches.

But then the Gameboy came, and Pac-Man was good.

And, sure, there wasn’t any color, and sure, you had a choice between teeny tiny graphics or actually, ya know, seeing the whole screen, but it was pretty damn Pac-Man. All the cinema scenes are here, and I’m pretty sure the ghost/power pellet times are arcade accurate. All the little intricacies of Pac-Man are available on the go, even if it’s kind of difficult to tell Blinky from Inky. And, while it seems obvious to say that people notice details, it’s those little things that separate atrocious Atari ports from the kind of games that can pry Tetris from that lone, precious Gameboy slot.

So, yes, today, Pac-Man for Gameboy seems primitive and, frankly, kind of sad. This is a version of Pac-Man that is meant to be played on a screen barely larger than an Amiibo base. But then again, that’s kind of the point: when Pac-Man was released, it could only be contained in an arcade cabinet that weighed hundreds of pounds and cost hundreds of dollars. But, in just a decade, Pac-Man could gobble down ghosts while being powered by a mere four batteries.

Yeah!And my grandfather always had those four batteries available. Essentially. He suffered from a stroke around 1999, so, being partially paralyzed, he didn’t really keep up with videogame advances. But one image I’ll never forget would be from about two years before he died (incidentally, roughly ten years after the stroke). He was sitting at his computer in his wildly disorganized “office” (a place my grandmother never visited), and he was chatting with his brother. My grandfather lived in New Jersey, and his brother of some eighty years lived in Florida. They were chatting via a messenger service (probably AOL), and my grandfather had somehow jury-rigged a modern webcam to a tripod from roughly 1956, and there was his brother on the screen, chatting away, and likely with some similar piece of makeshift webcammery on his side. They were talking, or, to be more particular, my grand uncle was talking, and my grandfather was listening. And, while my grandfather was listening, he was playing a game of Pac-Man in the other window. It’s not hard to play a videogame with four buttons with one hand. But I’ll always remember that scene: two men from the early 20th Century, talking across miles and miles as if they were in the same room, and one is still nursing a case of Pac-Fever.

Pac-Man came a long way, and technology came with him.

And that’s always going to be important.

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

  • System: I have got to find a better system than making the system part of the title and then denoting the system directly below the title. Also, I should say “system” less.
  • Number of players: Two! Via link cable! I have no idea how that works, because I never saw a second Gameboy with Pac-Man in my youth… but it’s probably lame. I mean, this ain’t Pac-Men.
  • Further Photographic Evidence: I wasn’t kidding about the Gameboy screen being the size of an Amiibo Base.

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    Also, for the record, that Gameboy is playing my copy of Pac-Man, you just absolutely cannot see it. Oh well.

  • Two in one stroke: I’m also going to claim that this article covers Atari Pac-Man, so that way I never have to touch that one again. Yes, I did also inherit that “beloved” childhood memory, too, because of course I did.
  • Did you know? Yes, I live in a town where I can still walk to an arcade. Multiples, depending on the season.
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    And, yes, at least one arcade has OG Pac-Man.
  • Would I play again: Pac-Man, yes, Gameboy, no. I have respect for the first decent portable system in history, but respect doesn’t do anything for eyestrain.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 5! Or maybe he didn’t choose it at all, and I just feel like writing about a game I played for a hundred hours. Who could say? You get Persona 5 either way. Please look forward to it!

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FGC #283 Paperboy (N64)

Welcome to HellWhen I was a young boy, my father forced me to get a job. There weren’t many places that would hire a child, so I became a paperboy. Thus, for two years, I had to wake up at the crack of dawn, bike down to the newspaper office, pick up a stack of papers (that was easily heavier than I was), and deliver papers all through the neighborhood. There was no way to enjoy this. If I failed to deliver to the right house on time, I was punished. If I delivered to the wrong house, I was punished. And, of course, if I was late to school because of some stupid dog or a particularly chatty old lady, I was punished there, too. Every morning, in the scorching heat or the freezing cold, I was out there delivering papers, while my contemporaries slept, cozy and unemployed in their beds. “Surely,” I thought to myself for two endless years, “This job must be Hell.”

In time, I grew older, and finally graduated to a job that could at least be done inside and at a reasonable hour. And, while I may have cursed his name for a number of reasons over the years, I suppose my father’s lesson did pay off, as I learned I never, ever wanted to have another job outside performing manual labor ever again. I went to college. I got degrees. I became a white collar professional, and, while I may have had to step over a few broken bodies to attain excellence, I eventually found myself quite content with my station in life. And, if I may say so, watching print media slowly die did offer me some small amount of schadenfreude, even if it meant I couldn’t push my own children into the same “cycle” my father started. I suppose that may have been a good thing.

Though I guess I didn’t do enough good things, as, upon my death, I found myself in Hell.

And, with no explanation whatsoever, I found myself back on that same bicycle, back in that same neighborhood, back with those same papers. I was a boy on his paper route, again, and damned to be one for all of eternity.

WIN!At first, everything was pretty straightforward: I pedaled down familiar streets, delivered papers to expectant subscribers, and then, when I was done, I was forced back to the newspaper office to start the process all over again. Sometimes the weather would change, sometimes I would be told different homes were my targets, but, more or less, it was what I remembered. Then… things started to change. The first major switch-up was that the newspaper office outright disappeared. I suppose some infernal demon realized I could actually take a whole five minute break while I was picking up fresh papers, so, nope, I’m stuck pedaling forever, my calves growing more swollen by the day. Now I have to pick up new bundles of papers from the streets themselves, and, should I run out, I’m chastised just the same as when I miss a house (or damage a window or pedestrian… I admit I may have initially tried to… rattle the chains of my captors). What’s more, the “hazards” of my childhood have all come to revisit me continually, so I am faced with marauding dogs and vicious neighbors. I am nearly mowed down by an errant car every other minute. What’s more, I am beset by dangers I only imagined in my mundane childhood, like statues that spew flames, or the specter of Death himself. I know… in my rational mind… I know that I am already dead… but still… that pale, ghastly visage continues to haunt me.

But this… even this I could get used to. The punishments, the monsters… it did become what was simply my life (or my afterlife, as the case may be). I’d bike down the same streets, deliver the same papers, and that was it. It was Hell, but it was my Hell, and I expect that could be enough.

But this is Hell. They found a way to make it worse. After fifteen years, I was inflicted with the greatest punishment they could imagine: freedom.

OwieMy route had always been a straight line. I would pedal down endless streets and deliver endless papers. It was distressing, but, after a while, I learned that it required very little thinking. I’d keep my eye out for my targets, and if I missed, that was that. I did everything I could, after all.

But now… now they decided to grant me autonomy. Horrible, mind-destroying free-will.

I realized the change almost immediately: I could now pedal in any direction. I could turn around. I could visit the other side of the street. I could… jump. At first, I was elated. “Finally,” I thought, “Someone thinks I’ve paid my dues. I might still be stuck down here, but I’m not stuck in that awful, robotic rut. I can do whatever I want!” But, no, the reality of my unreality quickly caught up with me. I still had to deliver papers. I still had to dodge homicidal dogs. I still had to do everything I did before, but now I was granted the teeniest, tiniest taste of independence… only to be doomed to never enjoy it. I still had a strict, condemning time limit. I could leap my bike over ramps, feel the wind in my hair, and enjoy my existence for once… but if I did that… If I spent too long on pleasure… then the pain… the punishments would be even worse. And then I would have to start the whole route over again, knowing full well that the “fun stuff” was there and available, but experiencing it again would mean… I don’t want to think about it.

Hell… Hell had become more hellish.

Might as wellAnd they taunted me even more! Where once I was constrained to my old, familiar neighborhood, now I was forced to deliver papers in more exotic locales. A trailer park might not seem like anyone’s idea of a vacation, but the smell of barbecue and kids playing outside while you’re stuck pedaling and pedaling is… cruel. And then I was forced to deliver at a camp ground! And the beach! When I eventually found myself in a dark, monster-infested town, complete with Frankenstein’s Monster and a vampire or two, I thought someone was just plain running out of ideas. But I didn’t have time to think that for long, as now I was being chased by dogs with three heads. And then I was back to my old neighborhood again, forced to relive the loop of changing neighborhoods until I delivered enough papers.

But it’s never enough. I can never satisfy the quotas. I can never escape this Hell. I will be here… I will be here forever.

I am the paperboy now, and that’s all I will ever be.

FGC #283 Paperboy (N64)

  • System: Probably N64. Let me check here… Yep! N64.
  • Number of players: There can be only one paperboy.
  • Or Papergirl: Oh, yes, the game does offer you the option of being a papergirl. It’s kind of weird that most of the Papergirl’s canned voice clips compare herself to Paperboy, though. Eat your heart out, Paperboy, indeed.
  • LaboratoryMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s an attempt to make the original Paperboy more of a “modern” (circa 1999) game, but… it doesn’t really work so well. The original Paperboy is basically a shoot ‘em up with an unusual premise and perspective, and attempting to add collectibles and “free roaming” is about as effective as making a Gradius game that plays like Mario 64. This actually may have been an impressive concept back in the bygone past of the 20th Century; but nowadays, it’s right up there with Atari revivals like Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. Oh, also, it’s ugly as hell.
  • And there are bosses: Yes, there are bosses in a game about delivering papers. Yes, the bosses are simple “throw papers at the weak point” affairs. Yes, it is completely boring and flimsy.
  • Favorite Neighborhood: Pelican Beach has friendly dolphins! Or it should!
  • Did you know? Neither Paperboy nor Papergirl wear a helmet while delivering papers. This is dangerously unsafe.
  • Would I play again: I compared the game to an eternal hell. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Drakengard 3 for the Playstation 3! Let’s drag this dragoon into fun times! Please look forward to it!

FGC #268 Mario Bros. (Atari)

So many colorsSometimes even an ancient Atari game can surprise you.

Everybody knows Mario Bros. If you’re a certain age (old), you may have seen this primitive Mario experience in arcades. If you’re slightly younger (generally still old), you likely have fond memories of pseudo-Mario Bros. in the two player mode of Super Mario Bros. 3. And, if you’re one of six “lucky” people on this planet, you might even remember Mario Bros. for its spiritual sequel, Mario Clash, the Virtual Boy game that may have damaged your retinas. Mario Bros. might not be Donkey Kong or Super Mario Bros, but it’s still a beloved piece of Nintendo history, and most Nintendo fans have played the game at least once.

But… almost everyone that played Mario Bros. played it on actual Nintendo hardware, whether it be a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, or (INSERT NAME OF GAME SYSTEM THAT STARTS WITH “NINTENDO” HERE). Today’s game is Mario Bros, yes, but it’s Mario Bros. for the Atari 2600. It is, effectively, Mario Bros. before Mario. This ain’t Steamboat Willie, this is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Poor Papa. And, sorry to say, nobody has fond memories of that damn rabbit.

And, let’s face facts, there are a lot of reasons to assume Atari Mario Bros. would be terrible. Have you ever played Atari Pac-Man? It might be the worst port of a single videogame ever made. There is one ghost, the screen proportions are all wrong, and somehow even the “dots” aren’t properly distributed. Yes, someone somehow got a game that can be summarized as “a ball moves around a maze” completely wrong. And Pac-Man isn’t alone; at best, an Atari port would be something that reduced the cutting-edge arcade graphics of Joust or Kangaroo down to small-screen appropriate pixels, and, at worst, you’d wind up with something a few degrees better than E.T. (reminder: the game that destroyed the entire industry). And, while we’re at it, let’s note that Mario Bros. is a port of Mario Bros. not actually directed by Nintendo. I’m trying to remember how it turned out when some other Nintendo franchises were handled by studios other than Nintendo, but I’m distracted because I’m so hungry right now, I could eat an octorok.

Turtle turtle turtleSo, suffice it to say, I went into Mario Bros. Atari expecting pretty much nothing. The 2600 could barely render a protagonist that resembles a pizza pie, I couldn’t even imagine how overalls would be interpreted. And the iconic proto-koopa troopas and crabs of the arcade were known for their expressive, cartoony movements during an epoch where the best you could get out of most games was “beware the angry red square”, so their Atari interpretations were inevitably going to be a letdown. The graphics are primitive, blocks are all around, and you are likely to be eaten by a white hue. And, yes, as someone that has played NES Mario Bros and been unimpressed by the port quality there, I didn’t have much faith that Atari could succeed where Nintendidn’t.

But, surprises of surprises, Mario Bros. for Atari ain’t bad.

First of all, it’s definitely Mario Bros. All the familiar gameplay quirks are here, from flipping over turtles to the central POW Block. Even the between levels bonus stages are here for your failing pleasure (seriously, has anyone ever collected all those coins in the proper time limit?). ChillyI only have so much patience for playing early pre-Super Mario experiences, but I tromped through the first ten levels of this port, and it seemed like Mario Bros. all around. It was even as difficult as ever to flip over that final, hastened-by-the-demise-of-his-buddies crab. That’s some genuine Mario Bros. action right there.

But even more surprising than the fact that this game is actually playable is that there are a few items in this game that did not resurface in the “real” NES port. Mario Bros. NES does not feature our friend the turtle exiting his shell and kicking it while flipped over (an adorable bit of animation only seen in the arcade), but it is in the Atari version. Or, okay, the whole animation isn’t in there, but a turtle will stand up and face the player before obtaining a faster shell. It makes it… seem like something is happening. And icicles may fall from the ceiling in the arcade and Atari versions, but no such thing happens on the NES. Like Donkey Kong losing an entire stage, this was likely a concession to accommodate primitive NES programming, but it’s droll to see Atari attempt to stretch the limits of the hardware before Mario’s parent company.

Mind you, Mario Bros. Atari isn’t perfect. Apparently, no one on the Atari team could make the fireballs work “right”, so they’re just constantly respawning around the sides of the arena, and are more of an omnipresent threat than the leisurely fireballs that seem designed to merely keep a Mario from standing still too long in the arcade/NES. And, since the Atari had less onboard memory than an abacus, anytime a monster enters a pipe, it effectively respawns, so you have to double-flip those crabs during one stage tour. Oh, and the graphics, while passable, are still pretty “Atari crappy”. I have no idea why a moving “coin” is represented as a square, but here we are. Guess it was just too much trouble to shave off those four pixels and make something that kinda looks like a circle.

Lil' BuzzerBut, minor gripes aside, Mario Bros. Atari is actually Mario Bros, which is no small accomplishment. An arcade-to-Atari port not directed by Nintendo has every right to be absolutely horrible, but, nope, this is actually pretty fun. Maybe some games are good no matter the medium, maybe one team just happened to understand Mario Bros. and “get it right”, but whatever the case, Mario Bros. Atari is a pretty fun time.

Don’t judge a game by its system, I suppose.

FGC #268 Mario Bros. (Atari)

  • System: Come on, man, it’s right there in the title for today. I suppose I’ll note that we are talking about the 2600 here.
  • Number of players: I assume there’s a two player mode, but I literally don’t know where my second Atari control stick has landed. Just as well, I think I chewed on those things as a kid.
  • Favorite Enemy: The Fighter Fly has a very muted hop in this version, but he’s still my favorite. It’s like they’re trying to jump like our hero, Mario, but just not quiiiiiite making it.
  • ShinyDid you know: The turtles are known as Shellcreepers, and the crabs are Sidesteppers. Back in the Eighties, strange alien signals were beamed into children’s brains, so that’s how we knew the names of all the random, weird enemies in NES games. However, these names appear completely new to me, so Nintendo clearly only started subscribing to that service after the release of the NES.
  • Would I play again: This is a really impressive Atari game! Unfortunately, if it’s between playing an Atari game and cleaning my back porch, I’m unfortunately going for the broom. But if I’m stuck on a deserted island with only an Atari library to keep my company, this will be my first choice.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins for the PSP! Arthur is reborn and then quickly forgotten! Please look forward to it!