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The Atari VCS or the 2600 belongs to the oldest squadron of gaming consoles. It had been launched in 70’s and it was a big commercial success. It had color graphics chip able to display lots of colors, good sound and, obviously a plenty of cool games. The hardware is very limited, though, and all the 8-bitters from the 80’s are far away behind the VCS. But that limited hardware gave a unique taste to all VCS games. At first, games were produced by Atari itself but then a bunch of people left Atari and started their own game company, Activision. They started producing very cool games and became, among the others, the VCS game developing leaders. Today, I’d like to review one of their game that I like very much: Enduro.

Enduro is an early racing game using pseudo 3D motion. You control a supercar that has to overtake a number of cars. Then comes the next round but with limited time and so on. You’re driving trough day times from the noon, afternoon, evening and night to the morning and even a you even meet snowy and foggy sections. All of this is repeating but as fast as you drive, the bigger bonus you get when you overtake all required cars. In the night, you see just red stop lamps of the cars and then the horizon of visibility is limited so you must slow down. On the icy road the steering is more difficult.

The graphics is good for the 2600. Activision set the VCS games graphics standard to a new level and this game is one of them. On the bottom there’s Activision rainbow logo, above it are information about score, level and number of cars remaining to overtake. In the middle of the screen there’s main playfield displaying a nice 3D road with your car and the opponents. On the top there are mountains scrolling as the road turns left or right. The background color of the playfield and the top part is varying according to what time you’re driving, i.e. day, evening, night, deep night, fog, snow, morning, etc. It nicely demonstrates the VCS’s nice color capability. Sounds aren’t bad as well. There’s a really strong engine buzz sound of your car and some other whistles when you crash. A simple melody plays when you reach the level’s end.

The game is incredibly fast. You can drive like a mad man, and if you have enough perception, you reach your goal pretty soon. As fast you drive, as crazier the game play is. When you crash to an opponent car, your car is put on the side of the road and you must speed up again. The opponent cars go in three lanes and it’s extremely hard to zigzag between them in high speed. It’s even harder in the fog course, because you see only rear lights and the fog is so dense that the visibility of the lights is reduced. All in all, the game play is about fast driving and adrenaline when passing other cars in a high speed. When you reach the goal of 300 overtaken cars, you have to complete the route till another morning when the car countdown begins again and the game level increases.

Enduro is very addictive game, fast like hell and it’s surely a gem in everyone’s VCS game cartridge collection. It’s nicely done, squeezing the limited hardware toughly to bring the player really good driving experience.

Recent Atari 8-Bit Ports

In the early 1980s, Atari’s 8-bit computers were an extremely popular gaming platform. Every important game of that time (as well as most of the unimportant ones) had its Atari 400/800 version. However, that changed dramatically sometime around the middle of the decade. Suddenly the 8-bit Atari lost its appeal for the nascent gaming industry.

There were several reasons: the success of the Commodore 64, shift of Atari’s focus to the 16-bit ST line, and the popularity of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the United Kingdom, Europe’s biggest gaming market at the time. Because of this all, even though the 8-bit market still had some 5-8 successful years to live, some of the biggest 8-bit hits never made it to the 8-bit Atari.

It’s because BBC Micro and Atari have the same processor and the Micro version uses a graphics mode that is very similar to an Atari one.

But times they are a changin’! About twenty years later (i.e., recently), many classics are getting ported, faithfully and enthusiastically, by the community. Now even Atari users can enjoy games that the industry didn’t bother converting back then because the 8-bit Atari was considered a dead horse. Today we’ll have a look at five of them.

LUNAR JETMAN

Lunar Jetman Screenshot

Lunar Jetman is a shooter originally released by the legendary Ultimate Play the Game for the Spectrum and BBC Micro. It’s a sequel to Jetpac, Ultimate’s previous game in which Jetman has to rebuild his rocket. This time, his mission is to find and destroy evil ETs’ bases on the Moon, and apart from his trusty jet pack, he has a moon buggy – called Hyperglide Moon Rover in the game’s manual – on which he can transport equipment for bridging craters and additional weapons.

Fandal, who ported the game, chose the BBC Micro version as the source for the port. It’s because BBC Micro and Atari have the same processor and the Micro version uses a graphics mode that is very similar to an Atari one. The Atari version of the game was then included in the disk magazine Flop in 2014.

PENTAGRAM

Pentagram Screenshot

Pentagram is another game originally published by Ultimate Play the Game for the Speccy, in 1986. It’s a part of the legendary Sabreman action adventure game series. The game is based on Ultimate’s revolutionary Filmation isometric engine. Sabreman’s goal is to recover the fabled Pentagram, a potent magical artifact. He’s trying to do that in a maze full of enemies and objects with which he can interact.

The Atari 8-bit version was coded by Mariuszw in 2016. To port the game, Mariuszw created a special recompiler that takes the original code for the Z80 processor and translates it to its equivalent for the 6502, which is the heart of the Atari machine. The 320×200 resolution used in the the game is only monochromatic, but more colors can be added through a clever use of hardware sprites, called PMG (Player-Missile Graphics) on the Atari. José Pereira took care of this part of the graphics, and Miker did the music.

E-TYPE

E-Type Screenshot

E-Type is a car racing game in the vein of Out Run, originally released in 1989 for the British computers BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, and Acorn Archimedes, written by Gordon J. Key. You try to go as far as possible in your Jaguar E-Type, avoiding such obstacles as mail boxes, roadworks, or oil on the road. When you hit something, you and your gorgeous blonde passenger (because all your passengers in all car racing games seem to be blonde bombshells) are knocked off your seats. If you give a ride to the policemen on the road (or run over them, depending on how you interpret the necessity to hit them with the car), you receive a time bonus.

The Atari port was realized by Fandal, with Irgendwer doing the graphics. As an extra, the Atari version received an additional first-person mode in which you are put into the car’s cockpit instead of just watching the vehicle on the screen.

E-Type stands out for two reasons. It’s one of the few road games on the Atari 8-bit in which the landscape isn’t strictly flat, so you drive also up- and downhill. And because of the game coming out only for the Micro and the Acorns, it’s one of a few good games that never made it to either of the Atari 8-bit’s biggest competitors – the Speccy and the C=64.

BOBBY BEARING

Bobby Bearing Screenshot

Bobby and his brothers are bearing balls living in the future land of Technofear, where everything is made of steel. They have been warned many times to stay clear of the Metaplanes outside their home, but one day their rogue cousin came and led Bobby’s brothers right there. There the evil Bearings stunned poor Bobby’s four brothers, and now it’s up to him to find them and roll them back home.

According to the authors, Robert and Trevor Figgins, they hadn’t heard of similar games like Marble Madness or Spindizzy until well into the development when their publisher pointed out the similarities, and cited Ultimate’s Knight Lore (perhaps for its isometric graphics and puzzles) as their inspiration.

The game was released in 1986 for the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and C=64 – and in 2016 for the Atari 8-bit, ported by Mariuszw with additional graphics by José Pereira and music by Poison, supporting stereo.

ADVENTURE

Adventure Screenshot

Adventure is a bit older and different from the other games in this list. It was originally published in 1978 for the Atari 2600 console (VCS). The player controls his avatar, a simple square. Next to not getting lost in the maze, the player must find a magic cup and bring it to the golden castle, avoiding the deadly dragons (who, as the author Warren Robinett noted later, look more like ducks). The game, inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure (that ran on mainframe computers), is also recognized as one of the first game containing an Easter egg, a secret room containing the text “CREATED BY WARREN ROBINETT.”

The game was ported to the Atari 8-bit by Avery Lee, the author of the widely spread video processing software VirtualDub … and the Atari emulator Altirra.

Hey, stop reading, start playing!

(This article was guest-written by Krupkaj, the maintainer of the Czech and Slovak Atari Portal. Thanks, mate!)