There is no point in beating about the bush. Oil’s Well is best on the 8-bit Atari… Wait, you don’t know Oil’s Well? Okay. Let’s explain it, you dumb Commodore and Zed Ex Ex Ex freax!
Oil’s Well is an early ’80s game by Sierra On-Line released in 1983. That was around the time when the C64 and the Speccy appeared but the 8-bit Atari was a strong player on the home computer market playground already – I mean the best machine, I’m telling ya! With a dedicated hardware for gaming, it was the ideal and natural choice for both developers and gamers. And that’s when Sierra came with their new game. The game is about an underground oil rig harvester that has to collect all oil from the underground deposit under the oil well. It looks like a Pac-Man on a stick and has a similar principle – to eat dots. The harvester is connected with the well by a telescopic tube, so it can get to the deepest places in the underground. But the underground corridors are full of horrible insect, and if they hit the harvester or its tube, one loses a life.
The telescopic tube is controlled by you, the player, by standard joystick movement and the fire button, which works like the telescope’s remote, so when you press it, the telescope starts to wind up. Thus you can avoid the nasty baddies. Sometimes, there are also bonuses going in random rows from random directions. Collecting them brings points or extra lives. But sometimes, a bomb that can kill your harvester unit comes, but it leaves your tube intact so you can avoid this danger easily.
The game came out for the Atari, C64, MSX, Coleco Vision, and the IBM PC compatibles. Let’s focus on the 8-bit ones, just mentioning that the 1983 PC version is very ugly and slow.
The Atari version is the best one. It has nice and colorful graphics, great sounds and excellent playability. The C64 version isn’t that good: the sounds are worse, and so is the use of colors. Some effects are missing altogether. Colecovision is, surprisingly, in the third place with high resolution graphics and sounds very close to the Atari version, but the color amount is limited. The last place belongs to the MSX, which has identical graphics as Colecovision version but a bit weaker AY chip sounds with no background kind-a-melody that’s present in other versions highlighting the game’s atmosphere nicely.
What is bad in the C64 version? One could say there’s nothing wrong with it. If you’ve played the Atari version before, you’ll see a lot of difference. First, the sounds are a bit simple. I’d be awaiting some more drama from the SID chip. It seems to me like a little boy was trying to make fancy sounds in V2 BASIC. Second, the graphics are really very similar to the Atari, the color palette is… erm… steady brown and pink, but, that’s just Commodore. Rather than this, I miss that the baddies aren’t appearing on the sides of the screen like on Atari, but they’re coming out of the C64’s border. But, that’s understandable for the hardware. Some elements like flashing bombs and bonuses are made in hires and that’s making a weird impression to me, namely flashing in random colors seems ugly. The C64’s color order in the memory is weird and it seems that nobody took care about smooth flashing effects.
On the MSX and the Colecovision, things are substantially worse. Everything is in higher resolution than on Atari and C64, but there’s a lack of colors. All baddies are just white and they’re small like one text character or so, which looks and feels ugly. The only colored things are static graphics and the miner’s tube. Both versions seem like they’re running on a ZX Spectrum, although a ZX version doesn’t exist at all, actually. There’s nothing much more to say about these two versions, except the sound. On the Coleco, sounds are closer to the Atari version, while we hear just MSX’s AY chip simple bleeps on the other side. All in all, none of these two conversions are good enough to stand on the Atari’s step.
The verdict was clear since the beginning. Atari rulez! If you own a Commodore, you can feel quite a similar experience, but not on the other platforms. This is an Atari game, and you must play it now!