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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Trip Down Nostalgia Street, vol 8

Welcome to another trip down Nostalgia Street. We’re going to set the dial on the time machine back to the 2600 days, and we’re going to get our feet wet this time. Actually, we’re getting soaked, because we’re visiting the lost city of Atlantis!

2600 cartridge art always looked 853 times cooler than the game really was.

Atlantis is a classic stationary shooter, along the lines of Missile Command and Space Invaders. Your job is to defend Atlantis against the attacking Gorgons, and you have a whopping 3 cannons with which to do so. Like soooooo many 2600 games, there is no end to the game, it is a simple “hang on to life by your fingernails until you get a high score” kind of experience.

The city of Atlantis consists of a domed thing, a bridged thing, a blocky thing, and 3 vibrator things that strobe constantly. The central cannon is also part of the city, and all of these things can, and will, be destroyed by the descending enemy. If any of the items that make up Atlantis are destroyed, you get one (and only one) back at the beginning of the next wave. The 2 side cannons are permanent.

The Gorgon ships begin at a leisurely pace, slowly meandering on the screen from side to side. They must descend 4 times before they can unleash their beams of hideous screaming fucking death upon Atlantis, and in the first waves, it appears that the game might be ridiculously simple.

Having lulled you into a false sense of capability, that’s when the game goes into bend you over mode, and the enemy ships exist on the screen as flashes of color streaking by at the speed of “Oh, shit.” You have to predict when they will get to the spot your shots intersect their path, because attempting to react to them will result in a close encounter with lots of BOOM, of the you-fucking-loser kind. At times, it is like attempting to skeet shoot with an SR-71 at full throttle as the clay. This game gets a 6 on the controller tossing scale for that very reason. (That’s not a 1-10 scale, that’s how many replacement controllers you have to buy.)

The Atlanteans await their doom

One interesting feature of this game actually happens when you lose, which of course you eventually must. Unless of course you toss your controller and flip off the power for the umpty-fifth time.

When the last bit of Atlantis lies in bubbly ruin, you watch as a ship eerily resembling a Cylon basestar flutters off the screen. This is a direct lead in to the game’s sequel, Cosmic Ark, in which you play the survivors of Atlantis. To my knowledge, this was the first attempt at a sequel storyline video game. At the time, this was not “story” but a “marketing decision”. I’m not sure how well that worked out; I know that I didn’t play Cosmic Ark.

The soundtrack of this game was nothing more than a series of annoying beeps, signaling “wave started”, “wave finished”, and “you’re fucked”. There was no music, just that high pitched harpy screech beep of doom, leaving your parents’ ears to bleed if they stayed in the room too long. Children were oddly unaffected, giving rise to my hypothesis that they were actually some form of mind control code. Beep beep beep. Yes, master.

There had to be some mind control element to it, because I remember hitting reset over and over and over, striving for just one more destroyed Gorgon ship, for just a bit higher of a score. Or maybe it was just a fun and addictive bastard, far more fun than homework. Either way, I know that I wasted more than a bit of time pounding the fire button to defend my watery people from the Gorgon invasion on Nostalgia Street.

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