Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current difficulties, while at the time time treating Atari’s illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world’s first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com’s Project: Save Atari
While many people have heard of the Jaguar’s Tempest 2000 and Alien Vs. Predator, there are very few other games from Atari’s post-1984 console output that have been hailed in the hallowed halls of video game history. This is shame because, not only were there some very good games, but there are a good number of titles that could have made solid franchise brands for Atari-Infogrames. Few people know that Atari Corp. attempted to make games that would appeal to the masses who loved the NES and Sega Genesis in the early 90’s. The problem was, most of these games were very hard to find at retail. Nintendo’s monopolistic practices over shelf space along with the Tramiels clan’s complete ineptitude for marketing made Atari’s quest to get back into the game with these titles futile at best. No matter, Atari-Infogrames can still right those wrongs. Below is a list of some of the best games that Atari Corp. ever produced that we believe could be successfully remade in the 21st century.
7800 – Scrapyard Dog : This was the Atari 7800’s answer to Super Mario Brothers. Released in 1990, there is a good chance that no one you know, or anyone they know has ever seen it much less played it. That’s too bad, because it was a very unique title for the time. Even though the game was very hard and a bit difficult to play with the 7800 controllers, it was still encouraging to see an actual Nintendo Quality title pulled-off on the 7800. It was not that the 7800 did not have the power to make games like this, it’s just that the system was designed to solve a different problem than the NES. While the NES had great sprite engine and could created tiled, moving backgrounds with ease, the 7800’s main strength was moving many small sprites around a single screen at the same time. With Scrapyard Dog, Atari Corp. was able to create a game that rivaled the NES in complexity, if not in nuanced game play. Further iterations on more powerful hardware should have taken the basic concept all the way to 3D worlds in the style of Crash Bandicoot and beyond.
7800 – Alien Brigade : Alien Brigade was light-gun shooter in the vein of Operation Wolf. The game contained all that was necessary for an entry in this genre: 6 levels, multiple weapon types, and zombie-like alien hordes. There is no reason why this could not have been Atari’s House Of The Dead or Virtua Cop with every console generation seeing the release of and more sophisticated rail-shooter entry based on this franchise.
7800 – Midnight Mutants: This was the only real “action adventure” game for the 7800, and as it stands, the only game even close to The Legend Of Zelda that Atari Corp. ever produced. In the game you play the grandson of Grandpa Munster (yes, you read that right!), fighting the zombie hordes of Dr. Evil on a non-linear quest. This one has been hailed as the best game ever made for the 7800. There, Atari-Infogrames, now dig this one up and milk it for all it is worth.
7800 Coin-Op conversions: The original Atari (Atari Inc): spent much of their efforts after 1980 creating home versions of coin-op games. The Atari 2600, 5200 and 8-bit computers all had their share of both Atari and licensed coin-op games. however, the 7800, which was designed in-part to support conversions of the most sophisticated coin-ops of the day (i.e Robototron), was the king of these coin-op conversions. Atari’s own games such as 3D Asteroids, Centipede, and Food Fight are some of the best home versions of these games ever made. The licensed coin-ops were not too far behind with great versions of Dig Dug, Joust, Robotron, and Ms. Pac-Man just to name a few.
Lynx – Blue Lightning : This modern jet combat game with scaling 3D graphics was one of the Epyx designed launch titles for the Lynx. The game displayed the Lynx’s ability to created fast moving, scaled graphics with neat explosions. At the time it was released, many Lynx fans considered this a classic title. However, since it was from Atari, games like Sega’s inferior, but similar Afterburner as remembered instead. It was also one of the best games ever made for the system. Atari made a more advanced version for the Jaguar that never lived-up to the potential of this game.
Lynx – Chips Challenge : This puzzle game with 140 levels was one of the hidden classics for the Lynx. In the game you play a computer nerd who must avoid all the nasty stuff on each level and find your way to the exit. Every subsequent level was harder than the one before it, and each level provided learning opportunities that would help further down the line. Released at a time when action games were the norm, this cerebral puzzler did not have enough window-dressing to attract the eye of the common game player. However, in the eye of the modern casual gamer, this game is a real gem.
Lynx: Zarlor Mercenary : This was bar-none, one of the best shooters ever made. My hand ached for days after playing it for the first time, yet I continued playing it for days anyway. Unlike arcade shooters that relied on your supply of “continues” to finish, this one was balanced so that success was actually possible within the context of the game itself. As shooters go, this one certainly had the chops to be in the pantheon of the greats, but being on an Atari console was its undoing. It’s high-time this was rectified.
Lynx: Gates Of Zendocon: This scroller was one of the most innovative shooters of its time. There were 51 levels, but you did not play them successively. Jump gates (some hidden) would transport you to the different levels with different challenges. As a modern shooter this game had all the necessary parts (i.e. bosses, and extra weapons) with an interesting play mechanic to boot. Some of the levels had cerebral puzzles that required things like shooting through solid objects to make a path for yourself (something I’ve always found very enjoyable). The key to the game was finding the right gate that would lead to final battle with Zendocon. This was a unique action game that screamed for a more powerful sequel that never came.
Lynx – Warbirds: Warbirds was a WWI flight game for the Lynx that still stands as one of the better hand-held flight sims ever made. The scaling graphics created a sense of depth and altitude that was unlike and portable flight sim that came before it. While the limitations of the Lynx did not allow this game to satisfy fully (for instance it needed more robust and satisfying explosions and better sounds), it was still a brilliant game and there is no good reason why this game did not became a franchise in its own right for multiple future platforms/
Lynx – Kung Food: Ok, I have to admit that I have a weakness for games about food. Where the Atari Food Fight coin-op was actually a brilliant game, Kung Food was more of a run-of-the-mill scrolling beat-em-up. But who cares?!?!? It was about food!! Fighting Food! What more do you need? Sure the game play was neither innovative nor necessarily very well-done, but so what? We are talking about franchises to build upon here and what is better for that than a game about fighting your way through a refrigerator filled with evil food? Seriously, this concept had potential and it should have been built-upon.
Jaguar – Ultra Vortek : This was the Jaguar’s answer to Mortal Combat. Itself it is not the most innovative game, but again, like some of the other games above, it was also not too shabby. It was much better than all other games of this type for the Jaguar, and the visuals rivaled anything on the SNES and the Genesis, and could hold it’s own against some Playstation and Saturn games. Sure it was derivative, but it also showed potential for better things to come. This was a Beyond Games release, but could still have been bought or licensed and reused by Atari. For a company desperate for key franchises this could have been a good choice.
Jaguar – Battlemorph : The sequel to the absolutely terrible Cybermorph pack-in game for the the Jaguar. This game is what Cybermorph should have been. With the Jaguar, Atari was trying to made a niche with these “morphing” games using basic 3D shaded graphics and this game showed what they were trying to accomplish. For the Jaguar platform, Battlemorph was embodiment of it’s potential as a very early 3D gaming platform. If this had been released in 1993 it would have been a great game. However, it came in 1995, far too late for it to make any kind of splash in the gaming world. Still, the “morph” series was an Atari owned franchise and it should have been further tested on subsequent platforms.
Jaguar – Iron Soldier : This was probably the best game for the Jaguar and at the time, one of the best “Mech” games ever made. It was universally hailed as a good game from any venue that had the guts to print a positive review of a “Jaguar” game. One of the things that made this game great were the amazingly satisfying explosions, but the mech game play was not too shabby either. If you could choose just one game from this list to resuscitate, this one might be the winner.
Note About Some Of The Above Games: OK, look, some of these games, if played via emulation or otherwise in 2008 might make you think to yourself “what the hell was that guy talking about?, these games suck!” However, before you pass judgment on them, you must think about this in terms of what Atari could have built-upon for branded franchises, and not what these 15-20 year old games playing on 15-25 year-old hardware look like today. What interests us here in the potential of these games. Most represented a bright future that was cut very short.
(Note: some screen shots borrowed from atariage.com)