Atlantis (Atari 2600) Review

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Review by tankMage (January 2018)

Score: C

   Atlantis is along the lines of what I imagined Atari 2600 games would generally be like: a single screen with a bunch of stuff flying around that players can shoot at in order to get a high score. There is a plot twist, however, rather than controlling a free flying space ship, players start out with three turrets that they can switch between and fire at airborne enemies. To complicate matters there are several ground installations which the enemy can destroy and its GAME OVER if the attackers blow them all up. Coupled with the fact that this game is inspired by Atlantean science fiction, which was a craze in the late 19th and early 20th century, Atlantis is an intriguing game that really had some potential. A botched execution sinks the experience (pardon the pun) and the game is ultimately relegated to the realm of mediocrity thanks to poor controls.

Story

   According to the manual, the peaceful realm of Atlantis has come under attack from the evil Gorgon fleet, which is armed with mighty Death Rays. That’s pretty much it, but the premise is interesting, because it echoes now largely forgotten fantasy/Science Fiction books written by the likes of Loyola Donnelly and C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne, who spun imaginative tales in which the legendary continent of Atlantis was an advanced super power. The flying ships, death rays, and domed cities depicted in this game are very much in step with the science fiction versions of the myth and Atlantis stands out in an era where Atlantean legend has fallen by the wayside.

Sound Effects

    Usually I title this section “Music and Sound”, because it covers a wide topic that includes ambience, sound effects, and voice acting as well as music, but Atlantis has only sound effects. Said sound effects are done in Atari’s usual over the top fashion, especially the static ridden explosions and death ray zaps. Some music would have gone really well with the overall theme of this title, but soundtracks weren’t exactly considered a necessary part of games at the time, going from my experience with Atari and older DOS titles, so I guess I’ll give it a pas.

Graphics

   Everything in this game is very colorful to say the least. Both your turrets and enemy ships are rainbow colored and there are some pretty spectacular seizure inducing explosions that occur when you blow up enemies. Aside from that, everything is represented by the usual blocky Atari graphics, but the developer did a good job of representing the sunken city (considering what they had to work with) and the game has a certain charm to it as a result. On a side note, some of the ships look suspiciously like the Enterprise from Star Trek; it’s difficult to say where or not this was an intentional reference, but it’s amusing nonetheless.

As Rainier Wolfecastle said in The Simpsons “My eyes! The goggles do nothing!!”.

User Interface

   This where Atlantis begins to turn into a frustrating mess. Players can only control one turret at a time and must move the joystick in the direction that corresponds to the turret they want to fire. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem until coupled with the miserably slow rate of fire of the turrets. Atari had fairly strict limitations on how many errr…sprites (dots count as sprites, right?) could be displayed on the screen at once, so part of the problem can be blamed on technological limitations, but couldn’t they have made the bullets travel faster? All in all the clunky controls and slow rate of fire destroy the pace of this game and the issue was prevalent enough to warrant a ROM Hack that allowed the player to simply cycle through the turrets by moving the joystick once, which helps a bit.

Gameplay

   Apart from the awkward controls and slow rate of fire, Atlantis is not a bad game. Players will find that there’s a bit of strategy involved in shooting down enemy ships, because they cannot harm your base until the central turret is destroyed and one always has to be ready to destroy a rapidly advancing foe before it blows up an installation. Some ships will even cause everything on the screen to be wiped out when destroyed (aside from the player’s property), though it is often challenging to hit these fast moving targets. It’s a shame that the guns fire so slowly, because Atlantis is a fun game in essence and a faster pace would have made the experience more exciting.

Final Thoughts

   Gaming was still very much a new medium when Atlantis hit the shelves and the Atari 2600 could only do so much. With that said, I couldn’t help but think this game was maybe a bit too ambitious for it’s time. Someone playing Atlantis back in 1982 may have thought otherwise, but people who have spent years playing shooters and FPS games that allow them to spray bullets at absurd rates (like myself) may have trouble acclimating to the more, shall we say, measured pace of this title. In the end, it just doesn’t hold up, though this game is an interesting history lesson.

Recommendations

   This is only the second game on the 2600 that I’ve reviewed, but I’ve already played something a fair bit better than it. Still, Atari connoisseurs may see something in Atlantis that I overlooked, so it’s worth playing to find out if you fall into that category, especially if you like shooters.