Crank up the 80s music on Pandora or YouTube, because we’re traveling back in time today. Thanks to the 2 Warps to Neptune blog, fine purveyor of retro goodness, I have temporary possession of an Atari 7800 and a handful of games. I never actually owned the 7800 back in the day. We were an Atari 2600 and Colecovision family until the Nintendo Entertainment System came out (and later a string of DOS and Windows PCs) and blew those other systems out of the water. Oh, and we had Commodores, too, including the VIC-20, C64 and C128. It’s safe to say I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember.
So now that I’m in my mid-30s and have kids of my own, I was curious to see how a 30-year-old game system stands up to my memories and my kids’ expectations.
First, thanks to Greg at leftylimbo.com for relaying the 7800 to me. Here’s what the box looked like.
Once I got over my disappointment that my soap.com shipment had not arrived, I tore into the box to see what exactly was inside. Games, joysticks, bubble wrap, and oh yeah, a 7800!
Pitfall! is my addition to the relay, because I have fond memories of that game. It’s amazing how many games are still available on ebay for not that much money ($7 for Pitfall! with shipping. Not bad!) All that remained was to connect the 7800 to my TV using an RCA-to-coax adapter, turn it on, and start it up. It astonishes me that, nearly three decades later, the system works fine and all the games worked as well. My new Playstation 3 died in less than a year. Cue old man voice: “They don’t make them like they used to, I tell ya!”
So how did the Atari 7800 stand up to my expectations after not playing these games for going on three decades? It depended on the game, really. Some I still enjoyed, some I would enjoy more on a system where the graphics were nicer, and some seemed like torture. My daughters, on the other hand, were happy to watch me play any and all of them, over and over, while they held unattached controllers and shouted encouragement. Overall, it was fun to show them these games from when I was a kid and see them capture their imagination as much as they once did mine. (Pitfall Harry now figures prominently in bedtime story requests. Go figure.)
In this and the following posts, I’ll take a closer look at some of the games, what they meant to me way back when, and how they hold up today.
Of course, Pitfall! is the one I had the most nostalgia for, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed it the most. The gameplay is simple enough that my toddler daughters can describe it: “Jump over water. Jump over mud. Swing. Don’t fall into crocodile. Harry farts.” That last bit is due to the unfortunate-sounding noise Harry makes when he hits a stationary or rolling log. We suspect an allergy to fiber.
The game gives you 20 minutes to choose left or right (I always choose left) and run, run, run. After a few false starts, I survived that 20 minutes and discovered the secret ending … nothing happens. Game over. Curious, I checked Wikipedia to see what the point of the game was, if any. Basically, if you collect all the treasure and don’t die or run into a log or fall into a hole, you get a perfect score of 114,000. Needless to say, I did not earn the highest possible score, but I did earn a respectable 85,746.
When the game first came out, you only had to earn 20,000 points to score a Pitfall! Harry Explorer Club patch. I may be 30 years too late, but I’ll sport this picture of the patch with pride. (Patch image courtesy of atariage.com)
If my nostalgia alone does not convince you to go find and play Pitfall!, consider the celebrity endorsement at the beginning of this wonderful commercial:
Yes, even young Jack Black thinks Pitfall! is awesome.
BurgerTime and Donkey Kong Junior
While Pitfall! was still fun and earned kudos from my daughters, some of the games do not stand up to the modern era at all, at least in their Atari 7800 iterations. BurgerTime is one of those games, although this is actually a version for the 2600, released in 1982. The graphics are so bad that you are being chased by flickering white and brown blocks while you try to drop your burger pieces on the plates below. Unfortunately, until you drop the pieces, they all look like yellow discs, and since the enemies flicker in and out of existence, it is hard to tell if you are going to evade them or just barely brush them, resulting in your death. (Another character with allergies: this time a chef allergic to his own food. Consider another career, Chef Pepper!)
Here’s how I remember the game, the Colecovision version. Of course, that version came out in 1984, so I was spoiled by the vastly-improved graphics.
Needless to say, the adventures of Chef Pepper dropping yellow discs onto a plate to form something vaguely resembling a hamburger did not hold my attention for long. My daughters didn’t love or hate it, but Chef Pepper did not capture their imaginations in the way that Pitfall Harry did.
Donkey Kong Jr. similarly falls short compared to other versions. The graphics are meh, the controls are difficult, and seeing a non-Super Mario whipping animals into a furor has reopened old psychic wounds. How can you call yourself a hero, Mario, when you’ve never apologized for your treatment of Donkey Kong and his progeny?
Donkey Kong Junior on the Colecovision was a big hit with my family. I have fond memories of taking turns playing it with my dad and older brother. To the Atari 7800 version version, I say, “You sir, are no Colecovision.”
That’s about all the retro goodness I have for today. I’ll get to the other games that came with the relay in a later post. If you are interested in joining in the Atari 7800 relay, check out this post on 2 Warps to Neptune.
For the second and final part in this series, read 80s Flashback: Atari 7800 (Part Two).