Written by  :  Sandor Swartz (7)
Written on  :  Jun 16, 2009
Platform  :  Atari 2600
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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The best possible game for Atari 2600

The Good

Everyone will tell you that this is the first video role playing game of all time. That it was the first console game to include an easter egg - that the term easter egg was in fact coined in response to this game.

So I will tell you something new: this is the first game to genuinely SCARE the player. You suspect the cup (I'd call it the "Stanley Cup" and later as the "Sacred Chalice of Reeks" but I think it's officially called the "enchanted" somethingorother) is in the next room, which you haven't entered yet. You suspect there may be a dragon, or worse, TWO dragons, guarding it. But you don't know. There could be nothing there at all. So you tentatively move the character up into the next screen, and.....

the red dragon is immediately upon you and snaps at you with a loud sound! You desperately try to push away, but while you escape its jaws, you can't get around the beast and down off the screen to safety. It snaps at you again, you flail around trying to get away. After another 10 seconds of moving around and close calls, you are swallowed. In the belly of the beast.


you have just started the game (game 3, where objects are distributed randomly among some number of checkpoints, subject to certain constraints - like the stanley cup never starts out in the yellow castle or you'd win at the beginning, and it always starts in a different castle that has to be unlocked, so it isn't too easy). You don't have the sword. It's locked in some castle somewhere. But all 3 friggin' dragons immediately appear and chase you around. Every time you turn a corner, there one of them is. You find a key, but they dog you to the gates of hell.

There is also a complex interaction between the characters and items and rooms. So many of them too. Just to name a few, the yellow dragon is scared of the yellow key, the red dragon will only guard (stay in the same room as and not continue to chase you when you leave the room) the white key and the stanley cup, while the green one will guard anything black as well as the bridge and the cup, the bat, oh that infamous bat. Who can ever forget the bat. My parents would compare me to the bat, grabbing items of importance, wandering off with them and dropping them in unknown and absurd locations. There's nothing like that with any other game that was made until then or for the next 5 years afterwards.

The creator of missile command had a degree in psychology and thought he understood enough to make games addictive. Yeah, right. I sure got tired of missile command in a hurry. Ok, we get it, more and more missiles come, and you eventually lose. But this, now THIS is a game that could be played for a long time.

The Bad

The sword, I think should have been drawn a little differently. For years and years I thought it was an arrow, and imagined that I'm supposed to stick the end of the arrow into the dragons. But it only dawned on me in 2004 that it's a regular sword with a handle, not an arrow, and it actually points the other way.

The single most annoying thing about the game however is that in game 3 it is OFTEN the case that you have a situation where it starts out with the yellow key locked in the yellow castle or the black key in the black castle with the cup. Or more complicated situations yielding impossibilities, like the white key locked in the black castle and the black key in the white castle, or all 3 keys locked among the 3 castles. Warren Robinett took measures to insure the cup always started out locked in the white or black castles, but you'd think he could have at least bothered to make the game potentially solvable every time. I find it really annoying to successfully slay all the dragons only to find that there are no keys anywhere.

The Bottom Line

First of all, Adventure is one of the few PROGRAMS (some examples of others are Air Sea battles and 3-D tic-tac-toe) for the Atari 2600 that is ACTUALLY a game. Yes, you heard me. MOST of the so-called "games" for the atari 2600 are unworthy of the status of "game". To be a game, you have to be able to win it, and you have to be able to lose it. The things that pass for "games" on this system are almost exclusively without any goal. You just shoot/avoid aliens/asteroids/ghosts/cats/robots/nuclear missiles that come at you faster and faster until you lose. That's not a game. That's a friggin' waste of time. And the few true games are really pretty pathetic for the most part. Mostly it is a competition against a REALLY stupid artificial intelligence where you and the computer each control a character which is on equal terms. Whoever shoots the other the most times in the time allotted wins. Whoever catches the most fish wins. Whoever gets 4 x's or o's in a row wins.

But Adventure is unlike everything else. It is a MASTERPIECE.

To all those naysayers who have the NERVE to say that it is no good because it had lousy graphics, you are obviously unqualified to make such an obtuse comment. Good graphics are not POSSIBLE for the Atari 2600. You merely demonstrate that you are pitifully unaware that the programmers were limited to 4 kilobytes of ROM and 128 bytes of RAM. YOU HEARD ME! The entire program for the entire game must be no bigger than 4 KILOBYTES. No, not megabytes. Kilobytes. Yes. 4 kilobytes. For the whole game. And every stored variable can't exceed 128 bytes. At a whopping processing speed of under 2 megahertz. The entire game console had all the computing power of what is considered a very low-end microcontroller today, the unspoken computers all around which are relinquished to minimal tasks like controlling the clock in your microwave oven. To complain about its graphics is to demonstrate one's ignorance of the fact that it is IMPOSSIBLE to have fantastic graphics in a game limited in size to 4 kilobytes and RAM to 128 bytes. So why do I rate the graphics at 5 stars? Because it is as good as it could have been. No amount of additional effort could have made it better. Nowadays, programmers are limited not by hard drive space or RAM, but merely by man-hours in creating the program. Not so with the games of this era.

I would go as far as to say that this game is about the most powerful, interesting game that is even theoretically POSSIBLE for the atari 2600. This is coming from someone who made from scratch a digital clock using a microcontroller. I can appreciate the brilliant efficiency, above all else, employed in this program, to make use of what few miserable resources were available to their utmost limit. And then I come to read that one reviewer even had the NERVE to suggest that there are actually other games for the Atari 2600 that are better than this one. To SUGGEST that this isn't the best game for the atari 2600 is the pinnacle of absurdity.

Like Phantasy Star for the Sega Master system, this ONE GAME is the only single game for the entire console system it goes with, that for the lack of, would make the entire console unworthy of a look back. So what if your character is a square. So what if the "dragons" look more like ducks. They're plenty scary when they're chasing you around and you don't know where the sword is.