Side 1 of Disk 2 contained a program that I have yet to find, as the disk got corrupted when I was very little. All I remember is that it was some sort of drawing program that I really really loved. Oh, well. Side 2 contained two of my top Atari games of all time, so it was one of the most-used disks we owned.
Necromancer was one of my favorites on the Atari. You were a little druid/wizard who was battling an evil necromancer and his army of creepy spiders. During the first stage you were protected by a force field that looked vaguely like the Star of David and you used a little magic wisp to grow seedlings. These seedlings were threatened by walking dwarf-type people that looked like they either had wings or those lampshade things they put on dogs who had surgery so they won’t chew on their casts. Eventually the seedlings would grow into full trees, which were then immune from the dwarves but could be torn down by a giant spider that occasionally flew around and, um, made the trees scream.
In any case, the first stage ended when your strength ran out and you went to the second stage with however many trees you grew. This stage was even odder: you were in some sort of stone structure with giant hands coming out of the ceiling and rows of chambers containing spider eggs. Your goal was to get through the chamber unscathed by growing ladders using magic ? marks the hands left behind, while at the same time using your army of grown trees to crush the spider eggs. The catch was sometimes an egg would hatch and a spider would fly out, trying to steal your trees and weaken you. This happened for five screens (in each one the hands and spiders would get faster), which led to the final stage: the showdown against the necromancer himself.
The evil wizard would pop up behind gravestones, leaving trails of spiders in his wake (the more eggs you crushed in the previous stage, the less spiders there’d be) who would drain your energy if they touched you. You could clear away the spiders with your wisp, but sometimes his pet giant spider would come along. If it touched any normal spider, the normal spider would start to glow and become impossible to kill: you just had to avoid those ones. Your object was to pick up all the gravestones on the screen so the necromancer couldn’t use them to reincarnate himself. This, supposedly, went on for five screens, after which you win the game. I say supposedly because I have never beaten this game! Yes, despite having this game since before I could remember, I have never beaten the final stage. Even today, when I’ve gotten much better at games in general and have save-states and emulators to help me out, I’ve still never seen the end of this game. There are just too many spiders in those last stages, even if you get rid of every single spider egg in the previous ones! A lot of the earlier stages depend on luck anyway: in the first stage the trees can either shoot up like weeds or take literally five whole minutes to bloom, or anything in between. The same is true for the trees breaking through the spider egg compartments. And if a spider hatches in a compartment with a tree above it, say goodbye to that tree and hello to another spider in the final round. Bagh!
This intense difficulty notwithstanding, the game rarely gets frustrating. Part of that is the first round: you can either grow 30 trees or none at all, but you still can “beat” the first round. In fact, it’s technically possible to win the game without any trees, if you can contend with the literal army of spiders during the final round that will make it virtually impossible to move. The graphics are also colorful and fun, but what really made the game for me was the music. During the game there was this demented, jazzy bassline playing, which would add sevenths and thirteenths whenever the giant spider appeared. But the best music was over the title screen: a haunting melody that would slowly get louder and add a 4-part countermelody. All in all, Necromancer was a top-notch game, however illogical and demented it was, and I highly recommend it.
The Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter was actually apparently a beta version of Star Raiders II. This version was based on the movie of the same name, which I’ve actually never seen but have been told the plot by my brother-in-law: how a kid plays this video game and gets the high score, and is then whisked into space by some actual aliens (headed by Professor Harold Hill, apparently) to save their planet based on his l33t skillz.
In the game itself you must defend a solar system from the evil invaders, who are sending out red-colored short-range fighters (seen in the screenshot here) from their mother ships, which are supposed to be flying saucers but look more like cymbals with eyes. If you stave off enough attacks from the cymbals you can warp to their system, where you are supposed to destroy all their cities on their planets to, um, get revenge, I guess, although it seems that saving your planet from being wiped out by wiping out hundreds of civilian cities of the enemy would be a bit harsh. In any case, the graphics are pretty good for the time (the pseudo-3D when you are fighting the short-range fighters and flying over planets is especially worth a mention), and the gameplay is pretty fun, although a bit repetitive when you have to deal with the same horde of fighters and cymbals time and time again. Also, since you can fly to a star at any point to recharge your energy, it doesn’t matter how much damage you take in a fight: the fight resumes where you left off when you return. (Although, spending too much time at a star can be kind of fun and frightening at the same time: the heat literally melts your ship off the screen, and the effect is a bit jarring.)
Anyway, this game is a bit of fun, and you can either play it here in its beta stage or grab it, fully completed and with all the movie references removed, as Star Raiders II.
Pitfall II, bar none, was my favorite game for the Atari 8-bit computer, and in fact is still in my top ten favorite games of all-time. You are Pitfall Harry, an adventurer who has lost his niece Rhonda, the beautiful Raj diamond, and some sort of cat-creature that looks nothing like a cat named Quickclaw. You must traverse the dangerous Lost Caverns to find them, grabbing gold bars and dodging bats, vultures, scorpions, and electric eels along the way. Pitfall II was unique at the time in that it had an open world to explore, and that the game would actually end instead of just starting over and getting harder (in fact, there was a blog by Strong Bad about this very subject not too long ago).
The best part, though, was that the version available for the Atari 8-bit computers and the Atari 5200 had an easter egg: after finding the girl, ring, and cat-thing, you were transported to an entirely new level, which was both much more interesting and difficult than the original. Now you had to deal with giant ants, crazy bats, pirahnas, and more intelligent frogs, along with devious jumping puzzles. Your quest now was to find a snake-charmer person, a bowl, a horn, and the Golden Rope (which was Pitfall Harry’s only hope) in order to escape the Lost Caverns and see daylight once more. The level was fairly difficult by itself: fortunately, you couldn’t die. Each time you touched a vulture or ant or whatever you lost some points and were sent back to the last red cross you touched, which were scattered about the levels. Unfortunately, there were some very difficult areas (like the path to the Golden Rope itself) without a red cross in the middle, adding to the challenge. Also, getting a perfect score took a lot of effort, as not only could you not touch any creatures, but even the act of falling to the next floor below often cost you 100 points, leading to a lot of convoluted routes to pick up all of the gold. This, of course, added to the replay value, which was needed in a game with a finite ending.
Pitfall II was not just a pioneer in the gaming field, it was also very fun. The game was kept interesting also by the music: a sprightly heroic theme would play every time Harry picked up some gold or other treasure, and a sad version of the theme would play every time he touched a creature. The rest of the time, a “moderate” version of the theme would loop, which may get tiring after a while, but for me only added to the impetus to find the next piece of gold and hear that heroic tune again! You can find all three themes here.
In any case, if you love exploration games, swashbuckling jungle tales, and games that are fairly easy to beat but difficult to master, grab Pitfall II for the Atari 800 or 5200!
Just for fun, here is a video I uploaded of the end of the game when I got a perfect score (a feat in and of itself):
Finally we come to Frogger 2, the sequel to the very famous and popular Frogger. You once again took on the role of the famous frog, trying to get across obstacles to plant your froggy face in the top of the level. This time around, instead of crossing roads and streams, you began underwater and had to avoid fish and sharks. There were three logs that could hold your face at the top; however, if you jumped on the top of the logs, you would find yourself on top on a different part of the level, where you jumped across lilypads, ducks, hippos, and alligators to plant your face in a life preserver at the top. If that weren’t enough, you could also take a ride on a mother duck and find yourself in the sky, where you had to bounce on clouds and birds and avoid a giant dragon to immortalize your face in the heavens, so that every time a schoolchild lay on his/her back and pointed out shapes in the clouds, he or she would say, every time, “Hey, that one looks like a frog! In fact, it looks just like that frog caught in the life preserver over there!”
Frogger 2 was a pretty fun game, especially if you were a fan of the original but wanted more variety. The sound was nothing to write home about, but the graphics were pretty good for the eight-bit era, and the gameplay was varied enough to keep you coming back for a little while, at least. All in all, a good game, though not one of my favorites.
Well, that’s it for this edition. Stay tuned for disk 3, which contains the fun games Ms. Pacman, King Tut, Centipede, Pacman, Berzerk, Crossfire, and Fast Eddie. Until then, keep on retro-gaming!