Disk 14, Side 2
To start off, I’m woefully unequipped to compare this game to actual Bruce Lee movies, genre conventions, or tropes. I know very little other than that he was one of the greatest martial artist actors of all time and that since his passing tons of people have tried to build off his popularity to make a quick buck. Among those people trying to cash in were the creators of this platformer, in which you play as Bruce himself, kicking and punching his way into some sort of fortress, stealing lamps or jewels or something off the walls. Pursuing you through most of the rooms are two sinister enemies: a ninja wielding a katana or staff or something who is so stealthy that he doesn’t even have a face, and some sort of mooing green sumo dude (apparently named The Green Yamo) who, despite weighing probably over 300 pounds, is as accomplished a martial artist as Bruce himself. For a really fun twist, a multiplayer mode allows one player to control The Green Yamo, who can either fight against Bruce or work with him (by keeping the ninja off his back), making the game either much easier for beginners, or quite a challenge for veterans.
The fortress consists of twenty, vaguely Chinese-related screens, each with a completely different layout, and although you mainly must proceed through them in a linear fashion, they are laid out in such a way (and you have to backtrack enough) that it gives the game somewhat of a Metroidvania vibe to it (even if it’s not explicitly that sort of game). In many of these rooms there are moving obstacles that can be anything from a single white dot, to a giant collection of spears flying across the screen, to, uh, some sort of bush that erupts out of the ground, that immediately electrocute Bruce, causing him to freeze up with a noise that sends chills down the spine. These traps will also kill the ninja and the sumo dude, though in their case they will just respawn about three seconds later, and in screens where precise timing and/or jumping is required to navigate these obstacles the game is merciful enough to just remove the two enemies completely.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the art style in this game, which is probably the most unique part. Despite the limited hardware, every screen is vibrant with a definite Asian style. Everything, from the floors to the walls to the ladders to the deadly electrocuting bits, has some sort of intricate pattern to it, and there’s just enough representational artwork to keep you guessing about the more abstract bits. For example, the first few screens obviously take place in the courtyard of some Chinese mansion, with the mountains in the background and some statues of, cows, maybe(?), up on pedestals. As you descend deeper into the fortress it becomes less and less clear exactly where you are or what things are, for that matter. In the screenshot above, for instance, the column in the middle acts as a moving ladder, but I have no idea what it’s really supposed to represent. It gives the whole game a sort of mystical feel; like watching a Miyazaki film: all the weird stuff probably has some sort of significance, but heck if I know what it all means, it’s certainly pretty to look at and ponder about. At one point in the game you may be descending into hell (though it may just be a basement), and at another point a giant demon throws magic at you until you hit a dynamite plunger and blow him up, and at the end you finally find either treasure or a room that’s burning down.
I really like this game. Even though there’s not much to keep you playing after you’ve beaten it once, it’s still pretty fun and surreal. Plus, grabbing a friend to play as The Green Yamo can really transform the game into something unique and especially fun to play. It’s even got a PC remake, so you’ve got no excuse! Play it today!
First, a tiny bit of history: The Atari 800 was built to be a gaming machine, and had custom hardware designed specifically for that end. Sadly, it kept the price tag high, which is one reason it eventually lost most of its market share to its competitors such as the Apple ][ and especially the Commodore 64 (it was kind of like the PS3 of its day). Most of these computers had nearly identical libraries of games as the Atari (especially the Commodore), so most consumers opted to buy the cheaper machine, since many games played fairly similarly on both platforms. There were a few games, however, that really showed off what the Atari was capable of, especially compared to counterparts on other machines, and Encounter was certainly one of those games.
Encounter is basically an early first-person shooter, somewhat reminiscent of Battlezone, where you are shooting various aliens (I think, though they mainly take the form of colorful floating diamonds) that come out of warp holes dotted about a landscape. Most of the aliens just move around and occasionally take potshots at you, though on occasion a red one appears that tries to kamikaze right into you at high speed, dodging erratically while a tense, frustrating sound plays (see here at 0:50). Most of the time, this will cause you to go into panic mode, frantically backing away from the suicidal maniac trying to shoot it, and heaven help you if your back suddenly gets stuck on one of the many pillar-like obstacles dotting the playing field; you’re basically toast at that point.
After offing a certain amount of enemies, a black door of doom opens up and you must proceed into it, where you are suddenly flung at high speeds into a field of giant balls or bullets or something which you must dodge for about half a minute. Failure means you have to repeat the level you just finished, but if you make it past that stressful obstacle course, another door opens to a different-colored landscape, where you must now kill some more aliens. These aliens don’t just change color and move faster, however; in later levels they start shooting multiple rounds at a time, and some are even bombs that, if not killed quickly enough, explode into about a dozen or so projectiles that basically cover the landscape. Those red kamikaze guys, though; they’re always around, no matter how high up you climb in the levels. Seriously, screw those things.
Encounter is a game with great atmosphere. The aliens make some weird, sing-songy noises that get louder the closer you are to them, but other than that (and the sound of you moving), it’s absolutely still, making for a tense situation. The graphics actually aren’t all that hot (nearly comparable to the graphics on the 2600 really), but what separates the Atari port from the other computers of the time is the smooth scrolling and sounds which create the atmosphere. Compare that video I linked to earlier with this one from the Commodore and you’ll see what I mean: the Commodore version looks and sounds surprisingly generic, where the Atari one just oozes with tension and danger.
In any case, Encounter is a wonderful, if highly difficult, game. Even the novice setting can be quite a challenge, if only because of those red kamikaze guys and the between-level super-fast warping sections. Definitely recommended, but not for those with faint hearts.
Pacific Coast Highway
And now we come to yet another Frogger clone! This one’s called Pacific Coast Highway, and this time you play as a bunny instead of a frog. The basic gameplay is the same as Frogger: cross the busy highway, then hop across boats/rafts/etc. to cross the water. The main difference are that the two sections of the game are actually split up into two screens, and if you get hit or drown, a little ambulance (or an, uh, ambulance boat, I guess?) rushes to the scene to pick up your bunny corpse. I assume this was added after the programmer’s 5-year-old daughter asked, “Daddy, what happened to the cute hopping bunny? Why isn’t it moving anymore?” and the dad, not wanting to explain death to his little princess, programmed in the ambulance so he could say, “Don’t worry, sweetie, the bunny just got a boo-boo. See, the little ambulance is just taking it to the bunny hospital, where the bunny doctor will make it aaallll better!” thus preserving the innocence of little girls everywhere. See, media watchdogs? Some programmers really do care!
You can also play in a multiplayer mode, where the other player controls a turtle (really just a palette swap of the bunny). Interestingly enough, you actually play at the same time, though it’s somewhat confusing as to why, as it’s not a race (or at least you don’t get extra points for beating the other person and the game waits for both of you to finish before moving on anyway) and you can’t affect the other player at all. But it’s still pretty fun, and certainly one of the better Frogger clones out there.
That takes care of Disk 14! Coming up next: side 1 of disk 15, featuring Super Breakout, Star Raiders, and Asteroids!