Saturday, July 25, 2015

unknown pleasures - atari 2600 Gremlins

hello there

i was at something of a loose end this afternoon, look you see, so i switched on one of them Atari emulator devices on that netbook i use from time to time. i have absolutely no idea if such things are legal or condoned for use (Atari emulators, not netbooks), but i believe that i've got what i consider to be a very good relationship with the Japanese, so i am sure they won't mind.

scrolling through the many thousands of games available for this emulator i discovered one that i had no idea had ever existed. it was called Gremlins and i decided to give it a bash, on the off chance that it was in some way related to the 80s film of the same name. as it turns out, it was.

i had no idea at all that Atari were still making game cartridges in 1984. this was, after all, the era of the Commodore 64, a powerful computer and gaming device which had about 16 times the power of the Atari 2600. even the humble ZX Spectrum, as crap as it was, could claim to have 12 times the power of the Atari. and yet, of course, games on the Atari were far more enjoyable than on the Spectrum, mostly as things could be more than one colour at a time on the games.

the game itself is somewhat advanced and pretty much "out there" by usual Atari standards. it looks good, plays well and it is fairly easy to work out what you need to do in it. even if, as is the case here, what you need to do in the game bears little or no relation to the events of the film on which it is based.

here's a quick look at stage 1 for you. as in, yes, there is more than one stage - another rare thing for the Atari.

what do you have to do exactly? well, you control that smart dude in blue pants, who is presumably one of the main characters off of the film. for some reason a load of them mogwai things are on the roof of a house, and they are falling off it. also, for some reason, there are a whole load of hamburgers in the garden.

the game must take place after midnight, for if one of the mogwai things eats one of the hamburgers, they get transformed into them cocoon things (not Steve Guttenberg style ones) which sees them reborn as gremlins.

a bit of video of stage 1? sure, why not, since i had the iTwat off of Spiros on the go for some class Commodore 64 images of it all.

i must confess it has been a few years since i watched Gremlins, but i don't remember a bit where one of the characters caught ll of these fuzzy creatures in the hope of stopping them getting to the hamburgers that were for some reason all over the garden. i mean, i certainly remember them eating after midnight in the film, hence them becoming gremlins and further hence the title of the film.

what happens if you catch all of the mogwai that are falling? you get a load of points. you don't stop them getting to the burgers and going on to be non-Guttenberg cocoons, though. that would rob you of moving on to the second stage, or if you like stage 2, of the game.

erm, yeah. stage 2, or if you like the second stage, sees you stood on a plain somewhere, with a gun. the cocoons hatch, suspiciously human sized gremlins pop out of them and start running at you. you must shoot them, or you die.

if that sounds rather more like a Death Wish or Cobra sort of thing, i would agree with you. again, it has been some time since i saw the film, but i don't recall any sort of Dirty Harry like exploits or shenanigans where a lone dude stands and just shoots at them as the gremlins hatched. if there was a scene like that, then the gremlins probably wouldn't have gone on a house trashing rampage and the film would probably have been about forty minutes long, give or take.

weirdly, the scene echoes one or two moments of Aliens, where all them boss marines go mental shooting at the cocoons before or as they hatch in order to stop them facehuggers from knacking them. perhaps James Cameron was one of the few to own this cartridge, quite liked this second stage and decided to incorporate it into his movie. nice one, if so.

what happened in stage one, as far as i can work out, had little or no bearing on what happens in stage two. whether i caught all the mogwai (or whatever) or whether i left them to just fill their boots with burgers, i always went on to the same number of non-Guttenberg cocoons in stage two, and the gremlins always hatched at the same rate, running at me at the same speed.

what happens after you have shot to death all the gremlins in stage two? well, first off you feel like you've achieved something, as it can get quite tricky, and after that it's straight back for another go at stage 1.

and this goes on repeat until you die, or run out of lives, and you get the game over screen in pretty smart off of the movie font letters...

that Atari made this game at all was what you would call a balls out move. by 1984 the company was virtually bust. this was partially because everyone had moved onto better machines, like the Commodore 64, but mostly because they had bankrupt themselves with that very bad, infamous game based on ET The Extraterrestrial. to have a go at another Spielberg related movie in order to turn their fortunes around screams of that "keep calm and carry on" slogan which was recently popular.

like the ET game, the Gremlins game had little or nothing to do with the actual film on which it was based, bar the best type of similar looking character rendering the programmers could pull off with 4kb of memory space to play with. unlike ET, this game is actually rather smart, and is fun to play.

as i said, i had no idea that this even existed, so i assume it's pretty straightforward to say i never had it. although we still had our Atari 2600 in working order when it came out, it was limited to use on the classic games - Oink!, Keystone Cops (or Capers), River Raid, Pac-Man and that smart Empire Strikes Back game. for new games, my brother and i looked only at ones for the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum, as we had access to both of them.

i'm led to believe that Atari did not really market or push this game, or release it on a wide basis, so there's every chance that even if i had known it existed and for some reason looked for it i probably would not have found it for sale anywhere north of London. whilst the game is pretty smart, i somehow doubt it would have been considered smart enough to save either the machine or the company at the time.

if you had and still have the cartridge of this game, it's probably worth a small fortune. you may well want to go and get it valued or appraised, or maybe just play it.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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