Joust
for Atari 2600
Also available for: Arcade / Atari ST

Mr Creosote:
Company: Atari
Year: 1983
Genre: Action
Theme: Fighting / Flight / Multiplayer / Sword & Sorcery
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 21465
Review by Mr Creosote (2013-05-04)
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Grab your lance, mount your flying ostrich and… joust! Detailed graphics, great animations and a decent simulation of inertia – that was Joust in the arcades. On the Atari 2600, it is… not quite that. More of a reminder how far that system still was from providing an actual arcade experience at home than a fun game on its own right. Gone are the detailed player and enemy sprites; they have been replaced by flat, single-coloured blobs all of which look exactly identical (in the original, the enemies would be riding buzzards) – and the 'unbeatable?' pterodactyl is virtually unrecognisable as such an animal at all. Appropriately, simple two-state animations are used. Might be bearable if at least the gameplay had remained intact.

joust04.png
That's as colourful as it gets

The basic idea of flapping one's wings with a button to rise or descent while moving horizontally to engage enemies and the joust being decided by the relative height of the opponents is obvious still there. Though where the original applied a flapping and collision model which was, for arcade standards, believable and manageable, this one's physics are more akin to pinball mechanics: Don't be surprised if instead of just lightly bouncing off a platform you hit, you will be richocheted across the whole screen in a random direction and within the blink of an eye! The feeling of having absolutely no control being reinforced by the fact that a single touch of the flapping button will make your steed shoot upwards by about a third of the screen whereas in the arcade version, it hardly did anything, allowing for much more fine-grained control over the player's sprite.

Even weirder, more outlandish physics are applied to the eggs which appear when an enemy has been eliminated. Gameplay-wise, their purpose is that new, stronger enemies will hatch from them if the player does not manage to catch them in time. You might think it would make sense if these eggs would fall… downwards. Instead, they will fly off into a random direction, changing their direction when they bounce into a wall, until they will suddenly turn into a new enemy.

Graphics aside, this simply makes the game become close to unplayable. Even with practice, controlling one's own mount is more a matter of luck than of skill. The two-player mode is also not really playable anymore because of that: Trying to play cooperatively will include all too much accidental (deadly) bumping into each other and trying to play competitively… well, let's say rolling dice is only marginally less exciting. Players would have to wait until a couple of years later, when a decent home conversion finally appeared on the much more powerful Atari ST.

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