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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Classic Video Game Review - Atari 2600 Joust

The Opening Screen Really Gets The Blood Pumping


Joust - 7.5/10

The eighties were great if you grew up during that era. There were arcades, wonderfully bad movies, great movies, and the personal computer was in its infancy. Far thinking individuals, with money and time, brought the stand-up arcade game to the home. Home Entertainment. Nobody really thought that what we have today, with our surround sound speakers, high-definition televisions, super computers, and of course the internet, was a must have or "needed" in the home. Hell, why would we need that stuff, if we can go out the movies and enjoy them on the "big screen". As Dan Akroyd says at the beginning of our podcast "big screen entertainment is where it's at!"

But those visionaries sat down in their offices and said "we can do this" and started the process of bringing those elements, specifically video games, to our homes. Pong, Super Breakout, the Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision. All of these consoles were available and they had they latest and greatest technology in them. Manufacturers would make games for them, ports of Donkey Kong, Pac-man, Frogger, Defender, and of course, the game we're reviewing today - Joust.

The stand-up arcade version of Joust, was odd, to say the least. Your character would fly on an ostrich (which I didn't know that they could fly), attempting to defeat the enemies by striking them with your joust. Turning them into little eggs that you collect and advancing through the levels. Sometimes you had to avoid the flying dragon thing and make sure that you didn't land in the lava at the bottom. The stand-up arcade version is a blast.

The Atari version is a bit different. Working with limited technology, where the atari was limited by the size of the console and the cartridge that was plugged into the slot in the center, the stand-up arcade game was that limited in space and the programmers could really work their magic. The developers for the Atari version, really had their work cut out for them, but the games that they made, although not entirely true to the stand-up versions, were really good for their time. Especially Joust.

The great part of this game is its replayability. At about five minutes per game and several different difficulties, Joust is a game that makes you work for your score. The eggs that you have to get or the enemy jousters you have to defeat get more difficult with each level. There is no "boss" level, but there are enemy jousters that will hatch from the eggs that are extra tough and move faster than the player. To top it off, you have to constantly be moving to avoid being killed and you have to have pretty good hand-eye coordination to be able to pull off all of this while avoiding that weird dragon thing and the lava.

Because the Atari version of Joust is a pretty faithful version of the arcade game, the developers had to cut some corners to get the game onto the console. Gone are the extremely detailed graphics and the cool sound effects. Replaced by Atari's in-house sound and graphics. The gameplay is the same, the difficulty, is right up there with the arcade version and the fun of playing the game is right there as well.

The genius of the Atari 2600 was that they knew that they wouldn't be able to immerse the player in long play games (Adventure, E.T., and a few others are exceptions to the rules), much like today's games. They were meant to be played at five minutes at a clip. It was long enough to get enjoyment out of the game, but not enough so that it was taking up your entire day with a single play marathon.

Joust is available to play on several platforms, but what you really want to do is experience the game as it was from the 80's. Try the stand-up arcade version, then try the Atari 2600 version. See how challenging it was to play these games and relive your past. If you're too young to have grown up in the 80's, play the games and see what my generation had to put up with before Doom, Far Cry, Fallout, World Of Warcraft or even any of the games on the iPhone or Android phones were available.

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