Pop Culture and Atari – Journey Escape, King Kong, M.A.S.H., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: The Arcade Game

It should come as no surprise that some of the greatest pop culture moments of the late 70’s and early 80’s found their way onto the Atari 2600 via officially licensed games. The 5 games in this post represent only a handful of the multitude of games with licensed movie & TV shows, characters as well as musicians. There is one notorious title missing from this post but that’s by design as it will be getting a Game of the Week feature shortly. Hint, phone home to find out.

Journey was one of the biggest pop rock bands of the era and their hit album, Escape, spawned numerous top 40 hits. Most famous of all is their timeless classic, Don’t Stop Believin’, which happens to be the opening music to this game. The goal is to move all 5 band members vertically up the screen to their “Escape” pod after a show with as much of their hard earned money in tow as possible. Attempting to slow your progress and take your money are groupies, promoters, paparazzi and the like. You basically have to just move around the screen dodging these obstacles and if  you can reach the escape pod in time, you move on to the next band member. If all 5 band members escape you are treated to a visual of the scarab-like pod shooting off into space ala the Escape album cover, while Don’t Stop Believin’ plays in the background. To assist you in your efforts, you have your band manager. Touching him during the course of the game will give you invincibility so it’s always a good idea to get ahold of him as soon as you can before he disappears from the screen. It’s difficult to get all 5 band members to the escape pod in the time limit without him. Too bad he looks like the Kool-Aid man. While Don’t Stop Believin’ is an almost perfect pop song, Journey Escape is far from a perfect game as the gameplay is mundane, the graphics a bit laughable and it lacks replayability once you’ve seen everything the game has to offer.

To the surprise of very few, King Kong is a Donkey Kong knock off created by Tigervision. In this game, you control a blonde-haired character attempting to save your sweetie who’s been kidnapped by the overzealous titular ape. You must climb to the top of the building to save her while avoiding the projectiles thrown your way. The interesting differences between King Kong and Donkey Kong are that the projectiles have minds of their own and they move much more erratically up and down the ladders and through the floors than the barrels in DK level 1. Also, there is a projectile that if you leap over, it propels you up a level which is of course beneficial for your character. Additionally, Kong moves from the top level to the bottom once you get closer to him which clears the path to the girl you’re rescuing. Not sure I understand Kong’s motivation for doing this, I guess he is just a big pussy after all. The most disappointing part of King Kong (besides Kong’s comically bad graphic sprite) is the fact that it has only 1 screen that repeats over and over by simply increasing the speed of the projectiles. Not the best DK clone out there, that’s for sure.

M.A.S.H. is the officially licensed game from the super popular TV show of the era. The gameplay attempts to parallel the activities of the M.A.S.H. gang, rescuing wounded Korean War soldiers and operating on them once they are safely back at the camp. There is no humor to this game unless you count the comical image of the frowning pink patient in the operating room stages. There are essentially 5 different game (10 total counting the 2-player versions) variations of gameplay. You can operate helicopters to fly around the screen rescuing soldiers while racing against either the computer or player 2 to see who can save the most, all while dodging enemy fire from below. The operating room stages are basically an Atari version of the board game Operation, complete with buzzing sounds if you accidentally touch the sides of the patient with your operating tools. None of the versions of the games are particularly fun and M.A.S.H. is not an A list title by any means.

Raiders of the Lost Ark attempts to create an adventure game in the spirit of its namesake film and does just an ok job of it. A precursor to the Zelda games to come, you must guide Indy around to various locations buying and finding items, solving puzzles and defeating or avoiding enemies all while attempting to locate the Ark of the Covenant. This is a classic example of a game that needs more than a one button controller as the only way to maneuver Indy, use your items/weapons and manage your inventory is to play with both joysticks. This obviously offers awkward gameplay mechanics and immediately deters me from wanting to play. As for the game itself, there are secrets to advancing in the game which the manual assists the player with if they choose to consult it (the manual offers a warning in case you want to figure some of that stuff out on your own). The graphics in Raiders of the Lost Ark are sorely lacking distinction and it’s difficult to know exactly what everything is without the manual to tell you. Raiders of the Lost Ark is game ahead of its time and platform and it suffers for it.

Star Wars: The Arcade Game is the first person space shooter port of the popular sitdown arcade cabinet. The iconic theme music that plays over the title screen definitely gets you into mood and it sounds remarkably good. The game does a decent job of mimicking the vector graphics of the arcade version and with multiple screens, the game keeps you interested. I was never a fan of the controls where you pressed up to point your X-wing’s gun down and press down to point your X-wing’s gun up but you learn to live with it and adjust. To me, the control is counterintuitive and makes the game unnecessarily difficult. However, as far as first person space shooters go, I always enjoyed Star Wars and this is a pretty darn faithful port that looks way better than it should.

Currently in my collection:

Journey Escape – game, manual D

King Kong – game only C-

M.A.S.H. – game, manual C

Raiders of the Lost Ark – game, manual C+

Star Wars: The Arcade Game – game only B

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