Activision Titles – Dreadnaught Factor, Kaboom, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

In general, Activision knew what they were doing. The famous third party developer primarily made up of former Atari employees certainly had a knack for creating some of the most memorable and iconic titles for the Atari 2600 as well as the Intellivision, Colecovision & various home computers of the era. The Atari 5200 had their fair share of Activision games available for owners to pick up, although nothing that could compare to the 2600’s Activision library. The 5200’s total game library, 69 officially released titles, is a fraction of the 2600’s size so there’s no comparison to be made. I currently own 3 Activision titles but based on their reputation, I am always looking to add more. Unfortunately, I don’t think the 3 Activision games I own for the 5200 represent their best work and part of me wonders if some of it is controls (or controller) related or if Activision was already in decline by ’83/’84.

One additional thing I noted when playing “Dreadnaught Factor”, “Kaboom!”, and “Pitfall II: Lost Caverns”, is that I had a much harder time getting them to work in my Atari 5200 console then any of my Atari manufactured carts. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but all 3 required multiple tries and adjustments into the console’s cartridge slot before I could finally get them to work.

“The Dreadnaught Factor” is a game with an interesting concept. It’s essentially a space shooter but instead of waves and waves of enemies coming at you, you’re tasked to destroy the enormous titular “dreadnaughts”, massive space ships hell bent on destruction of the galaxy, before they reach your Stargate. How do you accomplish this? Not by taking out the ship’s guns and bombs that are used as defense, but by blowing up the energy vents that line both sides of the ship. It is highly recommended to blast as many silos, launchers, and cannons as possible to make each pass a bit easier on you, It is also recommended to take out the ship’s engines, thus slowing down the dreadnaught’s approach towards the Stargate. Slowing it down while provide you more passes over the dreadnaught to accomplish the mission. The screen scrolls downward as you move vertically so its wise to move slowly over the ship and bomb as many vents as possible using the top controller button, while blasting the other parts of the ship & the defense weapons with your lasers (bottom button). The joystick is used to move left and right across the screen as well as accelerating by pressing up and decelerating by pressing down. In easier missions, there will be fewer and slower dreadnaughts to destroy with weaker defenses. The higher skill levels only allow for a few passes to get the job done while also providing more dreadnaughts to defeat to finish the mission. “The Dreadnaught Factor” has much going for it in terms of unique gameplay but it does get a bit repetitive. Typically, that’s not a big deal if playing the game doesn’t become tedious, but “Dreadnaught Factor” straddles that fine line and sometimes falls on the wrong side of it.

“Kaboom!” is one of my all-time favorite 2600 games thanks to its frantic gameplay and flawless use of the paddle controllers. However, that style of game doesn’t translate well to a paddle-less Atari 5200. Just in case you weren’t familiar with the game’s concept, “Kaboom!” requires you to move 3 stacked buckets of water horizontally across the screen in order to catch and therefore defuse bombs that are being dropped from above my a mad bomber who looks like the McDonald’s Hamburglar. Miss a bomb, and one of your buckets goes away. Lose all three buckets, and it’s game over. As the game progresses, the bombs are dropped faster and faster but you can earn lost buckets back by reaching point milestones. “Kaboom!” is simple, addictive fun with flawless controls…..on the 2600. The 5200 version suffers without the paddle controller and it’s simply much to hard to stop on a dime and move the buckets back and forth at a blinding pace using the standard 5200 controller. Additionally, the game doesn’t look any better on the 5200, which is inexcusable. There’s really no reason to own and play this version of “Kaboom!”

“Pitfall II: Lost Caverns” is inherently a fun idea. Run around environments trying to find lost treasure, people and animals. It’s an improvement on the original “Pitfall” by allowing Pitfall Harry to finally swim, but also by introducing the titular caverns. These maze-like caverns offer lots of adventure opportunities and would have been a perfect early example of the necessity of home-made map making in order to figure out the pattern of labyrinth cave structures. Like the original “Pitfall”, the goal of “Pitfall II” is to find all the gold but now the stakes are even higher as you must also to find your niece, a cat, and a big-ass diamond (the diamond has a name per the manual but who really cares). With no time-limit and no life-limit, you basically play the game until you finish it, or get bored or frustrated and stop. “Pitfall II” offers checkpoints, which you will return to each time you touch a hazard, i.e. one of the various bats, frogs, scorpions, eels, etc. roaming around the caverns. Apparently there is a hidden second cavern worth a ton of points for finding but damn if this game isn’t hard so I never found it! The controls take a bit getting used to as you are required to ascend/descend ladders quite often while pressing down or up on the controller joystick BEFORE you reach the ladder or else you will simply fall down the shaft and likely hit a hazard. Each time you come into contact with a hazard, Harry floats backwards through each screen until he reaches the checkpoint last touched, sometimes taking 10-20 seconds depending on how long it had been since you touched one. I want to like “Pitfall II” for its innovation and advancing the gameplay for what was already a very innovative title, but the controls are so frustrating. The standard 5200 controller doesn’t help matters either as I found myself many times performing an action I had no desire to perform when I least wanted to perform it because of the lack of self centering joystick. Mastering the movement up and down ladders is essential to survival and maintaining sanity while playing. I know there is a lot more to this game that I haven’t even seen (allegedly you grab onto balloons to float over hazards/chasms) but because of the high level of difficulty, I haven’t experienced it all. For me, “Pitfall II” gets an “A” for effort but a “D” for execution.

Currently in my collection:

The Dreadnaught Factor – game only B-

Kaboom! – game only C-

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns – game only C+

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