Atari Poop – Kaboom!
For some strange reason, the Atari 2600 seems to have had a thing for games that have exclamation marks in their name (Pitfall!, Oink!, Mr Do!, etc). It also seems to have had a thing for having absolutely terrible games among its best-selling games. Kaboom! fits into both of these categories… or does it?
Kaboom! was released in 1981 and ended up selling over a million copies, putting it among the top 15 best-selling games for the Atari 2600. I have no idea why it sold so well. Unlike Pac-Man and E.T. (also in the top 15), it didn’t have an uber-successful previous life (arcade game and movie). The game is just plain boring. Want to see me tell you everything about the gameplay in this game in one 23 word sentence? Too bad, I’m gonna anyway: You catch bombs dropped by the “Mad Bomber” with buckets, losing one every time you miss one until you lose all three buckets.
That’s it. You get an extra bucket for every 1,000 points (but you can’t have more than 3). Oh, and the Mad Bomber smiles when you miss a bomb. That’s it. For the whole game. The Mad Bomber doesn’t throw other items that fall differently or need to be avoided instead of caught. The Mad Bomber isn’t sometimes replaced by another characters who drops the bombs differently. You don’t get a mini-trampoline to bounce the bombs back up or something in that vein. Nothing. If you’ve played one level, you played them all only slightly slower than the next.
Why over 1 million people bought this game is something I will never understand, but I can’t help but wonder how many more copies Activision (you can’t blame Bobby Kotick for this, he wasn’t around yet) could have sold if people had known that this game was actually the 6th game of an epic series. Hell, I can just imagine if all of these games had only been released several years later so they could have found themselves on one cartridge!
I mean, for those of you who have played this game before, didn’t you ever ask yourself what made the Mad Bomber become so mad? Why drop bombs and not just shoot the guy? And as for your main character, why catch the bombs at all? Why not just leave and let them fall on the ground?
Well, though his notes have never been released, I believe Larry Kaplan (the man behind this game) left some pretty obvious hints in his other games. First of all, the Mad “Bomber” is so named not just because he drops “bombs”. An earlier game Kaplan had created was Air Sea Battle, a launch title for the 2600. In one of the game modes, you control an anti-aircraft gun and shoot down, well, aircrafts. It’s safe to assume that one of the planes you shoot down is a bomber flown by the Mad Bomber.
Another launch title was Street Racer, also by Kaplan. Two launch titles made by the same guy? And you don’t think that the guy racing down the city streets isn’t the same one who was manning the anti-aircraft gun? People, the only reason you’re racing through the streets is because you’re trying to get to the building the Mad Bomber landed on after ejecting from his damaged bomber… the one you shot down.
Next, Kaplan made Brain Games. What appears to be a collection of memory games is actually the security system to the building the Mad Bomber landed on. You have to complete 19 different “games” in order to gain access. Finally, we have Bridge (a… bridge game) and Bowling (like I need to spell it out). It turns out Mad Bomber landed on a bowling alley that just happened to have some seniors playing bridge in it as well. As two civilized men, they agreed to bowl in lieu of a death match; however, as you can see if you’ve played Bowling (there’s a trick you can use to easily bowl a score over 250), the main character is ridiculously good at bowling. Mad Bomber feels cheated and challenges him to a game of bridge, but since the main character isn’t 90 years old, he has no idea how to play, so he decides to throw all the cards on the floor while declaring “This game is stupid! Only old people like this game and your face is stupid and smelly!”
This brings us all the way back to Kaboom! Mad Bomber flips out and starts throwing bombs everywhere because he had some in a bag cuz that’s what bomber pilots do (trust me, I’m a librarian). The main character has to catch all the bombs in a buckets of water, thus defusing them, in order to protect all the seniors’ fragile hips, which would surely shatter should one bomb actually explond (again, librarian).
So there you have it: Kaboom!, part 6 of an epic gaming series most people never even knew existed. All this may change though, as there are rumours that a couple of movie execs have also made this discovery and have been in contact with Kaplan to see if this whole story couldn’t be turned into the next James Bond movie. Will you watch it?