Atari Poop – Basic Math
Released in 1977 as a launch title for the Atari 2600, Basic Math is one of those simply epic games that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Taking the fun of arithmetic, once confined to the classroom, and bringing it to the living room in a way that previous generations never could have dreamed. From the gameplay, to the music, all the way to the graphics and the box art, this is truly a perfect game.
So, let’s start with that box art then…
Never before has a video game’s box art better conveyed the experience awaiting the gamer once the game inside is placed into the console and the power switch is flicked on. Birds and butterflies soaring through the air, a frog and three dragons, a rainbow, three small fish about to be eaten by two larger fish, a good witch, and you equipped with a butterfly net trying to capture all of the magic. Never before has such a perfect visual metaphor for the joys and wonder of math been created.
Now, as for how you play the game itself, it is both simple and elegant. There are 8 different modes you can choose from, some where you just enter the answer to whatever math problem appears above, others where you can choose the first number in any equation before then entering your answer, and still others where you have a limit on the amount of time available to answer. Regardless of the mode you choose, you are in for a treat. As you’ll see in the video below, the graphics are stunning. Unfortunately for many retro games, the graphical capabilities were such that the real world object represented in-game by pixels (and later by polygons) never really looked quite, well, real. Everything looked crude, cartoonish, dumbed-down, and often downright farcical. Whether it’s the square ball in Basketball for the 2600, freakishly large green pipes in Super Mario Bros, or characters with triangles for facial features in Final Fantasy VII, everything always manages to look… off.
See? Did you see those numbers? Look at an 8 in this game and tell me it doesn’t look exactly like, nay better than, any 8 you would write yourself on a math test. You can’t do it. You just can’t. Even the mathematical symbols used (for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are perfectly rendered. What’s more impressive is that this isn’t just something like a video game ball looking like a real ball. No, because balls are real physical objects, while numbers and math symbols are abstract concepts. Seriously! This game manages to use the 2600’s primitive hardware to display abstract concepts perfectly. It’s mind-blowing.
Finally, we have the music, which is also absolutely perfect. Those notes, going do, re, mi, fa, so, and so on as you choose a number for your answer, are beautiful. As well, the little songs that gets played when you answer correctly is up there with the Final Fantasy Victory Fanfare in terms of epicness and brilliance.
There is literally NOTHING that could’ve been added to this game to make it better. It is the first, and likely last, perfect video game ever created… unless someone gets their shit together and creates Advanced Math. I smell an easily-funded Kickstarter campaign already.