Released in 1983, designed by Steve “my last name proves I was born to do this for a living” Cartwright, commissioned by the American Dental Association to help promote good dental hygiene to the youth of America, and developed and published by Activision before its evil megacorp days, Plaque Attack is a really stupid idea for a game that somehow manages to be really stupid fun. It’s weird.
There is no secret or hidden meaning in this one. It’s just pure, unabashed propaganda. You are a tiny tube of toothpaste who somehow manages to fly around the inside of someone’s mouth as its teeth get attacked by various forms of food. Food is bad and you must kill all of it but can only do so using 4 out of 5 dentists approved toothpaste. I guess they were gonna used dental floss as a bonus weapon in the sequel.
As with many 2600 games, the sound isn’t that great. You’ve got the “Pew! Pew!” sound of when you shoot toothpaste at the food and another sound for when you hit the food and it, uhm, dies. There’s the sound of a tooth decaying (or explonding) into nothingness if it is in contact with food for too long. There are still more different sounds when you clear a level, like the sound of your points being added for all the toothpaste you have left and another for the teeth that remain. Finally, when you start a level, there are two distinct bleeps for when the teeth that remained in the last level reappear and when bonus teeth are added.
There you have it: I’ve just described every sound you can possibly hear in this game. There aren’t even any repetitive bleeps and bloops to constitute an attempt at music in this game. At first, this may bother you. The game feels cold and empty. You definitely get the impression that something is missing and that something is music; however, as you progress through the first few levels, you will notice that the food moves more and more quickly. At this point, you start to miss the music less and less. Eventually, should you get far enough, you are almost constantly firing toothpaste, destroying food, and having your teeth destroyed, to the point where having all this cacophony going on overtop of some music would just make the game sound like your Atari is having some kind of musical seizure. It seems that in the end, the decision to omit a more traditional soundtrack was a wise one.
The graphics are fairly decent for when compared to other games for the console. The food mostly looks like the food it is meant to represent, though we have the often present on the 2600 pitch black background. However, if those teeth are attached to what are supposed to be gums, the person they belong to desperately needs a new dentist. My kid is a toddler and has less space between his teeth. Also, he has more than twice as many as this person does with their measly 8. All in all though, the colours are bright and I don’t remember flickering ever being a problem, which is impressive when you consider how many moving objects you will have on the screen at a time once you successfully complete the first several levels.
The game plays rather like Space Invaders in many ways. Though unlike that game, your “space ship” can move freely from side to side as well as up and down between the gums while shooting in both those directions. While a bit sluggish at first, the pace of the game picks up very rapidly. This might be my only real criticism of the game. While you could play some Atari games for hours as you get better and better at the game, learning patterns and becoming more accustomed to the controls, I cannot see myself playing Plaque Attack for very long periods at a time simply because the enemy burgers, ice cream cones, and strawberries move faster and faster much too quickly as you progress through the levels.
The final score in the video provided above is 59, 675 and it took the player about 8 minutes. That score is good enough for the 6th best over at Atariage.com. The best score there is just under 78,000. Considering how most of the points are multiplied by the level number, this means that you get more and more points as the game progresses. This likely means that the best score ever took around 10 minutes to get. There isn’t much of a payoff for constantly practicing and playing for hours if the reward is simply playing for about 10 seconds more and getting an extra 2000 points than your last run. That being said, if you’re looking for something to play for a short little gaming session, something the the range of 15 to 30 minutes, this game will provide you with a good deal of fun.
It would be unreasonable to expect anything more than simple fun from a game where you shoot toothpaste at food to protect teeth. Mr. Cartwright seems to have had a knack for making something out of what seems like nothing, as we will see in a few weeks.
Until then, if any of you have a game you’d like for me to review, please let me know which game and why in the comments. With reviewing one 2600 game a week, I can pretty much promise to review anything you suggest (provide I can manage to play it), so recommend away folks!