The Fair Shake

Dungeon: Atari 2600

Retro games are great. That’s why we’re all here right? Each of us has our favorite game, genre, character, system, controller, and so on. What happens though, when you’ve played ‘everything’ available on your favorite system? You might just turn to the homebrew scene to see if you can find something new. Last week I did just that., among several other vendors, offers new Atari games for each Atari system! (Fun Fact: The 2600 has had new games released each year after it’s release,except in 1993 and 1994.)

Shouldn't this read 'CASTLE'?

Shouldn’t this read ‘CASTLE’?

Scrolling through the homebrew catalog I discovered that a plethora of new games are available. One game with a ton of reviews caught my eye, Dungeon. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, the incredible cover artwork did pull me in for a closer look. Mystified by the fact that there is an RPG for the 2600, I decided to pull the trigger on it and await its arrival. A few days later I received a package consisting of the game and instruction manual.

Long live the manual!

Long live the manual!

Released in 2009 in cartridge form, Dungeon is best described as a ‘turn based Rogue-like dungeon crawler’ (man, that rolls off the tongue..) A brief read of the enclosed manual revealed the plot of the game to me. A nameless princess has been kidnapped and you must rescue her. An equally nameless demon has kidnapped her, dragging her to the depths of his dungeon. Kill the demon and if you want, rescue the princess. Yes ‘if you want’, it’s optional! Leave her and see what happens! Your weapon consists of a sword (unless of course, you find Excalibur wedged in a rock), and a full complement of magical spells are at your disposal, provided you have enough “SP” points, so you’ll be able to heal yourself and cast some lightning bolts, and maybe even stop time for a bit. Some monsters, like the green slime can only be killed with a lightning bolt spell. If you’re out of SP points, you’re not out of luck, as you might be able to run from it. Locked doors block impede your path until you find the appropriate key to unlock them.

Walking in a Dungeon wonderland....

Walking in a Dungeon wonderland….

The dungeon is actually fairly easy to navigate, since you’re given a map in the instruction manual (a nice old school game insert map is available for purchase as well.) Seven levels of dungeon await you. Any self respecting dungeon game has lots of random monsters and this game is full of them, with skeletons, zombies, green slime, and more all wandering around. . Kill enough monsters and you’ll go up in level, which boosts your attack and your maximum hit points. If you’re lucky, you’ll find EXCALIBUR stuffed in a rock. If you meet some as-yet-undetermined-by-me-criteria, you can play Arthur, tug the sword out, and use it in a high powered attack three times before it disappears forever. The black knight, a minion of the demon, resides on level 6. His job is to separate the proverbial man from the boys. Get past him and the demon lurks below. Then you must escape!

What kind of bees are undead? ZOMBEES...

What kind of bees are undead? ZOMBEES…

For the Atari 2600, the graphics in Dungeon are really good.  The sprites are all extremely well done considering the machine they are on. The torches on the walls are a nice touch. Some of the sprites took some guessing as to what they actually were since they aren’t all  illustrated in the manual, but I did figure them out. Keys, doors, EXCALIBUR stuffed in a stone, everything looks pretty good and has a common and consistant ‘striped’ theme across all the sprites. The actual dungeon displayed on the screen at any one time is very small and it’s all against a black background. Very minimalistic, with the exception of a readout on the bottom of SP and HP. I think this was to give the illusion of ‘being in a dungeon’. It works. I constantly tried looking past it, but of course that doesn’t work.

Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!

Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!

I think it’s pretty amazing that a menu system with multiple options was implemented nicely, considering the 2600 has a joystick with ONE button. During an encounter you may select an option (fight, cast, run, etc) with the joystick. You can also access this menu at anytime while exploring the dungeon by pressing the joystick button. Very simple but extremely effective. The game is turn based, so pee breaks are allowed. One surprisingly game feature that I’ve never seen before in a game is actual lock-picking. Every treasure chest in the game is locked with a three number, three digit combination lock that must be guessed. Guess wrong, and you lose a hit point! Luckily you’ll know if a given number is correct as you go along, but still, you need to decide if it’s worth the risk of dying to open a chest. The sounds are fairly minimal, but they are varied. They do hold their own compared to the greatest hits of the system, however. There’s a funky intro song to the game that rivals some newer NES games,  and several sounds for walking, attacking, and so on.

I freely admit this is the first ‘new’ game I’ve bought in quite some time, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you are a fan of homebrew, the Atari 2600, or turn based ‘Rogue-like’ games, you need to pickup Dungeon. It’s a slightly different take on dungeons, as compared to another favorite game of mine, AD&D: The Treasure of Tarmin. Did I say favorite? At the risk of sounding like a paid review (Paid? Hahaha!), this game has hit my top 10 Atari 2600 game list quickly. The available poster-map allowed me to wear my rose colored glasses and remember a time when a poster map was almost a necessity. It now hangs on the wall in a frame along side some Ultima cloth maps, visible when playing. Available at AtariAge, give Dungeon the fair shake!