Flashback: Four kB is all you need for an Adventure

April 26, 2013

Adventure (1980) (Atari)_1

Some games make me feel as if I were not welcome in their worlds. They are quick to drop an invitation or lavish me with all kinds of attention, but they do so with the half-hearted smile given to an unexpected guest. They are too keen on being pleasing, on impressing me with graphics, complex plotlines and surprising scripted events, standing with their faces in smug expression, expecting cheers and clapping.

It’s especially painful when you are trying to explore, as then the designer tends to prod you gently, forcing you to look forward at all times. “Let us see the next picture,” they say, “it will be fun.” They don’t treat me like an adventurer; they treat me like a tourist.

This is what led me to one of the earliest examples of the namesake genre, Atari’s Adventure, an ambitious title programmed by Warren Robinett back in 1979. It has primitive graphics, practically no sound and your character is but a big pixel.

Adventure (1980) (Atari)

There’s no detailed story, not even in the manual, and you barely need the only button on the controller. They aren’t needed; in fact, it allows it to remain purely a game, letting your mind fill the details as you want to.

If other games make you feel as an unexpected guest in someone’s else house, Adventure makes you feel as if you were exploring a house that has been abandoned, its owner nowhere close. It has that childish joy that sucks you in after a couple of minutes that is so unexpected.

Being a hero of some kind, your goal is to explore the map to retrieve two magical chalices guarded by castles, mazes and three different dragons,ach of them with their own personality. You use a variety of keys, swords and other items, all of them very simple to use.

Adventure (1980) (Atari)_3

So simple, though, that it’s easy to become overconfident and get killed. The dragons are fast and, being flying creatures, they have no problems cornering you as you run through the twisty labyrinths. This startles you, and you decide to take the game a little more seriously, trying to find a sword to kill them. You no longer get lost in the dark maze, as you slowly map it in your mind.

It’s one of those mechanics that keep you honest, and there’s nothing forced about it. Like the mazes, which connect to each other in non-Euclidian ways, their simplicity of this game and the direct presentation makes you think the game is what it is, and your cliché triggers are left resting.

There’s not much more to it. As I said, it’s very simple. But sometimes that’s all you need to enjoy a game, and it’s short enough that I can’t see anyone regretting giving it a try one rainy day.

Adventure (1980) (Atari)_2

Adventure is one of the most common Atari 2600 cartridges, and there are countless versions and ports of the game for other platforms. Of note are the Atari Flashback consoles, which run on very similar hardware to the original machine and include practically all interesting games for the platform. They also include Adventure II, a fan-made sequel to the original of such a high quality that Atari decided to include it. They also have the benefit of plugging into more modern television sets without much of an issue, making them a perfect fit for the casual collector.

 

{ 3 comments }

Chris Ingersoll April 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

Loved this game. Never really beat Level 3, but Level 2 was usually good enough.

Erik Twice April 27, 2013 at 5:51 am

I beat it a couple of times but I got lucky. I’m very impulsive and try to outrun the dragons.

It doesn’t work :)

Chris Ingersoll April 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Especially that red one. Geez.