Maze Craze was released for the Atari 2600 in 1978. It was released only one year after Pong for the 2600. So while it’s a simple game by today’s standards, that was par for the course at the time. That being said, the fact this game is nearly 40 years old, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
The gameplay consists of players controlling a red or blue little person and navigating a maze. You start on the left and make your way to the exit that is always on the right. Like many Atari games, it has many gameplay variations. Some modes make parts, or all, of the maze invisible or give you the ability to make fake walls to confuse the other player. Others modes introduce different squares that wander around the maze. You must avoid touching them or face getting slowed down or outright losing.
If you read the manuals in Atari games you’ll find the background story. The story in Maze Craze is that your red and blue squares are cops navigating a maze of city streets. The other squares are armed robbers trying to get you. None of that really matters though. All you really need to know is: You need to get your little square butt to the exit before the other guy.
There really isn’t much that’s bad about the game so I have to knit-pick a little here. First, the screen that comes up when the maze resets is awful. Every time you finish a maze, it resets and briefly flashes a bunch of random colors. It’s bad enough that I could see myself getting a headache if I played it for too long, especially if its being played in the dark. Second, like I mentioned earlier, it’s a simple game. You play as a poor representation of a person, and pretty much everything else is a square. There’s no music and very little in the way of sound effects. I mean, there’s literally four different sounds in the game. A sound when you bump into a wall, one when you touch a robber, one when you exit a maze and the sound of the Officer’s footsteps. That’s it. When you’re actually playing the game it’s not that noticeable though. The lack of sounds never bothered me very much and I actually think the footsteps are a nice touch.
My brother came over recently and I decided to break out the old Atari. We ended up playing Maze Craze for half an hour. Even though the game’s pretty simple and probably in need of an epilepsy warning, we had a blast. To me this game is a great example that if the core of a game is strong, it doesn’t need Xbox graphics to be fun.
For those who have lived under a rock for the last 30 years or so, Friday the 13th is a series of slasher films in which teenagers at a summer camp get murdered in various ways by a serial killer in a hockey mask named Jason. That being said, one would think that this would be a horror game, but what it mostly succeeded in being was a generic, repetitive, frustrating side-scroller.
The game has you taking control of one of six camp counselors each with their own attributes, such as running or swimming, that they are better or worse at. Your job is to keep the teens at the summer camp alive for three days or to kill Jason three times before he kills the people you’re protecting.
The game starts you along a side-scrolling path that goes around the lake. At some point Jason will attack one of the cabins and you have to make your way along the path to the cabin and fend him off. When you enter a cabin it goes into a bizarre 3D-ish environment. The only reason I can see for this is to add a small amount of suspense because you don’t know if Jason is around the corner. When in the cabin you may or may not fight Jason. You then go back to the path and wait for Jason to attack again. Rinse and repeat.
The graphics aren’t terrible, what makes me not like them is that everything is so repetitive. There are only a handful of backgrounds and they are repeated over and over. There is also a forest in the game that you can go into and fight Jason’s mother and get the best weapon in the game. I wouldn’t recommend it however, because the forest backgrounds are all so similar that it’s near impossible to find your way out.
Even worse than the graphics is the music. The music mostly consists of a few 6 second loops that repeat constantly throughout the game. You know it’s bad when you play a game for all of thirty seconds to hear the entire soundtrack.
Some of these things could be forgiven if the game was fun to play, but it’s not. The side scrolling parts, while running from cabin to cabin around the lake, feel clunky and poorly made. The battles with Jason, which should be a highlight of the game, end up being battles of annoyance as Jason dances back and forth taking cheap shots at you.
There are bats and zombies that spawn continuously along the path and the only weapon you have at start is a rock that’s both hard to hit enemies with and very weak. The best way to get a better weapon is, I kid you not, to jump around aimlessly. After jumping around a bunch a floating knife will appear and you can grab it. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. It’s just that the few good ideas in this game such as choosing between counselors, get drowned in a wave of bad execution and monotony.
In video games, as with movies, there are two types of bad. A few games like E.T. are so bad that they’re entertaining and then there are games that are just plain bad. Friday the 13th is the latter.
E.T. will probably be one of the more well known games that I’ll write about in this series of retro reviews. Many people know about it not because it’s good, like Mario, but because it’s bad–really bad.
As far as gameplay and sound go, you have to dig pretty deep to find anything good to say. The sound consists of a couple short snippets of the E.T. theme (played on the opening screen and when you “die”) and beeps that are annoying even by Atari standards. The game play isn’t any better. You explore a confusing world in hopes of finding 3 dots aka ship parts so that E.T. can go home. The entire time you are chased by a man in a trench coat who will take your precious dots and carry you to a jail that you can simply walk out of. You will also repeatedly fall into holes that are both surprisingly hard to get out of and to avoid. There is also a limited number of steps that E.T. can take before he dies. This ends up being one of my favorite parts of the game because if you lose track or you try to kill yourself by running out, E.T. turns into a pile of ash. Elliot then appears out of nowhere and the theme starts playing. As soon as Elliot reaches E.T. the music comes to a hilariously abrupt end and POOF! he’s gone and E.T. is perfectly fine and has plenty of steps. The game is terrible and you can’t even kill yourself to end it.
What’s actually more interesting than the game itself is it’s place in video game history. The movie E.T. had just come out and Atari gave a man named Howard Scott Warshaw the impossible task of making the game in just 5 weeks so that it would be out for the holiday season. Well, unsurprisingly the game was bad. Many customers demanded refunds, and a huge number of the games went unsold. So many E.T. and other Atari games were going unsold that Atari famously ended up burying them in the Alamogordo desert. (For more information watch the very good documentary Atari: Game Over) This ended up being the last straw that pushed Atari into debt and started the video game industry crash of ’83. Atari never fully recovered from this and it is often cited as being one of the worst financial mistakes in video game history. Atari’s decline left the door open for Sega and Nintendo to get a major foothold in America and in doing so, changed the world of gaming forever.
Although many people call E.T. the worst game ever, I wouldn’t agree with that. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s bad, but at least it’s playable. Even if half the reason to play it is to make fun of it, that’s still more reason than a few games I know of. So I would actually recommend people play this game, if they get the chance. It’s worth playing just to see how bad it is and to experience this small, but important, part of video game history for yourself.