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Atari 2600

Atari, 1979



Problably the first pseudo RPG to ever be released on a console, this game is a milestone in a lot of ways. However to unlike some of the other great 2600 firsts this particular example doesn't really pass the test of time very well.

You are a dot, and your job is to go through this castle and eventuallty kill this duck-headed square that's supposed to be a dragon. You do this by navigating a seemigly endless set of mazes that don't have much sense in the way they're laid out. I'm sure there's more to the game but I've never really bothered to find out what it is. I think you find some kind of treasure eventually but I'm not sure as I've never had the desire to play it that far.

This game was revolutionary in that it's one of the first to have some kind of inventory system where an item you collect has some kind of specific purpose instead of just picking them up for bonus points. So you have to get an arrow to kill the dragon, use a bridge to cross a river, get a key to unlock a door, etc. Basic concepts we take for granted today, but back then this was a big deal.

The thing is your little dot only has the ability to carry one item at any given time. So to cross the bridge to kill the dragon you have to fetch the arrow, leave it at the bridge, get the bridge, put it over the river, get the arrow, cross the bridge, etc. Fine, but the items are spaced sometimes dozens of screens away, so you have to go twelve screens to the left to get the bridge, fifteen screens to the right to get the arrow, seventeen screens down to kill the dragon, etc. So you spend a lot of time going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth through the same screens over and over again.

The mazes aren't confusing in the way that you get lost in them; They're confusing becasue there seems to be only three or four of the same maze screen repeated ad infinitum so as you eventually forget which part you're in and where you were going in the first place. I suppose that's problably the point, and it's really not that bad considering what kind of hardware they had to work with. But still it gets frustrating.

All this wouldn't be so bad as the fetch an item and use it type gameplay actually isn't as boring as it sounds. What makes it boring is that nothing really exciting happens to you while you're doing this. There are no traps, no goblins or monsters chase you, no pitfalls, perils, or combat of any kind. The dragon seems to be the only enemy character in the entire game. What the hell kind of dungeon lets you just walk around at will without some kind of spikes jutting out or poison arrows shooting out at you or something? All it would have took is a few ripoff pac-man ghosts to hunt you around to add some excitement. This is the most boring dungeon I've ever seen.

Supposedly there's a bat that will show up and rescatter your items in random places. But I've never seen him.

The frist console RPG is also the first crappy RPG. There are people out there who spent hours at this game, mapping out the locations of each item, progressing until they'ed killed a dragon for every color of the rainbow, etc. Back in 1979 this game problably offered the deepest gameplay you'd ever see on the 2600 system, but today it takes more than dots and duckheaded squares.


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