Game of the Week (5/14/17) – E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

My last post covered many of my pop culture influenced video games for the Atari 2600 but I left out one particular title. E.T. is the game based on the enormously popular Steven Spielberg movie but that pedigree and popularity didn’t translate to the namesake Atari cart. Unlike the film, E.T. the game has a reputation for being a shit show. A game with horrible graphics, broken controls, eardrum bleeding sound effects with a mind numbingly stupid & inexplicable plot is what the common pereception of this game is. It has even been single handedly blamed (unfairly) for the video game crash of 1983. Is all the hate for E.T. earned or is it just an easy target due to its ubiquity and mediocrity? Yes and no is my wishy washy answer.

E.T. isn’t a great game or even a good one. The controls are messy as hell and the graphics are putrid. After an impressive enough title screen with music from the film, you find yourself in control of the little green alien in what is supposed to be a forest and your goal is to find the pieces of a broken phone allowing you to call home so your alien family can pick you up on their spaceship. At least the general plot somewhat mimicks the film. What doesn’t follow the film at all is the notoriously difficult to avoid pits. The town that E.T. is stranded in is riddled with pits and simply through the process of moving from screen to screen or while escaping from the FBI or probe happy scientists, E.T. has a bad habit of falling in them. Worse yet is the difficulty of avoiding falling into the same pit that you just elevated yourself out of. It’s tricky as hell to avoid doing this numerous times during the course of the game and it’s more than a nuisance since levitating out of pits requires E.T. to use energy. When E.T.’s energy reaches zero, Elliott swoops in to save him but he can only do this a few times before the game is over. Some of the pits actually contain the pieces of phone needed to complete the game so complete avoidance, as if that was possible, is not recommended.

E.T. does have more options than falling into pits. He can call Elliott, eat Reeses Pieces (we assume that’s what the little black dots represent) and teleport from screen to screen. The scientists are generally harmless, only taking E.T. to their labs for probing but the FBI are real assholes, constantly stealing phone pieces that you’ve worked so hard to find. They are relentless and difficult to avoid, especially when they show up out of nowhere to steal your shit. For me, the pits are frustrating but the FBI agents are infuriating as they hinder progress and in some cases, cause me to rage quit. I know there are ways to deter the FBI agents, for example if you have 9 Reeses Pieces and you reach an “call Elliott” zone, press the joystick button and he’ll chase away the enemies while also finding and bringing a phone piece to you! My only problem with this is that I spend my entire time running away from the asshat humans I have no time to look up at the top of the screen to see what zone I’m in. Also, I guess you can fall into a pit to avoid an enemy hot on your trail but it doesn’t do much good when as soon as you levitate back out of the pit, that same enemy is right there waiting for you. My recommendation is to play game version 3, with no scientists and FBI agents in order to salvage your sanity and save your rage for the pits. If you can somehow keep all 3 pieces of phone and find the zone to call home then make your way back to the forest where E.T.’s spaceship comes to pick him up, you’ve essentially completed a level. Congratulations. What’s more likely to happen is you’ll die repeatedly at the bottom of some shitty pit, your body crippled, gray and lifeless and when Elliott can no longer revive you, you’ll be splayed out on his front lawn, buried (presumably), stranded on a planet that hated your existence and gave you diabetes.

I can’t defend E.T. too much because I do get the feeling it was a total rush job to capitalize on the most popular film of 1982 in time for the ’82 Christmas season and it could have been so much better. I do give E.T. points for trying to be creative and offering a deep gameplay experience beyond controlling Elliott and moving up and down platforms to rescue E.T. from the evil scientists or whatever popular arcade knock off they could have plug and played the characters into. The fact that there are/were buried E.T. carts in New Mexico only meant that whatever warehouse (allegedly in El Paso) was storing them needed to liquidate inventory quickly and this was a more cost effective solution then shipping them all across the country only to sell them at a fraction of cost. It’s ok to hate on E.T. the game but it’s not fair to lay all blame on the ’83 crash on an altruistic alien that just wanted to go home.

Rating: D+

Currently in my collection: game, manual

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