Racing and Randomness on the Atari 2600 – Air Sea Battle, Freeway, Gangster Alley, Indy 500, Lock n’ Chase, Night Driver, Pole Position, Street Racer, Target Fun

As the month of the Atari VCS/2600 winds down, a hodgepodge of games are in the process of being played to 1) verify they are working cartridges and 2) remind myself of the their gameplay. Most of the games in my 2600 collection that I’ve already discussed are games that I’ve played so many times that I don’t need a reminder of their gameplay or if they are 2 player only or if they even work! There are some gems among the games in this post but many are extremely dated titles that I just don’t find myself going back to often.

Air Sea Battle/Target Fun – I’m glad I tried this one out because I couldn’t get Air Sea Battle to play. No worries because I own a working copy of the Sears Tele-games relabeled version called Target Fun! Replacing my A-S-B will only require a trip to my local retro gaming store and $1-2 anyway, because this is a super common launch title that follows a similar formula to the rest of the Atari VCS launch titles. Air-Sea-Battle/Target Fun contains multiple variations of the same basic game like Combat, Video Olympics, Indy 500 and Street Racer (to name a few). You take control of either cannons, boats or airplanes to shoot and hit more targets than your opponent in the given amount of time (2 min and 16 sec I believe). This game has a lot of game variations but no real variety. I can assume this is a fun title when playing against a skilled opponent but like all the other launch titles, its simplicity certainly dates it. C+

Freeway is a one or two player Activision title that takes a nod to Frogger, at least the road crossing portion. You play as a chicken attempting to cross the road more times than your opponent in 2 player mode (preferred) or just see how many times you can cross in 2 min and 16 sec in 1 player mode. So I guess this answers the question of why did the chicken cross the road? Because it was being controlled by a competitive joystick wielding Atari player! Getting hit by a car while trekking across the freeway doesn’t actually kill your chicken, as you’re playing against the clock, not a set number of lives. Instead of dying, you get knocked back a lane and possibly knocked back into another car which knocks you back into another car, etc. If you’re really unlucky, you can sometimes find yourself knocked back multiple lanes and all the way back into the starting position. I like that the manual for Freeway lists 8 treacherous roads located in U.S. cities (e.g. Santa Monica Freeway in L.A., Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, Long Island Expressway in NYC) which represent the 8 levels of the game. B

Gangster Alley is a precursor to Hogan’s Alley and Virtua Cop but without the light gun accuracy. You must shoot bad guys (before they shoot you) who’s visages pop up in building windows while avoiding shooting innocent women and children. At the top of the building is a maniac with a grenade that once he raises his hand indicating he’s about to throw it, you have to shoot him before he does or else the game abruptly ends and all you see is his face on the screen over the word “HA!”. What a dick. Anyway, Gangster Alley has potential but it’s much to hard to maneuver your sights with the joystick to accurately shoot the bad guys in time and the game suffers from the difficult controls. C

Indy 500, as mentioned, is another launch title that provides the player with numerous gaming options and tracks (including one with ice) to either race another human opponent, or if playing alone, cruise around and see how many laps you can do in a set amount of time. Indy 500 utilizes the driving controller, which is essentially a paddle controller to maneuver around the mazes for smoother gameplay. You also have a “capture the flag” option where a dot on the screen must be touched by your car and once touched, it will move to another spot on the screen where you must race towards to touch it again, and again. Super basic but probably a blast with a friend in 1978. B

Lock n’ Chase – Data East maze game with similarities to Pac-Man (don’t all maze games owe royalties to Namco?) with a twist. You play as a thief trying to steal all the money and gold in a bank while avoiding the police. You can “lock” the police by closing doors, up to two at a time, behind you that they cannot pass through. Once you collected all the coins in the maze and any gold/treasure that shows up in the center of the screen, you can then escape the bank through the top doorway to advance to the next level. I find enjoyment in basically all maze games and Lock n’ Chase is no different. Not life changing but fun for a spin or two around the bank mazes. B-

Night Driver is another paddle racing game that finds your car on a dark road trying to avoid other cars and crashing off the side while maintaining a high speed. Another early Atari game, Night Driver holds up well in my opinion. The biggest problem for me is the disparity in difficulty from game 1 to game 2. In game variation 1, the roads are much less curvy so it’s easy to stay on the road and avoid all the cars. Once you switch it to variation 2, the difficulty is ramped up tremendously and I found myself crashing on the side of the road way more than I was crashing into other cars. Regardless, variation 2 is the way to go as variation 1 is much too boring and easy and was likely included to appeal to much younger kids just starting out with video games. Night Driver doesn’t offer as many options as some of the other early driving based games so it suffers from repetition. B

Pole Position for the Atari is nothing special. I have Pole Position on so many other consoles that playing it on the 2600 is rarely a thought for me. It’s a classic and one of the most popular 80’s racing games but that doesn’t mean I have to love this version of it. C+

Street Racer is yet another paddle racing 2 player (I guess there are 1 player options but damned if I can figure them out) launch titles where you must race your opponent on what is supposed to be a street while avoiding any number of obstacles (depending on which variation you play). Your score is based on how many obstacles you pass/avoid in a predetermined amount of time with the exception of a variation where you shoot planes as they come towards you and the score is based on planes shot and a variation that involves plus signs and oddly shaped objects. I think this one is supposed to be a wheelchair collecting plus signs that you then must deposit onto other shapes where they fit, or at least that’s what the manual said. Overall, there are a ton of different games on this cart and Street Racer is a decent if unspectacular 2 player game. C

Currently in my collection:

Air Sea Battle – game, manual

Freeway – game, manual

Gangster Alley – game, manual

Indy 500 – game, manual

Lock n’ Chase – game, manual

Night Driver – game, manual

Pole Position – game, manual, box

Street Racer – game, manual

Target Fun – game only

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