Robo-Squash

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Robo-Squash

Considering the genre was one of the first ones ever created, there’s been surprisingly few innovations in the world of bat ‘n’ ball games, but Atari, the very creators in question, tried doing just that with this slightly obscure release for their own Lynx ‘handheld’ (snigger). The objective does not, however, include the usual block-hitting tomfoolery that I had initially believed formed the basis of the game. Robo Squash is instead a tarted-up version of the very first bat ‘n’ ball game of them all, and indeed the very first popular video game full stop – Pong! Instead of the simple left-to-right-to-left-again gameplay of the original though, this example asks you to do the same thing but from an into-the-screen perspective! There’s a bit more to it than that though, of course.

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Luckily your paddle is transparent…

Set against the backdrop of a rather peculiar political power-struggle of the far-future, you, playing as the champion of the ‘World Party’ must face your opposite number from the rival ‘International Party’ to decide the future of the world – eeeek! At the start of the game you’re presented with a four-by-four group of balls. Selecting one will start a round which consists of an into-the-screen view of the playfield. Your ‘paddle’ occupies the end closest to the screen, your opponent’s the opposite end. About half-way between the two in the middle of the screen is an assortment of bricks and a few other bits and pieces. The winner of the round is the first to score three ‘goals’ past his or her opponent or, less often, a quicker victory can be achieved if you manage to hit the elusive ‘mechanical spider’. There are several things that can make the process of winning a round a bit more complicated though.

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Frog attack! Oops, I mean ‘dragon’ attack!

For one thing, the ‘ball’ appears to be a tomato or something similar as it leaves a big red splotch on the screen if you let it get past you! There’s also a seemingly random sprinkling of yellow and blue bricks which act as an obstruction but give you bonus points upon destruction, and there are a few power-ups items nestled among them too. These include a mouth (lets you catch the ball and shoot it from wherever you want), a dragon (lets you shoot fireballs to create a fiery distraction, although it looks more like a frog), a spiral disk (makes your paddle bigger), and an eye (helps you to see where the ball will end up). As well as all this, the ball predictably gets faster and faster the longer it’s in play as well which, along with the various visual impairments (splats, explosions, etc) can make this a pretty tricky game, especially when played against the near-infallible computer opponent.

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Oops, a rather unceremonious defeat again!

There are four difficulty levels though, and control of the quite accommodating paddle thing is surprisingly intuitive. Besides, games like Breakout and all its derivatives are the ones for solo-players; Pong and similar games were designed for two players and so is the case here. Aesthetically the game isn’t too troubling – the colourful bricks, power-ups, and the ball along with its splats work well against the grey backdrop, and the scaling is quite good too, as we’ve come to expect from the Lynx. The basic sound effects and lack of in-game music are less impressive but I still had a bit of fun with this one, albeit only for a short while as it’s a bit pointless playing it alone! That makes its appeal limited of course – these days, the chances of finding another Lynx owner are fairly slim never mind one also owns this game. If you should manage it though, Robo Squash would make the encounter a mighty entertaining one.

 RKS Score: 6/10

Hydra

Atari-lynx_Hydra

Format- Atari Lynx

Genre- Racing style shooter thing

Another Lynx game that looks better than it plays. This is getting tiresome. I didn’t have high hopes for Hydra admittedly, but still.

Atari-lynx_Hydra

The game doesn’t start well. The cartridge has a very boring label, and the main menu screen has a ditty in the background that seems to be trying to make your head explode by reaching the highest pitch possible. Listen to it and you’ll know what I mean.

Getting into the actual game, you have three maps to choose from – easy, medium and hard. I choose easy, and i’m greeted by a screen of a boat on a river.

Atari-lynx_Hydra

The boat is fuelled, i’m ready to go, I press A to accelerate, and…nothing. B? Nothing. Up? Nothing. Hmmm.

Finally, I choose down and the boat judders into life. Down. You press down on the d-pad to accelerate. Up is slow down. Genius.

Atari-lynx_Hydra

I can kind of get what the developer was trying to do – up to tip the boat back to slow down – but in reality it doesn’t really work, especially with a d-pad as rubbishy as the one the Lynx possesses. It’s very difficult to accelerate and have a decent level of control at the same time.

The driving bit of the game itself is simple though, or so it seems. You clip along the river at a decent pace, shooting bad guys and collecting weird sparkly orbs. Suddenly, you find yourself running out of gas. Where are the gas pick ups?

Atari-lynx_Hydra

There are some items floating above the river, but I had no idea how to get them. Inevitably, it’s soon game over. You can take hits from enemies and restart where you died, but if you get an empty fuel tank, it’s all over for you.

So I end up looking through the instruction manual – something I loathe to do – and find out jump is the option 2 button. The one at the bottom right of the system.

Although you can just about reach it, it makes an awkward control system even more of a fudge. And it’s not a slab of sweet fudge either, but a bitter, out of date rotting mess of fudge. In such an action orientated title such as this, these muddled controls are near unforgivable.

So eventually I get a grasp of the controls (as well as I can), and the game improves a little. It does look very nice indeed, with 3D caverns and reasonably detailed enemies.

But in the end, it’s just all just works to cover up for the over complicated controls. If only the developers had worked as hard on making the game suited to the Lynx’s control scheme as much as they had on the portable’s graphical capabilities, Hydra could have been a winner.

Checkered Flag

Format- Atari Lynx

Genre- Racing game

Checkered Flag - Atari Lynx

Screw you Checkered Flag. Screw you. That’s pretty much what I was saying while playing it anyway. And when I threw the cart across the room.

I was willing to give it a little lee-way. After all, it’s a racing game from 1991 on the Atari Lynx. But despite being nicely presented, it’s frustrating experience i’m not keen to go back to any time soon.

Checkered Flag - Atari Lynx

The game opens with a nicely animated intro of a car rushing around a track. The menus also seem well organised – there’s much promise here.

When you get onto the track though, the troubles begin. You’ll notice a little man waving a flag at the start and think it’s a nice touch, you’d better keep your eyes on the road. One mis-step and you’re motoring your way to frustration-ville.

Checkered Flag - Atari Lynx

There can be up to ten cars on the track, and unwisely I chose to have the full complement as my opponents. You play in a red car, and all the rest are yellow. You already feel an outcast.

Racing is a simple case of steering left and right, but the main annoyance arises from your racing foes. Even the smallest of contact between your motor and theirs result in both of you spinning around once and grinding to a halt.

As your vehicle is so big and the track is so narrow, this results in a major fun drain. On the tracks where there are twists every few seconds it’s incredibly difficult not to make no contact at all with your fellow racers. Races are lost with one collision, and that’s no fun at all.

Checkered Flag - Atari Lynx

You also run the risk of making contact with a piece of off track scenery if you don’t take a corner well enough, and this results in the same major sap of speed. Collisions are given a Space Invaders-esque explosion sound effect though. That’s quite cool. As is your wing mirror getting cracked when you crash too much.

Not that any of your failures matter though – win or lose, you’ll get the same screen of a babe congratulating a driver and handing over a trophy.

The game’s graphics could be considered a minor consolation, but even they don’t really improve the gameplay in any way. All the tracks are the same thing but with a different background. As is the case with these type of behind the car perspective games.

So I didn’t really like this. End.

California Games

California Games

Format: Atari Lynx
Media: Cartridge
Year: 1989
Developer: Epyx
Publisher: Atari

California Games

Ah California – where the sun always shines, the surfing is great and beach parties rock with scantily clad women with golden tans aplenty. Throw some cool sporting events into a competition and you have yourself some California Games.

If it was one game that Atari was betting on to shift more Lynx units, this one was it – California Games. The Lynx version of Cali Games turned out a bit different from its console and home computer counterparts. Firstly, the number of events was cut down to four: BMX, Half Pipe, Surfing and Footbag. Secondly, the BMX and Surfing events were tweaked for the Lynx screen which actually made them quite enjoyable to play.  Thirdly, you could not pick your sponsor (oh no, I wanted Santa Cruz boards!). Lastly, gone were the earthquakes, the taunting dolphin and the menacing shark with sunglasses.

Now, I know what you are thinking, what the hell is left in this Lynx version of California Games! Relax, chill out like a real West Coaster. This game is so awesome, I would recommend you to get a Lynx just to play it. The learning curve to play the events is quite easy, with the half pipe event being the most difficult to get used to out of the four. For those of you that have never had the pleasure of playing California Games, let’s run through the event playbook:

California Games

BMX – Ride your bike on the stunt course strewn with obstacles and get to the finish line before the timer runs out. The more stunts performed and the faster you hit that finish line, the better your score. If you keep on crashing on the way to the finish line, the event spits you out.

California Games

Half Pipe – grab your board and hit the half pipe to build up your momentum. Once you have some speed, hit each ramp with some cool tricks to gain points.

California Games

Surfing – my personal favorite of all the events. Surfing was changed on this version to riding the wave from ‘right to left’ – this actually breathed a new life to this event, as I was never crazy about surfing on the console versions. You earn points by staying ahead of the wave and getting airborne to perform (multiple) spins. Yes, I can do quadruple spins – that is a 1440! Oh yeah  you must land the board on the wave at an angle that won’t see you diving into the surf.

California Games

Footbag – or hacky sack. The premise is simple, keep the bag off the ground by kicking, kneeing or head-butting it in the air. Earn extra points by spinning around while the bag is in the air or by hitting George. Who is George you ask ? He is the friendly seagull that you hit as he flies across the top of the screen. Luckily animal welfare groups were cool about knocking off seagulls back in 1989.

The challenge of each event is always to beat your (or your friends) high score. The only way to achieve a higher score is to nail the timing in each event. Get the timing wrong, and not only does your score suffer, the game also humiliates you with light hearted quips. Thankfully, these were left in the Lynx game.

So there you have it – four obscure events that are quite enjoyable to play. If you have a Lynx, California Games is a mandatory addition to your games library.

California Games

GraphicsAwesome detail and animation in all events. This game shows off the power of the Lynx

92%

SoundSimply awesome and ambient tunes for each event. The sound effects are just so sweet too

92%

PlayabilityFour distinct events which will keep you on your toes

94%

LastabilitySingle or multi player, this game is built to be replayed so those high scores and records can be broken

95%

OverallThe perfect mix of variation, challenge, enjoyment and fun.

93%

 

Electrocop

Electrocop

Electrocop (1989)
By: Epyx / Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari Lynx First Day Score: 15,475
Also Available For: Nothing

Electrocop

Atari’s mighty Lynx was a funny machine. It was a ‘handheld’ which was rather too big to be comfortably used as one for starters, but it was a powerful piece of kit for sure. It soon gained a glowing reputation for the surprisingly faithful arcade conversions which formed the bulk of its software library, but there were a few original releases too. Many of them were by Epyx, the co-developer of the Lynx itself, and most of these appeared at or soon after the machine’s launch – presumably they were developed especially for the occasion to give the system a slightly more varied line-up. One of these was Electrocop. It gained a decent reputation at the time but it never seems to get mentioned these days any time the Lynx is mentioned. Has it dated that badly or has it been unfairly neglected in the intervening years?
Electrocop

It’s certainly quite an unusual game. It’s set in 2089 and casts you in the titular role which I guess makes you a robot and we all know what temperamental oafs they can be. This one will need his (or its?) wits about him, however, as he’s up against the formidable (and somewhat conspicuous-sounding) Criminal Brain. This is presumably also a robot, or perhaps a computer-based artificial intelligence like Skynet. Hmmm, well, whatever form it takes, it apparently has influence over the physical world as it’s kidnapped the President’s daughter – oh nooo! In order to retrieve her safe and sound, you must penetrate the ‘technoid stronghold’ know as the ‘Stell Complex’ in which the Criminal Brain is hiding, and you’ve only got an hour to do it.
Electrocop

Although not constructed in an especially unique way, it’s how the game presents your exploration of this complex that makes Electrcop unusual. The action, you see, is viewed from a third-person perspective with each of the complex’s twelve maze-like levels consisting of a series of corridors linked by doorways, some of which are blocked by locked doors which require a code. Mr. Electrocop can run left and right along the corridors freely and can pass through doorways by moving into or out of the screen at the appropriate locations which sees the game scale your view back or forth accordingly. Each (or at least, most) corridors are patrolled by enemy droids called ‘Walkers’ of which there are four kinds – the Yellow Jacket, Blue Bird, Viper, and Red Disruptor, which all vary with regards to their speed, armour, and weapon power.
Electrocop

In addition to these, the heinous Criminal Brain has also installed a few other surprises throughout his complex including sections of electrified floors, mines, and other weapons such as wall-mounted cannons and concealed mortar-launchers. All of these deplete our blue automaton’s energy reserves. Fortunately, he comes equipped with a default laser of his own and there are a few other weapons available, including more powerful lasers and disruptors. All of them can be used freely, some even simultaneously, but can get damaged during combat if you’re not careful, and they all have a limited ‘charge’ which determines how frequently you can use them. The more powerful a weapon is, the more charge it will use per shot. All weapons recharge automatically but trigger-happy players should probably save the more powerful weapons for times of crisis!
Electrocop

These weapons can be acquired from special panels located here and there on the walls and similarly there are also computer terminals which offer many things including the ability to run several programs. Probably the most important of these is the ‘Ice Breaker’ which is essential for cracking the door codes but others include ‘Stasis’, which can temporarily disable all the droids, as well as ones to repair damaged weapons or refill your energy-meter. Surprisingly, there are even some mini-games available to play via the terminals too including Meteors, Out Break, and Letter Puzzle which are simple clones of Asteroids, Breakout, and one of those slidey tile games. Their inclusion might seem strange but the Ice Breaker program often takes a while to ‘crack’ the door codes so the games merely offer a convenient way to pass the time. Very considerate.
Electrocop

A different way to kill a few minutes that’s probably not so advisable is to further explore the levels, perhaps looking for more weapons or something. This is something that’s only recommended if you’ve taken the time to make maps, lest you get lost and not even be able to find the door whose code you’ve just cracked! Indeed, there are over thirty doors through the whole game, although the amount per stage varies from one to the next, so there are lots of very similar-looking corridors to run up and down. Obviously, the further into the game you get, the more complicated and therefore difficult the levels get but your objective is always the same – look for the door (or one of them), crack the code, and get out! It can get pretty repetitive too, but that’s not the game’s biggest problem.
Electrocop

It’s quite clear that Electrocop was always intended as a launch game – technically it’s mighty impressive and shows off the Lynx’s talents well. The music is unmistakably Lynx-ish but the various tunes are terrific, and the graphics aren’t half bad either. The circuit-board and metallic backgrounds on each level are decent, although there’s very little variation, but it scales the stages back and forth very nicely, even altering the colour of the droids according to the ‘plane’ they’re on compared to you. The main character is pretty big though, and moves fairly quickly too, which means you’ve often walked into danger before you’ve even seen it, whether one of the many droids or an increasingly common (and annoying) section of electrified floor. The easiest solution to this is to just run along permanently shooting. That kinda takes the enjoyment out of it somewhat, but it’s that or get angry, and often.
Electrocop

One thing that could’ve reallyruined this game is regenerating enemies so I was very pleased to find that the metallic cretins here explode when shot, and with their constituent atoms remaining scattered for good! Even with this bonus though, it’s unfortunately far from perfect. Playing it either takes the form of a repetitive run ‘n’ gunner or a frustrating arcade adventure depending on how you play it. It was originally intended as a 3D sequel to Impossible Mission and it’s quite clear why, but it’s also clear why Epyx ultimately decided to dissociate Electrocop from their legendary franchise as well. There are some good ideas here and its technical wizardry must’ve made people eager to see more of the Lynx when viewed at trade shows and such, but as a full game warranting hours of solid play, sadly it falls some way short of the mark.

RKS Score: 6/10

Dirty Larry: Renegade Cop

Dirty Larry Renegade Cop - Atari Lynx

Format- Atari Lynx

Genre- Side scrolling 2D fighter/shooter

I don’t know about you, but the very first thing I thought of when I realized this game existed was Leisure Suit Larry.

This game isn’t a spin of LS Larry as a renegade cop though, but instead a Lynx exclusive title. Games made specifically for the Lynx are particularly rare, and this one probably nestles between Kung Food and Blue Lightning in terms of greatness.

Dirty Larry Renegade Cop - Atari Lynx

The first thing I noticed was that is a very well presented game, with looks that shout scream retro appeal and a rather cool sounding backing tune. Controls wise it also feels solid, but a few minutes in and you realize exactly why Dirty Larry has been long since forgotten.

First off, enemies emerge very quickly from either side of the screen and it can prove very difficult to avoid their attacks without taking damage. Like many games of this type you can creep slowly to the right and play it safe, but that just isn’t fun – which is surely the whole point of the game.

Dirty Larry Renegade Cop - Atari Lynx

You will most likely end up struggling through to the second level (set on a subway train, see pic above), but then manage to tread no further.

There’s a certain simple charm to the game, and it’s certainly not a bad effort, but I can’t really recommend it unless it’s fairly cheap or you’re looking to amass a complete Lynx collection.

Final nail in the game’s coffin – the carts label is incredibly bland, doing nothing to help the game get noticed on your average car boot stall. Game over, Dirty Larry.