Homebreviews - part 39: Hack Attack
Video Game Reviews
After nearly eight years, it's finally time for... RETURN OF THE HOMEBREVIEWS!! (Cue dramatic music sting.)
There are so many games I have to catch up on, I'm grouping them into thematic chunks. You'll see what I mean once I get rolling.
Actually, I suppose I could just do these one game at a time. But grouping them together sort-of forces me to play some games I wouldn't otherwise be that interested in reviewing.
Case in point...
Haunted Adventure Trilogy (Atari 2600)
Haunted Adventure Trilogy is a collection of three hacks on one cart, and continues the story from the original Atari Haunted House. However, none of these are actually hacks of Haunted House itself.
I didn't own Haunted House back-in-the-day, nor Adventure nor Superman - the games these hacks are based on. While I do understand the appeal of those games, I can't say I share the same affection for them that many people do. That said, I decided to dive into this properly and not only review these hacks, but first I learned to play Haunted House, Adventure and Superman, in order to gain a better understanding of what these hacks were intended to be.
Haunted Adventure I: Boo!
The first game in the trilogy is a hack of Adventure, titled Haunted Adventure I: Boo! Effectively, it's still mostly Adventure in how it's laid out. The enemies have been altered to be more ghost-like and less duck, er... dragon-like. There are items to collect, use and fight with, but everything has been re-themed to be more in keeping with Haunted House. The darkened mazes where you can only see a circle of light around you are reminiscent of the look of Haunted House, but unlike Haunted House, there's no option for practicing those areas with the room walls visible. Even though these areas are holdovers from Adventure's catacombs, I found them to be far more frustrating here. Effectively, I just ended up stumbling around in the dark until through sheer trial and error I sort-of figured out how to get through it. I'm not sure if it was due to the different layouts, or if it was because of the placement of objects and enemies, but this became just an agonizing grind after awhile. It wasn't exactly what I would call fun - more of a relief when I finally got through it and didn't have to do it again.
As with Adventure, there is massive flicker, at times effectively becoming more like flashing, and in the darkened rooms it becomes genuinely annoying. However, the most frustrating aspect of the game were the relentless and often unfair enemies. At times, I would find myself getting killed and the ghost that killed me would just sit there literally on top of where I respawned, killing me over and over again. As with Adventure, you can kill the enemies once you have the scepter, but until you have it, or if you lose it, you're going to find yourself respawning. A lot.
I found Haunted Adventure I to be more frustration than fun, which is too bad since clearly a lot of thought and effort was put into this hack. There are some clever, unique additions which make this a nice homage to Haunted House. Having some way to illuminate the maze walls would have helped ease the frustration factor immensely. Even if it was just in the form of brief lightning flashes (which would be in keeping with the theme). Even then, I've never been a fan of mazes that don't logically line up from one screen to the next. That seems less like clever gameplay, and more like poor design. But above all else, the aggressiveness of the ghosts really needed to be toned down. At times, this felt less like exploring a spooky haunted house, and more like a relentless slasher film.
Haunted Adventure II: Redemption
The second game in the trilogy is another hack of Adventure, titled Haunted Adventure II: Redemption. Haunted Adventure II has a smaller first variation (level 4 on the cartridge) where the map has been restructured so the layout feels much more like the the original Haunted House. Its other two variations are larger and more in keeping with Haunted Adventure I, except in those you start outside of the mansion and have to work your way through forests and other new environments. While this does add depth and variety to the game, the cursed darkened mazes are back in full force in those variations, and are just as maddening as Haunted Adventure I's.
Haunted Adventure II's first variation was the most enjoyable of any of the hacks in this trilogy, because the frustration factor was effectively eliminated, and it became more of a fun, exploratory puzzle to solve. The enemies were manageable, the darkened maze was less punishing, and the game was far more satisfying to work my way through. The layout was much more reminiscent of Haunted House, and the whole game felt more like a true sequel, making it the better spiritual successor to the original (so to speak).
Haunted Adventure III: Witch's Flight
The final game in the trilogy is a hack of Superman, titled Haunted Adventure III: Witch's Flight. The gameplay is effectively identical to Superman, but all of the graphics have been altered to feature decidedly Halloween-themed characters, with Superman replaced by a sexy-looking witch. Consequently, there's not really much to review for this game. The graphics are well done. It plays like Superman. Story-wise, it's only very loosely tied to the other Haunted Adventure games. It almost seems as if it was added to the trilogy as an afterthought. It doesn't detract from the collection, but it adds very little to it.
At one point while playing Haunted Adventure II: Redemption, I lost a critical object inside a wall in one of the darkened mazes. I knew it was somewhere because of the flicker, but couldn't even see where it was stuck. The game became unsolvable at that point, so I had no choice but to completely restart. This is an issue with Adventure as well (yes... I know about the bats), but it would've been nice if they'd taken the time to address that in the hack. The best hacks don't just change the appearance of the original games, but should improve them - fixing bugs, improving shortcomings, and are more transformative than derivative. Haunted Adventure I and II do a nice job of merging Haunted House and Adventure, but for the most part the frustration factor of slogging through pitch-black mazes overshadowed the exploratory fun of Adventure, and the spooky simplicity of Haunted House.
If you're already a fan of Adventure, you'll probably like the first two hacks in this collection. If you're a fan of Haunted House, you'll enjoy the first level of Haunted Adventure II. If you want a Halloween-themed game to play for a few minutes in late October, then Haunted Adventure III may be the ticket. Taken as a whole, this collection has a lot of value, and despite the frustration I had with some of it, I was able to find something redeeming that I was able to enjoy. Again, a lot of work was put into this by author Anthony Wong (and others). Not just the hacks, but the whopping 52-page manual that accompanies it. A lot of time was spent creating the stories, and the included tips to get through some of the games are absolutely essential reading. There are a few typos here and there, which normally I wouldn't mention, but I got a pretty good laugh trying to imagine what a gravy colored floor plan was supposed to look like. (That should have read "gray", incidentally.)
Haunted Adventure Trilogy isn't something I'm likely to revisit. I just don't have enough interest in it thematically to grind through it and solve it all. But there's a lot to offer. If you're a fan of Adventure, Haunted House or Superman in drag, check it out.
Haunted Adventure Trilogy gets a 3/5.
Defender Arcade (Atari 2600)
Defender is one of my all-time favorite arcade games. To say that I was disappointed in the Atari 2600 version is a massive understatement. To me, it missed the mark even more than Atari's 2600 Pac-Man did (which I also thought was terrible). When Atari came out with the 2600 version of Stargate a few years later, I was absolutely stunned. Like their version of Ms. Pac-Man before it, it was complete redemption. Two thoughts immediately came to mind though: 1) Why didn't they do it this way the first time? and 2) Now that they know how to do it, why not go back and make a proper version of Defender?
I was never a fan of the arcade version of Stargate. It was so ridiculously hard it seemed it had been designed just to punish really good Defender players. I wasn't one of those. I loved playing the game, but I didn't have it beaten by any stretch of the imagination. Stargate was too busy, too cluttered, and too convoluted. And yet, Atari still managed to bring that to the 2600, better than they'd done with Defender.
Bob DeCrescenzo has taken the 2600 version of Stargate, and hacked it to play more like Defender. Gone are the extra enemies, the Stargate, Inviso, and so forth, and in their place are just the elements that made up the original Defender. And from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, the hack has succeeded admirably (although it would be nice if the player's ship was white... but that would make the terrain white as well).
Unfortunately, where the hack falls short is in the most vital aspect of Defender: the controls. The actual arcade version of Defender had an oddball control layout to be certain, but once you adapted to it, it felt completely natural and fluid. The ship could dance at your command and lay down a barrage of fire in a heartbeat. But in Defender Arcade for the 2600, there are three major shortcomings still left over from Stargate: 1) You can't fire fast enough. The player's rate of fire needs to be at least double what it currently is. 2) The ship feels sluggish. When you try to move vertically or reverse direction, your ship responds like it's carrying an elephant on its back. 3) This one can't easily be overcome by a hack, but it could be somewhat alleviated by it: there just aren't enough buttons on a 2600 joystick to play Defender properly. Atari got around this in Stargate by having the player use the second joystick. But this is incredibly clunky, and requires something like the Spy Hunter dual-joystick holder to even have a hope of working. A partial workaround for the Defender Arcade hack would've been to add Genesis gamepad support. Yes, this only gives you one more button, but even one extra assignable button (Smart Bomb in particular) would make a huge difference.
If you want to play Defender on the 2600, this hack is the best way to do it. Had this been the original Defender for the 2600, it would've been amazing. But as it is, Defender Arcade falls a bit short, by not going far enough to fix the inherent problems that affected Stargate.
Defender Arcade gets a 3/5
Crazy Otto (Atari 7800)
Crazy Otto holds a unique place in video game history, as the most successful arcade game never released. Crazy Otto was created by General Computer Corporation as a conversion kit for the original Pac-Man arcade game. Before taking it to market, GCC had to present it to Midway who had the U.S. distribution rights to Pac-Man. Midway liked it enough to turn it into a true sequel to Pac-Man: they tweaked the graphics, renamed it, and Ms. Pac-Man was born. Crazy Otto in its original form was shelved.
Crazy Otto for the 7800 is a graphics hack by Bob DeCrescenzo that takes the 7800 version of Ms. Pac-Man and regresses it back to resemble the original Crazy Otto. And... that's it. While well done for what it is, Crazy Otto is best suited for completists who want a glimpse of the historical curiosity that was the never-released arcade game. Other than that, there's really no reason to pick this up. If you don't already own Atari's Ms. Pac-Man for the 7800, you'd be better off picking up Bob's excellent Pac-Man Collection which includes Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, and many other variants as well, and would have been the best place for Crazy Otto to reside. On its own, there's just not much to recommend about it.
Crazy Otto gets a 2/5
Up next: Return of the Homebreviews continues with Mini-Game Madness
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