Am I the only one who still finds the fact that both Mattel and Coleco released games for the 2600 weird? I know it’s not uncommon today for publishers to release games for all available consoles, but usually the games are from third party publishers. Just imagine if Nintendo released a Mario game for the Playstation AND the Xbox, which just wouldn’t happen today. In rare cases like with Air Raiders, Mattel, who distributed their own, rather successful console, released an exclusive title on the 2600 a console that they were competing with, it just makes no sense. In many of these cases the publishers owned the rights to distribute a certain arcade game, or they had a very valuable IP to work with, that’s what most of this inter-console mingling was, arcade titles, with one or two unique titles here and there. The game we’re looking at today is the arcade conversion of Exidy’s Mouse Trap by Coleco on Atari’s 2600, the only version that, in my honest opinion, got it right. This is not a comparison piece, I would do one if I had the Intellivision version, but honestly I have so much to say about the Colecovision version it could take up its own review, so to spare you the inevitable boredom, I’m only going to review the 2600 version. Prepare yourselves.
This is a very, very simple looking game. You have 20 unique ‘graphics’ there are the cats: facing left, right, a back view for when they are going up, and a front view for when they are going down. The mouse: straight on, and the angry red “dog”. There is the maze, which I will count as only one graphic, because I am lazy. There are the cheese pellets, and the dog bones. Then there is the scoreboard, which consists of your lives in recycled mouse sprites, your bones, which are a different sprite so I’m counting it, and your actual score, 0-9 so that’s ten more ‘graphics’. Please be aware that when I say ‘graphics’ I’m not counting any animation; then we’d be around 30 unique sprites. Still though that’s not a lot, in fact it’s very little indeed, but with this genre of game simplicity is key since the real meat of the game lies in the gameplay, but before we can even consider talking about how the game plays, we have to talk about how it sounds… And does this game sound good?
Well… yes and no. The start music isn’t too bad, it’s not particularly catchy, but since it’s not making my ears explode with displeasure I’ll give it a pass. The one sound that gets on my nerves after a while is the noise made whenever you collect a cheese pellet, I don’t even know how to describe it, perhaps a two-tone beeping noise, or even a ‘cluck’. All the other sounds are fine, all two of them, there might be a 1-up noise but I’ve never heard it, there is the barking sound that is made whenever you collect a bone or initiate ‘Dog Mode’, then there is the “Cat Screech” whenever the mouse is caught or “Dog Mode is successful. The Barking noise is actually a very fun sound to listen to, one wouldn’t think the 2600 capable of creating such a strange sound, but then again the secrets of the 2600 are still shrouded in mystery. (Insert a clever segue here).
I recall ‘The Video Game Critic’ calling Mouse Trap “A thinking man’s Pac-Man”, and I couldn’t agree more, this is the game that Pac-Man wishes it could be. Now this game follows that standard Pac-Man formula: Run around a maze collecting pellets whilst avoiding a set number of enemies. The formula is shaken up though when a classic element is removed and another is put in its place. Gone are the escape holes on either side of the screen, you can no longer simply warp to the other side of the screen, instead you have 10 movable walls that, when the button is held down, change the layout of the maze. These movable walls add a perfect amount of strategy to the game, since you can now influence where the cats go, and even trap them entirely, giving you some much needed breathing room. Even though the cats act dumb as rocks, they always find a way to get you, they’re unpredictable, but despite that I never felt like any deaths were the fault of the programming, only my own stupid risk taking or slow reaction times. I would say more, but since we’ve all played Pac-Man I would only be regurgitating information that you already know, and if you haven’t played Pac-Man before… Please fix that.
Overall this is a very fun game and, in my opinion, is far superior to most other Pac-Man and Pac-Man style games for the system, with the exception of one, but I’ll get to that another day. Suffice to say, this game is great and is worth your time and money, and luckily for you is incredibly cheap, <10$ for one CIB. You really ought to buy it, I’m sure you won’t regret it