I had my heart broken by this game; it was the subject of the first major regret of my collecting career. In Madison and the surrounding areas we have a Goodwill equivalent called St. Vinnie’s, every year there are a couple of game sales at St. Vinnie’s where basically everything videogame related that came in gets put up for sale ridiculously cheaply, like half to a quarter Ebay and resale price. It was my first time going, and I didn’t know much about what was rare and what was desirable, at that time I tried to collect the good games for the system not the weird ones. I had a mint copy of Final Approach in my hand for $8 and put it down for a copy of Barnstorming that didn’t even have the manual and a crappy copy of racquetball I thought this game looked boring and I wouldn’t play it all that much (which may be correct in hindsight), but then I saw what it was listed and selling for on Ebay and my heart sunk to my knees, I done screwed up. We all have the one that got away, the game that we looked at on the shelf that was on clearance that we found out years later has become rare and valuable, many people have done this with Earthbound, but I found out an hour later and it still haunts me to this day, I think back on that and just cringe at my ignorance. But I finally have a copy in my collection, it isn’t CIB but it will do for now, this is Final Approach.
To say this game looks simple may actually be an understatement, there is almost nothing going on here, I mean the game doesn’t look bad or anything there’s, there are a few nice touches like the table top and large brown microphone, but in those are just for show, they don’t actually do anything. The big green radar screen is where all the action happens, and the most you’ll ever see on it are four plane profiles, a big black bar that is supposed to be the runway, and some flashing yellow lines that lead to the runway that might be landing lights or something. The landing screen has a bit more going on but that isn’t saying much. There is a top-down view and a side-on view of the runway with white guidelines leading to them, these will be important later, the runway is decently detailed but one thing that annoys me is that the plane used for the top-down view is still the profile of the plane which on a physics level is quite impossible since such a craft would find it quite impossible to take flight, I’ll just chalk it up to an inability to reliably program it or just plain laziness. Alright, so we have a game so visually bland as to induce sensory deprivation, can the sounds fix this issue?
No they cannot… the sounds in Final Approach are as subdued as the graphics if not more so. Most of what you’ll be hearing is the basic engine/thruster noise you’ve heard in a couple dozen other 2600 games paired with the simplest of beeps when things happen. Thankfully the abrasiveness of the beeps offsets the calming effect of the engines. There is also a collision sound effect when you crash two planes together but it’s the same as in Grand Prix or Enduro or any other generic crashing noise really. I guess that word describes it best ‘Generic’ there just isn’t a whole lot going on here.
I’ll give this game credit, it has a very unique premise, guiding a number of aircraft to a runway and landing them, occasionally a plane will flash indicating there is an emergency on board and that it has to be landed immediately otherwise you’ll lose one of your three lives. Lives are lost when you don’t land an emergency plane or when two planes collide, you will regain a life every 500 points which equates to 20 normal planes landed or 10 emergency planes, though you’ll likely have a mix. Landing is a unique experience, a plane will automatically move right across the screen and you have to move the joystick to position it for a successful landing, since you have only the one joystick you have to control the left and right and the height by moving the joystick left and right and up and down which leads to some major confusion since holding the stick at an angle will trigger both movements and will just lead to a botched landing, it’s very difficult to explain but it’s also rather difficult to pull off since you don’t know which direction does what and you don’t have any time for mistakes. I almost forgot to mention how you actually move the planes around on the radar screen, you have a big black cursor that moves adequately quickly around the screen, simply place it over a plane and press the button and you’ll have control over the plane, don’t let the planes fly off-screen otherwise you’ll lose five points.
This game plays painfully slowly, and the planes will only start moving faster after you’ve accrued enough points, there are some variations, as is to be expected with an Apollo title, but all they change are the number of players, the number of planes, and whether there is a cross wind when landing, which does inject some semblance of challenge to the game. All this game really is though is a test of patience since you’ll likely turn the game off before you land your second plane. This is not a cheap game, I got lucky with my copy and got it in a small lot with Star Ship and Solar Fox for $9-free shipping but buying Final Approach standalone will make you raise an eyebrow. The cheapest loose copy is on Ebay for 14 dollars free shipping with the most expensive loose copy is sitting at $59.95+$3.95 shipping, if you ask me both prices are too high. All of the boxed copies currently on Ebay are sitting at a princely $149.95+$3.95 shipping even though one sold BIN a while back for around $30. I don’t really think I need to say this but Final Approach goes to the Collector’s Zone, there’s simply not enough game here for the price people are asking.