As I said yesterday we’ve returned, albeit briefly, to the hallowed land of Xonox, but if you take a moment to tear your eyes away from the pristine graphics, and the unique gameplay you’ll see that there’s shit in them there hills. Many people from the infomercial era know the name of K-Tel, y’know those guys who peddled everything from ‘greatest hits’ record to the Veg-O-Matic, and The feather touch knife. Here’s the thing, they never really went away, they’re still in business, usually selling music on digital platforms like Amazon and iTunes, but they also license for commercial use, big companies and I mean BIG companies use K-Tel’s music, like, Coke-A-Cola big. K-Tel will be a somewhat familiar name if you’re into collecting the weird and expensive on the 2600 library since K-Tel released their own line of 2600 cartridges under the name of K-Tel Vision, they released two cartridges under this name, Spider Maze, which is a modified version of Inca Gold, and Vulture Attack, which is Ultravision’s Condor Attack with slightly modified graphics. But here’s the thing on the K-Tel Wikipedia page it says nothing about Xonox, in fact the only way you’re going to know that Xonox was owned by K-Tel is by looking at Xonox’ own Wikipedia page. Information is quite sparse on the company itself but word through the grapevine is that every game in the Xonox library was developed and programmed separate from all the others by different teams across the U.S. which is why all of the games are so eclectic in their style, graphics, and gameplay, this is unsubstantiated so if anybody could refer me to an article or wiki page that confirms or denies this I would be very appreciative, but that is enough about Xonox and its parent company, let’s look at the game in question today, Robin Hood.
Robin Hood looks incredible, it is by far and away one of the most advanced looking games on the 2600, the amount of detail packed into the tiny 8K cartridge is astonishing. Robin hood is a game in three screens, the game starts with Robin Hood deep in Sherwood forest, sure there are only 11 trees but the fact that you can walk behind the trees instead of just walking in front of them conveys an excellent feeling of depth, and the fact that the trees are huge and complex is an added bonus as well. In the background you’ll find a snow capped mountain with rolling foothills at its base with a brilliant orange sunset lighting the sky on fire, and let us not forget the big puffy clouds. If we take a moment to ignore the fact that there are no snow capped mountains in Britain then we have an amazing opening screen, and we haven’t even gotten to the sprites yet. The sprites are large and multicolored, but at the same time, there are very few of them, and if I’m being honest they look really goofy, it’s really hard to even describe what Robin and the soldiers look like, so I’m not even going to try and will just let the screenshots do the talking. Screen two is outside the castle gates, and I have to say that IS the best castle on the 2600, it has a moat, portcullis, battlements, and even a couple of towers. The details even extend to having reflections in the moat, and even having the moat change colors to indicate depth, it just looks stellar. The landscaping is also well done on screen two, there are rolling green hills in the background, two lumps of green in front of the castle that either are small hills or impassable thicket, and a sunset that setting the sky alight with a crimson glow, and don’t forget those clouds. The third screen is inside the castle, and once again the detail on display is amazing. The towers and roof portion of the castle are recycled from screen two but that’s all that has been recycled. The thing that will strike you first is the checker tiled floors that actually change in height to indicate distance, and the second thing to hit you is the amount of doors, seven in total, the designs are alright, they look like doors and they even have iron banding to indicate hinges. The little details spread all the way to having kickboards at the base of the walls; the background is new as well with different hills in the background, and different clouds in the sky. This game just looks astonishing and I hope the good vibes can keep going right through to the end so let’s move on to sounds and hope the game is as much a treat on the ears as it is on the eyes.
When you start the game up you are treated to a very adventure(y) sounding piece of music, it’s very short but still manages to get the point across. Most of what you’ll be hearing is the dulcet sounds of walking, and the musical twang of bows. The walking sound is just soft high pitched white noise, which manages to fit with the rest of the game, the bow makes an odd sort of ringing noise, perhaps it was meant to emulate the twang of a bow but it doesn’t quite work, a similar noise plays when you hit a soldier, or are hit yourself, with an arrow. An odd thing that I picked up on though is that the game makes an odd quiet ticking noise when thinking of where to place a new enemy, probably a small programming bug or the game just couldn’t function without it, stuff like that is known to happen. The only other sounds I managed to hear were the three beep jingle when you progress to the next screen, a sound for the crossbow bolt on the front gate, and a different jingle when you collect the Sherriff’s Treasure or Save Maid Marian. Sure the sounds are a bit sparse, but there is nothing offensive about them they seem to fit just fine within the game and add to amplify the experience, so I’d say they do their job well enough.
Usually the gameplay is the meat of the review, but not so with Robin Hood. This is a very simple game, both in premise and in execution; we’ll go screen by screen and detail what you have to do to move on. On screen one you have to shoot 11 of the Sherriff’s soldiers, they will appear from behind trees anf from offscreen on either side so watch your back ‘cause they’ll stab you in the back if you aren’t careful, you start off every screen, and every new life with 16 arrows to shoot the baddies with, if you run out you lose one of your five lives. Once you shoot 11 guys the arrow meter will start flashing, now you must simply walk off the right side of the screen and you’re at screen two. Screen two is much of the same but in smaller quantities, you must shoot six of the Sherriff’s men to open the front gate, you can climb the walls too but it’s harder and I currently haven’t been able to pull it off, caution is advised since there is a crossbow bolt being shot horizontal across the wall, and you know what happens when somebody if hit by a crossbow bolt, yep you guessed it, death. Screen three is where the gameplay style shifts to a game of hide-and-seek and of avoidance, you must find the correct door on the ground floor to progress up to the second floor, be careful though there are henchmen behind some of the doors with knives ready to stab you, if you aren’t fast enough a soldier will appear and chase you around, he is impossible to get around and if he appears on the ground floor it’s game over. When you get to the second and third floors, you’ll be presented by four more doors, one has Maid Marian behind it; one has the Sherriff’s Treasure behind it, and the other two hide knife wielding henchmen, a soldier will appear on the second and third floors but to avoid him simply climb up the stairs and he won’t be able to follow you, same goes for the third floor but in reverse. All you have to do is find the right door, collect either the booty or the booty and its back to screen one all over again except the enemies move faster.
This is an incredible game and behind Motocross Racer is my favorite Xonox game, if you’re wondering Sir Lancelot and Ghost Manor tie for third. The problem is though that this is a rare game no matter which version you buy, either Double Ender or standalone cartridge, you’re still paying a pretty penny for the game. The only standalone cart on Ebay right now is sitting at $59.99+free shipping, while the Double Ender is sitting at $69.99+free shipping, if you want to get a standalone Sir Lancelot cart the you’ll be shelling out $55+$3.75 shipping. Honestly the best value for money is getting the double ender since you’re getting both games, or if your TV can play PAL games decently you can get the European or Australian version for much cheaper, I’m pretty sure there’s a Taiwan Copper version of Robin Hood actually in PAL format so that is an option. Sadly both Robin Hood and Sir Lancelot have to go to the Collector’s Zone, paying that much for an Atari game, even if it is an amazing one is just too much, but if you can find a copy for less than 30 dollars it might just be worth your while.