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Boing! (First Star Software)



Whoa shit! It’s been over a year since I last posted a 2600 review. Where does the time go?


Looking back on it I really have been distracted. I wrote two books that I have deemed unpublishable, a small library of short stories pertaining to said scrapped books, and am now neck deep in another one that I actually hope to work into a publishable form, fingers crossed.


But, I think it’s been long enough since I reviewed a game, at least one for the 2600. Something a bit special, and quite possibly the last 2600 game I’m ever gonna buy ‘cause my collection’s big enough already and my wallet cannot afford another expenditure of this type.


Now it may surprise some to learn that Q-Bert for the Atari 2600 is not in fact the only, or the best, Q-Bert game on the system, that dubious honor goes to a much lesser known game from a far lesser known company, at the very least lesser known for this particular system. Now most people have heard of First Star Software from the legendary Boulder Dash, available in some form or another on every computational device currently known to humans, and probably a fair few that aren’t. If the name Boulder Dash doesn’t ring a bell then maybe the Spy vs. Spy series of games’ll make it chime?


Yeah, these guys have a reputation for making top notch games, and it’s one they’ve maintained as they’re still around today, resting on their laurels and putting out the occasional Boulder Dash title on Steam. But among that library of gems you’ll find an oddity, an unassuming grey box with what looks like a bunch of squares on the front and a highly conspicuous exclamation point.


Yeah it’s Boing! and no I will not be using the exclamation point, Word will have an aneurism.


I’m gonna spill the beans right now and just say that Boing is a splendid little game that gets the formula right and much like the 2600 port of Q-Bert, puts gameplay at the forefront and lets everything else fall to the wayside to be filled in later.


The graphics are pretty much the bare minimum while still managing to be semi-impressive on the technical side of things. When you boot up the game you shall see a bunch of lines, a ball, and some nasty boogins that will no doubt be your opponent in your quest for points. Even though the color schemes you get give the graphics a little pizzazz it won’t be winning any beauty awards, even by 2600 standards this game is bordering on sparse, at least until you start playing.


The start screen, beware the boogins, he'll kill ya!

Since this is a Q-Bert ‘clone’ it follows the same basic premise: Touch all the squares and don’t die doing it. In your path is the boogins, who I have named Paul as his proper name ‘the Bubble Eater’ doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Paul’s entire goal in his short digital life is to inconvenience, malice, and eventually murder you, and your goal is to fill in all the squares whilst depriving Paul of his sole source of joy, killing you. Seeking to kill both you and Paul are the Pins that will occasionally and randomly fall from the topmost tiles and make their way straight to the bottom, no detours. If the Pins hit you then that’s a life lost and if they hit Paul he’ll wind up with a concussion and a few seconds for you to not worry about him.


Since the Pins fall from the topmost tiles I’d advise you to fill those in first, it’ll save you some headache because you don’t want to have to deal with them and Paul at the same time.


Now, there are a few reasons why I think this is superior when compared with Q-Bert and it mostly comes down to these two points: You don’t have to tilt your controller due to this game not being isometric, and you move fast as hell, and pretty soon Paul moves fast as hell.


This game is quick right off the bat and basically presents everything it has to offer immediately. You will only ever deal with the Pins and Paul, there will be no surprise enemies in the coming levels only Paul getting smarter and faster, the pins getting more numerous, and the order of tiles needing to be filled in being changed. It’s a game of reflexive problem solving and fast reaction times and holy hell use a Sega pad for this, a standard 2600 Joystick won’t last long with this one, it’ll be crunchy in no time.


Now don’t think for a moment that this game isn’t forgiving, it is, it really is, if you’re lucky. First off you start with a whole bunch of lives, five to be precise, which is two entire lives more than the standard. And second, unlike the 2600 Q-Bert, Boing has both you and Paul being animated jumping across the tiles which means you can jump through each other if you both jump at the same time which makes for some serious cheek clenching but still gives you an out if you're desperate. In the 2600 Q-Bert the enemies simply appeared on the next tile which made for some cheap feeling death, with Boing you have a chance to get out of the way at the very least.


Boing is simply a splendid experience, the gameplay is rock solid, the tunes it plays are well done and easy on the ears, and the graphics, while plain, are still impressive on the technical side. Unfortunately the whole thing will be seriously tainted when you realize how expensive this game is. There are two cartridge variations of this game, one in a Xonox style cartridge with the odd mushroom tip that makes storing it a nightmare and another in a far plainer cartridge that I believe is unique to this game. The Xonox style cartridge seems to be valued higher based on the asking prices I’ve seen but both styles still sell for around the same amounts.


For the privilege of playing Boing on a legitimate cartridge you’re gonna have to shell out anywhere from 80 to 100 dollars for a loose cart, and just forget about trying to get one CIB (Unless you have a thousand bucks that insulted you somehow). I know that’s a high price but for a game that is currently ranked at an eight out of ten on the AtariAge rarity scale that’s almost a bargain. This game is sitting amongst such infamous royalty as Halloween from Wizard, Death Trap from Avalon Hill, Smurfs Save the Day from Coleco, and the legendary Diagnostic Cartridge™©® from Atari. I’d say it’s in good company.


Definitely a Collector’s Zone item for sure, but if you have a Harmony Cart or an UNO Cart then it should definitely be at the top of your list to play.


Also this isn't a return to form, this is just an out of the blue thing for fun, don't expect many more reviews from me.


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