It's rather strange to think that one of Mattel's best games was released on their competitor's console, when they had their own, more powerful console just begging for a good unique game. Admittedly almost all of the M-Network games released on the 2600 were poor man's versions of their own Intellivision games, Space Battle, Sea Battle, and Lock 'N Chase come to mind. There was one game though, that was completely unique, and exclusive to the 2600, and that game was Air Raiders. This game falls into a very sparsely populated genre of game on the 2600, first person flying/dog-fighting games, as far to my knowledge the only other games that could fall into this genre are Absolute's Tomcat F-14 Fighter Simulator, Milton Bradley's Spitfire Attack, and Activision's Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space, but these games are either simulations or require a large and exspensive controller to play properly, while Air Raiders is an arcade shooter through and through. This has been one of those games that has been on my 'Buy It Now!' list for over two years now, and sadly none have turned up in the wild so I've resorted to Ebay, thankfully the game isn't too expensive, but I know that since I just bought it online one is gonna show up at my local game shop by the end of the week, but enough about hypothetical, let's review this game.
This game's graphics are very simple. Since this is a first person flying game your view is from the cockpit, which is indicated by a rather strange brown border around the screen, leaving you with a sort of half-circle window with which to look through. There is a basic horizon which is either straight or diagonal depending on whether or not you're turning. The horizon also raises and lowers depending on if you're ascending or descending, it's basic but still quite serviceable. You have several helpful indicators on your Heads-Up Display, the HUD is made up of three different counters, and two horizontal indicators. The counters are for altitude, hits, and ammo, the indicators are for direction and fuel, all of these work as well as you'd expect, nothing strange here. The only thing I feel could have used more work is the enemy planes, the same simple sprite is used for all of the enemy planes, it's just a very basic side-view of a plane, and that's it. I feel that a lot of potential was squandered on lazy enemy design, since games that use the same enemies over and over end up feeling very samey can get boring after a while, but we'll get to that in the gameplay section.
This game is somewhat sparse when it comes to sounds, you have the chunky rumbling sound of your plane's engine as your constant companion as you play, which will change in pitch as you ascend descend or nose-dive. There is the muffled explosion sound of the anti-air guns as they fire at you on occasion. There is also the sound of your machine guns as you fire on enemy planes and the sound of them exploding when you hit them, the machine gun has to be one of my favorite sounds in any 2600 game, it just sounds so much like an action movie machine gun and I love it. There is also the sound that is made when you crash into the ground, you will hear this sound rather often if you are an inexperienced player. Yeah there isn't rally too much to discuss here so let's boogie on over to the gameplay. (I swear I'll never say that again)
This is the perfect game for both newcomers to the 2600 and old pros who've been with the system from the beginning. Your objective in this game is to shoot down as many enemy planes as possible before you either run out of fuel or ammo. The game starts with you on the runway, ready to take to the sky, you press to fire button to start moving, but don't pull that joystick too quickly now or you'll game-over. You need to get a good four second run up before pulling up, this game has the classic inverted flight controls, so when I say 'pulling up' I mean pulling the joystick down, or south (if you like directions), it makes sense when you play the game. All you do in this game is shoot down enemy fighters, and be careful to conserve your ammo, there is a way to replenish some of it, but it's quite difficult and I've yet to accomplish it. There are also pesky anti-air guns shooting the crap out of you, I have no idea how to avoid them, but if they hit you enough you will rapid lose altitude, each time they hit you you lose more and more until you finally just crash. Enemy planes don't fire on you, they serve only as moving targets to bolster your score, I would have preferred something a bit more intimate, like in Tomcat the F-14 Fighter Simulator but this works fine since you have the anti-air keeping you on your toes. There is a way to refuel and 'replenish' your ammo, you must first get over 10 kills to get the privilege of landing, but there is a caveat to landing, you will replenish your fuel but your ammo will be set to how many kills you currently have, so if you have fewer kills that you have ammo sucks to be you. To land you must fly at altitude 00 and wait for the runway to appear, you then push forward on the joystick until you've landed, I've never been able to do this, but I'm pretty sure I'm stupid and bad at games, so it's kind of a toss up.
This is one of those 'hidden gem' games, a really good game from a company you wouldn't expect. I would recommend that everyone who plays Atari has this game in their collection, seriously if you don't have this game you should go buy it right now, they're usually less than ten bucks on Ebay, even for the slightly rarer INTV version. And if you're into those AtGames Flashback consoles, this game is included on most of those as well, so you can't really lose.