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Atariperson23

Swordquest Atari 2600 Review

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Swordquest was supposed to be a four-part RPG(!) on the 2600, when you would win mesmerizing, real prizes such as a talisman, a miniature pyramid, a real golden sword, a crown and a chalice. All of this would be worth 150,000$, enough money for a king. Unfortunately, because of a lot of people had already lost faith in Atari after E.T and Pac-Man failed their really high expectations, only the first three games were released and only two of the five prizes were awarded. The first was awarded to Steven Bell and the second to Michael Rideout. The WaterWorld competition to the best of my knowledge never took place as a real contest and Airworld was never released. That's sad, because Swordquest is not as horribly flawed as some people might think, and if you think about it, the games have no flaw except for being excruciatingly, painfully difficult and for relying on guesswork rather than pure skill. (If you don't read the manual, you're pretty much screwed)

Related imageSwordquest: Earthworld - ScreenshotSwordquest: Earthworld - ScreenshotSwordquest: Earthworld - ScreenshotSwordquest: Fireworld - ScreenshotSwordquest: Fireworld - Screenshot

Originality: Earthworld: B Fireworld: A- Waterworld:B Overall Grade:B+

Swordquest was originally the sequel to Adventure, conceived by Howard "E.T" Warshaw. Atari decided to develop the idea into a full on contest, composing of four games all inter-linked to each other. Swordquest and Raiders Of The Lost Ark both tried to simulate massive-world adventure environments, where the environment would appear to be an endless world where in reality there was only 16 screens at max. That makes Swordquest and Raiders Of The Lost Ark both the very first role-playing games (RPG) if you don't count the measly twelve-screen Adventure. Anyways, Swordquest is just a primitive RPG, so we must look at the minigames instead of the RPG itself to determine how original it is... In Earthworld, you need to dodge spears, invisible horns, a rainbow waterfall and leap from log to log to cross a raging river. Sounds exciting? Trouble is, this is the 128 byte Atari 2600 and things are rarely as described. The spears and invisible horns are really a glorified version of Freeway, the rainbow waterfall is really a avoid the moving open rectangle test, and the raging river test is just basically a simplified version of Frogger. Fireworld, arguably the worst game in the series is actually the most original game: In one test, you need to catch knives, in another you need to dodge firebirds, shoot snakes, catch goblins, dodge salamanders, and shoot down dragons. The only thing I don't think is original is the shooting worm thing and the catching knives thing. The catching of the knives is like Kaboom! and the worm shooting is also kind of like another game I know, although I can't remember the name offhand. Waterworld has some originality, but also holds two Frogger clones. (It seems like Tod Frye really liked Frogger for some reason)

Gameplay: Earthworld: C+ Fireworld: D Waterworld:A- Overall Grade: C

Swordquest isn't the awful, destined-to-fail series that collapsed under its own weight like every hardcore gaming crazy says it is. Earthworld has some entertaining and challenging parts, and Waterworld is pleasantly engaging. The only elephant in the room is Fireworld. The rooms pattern of Earthworld was designed after the familiar Western Zodiac that anyone who studied just a little bit of culture could understand. And Waterworld was also quite easy to solve if you knew about the chakras, something you might know if you studied yoga. (Actually, Waterworld gives you hints on what you're missing, so it's the easiest of the three) But Fireworld is just a pain to play, and not just because it's based upon the Jewish Kabbalah Tree Of Life. Seriously, from the warping through the walls, to the buggy minigames, to the archaic graphics and basic sounds and the non intuitive controls, Fireworld is outright broken. Otherwise, the Swordquest series wasn't as bad as you thought. It's as hard as you thought, though. 

Graphics: Earthworld:C+ Fireworld: F  Waterworld: B+ Overall Grade: C-

Fireworld's graphics are dogpile awful. Everything just looks horrific. For one, the dragons in one test you must shoot down look like birds. The snakes look like worms. The bird who shoots down the worm looks like some pixelated wizard-thingy. When you dodge bats, you are literally just a rectangle. When you catch knives, you are a multicolored rectangle. When you must catch goblins, you are also a rectangle.  When you dodge birds, you are a... you get the idea. But Earthworld I guess is a slight improvement. I mean, the Leo Waterfall looks more like a rainbow than a waterfall and the raging river? A black background+ moving red squares+ stationery purple square= raging river. Oh, and the Sagittarius spears? They're long yellow squares. The Taurus horns are little thin lines stacked together to make a small square. Oh my god, Earthworld's graphics are really true-to-life, right? Oh, and by the way, your character is some guy in yellow pants and a blue shirt, not anything remotely like Tarra or Torr, the two medieval thieves you saw in the comic book/box art. Some people I know think of Atari as a cold hearted and careless company, and even though I disagree, I think the too-good-to-be-true box art caused some of the hate. Moving on, Waterworld has nice, relaxed, aquatic-style graphics. The sharks, octopi and ice floes are nicely rendered. Oh, and the ice floes are actually more visible the closer they are to your avatar. Amazing how Tod Frye, the same man who disappointed millions of kids and adults with "Pac-Man", make a simple game concept come to life? Of course, he also botched Fireworld. I guess no programmer is perfect, except maybe Thomas Jentzsch and Douglas Neubauer.

Sound Effects: Earthworld: B- Fireworld: D+ Waterworld: A Overall Grade: C

The sound effects of Earthworld and Fireworld are basically just beeps and bloops, but Earthworld one-ups Fireworld. How? Even some beeps and bloops can be more complex than others. Earthworld also has more pleasant noises. For example, the rushing waterfall sounds in Earthworld are just plain mesmerizing. And the rushing river sound effects are very simplistic, but they are a pleasure to hear. And the Taurus Horns and Sagittarius spears? A little too simplistic as well, but they sort of get the job done. In contrast, Fireworld is pretty much the same but more grating. A very, very weird noise happens when you enter a door. The minigame sound effects range from being far too simplistic to far too demonic. Avoid unless you're a satanist. In contrast, Waterworld is much more pleasant. The sound effects fit the aquatic atmosphere to a tee and range from soft guitar--boosted sound effects to airy piano riffs. I just absolutely adore all the sound effects, from going to another room to even when the hint appears on the item chart. It's just too pleasant to ignore. ALL OF IT.

Final Grade: Earthworld: B- Fireworld: D    Waterworld: A-  Overall Grade:C+

In conclusion, Swordquest is the very first RPG game to bask in the fresh air of the many RPG Games released in 42 years. It has its good parts (Waterworld) its mediocre parts (Earthworld) and its low parts (Fireworld) The final game, Airworld would be: You are a explorer riding on a horse in the air. Once you got an object, you would switch perspective to a hexagram phase. You would complete one minigame out of 64 of your choice. No offense, but I don't think Airworld would have succeeded, because it sounds kind of laborious. I'm going to give Airworld an unofficial C, simply because I don't like the way the gameplay sounds. Who knows? But for now, Swordquest will forever be remembered as a gaming contest that couldn't make it. (Atari, by the way, was legally entitled to finish the contest)

 

 

 

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On 1/24/2020 at 5:09 PM, Atariperson23 said:

Swordquest isn't the awful, destined-to-fail series that collapsed under its own weight like every hardcore gaming crazy says it is

But your scores and the rest of your review make sound as though it is as bad as I remember :)

 

First off, I haven't tried Water World yet,  after being abused by the first two, I saw no reason to,  but maybe I'll give it a shot after reading this.

 

BITD,  having loved games like Adventure and Raiders,  I was looking for more.   My friends were getting into D&D at the time too, so the Swordquest games seemed right up our alley.

 

And I did like Earthworld at first.  From the beautiful title screen, to the Zodiac stuff, it seemed like a really cool concept.   But after a while, it took too much pure guesswork,  not educated guesswork like a good adventure should.   Kept hoping from room to room to try different combination only to have nothing ever happen,  and just playing the same damn minigames over and over,  We just eventually got tired of it.   It was not fun like solving Raiders was for us.

 

Somehow, we also got Fireworld.   What can I say?  Your review sounds like you disliked it as much as I did.   After Earthworld tried my patience, I found I had very little left for Fireworld

Edited by zzip
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On 1/24/2020 at 4:09 PM, Atariperson23 said:

 

Swordquest isn't the awful, destined-to-fail series that collapsed under its own weight like every hardcore gaming crazy says it is.

Call it a banana if you want.

Swordquest is a blatant example of how greedy Atari was.

Anytime I see a company (random example McDonalds, Coca-cola, etc.) with a game or contest, I consider it an obviously gimmicky attempt for fame and/or fortune.  I loose some respect for an otherwise upstanding company. 

But Atari wasn't an upstanding company. Their greed caused Atari, and most of the video game market in America to collapse. 

BTW, Swordquest isn't fun. It wasn't fun in 1982, and it isn't fun now. Just a bad memory.

Thanks for listening to my $0.02

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This series was such a fantastic idea but the games were nothing but a cruel joke. ET has generally been the labeled as one of the worst games by Atari and it was pretty lousy IMO. But at least it was a puzzle based game that had a final solution. Swordquest Earthworld was just trial and error and contestants who got into the contest solved the comic but nobody ever finished this nightmare of a game. To me this was a golden opportunity that ultimately ended up coming across as just another rushed cash grab by corporate Atari. It was just another nail that was being Hammered into there coffin.

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On 1/24/2020 at 2:09 PM, Atariperson23 said:

if you don't count the measly twelve-screen Adventure

Given, I am a fairly new 2600 fan, but Adventure is a pretty awesome game. What are you talking about when you say that Adventure only has 12 screens? I don't know the exact total, but it sure isn't 12. If I am wrong, please explain why. 

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7 hours ago, Jason123 said:

Given, I am a fairly new 2600 fan, but Adventure is a pretty awesome game. What are you talking about when you say that Adventure only has 12 screens? I don't know the exact total, but it sure isn't 12. If I am wrong, please explain why. 

3x castle screens

1 yellow castle room

4 black castle screens

1 black castle "foyer"

4 white castle screens

6? upper maze screens

2 lower maze screens

3 screens below yellow castle

2 below white castle

3 to the right side of the lower maze

1 hidden room

 

I count 30, I may have missed something.

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, bigfriendly said:

This series was such a fantastic idea but the games were nothing but a cruel joke. ET has generally been the labeled as one of the worst games by Atari and it was pretty lousy IMO. But at least it was a puzzle based game that had a final solution. Swordquest Earthworld was just trial and error and contestants who got into the contest solved the comic but nobody ever finished this nightmare of a game. To me this was a golden opportunity that ultimately ended up coming across as just another rushed cash grab by corporate Atari. It was just another nail that was being Hammered into there coffin.

Well put.

I didn’t know much about Swordquest until decades later (as opposed to Pac-Man and E.T. which I got soon after release), so I tend to think it was a later game and Atari should have learned their lesson by then.

That’s not correct, because Earthworld apparently came out a couple of months before E.T.

But I still think its failure is unique. With E.T., pretty much all they had to do was design and program the game. With Pac-Man, just program it. What stands out with Swordquest is how many other things they got right — the concept, the comics, the contest and prizes, the broad idea to base each game on a different borrowed mythology — and yet they still didn’t bother to make it enjoyable to play. Earthworld is okay for a couple of minutes, but it wears very thin very quickly. The thought of finding all of the clues from the game seems closer to torture than play. It’s as if the game itself was just an afterthought, a trivial detail to all the promotion.

I never tried Fireworld or Waterworld.

Edited by bizarrostormy
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