Mental Kombat - Atari 2600



Mental Kombat is a two player puzzle game based on a concept developed by Simon and a friend originally for the Commodore 64. The rules of Mental Kombat are as follows:

  • Each player has their own color.
  • You have to connect tiles of your color vertically or horizontally.
  • You can move every tile of every color&#44 this means that you could connect a row of tiles of your opponent's color if you don't move carefully enough.
  • To prevent deadlock situations you can't undo the last move.
  • If you complete a row of your stones your opponent will lose energy.
  • If one player runs out of energy the battle is over.

AtariAge held a Mental Kombat Label Kontest in December 2001 to choose a label that adorns the cart.

Includes cartridge and full-color manual.

Author Simon Quernhorst
Number of Players 2
Controller Joystick
Cartridge Size 4K
Label Design Jason Parlee
Nathan Strum on 07/11/2009 04:32am
Mental Kombat is a two-player-only game comprised of a checkerboard-like playfield. Each player takes turns turning the squares either red (player 1) or yellow (player 2) one square at a time. You can only change a square adjacent to a blinking cursor, and you can't use your turn to undo the last player's turn, so there are only three maximum positions you can move to at any time (and even fewer along the borders). If you can turn four or more contiguous squares to your color, your opponent loses "energy". If he loses enough energy, then you win the game.

Since Mental Kombat is a two-player-only game, you have no way to practice the game without a willing opponent. In my experience, that meant both of us had to learn the game at the same time, which meant neither of us were any good at it, and had no opportunity to really figure out any sort of strategies for it. We spent most of our time just trying to figure out the idiosyncrasies of the game as we went along.

Things didn't start off very well, as we were thrown off by the odd game option of having both players' moves controlled by a single joystick. Only I could move, and my opponent couldn't do anything. Admittedly, this is something that is in the manual, and eventually a flip of a difficulty switch put us into the correct mode so we could each use our own controller, but it is really counter-intuitive to typical Atari 2600 games to have to pass the controller back and forth. Also, if you should want to play against yourself using a single joystick (the only way you can practice), there's an infuriating lag between moves. Again, this is intentional, and is mentioned in the manual, but it's something else that just doesn't jibe with other 2600 games - it feels like the game is fighting against you. We were also frustrated that once you moved the cursor - that was it. You're stuck with that move. A far better approach would be to let the player move wherever they wanted, then "set" the move with the fire button (a common approach in 2600 board games). If speedier play was the intent, this could have been made optional (and a much better use for that aforementioned difficulty switch).

After all that, was figuring out exactly what was going on in the game. The idea is that you move the cursor in a direction, and the square you move the cursor onto swaps color with where you were. So if you move onto a yellow square, then that square becomes the cursor (which isn't either color), and where the cursor was, is now yellow. Follow me? Well, it's a pretty simple concept, but in practice, it's a little weird, because you're moving squares of either color at any given time - not just your own. So while you're assigned a color as a player, you can both move any of the squares on the game board. Sometimes your move doesn't actually change anything - since if you move from one square to the another that are the same color, nothing changes. Maybe this is something that would work better on a real game board with marbles. On the 2600, the whole thing is rather boring.

Now I'll admit that for some people this may make for some interesting gameplay, or strategies, or possibly even fun. However, neither of us had the patience or enough interest in the game to sit there and try to figure out any nuances it might have had. By pure accident one of us finally managed to win a game, although neither of us was really certain how it happened, nor did we care. The graphics are just squares, and there's practically no sound in the game whatsoever, except for a few blips. It seems the most time and effort went into coming up with elaborate title screen graphics. If more work had gone into making the game more fun to play, rewarding to win, or possible to practice against, then maybe Mental Kombat might have been more than just a clever name.

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