Dark Mage - Atari 2600



If you've ever played a classic text adventure, a genre made famous by Infocom in the early 80s, then Dark Mage will be an unexpected pleasure for you. Greg Troutman managed to squeeze a text adventure into an 8K Atari 2600 cart, and although it's much simpler in execution than Infocom's offerings, it's an enjoyable game nonetheless.

In Dark Mage, you play the role of a jester banished from your kingdom and your goal is to find and return the king's black rose. As in most text adventures you explore the game world by moving through the four compass directions, find and use items and talk with characters you encounter along the way. This is all accomplished with relative ease through the use of the joystick controller, there's no typing here!

Includes cartridge only.

Author Greg Troutman
Number of Players 1
Controller Joystick
Cartridge Size 8K
Label Design Dave Exton
Andrew Reierson on 12/25/2019 12:28am
One of my favorite homebrews ever! Obviously, I need to grade this on a curve a bit, due to the nature of putting a text adventure on the Atari 2600. It's a fun little adventure for what it is, and a wonderfully unique entry to the system's homebrew library. Whether or not you feel you are getting your money's worth is completely dependent on your appreciation for the genre. Dark Mage is not for everyone, but it is certainly one of the most interesting homebrew games ever made!
Marshall Kiker on 05/26/2013 06:33pm
I'm perhaps being generous with 3 stars. Here's the short answer, the game just is not fun for me. I don't think the problem is the size of it though. I think it's more that the 2600 lacks a keyboard and trying to transverse the world with a controller was cumbersome. I don't regret my purchase since this game is an interesting footnote in Atari history but I doubt I will ever really sit down and play it either. If you like the Infocom games and accept that this is a curiosity more than anything else then by all means get one. If you want an indepth text adventure, look elsewhere.
Nathan Strum on 10/22/2007 06:18pm
Dark Mage is a text adventure, in the classic style of Zork. I spent many hours in the early 80's at my friend's house, with the two of us logged into the University of Washington's VAX, playing Zork through a modem hooked up to his TRS-80. I don't recall how long we played it, but it seemed to go on for months. I remember mapping out the world as we explored it, trying to find our way through the game, little knowing that this particular version of Zork wasn't actually solvable. It wasn't until we got the retail version from Infocom, that we actually found doorways that worked in two directions, rooms that stayed connected to each other, and a way through this wonderful world.

Dark Mage really took me by surprise. It does a pretty amazing job of fitting a text adventure into a 2600 cartridge, and it instantly transported me back in time. I spent a really enjoyable evening, sitting in front of my 2600 with a pencil and a piece of paper, mapping out the world, and trying to work my way through it.

While not a large world, Dark Mage still does exactly what a good text adventure should do: it pulls you into it. You imagine seeing rolling hills, strange creatures, barren wastelands, and castles on the horizon. And, in the grand tradition of text adventures, I had to go online to dig up a couple of clues (my hint: some objects have more than one use).

I thoroughly enjoyed playing Dark Mage. Although it's only text with no sound effects at all, none were needed. I put some early 80's music on the stereo, and was transported back in time 25 years. There's also no manual included with it (figuring out the joystick controls doesn't really require one), although it would have been cool to include someplace to write down notes (like the original Myst had).

People who never played text adventures may not get the appeal of Dark Mage, but hopefully they'll give it a chance. For the rest of us, it's a well-done homage to that genre, and for the price, well-worth the nostalgia trip. I really wanted to keep playing it, discovering the next clue, unlocking the next piece of the puzzle - but in an evening's time, I had solved it, and it's short enough that by the time I was through it, I knew it by heart. That would be my only complaint - is that I wanted more. Hopefully someone will take advantage of larger cartridge capacities and utilize the AtariVox's save feature, and create another, larger text adventure.
John Payson on 12/22/2005 11:39pm
This cartridge demonstrates that the 2600 is indeed capable of doing a text adventure game, but that 8K isn't really enough. The world isn't tiny, but it isn't all that large; unlike Infocom games which have many solutions and can be won without seeing everything (which means one can play again and look for things one missed the first time), everything in this game will be seen on a single playthrough. By the way, slight hint: XYOUXNEEDXTOXDOXSOMETHINGXWITHXTHEXCOINXBEFOREXYOUXGIVEXITXAWAYX.
Ben Langberg on 04/23/2003 02:38pm
And now for something completely different! Text based Interactive Fiction on the 2600! While (obviously) not as elaborate as an Infocom effort—such as Zork—Dark Mage succeeds on its own terms. The text is minimal and, rather than typing, actions are chosen via a menu using the joystick.

In the story, you are a jester banished from your kingdom. You must find and return the king's black rose. You find and use items, talk to characters, and generally get stuck and start again. Once you've beaten it, replay value is low since you'll probably have the solution memorized.

Even so, Dark Mage comes recommended. Both for its uniqueness as an Atari game and the fact that it is one of the better aftermarket homebrew games.

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