Thursday, May 12, 2011

At Random: Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase! (Odyssey^2, 1978)

This week's random grab from my bag of loose, dusty Odyssey^2 cartridges came up with another double-feature cartridge, crammed into a mere 2K of ROM space: Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!, produced in 1978 for Magnavox's keyboard-equipped video game console.

Magnavox often used these two-in-one cartridges to get a couple of weak but playable concepts onto the market, in the hopes that quantity would make up for the lack of quality.  This one's no exception, and as a result, there isn't a whole lot to say about these two titles; they borrow some ideas from Atari's pack-in Combat cartridge, but don't do any of it quite as well.

Sub Chase! is a target-bombardment game -- Player 1's green airplane flies from right to left, trying to bomb the enemy submarine lurking below the ocean's surface (denoted by the border where the permanently dawn-orange sky meets the blue, waveless ocean) while Player 2's enemy submarine fires sea-to-air missiles and tries to do the same to the low-flying jet.

Each player can steer his or her craft up and down, and adjust its horizontal speed to a degree.  And while Player 1's jet, a neutral ship (which costs either player a point every time it gets hit), and Player 2's submarine all wrap around at the screen borders, bombs and missiles do not, limiting the available range and opportunities to do damage.  Some compensation is provided by the players' ability (under some of the 9 game variations) to steer armaments in flight, but Player 2 is at a decided disadvantage due to the game designer's color choices -- the sub's missiles almost vanish against the orange sky, while the plane's green bombs are still quite visible underwater.  Whoever racks up the most points before the clock runs down is considered the winner.

The second contest here, Armored Encounter!, is a more direct lift from Atari's Combat, pitting Player 1's blue tank against Player 2's red tank.  But the obstacles aren't as imaginative or evocative as Atari's rectangular concrete (or so I always imagined them to be) bunkers -- they're either grid-based lines, or simple X's from the Odyssey^2's built-in character set.

While Atari recognized a design flaw in this two-player concept, and compensated by allowing successful shots to knock tanks out of the way a bit, Armored Encounter! does no such thing.  This means the first player to get a good shot in can simply camp out with a perfectly lined-up cannon, instantly shooting the other one's tank every time it recovers from the previous hit.  Ammunition is limited, and some variations allow for "guided missiles" that can be steered after firing, but these don't add a whole lot of strategic depth to the contest.  The player with the most hits after the clock runs down is declared the winner, unless excessive use of the "camping out" strategy calls for invocation of the Mom Appeal, which dictates that whomever has been treated most unfairly during play is the real winner.

The Odyssey^2 always had a tough time in the marketplace, consistently running third against formidable competition from the Atari VCS/2600 and Mattel Intellivision.  Magnavox did produce some innovative games for the Odyssey^2 during the console's struggle to survive.  But Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase! was not one of them.

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