Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cover to Cover: Activision Atari 2600 1989 Catalog (pp. 4-5)

We're looking at the 1989 Activision/Absolute/Imagic product catalog -- all the company's then-current offerings for the rapidly-becoming-obsolete Atari 2600.

Page 4 continues to clear out the warehouse -- that's speculation on my part, actually, it's possible that Activision was producing new cartridges for some of these titles -- with several more Activision classics:

Space Shuttle by Steve Kitchen was a remarkably complex shuttle takeoff and landing simulation that transformed the 2600's bank of switches into game controls to supplement the system's standard joystick; later versions for computers were more sophisticated, but this was a creditable simulation on the humble Atari console.  Brother Garry Kitchen's Keystone Kapers was a fast-paced, colorful chase game that remains one of my favorite 2600 cartridges, and River Raid was a vertically-scrolling shooter that squeezed a lot of action out of limited resources.  It was designed and programmed by Carol Shaw, one of the few prominent female designers in the video game industry at the time.

Page 5 promotes several games that might have been in development during the first wave of home videogames but didn't see release until Atari revived its system after Nintendo revived the industry.  We have two Absolute Entertainment titles, which were also available for the more powerful Atari 7800, and a 2600 version of one of the games that helped Activision survive the mid-80s crash:

Title Match Pro Wrestling was a one-on-one wrestling game with player-vs.CPU and two-player modes; given the challenges of programming the AI, it's no surprise that the graphics are rather limited and the gameplay a bit tougher than it needed to be.  Skateboardin' was a side-scrolling skateboard platformer that pushed the 2600 technically but wasn't a particularly memorable game; the NES pretty much owned side-scrolling territory and this attempt at doing the same looked extremely dated on release.  The 7800 versions looked significantly better, but are not pictured here; the second one sported the "upgraded" moniker of Super Skateboardin' on Atari's more sophisticated console, itself a casualty of the crash that was brought to market late, just in time to look a bit long in the tooth.

Activision's licensed Ghostbusters works well on the 2600, considering that it originated on the considerably more powerful Commodore 64 several years earlier.  Activision survived the crash in part because it had a more diverse product line -- it hadn't put all its eggs in the Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision baskets, so when those markets vanished seemingly overnight its computer titles saw it through the tough times.  (The company also had some cash reserves, I would guess -- Imagic had also started to branch out, but didn't survive; perhaps Imagic depended too heavily on computer ports of its classic but aging Atari 2600 games.)

Tomorrow, we'll wrap up this little trip down memory lane -- just two more pages to go.

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