Review: Gremlins (Atari 5200)

In this review, we go on a monster hunt in the Atari 5200 game Gremlins. We find out how well this action game plays.

This game was released in 1986. The game is based off of a movie by the same name.

You play as a protagonist with a sword. Your mission is apparently to remove all gremlins from the map. Whether that means capturing them or defeating them with your sword, the goal is generally the same. You must complete your objective before 6:00AM as well.

There are two different types of gremlins: small and large. The small ones are, by themselves, harmless. You can pick them up one at a time and place them in a holding pen on the upper right hand corner of the room. The larger gremlins, on the other hand, can kill you just by touching you. You can only defeat them by the sword that you carry.

The small gremlins have certain abilities. If they touch the blue slime/water on the ground, they will multiply so that one becomes two. If they manage to find food, they will mutate into the larger gremlin.

The larger gremlins also have certain abilities besides killing you. They can open the cage and allow the smaller gremlins to go free. They can also open fridges, throwing food throughout the level.

It’s possible to pick up the food for extra points, but with such a short period of time to work with, these items are mere points by convenience under most circumstances.

If you defeat all of the gremlins, you’ll complete the night and make it to the next night. You’ll also be assessed bonus points. Some of your bonus points are earned by how much extra time you have left over. Other points are earned based on how many small gremlins you captured in the pen.

In total, you have three lives to work with. For every 10,000 points, you’ll earn an additional bonus free life.

You also have three stun grenades. You use one of the buttons to drop the stun grenade. The effect is that the screen flashes and every gremlin on the screen is temporarily stunned. Often this is a great opportunity to get out of being boxed in a corner.

For me, this is one of those games that have both strengths and weaknesses. A strength in this game is the enemy behavior. Unlike many games out on the market that have a similar style of play, the small amounts of enemy behavior is quite advanced. It’s rare for a game to feature normal enemies that evolve at this point in time. It’s also rare that enemies can affect a level unless it is specifically scripted. This game features both and really gives the game an immersive effect.

Another strength is the difficulty curve. While the game gives you a chance to skip to other nights further down the line, starting on night 1 gives you not only a chance at earning more free lives, but also a chance to get used to the controls and how the game operates. If, however, you are an advanced player, it’s more than possible to just skip certain nights as well. You can tailor gameplay in accordance to your skill.

The weaknesses generally revolve around the use of the sword. For one, the way the sword swipes makes it somewhat awkward to handle. It doesn’t quite sweep wide enough to protect the character very well. As a result, you can try and attack enemies, but enemies are able to exploit certain “blind” zones and get to you anyway.

In addition, sometimes the sword attack locks at random points. This results in random moments of you just standing their not doing anything. You can turn and run, but by the time you realize the feature has locked, most of the time, it’s already too late.

Another weakness is the level set up. Every level keeps you in the same bleak box playing field. Unlike other games at the time, such as The Legend of Zelda or even Space Dungeon, there are no interlocking rooms. The only variety is the occasional wall, fridge, television, or random pieces of food that fly around. A little bit primitive for a game of its time.

So, a game that has both strengths and weaknesses. The enemy behavior is very well realized. The difficulty curve is not only well done, but there’s even a feature for advanced players to take on late levels right away. The attack system did leave a fair bit to be desired and the level design is, unfortunately, primitive for a game of its time. It’s ultimately not a bad game, but not the most amazing either.

Graphics also has its hits and misses. The hits is the somewhat realistic sword swipe. The characters are also nicely animated. The fact that the game can handle so many objects at one time is also impressive. Some of the design features are also nicely drawn. The objects are also decently drawn. The downside here is that this game sticks to the stark black background that other systems have long since abandoned. So again, a game with strengths and weaknesses.

For a game on such a system, the audio is actually well done. The jingles really gave the game some nice personality. The sound effects were pretty good. Unfortunately, there is no music during play. The result is the fact that the game can seem a little plain at times. Most NES games by this point in time have full-fledged soundtracks by this point in time. So, while good, it doesn’t really measure up to other games on other systems that well.

Overall, this game has its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include enemy AI, a good difficulty curve, and the ability to choose different nights. The weaknesses include a clunky primary attack system and the random disabling of said sword attack system. The primitive level design didn’t quite help things either. Graphics, though great for the system, don’t exactly measure up to other games on other systems at the time. Still, the player and the enemies are well animated and the system does handle large number of objects well. The jingles are well done and the sound effects are decent enough. Unfortunately, other games have full soundtracks, so sections of the game are a little bleak. Overall, it’s not a bad game, just not the greatest thing out there for the time.

Overall
High score: 15,572
Died on night 12 starting on night 1.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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