Review: Joust (Atari 7800)

In this review, we wing it in the game Atari 7800 game Joust. We find out how well this action game plays.

This game was released in 1987. It is a port from an arcade version.

Coming into this game, even though I never had much exposure to the 7800, one game that I do see referenced a bit is Joust. So, since this is one game people do talk about, it is with interest that I try this to find out why people discuss it from time to time.

You play as a character on a flying ostrich. Even though you have a spear, it seems that the idea is that you make contact with other enemies slightly higher than them. Landing on your enemies is a very effective way ensuring that you get your opponents rather than you losing a life.

If you manage to eliminate your enemies, the ostrich will fly away, but an egg will drop. You need to collect the egg to ensure that the enemy has been eliminated from the map entirely. Otherwise, if you leave the egg, the egg will hatch a new enemy. Though you can still touch the enemy still, it doesn’t take long for an ostrich to pick him up and bring him back into the fold.

One strategy you can employ is to try an eliminate a few early on when they spawn on the map through the teleporters. One by one, they will appear and flood the screen. They won’t appear through the one you are closest to, but you can swoop down and hit a couple early on to make your life easier for the rest of the wave.

The good news is that you can gain a life by getting enough points. The bad news is that it is pretty easy to lose a lot all at once. This is because you spawn through the teleporters like your enemies. If you happen to appear at a lower teleporter, it can be very challenging to avoid running into an enemy on the way up.

One point that needs to be made is the fact that the level gradually evolves as you progress through the waves. In the second wave, the lava fills up. By the fourth wave, the bridges on the lower portions burn up. By wave 5, platforms begin to disintegrate. Hands can grab you from the lava pools. Escape routs become less and less. The game gradually becomes more difficult as time goes on until you lose all of your lives.

One thing that is pretty clear is the fact that a low of thought was put into this game. With so many details to consider, the game can be pretty enriching. While a lot of Atari 7800 games has a fixed setting, this games setting is constantly changing. A pretty good factor in making this a good experience to say the least.

Another positive for this game is the use of momentum. While this does increase the difficulty of the controls, it adds a sense of realism. It’s hard to turn on a dime when flying quickly. As a result, it probably shouldn’t be in a game like this. So, this was a great call as far as I’m concerned.

One pitfall of this game is the learning curve. When you first get into this game, it’s hard to really grasp the mechanics quickly. This is because the game starts off at a moderate difficulty and only gets harder. Sometimes, success depends on a little luck along the way. So, losing early on a lot is likely the experience most players will get when starting off. This is a problem because the game could allow for a wave or two to be a sort of “training” wave set. This game doesn’t have that and, as a result, this game is held back a bit.

Even if you can get through the first few waves, the difficulty only ramps up. So, players will constantly run up against difficulty. The effect for some players is a bit grating. Because of this, the replay value can suffer. After all, why play a game that constantly taunts your skill?

It’s easy to see how other games can draw inspiration from this. There are a lot of solid core concepts to be had here. The level design reminds me of the earliest Mario Bros game. While ideas can be borrowed and improved on, does that make the original great? Not necessarily. It, at minimum, means the original was on a good track.

Like other Atari 7800 games, however, this game was released when the NES was soaking up a lot of attention. While people say it’s a port that is very close to the original arcade version, game development is moving forward at this point in time. While in some respects, it does hold out with some of its intricacies, in other areas, this port is a bit dated.

Generally speaking, I see a lot of strengths and weaknesses here. A strength is the large number of intricacies that players can work with. A few core concepts such as level evolution is also a very big strength. A weakness is that this port came well into the earlier years of the NES, so some ideas are outdated by the time this one came around. The steep learning curve didn’t really do this game a lot of favors either.

The graphics had their strengths and weaknesses. The platforms and the enemies are reasonably well done. Some of the blockiness, however, does show through in the text and the Heads Up Display (HUD). The stark black background is a bit of an eyesore especially since a lot of NES games have long ago moved away from this style. So, it’s OK, but nothing huge.

There really wasn’t much in the way of music. Some of the sound effects are OK, but nothing huge. The audio didn’t irritate me as much as I thought it would. It may be because there are a lot of sound effects going on. This is what helped ease off some of the dead space on this front. Still, no real miracles on this side as far as I’m concerned.

Overall, from what I’ve heard, I was expecting something great out of this game. While this game wasn’t bad, I don’t think it lived up to being one of the “great” games ever made. There are layers to peel back in this game and understand. That is certainly respectable. The momentum that was implemented is a nice touch. The constantly evolving level is a nice thing to see in an Atari game.

Unfortunately, the learning curve is pretty steep and the difficulty really doesn’t let up that much. That is one of the big things holding this game back. This game was also ported when more advanced games were hitting the market. A fact that also hurt this ports chances. The graphics had their strengths and weakness and the audio was OK. Overall, a decent game, but nothing hugely amazing – even if other games can draw inspiration from this one.

Furthest point in game: High score: 35,800.

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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