Review: Pick ‘N Pile (Atari 2600)

In this review, we find out if things up in the Atari 2600 game Pick ‘N Pile. We find out if this puzzle game is worth playing.

This game was released in 1990.

The goal of this game is to line objects in a correct order up and down (column). A successful combination will eliminate those objects from the screen. Eliminate all of the normal objects from the screen an win the round.

There are certain rules in this game. The column has to extend to the top of the stack. A mere stack of two with other objects on top may not cut it. A column has to also be taller than 1. In the first 19 levels, the column has to be at least two objects tall. Starting on level 20, columns must by at least three items tall.

If players get to the end of the round and have one of a specific object that must be removed, players can press start to force the game to add another random object to the field. The object may or may not be the object you are looking for, but players will eventually get the object they are looking for to eliminate the problematic object and go from there.

The normal objects include plus signs, asterisk-like signs, circles, triangles, and square objects to name some (some I can’t really describe so easily).

Standing in the way of progress is the timer. If the player runs out of time, the player loses a live. In total, players get three lives. Unless earning 100,000 nets a bonus life, lives cannot be replenished. While the timer may not represent a real threat once the player knows what they are doing, it will become problematic later on as rounds take longer and longer to sort through and solve.

There are a few things players need to know about the falling dynamics of this game. If a column is cleared while the game is still spitting out objects at the beginning, other objects from above will fall down after. In addition to this, if there is no object down left or down right from an object, that object will fall diagonally down to that empty space. It is possible for a column to be completed before an object falls, but not always. In addition to this, the field wraps on the left and right sides of the screen. This allows an object to fall from the farthest left and side to the farthest right hand side of the screen. This can be annoying and almost appear to be a glitch, but it seems to be be design for some reason.

One of the few things that actually makes this game easier is the fact that players can swap objects from any location. If a player wanted to swap an object from the bottom left hand side to the top right hand side of the screen, they can do that. Moving an object all the way across the field only requires one move.

In addition to these items are other objects on screen that ca help or hinder progress. A player doesn’t need to eliminate them (in fact, some of them can’t be eliminated at all), but they are there to make things more interesting.

The most common other object is the filled in block. The block cannot be removed from the field, but it can be moved just like a normal object. They can be very helpful in forming larger columns or sequestering harmful objects.

Another object is the immovable rock-like object. They sort of look like crowns in the game. These objects, like the block, cannot be eliminated. The difference here is the fact these objects cannot be moved. They can fall down, but that is all.

Some of the helpful objects are more or less wild-card objects. You can complete columns with these objects. Most of these objects contain numbers like 4, 5, and 6. I’m guessing these affect the score, though I didn’t pay that close attention to them. Another object is the object that looks like an hour glass. Like the blocks, they don’t have to be removed, but it is possible to do so.

In addition to this are bombs. These objects can be eliminated just like the wild card objects. However, what they do is eliminate every object they touch in the process. These objects appear in later levels.

Probably the most dangerous object in the screen are the face objects. They also appear later on in the game. If these objects touch the bottom row, then they will make the timer tick faster. While it’s not a dramatic speed up of the timer, it does make time tick faster. A good strategy is to place them on top of blocks and rocks where they can do the least amount of damage.

The thing that immediately stuck out at me in this game is the learning curve. The game starts off confusing and, even when I started getting the hang of the game, I was always not 100% about everything that was going on. Even after level 22, I still found myself guessing at certain critical aspects of the game.

Another thing is that I thought the concept of wrapping the field was a bad idea. There is no forewarning that this happens. In fact, when I started noticing this behavior, I thought this was a glitch in the game. This just winds up being a weird frustrating quirk in this game.

After I got some of the basic concepts and started knocking down level after level, the game starts going into a boring lull part way through. Small things do change part way through, but the game starts getting boring and repetitive after a while. It isn’t until level 20 where the difficulty jumps that things started getting interesting again. By that time, I knew that when I lost my last life, I’ll probably stop playing the game. The thought of going through all those levels again just didn’t appeal to me.

While I can respect that there is an attempt to create a unique puzzle game, it just ends up being a bit of a flop for me. The learning curve is long and steep due to the oddly complex gameplay. The quirk of having pieces wrap around the playing field is a bizarre choice in design. There are large lulls in the gameplay even after you understand some of the basics and start making your way through the game. Probably the only interesting parts of the game was finally figuring out some of the basics of the game and partly when I got to level 20. Not a game with much lasting appeal.

The graphics are basic. The graphics are very basic. Remember, this game was released in 1990. Compare the graphics to other home console games released on the same year. Some of these games include Adventures of Lolo 2 for the NES, Fatal Run for the Atari 7800, and, of course Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES. The graphics for this game is on par for games made in the early to mid 80s and is released a decade later. There’s no comparison.

There are a few jingles in this game. They do add some level of interest on the audio side of things. Unfortunately, all you get during gameplay is a rather irritating two note timer. This game bombs on this front for the same reasons as graphics – it’s outdated.

Overall, this game was released in the wrong decade. While gaming fans at the time were anticipating what would turn out to be the SNES, this game can’t even compete against games released on the Atari 5200 before the NES even came onto the scene. The learning curve is steep and remains steep. The wrap feature is bizarre. There are long patches where gameplay gets boring. The graphics are as badly out of date as the audio. There are far better games out there released in this era of gaming history, so not worth playing.

Furthest point in game: Lost the last life on level 23.
High score: 98,060

General gameplay: 6/25
Replay value: 4/10
Graphics: 2/10
Audio: 1/5

Overall rating: 26%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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