Review: Space Dungeon (Atari 5200)

In this review, we set out for space exploration in the Atari 5200 game Space Dungeon. We find out how well this survival game plays.

This game was released in 1983. It is a port from an arcade game.

You play a space ship (more like a flashing oval object) and explore a space dungeon. In this dungeon, there are various treasures thrown about. Collecting these treasures is great, but the ultimate goal is to collect the bonus capsule. If you collect the bonus capsule, you’ll warp to the next level deeper into the dungeon.

Along the way, you’ll encounter various enemies. Some require a single shot while others require multiple shots. On level 2, there is also an indestructible thief. While you can’t kill this thief, you can force the thief to drop all the treasure. This only requires a single shot and can be worth a sizeable bonus.

The thing to remember is that you are operating on a one hit die system. If you get shot or touch an enemy, you die.

This makes the game particularly challenging as you can stumble onto rooms that have enemies on all four corners shooting lasers at you. While they do shoot at random, this can wind up with fatal results much faster than anticipated.

Other times, rooms will simply have a bunch of enemies that are capable of just boxing you into a corner and killing you anyway.

In some levels, you’ll even encounter enemies that fire multiple shots on death. If you happen to be too close, a kill can end your life almost instantaneously.

If you are familiar with the duel controller system of Robotron 2084, then you’ll at least be somewhat prepared for this game. One controller moves the ship while the second controller fires your laser weapon. Some people seem to suggest that this often confusing set up can be overlooked by other features, but I disagree. It gives the game a much larger learning curve in spite of the easy to understand User Interface (UI). You have to concentrate both on your ships movements and where you are firing at the same time. For some players, it’s impossible to really ever get fully comfortable with this set-up.

Another problem I have with this game is the luck involved. I get games where you can embark on some risk to get bigger rewards. What I can’t really enjoy is games that require a certain degree of luck just to survive for more than 30 seconds. Part of the problem here is the enemy spawning locations. Sometimes, you enter into another room. Where your ship spawns also happens to be the spawn location of an enemy. By the time the room loads, you are dead. There’s no skill or predictability with this. You just enter a room and hope the game didn’t spawn you over an enemy.

Other times, you spawn in a room and don’t have time to react to enemy fire. In the flash of half a second, you could enter a room with those four laser shooters. Before you have a chance to assess what is happening in the room, you are shot and the game is giving you the dying animation. I found this to be annoying more than challenging.

That’s not to say there weren’t great ideas built into this game. One great idea is the fact that you gain a free life for every 10,000 points. It always seemed to be a bar just out of my reach to become a viable survival mechanism, but I knew that if some players manage to put together enough time and effort, it could be possible to utilize this as a way to lengthen their stay in the game.

The interface is easy to understand. You have a high score and a depth counter. A great way to track how well you did in two different ways. The map is also particularly helpful. It is mainly to help me figure out where the exit is, but I could get other helpful information off of it after a bit of trial and error. An “X” indicated that I died in that room (and I likely dropped treasure there if I dared to go back). Solid red rooms indicate enemies. Red squares indicate no enemies were found. Blank rooms mean that I haven’t been there yet. This feature definitely earns a thumbs up from me.

While the treasure feature wasn’t immediately clear to me at first, the interface did do a great job indicating that the collectibles meant something. It took little time to determine what the side-goals are in the game. the interface shows the treasure on hand and counts them up once I left the level. A system that gets a thumbs up from me.

In between levels, the game sometimes drops hints as to what’s in store. I don’t think it gives very strong hints after telling you about the thief, but there are hints that drops between levels.

A lot of the problems with this game revolve around the spawning of enemies. If the game offered a frozen second to allow players to at least react to what is happening in the room, the problems would be minor. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t offer that, so when I got farther along in the game, it felt more like a luck thing than a skill thing. ON some runs, I didn’t even make it to level 2. Other times, I was able to get to level 4 with all three lives intact. I felt it was a luck thing, not a skill thing.

Generally speaking, this game had a lot of great easy to understand interfacing going on. It’s easy to assess where you are in the game, what you had to deal with, and what you needed to do. You can easily figure out the reward system fairly quickly as well. The downsides of this game include controls and enemy spawning. The controls are extremely complex as you are using two controllers at once. Some people will never get used to a set up like this. The locations of enemy spawning means that you are relying on luck more than skill. As a result, you just randomly die along the way. This might be an easy fix, but the game never solved the problem.

Graphically speaking, this game isn’t bad. The ship left a lot to be desired, but the dungeon itself wasn’t bad. The enemies were alright. The interface was well thought out. The bonus capsule left a lot to be desired, though. While this game is still above average, I wouldn’t call it great necessarily.

There is really no music to speak of, but the sound effects were pretty decent. The alert sounds weren’t bad and the different firing sounds worked pretty well. A decent job all around.

Overall, this game isn’t the flawless amazing game I was led to believe by others. It doesn’t mean it is a bad game as there are plenty of things it has going for it. The interface, level system, and reward system is all very easy to follow. It’s unfortunate that there is a clunky control system and a spawn system that forces the player to rely on luck more than skill for success. The graphics had their hits and misses, but it was pretty good. There was no music, but the sound effects did leave a positive impression. A fairly decent game all around.

Overall
Furthest point in game:
Depth: 5
Score: 30,845

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 72%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.