Atari 5200: Uncovered, Unearthed, and Exposed
by John Hardie


If youíre a 5200 fanatic, you donít need me to tell you that Atariís SuperSystem sports one of the most impressive software libraries around. While there werenít a lot of games produced for it, the quality and selection of released titles is quite good. But what many people donít realize is that lurking beneath that impressive release list is a whole sub-library of unreleased games that are every bit as good.

Itís hard to understand why many of Atariís 5200 titles went un-published. Weíve actually heard from more than one former Atari employee that Atari purposely did this in an effort to kill the videogame market. While this may seem preposterous at first glance, keep in mind that many of these titles were being worked on or recently completed in mid 1984. Jack T. had just taken over Atari and shelved the 7800 ProSystem while downsizing the company to roughly 100 employees. The Tramiel Atari mantra of ďwe donít do videogamesĒ became evident as the company focus shifted entirely to computers.

Although it would be hard to prove the above rumor either way, there are quite a few seemingly-complete, unreleased 5200 titles around which forces you to wonder. Many of these unreleased games are available on various ROM web sites or our own Sean Kellyís 5200 multi-cart (which he still builds in between mopping and dusting the DP offices).

Below, I have listed each unreleased game with some general info and/or comments about it as well as any recommendations I might have. I hope many of you will spend the time to check out these games, as theyíre some of the best-kept secrets around.

A.E.

Licensed from Broderbund. Similar graphics and game play to the Atari 8-bit computer version except that the time required to draw the backgrounds is agonizingly long. Not a bad shooter if you have time to kill. This definitely wonít be one of your first choices to show off to friends.

Asteroids

Although itís virtually identical to the Atari 8-bit version, programmer Tod Frye claims that he wasnít responsible for this conversion. Like the 8-bit computer version, the game supports up to 4 players in head-to-head or cooperative play. Absolutely unplayable with a standard 5200 stick, which is the most likely reason it was never released. Interestingly, the game was found with an actual production label and a prototype Asteroids controller. Makes you wonder what Atari had in mind. #CX5201.

Barroom Baseball

Not really an unreleased game since itís the same as Realsports Baseball. Original game (RS Baseball) programmed by James Andreassen and Keithen. Surprisingly, the RS Baseball programmers were not aware of this titleís existence. Evidently someone else was tabbed to do the modifications. Noteworthy only because it proves the existence of coin-operated arcade machines with 5200 systems inside. This title is simply re-programmed to include a time limit per credit (.25).

Battlezone

This version resorted to colorful backgrounds instead of the arcade originalís vector graphics. Plays o.k. but is definitely not finished. The game also has an option to use 2 joysticks simultaneously. Most likely would have been packaged with a controller holder like Robotron and Space Dungeon. #CX5239.

Black Belt

Atariís entry into the karate genre. Although it has some impressive graphics and several different rooms, the unbearably slow gameplay/movement, and lack of collision detection make it about as much fun to play as watching Scott Stilphen flex his muscles (unless youíre into that sort of thing).

Crystal Castles

Like the original, Crystal Castles is beautiful to look at. The 5200 version is very well done and seems complete. Unfortunately, it plays horribly (as many games do) with the standard 5200 joystick. You would think this game would adapt to the analog joysticks well, since 360-degree movement usually works nicely with these sticks. A good game to show to your friends if you have a Masterplay or other digital joystick substitute.

Elevator Action

Licensed from Taito. Programmed by Joe Copson. The game still has a little way to go from being complete. It actually seems further along than its 2600 counterpart but thatís mostly because the graphics are more polished and refined. You can even shoot out the lights just like in the original. A lot of fun to play even though itís not finished.

Final Legacy

Seemingly identical to the Atari 8-bit computer version. If youíve never played Final Legacy, youíre missing out on the fun. While not graphically wondrous, this title is heavy on the game play factor. Spend some time with this one; you wonít regret it. #CX5256.

Frisky Tom

This game seems complete and is very playable, but then again Iíd say that about any game that features a girl in a bathtub. Frisky Tom pretty much came out of nowhere. It was never mentioned in any magazines or literature of the time and was quite a shock when it was found. Hereís where we start to wonder why these games didnít get released.

Jr. Pac-Man

Licensed from Namco. Programmed by GCC. A phenomenal conversion of the coin-op game. It figures that one of the best games for the 5200 is only available as a prototype, although its 8-bit computer counterpart seems identical. Tough to control with standard joysticks but plays spectacularly with a Masterplay or other digital alternative. I have to assume that it's complete as Iíve gotten pretty far and haven't found any bugs or glitches. #CX5251.

Last Starfighter, The

Programmed by Gary Stark and Bruce Poehlman. This title went through a name change and became Star Raiders 2; only seeing release for the Atari 8-bit line of computers. Apparently, Atari purchased the rights to Last Starfighter but decided a sequel to Star Raiders would be better embraced by the masses. Seems complete except for the lack of shields, and plays fairly well. Although they couldnít remember how to trigger them, the programmers admitted to hiding a few extras in the game. One of them involves a spaceship (U.S.S. Enterprise?) and is seen near the Sun. #CX5260.

Looney Tunes Hotel

Atari was famous for making full use of the Warner Communications properties (Franklin Mint, DC Comics, Warner Bros. Cartoons, etc.) and hereís a perfect example of in-house ďlicensingĒ. Utilizing the Warner Bros. cartoon characters, this game featured Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and Devil (Tasmanian, I assume). The game seems to be in the early to middle stages of development. You control Bugs as he tries to get the carrots while avoiding the bombs placed around the Looney Tunes Hotel. It gets boring rather fast and isnít much fun to play.

Meebzork

Programmed by Eric Manghise. An interesting adventure game concept that featured 6 different stages. This one still needed some work as it has a few bugs that cause screen freezes, flashes, and crashes. The game requires some precise movements that are almost impossible with the standard 5200 stick. Graphics aren't bad and include a nice 3-D effect on the Phoenix stage. According to the programmer, there is a way to get a secret screen of names, although he doesnít remember how to activate it.

Micro-gammon SB

Programmed by Steve Baker. If you like backgammon (and who doesnít?) then this is the game for you. You need a working 5200 controller for this one as it uses the keypad and fire buttons only; no joystick. Contrary to what you might think the SB in the title does not stand for Steve Baker. SB denotes ďSuper BrainĒ and is one of the IQ settings for the computer opponent. The game is apparently complete although it is rumored to cheat.

Millipede

This Centipede sequel is another winner to show off to your friends. A spot on conversion that perfectly duplicates the features and gameplay of the arcade original. Includes trak-ball support, which is a must if you want to enjoy this game. Obviously complete and waiting for release. And waitingÖ And waitingÖ #CX5248.

Miniature Golf

Programmed by SAB (Steve A. Baker). Although it doesn't stand out graphically, this game is a complete 18-hole miniature golf course. While some may scoff at this title, a miniature golf fan like myself should enjoy it. It's actually not that bad considering how difficult it would be to program any sort of 3-D version. #CX5230.

Realsports Basketball

Programmed by Patrick Bass. Looked good for its time but just isnít a lot of fun to play. The gameplay requires you to utilize the keypad buttons while taking shots, which as you may imagine is no easy task. The game is playable, however, the real beauty of this proto lies in itsí easter eggs. As a side note, we've seen several versions of R.S. Basketball and the easter eggs only seem to work on the one dated 31 Oct. 83. Some years back, I had the pleasure of speaking to the programmer and he told me of the many hidden things in the game. The first thing you should know is that the keys on the keypad correspond to actual telephone frequencies while you're at the Game Select screen. Basically, what this means is if you hold your phone up to the TV speaker and "dial" the number using the 5200 keypad, your call will go through just like normal. The other egg involves starting a demo game where the computer plays itself. At the bottom of the screen, there is a scrolling message that says "5200 Realsports Basketball Copyright 1983 Atari". Pressing the 2,3,4,6,7,8, or 9 keys will remove the word "Realsports" from the message. Pressing the 1 key will restore it. If you press the 5 key you will change the scrolling message into the following: "When Running Into The Tropical Entropy Nightly, By Yourself, Project And Try Reaching Into Circles Killed Because All Seems Strange". Now if you take the first letter of each word and put it together you have "Written By Patrick Bass".

Roadrunner

If you're thinking of the arcade game, forget it. This game is essentially a slide puzzle type game that requires the player to move chunks of landscape around to keep the Roadrunner and Wil E. Coyote apart. Minimal sounds indicate that there was still some work to do on this one. An interesting concept that didnít quite work out. #CX5242.

Spitfire

Programmed by Joe Copson. This seems to be a Zaxxon style game, but with full 360-degree movement and ďCrystal CastleĒ style structures. Itís obviously early on in development although it seems the 5200 controllers could have worked out nicely for this title.

Sport Goofy

Programmed by Leo Salinas. Although it was originally thought to be incomplete, a recent press release found indicates that this game was only planned to have 2 different events. The 2 events play well although it wonít hold your attention for very long. Obviously planned as a kidís title. #CX5237.

Stargate

Licensed from Williams. Programmed by Steve Baker. This sequel to Defender suffers from screen flicker and poor control (with the standard 5200 stick). Itís likely that this title was still a little bit away from release. #CX5219.

Super Pac-Man

Licensed from Namco. This is the title that will put your friends over the edge and cause them to run out and buy 5200 systems and Sean Kellyís multi-cart (which is important since we donít pay him a lot for his house-keeping chores around here). This is a great conversion. Get yourself a Masterplay, Wico, etc. and settle in for some fun. Another complete title that makes you go ďHmmmÖĒ #CX5252.

Tempest

Programmed by Keithen Hayenga. According to the programmer the sounds are ported directly from the arcade version. Plays surprisingly well with the standard joystick. Select a starting level up through wave 81, including the invisible webs. It seems that only a lack of partial collision detection as well as the absence of a few enemies keep this one from being complete. #CX5220.

Track N Field

Licensed from Konami. Seems complete with no noticeable bugs, glitches, etc. You can select any of the 6 events just by pressing the corresponding key on the keypad. Remember playing Activisionís Decathlon where you rapidly moved your stick (joystick that is) from side to side? Now imagine doing that with a non-centering 5200 controller. Not sure if that prevented its realease but it certainly had to be a factor. #CX5258.

Xari Arena

Programmed by John Seghers. Talk about a sleeper hit! This game could be described as a cross between Breakout and Off The Wall, yet thereís much more involved. A little tough to control unless youíre using an alternative joystick. Great intermissions scenes with dancing Xaris and incredible music. A very hard game at the higher levels. According to the programmer, when you complete level 32 (the last level) youíll see a message telling you to send a picture to the Master of the Arena at Atariís address.

Xevious

Licensed from Namco. Programmed by Jim Huether. This excellent conversion of the coin-op utilizes both fire buttons and plays very well with the stock controller. The graphics are translated well from the arcade original. Another seemingly complete title as no noticeable bugs, glitches, etc. have surfaced. If you like Xevious, plan to spend a romantic evening with this one. #CX5246.

So there you have it. Of course, youíre doing yourself an injustice if you donít try each of these titles on your own. Every person is different and while I may think Miniature Golf is a good game, other cretins like our fearless editor, Joe S. think itís garbage. My advice is to get a good joystick alternative (you should have one anyway) and take the time to explore this ďundiscovered countryĒ and formulate your own opinions. A whole new world awaits you brave adventurer. Journey on and I think youíll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

 

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