A Few Reasons to Enjoy the Odyssey2

by William Cassidy

Odyssey2 fans have always had to deal with a lot of crap from the people who play the "mainstream" machines. "Haha, your system doesn't have cool arcade games!" or "Tee-hee, your game console only has one sound channel!" or "Ho ho ho, you spent $39.95 for Out of this World!/Helicopter Rescue!" are just some of the barbs we have to take with gentle good humor. And they hurt, dammit -- that one about the $39.95 cuts to the bone, let me tell you. Yet we persist in playing the Not-quite Ultimate Computer Video Game System because we know that beyond the lackluster educational games and mediocre sound effects, there are some truly good games on this bulky silver beast. Yes, we've learned to appreciate the Odyssey2, and with an open mind, maybe you can too. I'm here to help.

If you're still reading and have NOT doubled up in convulsive laughter, then I assume you're ready to begin. Really, liking the Odyssey2 is not as impossible as you think. Will you learn to love it as much as your 2600, Vectrex or NES? Probably not. Will you at least feel it's worth the $10 you paid for it at the flea market and the few square feet of space it occupies in your entertainment center? Absolutely.

The first step is deciding how you like the controls. Some people like the stock O2 controllers, but some find their base too large and their shafts too small (insert your own dirty comment here). There's quick 'n easy modification that allows you to use Atari 2600 joysticks on your console if you'd prefer. All it requires is a 9-pin port from Radio Shack and a wire-crimp tool (or solder if you want a really sturdy connection). The necessary pinouts can be found here. Just bribe an electronically savvy friend to do it for you if the sight of a machine's innards makes your bile rise. Trust me, this can really help.

The next step is to find a decent game to play. There are exactly 51 Odyssey2 games that were released in America (counting the recent releases of Pinball! and Amok!), and of those, about half aren't worth a second (or first) look. Here I'm talking about things like educational games, the rather mediocre Odyssey2 sports lineup, "traditional" games like Blackjack that are more fun in reality than on the video screen, and utter crap like the aforementioned Out of this World!/Helicopter Rescue!. Hey, every system has its share of garbage, and it's better not to think about it. The last time Sssnake crossed my mind, I blacked out and woke up drenched in sweat with a bloodied butter knife clutched in one hand and a bus ticket to Tijuana in my shirt pocket. Really.

That leaves about 25-30 games in the "you might like them" to the "you'll probably like them" range, which isn't too shabby. Read on for a few of the must-see titles that may lead you to accept the Odyssey2 as a good (or at least a "not terrible") gaming machine. And the best part is that most of these can be had for under $20 at most, and often complete in box at that!

Many people consider Pick Axe Pete! to be the best Odyssey2 game, and I won't argue. Some might call this a Donkey Kong ripoff. They might call Galaga a Space Invaders ripoff too, but they're missing the point. Although Pete was conceived as a DK clone, the finished game doesn't play that way. Yes, there are ladders and Pete does leap Mario-style over rolling boulders, but there are no captive sweethearts or big apes to be found. The point of Pick Axe Pete! is not to reach the top of screen, but simply to survive for as long as possible, smashing up boulders with pickaxes and grabbing keys to advance to a higher level.

Although there's a healthy amount of action to be found in Pick Axe Pete!, a lot of the game is about scoping out a good spot to hang out before making a flying leap for a falling pickaxe or frantically ducking out of the way of a runaway boulder. There's a lot of "think on your feet" strategy that makes this game a great one to come back to again and again. It also has some of the best graphics and animation ever seen on the Odyssey2, which admittedly isn't very strong in the visuals department.

As fun as smashing up rocks in a mineshaft can be, sometimes you just long to smash them up in the cold vacuum of space. Luckily, the Odyssey˛ has you covered -- with UFO!, its requisite Asteroids clone. This one is an arcade ripoff all right, but it's a well-done game that adds a lot to the title it's ripping off. Most notably, your ship is equipped with a rotating shield that quickly recharges after every hit. You need it because some "asteroids" actually home in on you, and the enemy UFOs are vicious. If they get a clear line of fire, they'll shoot you 17 times before you can bat an eye. Luckily in space, no one can hear you swear.

Then there are perhaps the most famous Odyssey2 games, K.C. Munchkin! and its sequel, K.C.'s Krazy Chase!. Everybody knows about the lawsuit filed by Atari because K.C. Munchkin! was too much like Pac-Man. What they don't always realize is how different from Pac-Man K.C. Munchkin! really is. Unlike in Pac-Man, there aren't very many dots in K.C.'s maze, and they MOVE. So you end up pursuing dots while avoiding the pursuit of ghosts. Also unlike Pac-Man, there are multiple maze layouts to choose from, and some of them even have dead ends. You can even create your own mazes by using the Odyssey2 keyboard. Annoyed because that red Muncher always eats you? Box him in!

K.C.'s Krazy Chase! is even more different than Pac-Man, and it never caused a lawsuit, which is always a plus. Here, K.C. pursues a big, centipede-like creature called a Dratapillar. Our fearless Munchkin must eat the tail end of the Dratapillar while staying away from its deadly head. This is made more difficult by pursuing ghost-like critters called Drats. Both K.C. games provide interesting twists on the "maze munch" genre that really can't be found anywhere else. If you like Pac-Man, you'll probably like the games starring K.C. just as much, if not more.

Returning to the "smashing rocks" theme for a moment, let's discuss what may be the most enjoyable 2-player experience on the Odyssey2: Smithereens!. The first noteworthy thing about Smithereens! is that it shouldn't be fun at all. With really simple gameplay and even simpler graphics, you'd probably expect it to be simply boring. But it isn't! Basically it's a simplified version of Artillery Duel where two medieval guys fire on each other's castles with catapults. Pull back the joystick, let it go, and watch the blocky projectile fly! The boulders travel farther the longer you hold back the stick, but the timing is precise, so it's not always that easy to hit the target. For extra points, you can smash your opponent's catapult or the guy manning it. To get full Smithereens! enjoyment, it's pretty much mandatory to have the Odyssey2 Voice module. The screeching boulders and explosions are incredible, but what really "makes" the game are the Voice's inane comments. Lob a boulder into the lake and the Voice sounds out "Alas!" disgustedly. Take out the opposing catapult guy and you hear an almost happy-sounding "Ouch! Help!", as if the poor fellow enjoyed being hit in the face with a hundred pounds of rock. And don't forget the classic line, "Come on, turkey! Hit it!" that results from a clean miss. It's hilariously silly.

While reading this, you may have noticed that many Odyssey2 games are ripoffs of - or at least "inspired by" - popular arcade games. A notable exception is Killer Bees!, which isn't like any other arcade or home game around. You control a swarm of bees and have to sting fast running robots to death by touching them continously. Meanwhile, you must avoid swarms of enemy bees, or zap them with your RoSHa Ray. The action gets fast and furious quickly, and although the robots move according to specific rules, their paths are very hard to predict. Plus, when they die, they leave tombstones that alter the movements of the other robots. This game even has a sort of "health meter," in that you can take multiple hits from the enemy bees without losing your entire swarm.

If, however, arcade action is what you crave, then turn to Turtles, the only licensed arcade translation to come out for the Odyssey2 in the U.S. At one time, this was as close as you could get to the Stern coin-op without plunking a quarter into a real Turtles machine. Now of course, hot amphibian action is available through MAME, but the Odyssey2 version is still worth checking out. It plays very close to the coin-op and it's somewhat easier, which might be handy if the arcade's difficulty proves too much for you. I still consider Turtles to be one of the best Pac-Man-style games around, next to Lady Bug of course. And you'll surely feel a swell of humane pride while getting those baby turtles safely home, the cute li'l dickenses.

On the other hand, you may prefer inflicting mass destruction against your enemies - who doesn't? When the urge to kill rises, I recommend being attacked by the Timelord. Attack of the Timelord! is the best bottom-movement shooter available on the Odyssey2. The enemy ships move kinda like the invaders in Galaga, if they were drunk. While trying to hit these weaving meanies, you must avoid (or shoot) four types of enemy projectiles. These range from straight bombs to homing missiles to really nasty things that crawl on the ground after you. If you have the Voice module, the Timelord appears between waves to threaten you, or offer you a compliment if you live enough. You only get one life, so longevity is not a common occurence in this game. But a fun bout of destruction always is.

There's one more Odyssey2 game I have to mention, and that is The Quest for the Rings. Like the other Master Strategy series games, this one combines board game accessories with on-screen action, and it does it well. Enjoying this game may prove to be a bit of a challenge, because you need to find two friends (one will do in a pinch) who are willing to read a bunch of rules and set up a somewhat complicated game board before they can play. However, it is worth the effort, especially if you're into pen-and-paper RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. The game plays a lot like a traditional RPG, with on-screen battles taking the place of dice rolling. The graphics, like in other Odyssey2 games, are... uh, "quaint," but that shouldn't deter you. Not if you're a TRUE gamer. (Ha! The ego insult trick gets 'em every time! Thanks for the tip, Imagic magazine ads.)

If you start trying these games and find that you really like them, you may be ready to take the next logical step. Yes, I'm talking about intensive psychological therapy. No, actually I mean buying the Odyssey2 Multicart, which contains almost the entire Odyssey2 library, including prototypes and games that were only released overseas. Some really good games are available on the Multicart, including Robot City, Q*bert, Power Lords, and Super Bee. You won't find regular copies of these games without shelling out big bucks, so the Multicart is an incredible value if you're an Odyssey2 fan. John Dondzila sells them at his site.

When all is said and done, you may still not care for the Odyssey2 even after trying all these games. But don't go saying the system sucks until you've given it a fair shake, OK? Maybe you'll even join the ranks of people who call themselves Odyssey2 fans. Please? We're kind of lonely...


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Last updated: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 02:50 PM