Steve Cartwright

Atari 2600

Review by Dave Giarrusso



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megamania.gif (2427 bytes)When Steve Cartwright sat down to produce a new 2600 game, I wonder if he ever said to himself, "Okay, Steve, today’s the day I begin work on that new 2600 cart I have to write. Hey, that’s kinda funny. I’m Steve Cartwright, and I write carts." Then he’d go to the insurance office or the bank or someplace where he would have to fill out some kind of forms, and a conversation would ensue that would sound a little something like this:

Banker: "Name?" Steve: "Cartwright." Banker: "Occupation?" Steve: "Cart write."

How many carts could a Cartwright write if a Cartwright could write carts? Five: Barnstorming, Megamania, Seaquest, Plaque Attack, and Frostbite.

If you’ve ever wondered how quickly you could fly a plane through twenty five barns, (how many barns could a barnstormer storm…) then Barnstorming is the game for you. The first game produced by Steve was also the first Activision game I played. While it didn’t particularly blow me away, it’s a fun contest, and has simple, but very adequate graphics. Barnstorming is a race against the clock, where the object is to see just how many farmers you can piss off by piloting your biplane through a predetermined number of open barn doors in the shortest possible amount of time. Throw a few geese and windmills into the mix for good measure and even the Wright brothers’ mettle would be tested. Looking back at Barnstorming, it looks like a testing ground for what Steve wanted to make the VCS do, and how he could make it do it - a good effort for the first time out of the gate.

barnstorming.gif (3577 bytes)After warming up with Barnstorming, Steve went on to produce the mega-hit Megamania for the 2600. Based loosely on Sega’s 1981 coin-op Astro Blaster, Megamania is the Space Nightmare that was every kid’s dream back in the eighties. The premise is simple: stuff is attacking you from the air, a la Space Invaders, and you must blast everything airborne with your cannon before you run out of energy. Unlike Space Invaders, however, the attackers never land, and each variety has a different attack pattern. After defeating the hordes of Hamburgers, Cookies, Bugs, Radial Tires, Diamonds, Steam Irons and Bowties, the player is attacked by a wave of the spectacular Space Dice. Managing to get past the dreaded dice launches the gamer into another wave of the Hamburgers and the whole thing starts again, but with increased difficulty and different colors.

While there aren’t a lot of sound effects in Megamania, the ones that are present are excellent and appropriate. In fact, the sound made when a target is hit, best described as an echoing "boing" on top of a bass drum, is so essential to the gameplay that when it was foolishly left out of the Activision Classics Playstation CD, I completely gave up on the disc. True story.

With the resounding success of Megamania under his belt, Steve moved in a slightly different direction for his next hit game, Seaquest. While the Swordquest (funny, they both end in "quest") series would have moved from the water into the air, Steve went from shooting things in the air to shooting them in the water. In Seaquest, the player captains a submarine that must rescue lost divers and eliminate sharks and enemy u-boats, all the while keeping a vigilant eye on the oxygen gauge. In addition to Megamania’s gauge concept, Seaquest borrows some of the sounds from Megamania and has wonderful "under the sea" graphics.

plaqueattack.gif (2694 bytes)In Plaque Attack, the battles take place in the dark recesses of…a MOUTH! In a game that affluent dentists handed out to patients, in lieu of a new toothbrush, with each checkup, the player must use their tube of toothpaste to shoot down junkfood before it successfully rots all of the teeth in sight. The game always brings a poster from the dentist’s office to mind: "The minute you finish eating your dinner, your dinner starts eating your teeth." While the poster was meant to frighten children into remembering to brush their pearly whites, Plaque Attack prompted them to do the same thing by virtue of being a fun and hip video game. Plaque Attack’s lineage can be traced back to Megamania, but in this contest, enemies attack from above and below, with our ever shrinking toothpaste tube caught in the middle. Great graphics and sound, as well as challenging gameplay make this cart a winner.

Steve’s VCS swan song, Frostbite, challenged Megamania as the most played Cartwright cart in our house. With a decidedly Q*Bert feel, Frostbite became a fast favorite with its flashy graphics and frantic frozen gameplay. As a denizen of the arctic, the player must guide their onscreen persona (Frostbite Bailey, I believe) up and down a screen of four horizontal rows of moving ice blocks in an effort to build an igloo in which to temporarily seek refuge from the cold. He has no time for dawdling though – the temperature starts out at a chilly 45 degrees and steadily drops – if it hits zero, he becomes a popsicle. Killer crabs, clams, and birds, as well as the icy depths of the frozen sea, complicate our hero’s construction effort. Completing and entering the igloo ends the current round and tallies up the points before progressing to the next round.

frostbite.gif (3307 bytes)There are lots of very nice, subtle touches in Frostbite that demonstrate Steve’s knack for game design. After the sun sets in the game, the screen darkens, and a flickering light shines through the open igloo door. Small fish serve as bonus points to the expert marksman, and in later stages, a polar bear arrives to terrorize us. As the game progresses, and speeds up and increases in difficulty, our hero is blessed with the ability to maneuver a bit more while in mid jump in order to avoid the pesky sea creatures. A misstep results in the agonized flailings and screams of a man who knows he has been beaten.

In the 2600’s heyday, we owned each and every one of Steve’s carts, but Megamania was the game most likely to tick off my piano teacher. If I happened to be involved in a particularly enthralling game, (read: going for a new high score) that accidentally happened to overlap my lesson time, she simply had to wait it out while I shouted, "I’ll be right there..." from the other room. I dunno what she was irritated for, she still got her paycheck for torturing me. Today, I can still be found in front of the television set with Megamania, Seaquest, or Frostbite plugged into my VCS, but now, Frostbite wins the popularity contest, and alas, I don’t own a piano.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:17 PM