Atari 2600

Review by Joe Santulli

Videa/20th Century Fox


Graphics: 6

Sound: 5

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 7

I've got a story for you.

Days before Classic Gaming Expo 2004, a previously unreleased and unseen prototype of the game Meltdown appeared in a game shop in Las Vegas. Word gets around quickly in the gaming community, and your agile and diligent friends at DP were on the case right away. Senior editor John Hardie put in a call to the game shop and spoke to the proprietor. As it turned out, there were some problems with the EPROM (the chip that contains the game data). The owner believed that he had inadvertently inserted this chip into the circuit board backwards and "blew it" when he powered up the system with the board plugged in. Somewhere in this process one of the pins on the chip was knocked off as well. There was also no real proof that this game WAS Meltdown - other than the fact that a handwritten label on the cart shell said so, no one had seen it in action. Needless to say, the proposition of restoring this vs. the price of the purchase were lopsided at best, and John stopped his pursuit.

Later that day, John received a phone call from the store owner. Someone else had turned up at the store, and was willing to shell out some major cash on the game, sight unseen. There was no haggling, and there was no counter-offer.

As of a day or two prior to Classic Gaming Expo, the buyer still could not get the game to work. It seemed that a combination of a destroyed pin and some corrupted code would take a significant effort to restore. We really weren't surprised.

So now IMAGINE the surprise when John, Sean Kelly and I, organizers of the Expo bump into a co-owner of the game's original code, Howard Delman of Videa, at the event... and he has the game with him! You know our deal - we're going to try to rescue any game from the depths of gaming obscurity and present them to the community. This was no exception, and after a fair purchase, Mr. Delman also presented us with another (to be revealed) Videa title.

When we returned from CGE we posted the binary for Meltdown on the site here. Besides getting a really good and practically unknown game into the community, we hoped the code would also assist the other purchaser's quest to restore that damaged EPROM. Though a month later that doesn't seem to be the case, at least the game is "out there" for everyone to play.

So what about the gameplay? Unlike many of the unreleased games of the era, this one is really worth playing. It's essentially a hunt and shoot game, where you control a crosshair via an X-axis (move the joystick left and right) and Y-axis (up and down) and press the fire button while an erratic "quark" particle hops from atom to atom, wearing away its defenses. Hence, if you do not shoot the quark, it damages the atom it vacates. When an atom is destroyed it begins to pulsate and flash. If all of the atoms are destroyed... it's MELTDOWN!

With each successive level, the quark moves faster, making it more difficult to align your crosshairs. It's the simple premise of most classic games - the game doesn't end until it beats you. Ahh, sweet classic gaming bliss.

You can see by the screenshots that there isn't much to look at, but screenshots do not do the game justice. The 16 core circlets are brimming with color and the particle and its explosions are bright and very smooth. There's no flicker and no slow-down. If you've never experienced epilepsy, a screen nearly full of damaged cores, pulsating in size and color should do it for you. There aren't a whole lot of sounds, but what's here is effective and not distracting - leaving you and your reflexes to the task at hand.

Want to play it for yourself? Grab the game HERE. If you don't have an emulator to play it with, start HERE.


Bonus Material

Game Info from the DP Online Database (check HERE for the Database Search page):

Designed by David Ross. Shown at the 1983 Winter CES; later discovered at CGE2K4 and released by DP in 2004! According to programmer Howard Delman, the game was completed at Videa (under the name Atom Smasher), but after deciding not to produce it, sold it to 20th Century Fox. They renamed it Meltdown, but also chose not to release it, and instead sold it to Atari (who- surprise, never released it). Since Videa received $ each time it was sold, this was probably the only unreleased title that actually made $! Uber historian Leonard Herman notes Cumma Technology used Meltdown (under the name Atom Smasher) with their MetaWriter display at the same show! The description of the game in 20th Century Fox’s CES press kit reads: “Watching the screen that monitors the reaction core, you notice something odd, an atom is beginning to throw. Uh oh, this means trouble! Closer inspection reveals a deadly Quark racing through the core agitating the atoms. It has to be stopped before it causes a chain reaction of exploding energy! You must line up the Stabilizing Emitter and fire cadmium rods at the hot spots. Hurry, the action is really heating up in there. The Geiger Counter is clicking at a frantic pace. Already the monitor is lit up with furious pulsing action. This is your challenge — you must meet it or MELTDOWN!”. For a complete list of 20th Century Fox games, click HERE.

CES Flyer courtesy of Len Herman (click for larger image):

Receipt/Instruction card courtesy of Len Herman (click for larger image):


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Last updated: Saturday, September 25, 2004 02:19 PM