Off the Wall

Atari 2600

Review by Kevin Oleniacz



Graphics: 5

Sound: 5

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 7

offthewall.gif (4713 bytes)Dating back to the infancy of videogaming, the concept of hitting a ball to knock out bricks was originally illustrated in the arcades in a game called Breakout. With Off the Wall, Atari improved upon this theme. It was introduced in the late '80's, when Atari initiated a feeble comeback for the 2600.

Solo or competing against a friend, knock out all of the bricks or nail the dragon (situated at the extreme top of the playfield) six times to gain an additional life and advance to the next round. A blackbird soars between the player and the multi-faceted brick wall, acting as a barrier to deflect your shots.

During gameplay, five special tokens fall frequently. Acquire a distinct limited power whenever one of these is captured. Distorted "raindrop" icons can enlarge your paddle, represented by a boy clutching a staff. "Bombs" will allow the ball to take out large chunks of the wall. "Z"'s force the ball to travel in a zig-zag pattern. "M"'s allow the ball to be controlled as a "guided missile" while it obtains magnetic qualities on its return path. Since the latter is the most powerful feature, it's no surprise that it lasts half as long as others. Last but not least is the "?" symbol which will randomly produce one of the four other effects. You can get an extra life or bonus points when you catch the "?", and on occasion it will also immobilize the bird or speed up the ball.

Selectable difficulty and paddle speed round out the remainder of the options. Completing four waves initiates advancement to the next level of difficulty. I discovered that all classic games in this genre seem are also highly addictive. Back when this idea was fresh and original I spent many afternoons practicing Breakout. Some adjustments were necessary to keep up with gamers' growing appetite for challenge and variety. I believe Atari successfully met these demands with Off the Wall. There appears, however, to be a few quirks worth mentioning.

Occasionally, even on the easiest level, the ball tends to unexpectedly speed up significantly and revert to a new angle. As a result, you cannot react quickly enough and the ball zips past you. You have to wait for the score to accumulate when a life is lost or at the conclusion of the round. The graphics are minimal. These include the blackbird and dragon, which could be mistaken for a bat and a worm, respectively if not for the instruction manual's statements to the contrary. In addition, the ball and all of the special items are accompanied by irritating flashing. Gameplay is the most important factor on games like this one, and it outweighs Off the Wall's shortcomings. It is one of the better offerings in this genre.


Go to Digital Press HQ
Return to Digital Press Home

Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:29 PM