Atari 2600

Review by Joe Santulli

Parker Bros


Graphics: 4

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

The first thing you should remember about the original coin-op version of Reactor is it's wicked music. Unlike anything in its time, Reactor's attract mode and between-level break did techno before techno was even a term. Listen to it again today, it's still an incredible riff. Tim Skelly's brilliant arcade game also features a trak-ball and two buttons... now how were they gonna do all of this on the Atari 2600?

It's always about improvising, and the really good Atari 2600 ports are the ones that improvise the best. It usually meant sacrificing screens, characters, or features of the original because of the console's strict limitations. The great ones also commonly exploit the system's strengths - in the case of the Atari 2600, a strength is system speed and better-than-usually-heard sound capabilities. Parker Bros.' translation of the game, designed by Charlie Heath, does a terrific job of playing to the console's strength without sacrificing too much from the arcade.

The gameplay is unusual and goes something like this: you are inside of the reactor with a tiny ship. In the center lies the deadly core, which expands over time. The only way to reverse this process is by destroying the control rods, located at the far left and far right of the reactor. The outer walls of the reactor are deadly, however, so the only way to break those rods is by luring and shoving the reactor's various particles into them. You can do this by bouncing them toward the rods or planting a limited number of decoys which lure them as if it were your ship, near them. The core will also shrink if all of the particles are destroyed by the walls. Naturally the task gets harder and harder since the core is expanding, giving you less room to move about. There is also the temptation to bounce or lure the particles into two side chambers. When a particle enters the side chamber it bounces around frantically - each bounce is bonus points for you. So, there a number of ways to play the game and a number of strategies for each gameplay style.

As the game progresses, the core expands more quickly and the particles get tougher to influence. Every other level removes the safe outer wall of the core, putting your navigation skills to the test - if you touch the core you'll be sucked into the center and destroyed if you don't fight your way out of its grasp!

Let's start with that music. Hey, it just wouldn't be possible to recreate the original, but this version has it's OWN techno riff, and it's surprisingly good! Like the coin-op version, I found myself rockin' out between levels when the music kicks in. It's short but it's oh so sweet.

If you've never played Reactor in the arcade, you probably wouldn't even notice the sacrifices made in terms of gameplay. The 8-direction joystick performs admirably here and while clearly lacking the precision of a trak-ball, this isn't a game where you'll feel frustrated with the controls. They work. In fact, you can set the difficulty switches to increase the sensitivity of your ship while simultaneously increasing it's "power" to bump particles around. This "power" is another sacrifice that you may not immediately realize is missing. You see, in the arcade you pressed a button to flare your ship, which gave it a quick boost in power for repelling particles. The 2600 version, lacking this, requires the player to more carefully use decoys and tempt fate by pulling up short of deadly walls. The trade-off is a good one, and you will probably find the home version is significantly easier to get the hang of as a result.

Parker Bros. did a number of great games for this system. Reactor is one of the best and highly recommended by your pals here at DP.

Bonus Material

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

Designed by Charlie Heath. Based on the 1982 Gottlieb coin-op. 1982 D. Gottlieb & Co., Parker Bros. Periodicals: JoyStik magazine rated this game **** (out of *****). Listed as one of the "99 Favorite Classics" by Digital Press in 1997. For a complete list of Parker Bros. games, click HERE.

Advertisement from the DP Advert Gallery (check HERE for the Easter Eggs main page):

Catalog Page courtesy of Len Herman (click for larger image):

Easter Eggs courtesy of Scott Stilphen (check HERE for the Easter Eggs main page):

  • BUG: The sprite-collision detection for the side chamber openings is way off. You can actually move through the first "block" of the side of the opening closer to the center of the screen (see picture). It's also better to enter/exit the chamber horizontally than vertically as there seems to be an area on the other side of the opening that will kill you if you touch it.
  • BUG: While in "attract mode" you can move your ship around. After the game ends, if you move your ship to the top of the screen and get as close to the top-left corner as you can, your ship will bump some sort of invisible thing. By bumping into this "magic" spot, you can earn enough points to get a free turn and continue the game where you left off!


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Last updated: Monday, July 04, 2005 10:04 PM