Robert Smith

Atari 2600

Review by Joe Santulli



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I grew up having TWO Robert Smiths to look up to. There was the Robert Smith who played front man for the pre-Goth alternative band The Cure, and there was the Robert Smith who designed some superb titles for the Atari 2600. The main difference between these two fellas is that one Robert Smith makes you want to brood in a dark corner, wishing you were with a woman that doesn‘t exist, while the other Robert Smith makes you want to save the world. The fact that I admired both of these Robert Smiths equally all of those years is probably the reason why I’ve become such a confused adult.

You know his games. Dragonfire. Moonsweeper. Riddle of the Sphinx. Video Pinball. Star Wars Arcade. He did them all for the Atari 2600, and there isn’t a gamer out there that hasn’t’ marvelled at each of these titles in their day.

My favorite Smith game is Riddle of the Sphinx. You don’t hear people often talking about this one, and that’s surprising. It is essentially an early action-based role-playing game. You’re the prince of Egypt, setting out into the desert wild to defeat the evil god, Anubis. Along the way, you will encounter treacherous thieves and deadly scorpions. There are palm trees and obelisks that act as protection or obstacles, depending on your situation. There are pools to replenish your energy, and treasures hidden inside of temples. Traders may screw you in many deals – or really come through with a useful item. And there are a bunch of different items. The game is very deep, requiring not only resourceful inventory management and patience, but a pretty accurate trigger finger as well. The graphics are excellent, although the desert isn’t a hard thing to draw. There aren’t many sounds in the game either. Still, the result is a game that captures the feel of the desert, a remarkable accomplishment.

Far more popular in the Robert Smith gallery is the multi-platform hit Dragonfire. This is quite a different style of game, requiring lightning fast reflexes. In the first screen, you storm the castle gates. Well actually you just run head-on towards them. Fireballs approach from high and low and you’ll have to duck and jump to get past them. In other versions of the game, an archer fires arrows from above as well, but the Atari 2600 had limitations that Smith dealt with rather nicely. Once you’ve entered the castle, it’s mano-a-dragon as you race around the room collecting treasure while a fire-breathing dragon does his best to torch you. Once all of the treasures are collected, an exit appears. Get there, and you’re off to another castle gate, this time a bit faster than the one before. Eventually, fireballs come at you so fast that you have to play the game on raw instinct. I like that. I also like the game’s graphics and sound, which like Riddle of the Sphinx are simple but perfect for the game.

Moonsweeper is a combination shooter and rescue mission. You pilot through deep space searching for a moon to land on while avoiding space debris. There’s a really innovative "zoom in" to the moon surface when you land that I remember being a jaw-dropping effect at the time. On the surface, you have to drift over people while navigating around pylons and enemy saucers. Another innovation was the ability to fire ahead or into the sky to knock out the mother ship that continually drops those enemy saucers. And once you’ve rescued the quota of people you have to reach maximum velocity to escape the moon’s gravity. Really cool stuff!

He may not be able to sing "Just Like Heaven" like the OTHER Robert Smith, but this one really made the Atari 2600 sing, and that’s quite a feat indeed.


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Last updated: Sunday, September 26, 2004 12:03 PM