Review by Joe Santulli



Graphics: 4

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

utopia.gif (2183 bytes)For two years I labored under the misconception that the Atari 2600 was the be-all end-all of video game systems. It was 1980 and I was a young punk high school student who thought he knew it all. Friends of mine had purchased the Odyssey2 to be "different", and watched as not only dust bunnies, but also dust giraffes and elephants gathered on their obsolete Pong systems. Yep, I had made the right choice. It was by chance that I stumbled onto the Intellivision system. A woman whose yard I used to cut every week had a lazy bum brother who always used to be upstairs playing video games. One day I disclosed my obsession with the Atari and she invited me up to play with her brother.

He was playing a game where he had to shoot hostile robots while a spider and some bats slowed him down. Night Stalker. I watched him play for awhile, amazed by the colorful graphics and crisp sounds. I was instantly hooked on the game. We played a few sports games that afternoon, where I played his patsy while he trounced me in Baseball and Basketball. It didn't matter, though... I'd get even later, when I got a job. You don't get paid for playing Intellivision games, you see - a detail he'd never quite understand.

Anyway, the point I'm laboriously getting to is that I took an instant liking to the style of the Intellivision games. I'd play every other weekend that summer there, each time contemplating a purchase of my own. It was about a year later - when Utopia was released by Mattel - that my mind was finally made up.

Why didn't Night Stalker, Astrosmash, or the excellent sports sims do it for me? What was it about this "sleeper" strategy game that made me take the plunge? It's obvious to me now. You see, most people don't buy a system unless they feel it is going to offer "the next level" of gaming to them. There really wasn't anything superior about the systems that were released until 1980. It was all a matter of software. Utopia really shows off what the Intellivision can do, surprisingly. For one, the keypad is actually useful here. The graphics are ultra-sharp, although not very animated. The sound is incredible. There are rushing winds, explosions, rainfall, and some strange "boing" sounds when you're catching fish. Quite remarkable in an era where sounds were limited to white noise.

The game itself is a remarkable head-to-head strategy challenge. You simply have to have a better continent than your opponent in the allotted time (a selectable number of rounds consisting of a selectable duration). You can do this in a civil way, by out-economizing and out-producing him, or you can go for the jugular by sending PT boats to sink his fishing fleet and rebels to crash his buildings inland. Random events occur during each round. Hurricanes travel erratically across the screen, threatening to destroy anything in its path; tropical storms rip up your crops; rain increases your revenue when it touches your harvest; pirate ships sink your fishing boats... it's a fantastic simulation for its time. If you have the attention span of a ten-year old like I do then the simplicity of the game will also wow you. About the only thing missing from Utopia is a one-player option, although you can try to beat a personal high score (population is a good one) and let random events be your opponent.

Utopia pre-dates Sim City and it's "similar in many ways. Certain items, like factories and fishing boats earn cash every round. Others, like the school and hospital increase the productivity of other buildings. The only action you'll have to deal with is the fishing itself, which is just like it is in real life - slow, dull, and completely controlled by the willingness of the fish to be caught. In Utopia, the fishies drift off of the screen, but your boats don't. You have to lug it all the way over to the other side or look for a closer school of the little bastards.

It was a thrill breaking out the Intellivision for a game of Utopia with the Mrs. Our first game was as close as they get. She started out with an "I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone" policy, but after a few losing rounds realized that attacking (and subsequently sinking) my trustingly unprotected block of fishing boats was the only way to catch up. I explained to her the rules of war and reminded her of the treaty that we had verbally agreed upon, when she suddenly responded by sending a rebel to destroy one of my hospitals. I was so proud of her. She truly has "Santulli" in her blood.

Oh, by the way. Get Utopia if you have an Intellivision. If you don't, then get an Intellivision... then get Utopia. My wife is looking for another sucker to play.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 24, 2003 06:36 AM