Monday, December 12, 2011

Video game of the week: Video Pinball for Atari 2600

Since 1978 there have been several games from the Atari company with the name of "Video Pinball," but the one that usually comes to mind for gaming fans is the 1980 cartridge released for the Atari 2600 home video game console.

The Atari 2600 cartridge simulated a pinball game on your television screen, and it worked quite well. Admittedly it was not much to look at with that dominant but flat blue coloring and the blocky graphics, but it was a thrill to play and even include an onscreen ball that followed the physics of a pinball, bouncing and rolling around the screen. Everything else you would expect in a pinball game was also included, such as bumpers, flippers, spinners and a shooter.

Playing with a simple joystick and only one button to push might appear to make this a tough game to play, though it was anything but. Moving the joystick left and right controlled the flippers, while pulling the joystick back and hitting the button would launch the ball from the shooter onto the playing field. Also, once the ball was in play, the player could nudge the ball on the screen by holding down the button and jiggling the joystick; however, too much of that could lead to a tilt, and tilting meant a dead ball and a dead screen, ending that ball's round.

Extra points could be scored by taking out some diamonds at the top of the screen, and extra balls could be earned by your ball hitting the onscreen Atari symbol several times. With a little practice, a player can keep a single ball going onscreen for a very long time, practically forever. Learning the tricks of nudging were quite important for longevity of play.

Though Video Pinball doesn't look like real pinball, one of its best aspects is it is easy to learn and not too difficult to master, all while having great replay possibilities. More than 30 years later, this is still a favorite game of many Atari 2600 enthusiasts, so much so it has been released for modern PC computers, the XBox 360, and even the iPad and iPhone.

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