Invisible Monsters. That name shouldn’t ring any bells for fans of the Golden Age of Arcade games. Until just a few weeks ago in fact no one had heard of such an arcade title. Of course word spreads fast in classic gaming circles. Especially when it’s a rather groundbreaking find like with Invisible Monsters. An unknown 1980 prototype for Bally/Midway’s Wizard of Wor which was released in 1981!
I must give all credit to the exceptional Arcade Heroes site. They are the ones that gave me the heads up on Invisible Monsters. In addition to supplying the image of the prototype at the top of the page.
I don’t think I can properly put into words how exciting this discovery truly is. There are of course a few differences between the prototype and Wizard of Wor. For one thing you have the designs used for the game’s marquee.
Invisible Monsters still sort of has the same art style but instead of the dastardly Wizard. The prototype appears to have focused on the digital avatar of the Player, known as a Worrior.
In addition to the marquee, the maze itself is different in the prototype. It is larger in fact than the one presented in Wizard of Wor. The Worriors are slightly altered in Invisible Monsters as well. With the radar taking up more space at the bottom of the screen than in the 1981 release.
Now having mentioned a few of the minor differences I must point out some of the major ones. For one thing, in the Invisible Monsters prototype, there is no Wizard of Wor of course. Nor are there any variation of enemies beyond what would be called the Thorwor. The most obvious difference however between the prototype and the 1981 arcade classic is the absence of synthesized speech.
Invisible Monsters is certainly a rare find. One that sadly the majority of us arcade gaming fans will simply not be able to experience for ourselves. I am very thankful then the Mad Conservative has uploaded a nearly 20 minute long video showcasing the prototype!
Sometime back in ‘84, during a routine browsing of the video game rack at Kay Bee Toys, I took a gamble on a video game that I had never heard of, but seemed interesting to me based on the intriguing box art and unique description. It was one of the few Atari 2600 games that captured my interest that wasn’t produced by any of the more well-known, third-party companies.
Back then, i didn’t know what third-party even meant. I just knew that most of the games I enjoyed, owned, or at least heard of were made by either Atari, Activision or Parker Bros. Anything else I would see, I would often look upon them as if they were some sort of cheap knock-off, whilst making the “ew” face. Mainly because my experience with most other types of games was rarely good. (Up to that point, at least.) I’ve since found quite a few hidden gems among some of the lesser-known game companies, and i’ll be dedicating articles to each of those as time goes on.
For now though, I want to talk about the first one that really amazed me; Mountain King by CBS Electronics.
Since discovering the magic of emulation, i’ve played all of the titles released by this company, and I still think Mountain King stands above all the rest. The gameplay is a bit more involved than a typical Atari 2600 game, though I wont use the word “complex”. You’re a spelunker, in search of the Golden Crown. You gain points by collecting diamond clusters that are littered all throughout the cave. When you collect a thousand (your score will turn yellow), you are now able to take hold of the Flame Spirit. The Flame Spirit’s location is noted by it’s theme song that you’ll soon hear being played. (This is one of the FEW Atari games that utilized sound as an important gameplay feature, mind you.) The closer you are to the Flame Spirit, the louder the music gets. You CAN see the Spirit, but it’s difficult. It will appear as a yellow flash….or you can use your flashlight and wander around until it appears in the light. It looks like a little fish out of water, jumping back and forth. Once you have the Flame Spirit you can now offer it to the Skull Spirit who guards the crown atop the altar that you can find towards the lower half of the cave. You can clearly see the crown floating above the altar. (NOTE: You cannot get into this area unless you present the Flame Spirit to the Skull Spirit!) When you stand beneath the entrance to the altar, bow down, and the Skull Spirit appears…which bears a creepy resemblance to that demon head that popped out of the closet in “Poltergeist”! **shivers**
Anywho…..once it appears, you may now climb onto the altar and when you bow under the crown, it appears on your head. At this point, you’ll hear a very nice rendition of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” being played out. (It makes for some GREAT suspense!) Your goal now is to make it to the top of the mountain…er, highest peak inside of the cave. (There’s a golden nugget at the highest point, which tells you you’re at the correct spot.) You are timed for this, so be quick. There’s also another obstacle in your way; Bats. Mother-#$%!&$@&*#%#@&^&$% BATS!! You will HATE bats after a few rounds of this game. TRUST ME! They will steal the crown off the top of your head, often with little to no warning or room for you to escape either. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling! In over 30 years, I have STILL never actually made it to the top of the mountain…..er, cave. Then again, after about 2 or 3 tries, I had to turn the game off to prevent a joystick from ending up through my TV screen. Yes…before road rage, there was Atari rage. That struggle was real, folks!
As I mentioned earlier, I had never heard of this game back then, despite the amount of TV I had watched as a kid. However, while doing research for this article, I stumbled upon this commercial, which I never knew existed. It is atrocious….and boy, am I glad I never saw it as a kid, or else I would’ve NEVER wanted this game. This commercial looks like it was put together by a 4th grade Advertising 101 class! (No offense to any 4th graders who might be taking up advertising as a hobby.) Sorry, but when you see other commercials for Atari games, you’ll see why this one was probably swept under the rug after its first airing. If you want to see it, here it is…..but you wont be missing much if you just skip this part. The box art did a much better job!
Now, the whole purpose of this article is to celebrate the fact that this game has just been recently reviewed by my personal favorite Youtube game reviewer, Mark (Lord Karnage) of Classic Game Room. Even better, is the fact that the actual cartridge that Lord Karnage HIMSELF is playing is MY cartridge that I had since childhood. I had recently decided to downsize my Atari cartridge collection in favor of a Harmony Cart. (See: AtariAge). In doing so, I realized I was only gonna keep about 10 of my original carts. Mountain King would’ve have been one of them, but it was the ONLY game I was gonna keep that I hadn’t seen Mark of CGR review yet. I e-mailed him to make sure he didn’t already have it pending, and he confirmed that he didn’t, but also that he had not ever heard of it. The choice was clear at that point. I donated the game for review, and here it is, in all its sentimental nostalgic glory.
There are a few things Mark didn’t mention in his review; 1) The giant spider on the bottom floor of the cave, which will tangle you in a web AND take away either the Flame Spirit OR the crown. It’s easy to get out of the first few times. You just wiggle around a bit, and get out of these as fast as you can. However, upon the third time you get tangled, you’re dead. 2) The treasure chests throughout the cave. They contain large amounts of diamonds which will expedite your goal of 1,000 to earn you the Flame Spirit. They can only be seen with the flashlight though! The drawback is that the usual diamond clusters disappear when you shine it…so you just have to learn to flicker it on and off as you wander through the levels.
The final feature he didn’t mention (probably because he wasn’t even aware of it) was the infamous “Heaven” glitch. Even I wasn’t aware of this until recently, actually! But…it is one of the more well-known and admired glitches in the Atari-era library. I wished I had discovered this as a kid because it probably would’ve been the highlight of that particular month! I would’ve raved about it at school for weeks, getting strange looks from all the kids who had upgraded to a Colecovision or Intellivision. Not that there has EVER been a shortage of strange looks from my peers at any point in my lifetime…but I digress.
In a nutshell, this glitch (or bug) is a “secret” level, high above the mountain peaks, which consists of a dense cluster of platforms and ladders. There isn’t really anything up there to discover. (That anyone knows of…yet.) But it is very cool to go up there by way of jumping a few times upwards and holding the joystick until you land on one of the tiny platforms up there. There have even been accounts of people getting there by way of some secret trap door in the spider dungeon! It was a debated topic several years ago as to whether this area was intentionally put there by the programmer or not, but it seems the general consensus is that it is in fact a bug that was carried over from the 5200 version of the game. Maybe the programmer had intended for there to be more levels for the 5200 port, but just couldn’t finish it for whatever reason…? The world may never know. Here’s a Youtube video of the secret area.
I LOVED this game as a kid, and still do today. I always kinda thought of it as a make-shift “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” kinda game. We only ever got one Indy game for the Atari, but it didn’t play like an adventure game should have, in my opinion. Mountain King was far more up my alley in what I expected when I was in my Indiana Anthony and the Misadventures of Saturday Morning mode. Despite the frustration it can cause, Mountain King still a very fun game to play. My only complaint about this game is that the epic box art didn’t get put on the actual cartridge. Luckily, these cartridges are still fairly ubiquitous on the second-hand market, and wont cost you the price of a vintage, carded Star Wars figure either. So to quote Ferris Bueller, “If you ever have the means, I HIGHLY recommend picking one up.” Happy spelunking, Retroist fans!
I write books and articles about video games and other aspects of popular culture (brettweisswords.com), but in this day and age of angry video game nerds, NES punks and the proliferation of smart phones, that is no longer enough.
As such, my friend Outlaw Curtis and I have started a YouTube show called HoldSquare Nation Video Game Podcast (named after Curtis’s website, holdsquare.com), where we discuss everything from Atari to PlayStation 4, along with various aspects of film, television, and the like.
Curtis grew up on the Atari 2600 and Nintendo NES, and today he runs a global PS4 gaming group called The Reapers. I’ve been gaming since the mid-1970s, and I have a massive collection of video game consoles, cartridges, discs, and peripherals that I use as research materials for my articles and books. And, of course, that I use for fun.
Speaking of fun, Curtis and I have been thoroughly enjoying recording the podcast, and we hope that enthusiasm and love of the gaming hobby and geek culture shines through. In addition to educating and informing our viewers (hopefully in entertaining fashion), we have some laughs along the way.
In this recent episode, we talk about William Shatner, Star Wars, Tron, Dark Souls 3, Ratchet & Clank, and more, including my epic video game-related find at a recent Star Trek convention:
To make sure you don’t miss an episode of HoldSquare Nation Video Game Podcast, and to watch my other videos, check out my YouTube channel, which is simply called “Brett Weiss.”
Released in 1982, “Demons to Diamonds” is an Atari title I acquired during the console’s original release. When I spotted it in a catalog I quickly put it on my Christmas list because I loved the idea of an Atari-style shooter that used the paddle controller instead of the joystick. It should have allowed me to move on the screen a lot faster (which it does) and I thought that would mean that “D to D” would be a much more quicker paced games than say “Space Invaders”. Unfortunately it was not and my constantly recurring issues with my gaming paddles added and compounded my frustration with this sub-par title very quickly.
What stunk about this was that this was a game my Grandmother gave me as a gift and she would often sit on the couch and smoke a cigarette and watch me play games, especially ones she had purchased for me. It was a sweet thing. She wanted to see me enjoy what she could give me and normally I loved it. In my home it was nearly impossible to get anyone to watch me play a game for more than two minutes, but with my Nana, it was easy. She would sit, for sometimes and hour at a time, listening to me ramble about things she cared nothing about as I was deeply immersed in the gaming experience.
This was tough with this title, but I was sensitive enough at the time to realize that if I didn’t at lease muster some enthusiasm, it might hurt her feelings. Which could mean no future audience or maybe even no more Atari games at Christmas. So I played “Demon to Diamonds”. I played whenever she was around and I sung its praises to the heavens. This seemed satisfy my Grandmother, but each time I faked my way through an “enjoyable” session, I died a little inside.
Gameplay for the game is pretty cool (in concept). Demons move across the screen and you need to shoot them. The longer you hold down the fire button, the further your shot goes. Now you need to be careful with what you shoot. If you shoot a demon that is the same color as your ship, it turns into a diamond. You can then shoot that diamond for extra points. If you shoot a demon that is a different color it turns into a canon that can shoot at you. All this sounds cool right? Unfortunately it just doesn’t gel and the result is a game that is pretty easy to understand, but that just doesn’t deliver on the goods.
I recently picked up some new paddles for my Atari and gave Demons to Diamonds another whirl after all these years. Unfortunately the intervening years were not kind to the game and without my Grandmother watching over me, I quickly turned the game off (after confirming my new controllers worked).
Last night I started browsing online and stumbled across the “How to beat Video Games” series entry for “Demons to Diamonds” and while it did not alter my opinion of the game, seeing the strategy for how to succeed spelled out, has made me want to give it another shot. Just to see how well I can do if I focused.
“Demons to Diamonds” was an interesting addition to the Atari lineup that just doesn’t pan out, but if you are a fan of the console or just the history of video games it is worth checking out. So grab you paddles or just fire up the above video and check out the perfect example of a game that sounds great on paper, but just doesn’t deliver in the end.
In 1986 I was the proud owner of an Atari 8-bit computer. My 65XE was essentially an 800XL disguised as a miniature Atari ST and it was my first real experience of home computers. Amongst the many games that I collected was The Last V8 from Mastertronic and, in my opinion, it was the hardest game ever created.
This top-down driving game, programmed by David Darling, had a very basic premise: It’s 2008 and, caught on the surface of a nuclear devastated planet, you have seconds to return underground before your radiation shield decays! In any other car you would stand no chance but in the Last V-8, survival is possible… Maybe!
The game is played as an overhead driving ‘experience’ and is crushingly difficult, or at least it was for me when I last attempted it. You had a single life to navigate the terrain without running out of time, fuel or shield and on top of that, the controls were far from ideal and the viewpoint made it difficult to plan ahead.
Despite countless attempts, I was never able to proceed beyond level 2 of the game and for years, I’ve wondered just how many levels the game had yet to offer me. The answer was ONLY TWO! I made it to the last level and didn’t know it! Thankfully, there is usually someone on Youtube who can show you how… and in less than 3 minutes…
So why would anyone want to play the game, much less try and complete it? For me, the answer was simple – the fantastic music from Rob Hubbard! If you’ve watched the Atari video above, you’ll already know how good the soundtrack is but if you need further convincing, the C64 and C128 version was much much better.
Hubbard’s music can often be found as the basis for a remix or two in the wilds of the internet, and The Last V8 manages to score several interpretations. The “Airline Remix” from Dees Productions below is my favourite. Starting slow and quickly finding a more upbeat tempo, it manages to keep the underlying theme without sticking slavishly to the original.
If you managed to complete the game, or if you played an even harder 8-bit game, let me know in the comments!