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!
[Via] Happy Game Family
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.
[Via] Lord Karnage
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.
[Via] Orion Pax 55
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!