Alpha Beam with Ernie for the Atari 2600

I picked up Alpha Beam with Ernie for the Atari 2600 sometime in the nineties. My guess is when eBay first started and I went on a mad Atari buying spree. It would explain how I picked up four copies. The is in educational title target at kids, so I will try and look at this title through younger eyes, while honestly assessing it.

The games is tie-in with the Children’s Television Workshop, makers Sesame Street, and stars Ernie of Bert and Ernie fame. The game was one Atari’s Children’s Computer Workshop (CCW) titles. CCW games mostly featured other Muppet characters, but they also made games with Mickey Mouse and Snoopy.
Alpha Beam with Ernie was programmed by Michael Callahan with graphic work by Preston Stuart.

You played this game with the Atari Kid’s controller, which was this big blue keypad controller I also picked up in the nineties. I cannot say that the controller enhances gameplay. Nothing on this game couldn’t be done on a joystick, but I guess they needed keypad titles.

The gameplay on Alpha Beam with Ernie is dead simple. You control the Alpha Beam and need to take letters and put them in the proper slot on your spaceship. To do so, you move the alpha beam next to a letter and engage the letter to transport it to the other side of the Alpha Beam, then you simple move to a slot on your spaceship that matches that letter and hit the button to put it in that slow.

To clear a board, you just repeat that until you have filled all the slots. Once you have done it, that is when the game really shines. Each time you fill a spaceship, the game gives you a cut-scene. In it your spaceship takes off and flies to a planet. Then it “beams” down a very tine Ernie who waves at you.

After that you repeat the process.

The graphics on this game are impressive. Very cleanly done, things look really nice. The Spaceship is amazing and the letters are very legible. The game has a splash screen at the start, with the title of the game and the cut-scene, by Atari 2600 standards, is spectacular.

Sound on the game is also good. With nice audio for the game mechanics and cut-scene, but also a little musical cue.

Unfortunately, the game just isn’t enjoyable. It is repetitive, requiring little to no skill. I imagine this game was created to teach kids about letters, but I think if a kid is sophisticated enough to grasp the dynamics of this game, they could embrace slightly more challenging gameplay. When the game does get slightly more challenge, it is only by adding different letters.

The game also has a cooperative 2-player mode, but I think that is only useful if you were interested in boring two children at once.

This is pretty great looking game, unfortunately the gameplay is just non-existent. The charm of the cut-scenes and well-done graphics just can’t make up for that. So if you are looking for a game for your toddler to try on the Atari 2600, you could let them try Alpha Beam with Ernie, but they will figure it out very quickly and you will be needing to pick out another game for them very quickly.

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The Retroist

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