On February 1, 1983, Activision released Enduro for the Atari 2600. A month later, I would be in Toys R Us, trying to pick out a brand new game and settled on Enduro. The timing was perfect, I was just starting to get enamored with racing games and my stock in Activision was at an all time high. It would turn out to be a great purchase.
In Enduro, you take take the wheel of a car in an long term endurance challenge race. The premise is simple. You just need to pass a certain amount of cars each day. The number of cars is in the hundreds, which might seem huge, but they will move by very quickly and often in groups, so that car countdown can move fast. As the days pass, the numbers of cars you will need to pass will go up. But the real challenge is as the day progresses.
You start off with clear roads and complete visibility, but that quickly changes. The road will get snowy, reducing your ability to control your car. Then you will switch to night driving, there you will only have the headlights of the other cars to avoid. Finally here comes the fog. During foggy night racing, not only do you only see headlights, but visibility is cut in half.
The graphics are simple, but very effective. The cars are clearly cars and the road twists and turns towards a vanishing point. But it is the little details that make the game great. They have beautiful backgrounds with simulated sunsets and sunrise, the snow driving is a majestic blank white sheet and the night driving is a game of dodging beautiful evocative red taillights. Which is terrifying and stressful in the fog. Which make the sunrise all the more welcoming and beautiful.
The sound is surprisingly complex for an Atari 2600 game. You have the grinding roar of the car that is altered with braking and terrain. As you dodge cars you get the audio sensation of movement and on the snow, the tires are eerily muffled.
Controls are dead simple. Move your car with your joystick. Pull back to break. Push the fire button to accelerate. It is a true test of you hand eye coordination at its finest and the name of the game is apt, in that it quickly becomes an endurance game. Can you be patient? Can you stay focused? Can you make it just one more day?
I got pretty good at Enduro. On the second day I owned the game I was able to reach day 5, which was enough to qualify me for the Activision Roadbuster patch. For those not lucky enough to play Activision games in the eighties, they had a program where you would take photos of you score, send them in and they would send you a patch. Unfortunately, I could never get a photo of my screen and didn’t know that even if you took a lousy photo, they would send you the patch.
Enduro is a top 5 game for me on the Atari 2600. It is by far my favorite racing game for this system. Easy to play and well made by the great Larry Miller (who also made Spider Fighter), this game has a surprising amount of depth. So if you are firing up the ol’ Atari 2600 tonight, why not take Enduro for a spin.
Enduro was also released on the ZX Spectrum in 1984. I only played it recently on an emulator and the game play is very similar, but I have to say, overall I prefer the Atari 2600 version. The sounds and graphics just come together better on that console.
The one thing I do like on the ZX Spectrum is the almost spooky red and black night driving screens.
Want to learn more about Enduro? Check out the National Enduro Rules and Regulations that came with the Atari title. Activision really did a great job on this one. Worth looking at just for the “Romance of Racing” map.