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Halo 2600 for the Atari 2600
Since owning my first Atari 2600 I have owned many systems. Most recently, I have been an Xbox owner. A lot of people I know bought the system to play Halo. Not me, I received mine as a Xmas present and just enjoyed the system right away. With backward compatibility being what it is, I moved over to the 360, and I have been pretty happy with it. I guess you can say I am pretty casual with the current-gen systems. In fact, I am totally oblivious to when new versions of big games like Halo come out, I usually just prefer to play the simpler XBLA stuff. But now a new version of Halo is on the horizon and I have finally decided to take the Halo plunge — not with Halo: Reach of course, but instead with Halo 2600.
You heard me right, a newly published title for the Atari 2600, based upon Halo is out, and it is 4K of pure magic.
In the game, you take the role of an impressively pixelated Master Chief and make your way through 64 levels of run and gun action. Along the way, you will find yourself surprised with the complexity of the game and the tension you will feel as you confront all the enemies you will face in this well-designed “port”. Before I get into why the game is so good, I should tell you about the game’s biggest problem — it isn’t available. Well, it is, but only in limited supplies and only at the Classic Gaming Expo (which is going on right now).
So unless you are there or happen to own a Harmony Cart or its equivalent you will need to emulate the game. I am not sure if you will find it as satisfying via emulation, but I don’t see why not, so if this review tickles your interest, download the game for yourself and give it a try.
Okay now that is done, here is a shopping list of why you should play the game:
Title Screen with music
Impressive Atari 2600 sounds
Randomly Spawned enemies
Variable sized enemies
Honest to goodness power-ups
64 count em — 64 levels to conquer
A form of progress tracking
A boss battle unlike anything you probably have seen on the VCS
If you don’t mind emulation — it is FREE
I spent about 5 hours playing the game last night and played another 2 hours this morning. Each time I played it, I felt the same tension as the game before, and it took me back to when new games didn’t have autosave and required a true learning curve. I could not be happier!
Now for the Part where I talk about gameplay and the Learning Curve…
At first, I had to figure out how to move around from area to area. Which requires that you find a key. While doing that, I kept thinking, why can’t I shoot these guys! About 30 seconds later, I figured out why — I had not found my gun yet. When I did that, I started learning how to handle the gun and learned the speed and aim of my trusty 8-bit shooter.
Right when I was feeling comfortable with it, I found an even more powerful gun. This made life a whole lot easier, which is good since the enemies would become more elite and combat would be further complicated by the terrain. Not just the barriers, but the actual ground. I am talking ice boards here, people – slipping and sliding! They add an interesting layer, but if you watch your control you should be fine — it is not as crazy as I ice on other systems, but I challenge you not to smile when confronted with simulated ice on a VCS title.
So if you keep collecting keys, powering up your weapons, and picking up shielding you should be able to make it through the game and reach the boss. I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s just say, it is probably the truest boss fight you will find on the Atari 2600.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a retro title, but it is for a retro system, using the limitations of that system. It is a remarkable VCS title and I daresay that if it had been released back in the 1980s it might have been as popular as the original Halo was on the Xbox. Even while writing this, I am just thinking about playing again, and to me, that is reason enough for this game to receive a richly deserved 5 out of 5 stars.