Surround. If you ever had a Nokia cell phone, you automatically had this game in your pocket and most likely played it at least once. If you didn’t have a Nokia, surely you saw one of the Tron movies, right? Hello, light cycles? In the ’90’s, everyone knew this game as ‘Snake’. The first home version of this was on the Atari VCS, called Surround. Unless you had a Sears Video Arcade, then it was called ‘Chase’. It also had some crazy box art that loosely relates to the game. Surround is better than the version on your old Nokia for a few reasons.
– It’s on a TV
– It is two player
– It has a freestyle drawing game: Video Graffiti
Released in 1977 for the then named Atari VCS, Surround was released as part of the original line up for the system. Tens of thousands of people most likely got this along with their Combat pack-in game for Christmas that year. The goal in every variation of the game is simple. Block the other player, causing him to crash, earning a point in the process. Earn ten points first and you win. Each of you controls a colored square that leaves a
snail trail line of light connected string of blocks, similar to Tron. Remember the light cycles? This is where the idea came from. Several variations exist. Some allow the speed to slowly increase. Some allow diagonal movements, and others allow ‘crossing over’ from one edge of screen to the other.
Your eyes are treated to squares. Not squares in the figurative sense, like ‘all pixels are squares’ but no, honest to goodness big, blocky squares. Even the numbers for scoring are made of huge squares. In fact, the entire GAME is drawn with these. Colors change depending on the game variation, but yeah, it’s all big squares. Limitations in the 2600 hardware cause the lines to appear dashed when going vertical.
Your ears will be filled with a constant, drumming, low pitched ‘beep-beep-beep’. It changes frequency as the game speed increases. Oh, there’s a metallic clang for crashing. That’s it. Video graffiti is silent. Like most Atari 2600 games, Surround uses the joystick controller. No need to hold the stick in the direction of travel. The speed increased five times, and you’ll need to have some fairly fast reflexes to get your square to move, but the game is responsive. The fire button is used in some variations to momentarily stop drawing a trail. It’s also used in the ‘video graffiti’ portion to erase or draw.
This is a game that like another early Atari release, Flag Capture, is what you make of it. The AI is fairly average. The first game variation is dull, but the game truly shines in all it’s blocky glory when played by two people who take it seriously. Like most of these older games, without the manual, you might not have a clue what variations of a game exist. Games 11 or 12 are where it’s at.
Strategies change on the fly. When I was little my strategy was to try to mirror my father. Of course, he’d cut me off. Repeat several dozen times. Once I got a little older we usually played the ‘speed up’ variation. The ‘video graffiti’ game is more for laughs and isn’t a serious contender for Photoshop ’77. It IS funny to follow the other player, deleting whatever he draws. Ok, it’s funny to the person erasing, anyway. Looking for something that with two players is surprisingly fun? Want to pretend you’re riding a Light Cycle? Give Surround the Fair Shake!