“Adventure” for the Atari 2600: The Skyrim of its Day
What’s this you say? An Atari 2600 game? Featured as a Completist column? Strange to be sure… However, since the chances of me writing an article on an Atari 2600 game are close to zero, I found it appropriate to bring in my friend Rizzard Core (his real name is Rich, shhhhhhhh) to do the job for me. I’m just feeling a bit lazy this week, what can I say?
All joking aside though, the game he has chosen to write about is one of the most influential of all time. I had very little knowledge of “Adventure” coming into this partnership so it was a joy to read his work and put together his article for 1 More Castle. I guess you could consider this the first true collaborative Completist piece (but let’s use that term loosely, all I really did was the graphics work). The words you will read however, are all his. So with that being said, let’s give Rizzard Core his guest spot and check out his “Completist” take on one of the most important games of all time:
Adventure was created by Warren Robinett and was released for the Atari 2600 during the Christmas season of 1979. Many modern gamers will probably recognize it as being the first (or at least the first popular) video game to include an Easter Egg, and as a matter of fact, the phrase “Easter Egg” originates from its inclusion in this game (see the above reference for details).
Adventure is an early example of a Zelda-style game, where you fight monsters, find keys to unlock new areas, traverse mazes, discover secrets, and search for new weapons and items to aid you in your ultimate goal of returning the stolen Enchanted Chalice to the Golden Castle.
Adventure was inspired by the classic text adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure (another favorite of mine), and was no doubt the inspiration for many games to follow it such as The Legend of Zelda et al.
Now, being that I was only a few months old when the game was released, I didn’t play it until years later…many years later as a matter of fact. I was a Nintendo kid from the beginning, and absolutely fell in love with The Legend of Zelda. Unfortunately, my best friend Mike didn’t have Nintendo, he had the Atari 2600, so I gained exposure to its games while playing them at his house.
I vaguely recall asking Mike if he had any games like Zelda on the Atari, and he introduced me to games like Haunted House, Secret Quest, and Adventure. Although those other two games are great, Adventure is the one that I enjoyed most and always stuck in my mind as being an excellent example of a really good game for a system with limited graphical capabilities (even though when I first saw Adventure played, I made fun of the fact that your hero is a mere rectangle… a fact that is still hilarious to this day and is often made fun of by the likes of Homestar Runner and Robot Chicken). However, I still really enjoyed playing the game despite the poor graphics. Although Zelda games are wonderful in their own right, there’s something so magical and special about Adventure that no action/adventure games that followed it ever managed to capture until Doom was released (yes, Doom, I will explain later).
A few years back, I attempted to play as many games as I could think of or find that were a possible inspiration for The Legend of Zelda, and games that were blatant clones such as Golden Axe Warrior and Spiritual Warfare, or not-so-blatant clones like Neutopia and Secret Quest.
As I began making a list of games to play, Adventure was one of the first that came to mind due to my experience with it as a kid. After playing through it a few times as an adult, I came to the conclusion that The Legend of Zelda was absolutely influenced, if not directly inspired, by Adventure.
I refuse to believe that Zelda was inspired solely by Shigeru Miyamoto’s childhood memories of playing in caves. It is my opinion that Miyamoto drew his inspiration not only from his memories and from Tolkien-esque fantasies, but from board games like Dungeons and Dragons, video games like Adventure, Dragon Slayer, Ultima, and to a lesser extent, from games like Rogue, Tower of Druaga, Hydlide, Guantlet, and probably also from many text adventure games such as Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork. George Lucas will be the first to admit that Star Wars was paying homage to, or borrowing from, other great films that came before it. I consider The Legend of Zelda to be a masterpiece akin to Star Wars, which is why I think it was inspired by a mixture of many great things that preceded it.
I believe that any fan of the original Zelda (or Zelda games in general) will really enjoy Adventure if they give it a try. So if you haven’t played it, you should add it to your backlog of games, or just play it right now! Visit Warren Robinett’s page to find out more. Game programmers and designers should also check out the map there to see some really clever memory-saving tricks!
It is my hope that others will discover or rediscover some of the magic of Adventure that I’ve always found in this simple but excellent classic video game.
Adventure has three Skill Levels of gameplay. Skill Level 1 has limited areas, monsters, and items, and can be beaten relatively quickly and easily (most people familiar with Level 2 can beat Level 1 in under 1 minute). I like to think of Level 1 as an early version or demo of Adventure, and I don’t really recommend it for anyone other than speed runners or very young players that may find the other modes too hard or confusing.
Skill Level 2 is the true game of Adventure, and it is the level that most gamers will want to play and go back to again and again. Level 3 is exactly the same as the second level, except the items, keys, and monsters are randomly dispersed, which can make the difficulty range from easy to literally impossible.
As the hero of Adventure, also known as the “mighty block warrior,” you begin the game in front of the Golden Castle, which only has one room, and is ultimately your destination once you retrieve the Enchanted Chalice (think of the Golden Castle as home plate). Throughout the Kingdom, there is also a White Castle (in case you get hungry…sorry, I couldn’t resist) and a Black Castle with areas for you to explore and items to find. All the castles are locked at the start of the game, so it’s up to you to find the corresponding keys that will unlock each castle. Castles can be locked again by simply passing out of the castle gate with its corresponding key facing upward.
There are also various mazes throughout the Kingdom, including the Catacombs, the Blue Labyrinth, and the Red and Grey Dungeons (although the Grey Dungeon and Catacombs look the same, they are in different locations). The mazes are not too difficult to traverse once memorized, and although your vision is limited in the Catacombs and Grey Dungeon, you aren’t completely blind. It’s similar to casting a small torch spell in Dragon Warrior, or when Link enters a darkened room with a lantern in Zelda. Even these darkened mazes are pretty easy to navigate through and also fairly easy to memorize after playing through the game a few times.
The only way to die in Adventure is to be eaten by one of the infamous dragons lurking throughout the Kingdom. I say “infamous” because it is well known that the dragons resemble ducks, chickens, or basically any kind of bird you can think of. They don’t appear to resemble actual dragons at all (because we know what “actual” dragons really look like). Oh well, at least they weren’t giant rectangles.
Don’t fret if you are killed, however, because you can be “reincarnated.” The act of reincarnation is achieved by a simple press of the reset button. You are restored to life, castle gates and items will remain in their current positions, but unfortunately, all slain dragons will also be reincarnated.
There are 3 dragons to watch out for in Adventure: a mean yellow dragon named Yorgle, a mean AND ferocious green dragon named Grundle, a red dragon named Rhindle (the most ferocious of them all), and a blue dragon named Blargle (I just made that last one up, but it fits, doesn’t it?).
According to the manual, Yorgle is afraid of the Gold Key and runs from it, whether it’s in your possession or not. He also roams around the Kingdom assisting Grundle in the guarding of the Black Key and other items. Rhindle guards the White Key and is the fastest of all the dragons (he can run at the same speed as you, so he can be a real pest to lose, especially when he’s following you through mazes).
If the left difficulty switch is on b, the dragons hesitate before eating you, which was an excellent decision on Mr. Robinett’s part, because if the dragons killed you via simple contact, the game would be nearly unplayable. If the right difficulty switch is in position a, all dragons will run from the Sword. Thus, think of Left b, Right a as Novice, Left a, Right b as Hard, and the other two combinations as somewhere in between (please feel free to correct me if you disagree on this).
Luckily, there are items scattered throughout the Kingdom that will aid you in your quest. In addition to the Gold, White, and Black Keys, there is a Sword, a Magnet, a Bridge, and the Enchanted Chalice. Since you are only a rectangle and don’t have a magical sack like Link does, you can only carry one of these items at a time, which actually adds to the challenge of the game.
The Sword basically looks like an arrow, and it can be used to slay the dragons. I’ve always found it kind of amusing that many players will hold the Sword in such a way that makes it look more like a spear, even though it doesn’t matter which way it is held, as the dragons will die either way when they come into contact with it. Even if you are not in possession of the Sword, a dragon will die from touching it (for example, if the Magnet pulls the Sword through a dragon, or if the Black Bat is holding the Sword and you are holding the Black Bat and strike a dragon, he will die).
The Bridge allows you to pass vertically through thin solid walls so that you can reach new areas (I like to think of the Bridge as a ladder that will bring you safely over the castle walls and parapets). On skill level 1, you don’t need the bridge at all. On Level 2, you need the bridge in the White Castle to access the Black Key, and in the Black Castle to obtain the “pixel” to find the Easter Egg (more below).
The Magnet attracts any nearby metal objects (basically all the other items, including the Enchanted Chalice) via some kind of “Good Magic.” Both the bridge and the magnet are useful in retrieving other items dropped by the Black Bat in hard-to-reach places (honestly, this is really the only time I care about the Magnet at all: when an item is “stuck” behind a barrier).
However, to achieve victory in Adventure (and restore peace to the Kingdom? I don’t know, but it seems to fit), you must return the Enchanted Chalice to the Golden Castle, its rightful home. The Enchanted Chalice is obviously the most precious item in the game, as it cycles through the Atari 2600 color palette!
Adventure may sound like a pretty simple game so far, but the biggest problem is that in addition to the dragons, there is also a monster called the Black Bat (yes, a bat…the bane of every gamer’s existence) that flies around the Kingdom picking up items and replacing new items with old ones, and even stealing items right out of your hands! Thus, remembering where you left your previously dropped items adds a dimension of complexity to the challenge and fun of Adventure.
Although the Black Bat cannot be killed, there are a few “bat tricks” you can use to your advantage:
1) The Black Bat can be locked inside the Golden Castle. This is the best technique for neutralizing the Black Bat and improving your chances of success, because once he’s locked in, he can’t get out.
2) The Black Bat can be picked up and carried while he’s carrying an item. This is also a way to neutralize the Black Bat, especially if he’s carrying an item you are currently in need of like a key or the Sword.
3) The Black Bat can carry a living dragon. Although this is a relatively rare occurrence, it can be a killer or a life-saver. Theoretically, you should be able to use this trick in conjunction with the previous tricks to eliminate all of the monsters from the Kingdom! (muahahaha!)
4) The Black Bat can pick up a dragon that has eaten you and you’ll see how the bat travels throughout the Kingdom. Although it’s not really a useful trick, it’s kind of cool. Many of the neat things that happen in Adventure are transcendent properties of a game with a well-programmed set of rules.
Also worth mentioning is an unseen enemy, the Evil Magician. He (or she?) is the one that has stolen the Enchanted Chalice from the Golden Castle and created all the monsters. You never see the Evil Magician, even in the manual, so it is unknown what he/she looks like.
Many gamers are aware of the fact that Adventure is one of the first video games (if not the first) to contain an Easter Egg, or a special treat for the gamer after he/she completes a series of unusual tasks. Adventure’s Easter Egg can be found by locating an item the size of a pixel that is the same color as the floor (think of it as a speckle of fairy dust or a bread crumb) and carrying it to the room with the barrier southeast of the Golden Castle. If there is at least one object in the room, the player can pass through the barrier and reach a screen with a flashing message that simply says, “Created by Warren Robinett.” Pretty lame Egg by today’s standards. But considering that Atari didn’t credit their game creators at the time in any way, and paid them a relatively lousy salary with no royalties, I think it was a pretty cool way for Robinett to send a message. Or at the very least, get his name in the history books.
Since Warren Robinett quit Atari right after he finished programming Adventure, an official sequel was never really released (although Robinett claims he is willing to program an official sequel if tens of thousands of fans are willing to buy it…).
The games in the Swordquest series (a game series with quite an interesting history), started out as an Adventure sequel, but quickly took on a life of their own. To be honest, I’ve only played the first game in the Swordquest series, Earthworld, and I never really liked it. Earthworld is nothing like Adventure; it’s more like a cross between an inventory puzzle and a maze, and it really hasn’t aged well in my opinion. So you’re not missing out on anything by skipping the Swordquest games (but you should read about its history).
Warren Robinett programmed what he calls a “spiritual sequel” to Adventure in Rocky’s Boots, which is an educational game that teaches kids about digital logic circuits. It’s similar to Adventure in that you control a rectangle that can pick up and interact with objects, but that’s pretty much where the connection ends. Every gamer knows the only good educational games are Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego… so stay away from Rocky’s Boots as well.
In 2005, the Atari Flashback 2 was released which included Adventure II, an unofficial sequel to Adventure that used the original assembly code. The game was programmed by a group called “Curt Vendel and the Square Trio,” (according to that game’s Easter Egg). Since the game uses the same code as the original Adventure, the graphics, enemies, and items all look the same, though the Kingdom is much more complex.
I personally found Adventure II to be fairly difficult, and I never got very far with it (I also hated a lot of the new colors). It’s akin to Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels, in that it is exceedingly more difficult with no significant improvement in graphics or the overall game engine. It’s not as bad as this scathing review suggests [*Editors Note* Rich man, it’s Gamespot, they hate everything Retro!], but it’s not worth going out of your way to play.
In 2007, the same small team of programmers, the Square Trio, released a different Adventure II, but for the Atari 5200 in physical cartridge form (you can buy it here for 35 USD as of the date of this publication). Since this Adventure II was programmed for a more advanced system, the graphics are significantly improved (although you’re still a rectangle), the Kingdom is much larger, and there are more enemies. Although I haven’t played this Adventure II yet (it’s in the backlog, sigh), I think it looks great, and I think it’s our best bet until a true sequel is developed (which will likely never happen anyway).
Of course, there are many other Adventure clones and unofficial sequels available through AtariAge, but I haven’t played any of them (though it would be a fun project to play and review them all).
Although Zelda games are similar to Adventure in many ways, they are in a class by themselves, and thus they don’t quite capture the same exact magic and fun as Adventure does. In my opinion, the next game to do that was, ironically enough, Doom. Think about what you’re doing when you’re playing through Doom: you’re running quickly through mazes, fighting monsters, finding keys to unlock new areas, and finding new items. It’s basically Adventure in 3D with guns. In fact, if you study this Doom clone in the Game Maker SDK, you will notice that you can design levels in a 2D overhead view, and it looks just like any given maze in Adventure (complete with primitive polygons representing your character and the enemies).
Many modern games have kept the spirit of the original Adventure alive without being a direct clone of Zelda. Some that I’ve played include Beyond Good and Evil, StarFox Adventures, the God of War series, Okami, Darksiders, Portal, and I’m sure you can probably think of a lot more games that carry on in the spirit of Adventure without necessarily being a Zelda clone.
What more can I say about Adventure that hasn’t already been said either here or elsewhere? It is an excellent game for the Atari 2600; among the best. It’s a great example for game designers and programmers of how to make a really fun game with limited hardware and graphics. Adventure is, in my opinion, a major inspiration for The Legend of Zelda, and encompasses at its core, many of the things that make the action/adventure game genre wonderful. Adventure conjures up many fond memories for me when I think of it, and I hope that others will feel the same after playing this wonderful game.
Since Adventure is essentially a fantasy game with no music and limited sound effects, you’re going to want something to complement the experience. When I think about fantasy, I think progressive metal and power metal. For a game like Adventure, the cheesier, the better. Here is a list to get started:
Songs About Enchantments:
Rhapsody – Symphony of the Enchanted Lands (from the album of the same name) 4:00 – 6:22, 9:30 – 11:00, 12:05 – end Great music, great vocals, totally cheesy spoken word
Wizard – Witch of the Enchanted Forest (from the album Gouchan)
Enchant – Enchanted (from the album A Blueprint of the World)
Gutter Sirens – The Enchanted Place (from the album Horror Makers)
Manticora – Enchanted Mind
Songs About Chalices:
Avantasia – Chalice of Agony (from the album The Metal Opera Pt. II)
Paragon – Chalice of Steel (from the album of the same name)
Ashes of Ares – Chalice of Man (from their self-titled album)
Eldritch – Chalice of Insanity (from the album Seeds of Rage)
ReinXeed – Chalice of Time (from the album A New World)
NEED TO KEEP LOOKING…SOOOO MANY SONGS ABOUT DRAGONS!
[*Editors Note* Ronnie James Dio – Killing the Dragon (from the album of the same name)]
The author RizzardCore is a mathematician, metalhead, gamer, and general lover of science fiction, classical music, and NJ Giants and NJ Jets football. You can follow him on Twitter @rizzardcore and check out his YouTube channel here.