I remember one Christmas in the extreme early 1980′s where my brother, sister and I were opening presents as my parents sat on the couch and watched. On the smaller couch was a large, wrapped present and I remember asking my father if it was mine. “I don’t know,” he replied. When we were done opening all of our presents and stockings my parents handed the large box to the three of us to open together. Not having any idea what it was, we tore off the paper to find an Atari 2600 in our hands. At the time, this was huge. It seemed like that Christmas all our friends at school and in our neighbourhood got them too, that’s how great this system was.
Some of my favorite Atari games were: Chopper Command, River Raid, Sea Quest, Berserk, Othello (the only game my dad would play with us and we could never beat him at it), Ice Hockey, Pac-Man, Miss Pac-man, The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Arena, Pitfall, Pitfall 2 and, my personal favorite, Spider-man!
The thing about Atari games were, for the time, the graphics were incredible and the game story, while simple, was great. This is years before games were able to save or have complex story lines, or graphics that looked almost real. It was a time when video games, with a few exceptions, had basically one screen, and every time you would beat that screen, you would go onto the next level, only, the level looked the same as before, maybe it would change color, maybe it wouldn’t, but the game itself got more difficult by moving faster. (It was also a time when video games weren’t so violent, unlike today.)
So, for games like Chopper Command or The Empire Strikes Back the same background kept rolling past you as you flew, but the game just got more intense. River Raid was the same way, while a game like Berserk just gave you more robots to shoot at, and who shot at you. It would be Miss Pac-man that took it to the next level that, every time you played a level once or twice, the board would then change, making the ghosts move faster to get you, making the boards more challenging to navigate as you ate the dots and went after the pretzel or strawberry, and got the power pellets so you could eat the ghosts. Pitfall 2 also was a game that advanced game play from the original Pitfall, where as in Pitfall, Pitfall Harry would run through the screens jumping over scorpions, logs, campfires, swinging on vines over quicksand or carefully jumping on alligator’s heads, while you collected silver and gold, but not having much in the way of story concept, Pitfall 2 gave Harry a purpose, to rescue his niece Rhonda, get the Raj diamond, and rescue Quickclaw the cat. The game also has a sound track and little red crosses that were saving points that you would go back to if you “died” in the game. While I myself never beat this game, which did have an ending, my brother did.
For Spider-man the concept was simple enough. You had to climb the building using your wall-crawling abilities as well as spinning your webs, all the while making sure you don’t run out of web fluid. In the buildings windows were the Goblin’s henchmen (or Nasties as he called them) that you could crawl or swing over to get points and more web fluid. Once you reached the top of the building there was a high voltage tower to climb, making it more difficult to shoot your web. You could shoot your web straight up or diagonal and swing if needed, and there were time bombs set to go off. If you diffused one you’d gain points and extra web fluid. If you made it a little higher you would see the Green Goblin himself, gliding back and forth at the top on his Goblin sled, and if you weren’t careful he could cut your web causing you to fall. You’d have to then shoot a web onto the building to save yourself or hit the bottom and start over.
If you got past the Green Goblin at the very top of the building was a little room which to me looked like a shed with a screen door. You had to swing past this to end the level and start the new one, which would result in a new color scheme, a longer building, and a faster moving Goblin.
Parker Brothers designed this game in 1982. What was cool about this game first off was this was the very first spider-man game ever. Though the Nasties, The Green Goblin and even Spider-man looked like a couple of digital blocks lumped together, you really got the feeling like you were playing as Spider-man, and for a kid like me, who day-dreamed about climbing up the sides of buildings like Spider-man or swinging from webs like him, this was the greatest thing ever. Another great thing was the TV commercial. It had a smoky NY rooftop with Spider-man in a cool Spidey pose playing the game as the Green Goblin (in a really decent costume) taunted him and jumped around holding a pumpkin bomb with a sparkling fuse. This TV commercial was incredible (though by today’s standards most likely considered too jokey), and to get to play the game was even more so.
As time went by Atari would release newer gaming consoles that still played their old games, but by the late 1980′s it wasn’t odd to find an Atari for sale complete with a bunch of games at a yard sale or flea market as the latest gaming craze began to hit: Nintendo.
For me though, Atari will always be about playing Spider-man and battling the Green Goblin. It’s one of my favorite Spidey memories of being able to play as my favorite super hero, and he still is to this day.