Wired posted an article a while back about the worst movie tie-in games of all-time, and , Raiders Of The lost Ark for the Atari 2600 made the list. It feels like I’ve been trying to convince people since 1982 that this is simply not the case, and the quest appears never-ending.
You see, I loved Raiders Of The lost Ark for the 2600.
I played it over and over, found the ark multiple times, and loved the game. I usually agree with people about worst games lists. There are other games on the list I completely agree with (i,.e E.T.…except the 8-bit Atari version which was decent), but not Raiders. Raiders was a fine game. In fact, there are a number of absolutely terrible movie tie-ins for the VCS that were far worse than Howard Scott Warshaw’s Raiders game. For instance, Krull, Porkys, and Superman are at best, no better than Raiders , and probably many times worse (however I’m sure, in-turn, those games have their own fans who hate it when they show-up on worst lists too). Raiders Of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 was a fine game. I should know, I bought it right when it came out, and fell in love with it the next day. I never questioned my $24.95 I spent (a lot of money for a 12 year-old in 1982).
I still don’t question it today.
Back in December 1982, my brother Jeff and I were walking though the aisles of the Great Western Gun Show with our father. We frequented these shows because our dad was a Civil War nut, long before it was en vogue (and then “out-vogue” again) to be a student of American Civil War history. Anyway, not every thing at these shows was ammo boxes and 1865 Navy pistols, as many vendors sold whatever they could get people to buy. Usually this meant plastic storage boxes, knife sets, time shares, and the rare table of comics and trading cards. However, at one table, Jeff and I saw a guy selling Atari 2600 games. We picked through the table, and discovered Raiders Of The Lost Ark for the VCS for $24.95. We were both ecstatic at finding the game. We had no clue Atari was working on a Raiders game for the VCS. The photos on the back of the box made it look fairly good too, which was a surprise after the Pac-Man debacle earlier that year.
We got home far too late to play Raiders the night of the gun Show, but as soon as we awoke the Sunday morning after, the package was ripped open, the game inserted into VCS, and many hours were wasted as we enthralled ourselves into the uncommon adventure that was Raiders Of The Lost Ark for the Atari 2600.
First off, even though the Wired article complains about the graphics, in reality they were fine for the 2600, and in some cases quite good. Indy looked like a guy with a hat carrying a whip. Did you need more? Other items and locations ranged from serviceable to nicely done. Secondly, the game used two joysticks. One controlled Indy. You could move, pick-up objects and fight enemies with his whip and other weapons. Unlike previous Atari 2600 adventures games of this type (i.e Superman and Adventure) you could pick-up and hold multiple objects in your inventory. This in itself led to the feeling of a deep and interesting game with many choices. The inventory is where the second joystick came-in. as it was used to control your items. For Jeff and I this meant we could play cooperatively, with one guy manning Indy and one manning the inventory.
The game itself made a fairly good attempt to capture feel of the movie. You had to find the map room, locate the well of souls, discover treasure, negotiate for items in the market place, deal with raving lunatics, fight off tsetse flies and snakes, throw grenades, fire your pistol, and do tons of other cool stuff. Sure, some of it was only “inspired” by Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but the game was interesting and deep enough to hold my attention for a long time.
The only down-side to the game was the parachute which was used to find the ark in the well of souls and included jumping off a cliff. This made little sense and was immensely frustrating. I must have repeated that part of the game 500 times before I was successful. Still though, once I actually found the ark, the nice animated graphical reward was worth the effort.
So, anyway, I’m not saying that you should run-out and buy an Atari 2600 just to play Raiders Of The lost Ark, It’s not that good, but I am saying that it gets a bad rap in the annals of video game history. It was a fine game that had me addicted for at least a couple weeks, and I never regretted spending my money on it. There are dozens of other games I’ve purchased throughout the years that certainly can’t even claim that much value.
(Originally version posted June 2, 2008)