Review: Mountain King for the Atari 2600
As I was peeling the shrinkwrap from my unopened copy of Mountain King (what a rush!) I made the unpleasant discovery that some ink from the box stuck with it. Undaunted, I plugged the cartridge into my Atari 2600 and started playing. Later, after putting it away, I realized that some of the game stuck with me.
Mountain King is set in a long-lost diamond mine inside a mountain, which coincidentally also contains the Temple Chamber of a forgotten civilization. As the explorer it is your mission to remove a Golden Crown from the Temple Chamber and carry it to the Perpetual Flame on the mountain's highest peak. Flashing lights and sound celebrate success, and another round follows.
The explorer begins each round near the top of a mountain of platforms and ladders, which has a major summit (where the Perpetual Flame is located) and a smaller minor summit. The Temple Chamber (where the Golden Crown is located) is near the bottom of the mountain, roughly beneath the explorer's starting position.
You can increase your score by collecting diamonds (25 points) and treasure chests (260 points). You must accumulate over 1000 points at the beginning of a round in order to have access to an object known as the Flame Spirit. When you stop hearing sounds at 1025 points don't worry; it's not a bug in the game. It's your cue to start listening for the Flame Spirit theme music. The music gets louder as you get closer to the Flame Spirit, which acts as the key to the Temple Chamber.
The player's main enemies in this game are cave bats, a giant spider, and the time limit. There is no way to destroy the bats or the spider, making this a relatively non-violent game. (On the other hand, you are required to plunder a site of historical significance). Rather than firing a weapon, the joystick button activates your flashlight, which is necessary for finding treasure chests. The game ends when you run out of time (most likely) or get eaten by the spider.
The bats, which steal your goods, smack of Atari's own Adventure. They move quickly and appear randomly, so they can be difficult to avoid. And while the bats can't technically "kill" you, the frustration they cause almost can. When the crown is taken away from you near the top of the mountain, you are essentially sent back to "square one". The spider, on the other hand, guards only the lowest level of the mountain, and can easily be avoided simply by not venturing down to that area. But the spider's lair is a good place to find hidden treasure chests when you need points fast.
To summarize, your mission in each round is to:
1 Accumulate enough points (by collecting diamonds or treasure chests) to make the Flame Spirit available.
2 Locate the Flame Spirit using musical and visual clues.
3 Use the Flame Spirit to gain access to the Temple Chamber. Grab the Golden Crown.
4 While avoiding bats, carry the crown up to the Perpetual Flame, on the mountain's major summit.
In the beginning it is wise to focus on your climbing, falling, and jumping skills. The instructions tell you to jump by pushing the joystick away from you (up) at a 45-degree angle to the left or right. For long jumps, which are needed often, I have found it easiest to push the joystick straight up first and then, without releasing, angle it in the chosen direction. It is also a good idea to spend some time exploring the layout of the mountain and planning an efficient escape route from the Temple Chamber up to the Perpetual Flame.
The graphics in this game may not be exceptional, but they are not blocky, and they do have a certain unique charm. Sound is used as a tool rather than simply being cosmetic, which adds a layer of interest. And maneuvering can be frustrating at first but it can also be alot of fun once the basics are understood.
There are some known "easter eggs", or hidden features, in Mountain King.Details are readily available on the Internet, so I will not explore them here. The basic game will be enough to keep most Atari fans occupied for quite a while. This is a well-designed adventure that sustains your interest.
reviewed by Randy
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