Game Chambers

Review: Secret Quest for the Atari 2600

 

In Secret Quest your goal is to destroy a series of hostile alien space stations. To destroy a station your space-suited character must activate a self-destruction mechanism and escape before it detonates. But first you have to uncover its secret destruct code. One piece of the code (a symbol) is to be found on each level of a station. If you enter the correct code into the self-destruction mechanism and reach the teleporter before the countdown ends you will escape to the next station in the series.

energy sword

There is an alien of some kind almost everywhere you turn. These creatures won't follow you out of their assigned rooms, however, so encounters are predictable and "sprite flicker" is non-existent. If you wipe out every creature as you progress you can sort of see where you've already been because the rooms will be empty when you return. You receive points for defeating creatures, but points are not as valuable as the items that get left behind.

 

You need two commodities in order to survive: oxygen and energy. Oxygen is most precious because the game ends if you run out of it. Bumping into a creature will consume some of your oxygen or some of your energy. Oxygen seems to get consumed in larger portions, however. Your own breathing also uses oxygen at a slow but steady rate. When you defeat an oxygen-sucking creature you are typically rewarded with an oxygen bottle. Likewise, the elimination of an energy-sucking alien typically produces an energy pod. Energy is important because weapons will not function without it.

Each space station has one or more levels, each consisting of 16 rooms (see maps). In the first few stations the room where you enter the destruct code is located on the lowest level, as is the teleporter. You'll want to locate the teleporter before you input the code because you'll have to exit quickly. Once the countdown begins all remaining aliens disappear, clearing the way for a healthy sprint.

 

You can change levels within a station by way of stairs or sometimes by way of sonic door. Stairs that lead down are green while stairs going up are purple. Sonic doors, which are not pictured in the instruction manual, look similar to teleporters so don't be fooled. When changing levels you typically arrive in the room directly below or above the one you left. The walls become a shade darker with every level you descend.

After space station number two you will almost certainly need a map in order to complete your mission. For that reason you will want to keep a pencil and paper on hand, which you will also need for jotting down pieces of code as you find them. Don't miss your chance to grab the sonic blaster in station number three. Although it is a "firing" weapon, I recommend wielding the blaster like the close-range energy sword from station one. This is because it doesn't project very far, and if you try to fight from a distance you'll waste energy.

 

Moving the Color/B&W switch back and forth allows you to view the status screen. This screen shows you which of the eight stations you are in, which level of that station you are on, and what your active object is. Pressing the fire button allows you to change your active object. The status screen also shows you twelve symbols that will let you to return to the game at a later time. Pressing select on your Atari console allows you to enter code to continue a previous game, but this only works in the first room of station one.

Secret Quest has some of the best graphics I've seen in an Atari 2600 game. Not only are objects rendered in multiple colors, but in some cases (such as Potato Man and Squid) subtle shade variations are used. And some animated creatures (such as Machine and Spinner) cycle through three or more shapes, rather than the typical two that you might expect. The sounds of the game stand out as well, with an odd mechanical soundtrack and other noises to match. The sonic blaster is worth firing for its springy sound alone!

 

This is a meticulously crafted adventure game with a high level of replay value. Unfortunately, the complexity of the game is not reflected in its simple instruction manual. This just leaves the player with more to discover, however, and discovery is what makes an adventure game exciting.

 machine

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reviewed by Randy

2/02

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