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Raiders of the Lost Ark - The Atari Times

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Haters of the Lost Ark? Not Me!
by Rebecca Pinkoski

November 20, 2003
A surefire way to squelch a good Atari conversation is to loudly and proudly announce, "I LOVE the Raiders of the Lost Ark game!" Talk stops, brows furrow, and people say things like, "You're kidding, right?"

I'm not kidding, though honestly it's more of a love/hate relationship. I suppose, though, that it helps that I made the acquaintance of this game at age 7 or so and I would be a teenager before I actually saw the movie (which I really like also.) Since I had no knowledge of the movie, other than a vague awareness that there WAS a movie (and definite awareness of my mother, who didn't let me watch scary/violent stuff other than Tom & Jerry and Looney Toons) I was catapulted into my Raiders experience without prejudice and saw only a wacky game based around odd rituals and wackier characters. Not to say it didn't drive me crazy at times, however.

It was also a total Pinkoski family bonding experience. Purchased by my brother Mikey, who is 10 years older, he asked me to keep it a secret as our mother must not have wanted the others wasting their money on time-wasting video games. That, naturally, meant he had to play it for me, his pint-size blackmailer, whenever I said or else I'd tell Mom. I forget whether she found out about it anyway or if the thrill of power just wore off for me. The other siblings eventually got in on the action. More on this in the Gameplay section.


The graphics in my game always bothered me, even in my youth. While your Indiana Jones character is a pixel blob just recognizable as a man in a hat standing with arms akimbo, the sheikhs selling merchandise in the markets are just huge square heads, which pretty well describes their merchandise too. There are a couple rooms filled with odd gray scuttling characters, which are probably Nazi spies but which I still refer to as "twiddlebugs" because they look to me like giant gray beetles.

Inventory objects as found in the red bar at the bottom of the screen are also problematic; they look very different on screen and some are just plain unidentifiable; the Timepiece is the best example of this. On screen it looks rather like a giant green L, and in inventory it looks like a squatty square clock. The grenade, a very important object, is only recognizable as a grenade because the instruction manual says so. It bears an unfortunate resemblance to the little ark symbol thingy (yes, I know it's Ra's staff head, but prior to seeing the movie that's what I called it) which sometimes randomly appears in the basket instead of the grenade. We thought it was a dud grenade or some other junky thing and were forever throwing it away without realizing it was the most important object in the game! So of course it was nowhere to be found in the instruction manual.

This being the Atari 2600 I guess I shouldn't be so hard on the graphics, which are worse in a lot of games, but this is a complex game and wondering "What the heck is THAT?" doesn't make it any easier.


Minimal, but they get the job done. The sound effects are mainly limited to a variety of clunks and thumps as you pick up, drop, or use objects, most notably the whip. Puzzling are the almost shrieky noises some walls make when you walk into them, and the tchk tchk tchk boomp noise your dying character makes as it disappears, feet first. Creepy.

There is music in the opening sequence and at the end if you win, in the form of a synthesized version of the movie's theme music, and whenever you have the magic flute selected you are treated to the familiar "There is a place in France where the people wear no pants" snake charmer type music, which I suppose makes sense as the point of the flute is to keep the deadly snakes from biting you. Snakes. Why'd there have to be snakes??


This is the part that makes Raiders fans and Atarians alike weep. This was the part I liked even as I was throwing the cartridge across the room because I couldn't figure out what the heck to do. This was the part that established Steph, the oldest and most intellectual, who rarely bothered with the Atari, as a member of the Pinkoski Atari Hall of Fame.

First of all, my brothers and sisters were old enough to see the movie. Therefore, they were all sort of expecting the game to have some relevance to it, which it didn't, which was frustrating. I did enjoy popping around the field of bright yellow mesas floating on a blue background using either the ankh or hourglass as a grappling hook. Video game logic at work there, I fear. Even as a grade school kid I knew flinging an hourglass at a mountain would smash it. Not to mention mesas and the Middle Eastern desert are two totally separate landscapes. It filled the time between dodging the twiddlebugs and sessions of shooting snakes with the revolver, yet I never figured how to win the darn thing.

Trial and error proved that running past the bridge thingy with the key selected makes a map of the mesa field appear, and after a while a mesa symbol (my leap of logic; mesa map, mesa symbol indicating you have the right place, right? When I realized this was the rising sun, my reaction was like, huh?) appears but fails to enlighten. Then someone realized, that dud grenade isn't! We've been throwing away the most important item in the game!

OK, back to the bazaar, find the ark symbol/staff head, back to the mesa map bridge thingy, and presto, a blinky dot indicates the correct mesa as the mesa symbol/sun rises! Past the twiddlebugs, buy the shovel from that shyster sheikh who wants TWO bags of gold coins, that cheapskate, find a grappling hook, pop along to the right mesa.... ummmmm...

Now what? Simply jumping off the mesa has the same result as falling off one while trying to hourglass-grapple your way along, or going south from the bazaar room in the wrong spot, or walking off the bridge in the map room: fall through a white space with a brown branch with either leaves or a green basket on it (mysterious graphics strike again!) land in some unwholesome valley at the bottom with some mean guy who'd steal your stuff, sell it for bullets, then come back and try to shoot you.

Enter Steph, who had the wits to realize that A) there is a hole under the branch and B) the parachute isn't the useless item it first appears to be. "Try and float into the hole with the parachute" was her advice, and presto, you land in another room with more twiddlebugs [They're sheep - Ed] and a sand dune at the bottom. A lot of trouble someone went through to hollow out this mesa, truck in the sand, and set in place the gravity-defying twiddlebugs. Dig through the dune, and oh heavenly rapture! There gleams the ark, with you atop a shimmering pedestal! You finally won the bloody game! That is, if you managed to get into the hole without ripping the 'chute on the branch, missing the target (both of which land you in the valley with the mean guy) or having your shovel stolen by the twiddlebugs, which means you have to leave the room and fall into Mean Guy Valley and through the whole game all over again if you have lives left.

Supposedly the height of the pedestal is your score, but even following the exact procedure doesn't get you the highest possible score.

Interesting sidenote

Our copy of Raiders somehow got stuck in some kind of a loop where, in every other game, the same mesa held the ark. Once, as an experiment, I just went right to the mesa and inward without bothering with the whole map room bit, and even though I won I got an even lower pedestal/score than you get if you simply stand still in the first room and let the snake bite you 3 times, using up all your lives without even moving. So take note, all you future archeologists: it's better to do nothing but die of snake bite than to hazard a wild guess.


The use of both joysticks, one to move Indy and the other to manipulate your inventory, was either a stroke of genius or the most dumbfool thing ever. I suppose it was necessary as the 2600 joystick only had one fire button, but it makes for a very cumbersome system as both joysticks are identical and therefore easy to confuse. There you'd be, balanced precariously on the map room bridge, and move the joystick to select the ark symbol thingy, and shoop! You move the wrong joystick and fall into Mean Guy Valley. Or you'd try to press the button to buy the shovel from Sheikh al-Cheapo, and foop! You deploy the parachute you'd bought earlier because it must be useful somewhere. The only way around this is to either label the joysticks or obsessively place them just so every time you switch.


Though this game usually ranks down there with E.T. and Pac-Man, I give it at least a quasi-good score in honor of the years I spent wandering through a surreal universe of nonsense, and because (thanks to Steph) I've won it a good many times. Frustrating, irrelevant, yet loads of fun for the mesa-hopping, skydiving set.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

(c) Atari

Is this your favorite game too?
Don't forget to buy a parachute!
Here's all the room items in one shot.
Ah! I forgot my 'chute!
Raiders of the Lost Ark
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Adventure
Graphics Score: 75%
Sound & Music Score: 75%
Gameplay Score: 60%
Control Score: 70%

Final Score: 75%

Reader Comments for Raiders of the Lost Ark

Took me 15 years by Gregory D. George on 2006-10-02 23:36:39
I rememeber putting this one away for a LONG time. And I read the hints in the back and could never figure it out. I guess I ran across some more hints or something, because I did beat it long before the Internet made it so easy.
Wrongo by Eric R on 2007-12-07 19:05:41
Actually, this game was popular. Where did you see of this that said that this was a flop?
Wrongo again? by Darryl B. on 2007-12-19 23:42:06
Where does it say the game was a flop?

Oh, and the game has a glitch, there IS no way to earn the highest score possible, unlike the instructions say.
JStella version (how do you start?) by JohnnyA on 2008-05-14 15:46:36
I found this ataritimes site by going backward (shortening the link) from the following: www.ataritimes.com/jstella/index.php You can play a bunch of games there, but I just can't seem to get Raiders to start! It just sits at the beginning screen, and no key I hit on my keyboard will let the game start. If anyone has a clue what to do, please let me know. Thanks in advance!
Same Mesa by Keith Weisshar on 2015-03-02 11:43:49
Why am I able to find the ark in the same mesa each new game if I hold the right controller button down so that I immediately enter the entrance room as soon as Indy hits the bottom of the pedestal after reset.
Same mesa by Darryl Brundage on 2015-03-07 16:48:27
You probably found a bug there then, congrats :)
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