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Towering Inferno - The Atari Times

Towering Inferno

Great Effort from U.S. Games
by Ethan C. Nobles

August 9, 2004
While countless people have talked (and written) about the horrible consequences of the video game crash of 1984, I can't help but think I benefited greatly from it. Why? For a few years there, I could pick up cartridges for my Atari 2600 for next to nothing. I suppose it was fairly lucky that the video game market went south about the time I got my driver's license, had money in my pocket and no financial obligations. I wound up with a slew of games that I picked up brand new for around $5 apiece that I still enjoy greatly. Towering Inferno, released by U.S. Games Corp., is one of those games.

While this game will never go down as one of the most classic titles available for the 2600, it is surprisingly good. Heck, when you consider this game came from U.S. Games -- a company best known for such dogs as Space Jockey and fair-to-middling titles such as Name this Game -- Towering Inferno is downright incredible.

Towering Inferno, as the name implies, puts the player in the role of a firefighter out to rescue people from burning buildings. There are nine buildings in all, and each one is nine-floors tall. The game starts out very easy at first, but getting through all nine buildings is quite a challenge. Now, clearing all the buildings isn't impossible, but the difficulty level ramps up nicely, making winning this thing a bit difficult. If the game seems too difficult, there's a variation in which bumping the reset button at the end of a game starts the player off at the same floor and score where the last game ended. Nifty! That's an arcade-like feature!

When the player arrives at each floor, he enters in the bottom of the screen. At the top of the screen are four survivors which the firefighter must reach and carry to safety through an exit near the point where he entered. The survivors, however, don't hang around forever - the flames will kill them off, one by one, if the firefighter takes too long to reach them. So, it's important to get to the survivors quickly because, if all the survivors perish on a floor, the game ends. Once the survivors are carried to safety, a helicopter will pick them up and, evidently, see they get the care and such they need.

Ah, but getting to the survivors is none to easy because there's a lot of blasted fire in the way. The firefighter, however, is armed with his trusty hose to extinguish the darting flames. The range on the hose is limited, so the firefighter must get close to the flames to extinguish them. If the flames touch the firefighter, he loses a life and, when the last life is gone, the game ends.

Graphically, this game is ugly. Yeah, I know this is only a four-kilobyte cartridge, but that's no excuse -- Frogger was a 4K cart, too, and it features some impressive graphics. There are, essentially, two screens. On one, a burning building and helicopter are shown. The helicopter takes the firefighter to each floor and carries survivors to safety after they are freed by the player. That screen looks fine. The main screen, however, is fairly hard on the eyes. That, of course, is the one on which the firefighter battles flames and navigates a simple maze to reach survivors. The firefighter is a static, ill defined character, and his goal is to reach a "window" (i.e., a large, square block) behind which the survivors are hiding. The only saving grace to the screen has to do with the flames. U.S. Games utilized screen flicker quite well to illustrate fire, and the flames move at random, thus making it difficult to simply skirt around them.

The sound is none to great, either. You get the typical "bleeps" which dominate 2600 games, and there's a constant background hum which is supposed to sound like fire burning away at a building However, it sounds more like an engine idling. Luckily, the sound's not grating or offensive - there's just not much of it there.

The control is a bit stiff, yet adequate. It take a bit of effort to move the firefighter around at first, but shuttling him here and there becomes second nature after a time. That's a good thing because, on later levels, moving the fireman around accurately becomes a necessity.

In the final analysis, this is a very unique and enjoyable game for the 2600. The game become repetitive pretty quickly, but it's a great title to pop in when you're in the mood for something different. The game is kind of hard to find, but pick up a copy if you find it for a good price.

Towering Inferno

(c) U.S. Games

A bad movie turns into a mediocre game.
Why have a heli fly to the first level?
If only I could find a victim...
Towering Inferno
System: 2600
Publisher: U.S. Games
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 50%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 75%
Control Score: 70%

Final Score: 75%

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