Fortunately, many modern coders are doing what Atari did not and have begun to convert many classic games to Atari's other platforms. A crop of classic games have appeared on the 5200 and 7800 in the past year and, with Castle Crisis (CC), Bryan Edewaard has brought the best of the early Breakout-style games, Warlords, to Atari's 8-bit computer line.
With its cheeky Warner-era label and cart styling, it would be easy to think that CC had been actually released at the height of the Time-Warner era, and possibly somewhere between Centipede and Donkey Kong. Remarkably, CC is just as good as any of those storied arcade conversions, and you'll be amazed to discover that this game fills a very large gap in your gaming library that you didn't know had existed. Don't hesitate -- order a copy of CC, dig out those old gaming paddles, and enjoy the best conversion of Warlords that you're ever likely to see on any home console.
Castle Crisis is not shipping with instructions, but neophyte gamers and / or those unfamiliar with any version of Warlords shouldn't be afraid to toss their inhibitions aside and pop this cart into their 800 or 130XE. Warlords / CC is, at its essence, a four-way Breakout variant, and it should take you all of five seconds to learn...and, of course, a bit longer than that to master.
The ostensible goal of CC, as in most Breakout-derived games, is to chip away at your opponents' barricades and launch a lethal hit at the central vulnerable target with the game "ball." The ingenious twist of Warlords was to enable players to capture the ball and launch it, with force and direction, onto the weakest parts of their opponents' fortifications. These (fire)balls are, however, volatile, and they will spit off increasingly damaging lightning strikes at a player's own fortifications the longer a player holds on to it.
The fireballs' volatility adds a great deal of depth to what otherwise might have been a fairly standard Breakout clone: players can choose an offensive strategy, which can quickly overwhelm opponents at some risk to the players' own fortifications; a defensive strategy, which is ostensibly safer, but can turn each round into a slow battle of attrition; or a combination of either method in various mixtures. I prefer the "enemy of my enemy" approach, myself: it's fairly easy to set up a duel between computer opponents and then launch sneak attacks when they're "distracted."
Those few players who become jaded with regulation play will be pleased to note the availability of a number of specialized play modes, including a two-player "deathmatch," that should satisfy the most jaded of arcade gaming palates.
Jitter-free paddles are a must for problem-free gameplay. I found gaming controls to be tight and responsive with my only pair of working paddles.
It's a sad fact of life that the modern gamer just won't be able to run down to the (much-reduced) local arcade to compare Castle Crisis with a classic Warlords upright, but those who do fire up a ROM image of Warlords on their favourite emulator will note that CC is remarkably faithful down to every last graphic detail that was found in the arcade original.
The CC playing field is presented with an overhead perspective that was utilized very effectively in the original Warlords upright. Each corner of the gaming screen is occupied by four small grey "castles," which are marked, as in the arcade game, by icons representing either human or computer players. The icons ("Darth Vader" masks for the computer players, crowns (complete with Atari Fuji) for the humans) are all well-drawn and add a dash of colour to the screen.
Most of the arcade game's unique graphical touches have been ported in whole to the CC playing field; I especially like the flying dragon which starts each round by blowing a fireball to the player who starts the game (to his or her advantage). It's very nice indeed to see a game for the 8-bits whose graphic inspiration was the original arcade game and not, as was typically the case, the inferior 2600 product.
CC is a faithful recreation of the arcade gaming experience of Warlords, and players shouldn't expect to hear any music that wasn't included in the original game. Music is limited to a simple tune at the end of each game and sound effects are limited to simple bleeps and bloops, but that's just the way it was in 1980, too.
CC is, along with a very few honoured classics, one of those "I've got to have just one more game" type of games, and was 2003's "must-have" computer gaming purchase. It's simply a wonderful game and is, at $25, a steal and a required addition to any 8-bit computer or 5200 gaming library.
($25.00 US from Bryan Edewaard; 32K and paddle controllers required. Available from the AtariAge store.)
(c) Bryan Edewaard