Coding for Klax was actually 99% complete at the time that plans for release were shelved, and a few prototype copies were actually burned before Atari closed shop. Fortunately, 7800 developer ResQsoft rescued Klax from obscurity and has re-released it in a "deluxe" package that's simply a joy to see.
More importantly, Klax is a joy to play, and this element makes Klax a "must-have" title for any 7800 collector. I've always loved Klax on the Lynx -- rumoured to be the best home version available -- and I was delighted to see that the 7800 version of this game largely does live up to the legacy left by other console predecessors.
Klax emerged as a classic title in the post-Tetris gaming world because it took a familiar title and tweaked it with unique gameplay objectives . Unlike most "falling object" arcade titles (Tetris, Dr. Mario), which reward players for identifying similar shapes, Klax forces players to create subtler associations by allowing players to create patterns that are linked only by colour. Gameplay was therefore both simplified (all tiles fit!), complicated (like-coloured tiles fall randomly), and made more flexible at the same time (many different scoring and patterns are possible due to a larger scoring zone). Klax may not have endured in the public consciousness to the same degree as has Tetris, but it was -- and still is -- the best of its genre.
This port of Klax remains faithful to the scoring rules and gameplay of the original, and most players should find it to be as addictive and playable as any other quality console port. All of the unique levels ("Klax waves") in the arcade version are present and accounted for here, and players should find that most of the gaming and scoring rules in the 7800 version of Klax to be faithful to other versions of the game. Bonus points are, of course, given for especially complicated Klaxs, and some combinations, such as the large "X" Klax, are required to trigger the secret warp level select.
The 7800 version of Klax, like most ports, allows players to choose game starting level and to select "easy", "medium", and "hard" levels of gameplay. Klax is, like most games on the 7800, consistently harder than what is typically found on other consoles, and gamers will find the "hard" option to be very challenging indeed. Gaming difficulty also seems to increase much more rapidly in this port than it does in other versions of Klax: I certainly don't recall having to complete 15 diagonals in order to pass level 11 of the Lynx version of this game!
Klax is yet another of those unfortunate 7800 titles which require the two-button Pro-line joysticks. Happily, playing a game of Klax on the 7800 is less painful than it is for many other games, as it requires no strange hand-hold combinations or complex joystick manipulations. Joystick response is, in fact, remarkably accurate and responsive for a 7800 game, and I've lost a couple of tiles by underestimating the sensitivity of joystick feedback.
Lack of introductory music and unspectacular sound effects are truly the only disappointing aspects of this port of Klax.
Klax wasn't originally coded by Atari to take advantage of a POKEY chip enhancement, and the 7800 version is inexplicably handicapped with unappealing blips and bloops that are only marginally more appealing than complete silence.
The outstanding sound effects in the Lynx port of Klax truly exploited the full comic possibilities of this game, and the absence of these sounds on the 7800's version is very much noticed in gameplay. It's true that comparisons to any other console version are unfair, but they are also inevitable, and any player who has marvelled at the crystal-clear voice samples in other versions of the game must feel that some part of this game's "soul" has been lost in translation to the 7800.
Klax on the 7800 is, fortunately, graphically faithful to most of the other console versions of this game, and purists should be delighted by the presentation to which they're treated here. Most of the whimsical backgrounds (forests, space scenes, and parking lots(!)) have been retained, and the game looks like, well, most of the other versions of Klax that you've seen, including the highly-touted translations on the NES and Genesis. The gaming board is elevated nicely on the playing field, and the motion of the flipping tiles is fluid and even.
This version of Klax is, in fact, so faithful to the "standard" template that differences and discrepancies are more notable than this version's fidelity to the console standard. The "drop meter" is, for instance, here located at the top left part of the screen (instead of on the central tile mechanism), and some of the tile colours presented here seem unique to the 7800. None of these changes really effect gameplay at all, although it's sometimes difficult to gauge the depth of tiles stacked three- or four- deep (necessary to create those "big X" Klaxs.)
My copy of Klax came packaged in an acrylic shell with a cardboard insert that replicates the artwork from the 2600 port of the game. Better yet, ResQsoft has included the 2600 manual and included a "bonus pamphlet" that contains an interview with the original coder of Klax. This is an incredibly valuable resource for any collector or gaming historian in itself, and adds immeasurable value to the entire package. It's clear that Klax was a labour of love for Lee Krueger of ResQsoft, and the result, which has made this version of Klax the best-packaged 7800 game, is simply marvellous. ResQsoft has certainly set a high standard for other homebrew efforts, and the average gamer/collector can only hope that other projects will take note of this superior effort.
It's hard to imagine a bad port of Klax on any console, and with ResQsoft's wonderful version we don't, fortunately enough, have to. Klax on the 7800 preserves the all-important element of arcade gameplay and is largely true to the original graphical presentation, and this should please all but the most discerning Klax and arcade gaming fanatics.
Any game has its flaws, and this version's inferior sound effects and lack of voice samples do present minor disappointments. Klax is, however, overall a superior title in the 7800 library and a most welcome addition to it. It's highly recommended.