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Polaris - The Atari Times


A pleasant diversion, but nothing more
by Ethan C. Nobles

May 9, 2006
Among Atari 2600 collectors, there's a certain appeal of finding hard-to-get games. Through the years, it's become pretty apparent to me why rare games are, quite often, so hard to find - there weren't that many of them made because they are either average as can be or downright rotten. Fortunately for those of us who like playing games more than collecting them, the best games made for the 2600 are also the most common.

Polaris, released by Tigervision in 1983, is one of those hard-to-find games that's just downright ordinary. According to the ratings system maintained by the fine folks at AtariAge.com, Polaris nets either a rating of 6 (Rare+) or 7 (Very Rare), depending on what label is stuck on the cartridge. Luckily, I found my copy of Polaris at a fantastic flea market located in scenic Hot Springs, Ark., for a mere $3. Polaris isn't a bad game at all and, in fact, is a nice diversion, but I wouldn't advise paying more than I did for it when much better "nautical" games such as Sea Quest or River Raid are a lot more common and a lot more fun.

Polaris, for those keeping score, is based on Taito America's 1980 arcade game of the same name. I've not played that arcade game, so I can't comment on how good of a port the 2600 version is. I can mention the graphics are pleasant, if a bit on the primitive side, and the control is tight enough - a very important fact that I'll discuss later.

In Polaris, the player controls a submarine and has to do battle at various points with bombers, enemy submarines, destroyers, dive bombers and channel mines. The game is divided into three phases. In the first one, the player is launching his Polaris missiles at bombers dropping depth charges on him while also trying to avoid submarines and destroyers. Once the bombers are blasted out of the sky (those are your main targets - enemy subs and destroyers are just gravy) a nasty little dive bomber shows up. That one is hard to hit and drops guided charges, so you have to be on your toes against him.

Once the dive bomber is eliminated, it's time to cruise through a channel while avoiding mines (in later stages, at least - on the easier levels there are no mines to avoid at first). That phase looks a lot like River Raid, only without all that tedious fun. The player gets a top-down view of his submarine and has to guide it while avoiding both mines and the sides of the channel. Once the channel is negotiated successfully, it's back to playing with the bombers again.

Sadly, the game sounds a lot more fun than it actually is. This is one of those games that gets old in a hurry. Initially, shooting at bombers is fun, but it gets tiresome after a time and even getting that sneaky dive bomber loses its challenge after you've done it a few times. The bombers aren't that good at aiming and their shots are easy to dodge, while the enemy sub pilots are equally stupid. It's kind of cool to be zipping around underwater and all, but the action in this game isn't exactly intense at first and at higher levels, it's downright annoying. The final phase in which the player has to avoid mines in a channel is just dull. It plays more like a programming exercise than a polished, commercially-released game.

Now, the control is pretty good, and you'll appreciate that when avoiding the guided shots of the dive bombers. Also, solid, lag-free control is a must when trying to get through the channel and line up to fire torpedoes at mines. The graphics aren't bad, either. There's nothing to write home about, but at least everything's clearly defined and there's not much screen flicker to get in the way of the game. The sound is, well, the same uninspired stuff slapped on 2600 games by third-rate publishing houses like Tigervision - beep, beep, boom, yawn.

Again, this isn't a bad game and is a pleasant diversion from time to time. Still, it's fairly rare and not worth purchasing at a high price. If you find it for a few bucks, grab it and add it to your collection. Otherwise, just leave this one on the shelf and let someone else have it.


(c) Tigervision

I wish there was a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea game...
Shoot 'em! Err... or something.
System: 2600
Publisher: Tigervision
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 75%
Sound & Music Score: 60%
Gameplay Score: 70%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 75%

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