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Moon Patrol - The Atari Times

Moon Patrol

Just taking a leisurely drive on the moon
by Ryan Genno

October 12, 2006
One of the reasons I like starting up my old Atari 2600 up again is to pop in Moon Patrol. This is a impressive yet quite challenging action/shooter game with it's unique parallax graphics, background music, and it's innovative game play that's still good even by today's standards. Imagine my excitement when I got the new 5200 version, uh!? Unfortunately this version had the chance to be the better game thanks the upgraded graphics and sounds but see why the game just didn't measure up.

In Moon Patrol it's your mission to guide your moon buggy across a grueling set of 5 levels. The problem is each area is filled with deadly crater pits, landmines, and evil aliens ready to take you out. This isn't what you'll expect from a simple moon patrol, eh? Fortunately, your little moon buggy is ready for action because you can jump, fire anti-air and ground missiles, and can change speeds at will to out avoid enemies shots or to get a good leap over giant pits.

Being a old school classic game the score is very important here and the faster you complete the level, the more bonuses points you'll be rewarded with. That doesn't mean that you should just try and rush through the game though because there are several hazards at every moment and it's not a good idea to be going full speed at a bunch of land mines. With time and skill though you'll find the bonus points come easier. There are two different difficulties to try out and you can even continue as much as you want without the need to feed quarters all the time.

The action button is used to shoot both anti-air and ground shots, pressing Up is to jump, Holding right is to speed up and pressing Left is to slow down. It all sounds easy enough but remember your forced to play this game on the those awkward 5200 controllers. I know I sound like a broken record bringing up these crappy controllers again but there is no denying that they effect the game play here and it's very difficult to use the jump and missile button when you need to because the two buttons are so close together.

Some may even remember Moon Patrol as a arcade game too developed by Irem in 1982 and surprisingly the two games look nearly identical. One amazing thing about these graphics is the incredible use of parallax scrolling, you'll be lucky to see any parallax scrolling in a NES or Gameboy Color game yet here it is on a Atari 5200 game. If you are new to the term parallax scrolling, it is used to make the backgrounds move in 3D. The backgrounds are still fairly detailed as well and wait till you see the detailed city visuals. Sure there are some blocky looking vehicles here, but this is still one of the best looking games on the 5200.

Usually most early Atari games don't have any background music but Moon Patrol is one of those rare exceptions. The game has a bouncy and likable soundtrack complete with themes for when the game begins and ends. The sounds do sound a little scratchy at times but everything is still fairly impressive and I also liked the many sound effects like the alien's appearance and the various explosions too.

Moon Patrol is still a very challenging action game with a lot of jumping and shooting and to think that this game came before Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. If there were more games like Moon Patrol out there than I'm sure the big video game crash wouldn't had happened to begin with. It's one of the few Atari games that features a complete package of 3D backgrounds, game theme music, and awesome game play too. Sadly, even though this game plays and looks pretty close to the arcade game but I still prefer the Atari 2600 version thanks to the weird button set up on the Atari 5200 controller side buttons. However, despite some control issues Moon Patrol for the 5200 is still well worth picking up for action fans.

Moon Patrol

(c) Atari

One day we'll be patrolling the moon like we patrol the waterways.
Just taking a lonely stroll on the moon...
Waitaminute! There are aliens!
And cities on the moon too!
Moon Patrol
System: 5200
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 85%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 75%
Control Score: 50%

Final Score: 68%

Reader Comments for Moon Patrol

Parallax trick by Gregory D. George on 2006-10-11 10:03:19
While the parallax looks cool at first, a closer inspection shows that none of the layers overlap. So it was an "easy" task to make each horizontal area to scroll at a different speed. Still, it's a fun game, but I always wondered why the buggy looks different from the arcade. (Same goes for the 2600 version.)
Re: Parallax trick by Ryan Genno on 2006-12-12 20:05:54
Yeah, it still looks pretty cool either way though, eh? Thanks for the comments!
Fun to play by Doug Smith on 2007-07-13 00:57:12
I wish they would release this on the newer systems. With so many compilation sets, including one by Atari and so rarely a moon patrol (it did show up on a playstation game). This game is something our family has always had a particular interest in because my father was one of the programmers for the Atari version.
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