Interestingly, First Star has announced plans to release a number of its most popular titles for the Atari 5200 in association with independent software house Mean Hamster Software (Haunted House II), (Klax). It seems that First Star planned to port a number of its most popular games to Atari's 5200 system, but aborted its efforts in the wake of the infamous '83 video game crash. It may be 20 years late, but First Star is now making good on its earlier promise to deliver quality games to Atari's SuperSystem. With its first release, Bristles, First Star and Mean Hamster Software have done a beautiful job in re-introducing a lost gaming classic to a new era of gamers.
Bristles has always been marvelously simple in concept, and the game hasn't become any more complex since the '80s. What's left to explain?
For the uninitiated, Bristles 5200 is a precise port of the game released for Atari's 8-bit computers. Players will choose one of four "painters", who negotiate an increasing number of hazards in order to "paint" all the rooms of a series of houses. Houses can be painted quickly on the game's easiest levels; by house number five, though, you'll be acquainted with such characters as Brenda the Brat and the dreaded Bucket-Chucker -- if you live that long. Bristles quickly ramps of the difficulty, and the game quickly becomes a frantic race to beat the clock
I played Bristles with my recently-acquired Wico 5200 controller, and found feedback to be crisp and excellent. I was not able to repeat this happy experience with my stock 5200 joysticks, and would suggest that, if you're stuck with one, you're probably not going to last too many rounds.
Bonus: a complete phrase is revealed, word-by-word, as screens are completed. In 1984, First Star ran a contest challenging players to be the first to send in that phrase. What's a little delay? I say there's no time like the present to try to claim that long-defunct prize. Even if you don't get an official response, I'm sure that, at the very least, First Star will appreciate the fact that 5200 fans are continuing to enjoy their systems.
Bristles in-game music score is probably the game's definitive feature, and is distinct in 2005 as it was in 1984. Heck, I hadn't played the game for about ten years before receiving my copy for the 5200, but I could still whistle the game's audio gags (from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite", by the way) in my sleep. Like it or hate it, Bristles' music has now achieved of celebrity in classic gaming circles that places it above criticism.
Bristles attained "classic" status long ago, and any useful criticism of the game is, as a result, somewhat moot. I can only say that I spent many happy weeks in 1985 besting Brenda the Brat, and that duplicating the experience on a 5200 is a truly wondrous experience. Let's hope that First Star and Mean Hamster follow up on their wonderful first effort with their promises to release some of the true gems in their software library for the 5200. I've already booked off two weeks to spend with Rockford.
($39.95, joystick controller required; available from atari2600.com)
(c) First Star/ Mean Hamster