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Caverns of Mars - The Atari Times

Caverns of Mars

The Original Caverns of Mars
by Lawrence Armstrong

February 26, 2007
To commemorate the release of the Flashback 2, I've decided to review the original Caverns of Mars game for the 400/800 series. The Flashback 2, which is scheduled for a national release in a few days as of this writing, includes a built in Caverns of Mars game. This is a remake of the game that first appeared on the 400/800 over 20 years ago. It is a simple, but solid game.

The graphics in Caverns of Mars are the most basic you'll see on the 800 computer. The programmer seems to prefer the color purple, to the exclusion of all others. The ship looks similar to the ufo in space invaders. The caverns are vertical tunnels that appear to have some sort of building or military installation at the base. The enemy ships that charge up toward you lack animation and are very simple. The graphics in this game are adequate, but far from impressive.

The sound is as simple as the graphics are. Rudimentary laser fire and a hovering ufo sound are about all there is to it. I like the sound of the ship and the laser fire, but again it is very basic--nothing extraordinary. Adding more unique and sophisticated sound effects could have added a lot of character to the game, but the sound is quite pleasant and is not a problem.

The control is very responsive and accurate. It would be helpful to have more rapid firepower, but that could make the game too easy. The unique thing about this game is that the ship you are flying scrolls downward toward the bottom of the screen, whereas most other shooters scroll up the screen. Your ship flies down zig-zagging tunnels, shooting fuel pods to gain energy. Running out of energy results in your ship's less than spectacular destruction. After negotiating the winding caverns, you run into waves of enemy fighters zooming up from the bottom of the screen at you. This is one of the toughest parts of the game. Your laser fire just isn't fast enough to keep these enemies from plowing into you. If you succeed in making it past the enemy defense forces, a skyscraper-type building will appear. Your job is to descend to the bottom of the cavern where this building sits. A bomb is sitting at the bottom and when your ship touches it, it sets the timer. Now the game will start scrolling up towards the top of the screen back towards the direction from which the game started. If you fail to escape in time, you blow up.

Playability is robust, but the game is a bit monotonous. Scrolling down and avoiding the cavern walls and the enemy ships is about all there is to it. Scrolling up to escape is hard on the second level as your ship is traveling so fast that its difficult to make the turns without scraping the walls of the caverns, which, of course, will lead to immediate destruction.

Despite it's simplicity in graphics, sound, and gameplay, I can't help but like this game. The picture of the screen in the XL computer catalog made for an interesting looking adventure. And after all this time a wide number of people will be able to experience this classic on the 2600 when the Flashback 2 hits the shelves. Rather than trying to acquire the game, which is somewhat rare, I suggest you run out and get the Flashback 2. The screenshots of the new version look more colorful and exciting than the original.

I wish they'd change that font.
How many shooters go downward like this?
Now it's just ships coming at me. Where are the caverns?
Caverns of Mars
System: 8-Bit
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 60%
Sound & Music Score: 75%
Gameplay Score: 90%
Control Score: 90%

Final Score: 85%

Reader Comments for Caverns of Mars

Flashback 2 Caverns Of Mars by Alienblue-blufox@midcoast on 2007-03-05 13:21:55
I've been a gamer since 1982 and owned an Atari computer, but never played Caverns of Mars until I got my Atari Flashback2.
I don't know if it is "better" than the original, though. The cavern walls flicker like mad (like the pac man ghosts) which
makes it hard to watch. The sprites look similar, but still lack color. The game is still incredibly difficult although I DID make it
down and back up ONCE. The title screen is nice for the 2600. Overall an average shooter.

Still, give me VANGUARD or LASERGATES anyday. -Dave
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