Medieval Mayhem - The Atari Times
History Repeats Itself, in a good way.
by Daniel KlossMay 11, 2007
Anyone who remembers Warlords for the Atari 2600 will most likely, if not for it's name, recognize Medieval Mayhem as the answer to all that was missing in Atari's earlier home release. After so many years, someone finally has taken the time and done a great job at addressing what was left out of the first game as compared to the arcade, which I'll get to shortly.
Although most would call this new homebrew a warlords sequel, I prefer to see it as Warlords "done right." Not to say Atari's Warlords was terrible; considering the limitations back then, it was actually a very decent port preserving the basic elements of the arcade with additional unique features added. However, according to how faithful the later Medieval Mayhem is to the arcade Warlords, it boasts even more features that put it in a league of it's own.
The basic premise is the same: Use your paddle to control your shield while protecting your corner king and be the last to survive from the onslaught of fireballs bouncing all over the place and from other players. To stay in the game, you need to catch or deflect the fireball and knock out the other kings. The fireball speeds up in degrees when bouncing off the shields and slows down from off the bricks and, if you're not careful, will even knock bricks off your own castle wall if allowed to 'flare up' while holding onto it. Fireballs can split up after hitting a king resulting in several fireballs (up to three) flying around at once making for more frantic action. The last king remaining wins the round. The game is very easy to grasp even without reading the manual and a lot of skill and luck are involved in eliminating your opponents.
Additionally there's a title/menu screen where you can access a whole slew of options that let you customize the game as you like. You use the paddle to scroll up and down the menu and press the paddle button to make a selection. It's very well designed, self explanatory and much more user friendly than Atari's common numerical based select switch.
Anyway, all the new options in MM include: number of wins to beat, fireball speed, multi fireballs, selecting any corner to defend against the computer with four levels of AI, individually disable or limiting catch, two-player doubles and reverse-able shield direction control between top and bottom players via the difficulty switches. All those amazing features alone earn it very high marks for control and playability. You can even tailor the visual effects with the flash option as well. There's even a hidden feature that let you start a game without any castle walls.
Now that's quite a package!
The initial title/menu screen is very basic with large easy to read text in a Gothic style font that fits the theme well. The overall look is now much closer to the arcade, perhaps as close as the system will allow. The playfield is familiar looking with each king laid out in the same fashion as the original and castle walls having brownish gradient colors that's easy on the eyes and sporting a nice texture on the bricks. All of the game sprites are new and improved, although the kings are still rather big and blocky, making them for easier targets! It's no big deal though since they're just as large as in the arcade and at least bare a resemblance to crowns and helmets. Good thing they're placed in the far corners where they don't distract from the other nicer looking sprites.
Most notable and impressive here is the launch dragon which is quite large, rendered in two colors like the arcade and surpassing in detail. As the dragon appears at the beginning (and sometimes at the end) of each round, you'll be treated to many seamlessly animated entrances, launches and exits that are randomly different every time helping to keep the start of each round fresh with personality that's amusing to watch. There's even a colorful knight that marches across the screen at the end of a round carrying a victory banner and is sometimes chased off by the dragon! -a distinction that neither the arcade or atari versions had!
The shields also are less blocky in appearance and turn the corners very smoothly. The fireball however is just a simple square but it does seem to leave a short trail like a comet as it zips by in high speed to nice effect.
The sound effects are what really keeps the game alive, from the cracking of bricks getting pulverized to the intensity of an explosion when a king is eliminated. Also, if you have a console with stereo modification, you'll get to enjoy the game's stereo feature incorporating separate left and right channels that correspond to where the action is taking place on the playfield. This is very apparent with the dragon wing flapping sound that switches channels as it passes from the far left, to center and then to far right of the screen and vice-versa. The sound of bricks and kings getting smashed share the same feature, and I'm glad for this as that is what you'll mostly hear while playing and it really pulls you into the game! Therefore, I simply gotta give it the highest marks for sound and music with that kind of attention to detail. But don't worry if you lack a modified console, the game is automatically mono-compatible and sounds quite well too.
As far as music goes, there's a single neat sound track that accompany the knight's marching and also plays during the demo/menu and also in the Easter egg screen with the credits rolling in cinematic style along with perhaps the biggest surprise payoff --the dragon dancing to the music with a choreography that has to be seen to believe!
There's no background music during actual game play though, which is probably just as well, as it may distract from the already excellent in-game sound effects.
Besides including almost all the missing elements from it's arcade counter-part, Medieval Mayhem's many new features are what really sets it apart. The multi-player aspect has always been the game's real strength and is destined to become the 'game of choice' for multi-player tournaments especially now with all the extra options at your disposal, and the AI can be a challenge when they're set to catch fireballs!
The only gripe I have is that single player games are not as gratifying as the multi-player. It's more preferred as a group game in a contest for survival, and not being hi-score competitive gives it that much less purpose for solo play. Although the computer is quite a worthy opponent, the highest score possible still remains a single digit.
I do find that solo games help novice players like myself to develop and master playing technique but it would have been nice if a ranking system similar to Star Raiders were present to extend the game's ultimate goal. That's just my opinion of course, but other than that I'm at a loss for words.
This arcade adaptation does real justice with a lot more to offer than the classic it's based on and that makes for an above average title and an excellent follow up. Definitely a much welcomed addition to the small number of multi-player titles in that genre.
This is, in my opinion, the best and most playable 2600 version of warlords to date and highly worth owning. The straight forward game play refined with a level of polish rarely experienced on this platform, with explosive sound f/x, catchy music, liquid smooth animations and stereo sound gives it that much more entertainment value.
You won't be disappointed. In spite that the solo-player novelty may eventually wear off, the multi-player games is what keeps it's replay value. If you got enough people to team up with then you owe it to yourself to check this game out!
So, with Warlords and Castle Crisis, MM is the third game of this type!
This version has a dragon that spews forth fireballs. (Image borrowed from Atari Age until I can get a ROM to make my own!) There's a bit more detail in this version than in the official Warlords. The Atari version of Warlords.
Graphics Score: 95%
Sound & Music Score: 100%
Gameplay Score: 98%
Control Score: 100%
Final Score: 100%
Gotta say this makes me happy cuz this version blows the atari version out of the water. Glad we finally got a good warlords port after all these years.
This is a great update of Warlords! I still love the original Atari version too!
This was one of my favorite games when I was little, just if I could get my hands on it now :D
Warlords is a rare game by Atari as the 2600 was done FIRST! Atari had a coin-op version released first!