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Pole Position II - The Atari Times

Pole Position II

This is some Racy Entertainment
by Ethan C. Nobles

August 4, 2003
Indeed, a review of the Atari 7800's pack-in game! I'd wager there's not an Atari 7800 enthusiast who hasn't played Pole Position II as it's as common as sin. Everyone knows this game, so why bother writing about it? Frankly, I do believe Atari officials revealed their intentions with regard to the 7800 by including Pole Position II with the system.

Let's check out the facts. Now, take a look at the state of the video game industry in 1986 when the 7800 was released. Of course, the Nintendo Entertainment Industry came out and impressed people with it's pack-in title, Super Mario Bros. -- a game which was quite innovative in its day and contained secrets, multiple levels and plenty of things for the player to see and do. Whether you hate Nintendo or not, it's hard to argue against the impact Super Mario Bros. had on the console gaming world.

So, here comes Atari with the 7800. Did the folks at Atari choose to include an innovative title with the system? Nope. Instead, folks who brought home a 7800 got to play Pole Position II right out of the box. Does that mean Pole Position II is a bad game? Nope. In fact, I rather enjoy it. However, the title was old news when it was released (Pole Position II was a hit in the arcades in 1983, of course). Also, the title doesn't exactly push the 7800 to its limits, does it?

I'll submit to you fine folks an idea suggesting the decision of Atari officials to tells us a lot about their plans for the 7800. Atari's bread and butter, for years, was in making very good home versions of arcade games. The world, in 1986, had moved a bit past the emphasis on arcade ports, and Atari officials simply refused to keep up with the times.

Now, once again, I enjoy Pole Position II. I only mention that again as I've spent a fair amount of time bashing the title. Frankly, Pole Position II is a very solid version of the arcade hit, and I wind up playing if fairly often.

As most "classic gamers" know, Pole Position was a very influential racing game when it came out in 1982. Pole Position II was the sequel, and improved greatly on the original game. Perhaps the most important change is the fact the player could choose to raise on one of four tracks - a feature missing in the original Pole Position game. The addition of three additional tracks really brought a new dimension to the game, and is one of the things which makes the Atari 7800 version so much fun. The graphics in Pole Position II were upgraded a bit and the overall game feels a bit "smoother" somehow.

Of course, the element which made the original Pole Position so unique to begin with is present in the sequel. Specifically, Pole Position was innovative in that it was a quasi three-dimensional racer. Sure, it looks dated today, but compare it to older "top down" racers (such as Indy 500 for the Atari 2600) or Night Driver (another 2600 title). The player in Pole Position II views the action from behind the car, thus giving him a very good view of the road and what's on the horizon. Also, the idea of putting billboards, trees and other such things on the side of the road adds a twist to the game as the aforementioned obstacles lead to time-wasting collisions.

And, Pole Position II is all about speed - the player must finish high in the rankings in order to keep playing through other rounds.

Pole Position II is a rather addictive racer, and the 7800 version is a very solid translations. However, it's not without its faults. For one thing, the animation is a bit choppy. It's not choppy enough to make the game unplayable, of course, and I don't even notice the sometimes-jerky animation at all anymore. Also, the control is responsive, but seems just a little on the sluggish side. That, however, may have more to do with the controller than the game. The arcade version of Pole Position II was meant to be played with a steering wheel, and the 7800 title is set up to be used with the controller. In addition to the minor problem of steering the car, gas, brakes and the gear-select lever are mapped to the controller. It's much more fun to play the arcade version with it's steering wheel, gear shift lever and brake and accelerator pedals.

The sound, while not great, is passable. It's a racing game, after all, so you hear the revving of the engine and a "whoosh" when opposing vehicles are passed. The most important feature is the way the engine will "whine" when the player is in low gear and needs to shift to high.

As for the graphics, they're not too special, but everything looks fairly crisp on the screen. Of course, Pole Position II is a fast racing title, so who really cares if the graphics are a bit spartan and the opposing vehicles aren't as colorful or detailed as they could have been? The game moves quickly, and the graphics convey the sense of speed very well. The addition of clouds in the sky and features such as buildings on the horizon are nice touches.

All in all, Pole Position II is a solid title, so I really don't care if it passed its prime when it was included with the 7800 in 1986.

There are four (count 'em) tracks to race on!
Always looked like the ship was on fire...
Ah... Mt. Fuji!
Pole Position II
System: 7800
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Driving
Graphics Score: 80%
Sound & Music Score: 80%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 85%

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