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Tower Toppler - The Atari Times

Tower Toppler

These Towers Are Worth Climbing
by David Sherwin

September 18, 2003
Tower Toppler (TT) has been the object of considerable interest -- and derision -- since it was first "discovered" in a palette of items reportedly acquired by B&C Computervisions in 1995 . It's been rumoured that Tower Toppler (curiously renamed from the more well-known Nebulus) was being ported over to the 8-bit line by software house Hewson to bolster the XEGS library, but was mysteriously canned in the later stages of its development as interest in the 8-bit line declined. The ultimate cartridge release of TT in the late '90s was subsequently greeted with great excitement by hardcore 8-bit enthusiasts -- until they discovered that it appeared to be black-and-white on their fancy display systems. TT went back into the doghouse.

I'm happy to report, however, that TT does indeed boast a modest graphical palette -- the result of some pretty funky, if not entirely effective, graphic mode 8 artifacting -- although you'll need to hook up your computer to a good old composite monitor (or a TV) to enjoy the effect. 

Gamers who take some effort to accommodate TT's quirky display modes should find this game to be an extremely pleasant surprise. TT features smooth-scrolling arcade action, acceptable sound effects, and enough puzzles to challenge even the most jaded gaming fan. TT is, in reality, a revolving, graphically advanced version of Miner 2049er -- and is possibly the best platformer for the 8-bit computers.


TT/Nebulus enthusiasts should be thrilled to discover that all of the game's most unique elements have been successfully ported to the XL/XE version. Like all platformers, the goal of TT is to climb your frog-like control creature to the top of each level while avoiding a number of gaming hazards. The unique twist here, though, is that gaming platforms (placed around "towers") revolve once players reach the edge of the screen. The intended (and highly-touted) "vertigo" effect that results isn't half-bad, and it does help to create something of a pseudo-3D gaming effect. This was pretty advanced stuff in 1988, and it's still fairly impressive today.

The XE version of the game features a simple level select which can be chosen by pressing the "option" button. The "easy" stream sends players up "The Tower of Eyes", (fairly challenging in itself), which is touted as the game's easiest tower. The "hard" stream transports gamers to "The Blink of an Eye", which is a tower not found in the 7800 version of the game and extremely difficult to complete; gamers who complete either tower will then be transported to other towers. I haven't been able to progress past the third tower on either level, but it's a fair bet that the XE version of TT contains at least as many -- if not more -- levels than on the 7800.

Most of the towers can be toppled only through techniques that involve some combination of memorization and inspired guesswork. There are gaps in the staircases which wind their way up the towers, and gamers will have to use available "lifts" or jump their way over any chasms they encounter. Doorways are also scattered throughout the tower, and you'll need to enter these in order to make your way past certain hazards. Finally, many of the staircases have strange effects on your control creature and may move it either backwards or forward into a hazard regardless of joystick movement.

Monsters are present on all towers, and all but the bouncing boulders, which can be shot, are indestructible. Unlike most platformers, monsters here won't kill you, but they will knock you down to a lower level of the tower that you're trying to "topple". Gamers who fall into the water or who fail to complete a tower in the allotted 100 seconds will, however, lose a life.

Players who are successful in toppling a tower will be treated to a bonus arcade "fish-catching" segment where, with the aid of a submarine, fish can be caught for bonus points. While somewhat cheesy, these intermissions to provide players with an opportunity to relax before they attempt to conquer the next tower.

Controls are a bit tricky in this game, as movements are controlled by pressing various combinations of the fire button and use of directional joystick movements. Most game levels include "tricky" segments which may be negotiated only with precision timing and / or jumping; the purchase and use of a good joystick (think Wico) is a necessity.


TT utilizes, as one player has described, "nasty artifacted mode 8" in a compromise to achieve both high graphical resolution and a somewhat varied in-game colour palette. You'll only see the "false" artifacting palette on a good composite monitor, though, so you'll definitely have to dig out that old 1702 monitor to play this one.

The results of TT's artifacted display are decidedly mixed and will, unfortunately, vary according to the hardware you've got installed in your computer. On my 800XL, for instance, the towers are green and water is a mixture of browns, greens, and blues; creatures and hazards are white. Intermediate "fish-catching" stages feature blue-toned oceans and brown-and-beige toned ocean floors that is a visual duplicate of the 7800 version of the game. This is, overall, an acceptable display mix with which most gamers should be satisfied.

On my XEGS, however, the gaming palette is green, neon-pink, and a number of intermediary shades which simply look terrible. I've been told that, for this reason, TT is best played on 64K XL machines which have older versions of the 8-bit's graphic OS.

TT otherwise boasts graphics resolution which is very high for an 8-bit arcade game. Your creature (which looks more like a mini hippo than a frog) waddles comically up those endless sets of stairs, and the bouncing boulders and eyes look like...bouncing boulders and eyes.

The revolving jacks-like creatures haven't been completed in the XE conversion, however, and they float along merely as pixelly blobs.

Tower revolutions are impressively smooth and staircases are monochromatically pleasant. While perhaps not a showcase for the 8-bit computers, it's clear that TT's graphic notoriety is clearly undeserved.

Sound Effects and Music

Sound effects in this version of TT seem to have been copied directly from the 7800 version of the game. While TT does feature some of the best music and sound effects to be found on the 7800, the results are simply "OK" on the XL/XE which, as we all know, can do so much better with efforts properly coded to take full advantage of POKEY. TT's blips and bloops are, nevertheless, otherwise suitable to the game's surreal science-fiction theme. 


TT has suffered an inordinate amount of inaccurate bad press that has undoubtedly discouraged many Atari enthusiasts from acquiring this underrated gem.

Many classic gamers have questioned the Tramiels' decision to repackage their 8-bit computers as game machines in the late '80s, but it cannot be doubted that the XEGS helped to bolster the 8-bit library with some true gaming masterpieces. Players who previously thought Airball and Deflektor to be the epitome of development at the old Atari Corp are well advised to give this surprisingly excellent platformer a try.

Gee, with an emulator, all you get is this monochrome mode.
"Agent 00F exiting his sub out for some froggy action..."
Arrgh... Blasted blobs!
Woohoo! Color!
Tower Toppler
System: 8-Bit
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 75%
Sound & Music Score: 65%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 70%

Final Score: 84%

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