Format reviewed: Atari 2600
Developer: Garry Kitchen
Submitted by: Michal Mozejko
Let me describe the average early eighties videogame for Atari 2600. Set in space (you know, dull black backgrounds), shooter (oh, that's obvious – if you are not shooting, it's not videogame, right?), with enemies either as squares (were they saving in graphical department or what?) or annoyingly flickering (poor old Atari were very limited with how many sprites it could display, so programmers were using tricks like displaying objects every other frame to get more things happening on screen, unfortunately that just led to things blinking all the time!).
Then there were Activision games. With few early exceptions they quickly decided to abandon space-shooting theme, and started giving gamers something extra – the graphics!
It looks like Activision was the only developer to deliver visually impressive games for Atari 2600. Most of that was achieved in a simple way, just by using nice and bright colour palette and cartoony sprite design, but you can see how technically advanced were their programmers with 1983 Keystone Kapers. There is a lot of stuff happening on the screen, to the point where later levels seem to be alive, but due to a smart design, the unfortunate flicker is all gone.
We, gamers, always loved the graphics – and Activision realized that early enough to become the first heroes of our childhood. But what about the substance?
Keystone Kapers is a challenging and entertaining game. As Officer Kelly you have to capture Harry Hooligan, the thief on his escape from the prison, within given time limit. By achieving this goal, you will progress to the next level, where the story begins from the start, but now you will find some more obstacles, moving in more difficult patterns. By reaching fifth or sixth level things becomes really challenging, and couple levels on you'd better be quick! Touching obstacles, whether it's a toy plane or supermarket trolley costs you time, and as you don't really have much margin, you will soon realize that you need to implement some strategy, and this is where elevators are really helpful.
So, the game will definitely keep you busy, and together with nice visuals that's where the programmer was trying to steer your attention away from the fact, that the whole gameplay is based on learning the patterns. Sure, good reflexes are needed, but most of the time you will just be learning how to keep your “jump, two, three, jump, two, three…” or “two, three, four, duck, two. three, four, duck” in the right rhytm.