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Old 09-15-2011, 02:21 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: The Adventures of Curly K Konami

We all know that Nintendo was leading the charge during the Japanese invasion of the US game market in the mid 1980s, but Konami was one of its most valuable soldiers, punching out hit after hit on the NES. Gradius! Contra! Castlevania! All of these titles were hugely successful, and they continue to influence game design nearly a quarter of a century later. (Bet that makes you feel old, doesn't it?)

Konami's four flags flew majestically through the late 1980s, but during the first half of the decade, when it was still sporting that dorky curly K logo, it was having immense trouble making the transition from arcades to the home game market. Many of the ColecoVision titles designed by Konami were actually very good, thanks to that system's similarities to the powerful MSX computer. However, its output on the hardware-handicapped Atari 2600 left something to be desired. You know, like that dainty single flag logo Konami is using now. (Really guys, it's still not too late to switch back!)

Anyway, here are brief reviews of the three games Konami published for the Atari 2600. Before you ask, the Parker Bros. games based on Konami arcade titles were intentionally left off this list, so... uh, don't ask.


This shooter on the high seas takes most of its inspiration from Space Invaders, but cribs a little from Sea Wolf with its nautical theme and torpedoes that seem to take an eternity to reach the top of the screen. Your targets are battleships that float listlessly across the ocean and divebombing warplanes, with the occasional iceberg thrown in to block your shots and annoy the hell out of you.

Fully aware that Marine Wars was just a waterlogged rehash of every shooter every gamer had ever played in 1983, Konami tried to spice up the action with a skewed perspective. No matter where you are, your shots bend toward the center of the horizon, ultimately hitting the shores of Gilligan's Island. (Take that, Thurston Howell! Your money's no good here! BWA HA HAA!) This looks pretty spiffy, but that special effect loses its novelty in a hurry when you realize how hard it makes hitting those ships.


You remember that story about the three little pigs and that wolf in dire need of a restraining order, right? Well, put that straw house on the top of a really tall cliff, and multiply the wolf by about a million, and that's Pooyan in a nutshell. Fortunately, this little piggy came prepared for the invasion, shooting arrows at the wolves as they float down on balloons. He can also fling a chunk of raw meat at the furry fiends to distract them. It's a handy weapon that brings up some uncomfortable questions. Why would the wolves even need to eat the pigs when there's a nearly infinite supply of meat handy? Furthermore, where are these pigs getting all this beef? Are they carving it from the corpses of adorable, big-headed cows? Who's the real villain here, anyway?

Anyway. Pooyan was one of Konami's earlier arcade releases, and it never got much traction in the United States thanks to its cartoony characters and completely testosterone-free gameplay. The Atari 2600 port is servicable, but the action is extremely choppy... instead of sliding into place on his rope-bound gondola, your porcine protagonist jumps from one position to the next. If there was a Game & Watch adaptation of Pooyan, I'd imagine it playing a lot like this.


Wrapping things up is Strategy X, based on the "blink and you'll miss it" arcade game. Your mission is to storm the headquarters of the sinister Emmortalian with your mighty, yet mighty slow tank. Along the way, you'll encounter turrets, whose shots are tough to dodge, and fuel tanks, which are entirely too easy to blow up by mistake. Finish all four stages and you'll not only have earned serious bragging rights, but forty years of wrinkles and a thick white beard!

Konami did its best to pretty up Pooyan and especially Marine Wars, but no such effort was made here. Aside from the vertically scrolling stages, Strategy X barely looks better than the crusty 2600 pack-in Combat, with blocky playfields and abstractly drawn... well, abstractly drawn EVERYTHING, really. The sound is more impressive, with musical interludes between stages and snarling explosions as only the 2600 can offer. However, a modest meal for the ears can't make up for an otherwise nutritionally void gaming experience. Your best strategy in this case is a tactical retreat!

Big props to the boys at AtariAge for the Pooyan box artwork.
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