Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window.
Welcome back, NPCs!
For Day 5 of our Console Challenge, our own Hopeful Sega Mage is the wiz for the job. Oddly, though, the fates have decreed that our resident Sega Mage not tackle a Sega device. I know right? Instead, he’s going to walk us through the top 7 best games for the Atari ST line of personal computers. So maybe he’s the Safari Atari Mage, today? My head hurts.
You can find him as his alter ego on Art of Redress, a site dedicated to going back to play games he missed, the classics that snuck by him. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter as @artofredresss, too!
-The Well-Red Mage
When the list of consoles for this challenge came up and mages began to scramble for their favourite console, I was a little stuck. I don’t really consider myself an expert on anything (one of the reasons I blog is to learn more about games) so it was a challenge to pick one to focus on.
However, there was one machine mentioned that instantly caught my attention…my first ever computer and a machine that I still technically have – it and its many games live in a suitcase in my mother’s house.
That machine is the Atari ST. Debuting in 1985, the Atari ST was Atari’s horse in the 80’s home computer race, lining up against the Commodore Amiga in terms of capabilities. While the Commodore Amiga was the more powerful machine, the Atari ST was favoured by some for its ease for programming both games and music. I doubt many of the machines involved in this challenge can say they were used to mix a No.1 single? (White Town with “Your Woman”, a UK chart-topper in 1997 if you were curious.)
However, it was the games I loved the Atari ST for. It definitely shaped my opinions on gaming and I followed many of the franchises I loved on the ST through the following generations. The Atari ST also gave me my first taste of Sega games too, courtesy of some ports of….differing quality shall we say?
No Sega games made my top 7 however. I felt there were 7 games that were better and more synonymous with the Atari ST. The original intention of this console challenge was to avoid games that were ported to other systems, but the Atari ST was from the era of home computers when every game was ported to every format regardless of technical ability – this was how developers made money, by spreading the range of their software. As I stated earlier, I’m certainly no expert – if you’ve played an Atari ST game that you think I’ve missed, feel free to let me know in the comments below!
#7. Gauntlet II
A sequel to Atari’s 1985 overhead arcade game, Gauntlet II is like its predecessor – a simple but reliable game that is much better in multiplayer. Gauntlet and its sequels have been ported to pretty much every computer and console that originated in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, so everyone has played one of them at some point.
However, despite all the versions of Gauntlet I’ve played over the years, I still think Gauntlet II on the Atari ST is the best variation of I’ve played. The graphics are sharp, the music is good and the ST does a fine job with the arcade’s speech (“Red Wizard needs Food!”) Of course, it’s the multiplayer that makes Gauntlet II and I’d argue it’s one of the best multiplayer games on the ST. It’s great teaming up with a friend or relative and trying to fight through it’s many, many levels is always good fun.
#6. Bubble Bobble
Much like Gauntlet II, Bubble Bobble is one of those games that has been ported to lots of consoles but yet I prefer the Atari ST version. Again, the ST does a great job with the graphics and sound, plus the gameplay is pretty fluent. Like Gauntlet II, Bubble Bobble was a favourite for multiplayer gaming and once I figured out that the ST was compatible with Master System joypads (more durable than a joystick you see), Bubble Bobble was one of the main beneficiaries.
Another advantage of the Atari ST was its random compilations at cheap prices. I have a box set that contains Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands, and New Zealand Story, which must be the greatest compilation of cutesy classics ever released…
I picked Lemmings for this list as, like all great puzzle games, anyone can play it, but it takes real skill to master. The game is simple to navigate a tribe of Lemmings, a bunch of creatures who simply wander forward aimlessly, back to their home. The player does this by assigning the Lemmings jobs, such as asking them to dig, block paths, float down from on high via umbrella…whatever it takes to survive.
As a puzzle game, it’s so simple yet so fiendish. The problem isn’t just working out the best way to get the Lemmings home, it’s having the reflexes to achieve your goal before the Lemmings wander off a cliff or into acid…or simply get stuck in a corner. A frustrating game, but one so simple and addictive, it’s probably ruined lives. Terry Pratchett claimed he actually deleted Lemmings and wiped the disks to avoid missing his deadlines…
#4. Chip’s Challenge
A game that might be better known for it’s appearance on the ill-fated Atari Lynx, Chip’s Challenge was a another simple looking puzzle game like Lemmings. Like Lemmings however, it was another addictive, but nightmarish game. Your goal was to get Chip through the mazes set by Melissa The Marvel in order to gain acceptance to the Bit Buster Club.
I’d be impressed if anyone got Chip into that club to be honest, Chip’s Challenge was a damn tough game. It was a damn great game too…the mazes were well designed, with lots of variation. Some were absolutely epic too and would take some real brain power to crack. There was 148 mazes to beat too, so it would probably take a while for someone to beat it. You can (could?) get a remaster of Chip’s Challenge on Steam and experience this for yourself…I do actually own the remaster, but I’ve never played it – I know it would probably break me!
#3. Kick Off 2
I’m not really sure if The Well-Red Mage is the place for sports games, but if I’m covering the Atari ST then I have to mention Kick Off 2. The Kick Off series was ahead of it’s time – while other football games of that era focused on star player licenses and graphics, Kick Off focused on gameplay. While Kick Off wasn’t much to look at, it was miles ahead of it’s competitors in terms of realism.
This was because the ball didn’t stick to players’ feet – it was like a real ball, a separate entity with it’s own physics. If you played Kick Off, you had to make sure you could trap the ball, control it and play it directly to a team mate. There was no guided passing and if you couldn’t keep up with the way Kick Off played, then you would be left looking foolish. I’ve chosen Kick Off 2 because it’s got more tournaments and is the one I owned, but the original still has the same great gameplay.
#2. Sim City
A game that has inspired so many sequels, spin offs and imitators, Sim City had an inauspicious start, with Will Wright struggling to get it released due to its premise – unlike most games, Sim City had no ‘win’ scenario, you could just keep playing forever in theory. Eventually released in 1989, Sim City would become a hit due to its unique laidback style of play, a style we now know as ‘sandbox’ gaming.
That laidback style of play and basic graphics hid the detailed and addictive gameplay. You could create huge cities, be plagued with crises involving natural disasters and lack of funds, have to maintain functions such as roads and railways. You could even take on a city with a specific problem and spend years trying to solve it, a real long-term gaming fix. My main regret with Sim City is my tendency to get bored and destroy my city (usually after running out of money) via monster attack….
#1. Dungeon Master
The crown jewel of Atari ST games…Dungeon Master was an absolute revelation when released in 1988. While dungeon crawlers had often favoured text and turn based combat, Dungeon Master featured real time combat against imaginative and often terrifying enemies. There was no patient waiting for your turn, you had to be ready and armed as danger could be encountered at any turn. I could tell at a young age that this wasn’t a lazy arcade port or a simple platformer…Dungeon Master had its own lore. From the story in the manual (written by future Buffy writer Nancy Holder) explaining the origin of the champions trapped in Lord Chaos’ dungeon, to its in-depth spell casting system, Dungeon Master was practically its own world.
It amazed me as a kid and it still does now. I’d argue that, unlike the other games on this list, Dungeon Master is still a very attractive game, visually. Sure, it’s slower than newer games but the art is fantastic, with the monsters looking absolutely brilliant. There’s little sound, bar screams and grimaces of pain but if anything, it adds to the atmosphere. The gameplay never aged either, still a complex but involving affair that incorporated action, puzzle-solving and resource management brilliantly. Dungeon Master is a game sadly lost to time, but I still think it could hold up well on Steam in 2018…
…and that’s my top 7 Atari ST games. It’s been a pleasure writing this list, reminiscing about these great games. I should really dig that suitcase out of the cupboard in my mother’s more often…