Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Off the Wall - Atari 2600 Game Review


Off the Wall

Atari 2600

Publisher: Atari. Developer: Atari.

Genre: Ball-and-Paddle


One of the last games released for the Atari 2600, Off the Wall takes the classic formula we all know from Breakout and spins it into something more detailed and fairly entertaining. The game puts you in the shoes of Kung Fu Lu, on a mission to smash through a mysterious and evil wall, brick by brick, with a bouncing ball as your weapon of choice.

The game tosses in a twist with a mystical dragon perched atop the screen, guarding the wall. To complete a level, you must demolish every brick or defeat the dragon itself with six strikes. Just when you think you've got a handle on things, enter the blackbird. This feisty creature appears after the first level, fluttering close to the wall, ready to bounce your ball in the wrong direction and amp up the challenge.

Periodically, the game throws you a bone with magical tokens that drop down. Catch one of these, and you're rewarded with an
Arkanoid-like special power. One makes the paddle magnetic, allowing it to draw the ball to Lu. Another enlarges your paddle, making it easier to hit the ball. One turns your ball into a powerhouse capable of blasting a large chunk of bricks while another makes the ball travel in a zigzag pattern toward the bricks. There’s a mystery token as well that will provide any one of the four power-ups.

You begin the game as a humble peasant, but your skill and determination will see you rise through the ranks with every four waves of bricks you clear. But beware: losing a ball off the bottom of the screen costs you a life, and with only five lives on hand, every move counts.

Now, here's huge bummer for fans of classic Atari and retro gaming in general. Unlike Breakout, Off the Wall doesn't work with the Atari paddle controllers – you must use the standard joystick. It's a HUGE missed opportunity, especially considering how well-suited the game's mechanics would be for that kind of precise and speedy control. I’m guessing that this late in the life of the 2600, Atari either didn’t care or figured that consumers wouldn’t care. Even with this massive oversight, the game manages to be more than just playable – it’s entertaining.

Overall, Off the Wall is a largely forgotten title for the Atari 2600. While it shares the same genre with Atari’s own 1991 arcade game of the same name, they are very different. It’s not good enough to be called a hidden gem, and it’s certainly not as good as Arkanoid, but it does offer some simple, old-school fun. There are certainly worse ways to kill half an hour than to play this game a few rounds.

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