Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Atari 2600 Game Review - Squeeze Box (1982) by US Games

Squeeze Box

Atari 2600

Publisher: US Games. Developer: James Wickstead Design Associates.

Genre: Action


Squeeze Box for the Atari 2600 intrigued me right from the start, offering a concept reminiscent of the MCP level of the classic Tron arcade game from 1982. In Tron, players face off against the Master Control Program, breaking through rotating walls in a colorful environment. Squeeze Box attempts to capture a similar vibe, placing players, as a jailbird, in a claustrophobic scenario where the walls literally close in on them from the sides. Despite the potential excellence, Squeeze Box falls far short of delivering the well-balanced and strategic gameplay that made the MCP level of Tron a favorite.

The protagonist is significantly larger than most characters found in Atari 2600 games. This size aspect adds an interesting dynamic but also contributes to the game's imbalance. The prisoner is trapped in a continuously shrinking jail cell, with the goal being to shoot at the walls to create an escape route before being crushed. Conceptually, this setup is engaging and should offer players a tense, strategic challenge. However, the execution leaves much to be desired.

One of the main issues with Squeeze Box is the lack of balance in gameplay. As the walls inexorably close in, players quickly find themselves in situations that feel cheap and unavoidable. Unlike Tron, where skillful maneuvering and timing provide a fighting chance, Squeeze Box soon puts players in positions where any escape attempt is futile—it goes from easy to impossible with not much in between. This feeling of helplessness detracts from the overall experience, making the game feel more frustrating than fun.

Moreover, the game suffers from a lack of strategic depth. In superior games, even when the action becomes frantic, there remains a sense of control—a belief that a clever strategy or a well-timed move can turn the tide in the player's favor. Unfortunately, Squeeze Box lacks these moments of strategic brilliance. The gameplay devolves into a doomed scramble to shoot at walls, with little room for tactical decision-making or foresight. Arcade-style games inherently make you feel like you are doomed, but the better ones give you a fighting chance, or at least trick you into thinking you can survive.

Squeeze Box tantalizes with its concept but ultimately disappoints in its execution. The potential for a compelling, strategy-based challenge is undermined by unbalanced gameplay and a lack of meaningful strategic options. The comparison to the MCP level of Tron highlights what Squeeze Box could have been—a game where skill and strategy lead to satisfying victories against daunting odds. Instead, players are left feeling that their fate is more often dictated by the game's brokenness than their own actions. While Squeeze Box may hold some nostalgic appeal or curiosity for Atari 2600 collectors, it does not stand up as a nicely programmed example of the system's capabilities. What a missed opportunity…

No comments: