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Dragonfire – Atari 2600

Dragonfire – Atari 2600

b_Dragonfire_frontPlatform: Atari 2600

Developer: Imagic

Publisher: Imagic

Release Date (NA): 1983

Genre: Arcade-Style

Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed by Space Invader

My affinity for Dragonfire comes with a bit of a long story, so bear with me.

There was a dark and strange period in my life during which I had come to the conclusion that video games are stupid. Under this premise, I distanced myself from the consoles of my youth, and committed odd acts, such as intentionally leaving my Sega Genesis at a girlfriend’s house after a break-up because I thought it would help me “downsize,” which seemed important at the time.

I soon left behind me a trail of game-related paraphernalia I understood I’d never need again. My original Game Boy was left in the purse of a friend who vanished. The 2600 I’d enjoyed as a child who desperately pretended Pitfall Harry was Mario whilst all my friends had a N.E.S. had long ended up at an aunt’s house, and she had the audacity to sell it for $2 at a yard sale instead of letting my cousins play it, as was intended.

Only my N.E.S., locked up in the top of a closet, and a Jaguar I’d gotten at the end of the ’90s for $40 survived, along with a smattering of Genesis and Game Boy cartridges I hadn’t gotten rid of but were nevertheless orphaned by the disappearance of their respective systems.

After a few years, a longtime friend moved to Reno, dumping upon me all the crap he didn’t feel like carting across state lines. These items included various plastic odds and ends, a four-inch portable black-and-white Sony Television (stupid even if it wasn’t soon to be rendered by California’s digital airwaves), and two Atari 2600s, with assorted cartridges, he’d bought from eBay on some weird whim.

I didn’t like the damn things taking up space, but after a few months, temptation got the better of me and I hooked up the Atar 2600 Jr, using a Sega Genesis controller (they have the same nine-pin plug) that had been orphaned with the kidnapping of my Genny.

I plugged in Dragonfire and was greeted by an attractive scene:

Dragonfire

What has two thumbs and wears green pants?

I mean, by Atari 2600 standards, this screen is a thing of beauty. The main character’s shirt is a different color than his pants. This is a big deal. Further, a pair of castles that made good use of the 2600s necessarily symmetrical backgrounds (hardware stuff) was joined by a drawbridge, under which water lapped. I probably don’t need to explain how rare background animation of any kind is on a 1.19 MHZ machine that only holds 8k of rom.

Bursts of fire flew from the castle on the left, and it became apparent that the hero needs to leave the nice, safe castle on the right that doesn’t have fire spewing from it and enter the Castle of the Dragon, as it shall henceforth be called.

Then, when entering the castle, you meet the dragon. And he looks like a dragon, I mean a real, fierce, dragony dragon, which is also a big deal. A basis for comparison exists with the dragon in Adventure, which more resembles a malformed, if sizable, duck.

The animation is so detailed, the dragon exhales smoke between fireballs

The animation is so detailed, the dragon exhales smoke between fireballs

What’s more, the treasures you’re meant to collect in the Castle of the Dragon actually more or less resemble real-world objects, not weird jumbles of enormous pixels.

My first game was quick — less than five minutes — and when it was over, I had to hit reset and try again. It was different from the games I’d been into just before I flew into my irrational anti-video-game period. This was a game that could be fired up and played in a few spare moments, in stark contrast to a game of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which always went on for hours with all the lives and continues and left me to downhearted to try again at the end. With ’90s platform games, you really had to plan ahead. If you switch on a game of Contra, for example, but have anywhere to go, you’re better off just playing with your naval, because you will only make it through the first level.

Dragonfire was a whole different can of worms. Before bed, as a morning wake-up for my coordination, or just whenever, I could usually make time for a few rounds. Little by little the addiction returned, and when my friend, defeated by a lack of success in Reno, came back and mentioned off-hand that he was “thinking about selling those Ataris you’re holding,” I curtly told him to fuck himself.

Dragonfire is important

Duck!

Duck!

The criteria for an outstanding 2600 game is easy to define and difficult to produce. It must be simple enough to pick up play, yet difficult to master, while ensuring the main objective of the game is compelling enough to keep a gamer’s attention. Add graphics that aren’t uglier than a design cross-knit by someone’s blind, schizophrenic aunt and you have a hit.

By these standards, Dragonfire is a compelling piece of history and one of the system’s standout gems. Gamers can appreciate Pitfall as the first side-scrolling platformer, but no modern gamer is going to stick it out long enough to collect all the treasure. Others pay lip-service to the idea that repetitive cartridges such as the two-player-only Air/Sea Battle exhibit a sort of nice, simple gameplay of a bygone era, but no modern gamers really want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, and even if they did, they’d need an equally insane friend to play with.

Today, the 2600 is understood as precious little more than a passing topic for screaming YouTube moppets who deride E.T. as the worst game ever. Games such as Dragonfire have become the best showcase for the ole’ Atari. They are only slightly more complex than your average cell-phone game, and interesting enough to make playing for score (watching a number on the top of the screen go up? Huh?) seem worthwhile.

The game

Dragons are lousy hosts -- they don't serve snacks and they breathe fire at you

Dragons are lousy hosts — they don’t serve snacks and they breathe fire at you

In the first screen, you have to dodge fire while running across a bridge. If you make it into the Castle of the Dragon, you have to collect all the treasure in the room before the door appears. When you exit that castle, it’s time to run across the next bridge, into the next castle.

It sounds easy, and it more or less starts out that way, but the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, and I defy anyone reading this to reach a score of 10k (Seriously, I will make you a trophy).

I have an amplified appreciation for the cartridge, because it led me to play Adventure and Maze, which led me to play games, starting with the Jaguar, which led me to seek out a Genesis emulator, which led me to buy back a Genesis, which led me to seek out a 3DO out of curiosity, which led me to …

Well the list goes on and on, but the real point is that once again in life, I find myself occasionally sitting in front of a glowing screen, slack-jawed like some moron, pressing buttons on a controller. I even play the occasional modern game on my Xbox 360 (not modern for long, I guess). And I owe it all to Dragonfire.

 

Written by Space Invader

Sometime in the early 1980s, in the heart of the Silicon Valley was born one Angelo. No one knew it yet, but he would grow up to become the mighty Space Invader, master of the old technology and writer of the third-person profile.

The Atari 2600 and Xbox 360 vie equally for Space Invader’s heart, but he can’t seem to choose one and settle down. Something is just so appealing to consoles that have names featuring numbers between 300 and 3000.

Little is known about Space Invader’s past, but he is rumored to drive a Buick and is said to have a tremendous singing voice.

 
 

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