Retro Wednesday: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Retro Wednesday is a weekly column exploring forgotten classics, obscure curiosities, and things that should've stayed buried in the deserts of New Mexico.

Last week we took a look at the hugely influential Ultima I. This week we're going to look at a title that's not at all influential: 1982's Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600, the first ever video game to be licensed from a film.

I'm not gonna say that it's bad – it's just that by modern standards it's a little bit hard to wrap your head around it. If you're used to playing titles like Frogger or Space Invaders on the 2600, you'll probably be surprised by the depth of this title, which is an early foray into the graphical adventure genre.

Rather than just stick Indian Jones' name on a Pitfall clone, the designer, Howard Scott Warshaw, decided to design a top down game that requires some real thought to solve. In fact, if the graphics weren't so horrible, it might actually be the definitive 'thinking man's' 2600 title.

Sadly, rather than asking yourself what you're supposed to do with a magic flute, you're far more likely to just ask yourself: “What the hell is that supposed to be?” Dodging the snakes that are constantly after you wouldn't be so bad, if the snakes weren't the same color as the road, or whatever that is in the background. Take a look at the screenshot below and tell me what that thing in the middle of the screen is:

If you guessed 'clock,' then you're correct! If you keep the game manual by your side the whole time, you might be able to figure out what blips like that are supposed to represent. And just in case it was a little too easy, the designer decided to make all of the items change their appearance once you picked them up, so you'll have to figure out what the different things in your inventory are supposed to be, too.

If you're still hanging on after all of that, you might actually get to the Ark. Once you get to the Ark chamber, Indy's legs appear to turn into springs and bounce into the air. Err, the manual says that's actually supposed to be a platform, and that your height denotes your score. Right. When you have to refer to a manual to figure out what you're looking at, something is definitely wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this game is bad because of it's graphics. I've got no problem with the complete absence of graphics – Zork is one of my favorite games! But when the graphics actually make the game hard to play, it's impossible to ignore them. I'll take a well crafted text adventure over Call of Duty any day, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is just a little bit too crude for my tastes.

The general consensus seems to be that the game isn't too bad if you can get past the graphics, and I'm leaning towards agreeing with that. It's surprisingly complex for an Atari game, but it's also not too surprising to learn that the designer went on to design ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Images via MobyGames

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