System: Atari 2600 Publisher: Atari Developer: Atari
Genre: Adventure Type: Overhead Adventure Circa: 1982

Howard Scott Warshaw, the developer of Atari 2600 Raiders of the Lost Ark once said (and I quote), "Since Warren Robinette had done such an amazing job with Adventure, there was no point in doing another adventure style game (in my opinion) unless it was a quantum leap forward from where he left off. Did I succeed? You are the judge."

Although I am not sure if Raiders is truly a "quantum leap" ahead of Adventure, it is certainly far more convoluted. No game remained a bigger mystery to me for as many years as Raiders did. As a kid, I was never able to solve it, and I don't think I ever would had it not been for a solution someone had written and posted to the internet. (How that person figured it out is perhaps an even greater mystery.)

Raiders has you in control of the famous archaeologist, Dr. Indiana Jones, as he follows a quest to find the fabled Lost Ark. The plot and settings are very loosely based on the movie. Instead of Nazis, we have rooms of scrambling cloaked thieves, but there are other more extreme liberties taken with the source material. I don't recall a temple with living walls, any giant spiders, or an impossibly enourmous severed Rip Van Winkle head in the movie. Nor do I recall the map room being situated in such a way that you could fall off of it, nor the scene where Indy found the Ark by parachuting off the side of a cliff. But hey, at least there are snakes.


Right from the start, Raiders is painfully obtuse in its design. Indy doesn't even start his adventure with any of the necessary provisions and must find them or buy them from colored blocks that inscrutably represent sheiks. You can carry only a very limited number of items, forcing you to drop things and backtrack a lot as the different items become needed at different times. Due to the 2600's one-button controller, inventory is managed with Controller 1, while Indy's movement is guided with Controller 2, which is awkward, but a necessary evil. Along with it not being very clear what each item does, it's also unclear when you should use an item (with Controller 2) or drop an item (with Controller 1), as some items are used by dropping them. (Confusing? Yes, I know.) All of this backtracking and item management leads to a lot of tedious wandering around.

The central area of the Raiders world is a stretch of mesas (mountains with flat tops), one of which houses the Ark. The game's major puzzle is figuring out the right mesa, and that is solved with an item (predictably) not mentioned in the manual (though it's one of the more recognizable elements from the movie). Years ago, I correctly surmised this item was what you needed, but what I didn't realize is the way it has to be used in tandem with another item to keep from falling out of the map room. So that was as far as I ever got. Even if I had gotten farther, I don't know if I would have figured out the next step - the really ridiculous way you have to get inside that mesa. Even more ridiculous is the brief window of time that you have to reveal the Ark's location. The game has an internal clock and the sun only rises in the map room at noon. So, you can either wander around and kill time waiting for it, or stand right there in the map room doing nothing. Either way, I really don't like being forced to kill time in games. In this case, it's more tedium heaped onto already-existing tedium.


The large abstract game world is perhaps the biggest strength and weakness of Raiders. On the one hand, the graphics' intrinsically weird nature creates such a freakish environment that you probably won't see anything else like it ever again, not even in other 2600 games. (I won't even complain that the "giant spider" looks more like a patch off a burlap bag, or that the black-caped thief in the bog has no head.) On the other hand, the inability to figure out what you're looking at half the times coupled with the lack of clues and direction lead to a confusing and seemingly unstructured mess.

Although I wasn't able to do it completely on my own, I'm really glad to have finally finished Raiders of the Lost Ark and no longer have its mysteries haunting me. Sometimes, I am truly amazed that this game doesn't receive the same level of criticism that E.T. does, considering that it's even more baffling, but I suppose there's not as much drama surrounding it.




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