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Desert Falcon (Atari 2600) artwork

Desert Falcon (Atari 2600) review

"Although Desert Falcon tries to be an arcade shooter and a progress quest, it's neither here nor there. The game suffers because of this indecision. Rather than strengthening one aspect, the developers spread their efforts thin, and the end result is a bland, awkward shmup."

Desert Falcon asset
What is this I don't even

1987. Back then we still thought of games in arcade terms, where we racked up as many points as we could to show off our nifty patches and impress other game geeks. Yet video games were evolving into a new creature, where progress and completion became the main objective. Levels rose and fell in an arc: you started off, survived perils, fought a boss, and then you were one step closer to finding the princess or stopping the evil mastermind. Unlike most older games that ended with your untimely demise, these games were offering a favorable end to your character's quest. Great titles were still in production that used the older scheme, and there were even some that presented you with a campaign whilst also featuring score-attack elements. The finished product was usually sloppy, awkward, or plain dull.

Enter Desert Falcon.

The premise suggests arcade mayhem. "Go forth into the desert, titular raptor, and secure a bounty of riches," the game says. So to the skies you go, flying isometrically and landing to snatch up gold whilst avoiding obstacles and blasting insects with your beak laser. You could collect hieroglyphs as well that granted special abilities like warping to the next level or rapid fire. All in all, your only concerns are staying alive and making the numbers at the bottom shine. It's such a no-brainer where the game should go: keep it simple, keep it fast, and addiction should follow.

...and that's where the game goes awry. Most of the other elements don't play to a "fast paced, score-racking" experience. Levels rise and fall in that same arc-like style I mentioned earlier. You fly past a score of monoliths and pyramids, blast what few insects appear, then engage in a boss battle against a sphinx. After that, it's on to the next level for more of the same thing.

Desert Falcon screenshotDesert Falcon screenshot

I definitely dig progress-based games, but Atari 2600 is a horrible venue for them. Level design is a huge factor in those games. Adding new tricks and surprises to keep you on your toes keeps the experience fresh. Unfortunately, the 2600 didn't possess the power to create an isometric shmup that could throw new perils at you consistently. Because of this, you fly past the same scenery, shoot the same randomly appearing enemies who only appear one at a time, and complete the same level repeatedly. The only factor that changes is speed, and while that does add challenge to the mix, it doesn't save the game.

Even if we try to view Desert Falcon from an arcade standpoint, we're doomed. It's much too slow and tedious to be addictive. On top of that, there's an issue with wonky flight physics. It takes a short while to orient yourself with the game's loose control response. One thing a player should never have to do in a 2600 game is orient himself. I know that sounds perverted, but stay with me. Any action game you play on this system should feel natural within five minutes of playing. There shouldn't be a learning curve for games that are meant to be simple.

Although Desert Falcon tries to be an arcade shooter and a progress quest, it's neither here nor there. The game suffers because of this indecision. Rather than strengthening one aspect, the developers spread their efforts thin, and the end result is a bland, awkward shmup. This isn't to say that Desert Falcon could never have been a great title. It was created during a time of transition, when progress was becoming contemporary and scoring was humbly stepping down. The game just had the rotten luck of being born too early or too late.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (March 30, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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zippdementia posted March 30, 2012:

Born a little too early, I would say. The NES, and later the SNES, was the undisputed champion of these kind of games. Had it come a little later, we would've seen it on the NES and then later a crazy sequel on the SNES... and an upcoming game for the 3DS.

Do a search on your review for "tour." You'll see the error.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 31, 2012:

Thanhks, Zipp. Nice catch.

'Too early' is more likely, but I still think you could make a viable 'too late' argument. The main point to this game, after all, was racking up a higher score. Had this game have been made circa 1983, I don't think the levels would flow like they do. It would more likely be a game akin to River Raid, a vertical scroller with a faster pace, more abundant enemies, and (likely) no boss battles.

Thanks for reading!

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