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Tutankham (Atari 2600) artwork

Tutankham (Atari 2600) review


" The adventurous moments, the challenge, the action... those are things I remember. It's not that they aren't present, it's just that you have to tolerate a lot of questionable decisions made by the developers. Why can't you shoot vertically? Why sport such drunken play control? Maybe they felt it would have made the game too easy, but I beg to differ. I'm sure they could have found other ways to turn up the challenge."



Tutankham asset


Memory is a funny thing. We always cast the movies, shows and games of yore in a rosy light, only to sometimes disappoint ourselves when we reexamine them. I think it's because we have such great memories and powerful emotions associated with them. I can relate. I remember staying the night at a friend's place, playing his Atari 2600 and Master System early the next morning. He introduced me to an interesting game called Tutankham, which was like an archaic Tomb Raider. We crept through the narrow walkways of Tut's tomb, gunned down asps and crocodiles, snatched treasure, and had a blast. Eventually his brothers joined in, and we all tried to outdo one another, see how much further we could advance, see who could figure out the particularly tricky parts. We all enjoyed it, because no one really examined the game. No one question the rough bits.

Taking off my rosy glasses, I can see this game for what it is: an adequate action title with a little bite. My memories told me the controls were tight and responsive. Lies! When moving, your character remains in motion until you hit a wall. You can't stand in place in the middle of a room, though you can change directions in mid-walk. This may not sound like such a hassle, but when coupled with loose play control, it becomes irksome. You'll spend your first few sessions orienting yourself with the controls, overshooting hallways and running into enemies.

Despite the clunkiness, it doesn't take long to become accustomed to it. After a while, you'll find yourself pulverizing enemies and collecting treasure like a master. You'll still find a few areas, particularly wide open spaces, that rely on precision, something that doesn't come easy with loose controls. Thankfully, you can toss a grenade and kill everything on the screen.

Tutankham assetTutankham asset


I remembered more heated combat. What played out in my mind's eye was action-packed shooting in all directions, fighting off reptilian menaces and flesh-eating bugs with ease. More lies! You can only shoot in two directions, left or right. Shooting isn't as simple as pressing the 'fire' button. You have to move the joystick in the desired direction while doing so, sometimes even hitting 'fire' multiple times before it responds. Like orienting yourself with the controls, this takes some getting used to. Expect to run into a good number of scorpions and vultures in your first sessions.

Enemy spawning makes the lack of ease even worse. Creatures don't hang out in the hallway, waiting for you, but rather spawn from indestructible holes in the wall. Kill one enemy and another will rush to replace it. There are several areas where enemies will spawn around corners and wait for you. You won't have enough space to take a shot at them without dying, and since you can't shoot downward, you're pretty much screwed. Your only option is to use one of the aforementioned grenades, which are finite. Should you arrive to such an area without one, you're screwed, plain and simple.

My memories weren't filled with such frustrating moments. We accepted this as challenge, and didn't stop to think that with a little more ease of control and combat,Tutankham would have been much more exciting. The adventurous moments, the challenge, the action... those are things I remember. It's not that they aren't present, it's just that you have to tolerate a lot of questionable decisions made by the developers. Why can't you shoot vertically? Why sport such drunken play control? Maybe they felt it would have made the game too easy, but I beg to differ. I'm sure they could have found other ways to turn up the challenge.

I put this game away, possibly for good, after replaying it. Maybe I'll even forget how poorly it's aged. Or just forget all together that I had replayed it. I'd like that, to remember Tutankham as that crazy action game I played in grade school one morning with some friends. I'd prefer to remember it as an addictive trip through a sealed tomb than face the reality that it wasn't all that great to begin with. If I do forget, though, then I'll wind up going back to the game and disappointing myself a second time. Perhaps it's better this way, moving on and discovering other quality games to fill the void.

Rating: 4/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 16, 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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bloomer posted May 17, 2012:

This version doesn't sound great, but the arcade original is really good. I put a lot of silver in it as a kid. I think what particularly stood out at the time was the scrolling of the levels (IE They were were often several screesn big). There was a good sense of unveiling what lay ahead. The strategy of being able to shoot only L and R stood out, too.

The Apple II spin-off, Lady Tut, is extra good, too. It's not really a spin-off; I guess it's a rip-off of the monsters, mazes and shooting left and right, but it has no scrolling, and it also has spinnable walls for a strategic element which makes it its own thing.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 17, 2012:

I saw some videos of the arcade version, and I'm definitely interested in checking that one out. Judging by the videos, the game isn't hampered by only being able to shoot horizontally. It doesn't seem like enemies linger in one space like they often do in the 2600 version.
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overdrive posted May 17, 2012:

I played the 2600 Tut a few times. I know what you mean about the monsters camping in areas where you can't shoot them and they can kill you as soon as you get in position due to the cramped corridors. I don't think I made it past the third of four levels (or was it fourth of five) because there was one area I ALWAYS got stuck at because I'd be out of grenades and unable to get past a particular monster.

I also agree with the "rose-colored glasses" bit. A part of me still wants to play it because it was more of an actual quest than the average 2600 game. Even though, a couple of years ago, I ROM'd it and found it to be a miserable experience for me today.
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zippdementia posted May 20, 2012:

I like that the title of this piece is "Two Tank Ham." Could be the sequel to iron tank I always wanted.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 20, 2012:

Only instead of iron, it's made of ham. Now that's a tank I'd drive.

No wait, I want a bacon tank.
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zippdementia posted May 21, 2012:

Bacon and cheddar tank.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 21, 2012:

Yes!

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