Frostbite (Atari 2600) review
"Life is harsh in the arctic. We humans can't seem to find a way to live in parts of the world simply because it's too damn cold. Certain species of animals can amaze us in their ability to live in or adapt to the bone-chilling temperatures of places like Antarctica, where no human dares to make their home. Apparently, since they're so used to not seeing any people in their territory, they hate us, and they'll do anything to make us go home or die, whichever happens to come first. "
Life is harsh in the arctic. We humans can't seem to find a way to live in parts of the world simply because it's too damn cold. Certain species of animals can amaze us in their ability to live in or adapt to the bone-chilling temperatures of places like Antarctica, where no human dares to make their home. Apparently, since they're so used to not seeing any people in their territory, they hate us, and they'll do anything to make us go home or die, whichever happens to come first.
It's not snowing at the moment, but Frostbite Bailey is still freezing his ass off. From the top of the screen to the bottom, there are four rows of ice floating horizontally either left or right at a constant pace. Frostbite Bailey must jump on each row of floating ice several times in order to build an igloo, block by block, at the top of the screen. Once the igloo is built, he can make his way to his newly built home and quickly climb inside to warm up for a few seconds before the next level begins.
Apart from building igloos, Frostbite Bailey's only other priority is to stay alive. Neither is an easy task. You can always collect a few fish for a nice dinner, but there are many deadly hazards that you must watch out for at all times. Pinching crabs and clams that clap their jaws continuously can almost always be seen swimming across the chilly waters, and snow geese migrate from one side of the screen to the other. Let any of these enemies touch you and you'll literally be dragged across the ice until you sink into the drowning seas and die a cold death. Polar bears come out of hibernation to guard the igloos and they have a strong distaste for any other landlubbers apart from themselves. Cross their path and they will chase you off the screen (hey, at least they don't bite). Frostbite Bailey seems to be a friendly fellow, but to try and make friends with any of the animals would be about as intelligent as going to a fast food restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger with no cheese.
The fearsome animals are your biggest adversaries, but there are a couple of non-living obstacles that can kill you just as quickly. There's a thermometer under your score that always tells what the current air temperature is. It starts out at 45º and slowly but surely decreases until it reaches zero degrees. When the frigid atmosphere drops to 0º, Frostbite Bailey will live up to his name by becoming frostbitten. Finally, the floating blocks of ice change form every level (there are three different forms in all). They can be large, solid as a rock blocks, a bunch of broken up chunks that you can actually walk across without worrying about falling, or the most challenging of all, groups of icebergs that split into two small halves and then come back together, making you time your jumps more carefully to avoid falling into the unforgiving water of the Arctic Sea.
Frostbite is like most of the Atari 2600 games in that its levels don't change much (except for the different forms of ice), but the enemies get so fast you would think they're running away from a fierce tornado. But, many things set Frostbite apart from most of the system's better knowns. There are not many Atari 2600 games that will make your heart pound as fast as Frostbite does. It's not that the game is scary (it's not, it's rather charming), but because of the fast paced action. Once you get past a few levels, the enemies reach blinding speeds, making the game all the more challenging.
You'll observe what I mean when you're standing on a block of ice and you see a flock of snow geese approaching. You look both up and down, ready to make a jump to avoid being knocked into the water, but crabs are approaching on both of those rows! Fortunately, Frostbite is nice enough to let you simply press the button on the joystick to change the direction of the flow of the row of ice you're currently standing on for a little bit of an edge. But you must use this ability sparingly, because each time you change the direction, a block of the growing igloo will be taken away, unless it's completely built. Not being able to jump to the left and right makes the game even more challenging. To keep things from getting too difficult, you get an extra life every 5000 points, which balances out Frostbite's challenge perfectly.
The visuals seen in Frostbite are absolutely fantastic for the time (1983). Frostbite Bailey comes packed with heavy clothing and a big brown hat. Whether it's the green fish that open and close their mouths quickly as they float up and down and swim across the screen, the white geese that actually look like they're flying, or Frostbite Bailey himself, all the living creatures have great colors and superb animation. The rows of ice change from white to blue when you jump on them, until you've jumped on all four rows. Then they all become white again. The skies in the distant background constantly change colors. For a memorable touch, it even changes from day to night after you pass through a few levels. None of this may sound like much, but for the Atari 2600, these graphics are astounding. Without a doubt, Frostbite is one of the finalists in the Best Graphics category for the system.
The sounds are almost as great. From the sound of jumping and changing the colors of the ice, to the sound of being chased away by a grizzly polar bear (that's what the instruction booklet calls them!), to the sound of your score increasing as the igloo is taken apart at the end of a level, you won't have any fusses about the great quality of the audio, except for maybe the fact that there is no music at all. The controls are beyond impressive as well. All you'll be doing is running left and right and jumping up and down from ice block to ice block. It'll take a few games to become an expert at jumping, but the more you toil with them, the more you'll notice how easy it is. One thing I really like is the fact that you can jump diagonally. You could leap diagonally to the right, and, while in midair, shift your direction to the left to make a perfect landing on the ice below. That's how precise the controls are.
Frostbite only has four variations to choose from. You can play by yourself in a standard game in which you'll start out on an easy setting at level one, or an advanced game in which life will be harder as you begin on level five. The other two variations are the same, except you can play them with a friend, turn-taking style.
I normally don't even think about giving an Atari 2600 game a perfect 10/10 unless it has tons of variations to choose from, but Frostbite is an exception to the rule! The graphics, sounds, and controls couldn't be much better for the system, but as great as they are, the gameplay surpasses them. I'm appalled that nobody else has reviewed this game yet, and it's one that you never hear much about, sadly. To say the least, Frostbite is one of the most overlooked games, and one of the best games that have ever been made for the Atari 2600. If you see it at a flea market, pick it up no matter what the price. If you see it at eBay.com, don't just bid on it and wait, use Buy It Now and get it right away! I can't praise this game enough.
Community review by retro (October 31, 2003)
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