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Moon Patrol (Atari 2600) artwork

Moon Patrol (Atari 2600) review

"There are some things that I'm automatically drawn to simply by their name and look. When I first read the title of a book called ''The Ultimate History of Video Games'' and saw its cover, it shot straight to the top of my must-get list right away. Growing up, I always wanted to be a meteorologist, until I found out how much physics, calculus, and chemistry that I'd have to take. Anything that had to do with weather, especially tornadoes, was always a major turn on for me. "

There are some things that I'm automatically drawn to simply by their name and look. When I first read the title of a book called ''The Ultimate History of Video Games'' and saw its cover, it shot straight to the top of my must-get list right away. Growing up, I always wanted to be a meteorologist, until I found out how much physics, calculus, and chemistry that I'd have to take. Anything that had to do with weather, especially tornadoes, was always a major turn on for me.

Moon Patrol. That just sounds cool. Patrolling the moon. Upon glancing at the screenshots on the back of the box at Toys 'R Us and seeing those crisp starry skies and the 2-D terrain of the moon with alien aircrafts overhead, I knew exactly what I wanted to buy. I haven't ever had the chance to play Moon Patrol in the arcades, but I can tell that no matter how great the arcade original was, Moon Patrol for the Atari 2600 just has to be an excellent arcade to console conversion.

Traveling millions of miles just to strap on a space suit and hop around on the moon is boring. Wouldn't you rather take a joyride on the moon in a moon rover? That's what you'll be doing in Moon Patrol, except that it'll be anything but a joyride. Your moon rover appears to walk on the moon, with legs, or wheels, that move from back to front constantly, as if it thinks it's human. While traveling from left to right in 2-D side-scrolling fashion, batches of alien spaceships invade the dark skies above you. Many of these extraterrestrial enemies resemble pink flies; some are more normal-looking yellow spaceships, and several appear to be white asterisks. All of these enemies drop missiles that look laughably harmless, but they're anything but. Your ship is far from invincible; just one hit from a falling missile will make your ship explode into several tiny bits. The spinning white enemies can even make fresh new holes in the ground when one of their missiles hit the surface.

While your vehicle is walking along on the ground, you will come up on several holes in the ground, tree-looking barriers that stand in your way, and even flashing underground mines. Craters and mines must simply be jumped over by pushing up on the joystick. The enemy aircrafts and ground obstacles such as trees and futuristic-looking enemy tanks are waiting to be shot to death. Pressing the button on your joystick will allow you to shoot a bullet out the top of your ship and in front of your ship at the same time. Therefore, you could simultaneously destroy a standing barrier in front of you and a spaceship that is hovering above you. That's neat.

When it looks like one of the missiles from your out of this world enemies up above is definitely going to fall on top of your automobile, you can push left to slow down and move a little to the left, or move right and speed up a little. You will also need to move left to slow down when you have two obstacles on the ground that are spread just a bit apart. That way, you'll be able to jump over both of them one at a time without over-jumping and falling bottom-first into a crater. When two holes are right next to each other, seemingly merged to form one big crevice, you'll need to do the opposite so you won't under-jump. It's all strategy, baby.

That brings me to my only complaint of Moon Patrol. Slowing down (pushing left on the joystick), will make your vehicle move all the way to the left side of the screen; it's not as if you're not already close to the left margin as it is. But you can't move as far right as you want, or need to in certain situations.

The best thing about Moon Patrol is that it's extremely fun and challenging. The areas of the moon that you'll patrol consist of many short levels that are represented on a graph at the bottom-middle part of the screen. There are small X's on the ground that mark certain checkpoints. When you see an approaching X on the ground, you can almost always bet that a set of overhead aliens is about to invade your comfort area.

X marks the spot. The X on the ground also represents how far you've gotten in the level and where you will start from if your ship gets destroyed. Like I mentioned, there is a graph at the bottom of the screen that represents the level you're on, and all the levels as a whole. It looks sort of like a thermometer. When you are halfway through a stage, half of one of the sections will be filled in. When you get through an entire level, that whole line will be shaded in. There is a total of five separate segments on the graph. It would make you think that there are only five levels in the whole game, but could there be more? Mystery prevails. You will want to complete these five levels to find out, and you won't stop until you do. That's the beauty of Moon Patrol.

Beauty also persists in Moon Patrol's visuals. The graphics are almost too good for the Atari 2600. During gameplay, there is always a scrolling blue mountain and flashing stars passing by in the background. I know that sounds rather deadbeat by today's standards, but for an Atari 2600 game, that was simply amazing to see. The moon rover and enemy spacecrafts look fairly detailed and have nice animation. I've always been especially impressed with the sharp, clean look of the enemy tanks.

If you think about it, wouldn't it seem like the moon would be a quiet place? Moon Patrol goes to prove that that's not so! From the sound you hear when you make the vehicle shoot, to the cheerful sounding beeps of earning a bonus, Moon Patrol's sounds are memorable, atmospheric, and I'll even go so far as to call them classic. Each time you finish a level, you'll even get to hear some great music that lasts about three seconds.

Moon Patrol is a very challenging game, but it's not so difficult or frustrating that the fun factor gets chipped away like a log that is being plagued by a lumberjack with an ax. In fact, it's right the opposite. It's tough, but the challenge keeps you coming back for more as you wonder what will happen when, or if, you complete all five stages. Nevertheless, if the game is too hard or too easy on the default difficulty, you can always change the setting with the extra variations. Also, if you have a friend, sibling, etc., nearby that wants to play, you can opt to play a turn-taking two-player game.

One or two fellow gamers have told me before that I have an uncanny ability of choosing great video games to purchase. It's been said that if there were one thousand games in a store, and only one of them were good, I would be able to look over them and pick it out every time. I don't think I'd go so far as to say that, but I did pick out a gem when I selected Moon Patrol. It's one of the very best games for the Atari 2600. If you're in a process of collecting great games for the system, your library is incomplete without this one!

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Community review by retro (October 31, 2003)

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