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London Blitz (Atari 2600) artwork

London Blitz (Atari 2600) review

"Most games have you taking lives, but how many games have you saving them? London Blitz (LB) thrusts you onto the streets of WWII era London to disarm bombs before they can take lives or cause any major property damage. The more bombs you disarm, the higher a rank you become. Wait too long and bombs go off. This spells a demotion for you. Be careful because if a bomb goes off while you're working on it... Well, it won't tickle. "

Most games have you taking lives, but how many games have you saving them? London Blitz (LB) thrusts you onto the streets of WWII era London to disarm bombs before they can take lives or cause any major property damage. The more bombs you disarm, the higher a rank you become. Wait too long and bombs go off. This spells a demotion for you. Be careful because if a bomb goes off while you're working on it... Well, it won't tickle.

If you didn't read the instruction manual, be prepared for imminent confusion. You'll see a map of a huge labyrinth with you in the center. Around the maze called London are a bunch of flashing bombs to which you must drive. You push over on the joystick and your character sits still. You try hitting the fire button and the confusion rises as you're thrust into Wolfenstein 3D. On Atari 2600? Have you ever wanted to play Wolfenstein on 2600? Neither have I. This is the main driving screen, which looks like an early FPS. This is the only way you can navigate London; by making your way through a confusing maze of the same three colors. It's highlighted by walls and corridors that all look exactly alike. We can't expect detail from a game this early, but it still makes navigating difficult. The only way to truly know where you're going is to keep cycling back and forth between the driving screen and the map.

LB's atmosphere is fittingly dark. We're talking WWII bomb disarming. There's nothing light-hearted about that, and the developers wanted you to see that. It lacks the camp that many Atari 2600 game setups have, trading it instead for something realistic or even resonant. The grim graphics, the lack of music (only used for tension when disarming a bomb), and even the feeling of worry and rush play their part well in building this strong atmosphere. It may not look exactly like the streets of London, but the darker color pallet gives you the sensation of traveling at night time, frantic, not knowing exactly where to go. Hearing that engine rev is the like the game telling you to get your ass in gear or innocent lives are going to be taken. It's a great and maddening combination.

Disarming bombs is the core of the game. You should reach one in no time, and again you hit the fire button to bring up another wondrous and confusing screen. It shows you a bomb with three sliding switches, three colored boxes below them, and a vertical line scrolling across a colored box at the bottom. The three switches are what you need to adjust to disarm the bomb. You have to guess what position each switch needs to be in. The colored boxes indicate whether or not you're right, with each box corresponding to a switch (left to right colored box matching top to bottom switch, respectively). As for that vertical line in the colored box, it's is your time limit before the bomb explodes; the fuse, if you will.

The controls become very worrisome when disarming bombs because they're so under-responsive here. You have to jerk over and jerk down really hard to navigate it. You may to jerk down several times for a switch to become highlighted so you can move it over, and moving it over means having to jerk over on the joystick so harshly. We're also not talking just one jerk. You may have to jerk numerous times to get it to respond, all to get the switch to move one space. Many times, you have to move the switch multiple spaces over. After you think you've gotten the right combination, you have to push all the way down and jerk over, hoping the game responds and tells you if you're right. Either you'll hear a high-pitched tone and the bomb will disappear, or you'll still be at the bomb screen and the colored boxes may have changed color. Black tells you the corresponding switch is properly set while green and red indicate that the switch must be moved over some more.

Disarming the bombs is not always the same, as there are three different types of bombs in the game.

On top of the standard ones listed above, you also have bombs which cycle through sixteen combinations, forcing you to guess at the right one, which is pretty much luck. You can just as easily keep hitting over until you guess it right, or just memorize a combination that's very close to correct and wait for another very similar combination to pop up. You still have the indicators near the bottom telling you how close you are to correct.

There are also bombs just like the standard ones, except that the colored boxes do not correspond exactly with the switches, so you have to find out which ones link to which through process of elimination. These ones are a bit trickier and might require a little more time to disarm, something that you won't have in later levels.

Bear in mind that each bomb also has a limited number of attempts. At lower ranks, you get so many chances it's almost impossible not to get the right combination. As you disarm bombs, you increase ranks. A higher rank means less chances to defuse a bomb. It makes the game more frantic and even seem impossible after a while. Combine that with the second bombs I mentioned which cycles through different switch combinations and you have a very frustrating marriage.

It's an interesting and new premise combined with a strong setup, but it doesn't stack up to long term playability.

The game becomes very repetitive, even as it becomes harder. The main problem is that the game is far too dependent on guess work. Every bomb requires some level of guessing, and later on if you don't guess close to the correct combo, you're screwed. The game gives you less and less chances. Take too many of them and the bomb blows up or the fuse burns faster. Throw in the under-responsive bomb controls and you have a real disaster on your hands that brings about needless frustration.

The guessing further demeans the game when you realize how reliant on luck it is. Games should not be based so heavily on luck. They should be more about skill, and there's really nothing skillful about being lucky enough to guess the right combination, or even trying to guess the right combination based on being close to it. In the case of the latter, you're still having to rely on luck.

LB is a unique game, both in feel and in mechanics, but it isn't an incredibly fun one. The first few minutes of playing can be engaging and slightly enjoyable, but playing the game past ten or so minutes proves to be a slow and grueling test of your ability to guess. Chance is something that many games work with, but the less it's used the better. Save it for the RPG's. Making a game that relies so heavily on chance combined with uneven pacing and repetitive gameplay does not make for an exciting experience that many Atari fans associate with 2600. Bottom line: this game is worth checking out, but not worth making a full gameplay project out of it. It's the kind of game you play once, put down, and return to in a few years. You smile at its attempt to think outside the box, which it did so well, but sigh at sad usage of guess work and at the lack of a solid pace.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 29, 2010)

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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