E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Atari 2600

This notorious 1982 release for the Atari 2600 was – at the time – the most expensive movie license ever acquired by a video games company ($35 million dollars it apparently cost), and it also undoubtedly hastened the demise of Atari Inc. as a company (as it was back then), and was also a major contributing factor in the video game market crash of 1983.

Yes: pumping out games as bad and as cynically-rushed as E.T. was created a significant fall in consumer confidence – particularly in North America where the effects of the crash were felt most strongly.

And none of this was the fault of the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who took some persuading to actually take on the project in the first place. Warshaw was given only six weeks to create a finished game from scratch, when normally an Atari 2600 game would take between six to twelve months to program. But complete the game he did, and it was then marketed by Atari some six months after the film had been released (ie. late; when people where starting to become fatigued by the film). Also, Atari suits at the time inexplicably decided to manufacture six million E.T. cartridges in anticipation of high sales. And – while E.T. did sell more than a million copies initially – a lot of the people who bought it were not happy and returned the game for their money back. Ultimately  – after returns – Atari sold less than ten percent of the cartridges they manufactured for E.T. and infamously buried hundreds of thousands of them in the New Mexico desert in an attempt to hide their embarrassment.

Throughout the decades there have been numerous instances where upper management at a video games company have made calamitous decisions, but those made by Atari management in the case of E.T. must rank as the greediest, most cynical, and most stupid of all time. Again: no real blame can be placed on the shoulders of the programmer, but the people who pushed him to make the game in six weeks; and the ones who thought that $35 million dollars was an acceptable price to pay for the E.T. video game license, are nothing but fools. Fools who brought the video games industry to its knees with their blindness and greed.

As for the game: it’s dogsh*t, of course. Of little or no redeeming value. It bears little resemblance to the film, or the characters in it, and few people who play E.T. have got anything positive to say about it.

E.T. on the Atari 2600 is an interesting story, but unfortunately one that highlights the very worst of the video games business.

More: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Wikipedia

Red Dead Revolver, XBox

Red Dead Revolver was first published by Rockstar Games in 2004. It is the first title in the Red Dead series.

It is a Wild West style third-person shooter, with RPG and adventure overtones. In it you play the lead – a bounty hunter called ‘Red’ who must track down various outlaws and collect the reward on them. Of course there’s more to the story than simply bounty-hunting, and this becomes clear as you progress.

Presentation-wise: Red Dead Revolver is atmospheric, but I thought that it looked a bit ‘murky’ overall. The colours are very subdued and the celluloid scratches out-of-place (scratches were more prevalent in 1930s and 1940s films, and grindhouse pictures, rather than Spaghetti Westerns, which this game is obviously trying to emulate), and the whole game looks very downbeat and un-colourful.

Gameplay-wise: Red Dead Revolver is engrossing and fun to play. The game didn’t do too well critically at the time of release, though, and it wasn’t really until 2010’s Red Dead Redemption that the world really sat up and took notice of the series.

Red Dead Revolver is still a game that should be in any self-respecting XBox collector’s library, though, and shouldn’t be difficult to pick up relatively cheaply.

Note: these grabs were taken on an XBox devkit, which produces lossless screenshots. Even so, with the game being as murky as it is, they still appear quite indistinct.

More: Red Dead Revolver on Wikipedia

Three Weeks in Paradise, ZX Spectrum

The fifth and final Wally Week game, Three Weeks in Paradise was published by Mikro-Gen in 1986, for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.

As the title suggests: this time there are three members of the Week family on this particular graphic adventure – specifically: Wally, Wilma and Herbert, trapped on a tropical island inhabited by cannibals.

Unfortunately Chris Hinsley – the guy who wrote this (and all the previous Wally Week games – except Herbert’s Dummy Run) – decided that only Wally would be playable. Wilma and Herbert remain only as motivation – you don’t get to play as them.

Three Weeks in Paradise plays similarly to Pyjamarama in that you can only carry two items at once, and that certain items do specific things (the bow and arrows let you fire an arrow, for example), which means having to think quite hard about what to carry and to where.

The tune that plays during the main game is quite jolly – a blatant rip-off of the theme from The Addams Family. And when the game slows down (which is quite often) the tune also slows down, which makes it sound unintentionally funny. Thankfully it can be switched on/off with a press of the ‘5’ key.

Something else that can be switched on or off is Wally’s infamous colour clash. The yellow attribute box that used to follow him around can now be switched off by pressing ‘3’. Funny that this feature would come at the end of the series. Oh well.

There were 48K and 128K versions of Three Weeks in Paradise made available. The 128K version had a small number of extra screens and an extra AY chip tune on the title screen. These grabs are from the 128K version.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Three Weeks in Paradise on Wikipedia

Herbert’s Dummy Run, ZX Spectrum

Herbert’s Dummy Run is the fourth game in the Wally Week series and was published by Mikro-Gen in 1985. It was written by Dave Perry and features Herbert Week – Wally’s baby son.

Gameplay-wise, Herbert’s Dummy Run is similar to Pyjamarama, although it is bigger and more refined than its predecessor. In this, though, you are Herbert – lost inside a department store – and must find the “Lost Children Office” where Wally and Wilma Week are waiting for you.

The graphics are colourful and appealing, although they also have the same colour clash problems of earlier Wally Week games. There are some interesting shoot ’em up sections where you have to blast away to a timer, and survive until it reaches the end (otherwise you get kicked out and have to try again from scratch). Complete a wave and you are usually awarded an important item. There’s also a Bomber type minigame, where you drop bombs on buildings until you’ve levelled them all and can land, and a Breakout-style minigame in there too. These little games at least add variety and are better executed than those seen in Pyjamarama.

Frustration can set in, though, as you juggle items in your limited (two slot) inventory, but that’s what these games are all about: finding out what the key items are, and using them appropriately.

Wally’s only appearance in the game is at the very end, but Herbert’s Dummy Run does still count as a Wally Week game. It’s not a bad game at all, although it’s not really what I would call a classic.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Herbert’s Dummy Run on World of Spectrum

Pyjamarama, ZX Spectrum

Pyjamarama is the 1984 follow-up to Automania, and features the same lead character – Wally Week. Which makes it the second game in the Wally Week series.

Wally, in this one, has forgotten to wind his alarm clock and is in danger of overlaying, and you play his subconscious on a quest to wake him up. And to do that you have to find his alarm clock key. None of which makes any sense whatsoever, but that doesn’t really matter because Pyjamarama is still a very good game.

Pyjamarama is basically a flick-screen adventure/puzzle game, with each screen representing one room in Wally’s house. Scattered throughout the rooms are various items, and some of these items have specific uses. Discovering what the items do is a key part of the game – as is item-juggling, because Wally can only hold two items at a time.

Graphically, Pyjamarama is iconic – it really does capture a distinct look and feel of ZX Spectrum games of the time; in particular the colour clash, which – while being pretty horrendous – doesn’t seem to mar the game in any way.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Pyjamarama on Wikipedia

Thimbleweed Park, PC

Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure, released in 2017 by Terrible Toybox, and co-created by ex-LucasArts employees Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert.

In case you didn’t know: both Gilbert and Winnick have been involved in the making of some of the best games of all time, including (but not limited to) titles such as: Ballblazer, Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle.

And in 2014 they launched a Kickstarter to fund development of their “dream game”. Well, their tribute to point-and-click adventures of the past, but using modern technology. As a backer I followed the game’s development with interest. A top team of artists, musicians, voice actors, and technicians were assembled, and the game was completed pretty much as planned, taking three years to develop.

Thimbleweed Park is a mystery adventure set in 1987, with five playable characters and a whole load of puzzles to crack. Fear not, though. If you’re weak on puzzles you can play the game in Casual mode just to enjoy the story and pixel artistry. Real gamers will play it in Hard mode, though, to experience everything it has to offer.

First and foremost Thimbleweed Park looks amazing. The graphics really are a work of pixel artistry and they are further enhanced with great animation, silky smooth scrolling, visual effects, and even real-time lighting. Everything about Thimbleweed Park is just so slick; the useful right-click functionality; the way icons jiggle to get your attention; the screen tilting; the alternative fonts; the voice acting; the language support. If I had any niggles it would be that there’s no manual scroll (I wanted one), and… that’s about it.

Story-wise, Thimbleweed Park is hilarious too. It’s basically an X-Files-type scenario, with lots of satirical horror film and video game references. And jokes. The game starts off seemingly innocuously (although smart players will realise that they’re controlling a doomed man), then becomes a murder mystery, before turning into a curse story, and then cutting back to the murder mystery. All the playable characters have their own plotlines going on, and the game cuts between them as flashbacks as the story unfolds.

The playable characters vary quite a bit and all have their own unique charm. The lead – a female FBI officer called Ray – is laconic and easily annoyed; her male partner, Reyes, is an eager rookie. Then there’s a clown, called Ransome, who is infamous for his *beeping* insults. A computer programmer called Delores, and her rather, Franklin, make up the remaining playable characters.

I can’t recommend Thimbleweed Park highly enough. It is a fantastic love letter to point-and-click adventure games of the past and is genuinely funny, absorbing, and challenging. It’s worth playing to see the beautiful art alone, although the writing, music, puzzles, and usability are all significant contributors to the fact that this is a future classic in the making. Which is quite ironic.

Thimbleweed Park is also available on current gen systems, such as PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch. Plus Mac, Linux and Android.

More: Thimbleweed Park on Wikipedia
Steam: Thimbleweed Park on Steam
GOG.com: Thimbleweed Park on GOG.com

Sam & Max Hit the Road, PC

Sam & Max Hit the Road, released by LucasArts in 1993, marks the video game debut of the infamous dog/rabbit crime-fighting duo.

Created by artist Steve Purcell, Sam & Max are “freelance police” and basically engage in a series of surreal mysteries involving bigfoot, and a whole host of other weird characters and strange situations.

The game begins with an animated cut scene that sets the tone, and then you have to use Sam & Max to find your way into the story. The control system is mouse-based and you use right-click to cycle through five cursor icons – walk, look, take, talk, and use. Left-clicking one of these ‘verb’ icons on a specific object or person on-screen, or in your inventory (a brown cardboard box!), will usually illicit some sort of response. The simplified control system is a joy to use, at least compared to other SCUMM games. Not having the usual verb list frees up the screen to hold more great graphics. And the graphics in Sam & Max, I think, are some of the best, most iconic, and most memorable visuals of the PC DOS era.

Like most point-and-click adventures: Hit the Road is extremely challenging. Playing is easy enough, but solving puzzles and making your way into the game is not easy. But it is very much worth it. The surreal nature of Sam & Max Hit the Road sometimes means that the nature of the puzzles is beyond anything you might have ever seen, but that’s okay. Just go with it…

My favourite parts: “Holy mackerel!” – “I’m a trout, stupid!” – “Holy trout!”, or Max retrieving the message from the cat… And my favourite character has to be the foul-mouthed, spanner-bending, turban-wearing man in the revolving restaurant. He still makes me crease up with laughter today… Sam & Max Hit the Road is packed full of wacky characters, crazy dialogue, and dangerous stunts. There are even a bunch of “minigames” hidden away in there too…

Often referred to as one of the best video games ever made, Sam & Max Hit the Road is probably the best adventure game LucasArts ever produced. It’s certainly one of funniest games I’ve ever played and will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour.

If you’re one of those with a low tolerance to frustration, play it with a walkthrough. There’s no shame in it. 🙂

U.S. Gold published the game in the UK in 1993. A number of sequels have also been released over the intervening years.

See also: Sam & Max Comics

More: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Wikipedia
Steam: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Steam
GOG.com: Sam & Max Hit the Road on GOG.com