Desert Falcon (Atari)
Desert Falcon is an incredible technical achievement, to be able to get Zaxxon style gameplay on the 2600 was thought to be impossible, so impossible that the legendarily butchered 2600 version of Zaxxon bore no resemblance whatsoever to to it's arcade inspiration. How Desert Falcon managed to get smooth isometric scrolling, is beyond me, but since the game was a red box release it's fair to assume that technical know how of the 2600's hardware was at it's peak. I have fond memories of this game. Back before I started collecting I had one of the AtGames Atari Flashback consoles, and one of the games on it was Desert Falcon. Out of all the games I liked Desert Falcon the most despite being rather bad at it. But... how does this 2600 game from 1988 stand the up to the sands of time? How are the graphics?
Basic is one word I'd use to describe this game's graphics. All the sprites in this game are solid single colors. Even for the 2600 these sprites are low resolution. The best looking thing in the game has got to be the Sphinx, it looks so good that I'm including a screenshot of it at the bottom of the review because it looks so awesome. There are also the collectible Hieroglyphs... they look okay, I can at least kind of tell which is which, not that you'll really care as long as you get those sweet points. Due to the simplicity of this games graphics I don't have too much to say, but I will say that I'm glad they went with the simple route. By using as little power as possible on the graphics more could be allocated to where it really mattered. That is the main reason why I don't like games like Zaxxon on Colecovision, too much power is used to make a good looking game rather than a good playing game. Desert Falcon goes the opposite route and I can admire it for that.
Sounds are rather good. A very catchy tune plays at the beginning and end of every game. I know that the box always has to embellish the sound effects, but in this case I think the game got closer to realism than most others did, the crunchy noise as an enemy emerges from the sand is a personal favorite of mine, and the bellow of the Sphinx boss is highly intimidating. Just like the graphics though the sound effects are rather sparse, but instead of dead silence for most of the time this game does something that almost no other Atari game ever did, and that's having music in the background. The tune is very simple consisting of just a few repeating notes, but it's very effective at engaging the player since the tunes changes whether you're flying or walking or even swimming.
This game plays more like Zaxxon than Zaxxon, you fly at an isometric angle with your shadow helping you gauge your height. You can fire projectiles at the enemies that appear, and they in turn will charge blindly at you. I would recommend avoidance versus attack since the enemies move very quickly and you have very little time to react. There are also the 'darts' spit out at you by the Sphinx boss, you cannot destroy them you can only avoid them. You will have to maneuver around several types of obstacles, mainly pyramids and obelisks, but at later levels you'll have to avoid giant fire pots and mini-sphinxes. Your movement speed differs depending on whether or not you're flying or hopping on the ground, in the sky you're much faster, but on the ground you seem to be able to move side to side a bit faster, since when you're flying you are automatically moving forward on the ground you have more control. By pushing forward on the joystick you descend and by pulling back on the joystick you ascend, basic flight controls. Collision detection is not the greatest, sometimes you'll collide with an obstacle despite being nowhere near it, you can glide majestically through the obstacles but at your own risk, since they pose as much a threat to you as the enemies themselves. The Sphinx boss is one tough nut to crack, I have no idea where to shoot this guy, sometimes I'll defeat it on my first shot, sometimes it will drain all of my lives while I'm constantly hammering the fire button desperately hoping I can hit the magic spot. Despite my glossing over of them earlier the hieroglyphs are a rather nifty gameplay element, by gathering three glyphs you can unlock power ups, the problem is that certain power ups are chained to certain glyph combinations, ant the best you can really hope for is just points. If you do manage to get a power up you can use it by double-tapping the fire button, but that's if you can get a power up in the first place.
This is a fun game, I would recommend buying it especially since copies are common and usually very cheap. This is a game that everybody should own, collector or casual, it doesn't matter. Though it seems that this game falls into the strange category of cheaper to find in the box than loose.