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DoctorSpuds Reviews Things - Gamma-Attack (Gammation)


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Gamma-Attack, much like Air Raid, has languished in obscurity and myth for many years until its eventual discovery in 2008. From the get-go this game was set up to have a very limited release, and to truly understand HOW limited we have to briefly take a look at the company that made it, Gammation. Gammation was a one man company out of Ohio that made and sold turbo attachments for the 2600 through mail-order. The only way to get business would be to have ads in the large gaming magazines, and from what is known Gamma-Attack was advertised in a single ad that was in a single issue of Electronics Games magazine in 1982. So the only way to get your hands on this game would be to find an ad for a rather obscure turbo peripheral and then read the fine-print at the bottom of the ad to see that there was a special game on offer, it’s no wonder that this game is as rare as it is, apparently Gammation had their own brochures that I assume were mailed to previous customers, but that’s still a very small number of people. We must not however forget about the fellow who programmed this game all those years ago Robert L. Esken, Jr., since this was not his only game on the 2600, he actually programmed Z-Tack that was later sold by Bomb and bootlegged by whoever manufactured those Taiwan Cooper games, which is a big plus since I actually like Z-Tack. He actually came back and released 100 more Gamma-Attack cartridges with signed certificates of authenticity, verifying their legitimacy, as well as his prototype copy. Currently there is the one known legitimate copy, the repros, and Robert’s own cartridge, though there are likely several more copies floating around in garages or storage lockers, but it’s hard to put a concrete number on it since not even Robert remembers how many he sold, or at least he has not divulged a concrete number. It’s time however to move on from the backstory of the game to the game itself, so how does Gamma-Attack hold up?

I would say that Gamma-Attack is visually interesting, but not visually appealing. It has some impressive scrolling mountains in the background, but that’s about it, the rest of the game is pretty basic. The four sprites this game contains are very basic, monochrome blobs that take a bit of imagination to see as anything else. The yellow football is a flying saucer, though it is the most recognizable of the three, the weird black lumps that more so resemble an old-fashioned crane or excavator are actually tanks, there is of course the explosion graphic, and the final sprite is that of Gammy, who appears in place of your ship when you get a game over, I assume that he is the company’s mascot, but I’m not really sure. We can’t forget about the ‘shots’ as well, the enemy tanks spit out a paltry three pixel missile while your saucer spits out a friggin lightning bolt. I can’t help but feel that this game is only held together with bits of string and masking tape since it can behave somewhat weirdly, it often flips between running at 265 and 266 scanlines which leads to the copyright info at the bottom of the screen jumping up and down slightly, and occasionally it will jump very quickly between 265, 266, and 267 scanlines which makes the whole screen vibrate, and can be very distracting. I know I’ve never brought them up before, but what are those black bars on the left side of the screen, I know they have something to do with the placement of the sprites, but why does Gamma-Attack have so many of them? It seems they are located on every horizontal location where a sprite would be present, could any of you 2600 programmers please explain this to me, because I’m just confused… with that, let’s move onto the sounds… yay.

This game contains around four sounds, and one of them is just the mixing of two existing sounds together, so I’ll say three sounds. All there is is the sounds of them firing, the sounds of you firing, and the sounds of them getting hit and subsequently exploding, the sound of you getting hit is simply a mashup of the sound of them firing and the exploding noise. I will give the sounds a pass though, despite their overall scarcity they’re not making my ears bleed so I can’t really complain.

Despite this being a rather generic shooter style game, it shakes up the formula enough to be unique. You do not have free movement and are in fact stuck in the top right of the screen though you do have free vertical movement. You can only shoot at a 45 degree angle down at the surface, the same goes for the enemies, if you are hit by an enemy you do not lose a life, you only lose altitude, once you touch the planet’s surface its game over. Unfortunately this game appears to be either broken or extremely cryptic, since in the manual it says that there is an underground enemy base and an enemy mothership to destroy but as of yet nobody has found out how to access these other levels, or even know if they exist on the cartridge. Despite all of the issues this game has it’s still rather fun to play, the concept is unique enough to keep it fresh and the difficulty ramps up enough to keep you engaged, so as a game Gamma-Attack actually succeeds.

As far as I can tell there is one verified copy in the hands of a collector and since it’s never actually been sold at auction it currently sits on the podium of “Priceless”, though estimates have put it at a maximum of 20,000 dollars, though it could go higher. The reproduction copies that were sold were originally at 60 bucks BIN, but they’ve resurfaced for much higher, I believe I saw one a while back for a thousand bucks BIN (it didn’t sell), but I can see them getting expensive. If I had the money I would buy one of the re-releases, but not the original, I actually wish I could go back in time and order it then, but that is unlikely to happen.

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