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DoctorSpuds Reviews Things - River Patrol (Tigervision)


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The year is 1986, you are a kid who just got his weekly allowance and you’re going to your local Kaybee Toys or Radio Shack to pick up a new game for your Atari 2600. The store is running a sale, 90% off all Atari 2600 games, the NES is taking the country by storm and stores want to dump their old stock, what a bargain! You walk up to a huge dump bin full of games; they’re all there, Imagic, U.S. Games, Parker Brothers, and a bunch of Atari. You start to dig around and at the bottom of the bin is a weird game, the box art is strange, it shows a bunch of people swimming down a river being picked up by a boat, and there are alligators! “Nah, that just looks stupid I’ll just buy Haunted House and Raiders of the Lost Ark instead”, you forever regretted the day you put down River Patrol because now you still have your Haunted House and Raiders nice and shiny in their boxes, but you now imagine what could have been. You sit in your chair, sigh, and regret. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences like that, whether it be for an obscure Atari game or something a bit more recent like with Earthbound or that stupid N64 bowling game, we’ve all passed on that one game. I’m sure very few people actually encountered River Patrol in the wild and I’m sure even fewer actually bought the game. For some reason Tigervision thought it was a good idea to release River Patrol in 1984, well after the crash, which would explain the extreme rarity. I assume it was a similar situation to Apollo’s where they just had to get the game out the door so they could finally shut down. Now believe it or not this is actually an arcade port of a little known game of the same name that was produced by Kersten in 1981, I’ve never heard of this game. I know that Tigervision can really knock these obscure arcade ports out of the park, just look at what they did with Polaris, so how do they treat River Patrol? Let’s start with the graphics.

Holy crap, my eyes are bleeding, this game is covered in rainbows. This is not a pretty game, if anything I would classify it as butt ugly. All of the character and enemy sprites are monochrome and chunky, and in some cases don’t actually look like what they’re supposed to represent, especially the drowning people. As you scoot up the river you’ll encounter logs, whirlpools, alligators, other boats, and TNT, they all vaguely look like what they’re supposed to be but there aren’t any boundaries being pushed here. Seriously, what’s with the rainbows? If they’d stuck to greens and browns I wouldn’t have any major problems with how this game looks, but ugh. I need something to drive the afterimage of the graphics from my head, let’s move onto the sounds.

OH GOD it’s even worse! A constant, annoying, agonizing, jolly tune plays the whole time! It’s not a bad composition it just that the pitch and instrumentation used causes the tune to harmonize in awful ways and it really becomes agony to listen to. The problem is that it plays almost constantly throughout the game and it gets more and more annoying as it plays again and again. You need to press that mute button; otherwise you’ll slowly go insane as the music burrows its way deep into your soul. So we’ve got eye watering graphics and soul breaking music, can the gameplay be any worse?

Well no, but that really isn’t saying much when compared to the rest of the game. The premise is simple but the execution is highly flawed. You must boat up the river collecting drowning swimmers while avoiding obstacles; unfortunately it isn’t as simple as that. Moving is weird, I never thought I’d have to type that but here we are. You must hold down the button to accelerate, there is no automatically moving forward or sideways, ostensibly you have both all of the control and none of it at the same time, you really have to play the game to get the feel of it, and then you’ll probably understand better. Moving horizontally is an absolute pain as you move so slowly, you have to hold the button to move over a little bit then let go to drift backwards, then you hold the button again to move over a little bit more, this get’s quite repetitive and for an obstacle avoidance game such a control scheme is simply unacceptable. If they’d implemented a similar movement style like the one in Polaris then the game would be so much better as you’d actually be able to move around the screen with a semblance of control. The vertical scrolling feels choppy and jerky, which is odd since Polaris (again) managed to do this right the year prior. I suppose if you had complete control then the game would get too easy, but that doesn’t excuse the gaps that are sometimes the exact width of the boat that you have to get through while wrestling with the controls. I guess the game actually feels like you’re controlling a large leaky unresponsive barge going upstream.

This game is a mess, an absolute mess. It feels like it was rushed out the door at the last minute before the programmer could actually fine tune and polish the game. If the river banks were green and brown and not rainbow, the game would look acceptable. If the music was lowered in pitch and changed instrumentation it would sound acceptable. If the boat controlled like either Polaris or something like River Raid, the game would be acceptable to play. If those major and minor things were changed the game would be acceptable, in its current state it is not. This game is expensive, loose copies have sold for a minimum of 250 dollars for a loose cartridge, and 230 for a manual. This game has sold for over 1000 dollars CIB, to my knowledge there hasn’t been a single copy found still factory sealed. Never buy this game, it is simply a novelty, something to display proudly on your shelf, or kept locked away in a safe. You all know where this one is going, straight to the Collector’s Zone for being too goddamn expensive.

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