Letís take a trip back to 1982. Disco was dead, Pac Man was cutting edge, Kool and the Gang was actually considered to be cool, and ET was the all time highest grossing movie EVAR! Another sign of the times was that Atari had 80% of the market share, thus giving Atari free reign to do pretty much whatever they wanted, since they were publishing their own games (save for Activision that is) they profited off of every piece of software that was put out. Smelling a cash cow, the head of Warner Bros. Interactive, who owned Atari at the time, negotiated a deal to get the rights to the ET franchise for a game since it would only make sense to get the rights to the biggest movie at the time onto a game for the greatest console at the time. It was a win-win situation for allÖor was it? Warner and Atari were so confident that they would have the biggest game of 1982, they ended up paying somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 million for the license. As if the exorbitant amount of money for the license wasnít a bad enough idea, they assigned the project to Howard Scott Warshaw, (who programmed Yarís Revenge amongst other games for Atari) and gave him a strict deadline to make the game in time for the 1982 holiday season. Strict would be an understatement, as the deadline was anywhere between four weeks and a couple of months. Atari felt confident that the game would sell well based off of the name recognition alone. Needless to say, their cockiness would end up being their downfall as they produced 5 million copies of ET (more games than there were 2600 consoles in homes mind you), and only managed to sell 1-2 million. To only add insult to injury, the majority of them were returned. This move, as well as the Atari 2600 version of Pac Man, would single handedly kill Atari and cause the great video game crash of the eighties.
After the disappointing holiday sales, Atari had a ton of stock that they couldnít even give away. As legend goes, they took the remaining copies of ET (and some will say Pac Man as well) and disposed of them in a landfill in New Mexico. To make sure nobody would get anything for free, they steamrolled the cartridges and poured cement over them to seal away the evil forever, thus setting the stage for one of the most storied, and worst games ever.
Everything about ET oozes the terms ďrush jobĒ and ďcash inĒ like no other game. The mixture of bad visuals (even by 2600 standards), overly frustrating and often times broken gameplay, and seemingly unreachable goals make ET less like a game and more like a bunch of pointless busy work that make a root canal or taking care of your grandmother ridden with the crabapple mcnasties more entertaining by comparison.
This game is so horridly bad that I feel I should be compensated for the time I played it, but instead, I had an epiphany that would be just as good since the art of time reimbursement hasnít been concocted yet. Iím going to give myself ten minutes to write the proper portions of this review, as it took me about that long to get bored, tired, and frustrated with this game. Iíll be timing myself for each paragraph, if I donít get to something, Iím truly sorry. Actually Iím lying. Letís get this thing over with.
(00:00)The transparent premise of the game is to guide ET through a maze of similar looking areas and pits (oh good god, the pits!) to find three parts of a phone to ďphone homeĒ to his mothership and get the hell out of dodge. In pursuit are scientists and FBI agents that will stop at nothing to rob you of all of your phone parts as well as the random Reeseís Pieces you pick up along the way which you can eat in certain places for extra energy, that is, if theyíre no maliciously stolen from you every two minutes. You have energy that acts as a timer and will count down with every move you make. Falling into pits will further drain your health which youíll have to get used to; youíll be doing it a lot.
(02:00) While youíre searching for items, icons will appear on top of the screen. You can use your action button to perform different actions based off of the icon displayed. Some icons will allow you to warp ahead one screen in a certain direction (designated by an arrow), call your pal Elliot to cash in Reeseís Pieces for bonus points, repel any humans away from you, eat said Pieces for extra health, and show you if there are any phone parts hidden in the particular area youíre in. You can also use the action button to run really fast to get away from anyone chasing you down, or if youíre trying to set some sort of a record like those guys who play SMB 3 in 11 minutes.
(05:00) Of course, the gameplay are where the majority of the gameís flaws shine an angelic glow. Youíll fall into pits every thirty seconds, and while youíre able to float out of most of them, there are some that are inescapable and youíll be stuck watching your three lives waste away while you try to escape the insufferable womb youíve wandered into. A lot of times youíll be walking to the next screen only to find yourself falling into a pit that you couldnít see. The pits really break the flow of the game and would be better if they werenít hell to get out of half the time, even the controls only work a portion of the time, thus making you lose precious energy pressing the action button repeatedly to get your float on. Itís one thing to overcome obstacles; itís another to overcome game crippling obstacles.
(08:00) In addition to the pits from hell, the random FBI agents and scientists will go out of their way to inconvenience you. FBI agents will take some of your items while scientists will take you back to their lab and make you lose your place as well as your bearings. Like their pit brethren, if theyíre hiding out on the next screen, you can walk right into them just by going to the next area. Theyíll be waiting. With the combination of these guys, the life draining pits, and the fact that you only have three lives (which lives two and three only give you 1200 energy as opposed to the 9999 you initially start with) make beating this game a nearly impossible feat. Even if you do, the game will start over and only prolong your pain.
(11:00) As I previously mentioned, the visuals are pretty bad. The forest areas you venture through are comprised of trees on the ground that you merely walk over. At least the jungle in Pitfall actually resembled a jungle for godís sake. Phone parts donít really resemble anything seen on a phone, let alone the Speak-n-Spell combination ET made in the movie, but Iíll chalk that up to limitations of the technology. Environments arenít varied, since there are only about six screens with different patterns of holes for you to try to fall into. On the good side, Elliotís house actually looks like a house, but the laboratory and FBI office resemble ancient Greek ruins more than what theyíre supposed to represent. Scientists look like guys wearing towels as opposed to guys in lab coats or bio suits. Fortunately, the FBI guys actually look like they're in the FBI. ET is also green, to which I ask why not brown since Iíve seen the 2600 display brown before. The good news is that ET will turn white when he diesÖabout the only thing that happens thatís close to the movie. Backgrounds consist of green, green, blue, and more green. Reeseís Pieces are designated by green dots that are a little darker than the background theyíre on. Given the limited color palette of the 2600, they could have at least made them white.
(22:00) If thereís anything good about this mess, itís going to be sound. What I mean by good really means the lesser of the four evils in this case. Footsteps are here in all of their 2600 glory, and youíll even get hurried footstep noises when youíre running across areas to inevitably fall into another pit on the next screen, which the pits also play a nice falling noise that compliment the pulling of hair rather well. Youíll be rewarded with the ET theme at the title screen and when you die, which the somewhat happy tune takes the edge off of dying despite being a questionable design choice.
I swear, I couldnít even get through this in ten minutes. Even when Iím not playing this game, itís sucking the life out of me. While some people may contest that this is an enjoyable adventure game, I say that theyíre all a bunch of celibate saints. I canít fathom anyone finding this game enjoyable, much less not having sex. ET is just a mess all around, though it is by no means the programmerís fault, but the fault of Atari attempting to set the standard of what game companies of the future have tried to do, just in a more obvious way. Make a mediocre game in time for the holidays or the release and watch the monkeys who work for a living buy it based off of the name alone while the fat cats take time off of the tennis court to count the cash thatís rolling in. Stepping off of my soapbox, I hope that this can teach someone that despite the fact that thereís a game out there with a title named after the big movie of the time, it doesnít mean itís actually any good. Though I feel that Iím preaching to the choir right now, let us remember that Enter The Matrix was a top selling game a couple of years ago. The folks who instigated this travesty got what they deserved.
Donít worry little buddy, youíre better off that way.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media