Happy Belated Halloween! It’s the best holiday to be a kid next to Christmas. At least it was for me. Now I just get to enjoy seeing my kids have fun on both holidays.
The game for
todayyesterday (I became sidetracked again) is:
Midnight Mutants (Atari 7800)
It’s hard to go wrong when your horror game stars Grampa Munster. Who is that you ask? Dang whippersnappers.
Anyways, Midnight Mutants was the very last “official” game for the Atari 7800 ProSystem – and one of its best. It was a too little/too late sort of thing to give the console an answer to Zelda-type adventure games. It is a little odd in the case of Atari, which had Adventure out years before Zelda and it is obvious that Adventure set the stage for those kinds of games but they would not revisit the game so it was left to homebrewers to do. The main difference is that the graphics are done isometrically and thanks to the sprite pushing abilities of the system, it can throw a lot more stuff around before choking. Plus there are the bosses, which I’ll get to in a moment.
You play Jimmy, grandson of “Grampa”. They don’t call him Grampa Munster, despite using his likeness, perhaps that would have cost too much to license. Dr. Evil has arisen from his grave and entrapped Grampa inside of a Plasmic Pumpkin. By accessing your item menu (R button), you can receive tips or just read his musings while picking your item to use. Find new weapons (knife -> Axe -> Blaster -> Mega Blaster), collect health and blood boosters and a few other items to aid your quest to free Grampa and send Dr. Evil back to Hell or where ever it is he was hanging out at.
Getting armed is the most important objective to take care of at first, which means heading to the mansion up North; that will then take care of bats and then you need to go to the forest cabin to locate the Axe (which will mean you can finally take out the many zombies you find roaming about). On some screens, clearing all of the enemies out will unveil a prize like a health crystal appears. But there are occasions where clearing the screen is essential to move the game forward, such as finding the key to the Crypt to defeat the second boss.
One place the game stands out on is with the bosses. Thanks to what the 7800 can do with the stock hardware, it can push these huge sprites on the screen. Granted they aren’t truly animated(it’s more of a huge sprite image that moves back and forth) but with as many small sprites flying around during any battle with little to no slowdown and zero flicker to speak of, it is impressive to see given the hardware. As the ‘last game’ for the system, it did well in pushing the limits. Use of color is great and varied; It also isn’t straight single screen switches – there are various areas where the game scrolls horizontally too. I’m not sure if all of the graphics are done in 160B mode (160 pixels wide with the most color options) as some areas, particularly background objects appear to be in a higher resolution than the sprites. I prefer not to post direct emulation shots on this one as they are not spot on – this is one of many 80s/90s era games that just look much better in person and on stock hardware.
The music is impressive in that it is all done on the old Atari 2600 TIA sound chip, which was developed back in the 70s – no extra Pokey(the 7800 could use extra chips like a CPU, RAM or a sound chip in the cart but that was almost never done due to costs). The style of music isn’t exactly in the realm of tense, it is probably a little too upbeat to make it a truly frightening atmosphere.
It makes up for that with the stories though. Grampa will describe some pretty gruesome scenes from the past at times, particularly with the bosses and how they became the deformed mutants that they are – one ate people and drank their blood to try and regain human form, another regularly plucked out people’s eyes, etc.
I own about a 3rd of the 7800 game library and this is the one title I play the most. Even though I have much of it memorized, it is still a lot of fun to sit down with and my kids for some reason like watching me play it too. I think in part it helps that enemy placement is randomized to a good degree.
Overall if you have an Atari 7800 or plan on getting one, pick up this game. It is quite good and is perfect for Halloween no matter what year it is.