The Atari 7800 may considered to be an oddball among retro gamers, mainly due to the lack of support it had during the lifetime as it was thoroughly crushed by the NES. Atari garnered very little 3rd party support for the machine and after being sold on the market for 4 years, amassed less than 100 games (not counting the Atari 2600 titles that it could play) and by reports I’ve read, sold only about 2 million units.
Because of that, software that really pushed the platform to it’s limits never really came around. Yes, there were some impressive games like Tower Toppler, Ballblazer, Ninja Golf and Midnight Mutants. But the lack of software combined with the fact that Atari generally got the cheapest bids from 2nd party developers to make games meant that a lot of that potential was wasted and never explored. It was designed to use extra RAM, audio and other support chips on the carts (it could even use a completely different CPU), but very few games took advantage of that while the NES is famous for it’s later-life titles using mappers to extend the console’s abilities. This of course has fueled a few “7800 vs. NES” debates over the years, which are usually inconclusive since the NES had the money & support advantages.
Some homebrew titles have sought to rectify this in recent years, most notably with the impressive Bentley Bear’s Crystal Quest, but most homebrew content has been arcade ports of games that were released in the early 80’s. That’s fine for some people, but not really my cup of tea.
Ok so to the point – a new homebrew title was revealed at the end of 2018 that blew everyone’s socks off, an unexpected creation from Peguinet called Rikki & Vikki. This is a game that had it been released during the 7800’s 1986-90 lifespan, would have certainly moved some units. If you’re interested, you can buy the game here.
Designed as a 1-2 player platformer, R&V is the largest cart ever released on the 7800 – 512KB (most era releases fell into the 48k range; the console was made to handle up to 512k). It also makes use of microchips for the audio (the BupChip) and a support chip that is kind of like a mapper, but sounds like it works as a cache so that existing chips on the 7800 motherboard don’t have to wait for each other. While the voice overs probably wouldn’t have made it into the game had it been released BITD, everything else would have been there.
Quick Note: It’s also very much worth noting that homebrew titles like Bentley Bear’s Crystal Quest also have made the 7800 great again and would also have been system sellers/killer apps back in the day.
The game was designed using the 7800’s 320B resolution mode, something that was not used with much frequency either. As a note, the 7800 had eight graphics modes, four of which operated at 160×240 pixels, the other four at 320×240. The 160 modes were used in most titles, with differences coming in colors and performance. 160 modes gave developers more cycles to work with so flicker wouldn’t be an issue and also could support more colors on the screen at once. 320 modes were sharper, but not as much color to work with.
As you can see from the video above, while the game isn’t painted with tons of colors, the overall art design, resolution, speed, no flickering and large sprites makes up for it. It gets really impressive when you watch the final boss battle, where it blows Midnight Mutants out of the water in terms of animation and large sprites:
Of course while it’s fun to talk tech, what’s more important is how the game plays. By all reports I’ve heard about it so far, it’s excellent, with clever level design and a good sense of humor. It also features different screens for co-op mode than you’ll find in single player, a very nice detail-oriented touch. The music is fantastic too, which you can listen to or buy at the musician’s website, Rushjet1, here. The soundtracks incorporate synth tones along with TIA sounds (TIA was the sound chip used in the Atari 2600 & 7800), making for a unique set of chiptunes (most of which sound like NES games by what I seem to come across).
I did order a copy on the day it was released, but have yet to receive shipping confirmation as it has been in high demand for a 7800 title. The game is presently available on Steam, where it plays, sounds and looks exactly the same; it also has positive reviews there. I’ve opted to wait on that to experience it where it was “meant” to be played.
Once I have it in hand, I’ll be uploading footage of it to my home console games channel, Castle of the Games. Until then, all I can do is wait!