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8  |  No Molehill With This Mountain Here
Darryl B. , 10/18/2005 10:28:24 PM
Wow, where on earth did the idea for this one come from? Possibly from some kind of legend (would be my guess), and/or how a certain conversation went with a certain guy and a certain programmer over at Williams named Eugene Jarvis, which his friend said one day, "wouldn't it be neat if you had a game where you were a ship flying over a planet or something", which Jarvis said, "well, we don't have anything like that yet, BUT...", and poof, Defender was born a little while later. (Ever hear of it? Even with it's difficulty level and the complexity of it's controls [a joystick AND five freakin' buttons?!], it still went down in history as to being one of THE greatest coin-ops, if not just games in general, EVER.)

I think the same must have gone with this little creation, as it's a very different, original game, and nothing like it (as far as I know) has really been seen ever since. Even though it's got a few things in common here and there with other platform-type games of Donkey Kong and Miner 2049'r -- and has maybe even a tiny hint of Pac-Man thrown in -- it's still one of the most different games out there...high in the mountains, or anywhere else, for that matter...

First off, you're on a bit of a quest, and you've got several minutes to complete it per level. You're in the oddest-looking batch of mountains I've ever seen -- almost vector-like, being just outlines -- and you must collect 1,000 points worth of goodies before you can complete your quest (which I'll get to). You can shine your flashlight to illuminate and collect batches of diamonds that are scattered around everywhere (hence the slight resemblance to Pac-Man, but that's about it, which that alone might be a stretch anyway), or go for the occasional treasure chest, which are worth a lot more.

As you go about your quest, the controls respond well, but jumping and actually grabbing onto a ladder or landing onto another platform is a bit difficult, as a lot of the time you'll end up either falling short of your jump or bonking your head, which will automatically cause you to fall back down. Luckily, though -- and like a few other games out at the time (like Lode Runner) -- you can fall from any height possible and not die, which is very helpful. After all, it's simple enough to press the joystick button for your flashlight, pull down to pick up a treasure chest (meanwhile, diamonds are collected just by walking into them), push up to jump, and rapidly move the joystick left and right if you're foolish enough to try to tangle with the spider at the very bottom of the screens (the screens scroll around, since it's a pretty big mountain) and you need to break out of his web before he comes back for a quick, deadly snack of Foolish Mountaineer Who Should Have Stayed Several Levels Up.

Anyway, back to your I said earlier, you need to gather 1000 points worth of goodies. So what happens after that? Then you need to start listening...

As this game gets more and more different as it goes along, a tune will start playing the closer you get to the Flame Spirit; it'll even briefly flicker onscreen (as with most of the game elements, it's only visible via flashlight) so you can find it and pick it up. Once you do that, you'll need to go to the temple...oh yeah, did I mention that? The temple, which is nestled away near the bottom, can't be entered until you've snagged the Spirit; if you try to do so without it, some kind of force field will keep you at bay. I don't know if all of this was built by Egyptians, people from Atlantis, or those involved in somehow constructing those gigantic heads at Easter Island that made this force field, but there it is.

So, you climb into the temple and up to the crown. Put it on, and then you have to get out as quickly as possible and try to make it to the highest mountain peak in the game, so you will be crowned the Mountain King. You've only got a limited time to do so, or else you're knocked back down in rank from King to Peasant, and you have to start all over again...

...except that, as they hardly ever bother, much less attack people in real life, a bunch of damn bats (they're ALWAYS the enemy in a video game) will appear and steal your crown if they come into contact with it; they can harmlessly pass through any other part of your body without incident, but coming into contact with the crown is a no-no...

This is pretty much THE thing that knocks down my rating of this very unique game: the high difficulty level. They should have left the bats out of the first level entirely, just letting you get the feel of the mountain, then introduce them in level 2 (since, as it is, you're allowed less and less time to make it to the top the further you get into the game). I've got the excellent Atari 2600 version of this game, and would point out that I've either never made it to only level 4 (or maybe it was 3), but then, the game can go on for quite a long time, so I don't play it very often, as restarting from the beginning over and over can get quite old.

But, like I said, it's very different and original, and deserves either a re-release or an update nowadays...unless it's made into some 3-D with a bunch of bosses and/or into the first person shooter crap (which I don't have a problem with that genre in the slightest, but if making it into Mountain King...?), or some other nonsense to ruin this classic with. 8/10

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