Pros:Fun for multiple players (very competitive); finesse and dexterity challenging
Cons:Not as good for one player; extremely basic graphics and sounds
The Bottom Line: This is a party game that will stand the test of time (if everyone still had an Atari 2600 like me, that is!)
Believe it or not, the Atari VCS was often the life of the party in its heyday. People would try to out-do each other by seeing who could score the most points in certain games. An even more fun way for groups to play games was to make them multi-player interactive, not simply taking turns to best the other guy’s score. “Warlords” was one of the first games to introduce the concept of people battling each other in real time. It’s not exactly “World of Warcraft,” but the pwnage factor is just as high.
PRESS FIRE TO START
The concept behind “Warlords” is quite basic, which is probably why it’s such a fun game. After all, limitation inspires creativity, right? The premise takes the concept of “Breakout” and turns it into a war between four players. In each corner of the screen are castles, each surrounded by a few layers of bricks. Each player controls a shield which is moved via the paddle controller and can shift to defend any position outside the castle. The weapon is a ball that can be caught and thrown at an opponent or simply deflected away. The ball will sometimes speed up unexpectedly, though, which is what makes the game so challenging.
The object is to chip away at your opponents’ fortresses until you’re able to hit the castle with the ball, at which point they’re out of that particular round. The last one standing in the round wins and the first to win five rounds wins the game. There are no points to the game or any ways to re-build your depleted defenses. Success lies in good hand-to-eye coordination, close attention to the ball and the ability to out-guess your opponents.
There are 23 different versions to the game, which are catered to a different number of players. But when you do the math, you realize there are really only three difficulty settings to the game since each major option is repeated for 1 to 4 players. There’s only one screen to the game, too, so the basic setup never changes.
PLAYER 1 – READY!
The true appeal to “Warlords” lies in its multi-player capability. It’s one of the few games for the Atari 2600 that allows simultaneous four-player action. Of course, when you’re not having an Atari party, you can play it solo against three computerized opponents. But it’s just not as fun by yourself because those characters have very distinct personalities and it’s easy to predict their gameplay.
This is the type of game that earned bragging rights amongst circles of friends. The winner wouldn’t totally pwn just one buddy, but THREE people! I wouldn’t be surprised if “Warlords” was indirectly responsible for dissolving some friendships and people breaking their equipment in anger of being pwn’d. I clearly remember this being the case when I was young and played it with my friends. It was so satisfying to beat them all, but nothing was more annoying then when I lost.
It’s a little ironic that so few games for the Atari 2600 utilized the paddle controllers, since Atari’s first few arcade games, “Pong” and “Breakout,” were paddle-style. Regardless, “Warlords” is a game that makes good use of the paddles because it’s such a fast-paced, action-oriented game. You’re truly in control of your player and are not at the mercy of the game’s memory or the console’s processor. Immediately, you’ll feel how sensitive and fluid the controls are, but then again, most paddle games were equally nice.
Another appealing aspect to “Warlords” is how much of a finesse game it is. Not only must you be able to out-smart your opponents, you must also pay strict attention to the location and the direction of the ball. At times it will speed up very quickly, almost to the point where it’s nearly impossible to follow. You can’t just move your shield around recklessly hoping you’ll catch the ball, you really have to feel out the controls.
SPRITES & PIXELS
Since the object of the game is fairly simply, “Warlords” isn’t the type of cart that really needs detailed graphics to enhance its gameplay. In fact, it’s one of the blockiest-looking games in the VCS library, yet it’s not nearly as hideous as other games with such low-quality graphics (i.e. “Pac-Man,” “Indy 500”).
One of the most prominent features is that every time the ball strikes a brick the entire screen flashes for a fraction of a second. This enhances the action of the game and really does make it feel like a war, rather than a variation on “Pong.” The problem is these flashes take a toll after a while. Do not play this game with the lights off because it will cause tremendous eye strain! I’d recommend epileptics avoid it altogether.
There might be a total of three different sounds in this game, but they’re all essential. The “thwack!” sound of the ball hitting the bricks conveys are real sense of impact (especially combined with the screen flashing effect). I always think of the “punt!” sound of the ball bouncing off a shield to be reminiscent of a basketball hitting asphalt.
INSERT COIN TO CONTINUE
As a one-player game, “Warlords” is fun for a little while, but its appeal wears off fairly quickly because it’s so easy to get into a groove and beat the computer. But as a multi-player game, especially in any kind of social setting, it takes on a whole new form. Entire tournaments could be set up around this game because it’s so closely competitive. It makes for a great party game and will stay interesting as long as players want to pwn each other.
“Warlords” is one of the sleeper hits for the Atari 2600. Most games of the library are single-player oriented, whereas this one is tremendously improved by multiple-player interaction. When you consider it’s a game reliant on dexterity, good judgment and not simply bouncing a ball around, you can see why it has a timeless quality to it.
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