These days, mountainous-haired carrot-top Conan O’Brien seems to be taking a lead from Jimmy Fallon, who replaced O’Brien on NBC’s Late Night back in 2009. Conan went on to host the vaunted late night talk show The Tonight Show, a run that only lasted months. Fallon himself has since been tasked to take over The Tonight Show when current host Jay Leno steps down, perhaps even permanently this time.
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to dwell on the revolving-door morass that is late night television in America. It is meant to point out that O’Brien himself has started to mine video games for comedic value, much like Fallon has pretty much from day one. Fallon played Wii games on his show when Nintendo’s revolutionary console came out, and has featured other popular games in front of the camera.
This focus on video game playing by late night hosts seems on the whole to be tapping the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos of game play that litter YouTube and twitch.tv these days. Germain to this site, O’Brien featured a “Throwback Edition” of his Clueless Gamer segment last week, playing games from the Atari 2600 library. Among the savaged product was the big kahuna of awful classic games, the impenetrable E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a game so dense and confusing, and with such high-hopes pinned upon it at release in 1982, that its abject failure was one of the reasons the entire video game industry cratered in 1983-84.
Gaze upon the spectacle of Conan O’Brien sampling the best (and worst) games from one of the most popular video game systems of all time:
Leaping into The 12 Video Games of Christmas today is Pitfall Harry, in a drastic iOS remake of Activision’s original 1982 Atari VCS/2600 game Pitfall!, by developer The Blast Furnace.
30 years after the fact, this new version almost seems like a retro-themed version of the hit mobile game Temple Run. Here we send Harry running pell mell through 3D-rendered native villages, cavernous er… caverns, and wild jungles. Obstacles in his way must be jumped over, slid under and, in the case of the snakes and scorpions that return from the original, whipped with an accessory borrowed from Pitfall Harry’s original influence, Indiana Jones, all the while snagging treasure that lines the paths.
Solidly falling into the Freemium category of apps, here the in-game currency are diamonds and the treasure you find, which you use to upgrade Harry with more skills, or even just to continue the game where you left off. Given the breakneck, twitchy gameplay, you’ll be dying a lot, and since diamonds are given out sparingly by levelling up, you’ll be feeling the pull to purchase a bunch, ranging from $1.99 all the way up to $29.99. It’s feasible that you could plow through the game without actually spending a cent, but only for the devilishly patient gamer. A very nice touch of nostalgia are the “Explorer Club” badges you collect in game by reaching achievements; a nice throw-back to the real badges Activision would send to players who mailed in proof of their accomplishments.
It’s good to see Harry back, even if he’s aping another gaming app like Temple Run. Swing on over here to continue his scorpion dodging exploits on your iOS device.
These days, although one of the most prolific game developers and publishers around, Activision is probably best known as the company behind the Call of Duty series. Starting as an entry into the WWII-shooter sweepstakes that was all the rage in the early 2000’s, the games moved into a more modern setting with, yes, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games that have become a license to print money in recent years. A lot of people now deride Activision as simply resting on its laurels, content to spin money from what are essentially the same games released year after year with each new incarnation of the Modern Warfare series.
The company had a much more nobel and creative beginning. Founded in 1979 by former Atari programmers who wrote some of the first games for that illustrious company, its raison d’être was to give creative license and proper accreditation to those the founders thought the most important to the success of any game platform: the people creating the games. That, and to make some of the very best games for what was then the leading console, the Atari VCS/2600.
Activision founding members in 1980: L. to R. Bob Whitehead, David Crane, Larry Kaplan and Alan Miller
Throwing the astounding creativity of those early days into sharp relief compared to the moribund Activision of today is the Activision Anthology, a collection of wondrous 8-bit games now released for IOS devices. The seemingly made-for-touch-devices Kaboom! is included free, with 45 other gems such as Pitfall!, Barnstorming and Enduro available as an in-app purchase for $6.99. Another purchase tier lets you buy the games in 11 game bundles, each for $2.99. They feature multiple control schemes, to help you acclimatize from rubber Atari joystick to touch screen. There is also a lot of historical documentation included, such as original artwork, manuals and tips from the original programmers.
Those longing for the days when creativity was the watchword of the video game industry instead of a fossilized memory can gorge themselves on the best of the best with the Activision Anthology.