Developer: Keithen Hayenga
The Atari 5200 is classic system from the early 1980's. While many readers may have never seen an actual 5200 with their own eyes, some (like myself) still have their original system still in working order to this day. Before the days of DLC and digital releases over online marketplaces, Video Games were distributed on cartridge format. Mostly on Atari systems, you would find versions of popular Arcade games such as Pac-Man, Pole Position and Defender just to name a few. One such arcade title that never managed to see the light of day on a home console back in the Atari days was Tempest. Various bootlegs and home-brew versions have appeared on the internet over the years, and could be played using emulators. But, while versions of it were planned, a proper version of Tempest never officially graced the home consoles of the 1980's, until now. Keithen Hayenga, the original programmer of a cancelled Atari 5200 version, found the original ROM files and began work on completing the game in his spare time. Once completed, Keithen partnered with popular website AtariAge to distribute his completed game to the world. Now, 30 years later, you can play the lost Atari 5200 game as it was intended, on an actual cartridge with the original hardware.
The object of Tempest is a simple one as with most games from this era, It's kill or be killed. You are at a top of a cylinder type play field (sometimes enclosed, open air on later levels) where you shoot down at invading creatures trying to get you. They crawl up the tubes dodging and sidestepping your shots in an attempt to reach to top. You have to move quickly and take careful aim to survive the waves of creepy crawlers that inhabit each field. The further you progress, the tougher the enemies get, and you will soon be losing lives (and your sanity) rather quickly. It's a fun and challenging experience that will leave you wanting more even after your 100th death.
Originally Tempest wasn't what you can a graphical masterpiece so the 5200 will have no trouble recreating the look and feel of the original arcade version. The colors and animation look exactly like the original. Sound effects, while primitive, will bring you back to a time when a simple beep or bloop could get your attention. Since Tempest had no background music until the Atari Jaguar version in the year 2000, you'll have to blast your favorite 80's jams on your boom box while playing. (I'm dating myself) Or, since the Jaguar version had great tunes (so great they made a separate soundtrack) you can rock out to that on your CD player! The 5200 controller, while widely known by collectors as one of the worst controllers for any home console, actually does a fine job here. It's analog design recreates the original's dial controls, so you can make precision shots with ease. It was one of the first times that I could not blame the 5200 controller for a cheap death. When you first boot up the game, you can select your starting level and difficulty, or you can view a demo if you want. Pressing start shoots you into the game and you'll be shooting away. Holding down the bottom fire button brings you rapid fire which will come in handy. There are no continues or checkpoints here, once you lose all your lives the game is over. It's a challenge that most players today might not be able to grasp.
While I know this is not a typical review for Gaming Age, I wanted to get the word out there that there are still great games being made for the classic systems. You can download Tempest on Xbox Live and PC, but to actually play this version in your home is an experience that cannot be matched. My copy came in a authentic cardboard box with great graphics for the front and clear screenshots on back. There was even an instruction manual that completed the package! It truly felt like I just returned home from the Game shop with my new game and couldn't wait to slam it in to the cartridge slot! If you are fortunate enough to own an Atari 5200 Trackball Controller, you can use it for an even better feel (granted that your trackball controller still works after 30 years). These carts are only available at AtariAge (www.AtariAge.com) and only 250 copies will be produced with the box and instructions. After that, you can get just the cartridge (with brilliant label) for a discounted price. Right now the complete package will run you roughly $50, but it's a small price to pay to own this remarkable piece of Video Game History. I would say grab one now, even if you don't own an actual Atari 5200 since the prices will no doubt skyrocket in online auctions. If you do own a system, and it's in working order, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. You've waited long enough, it's time to own Tempest for the Atari 5200!