Thursday, November 29, 2012


For the first time in well over a year I added a new game to my Atari 2600 collection.  I've been collecting for the 2600 for over 10 years in a transparent attempt to regain or relive (you choose) my childhood.  In that time I have amassed a silly amount of Atari 2600 games.  At this point my collection has reached a threshold:  all of the games I need are either on the rare side (some extremely so) or they are ridiculously common and I usually balk at paying more than a couple of dollars for them.  So these days when a new game comes along, it is cause for celebration, and hopefully lots and lots of playing the new game.

The newest addition to my 2600 collection is the Tigervision game JawbreakerJawbreaker is only moderately rare (a rarity 5 on the Atariage ranking), but has eluded me for some time.  My good friend Deatrick recently went to a classic gaming show in Columbus, OH and there purchased it for me.  I paid $25, a bit higher than I would usually go for a rarity 5 game, but since this one has been outstanding for so long, I went for it.

The game cartridge itself is in pretty good condition with some glue soaking through the label due to age (in nerd circles we refer to that as "Actiplaque" as it is most common with Activision games), and some minor peeling on the end label.  But all in all it is in good shape.  Tigervision had the cool gimmick of putting some of their games in colored carts, so they look extra cool in the collection.  Jawbreaker has a red cartridge, which will look really cool above my King Kong Tigervision cart which is blue!

But I don't buy games just to look good on a shelf (it is a nice perk though).  I buy games to play them.  Tigervision has a wildly inconsistent library of games that are for the most part playable, but often marred by blocky (even for the VCS) graphics that lack the refinement of games by companies like Parker Bros. or Activision.  Likewise the game play is often reduced down and simpler than it has the potential to be.

Jawbreaker tows that line very well.  The game is a Pac-man clone with elements of Turmoil or maybe Taz thrown in for good measure.  You are a pair of jaws set loose in a candy store.  Your job is to eat through eight screens of candy bars while avoiding the Smiling Face enemies that roam the maze looking to chomp on you.  Three times per maze, an energizer will appear in the center of the screen.  Eating this energizer will allow you to turn the tables on the Smiling Faces and chomp them instead.  Extra lives are awarded every other round.

The difference between Jawbreaker and a game like Pac-man is the build of the maze.  Unlike the static maze featured in Pac-man, the maze in Jawbreaker is constantly shifting.  Each wall of the maze features a single passage through to the next row.  This passage is constantly moving horizontally across the screen.  In addition to the passage in the maze wall, you can also go around the ends of the maze wall to enter the next row.  This provides some serious challenge since your escape route is never assured, at least not while in the middle of a row.

The Smiling Face enemies only appear one at a time in a row and there are only four of them in total.  This means that there will always be at least half of the rows on the screen unoccupied. However, the Smiling Faces can change direction at any given time and can reappear in any unoccupied row at any time.  They cannot use the passages nor go around the end of maze walls. Like in Pac-Man, eating the energizer gives you a brief window where you can eat the Smiling Faces and/or clear candy bars in peace.

Toothbrush or torture device?
As you progress, the Smiling Faces move faster and faster and seem to make better decisions on how to attack and corral you.  The AI doesn't seem to change when you eat an energizer, so occasionally the Smiling Faces will run right into you when you are the aggressor.  When you clear a level you get an interesting intermission where a double-sided tooth brush comes and cleans up your act.  Very strange.

You get three lives in all with the potential to earn up to 3 more (you may only have 3 maximum at any time, so go ahead and waste one at the end of every other round if you like).  The game's instruction manual seems to indicate that there are only 8 levels, but it does not say what happens at the end of level 8.  I have been playing for a couple of hours and have made it to level 4, but the difficult gets serious as the Smiling Faces get faster.

But is it fun?  Yeah, kind of.  I mean, I'd rather play Ms. Pac-man on the 2600, but Jawbreaker does not give a let down experience.  It is still fun to play, it's just not incredibly fun to play.  I would not recommend this game to you in deference to better, similar games on the system.  Graphically, it's alright.  It doesn't need much in the way of flash and it definitely does not overachieve in that capacity either.  I'll probably play it more than once, and I'll probably play it for high scores until I manage to get to the end of screen 8, but it's not going to make any best games lists.  I will say that it was worth $25 to fill a gap in my collection with a game that is moderately playable, but that may also be time talking since there has been such a drought in finding new games for my collection.

My advice to you?  There are far better games of this genre out there for the Atari 2600.  Go play one of them.  From a collecting standpoint, Jawbreaker is a rarity 5, but to be honest the value is more in the $15 dollar range than the $25 I paid.  If you can get it for $8, you've got a good deal there.

All of that said, it is nice to have a new game in my collection after far too long.  Now to find Espial, a game I have been after for about 6 years....

(For more information on Atari 2600 games and collecting check out and

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