Monday, January 7, 2013

The Top 30 Vertical Shooters for the Atari 2600: #25 Crackpots


Another extremely non-traditional vertical shooter, Crackpots is more like a vertical dropper.  Bugs come crawling out of the sewer looking to infest your building and, of course, the most logical course of action is to drop potted plants on them.  Never mind that the cost of good pest control is probably significantly cheaper than all of those terra cotta planters, the potting soil, and the flowers.  But there's no time for that, the bugs are COMING!

There is no doubt Activision has the absolute best library of games for the VCS. With the exception of a few morts, Activision's games were always innovative, challenging and imaginative.  Crackpots is no exception.  This is a game that takes the vertical shooter concept, turns it on its head literally, and then puts a skin on it that is so clever you might not even realize that you are playing a vertical shooting game.  But make no mistake, that's what we've got here.  Dropping those plants and squashing those bugs is no different than shooting those spaceships in Threshold, it's just inverted and packaged differently.
And not only is Crackpots a clever vertical shooter, it's a damn hard one as well.  There are only 4 distinct waves of bugs and of those only 2 present any real challenge early on.  The patterns that the bugs move in are predictable enough, but where this game gets you is speed.  The difficulty ramps at a steady enough pace, but once you get to the higher levels, the bugs come at you so fast it can be tough to even see them before they go into the window.  To make matters worse, you are on a sinking ship with no way to plug the hole.  Each time you let too many bugs into the building, they chew down a layer of foundation.  This means that the next wave of bugs has less distance to travel to get to the window and therefore you have less opportunity to squash them.  The killer here is that you have absolutely no way to restore any of that foundation.  Hence, once you lose a few layers of building, you are on a rapidly declining downward spiral that will see your game crash and burn in short order.  The longer you can keep the building in mint condition, the longer your game will last.  Once you lose a few layers, you are toast.

That is my main complaint and why Crackpots is not higher on this list.  To wit, the game simply doesn't give you a fighting chance.  Can you master it?  Can you learn the patterns and develop hand-eye coordination sufficient to the challenge?  Yeah, probably, but for me, the frustration level kills the enjoyment factor long before the skills have time to take root.

I don't need to tell you that Crackpots has top notch graphics and sound.  It's an Activision game; that stuff is a given.  But even a great looking game like this could stand to be a little more forgiving for the sake of fun.

My Top Crackpots Score: 85,230

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