Atari 7800 Review: Ballblazer, Atari and Lucasfilm Games
By Brian Thomas Barnhart |
Hey, what’s up everybody? Welcome back to another episode of 7800 Avenue! My very good friend Mason is with me today. I like that episode of Wakko TV Mason did with the classic Jiffy Pop popcorn. It made me wanna get some Jiffy Pop and make some right away!
Hey, we’re playing a really great game today, we are playing Ballblazer for the Atari 7800 ProSystem. Are you ready to play some Ballblazer? I know I am. Let’s do this.
Mason is the absolute Ballblazer Master. And the only reason he’s the absolute master is because of his controller. Mason is playing with the Grip-Stick Atari 7800 Joystick. It’s a custom job, starting with a Starmaster and made specifically to play on the 7800, but it works on 2600 systems too. It features two distinct individually functioning fire buttons, a bright red grip handle joystick, and grippy suction cup rubber feet. You can’t go wrong.
No matter what controller I use, this guy is always beating me with this thing. We’ve been trying to figure out what applications the Grip-Stick clickly-goodness controller is good for, and it is AMAZING at Ballblazer. I mean, you will be a beast at that game if you have that controller… I don’t, and he always wins.
Alright, look, before we play, I need to even out the playing field here. You see, because every time we play and Mason uses the Grip-Stick joystick, he wins. So tonight, I’m going to be playing with the Wico BOSS controller. That’s right. No more of Mason mopping up the floor with that controller, okay? Wico BOSS. Let’s do this!
Different controllers, different applications. What applications did you use for certain games? Atari had a lot of options when it came to controllers, Wico being the “Cadillac” line of third party controllers.
Ballblazer is the first Atari 7800 game that uses the POKEY chip in the game cartridge. That means the sound is amazing. Plug in the game, press Power and take a listen. That, which you are listening to right there.. that’s the POKEY chip. That’s why it sounds so jammin’. It’s jammin’ on the one, right there.
This is what every single game should’ve had for the Atari 7800, a POKEY chip, or a POKEY chip built into the game itself. But, c’est la vie, it is what it is. A POKEY chip is not a Pokémon thing. Or Gumby’s friend. Although the GUMBY chip is in the arcade cabinets and could’ve shown up on the 7800 but that’s a whole other story.
The only two games that came out for the 7800 utilizing the POKEY chip were Ballblazer and Commando. Midnight Mutants should’ve had a POKEY chip in it too, but what are you gonna do?
How unfortunate it was that the actual Atari 7800 machine itself didn’t have a POKEY chip inside it. What was more expensive? To put a POKEY chip inside of the games, or to put a POKEY chip in the system? They could have found a way to put a POKEY chip in the 7800 system itself. There’s plenty of room in there, there’s real estate in there for a POKEY chip, even vertically.
“Here’s an idea: In the summer nights, invite your friends over and project it on the side of your house. Have a giant Ballblazer party and see who can make it to the top of the bracket. Get a bracket going with your friends and see who can take the other guys out.”
– Brian Thomas Barnhart
Hey, the cool thing about Ballblazer is it is the first game that Lucasfilm Games created. Not Lucas Arts, not just yet. It’s Lucasfilm Games, and Ballblazer was first out of the gate, and it was an awesome game. It’s a great one, we love it.
The interesting thing about Lucasfilm Games is they couldn’t use the Star Wars or Indiana Jones franchises. Not on their own anyway. They had already been licensed to other companies, Star Wars to Parker Bros. for home consoles and Indiana Jones was picked up by Atari early on, who also got the rights to Star Wars in the arcades. So Lucasfilm Games created these games like Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus as new IP.
Lucasfilm’s relationship with Atari goes way back to the Atari 2600. Howard Scott Warshaw’s game Raiders of the Lost Ark was a pretty successful adventure game, and one of the early ports of a hit movie to a video game system. Raiders of the Lost Ark also, infamously, helped lead Howard Scott Warshaw to doing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the 2600 as well. The following year Atari would release the incredible Star Wars arcade game, and in 1984 Atari would release Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on in the arcades on the Atari System 1 arcade machine.
Lucasfilm Games, later called LucasArts, had a string of hits. Especially on computers. Every computer game that came out that was a Lucasfilms game, I remember being a top-of-the-line game. Whether it was the point-and-click adventures, like later on there was a Star Wars one, but Manic Mansion, gosh Loom was fantastic, Day of the Tentacle, these were all winners.
You have these top arcade experiences brought to you by Lucasfilm and Atari. There is no doubt about it that those Star Wars arcade cabinets are some of the most iconic pieces of arcade history right next to Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Not only did it have color vector graphics but it had voice synth as well.
“Atari brought you the best arcade experiences. Every time I put a quarter into an Atari game in the arcade, it was a quality experience. It was well worth that 25 cents. Now you have Lucasfilm AND Atari bringing you some great innovations. The yoke controller, color vector graphics, and digitized speech. That’s pretty huge back in 1983.”
– Brian Thomas Barnhart
So I lost. Mason is the Ballblazer Master. I feel like I didn’t get a chance to really clean this, the contacts really well. I feel like I should have another opportunity one of these days to clean… I tried. I tried! And this Wico BOSS controller was good, I will admit, this is a very, very good controller. But this guy, Mason, I don’t know what it is with this game, man, he just owns me. All day and all night.
You know, the thing about this game is that it moves SO WELL. It really screams on the system. It’s really shocking. When you put it in for the first time and you just think it’s just some Atari game, or you know, some older arcade-type title, it just blows you away. I mean, it’s got some pretty amazing 3-D effects, it’s doing some pseudo 3-D stuff. For the time, this really would have been impressive. I mean, I’m impressed now. Not just at that time period. And everybody that I show this game, they’re like “Whoa! This game is nuts!”
It’s fast, it’s fun, and we had a good time playing Ballblazer tonight. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for some Jiffy Pop. Join us next time on 7800 Avenue! And check out Lynx Lounge and Jag Bar, those are great shows and we do it all here in the new studio and talk about some really great Atari games. See you on the next episode of 7800 Avenue!
The original Ballblazer was created by Lucasfilm Games for Atari in 1984. Ballblazer was released by Atari for the 7800 in 1987.
Brian Thomas Barnhart is a classic gaming aficionado, retro pop culture connoisseur, and a Senior Fellow at Atari I/O. He is host of The Jag Bar, Lynx Lounge, 7800 Avenue, and the Atari I/O After Hours Podcast. Brian is a Moderator in the Atari I/O Forums under the name btbfilms76. You can follow him on Instagram and at his YouTube channel.
BY LUCASFILM LTD.
model # CX7815