The Game: Space is a dangerous place, full of enemy fighters, hostile vehicles…and even enemy biplanes and enemy hot air balloons. Your job? Blow ’em all away. Your space fighter can hug the ground or zip into the stratosphere in a second, which is good because there are oncoming enemies at every altitude. If they take out all of your fighters, you might as well kiss the planet goodbye…which is kind of embarrassing if this means you’ve left the world open to invasion by balloon. (Vidtec [U.S. Games], 1982)
Memories: This is the first Atari game programmed by Garry Kitchen, who, after coding a VCS version of Donkey Kong for Coleco as a freelancer, would later join Activision. Space Jockey may not exactly be up to Activision’s specs, but it’s still an eminently playable variation on what was already a well-worn theme by its 1982 release.
One thing that Space Jockey has to be commended for is its colorful, distinctive flicker-free graphics. (Well, correction: plane propellers and tank treads flicker…but for once it’s intentional, since those things are in motion.) A clone of the basic arcade game play of Defender it may be, but considering how flickery Atari’s own licensed version of Defender turned out, the field was left wide open for games such as Space Jockey and Activision’s Chopper Command to win the hearts of side-scrolling shooter fans.
If anything works against Space Jockey, it’s the total lack of any frills whatsoever, aside from the graphics set, that makes this game unique. It’s easy to tell that it’s cashing in, somewhat, on the Defender genre, but very little about it stands out as being anything that’s really uniquely Space Jockey. Still, even if it’s not the most memorable game, that’s probably better than being memorable for being not-so-good. (Then again, people still talk about E.T. today – Space Jockey, not so much, which is perhaps an injustice since this is the starting point of one of the video game industry’s major talents.)