The Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was a time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through dozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Coleco, 1983)
Memories: Coleco‘s home version of Time Pilot for the Atari 2600 is one of the company’s better arcade ports for that machine, and yet so much of what made the arcade game such a memorable experience was left behind. I can accept the watering-down of the game’s graphics, especially when an effort was obviously made to keep them flicker-free – an impressive feat for this game. But some of what’s left out includes the game’s very objectives.
Arcade Time Pilot offered up helpless parachutists for bonus points, but also hid them behind walls of advancing enemy aircraft. I don’t think every video game needs a complicated story, but even when I was playing Time Pilot in the arcade at the age of ten or eleven, it seemed obvious to me that, as the pilot of an advanced aircraft from the future, surely I wouldn’t even be bothering with the past unless the game’s main objective was to rescue these parachutists, perhaps refugees from the wreckage of another time-traveling plane. In actuality, the parachutists had no effect on the outcome of the game except to advance your score and put you in danger – the real objective was to take out as many enemy planes as possible per level, and then take out the “boss” command plane, and then time warp to the next era.
This version of Time Pilot dispenses with the parachutists altogether: you’re simply there to blow stuff up. Now, that’s satisfying and unambiguous on a certain level, but it’s also a little nihilistic. Eugene Jarvis, creator of such arcade hits as Defender and Robotron, once said that the reason Defender was called Defender – and the reason that it had helpless people on the surface that the player needed to protect – was because unless the player was assumed to be on the defensive, there was nothing more than merely being outnumbered to justify the implied violence of blasting everything within sight. Extend that philosophy to 2600 Time Pilot and it’s difficult not to arrive at the same conclusion – and even if you don’t want to give it that much thought, the parachutists were an added challenge in the arcade game, a big bonus to be retrieved if you had the stones to wander into the enemy’s field of fire to get it.
These issues aside, Time Pilot for the 2600 is certainly enjoyable, and free of much of the flicker that could have plagued it (which may be a more engineering-related reason to omit the parachutists). Despite the critical elements that were left on the video game equivalent of the cutting room floor, it’s really one of Coleco’s better arcade translations.