The Game: A worm-like dragon taunts you from atop a multi-colored wall, one which you must topple to reunite your divided village. To accomplish this task, you must bounce hurled projectiles into the wall. Collecting power-ups along the way will affect the behavior of the projectile, from making it a weapon capable of wiping out large portions of the wall to making it return to you repeatedly, like a boomerang. You advance to the next level by eliminating the wall. (Atari, 1989)
Memories: In the beginning, there was Breakout, a game which Atari itself cloned and put through endless permutations; even Warlords, a favorite among classic gamers everywhere, was a stepchild of Breakout and QuadraPong. Eventually, after turning out Breakout and its clones for the home video game market, Atari turned to other ideas. In the late 1980s, Taito unleashed Arkanoid – essentially an updated version of Breakout – and brought the breaking-down-brick-walls genre back into the public eye.
All Arkanoid really did was change the “setting” of Breakout to something futuristic. In response, Atari and developer Axlon brought back Breakout themselves, changed its already-sparse trappings to an ancient Chinese setting, and named it after Michael Jackson’s best album. No sweat. Off The Wall is actually quite an evolutionary step over Breakout and Super Breakout, adding about the only things one could add and keep the game play essentially the same. It’s a lot of fun, even if my life expectancy when playing isn’t noticeably greater than my ability with any other ball-and-paddle video game.
1989 was the age of the NES, the Sega Master System, and a new must-have handheld from Nintendo, called Game Boy. Despite the advances that the “second generation” cartridge systems displayed, Coleco and the Atari 5200 and the Vectrex were extinct; Atari, now under the Tramiel regime, and INTV Productions steadfastly supported the 2600, 7800 and Intelllivision, respectively. But time was clearly up for these systems as well. Off The Wall was one of Atari’s very last first-party releases for the 2600. Just looking at the game in action, one can see the huge strides that had been made in programming this machine whose designers hadn’t foreseen a market lifespan that would outlast their specs for 4K of ROM per game.
Time had run out for the 2600. Soon the development of new games for Atari’s longest-lived product would fall into the hands of those who had previously played games on it.