The Game: It is the nineties, as the intro screen says, and there is time for this home version of Klax, in which players try to stack colored bricks according to on-screen instructions: horizontal, vertical and diagonal rows may be required. The conveyor belts carrying the bricks gradually speed up until the bricks are zipping toward the bottom of the screen at a dizzying pace. Allowing too many bricks to slide off the bottom of the screen without catching them will forfeit the game, as will failing to come up with the configuration of stacked bricks demanded by the on-screen instructions. (Atari, 1990)
Memories: A late attempt to keep the Atari 7800 relevant in an age where the NES had firmly dominated the home video game landscape (even the Sega Master System enjoyed a larger market share than the 7800), this adaptation of Atari Games’ arcade sleeper hit Klax seems fitting somehow in retrospect: Klax was a puzzle game also-ran, trying to catch up with Tetris. And Tetris had already been snapped up by Nintendo, which was handily beating Atari with both the NES and the new Game Boy, making the 7800 an also-ran too (and let’s not talk about that whole dust-up over Atari Games’ arcade Tetris and the Tengen version of the game for NES). As if there needed to be a way to make Klax even less relevant in Atari’s fight against Tetris, there’s one more wrinkle: this version never actually hit the stores.
The story behind Klax’s non-release can be traced back to the early ’90s. By this point, there’s no disputing that Nintendo owned the consumer video game market. What small sliver of that market wasn’t owned by Nintendo, Sega had claimed. By 1992, the Atari 7800 wasn’t even part of the current generation of hardware anymore – not by a long shot. The SNES had arrived. Where Atari was relevant, at this point, was in the last gasp of its home computer division, which was struggling to keep the ST series machines alive in an increasingly PC-dominated market. With all resources directed toward keeping the Atari ST computer afloat, video games simply weren’t on Atari’s menu anymore. Klax vanished, only to resurface a decade later as a limited-run homebrew reproduction with the permission of its original programmers.
In and of itself, Klax isn’t bad: it’s a more than passable arcade adaptation on the 7800. It looks and sounds reasonably like its inspiration, and plays like it too. Control is almost too smooth, with the joystick occasionally landing the player’s paddle in between the columns. In other words, 7800 Klax is fiercely faithful to its source material, warts and all, and would’ve been a fine addition to the library – if anyone was still looking for new games for their 7800 in 1992, that is.