Lead (Atari 2600)

Order this gameThe Game: Players pilot a ship barrelling relentlessly down an enclosed tunnel. Turning around simply isn’t an option, and through various stages the player has to blast away at everything in sight, avoid everything in sight, and catch objects without blasting them. This all probably sounds easy, but the tunnels are rather twisty, and the ship is picking up speed constantly.

Memories: Bearing some resemblance to certain stages of games like Vanguard, Lead may not be the most original shoot-’em-up, but it’s one of the most addictive. With the See the videoVanguard-inspired ability to keep exploring once the game has ended (at, naturally, the cost of zeroing out your score), Lead certainly has depth. But, strange as it may sound, the game’s audio makes it a whole different beast. An organically evolving techno beat pulses in the background, its rhythm and melody influenced by the player’s actions and performance.

The effect is not unlike the grinding techno-rock background of the arcade game Reactor, which sets the tone and becomes more than mere background noise. Lead can be played for the sheer shoot-’em-up factor, or to see what sounds you can get the game to make. That’s a neat little idea, and a great hook on which to hang a homebrew game.

Veteran Atari players, accustomed to the console’s arcade-port library which offers multiple “lives,” may be put off by Lead‘s single “life”; when the player’s ship takes a hit, that’s it – making the “continue” feature an absolute must. The funny thing is, as a veteran Odyssey2 gamer, I wasn’t that startled by the single life – long-time players of Pick Axe Pete, K.C. Munchkin and UFO will understand Lead‘s slightly-more-true-to-life play mechanic: make the most of the life you’ve got.

5 quarters!Lead is one of the most original and addictive 2600 homebrews that I’ve seen in a long time. With the retrogaming scene waning a bit, it seems that the homebrew scene is slowing down as well – but Lead proves that it’s a scene that’s anything but dead.