Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Below the Cut: DragonStomper (Atari 2600)

(Source: MobyGames)
DragonStomper - Rating(9 RPP)
1) 1 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 3 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 3 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 1 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 1 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 0 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

So, I took a long hard look at the game, played it for about an hour, and have decided to call it as I see it, not an RPG. This game has a lot going for it, with many innovations for a game so early.

First and foremost, there are multiple ways to deal with the obstacles you come across. The very first being a bridge guard that asks to see your ID before he'll let you cross. Now, you could fetch the papers from the glowing castle across the map (probably the easiest to do), or you could kill the guard and walk past his rotting corpse. It's no easy task though, so you might be better off trying to bribe him instead. The only other obstacle is the dragon, which the manual suggests as having two ways to complete. Either you can stomp the dragon (kill him), or you can find a way to take his amulet, which breaks the enchantment.

In actuality, I was looking for more ways to give points to the game. Stat increases aren't permanent, and vary wildly when using items. I often wondered if all the items just reduced my dex when one finally raised it to 26. Supposedly the stats are used in combat, so I went with that as well. In the second area, the village, there are three stores that will buy and sell items. It's hard to tell what's worth it though since the manual doesn't list any of these or their uses.

The main story is there, and you get a reminder of your true purpose in town. Unfortunately, the game is so short that I don't know how much this counts. There are three screens, the first is the wilderness, and after the town we get to the dragon's cave. Actually, there's a fourth screen, which is the dragon.

The length of the game gets to me; if planned out right you could probably be beat in about 5 - 10 minutes depending on luck. In the meantime, you'll be beating your head against the wall mapping out the traps in the dragon's cave, and trying to find a way to recruit all the warriors to act as fodder. Good luck to anyone that wants to give this a try, and let me know if there's some facet of this gem I'm missing.

Randomness was getting to me, and without a strong foundation of knowledge, I don't know how anyone could get through this game. Building up that foundation requires playing through the game multiple times, and eventually going through many trial and error tests with the various items available for purchase. The amount of work involved doesn't seem worth the effort. I'd rather move on at this point and bid farewell to the past. This game came closest to meeting the criteria I set forth, so maybe it's enough for others to consider. If you're one to look at the edge cases, I strongly suggest checking this one out.


  1. Giauz

    I brought the Forbes article up in good fun, but I'm sorry the game turned out to be such a pain. Does this mean Miracle Warriors is still America's first console rpg with Dragon Quest remaining the first ever?-

    1. It's hard to tell with such shoddy release date info, but yes, I believe all that is correct. But, it depends on what system you'd call consoles. I'm not too familiar with the PC-88 or the MSX, but are those considered computers instead of consoles?

    2. Giauz

      Good question. I guess I will have to wiki it. I merely assumed they were part of the age of "standardized " home computers (Commodore 64, Amiga, Apple ][e, etc. From peoples accounts of that era, the biggest difference between playing games on a computer or NES was the price point and interfaces) .

    3. They may be actual computers. I've always thought of consoles as plug and play devices (i.e. put the cartridge or disc in, and it load the game) with no other real function, but that definition is getting blurred with all the things the latest and next generation of consoles can do. Maybe a console could be any video game system not meant to be modified?

    4. "Does this mean Miracle Warriors is still America's first console rpg with Dragon Quest remaining the first ever?"

      Just to address this, several Intellivision games have a strong claim here. AD&D: Cloudy Mountain, AD&D: Treasure of Tarmin, and Tower of Doom (which was also planned as an AD&D game) are all candidates. You could say Cloudy Mountain is an action game with a D&D wrapper, but the latter two are unequivocally RPGs. Tower of Doom is a remarkably sophisticated roguelike, well beyond anything else out on US consoles at the time.

    5. I agree, Tower of Doom had the most potential out of all of those games. I talk about them here: