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Mouse Trap - The Atari Times

Mouse Trap

How can one invent the better mouse trap on the Atari?
by Ethan C. Nobles

September 6, 2002
Pac-Man, of course, was a sensation in the arcades and inspired a number of companies to come up with maze games of their own. In other words, it seems like everyone was out to build a better mouse trap in the early 1980s and capitalize on the runaway success of Pac-Man. One of those companies was Exidy, which released Mouse Trap in the arcades in 1981. The game was largely ignored as folks rushed to more popular games in the same genre, such as Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.

Fortunately for us, Coleco made the curious decision to buy the licenses for a ton of less popular arcade titles and port them to the famed ColecoVision, as well as some other platforms. I owned a copy of Mouse Trap for my ColecoVision, but never really warmed up to it because of the absolutely horrible controllers on that system (the controllers are so bad, in fact, I never got around to replacing my console when it died last year). However, I enjoy the heck out of Coleco's port of Mouse Trap for my Atari. Now, this one will never approach the quality of my favorite arcade maze title for the 2600 -- the wonderful Ms. Pac-Man -- but Mouse Trap is a nice diversion and beats the socks off that awful Pac-Man title for the ol' Stella.

Before I mention the merits of this fine cartridge, let me first talk about a few things that are missing. In the ColecoVision version (and, indeed, the arcade game), the player is put in charge of a mouse which zips through a maze dotted with colored doors. The doors are red, blue and yellow and the sets of doors correspond to a color-coded button. Thus, the doors can be triggered and the player can trap pursuing cats and zip around the maze. Also, there's an "IN" box around the center of the maze which will transport the player to one of four corners when entered. Both the color-coded doors and "IN" box are missing in the 2600 version of the game.

Mouse Trap offers a few twists on the formula set out in Pac-Man. The player's task is to guide his mouse over bits of cheese in the maze while avoiding patrolling cats. Once all the cheese is gone, the game goes to an identical maze at a harder level. For defense, the player can collect bones that are located in the corners of the maze and turn into a dog when a bone is activated. The dog, of course, turns the tables on the cats and turns the hunters into the hunted. The bones can be stored up for use whenever danger is near.

While there are no color-coded doors in the 2600 version, Coleco still leaves players the option of triggering doors in the maze -- all of them are switched at once, so it's still very possible to box in the cats and trap them. It was simply impossible to replicate the game's scheme of tripping color-coded doors because there's only one action button on the Atari joystick. That same button is used to activate a bone -- the player taps the button to transform his mouse into a dog and holds it down to trigger the doors.

Now, the graphics in this title are very, very nice. For once, screen flicker is utilized quite well as the doors in the maze flicker, thus preventing them from blending in with solid walls. The cats, mouse and dog are animated well and it's easy to identify the large, colorful characters in the game. While Coleco absolutely bungled such ports as Zaxxon and Donkey Kong for the 2600, the company did a very nice job with the graphics in Mouse Trap.

Similarly, the sound effects are quite good in this game. The music, while a bit on the bloopy side, adds to the whimsical atmosphere of the game. What's really impressive, however, is that the dog "barks" convincingly when activated, and that feature also boosts the overall quality of this title.

Furthermore, I absolutely love the control scheme here. While guiding the mouse with that rotten ColecoVision controller got to be a real drag after a time, using the Atari joystick to guide around the maze is easy and just feels natural. This is a game one can pick up and play without having to worry about frustrating, unresponsive controls. Once again, Coleco should be commended for its attention to detail on this title.

The only gripe I have about this game is that can be quite easy. Sure, you can set it up for either "smart cats" or "dumb cats" with the left difficulty switch and "fast cats" or "slow cats" with the right one, but storing up enough bones to stay out of trouble becomes second nature after a few tries.

Still, this title offers enough twists on the Pac-Man theme to keep me coming back to it quite a bit. This is a solid cartridge all the way through, and fans of maze games looking looking for something different from Ms. Pac-Man on the 2600 will get a kick out of this title.

Mouse Trap

(c) Coleco

The arcade version of Mouse Trap was created by Exidy.
For a 2600 conversion, this one doesn't look half-bad.
Turn into a barking dog and chase the nasty cats away!
This is the Colecovision version of Mouse Trap.
Mouse Trap
System: 2600
Publisher: Coleco
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 90%
Sound & Music Score: 85%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 90%

Final Score: 85%

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