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Scrapyard Dog - The Atari Times

Scrapyard Dog


Teaching the 7800 New Tricks
by David Sherwin

July 14, 2003
The most popular gaming genre in the late 1980s was probably the platformer, and Nintendo, which had revolutionized the genre with its Donkey Kong franchise, found its polished and entertaining games much in demand. Millions of people bought, in turn, millions of their consoles.

Atari was forced to play catch-up and scrambled to produce a decent game for the under appreciated Lynx and 7800 systems. The result? Scrapyard Dog, an original game which was released with no fanfare (and little public acclaim) to unappreciative audiences in 1990 and 1991.

Scrapyard Dog details the adventures of the game's big-nosed protagonist, Louie, as he runs, jumps, hops and shoots his way through various worlds to save his dog, Scraps, who has been kidnapped by the evil Mr. Big.

It's not an entirely original idea for a game, but Scrapyard Dog is executed extremely well on on the 7800. It's fun, challenging and yet not impossible to complete; this makes Scrapyard Dog one of the best titles for the system.

Gameplay

Scrapyard Dog begins in Louie's junkyard. Mr. Big's henchmen have invaded his home turf, and Louie has to evade / kill them in order to advance to the next level. Louie also has to avoid hazards such as birds (and their droppings), junkyard rats, and rolling tires. Fortunately, Louie can kill enemies by throwing cans at them or by buying weapons with which they can be killed.

The 7800 version has five different "worlds" which alternate between stages set in the Junkyard, City, and in the city's sewers. Each of the "worlds" repeat themselves but become progressively harder as the game advances. Players are ultimately challenged to a fight with Mr. Big in the game's penultimate level, and it's possible to finish the game, although I never have. Scrapyard Dog is no pushover on the 7800, and players will have to use all of their skills to advance past just the easiest game levels. The game does offer two "continues," but it resets each game at an earlier level.

Weapons

Louie's choice of weaponry is limited. Louie here has a finite supply of cans, and he has to replenish his stock by jumping on top of enemies, finding hidden caches, or buying them in shops. Some shops also sell "super cans", which do not have to be aimed to find their targets. It's a handy weapon to have when the action gets a little too intense for comfort.

Louie can also buy bombs at a few select shops; these will kill all on-screen enemies without harming Louie, but they're very expensive.

In a neat touch, Louie can also get money by selling extra cans in special "recycling depots" -- if you can find them. Extra money can also be found in hidden caches or in one of the many "bonus rooms." These bonus rooms contain their own hazards, and players who successfully defeat them will be awarded with special prizes.

Controls 

If there is a problem with Scrapyard Dog, it can be found in the game's cranky controls. Scrapyard Dog requires use of the cumbersome 7800 joysticks -- other joysticks will not work -- and players will have to accept the fact that hand fatigue will be a likely consequence of playing this otherwise-delightful game. Players may also find that the rare 7800 joypads will work (if they can find them), but will probably have to experiment to find an acceptable control scheme. 

Perhaps equally troubling is the fact that controls are very "floaty," and Louie will often run past the point where you'll actually want him. I haven't noticed this particular problem with any other 7800 games, and it's not a welcome development.

Graphics

For me, the excellent graphics of Scrapyard Dog represent the epitome of game development for this system. Everything, from the fantastically-coloured title screen (a detail of the box cover), to the wonderfully fine detailing on the game's characters, is done superbly. The game is simply a joy to watch -- let alone play!

Scrapyard Dog boasts so many incredible graphic bonuses that it's impossible to isolate any one of them as truly outstanding, but players should still take note (and marvel) at the graceful fluidity of the flapping birds, the interior detail of the "bonus rooms", and the wonderful animation as Louie disappears into a doorway. Scrapyard Dog also presents characters that are more detailed than you'll find in any other game for this system. Louie's surly expression is priceless, and I love those slovenly shop owners (complete in wife-beaters); these definitely look like guys who you'd find in a junkyard (or a slum).

I also love the game's sense of graphical humour, which you can see demonstrated by the water-spewing fire hydrants which change direction depending on your on-screen location and the rather messy birds which fly overhead. Finally, unsuccessful attempts to rescue Scraps are delineated in a special issue of "The Daily Beagle" at the end of the game. The box's boast that Scrapyard Dog pushes the limits of the 7800's graphical capabilities is, for once, not idle. In my opinion, Scrapyard Dog has the best graphics of any game that I've seen on the 7800.

Music and Sound Effects

Most gamers are well aware that the sound capabilities of the 7800 are not one of its many strengths. Scrapyard Dog does what it can to provide some background music, and the result -- a sort of cartoony soundtrack -- really isn't bad at all. You certainly won't remember it when the game's turned off, but at least it's not off-key. It is, at the very least, appropriate to the game's theme.

Game sound effects are also pretty good, and the ringing phone at the end of each level actually sounds like...a ringing phone.

Summary

Scrapyard Dog is a title that's often overlooked in the libraries of the 7800 due to the fact that it is now relatively rare and expensive and doesn't come with the cultural cachet of a well-advertised gaming franchise. 

Scrapyard Dog does, however, manage to offer quite a bit to respective fans of both gaming systems. Scrapyard Dog is a graphics (and, to a lesser extent, sound) showcase that is limited only by its generic gaming structure. Junkyard Louie may not have the cultural currency of a Mario, Luigi, or a Sonic, but that doesn't make his adventures any less fun. Scrapyard Dog is recommend, without hesitation, for gamers looking for a good platformer on the 7800. 

I wonder why this is the only Super Mario-style platformer for the 7800?
Tires and other "enemies" appear out of nowhere.
Knock on the doors for bonuses.
This room has lots of cash in it!
Scrapyard Dog
System: 7800
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Platformer
Graphics Score: 90%
Sound & Music Score: 80%
Gameplay Score: 70%
Control Score: 50%

Final Score: 70%



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