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Dodge Em - The Atari Times

Dodge Em


An early version of Pac-Man?
by Ethan C. Nobles

December 12, 2005
This early Atari 2600 game is surprisingly fun. Sure, it might look like a primitive version of Pac-Man with laughably-simple graphics, but Dodge 'Em is an addictive and tough game which is downright enjoyable to pop in from time to time.

Dodge 'Em, released in 1980, takes place on a five-lane, concentric track which is covered with dots. The player's job, of course, is to run his car over the dots. Unfortunately, there's a "crash car" on the track which has one purpose - to ram the player's car. Sound simple? It's not. There are only four spots on the track (two at the sides, one at the top and one at the bottom) where the player can change lanes. And, there are no brakes here - the player can travel along at "normal" speed, or hit the joystick button to accelerate.

It's a pretty simple concept, but there are only five lanes and not a lot of places to hide from the crash car. The crash car isn't exactly a marvel of artificial intelligence, but it doesn't have to be that bright to get the job done. The chances of clearing out an entire maze before getting in a wreck are slim and, to make things worse, the player has to restart the level after every crash. Truly, this is a challenging game. However, it's hard to resist the pull of it - once you figure out how to effectively change lanes (a crucial skill to learn in the game), and get close to clearing out a maze or two, you'll be hooked.

What's really surprising is this simple little game appears to have been, uh, influenced (if not flat-out stolen) from an arcade game - Gremlin's Head On from 1979 (I'll admit I had to cheat and look up the name of it on the Internet). I actually remember playing that in some arcade or another when I was a kid - it was one of those lonely little machines which sat over in the corner as kids went nuts over Pac-Man, Centipede, Galaga and the other "new" games. Yes, I'm a walking encyclopedia of useless knowledge!

You get but three variations in the game. One puts the player in charge of the "points car" while the computer controls the crash car. Another is for two players who simply alternate controlling the points car. Another puts one player in control of the crash car, and the other drives the points car. The roles are reversed after each crash.

As for graphics, there's not much to write home about here. You get a purplish maze and single-colored cars. The animation for the crashes is simple, but it gets the job done. To claim this game doesn't push the 2600 to its limits would be an understatement.

The sound is pretty sparse, too. You get some "clinks" when your car runs over a dot, some engine-revving sounds when you accelerate, and a mess of static when there's a crash. Like the graphics, the sound won't impress anyone.

The control is a bit stiff, too, and you'll likely be frustrated if you have an old, worn-out joystick. Heck, the game is touch enough to be frustrating even with a new stick, so you'll need all the help you can get.

So, the game is ugly, the sounds are sparse and the control isn't that great. Regardless, this is an enjoyable game which should appeal to maze fans. And, the good news is, this little four-kilobyte cartridge isn't hard to find and just screams, "Classic game!" Sure, it looks very dated and will never compete with some of the better maze games for the 2600 (i.e., Ms. Pac-Man, Mouse Trap or Jr. Pac-Man), but it's still enjoyable. Pick up a copy.






Dodge Em

(c) Atari



There aren't many games that end with an 'Em...
Just don't crash into the other car, get it?
Dodge Em
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 70%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 70%

Final Score: 77%



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