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Sky Diver - The Atari Times

Sky Diver

Does it fly high, or go splat?
by Darryl Brundage

March 5, 2007
Scene: an airplane high in the air, filled with people with standard sky diving equipment on, standing (or sitting) by that ominous open door, ready for people to jump for the ultimate thrill of their entire life...or a fairly quick death.

Instructor: SO! Is everyone READ-AY for the ultimate thrill of their LIVES? (Told ya!)

Everyone: (mumbles incoherently)

Instructor (clapping nearest guy on shoulder): How about YOU take the first jump?

Guy #1: Uhhh, I don't think so...

Instructor: Ahhhh, c'MON! Why not?

Guy #1: Because my mom couldn't make it here for my support, like she said she would...I think I'm gonna go sit down now...

Instructor: NONSENSE! You can DO IT by YOURSELF! You don't need mommy or a teddy bear for support! That belief is in (pushes guy out open door) YOU, and you ALONE!

Guy #1: Aiiiiiiiiiiiiieeee...

(His backpack, for some reason, hits the floor...suddenly it doesn't seem like regulation sky diving gear...especially since a teddy bear falls out...)

Instructor: What th--

Guy #2: Uh, Mr. Instructor Dude? I don't think he was even 'suited up' for a jump; that was just his backpack.

Instructor: Uh oh. (phones lawyer)

The point of this intro (ok, I'll admit that maybe it might not even have one) is that sky diving can be THE ultimate thrill. But would it make a good video game?

First off, I'm doing this review kind of "backwards": I've had the 2600 Sky Diver (where they made it into two words when it hit the home market) since the 80s, and never even knew it was an arcade game until about a year and a half ago. So I'm trying to be partial in putting back my feelings on the home version (which is kind of fun, especially game variation five, as "chicken" is the best way to play with two players) to the original, which can be hard to do, since it's so old: games that were killer back then would seem more boring than watching paint dry to today's gamers (like Space Invaders, which should rank a good 80 to even 100% if it were an Atari game [I'm talking about the original here, although the 2600 version should also be ranked really high too, since it surpassed the original by having two players at the same time in many game variations, and it had a lot of the latter of those as well], but nowadays most of these blasted kids would probably give 50% or less).

Anyway, one or two players can give this a try; if you play one player, the computer makes up the other player until it either beats you or it messes up on it's jumps as you continue on. You must jump from a plane, compensate for the wind (there's a wind sock for each player at the bottom of the screen), and pull your chute as late as possible to score the most points you can; open it too early, you won't get as many points, and if you wait too late your chute won't open AT ALL. (splat)

Whereas I had started playing the cartridge version nearly 20 years ago, for the first time ever in my life, in 2005, at a (mostly classic) gaming expo, I finally played the arcade original. I was immediately confused with just OPENING my blasted chute, as you have to push up on the controller (made out to look like a pull cord on a real chute) to open your chute. Time after time I couldn't get the pixelated, one-colored idiot to do this. (I guess I got the "chicken" student who would freeze up in mid-air; great move!) What the heck?

Then I finally realized that "up" meant that you pulled up on the controller, as in towards the ceiling...not the "up" as in the "up, down, left, right"of Pac-Man, where you push up on the controller (towards the screen). Whups.

There's actually several differences between the cart and the arcade version. One is that you can have one foot totally off the pad and still earn points (unlike the 2600 version). You can earn up to several hundred points per landing; on the 2600 the most you'll get per jump, max, is 11 points (which, after nine jumps, the highest you can score is 99 total, the heck with the play until you miss 3-5 times crap on the arcade version [which depends on what the machine was set on]). There's also an opportunity to spell out "Skydiver" for bonus points as you land, which is totally omitted from the 2600 version. The 2600 version also doesn't have a computer player, so if it's just you playing, that's a bit boring. This game is also more difficult as well, since most of the time you have to open your chute early in order to be able to land (the wind's not as forgiving as on the 2600 version), and if you get too close to the edge of the screen when you jump, your player will vanish, and count as not opening his chute/cost you a turn; this doesn't happen on the 2600 version.

Like I said, this is kind of hard to review, since I don't have a lot of games from the same year (1978) to compare it to to decide on how to rate the graphics (which, even back then, probably only looked ok), sound (not much going on there either) and controls (however, since, even being nearly 30 years old, the controls still worked decently, so those get high marks). Unlike all of my other reviews, though, which I've always written honestly (i. e. no pressure on "oh, I liked this game, but everyone else I know hated it, so I'll rate it a little lower then, rather than how I really want to rate it"), I'm going to give this game a bit higher of a rating than I normally would (again, because of how low today's players would rate Space Invaders now, unlike if they were around when it first came out, since it was the greatest thing, gaming-wise, since sliced bread), since I'm assuming that, being a bit challenging -- and with games being a lot simpler back then -- I assume it was accepted a bit more in our limited arcade fare (although I doubt it was a huge hit from the day [I wouldn't even be old enough to drive for nearly 10 years after this came out, so I didn't exactly hit a lot of arcades, other than mostly playing games in movie theatre lobbies, which I never saw Sky Diver at any of them]).

However, I saw a post on Atari Age a few months ago of someone asking if anyone knew anyone that had a Canyon Bomber machine for sale...another game that would probably seem boring as hell nowadays. So if someone is interested in something like that, all these years later, if you should happen to find Sky Diver somewhere, you should probably give it a chance by playing a game or two (since, if you've played the cartridge, you have to get used to how the wind and the Screen Edge of Death works differently than what you're used to). Other than that, you're probably better off with the cartridge, with game number five (or maybe not at all).

In other words, it's nothing worth jumping out of a window over, much less a plane.

Sky Diver

(c) Atari

Back when jumping meant out of a plane instead of a cliff.
Whew. Good thing I packed my own chute!
Sky Diver
System: Arcade
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Strategy
Graphics Score: 55%
Sound & Music Score: 45%
Gameplay Score: 55%
Control Score: 95%

Final Score: 65%

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