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Dragonstomper - The Atari Times

Dragonstomper


Stomping all the others like it--wait, WHAT others?!
by Darryl Brundage

January 1, 2008
Here’s a bit of a different one from myself: a rare double review (meaning that a Dragonstomper review has already been done). I really didn’t feel that Lee and Lori Krueger got into the gameplay enough (although I don’t mean for this to sound like I’m ragging on them though, at least they did a review of it!), so I figured I’d elaborate a bit more on it (/go on for too long, although I’ll *try* to keep it brief.)

It’s one thing that this was one of the few RPGs to ever come out for the 2600, but Dragonstomper was also something that was never seen before on the system, and possibly since to this day, over 20 years later. It’s no coincidence that this plays like an RPG for the Apple 2 from back then, as all of the Starpath games were created on that computer as well. How many other games can you name on the 2600 that has a turn-based combat system like this game does? There also aren’t many games where you can stockpile a lot of items either, along with being just a square of a character. (The latter makes me wonder if it’s an ode to the square hero on Adventure...ok, so actually you’re a rectangle, but that’s close enough!) About the closest game I can think of that plays somewhat like this is Riddle of the Sphinx, and that’s about it. But comparing those two are an apples and Pharaohs type of thing, of course.

According to the instructions’ story, there’s trouble in the so-called “enchanted countryside” where most of the game takes place, and it’s up to you to figure out how to stomp it out. I say “so-called” due to, as you wander around the place, it being infested with giant beatles, golems, maniacs, scorpions, etc., even monkeys (“oh no”, as the text reads as you get attacked), all of which can kill you. Gee fun! If this is a supposed “enchanted countryside”, then lord knows how horrendous the equivalent of a ghetto is from back then.

Basically you just wander around (until something attacks you) so you can gather gold, increase your strength and dexterity, and accumulate items. This can be pretty tough, as you’ll find yourself dead if you’ve been roughed up too much in battle. But as they say, war is hell, especially when you’re by yourself...

However, there’s more to the game than that, of course. Certain items that you run across can increase or decrease your hit points and dexterity. One thing that was driving me nuts was that I couldn’t figure out what the hey items did what as I played game after game. But then I later found out that with each new game, whatever an item does, it’s random. Pretty much the only thing you need to know is that, once you find out what item increases your hit points, you really shouldn’t bother with anything else once you find that out; you don’t want your dexterity or hit points to decrease if you mess with some other item (a cross, ring, staff, etc.), then get into a fight and die. You can press reset to start again, but you will lose all of your magic items, which isn’t worth it, in my opinion.

There is also an axe and shield to pick up (which helps in battle), along with a special item in order to make it to the second part of the game (which I’ll get to). There are several castles scattered about the kingdom, which the countryside slowly scrolls as you move around. There are traps around several of the castles though, and most of them aren’t void of something hostile (and I don’t mean someone trying to sell you something either); falling into one of the traps causes damage, the longer it takes for you to get out.

The controls of moving, going through inventory, using items, etc. is all controlled by one joystick (making it a lot simpler for those who didn’t like Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example). The controls work well too, although your character doesn’t move very quickly, but then, that isn’t really necessary. Sounds are sparse but ok, although the graphics fare a bit better, which, again, almost look like they belong on an Apple 2 game.

Now, there’s nothing really set in stone as to when you should attempt to make it to the second area of the game, aside from having a bit of money and a certain item to get you there; at the furthest right center of the kingdom is a bridge to take you to the next area of the game (via tape load on the Supercharger :P ). There’s a guard there, although he’s so fierce by beating up other wimpy 2600 characters (the Atari “port” [not really] of Pac-Man, E. T., etc.) that it’s not a good idea to fight him at all, just give him what he needs and he’ll let you by...

...to the second area, which is like a trader’s village. Here you unload everything that you won’t need for some spare cash to buy up a lot of items and hire local help in order to try to destroy the dragon. Unfortunately this is where the game lags, since there’s no way to highlight all the items in your inventory that you don’t need, you have to sell them one piece at a time. And if you’ve got four or five of everything (which you usually will), that’s going to take quite some time, as you can sell pretty much everything except for an I. D. scroll, you can even sell off spare keys and treasure chests that you gathered from the first stage of the game (although you only get a couple of gold pieces for each of the keys).

Then, finally it’s off to the dragon’s cave, full of dead dragonstomper wannabes (like in a horror movie; turn back! Get out! Not the best of signs here!). Also certain spots will trigger poison darts to shoot out of walls (a la the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie), along with much larger darts that appear to be alive, moving back and forth (or maybe they were controlled by someone offscreen with a remote; wish their batteries would go dead!). Make it far enough and if you bought the right items you will descend into the dragon’s lair.

Unfortunately I’ve heard that a lot of people that have played this have never beaten the dragon; the turd uses magic that can hamper your attacks and you’ll end up dead after spending all that time trying to get to him. Reading it’s entry on the Atari Protos site will tell you exactly how to kill the dragon if you never have, which I’ll admit I had to use that in order to beat the game, it’s a bit complex. And unlike the amazing ending for Starpath’s Escape from the MindMaster (probably THE best ending of all 2600 games...that have one!), this one isn’t that great, unfortunately, just a seizure-inducing congrats, pretty much.

There have been posts about this game on the forums and all about people that thought this game was a bit boring, which I’ll admit it’s nothing like some of the fast-paced Imagic catalog or anything. I like the atmosphere of gathering things in the first screen, but it’s not for everyone, I’ll admit...especially when unloading all of your loot in the second area of the game is slow as trying to convince a young gamer of today that the much inferior 2600 still had some killer stuff. And emulation doesn’t always help either, since a lot of the randomness of the game is gone, depending on which one of the several versions of this ROM that’s floating around that you download (one version I played a couple of years ago started out with you ALWAYS getting attacked by a golem first thing, while another version I've played has you get attacked by a slime first thing). If someone would re-release this game nowadays, it’d be great if they could improve the trade area as well, allowing you to sell duplicates of all the crap you have in just a tug or two of the controller.

Still, this game was something else on the 2600, “stomping” all the other similar-themed games to nothing back in the day.

Oh that’s right, there was barely any like this at all.


Dragons, prepare to be STOMPED!
I'm looking... I'm looking... I'm looking for a dragon to stomp!
Dragonstomper
System: 2600
Publisher: Starpath
Genre: RPG
Graphics Score: 70%
Sound & Music Score: 65%
Gameplay Score: 80%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 85%



Reader Comments for Dragonstomper

Why? by Greg George on 2014-02-10 22:41:39
Wondering why everyone likes this game so much? I guess I should play it for longer than 3 minutes?
I'd say so... by Darryl Brundage on 2014-02-13 00:34:15
It takes a lot of planning to get through it, so yes, I'd say more than three minutes...like 45!
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