Black Widow - The Atari Times
More bugs from Atari
by Darryl BrundageMay 5, 2014
In order to hopefully make money in the gaming world, as a gaming company, it really boils down to two things:
1. Make games.
2. Make games ripped off from other games that were huge hits.
Granted, I'm sure a lot of people would chime in (/want to hang me) with a few other things to add to my very simple, skimpy list, like games should be fun, addicting, possibly pushing technology to the limits in the point and time they were released (oh yeah, like the 15 minute laser disc trend or never really materialized virtual reality games, ah HA HA HA!), but the above can really be all you need sometimes.
And speaking of which, Black Widow was a bit of a knock-off of the Williams game Robotron: 2084 (with a little touch of Galaga thrown in), complete with the same controls and buttons and all: one or two player, and two joysticks, one to move, the other to fire.
However, of course the game wasn't exactly the same, having some different play mechanics, and being in vector, unlike Robotron's raster.
And the game was filled with bugs, a reoccurring theme for Atari, like Centipede and Millipede, along with bugs in many of their 2600 games as well (various critters in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bugs from Data Age, and many others). After all, the game DID take place in a spider web that covered most of the screen, so what else could you expect? Humans in it? (Ugh, THERE'S a thought! Escape the nightmare vector web!)
You must've been a spider that escaped from the same lab that produced the hero from Robotron, since you can fire in eight directions like he did (what other reason can you think of for a spider to shoot like that anyway?). Actually the other bugs comprised in this game was probably from the lab too, I imagine, since several will leave dollar bills behind for you to scoop up for points (known as “grubsteaks”; say what? Yes, this game makes more and more sense as you get into it!). Other bugs to contend with are larger, and another kind is like the Hulks from Robotron as well, where you can't destroy them, you can just push them away with your lasers, but unfortunately they move faster and can snatch your grubsteaks away from you or eat bugs before you can shoot them. Geez, indestructible AND greedy, an annoying combination!
Other bugs also can leave behind quickly growing eggs that will turn into big annoying bugs that you might not be able to destroy and/or could wind up flying around bugging you (sorry!) throughout the next wave. Another kind will (thankfully) explode and take out anything around it, but that includes YOU, if you're not careful, as touching most anything that moves will cost you a life. So without a giant Raid can that can be activated to wipe out all the bugs on the screen, these exploding bugs will have to do instead.
There's several things that shake up the game, as every fourth wave consists of a string of bugs that fly around in a Galaga-type formation I mentioned earlier, but since you can die if you get too close to their explosions they leave behind when you shoot them, these don't exactly count as “bonus” waves. Strands of the onscreen web also mean certain things too, as the green strands will scatter your shots around (not a bad thing though, since it'll wipe out a lot of critters), whereas the red strands will block your movement, which is annoying. Spiders just get no respect...
As least the graphics are fairly good (although one wonders how you can exactly give a high rating to vector graphic bugs), as are the sound effects, although the shooting sound is almost exactly the same as in Centipede, plus you hear sounds from Tempest and other Atari games. Control's great with just the two joysticks though, not much wrong to go there.
This is a game that works best in an arcade or a MAME machine setting though, as it's difficult to get the firing down on a keyboard or pretty much anything other than a joystick. However I don't even want to think of how rare a game this is nowadays, as it wasn't a huge hit when it came out, but at least it was released on several compilations, the Ultracade arcade machine (with a few dozen other games, not all by Atari), and the home Awesome Arcades/P. A. M. by retro guy Curt Vendel.
And for those of us into the Vectrex, it'd be nice if someone were to do a homebrew copy of it (a lot of other Atari vector clone games have been done as it is), although some of the graphics would probably have to be simplified, since too many vectors that have to be drawn onscreen at once can slow a game down. And for anyone that played this back in the day knows, that's unacceptable!
All in all, Black Widow is a nice, fast, vector knock-off, even if you didn't have a Mommy to hug from Robotron.