Over the past several months I have been discovering Atari 2600 games for the first time...just like those who owned one way back when the machine was the only console on the market. So far I've discovered Solaris and few others I had never seen or heard of before. The 2600 has managed to surprise me again with a rare title known as Radar Lock.
Radar Lock appears similar to Sega's After Burner but after a few minutes in the game you get so sucked into the on-screen action that you forget what you are playing on. Wave after wave of enemy aircraft appear on your screen, shooting at you in a fly-by style formation. You constantly find yourself in a banking move just to target them so you can strike them down with your twin gunner or missiles. All the while you are using gun and missile ammo that is limited and have to watch your fuel gauge. Run out of either one and it's curtains for you. If you manage to succeed in finishing off all enemies in a single wave you will get the chance to dock with a fuel plane. Even that can be tricky because now the fire button turns into a boost button. Just like how Star Raiders' Space Stations have to be just right for the player to dock with them the player has to be just right for the fueling aircraft to lower its hose to your fighter jet. Line it up and receive a bonus for the fuel and ammunition you have left. After that you will find yourself on a runway waiting for the next wave to start as soon as you press the fire button on your controller. And a first for me...this game actually uses the TV Type switch for a pause button. Simply slide it to the B*W position to pause (recommend 2600 hardware for this) and slide back to Color to continue where you left off. Pretty cool, eh? It also uses a second controller, like Solaris, for selecting between guns and missiles...up and down for guns and left and right for missiles.
Now that you know what the game entails to a degree let's step back in time a bit here. 1989 is the copyright date on Radar Lock. That places the 2600 JR on the shelf along with the 7800 and up against giants Nintendo and Sega. At this time the Genesis should have been on the market as well and Nintendo going strong with the NES and newly released Game Boy (in North America anyway). So here we have the 2600, declared a primitive console by some at the time, doing something it was not designed to do...again! And I thought Solaris was mind-blowing.
Radar Lock pushes the 2600 hardware into new territory that is just as mind-blowing as Solaris. The graphics are well done and flicker free, the sound effects somehow don't seem limited to the 2-channel limitations of the TIA processor, nor do the controls, after getting use to the game, feel like a 2600 game. In some ways it almost feels like part of Solaris was used as the basis to Radar Lock...and in a good way. I really never knew that graphics on the 2600 could make tiny dots (check out the radar in the lower right-side of the HUD display and GUNS ammo). This game is impressive.
I really believe that if gamers in 1989, who owned an NES or Sega system, were more aware of this game they might have purchased it along with a Atari 2600 Junior or Atari 7800 game system. This is one game I never heard of until recently but if I would have known about it sooner, and when I picked up my 2600 Junior with my first paycheck decades ago, I would have purchased it. If you find this game in the wild or online, and you've never had it before, I recommend picking up. If you do pick this up I recommend using a controller where the fire button is on top of the joystick handle to really get immersed into the game. A Kraft Starmaster controller easily comes to mind for that. Any 2600 owner who does not have this game needs to locate it and play it. It's really good.