odyssey2
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Collecting Dust: My Odyssey2 Odyssey (part 2)

 

Welcome to part 2 of my Odyssey2 odyssey. Now it’s time to look at some games!

I only have 7 cartridges, so we might as well check ’em all out real quick. That means first impressions only. Let’s start with…

What better way to get acquainted with the system than to enjoy a nice introduction to the computer? The copyright on the cartridge says 1979. I was born in 1979! We both have the same copyright year, so how hard could it be?

Oh boy. Math. We’re already havin’ some major fun right out of the gate.
So it looks like each number on the keyboard brings up a different type of program. Oh, yeah. In case you didn’t know, Odyssey2 has a full alphanumeric membrane keyboard.  This means that when you press down on a key, you can feel a small divet under the smooth plastic sheet. It works, but you would never want to type anything longer than a few words on it.

Here’s what happens when you press 1;

Okay, I’m confused. Is this supposed to be some kind of game? I doubt this would have been an impressive tech demo even in 1979.

DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-DER-

Seriously, I’ve pressed every button, and this is all I can get it to do. Obviously I need the instruction book. I’d look it up online, but remember, I’m going by first impressions only. So…moving on.

Number 2 is the basic, ho-hum, no-frills math program that we saw earlier, and we’ve already established those are no fun, so let’s try 3.

There’s a question mark on a black screen. Hmm. Okay, I press two keys; 3 and L. Now the screen says 13L. Ummm… I’ll press two more. J and B…
Now it says JBH. Well, screw it. I’m stumped. Maybe this is some kind of puzzle game? I don’t know. Again, first impressions.

4 is just as impenetrable. Some kind of numbers thing that makes no immediate sense.

And… That’s it.
Wow. Some introduction.

When I bought this in the late 90s, there was no book and no Internet resources available to me. Fast forward 17-ish years later, and I’m just as lost and bewildered as ever before. Someday I’ll look it up and figure it out. Not today, though. Let’s instead take a look at…

This one is just like Activision’s Skiing, only it’s kinda clunky and not nearly as much fun. You travel down a white screen, featureless except for the red and blue trees. 

You can select either slalom or downhill in up to 9 speeds. Even at the fastest available speed, it’s easy to the point of boredom. It is a two player game, though, so perhaps if I had someone to race with, it might be fun for a few goes. Maybe. I don’t know. Poor, lonely nerd.

Are you ready for some football?!? All my rowdy friends are going to be mighty disappointed when I bring out this game. Evidently due to the Oddysey2’s limitations, there are no first downs, and picking plays is an archaic crapshoot. Also, there’s something amiss about the playfield. Look for yourself;

Here’s a diagram of a regulation American football field.

And here’s the game’s playfield.

Did you catch it? It took me a few minutes to realize it, but there is no 50-yard line! How the hell did that happen? Look, I fully understand that I’m playing a 37-year-old video game. But they only needed one more line. You mean to tell me that the Odyssey2 just didn’t have the horsepower to generate one more damn line? Good grief!

Then again, It is a bit more advanced than Atari’s original football game. So I’ll give it a point for that. If I were playing this in 1981, I’d likely be a lot more impressed. However, I doubt even then I’d like it too much. Honestly, it’s just not fun.

This wouldn’t be a half-bad space shooter if you could just shoot in the direction you’re pushing the joystick in.

UFO! plays kinda like Asteroids. You’re the titular UFO, and you’re shooting asterisks in the plain black void of unforgiving space. Your shots don’t travel in the direction you’re going in. Instead there’s a circle of dots surrounding your ship, and your “cannon” spins clockwise automatically. You can change how fast the cannon spins with the movement of your ship, but it must spin clockwise. There’s probably some technique and finesse required here, and if I was 8 years old in 1981, I might have played it enough to figure it out. As it stands now, though, it’s counterintuitive and annoying.

There’s also an enemy spaceship that shows up like Asteroids’ UFOs and fires a lazer directly at you. When one of those cheap bastards show up, it’s best to run and hide on the opposite side of the screen.

This game is almost decent. But all of it’s best ideas are obviously stolen from far superior games, and the few original ideas it does bring are what make it kinda suck. Sorry, but I don’t much care for it.

By the way, thats not me being a snarky prick. There are exclamation points at the end of every game title on every cartridge I own. Nice try, Magnavox marketing geniuses, but I see through your callow ruse.

Anyway, here we have two games in one. Well, allegedly. These games are almost identical. In fact, the Odyssey1’s plastic overlays made their identical Pong-type versions of hockey and soccer seem almost as authentic. Soccer! features the same stick men from Football! slowly bumping a white blip around a green screen. Bump the blip into the goal and your stick men will jump for joy. Whee.

Hockey! features the same stick men from Football! and Soccer! slowly bumping a white blip around a blue screen. Bump the blip into the goal and your stick men will jump for joy. Double whee.

These games might be ok if things ran a little faster. Compare this to Activision’s Ice Hockey or Atari’s own Pele’s Soccer, and you can clearly see why the Odyssey2 struggled in it’s day.

I can understand why hockey and soccer would end up on the same cartridge, but bowling and basketball? Hmm. Well, maybe that’s a good thing, because this is the most enjoyable cart I’ve played for this article so far.

Bowling!, while simplistic, is a serviceable effort. Don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty lame when compared to Bowling on the 2600. But for this system, it’s goddamn Skyrim.

The ball moves back and forth automatically on the bottom. You time the release of the ball with a flick of the joystick, and then you can pull left or right while the ball is in motion to add English. The pins just disappear rather than fall or move, which made the seven-ten split a common occurrence. Its fun for about 5 minutes.Basketball! is also acceptable but unengaging. It’s played on a flat 2-D court, and the baskets are just some disjointed white lines. You might not even know this was supposed to be basketball if the cartridge didn’t say so explicitly with an exclamation point.

I saved the best for last. Pick Axe Pete! is an action game that is a fair bit like Donkey Kong. But it has some new ideas which, unlike in UFO!, actually work.

You maneuver Pete around platforms and ladders, crushing boulders with his mighty pick axe (which behaves similarly to Mario’s hammer from DK). Soon, however, the pick axe vanishes! Unarmed, you then have to duck and jump to avoid the boulders. As I mentioned previously, my Player 1 controller is a barely-functional hunk of crap, so this part was very difficult for me to play. But I could still see how responsive the controls would be. Ducking and jumping is really intense and fun.

So you try to survive until a key appears. Grab the key, jump into one of the doors, and you’re zapped to the next level in a neat little animation.

I actually had a lot of fun with this one, and I played it longer than the rest of the others combined. The graphics aren’t real great, even for their time. But the gameplay is fun, and that’s what matters.

Video Games Monthly

It appears that all of these titles were developed in-house, and they use a lot of stock graphics. Playing as the exact same stick man in Football! as you do in Pick Axe Pete! doesn’t lend either much character. As result, most of these games came across to me as bland and unmemorable. It’s too bad that third-party developers never really took to the system. There are a few, and I’ve seen screenshots of O2 versions of Popeye and Q*Bert. They’re very rare, but they do exist. They also look really bad compared to the 2600 versions.

All and all, I think the Oddysey2 is a fascinating window into what video games were like in the late seventies. It’s an interactive relic, and I look forward to collecting more games for the system. Have you, dear reader, ever played the Oddysey2? What are some of your favorite games? Do you have any suggestions? Please let me know in the comments.

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