Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Klax

Retro Game of the Day! Klax

Klax, released by good ol' Atari in 1989, was a game which - like so many of it's brethren - made it's debut in the arcades, and then ported to about a zillion consoles later. Unusual in that it was a puzzle game (didn't see many of those in arcades!) and it was an American puzzle game at that (REALLY didn't see many of those in arcades!) Ah, but this was on the heels of the whole Tetris phenomenon, so it all becomes clear. Interestingly, Atari was somewhat dubiously embroiled in that whole meshegas - at least they got Klax out of it. But did it really matter? Read on!

It's the Nineties, and it's time for Klax - so the saying went. Whatever the heck it meant. One thing's for sure, if Atari wasn't on the outs with the Big N at the time, and they'd released a version for the NES with the console maker's blessing, I would expect Klax would have been much more memorable then it ended up being. A truly fun game, to be sure - and one I enjoyed many hours of playing with - but despite it's pedigree, it seems to have been lost to the shadows of time and no one ever wonders "do you remember Klax?"

A shame as well, as the game had a lot going for it. After playing it at my brother's Beatles-themed Bar Mitzvah (long story!), I grew fond of the game and picked up what seemed to be
the Ultimate version, the Atari Lynx port. Made sense, the games initial publisher would likely get the most well-put together version on their own home unit, hm?

Mechanic-wise, an intriguing game - like so many of it's ilk, a "falling block game" which would end if you let pile up to the top, essentially. One of the original match-3's, you could clear by matching vertically, horizontally, diagonally - all like columns. Unique to Klax was how you caught and sorted pieces, you could hold 5 at a time on your little movable shelf and drop them when/where you pleased (in the reverse order that you'd caught them, of course - no shuffling!) you could only stack 5 high on your shelf, I believe, and your bin could only stack 5 high and 6 across. Each level has different goals - get X point, get 6 vertical Klaxes, etc. Some levels would let you "warp" to higher levels if you could assemble a large X across the entire grid (tricky!)

The whole presentation, particularly on the Lynx, was handled well - the game was about falling bricks, but it was imbued with "that Atari personality" of the day. This particular port made good use of the scaling functions of the unit, and especially the sound capabilities - I used to plug headphones into my Lynx and just listen to the title sequence, it was so amazing to hear a digitized rockin' track coming out of that little machine (especially back then, when you'd hear no such thing on ANY videogame system!) Crisp digitized voices and an array of matching sound FX. Klax was a polished title, with fundamentally addictive gameplay that kept me hooked.

Sad to see it's so gone and forgotten - this is a game I could see being ported somewhat successfully to the iPhone. Anyone, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. A quick heads-up. After the Crash of '84, Warner Bros sold Atari in pieces. The home consumer division (the computers and consoles) were bought by Jack Tramiel, who had been famously ousted from Commodore. That became Atari Corp.

    The coin-op divison, which seemed to include all the key personnel from the old Atari Inc, was renamed Atari Games. Warner held onto Atari Games at first, then sold to Namco. The employees later bought out Namco's share in the company.

    It's fortunate for the Lynx that a good working relationship between the two Ataris existed. The Atari Games ports were some of the strongest titles on the handheld (second only to Epyx's original games). It also helps that Atari Games was just on fire in the late '80s and early '90s.