His review of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial in which he says: "Thousands of unsold cartridges of E.T. were buried in the desert and covered in concrete as if to keep the putrid stench of failure away from hopes and dreams of civilization." Read on for the full review!
There will always be games that are remembered long after the heyday of their system has passed. Games like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, Yar's Revenge, Space Invaders, and Super Mario Bros. 3 will always have a place in the annuls of video game history for their achievements in compelling game play, complex storylines, moving soundtracks, or a combination of the above in such a way as to provide enough emotional gravitas to stay with you long after the controller has been put down and the tv has gone silent. These are the games that franchises, legacies, and industries are built upon and often move from hobbist fun to pop culture phenomenoms.
And then there's E.T. on the Atari 2600.
E.T. holds its own special place in gaming history, often credited as the reason for the video game implosion of the early 80's and the near death of the industry. The failure of E.T. is THE epic failure lamented in board rooms, message boards, video gaming history lore, and even in American pop culture. Thousands of unsold cartridges of E.T. were buried in the desert and covered in concrete as if to keep the putrid stench of failure away from hopes and dreams of civilization. The question remains: Is E.T. on the Atari 2600 really all that bad?
Considering the 5 week production schedule, the graphics are the most polished piece of the game. The city, forest, and yards are all easily identifiable. Compared to many other games on the 2600, the character sprites could actually be considered to be quite good. The FBI agents evoke the look of Cold War spies in their trenchcoats, although they do look somewhat like flashers roaming a back alley and the scientists in their white lab coats look more like someone’s drunk dad stumbling around in his bathrobe, but the characters are easily discernable from each other and are obviously inspired by characters in the film.
The Atari 2600 had a limited sound palette and there’s only so much that programmers could get away with. However, even with that excuse, the sound in E.T. is downright terrible. The bulk of the game’s sound output is the sound of E.T. taking steps. It’s the same stepping sound over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. While it does do an admirable job of recreating the theme tune on the title screen, the rest of the game is a wash.
It’s the Atari 2600. You move up, down, left, and right. Next topic.
Here’s where things get a little weird. Most people think of the gameplay in E.T. like this:
Ship lands. E.T. steps out. Ship flies off. E.T. takes two steps and falls into a pit. E.T. flies out of the pit. E.T. takes two steps and falls into a pit. E.T. flies out of the pit. E.T. takes two steps and falls into a pit. E.T. flies out of the pit. E.T. takes two steps and falls into a pit. E.T. flies out of the pit. E.T. takes two steps and falls into a pit. E.T. flies out of the pit. At some point in this frenzy of falling and flying, Chester the Child Molester appears in his Chris Hansen dis-approved flasher gear and tries to snatch the little alien.
At this point, the player turns off the console and decides that doing homework is actually more fun. It’s a shame because 1) There’s actually a lot more game going on here than most people realize and 2) homework sux!
Most people seem to miss the fact that there is a storyline to the game! E.T. needs to build his phone device to call the ship back to Earth so that he can get a ride back home. When you enter a new area, there’s an icon at the top of the screen alerting you to what special power is available. Walking around the screen changes the icon and allows you to do different things like call Elliot to the screen to take the Reese’s Pieces candies you’ve collected for a bonus points or cause the pits with your missing phone pieces to glow so that you can more easily find them. Once the phone is assembled, you can call the ship home and race back to the landing zone to get picked up and complete the game. For a 2600 game, this is quite the open-sandbox, non-linear game!
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is by no means a great game or certainly anything that you need to go out of your way to play. However, once you remove it from the hype the surrounded it and look at it in context of the other games published on the 2600, it’s certainly far from “The Worst Game Ever Made.” Pac-Man on the 2600 was a much more terrible game, both in terms of adapting an arcade title for a home system and in creating a complete game with compelling graphics and sound effects.
Perhaps E.T.’s biggest fault is that it expected too much from the 6 to 12 year old gamers that begged to get the game in the first place. Under a different name, without the hype the surrounded the license, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial could’ve been a solid title on a system that was already well past its technological prime.