Dark Chambers Review

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Ah, Gauntlet. A long running franchise created by Ed Logg. Games were put out by Atari, and (after the arcade division was sold to them by Warner Communications) Midway (which was ironically sold back to Warner Bros.) in the arcades, and a wide variety of platforms over the years. But there was an obscure game that inspired Ed Logg to create Gauntlet. That game was called Dandy.

PROS: Excellent play control. Challenging.

CONS: Two players instead of four.

WEIRD: The game came out after the one its predecessor inspired.

Dandy was one of the earliest arcade style dungeon crawlers. Created by John Palevich, it was part of Atari’s, Atari Program Exchange. Basically, a scouting program that allowed budding programmers, of professional or amateur levels to submit software. Software that met the criteria would become commercially available through a mail-order catalog.

Dandy was created while Palevich worked at Atari. The game made it through the A.P.E. process, and would be released for the Atari 8-bit family of computers. The game became a cult hit within Atari, and a scant two years later Gauntlet would build upon Dandy’s core ideas, and become the powerhouse it did. In fact, Ed Logg credited Gauntlet’s inspiration to Dandy in 2012.

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This is where Dark Chambers comes in. Years later, after Warner sold the home division of Atari to the Tramiel family.  Atari Corporation would finally release the 7800, and would re-release the Atari 2600 as a slim model that became known as the Atari 2600 Jr. By this point Nintendo had reinvigorated the home console market, and taken nearly every publisher along with them. Sega, and Atari would see scant support releasing too far behind Nintendo. Both companies would do fairly well for themselves in the console space, but would still fall very short of Nintendo’s performance.

In order to compete Atari would find itself going to its computer market space, and securing ports to fill the some of the void left by publishers that followed Nintendo. John Palevich’s Dandy would be retooled for the 7800, and 2600. It was given a new title to separate this version from its predecessor.

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Dark Chambers may not be quite as robust as Dandy or Gauntlet. But it is still one of the best games you’ll ever find for Atari’s two greatest home consoles. Like the other two games, you have to explore dungeons, look for treasure, items, and health. All while taking down enemies, and trying to stay alive.

Unlike Gauntlet, there aren’t any classes to speak of. There aren’t as many on-screen bad guys as in Gauntlet or Dandy. You’re also limited to two players in Dark Chambers. To compensate for this, Dark Chambers’ villains are more powerful, and take several forms.  You’ll find reapers, wraiths, skeletons, evil clerics, and more across the 26 stages.

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Much like Gauntlet there are teleportation devices that spawn in endless waves of enemies until you destroy them. Destroying them can sometimes leave a health pickup, a treasure, or even a power up. Power ups are broken down into three items. There’s a dagger. Picking this up makes your shots deal a lot more damage. These are the most important pickups because in later stages you’ll be running into newer, more difficult monsters.

Almost as important is the shield. Picking this up means that if you get hit you won’t take as much damage. But don’t get careless, because you can go down fairly quickly if you get cornered. Shields, or no shields. There is also a hand gun. This doesn’t give you an actual gun, but what it does do is make your dagger shots much faster. Finally, there’s the wick bomb. This basically acts as a smart bomb, and kills all of the enemies on the screen.

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But even with these power ups, Dark Chambers isn’t a  cake walk. Finding the exit in each of the stages gets harder as you find locked doors that require keys, maps that can prove to be pretty intricate, and difficult mazes to find your way through. The enemies in the game also don’t simply die. There is an enemy hierarchy. If you kill a skeleton for instance, it will turn into a zombie. You can then kill the zombie. What this means is some of the really tough enemies will go down the scale as you kill them several times, until they become zombies you can kill permanently. On top of all of this you only get one life. No continues.

Obviously the 7800 version of Dark Chambers is the better looking of the two versions. There are some great textures for background patterns, and the details on the enemies is really nice. It can hang with the NES versions of Gauntlet, and Gauntlet II in terms of visual presentation.  But the 2600 version of Dark Chambers isn’t a terrible looking game considering the divide in horsepower. Walls are single color lines, but the character sprites are pretty good, using shapes to a great avail. As such, characters may only be one or two color sprites, yet convey the impression that they’re a lot more detailed than they are. When you see the game in action, it comes off as pretty impressive in spite of its rudimentary graphics.

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Moreover, the 2600 version’s mazes are zoomed in, scrolling vertically, but not horizontally. There’s a really cool fade effect when moving horizontally into the next room. Because of this the 2600 version of Dark Chambers can sometimes feel like an Action RPG even though it very clearly follows the same gameplay cues the 7800 version does. By contrast the 7800’s mazes scroll in all directions giving the game a faster feel. It ends up feeling a bit closer to the original Dandy, or Gauntlet in this regard, though again, with its own distinct rules. To be honest it’s well worth checking out both of these versions if you have the opportunity.

Sound wise there isn’t much to talk about however. Neither version gives you much of anything in terms of chip tunes, and the sound effects are all rather generic. They get the job done for the kind of game it is, but there isn’t anything memorable in the audio department.

Beating either version doesn’t give you an ending, or credits. It just starts over with a higher difficulty level. However you can start the game on various difficulty levels. In the case of the 2600 version, the difficulty is represented by a teddy bear which becomes more grizzled as you choose higher difficulty settings.

All, in all I highly recommend Dark Chambers. Especially if you’re a big fan of any given version of Gauntlet. I would also implore fans of modern-day rogue-likes  to give it a chance so long as they own a 2600 or 7800. It’s a lot of fun, and the one life challenge can make the game even more compelling to those who love their video games tough.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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One thought on “Dark Chambers Review

  1. So even in the days of Atari hardware manufacturers were putting out slim versions of their consoles. That’s pretty cool.

    I loved Gauntlet on the Amstrad so three cheers to this game for inspiring it.

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