Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Matter of Import 001: Inca Gold (Atari 2600, 1982)


The first import game we're going to talk about is Inca Gold. Or Tonky Kon. Or Spider Monster. Or Spider Maze. Or Pac Kong. Or, in one case, Donkey Kong. And it was published by Goliath, Star Game, Quelle, Hot Shots, K-Tel Vision, Unimex, Taiwan, Funvision, Action Hi-Score, Hertie, Rainbow Vision, Suntek, and Zellers in Germany, Brazil, Australia, and Europe at various points in 1982.

Confused? Remember that after Activision employees left Atari to form the first third party company, there was no real regulation or control as far as who could produce games for the 2600. These companies could and would rip each other off and clone each others' games, sometimes not even bothering to change the titles, and for a lot of small publishers they couldn't afford Atari calibur legal teams to pursue action in countries that often had less stringent copyright protections.

So as we move through this series, get ready to try and weave through a confusing tangle of game names, companies, and release dates.

Somewhat arbitrarily I'm going forward with the assumption that Inca Gold is the game's official title and that Funvision was the original publisher, but I have no way to really be sure.

Depending on the manual you read, you're controlling Kong, a Man, or a Little Man – looking quite a bit like Mario in any case. A spider scuttles around the top of the screen dropping smaller spiders and what the manuals claim are either boulders or gold coins, all of which must be avoided.

The levels themselves look very Donkey-Kong – or Jump Man – inspired, and the general gameplay is the same – you want to dodge everything and get to the top where what look like piles of gold bars await. This is easier said than done, of course, because unlike Donkey Kong or Mario Brothers, nothing coming at you pays the slightest attention to the platforms or ladders – they just sort of drift back and forth.

Making matters worse is the way you jump. There's a strange teleport feeling to your leaps, as if you're jumping ahead animation frames and screen positions when you press the button, making it more difficult to get a feel for your range and your landings. And, as in a lot of these platform games, if you fall down a platform level you'll die.

There's nothing challenging about evading the spiders and rocks, because there's nothing fair about it. In practice, the game feels entirely arbitrary – it's luck if you manage to make it to the end of the level, not skill.

Like the gameplay, the sound is all over the place. There's a good rendition of Turkey in the Straw – the ice cream truck song – that plays during each level, probably copied from someone else's code. The jump sounds are a little jarring, and the noise you get when you reach the top sounds more ominous than rewarding

If there's one good thing I can say about Inca Gold, it's that it's easy to grasp immediately. It's a platformer. It's not easy, but it is simple, and the search for variation led to a lot of other Atari games of this era becoming increasingly esoteric. If it wasn't for the fact that it tries to throw more objects at you than the atari can handle – leading to a flickering nightmare that often has you wondering what, exactly, killed you – it might even be fun.

So. Fun for extremely short bursts, not fun once you realize how arbitrary it is. I'd rank it a solid D.

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