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Pole Position Review

Developer: Atari Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 1982 Also On: None

Anybody who knows me will testify that I have never called any game perfect. Even SSBM, the game I love, only got a 9 from me. But if ever there was a game that I would be tempted to call perfect for its time, there would only be two candidates: Super Mario Bros. for the NES, and Pole Position for the Atari 2600. Easily the best racing game on the Atari 2600, and just as easily the best game released on the Atari 2600 before the video game crash of 1984, and probably ever, Pole Position will always be remembered fondly by most, if not all, fans of the Atari 2600.

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The concept is simple. You are in a car. You drive this car. You try to get as far in this car as you can before you run out of time (probably referred to in the manual as running out of gas, but I don’t have the manual). Making matters interesting is the fact that, where most racing games on a one-button system like the Atari 2600 would use the button for acceleration, Pole Position accelerates automatically and uses the button for braking. Periodically, you’ll reach a checkpoint and your timer will increase, and you get points as you cover distance.

Aesthetically, Atari pulled out all of the stops with this one. The road looks like a road. I mean its gray, it has the white line in the middle, and you can even see curbs at the edge. And your car looks like a car, particularly a red go-kart with black tires. The only flaws with the graphics are that the cars that you pass on the road don’t look like real cars and the area by the sides of the road are the same color as the road, but those are very minor gripes.

On the sound front, there are music samples before you begin and after you end, and they were composed very well and sound very good for being in an Atari 2600 game. On top of that, the car sounds like a real car, or as close to it as the Atari 2600 sound processor could possibly be expected to come. Even the sounds from running the car against a curb or the explosion sound from running into another car sound as good as is possible on this system. It is quite obvious that time was put into both the sound and the graphics in this game with the goal being arcade perfection. I’m not sure if they made it as I’ve never played the arcade version, but this much I know; when looking for a game to show off the Atari 2600’s aesthetic capabilities, this would be a good one to choose.

And the gameplay isn’t behind the aesthetics at all. The car controls excellently with the joystick. The braking with the button works okay, but few are actually going to use that much. The other cars appear often enough to be a real obstacle, but not enough that you need to lose any sense of speed in order to avoid them all. This game has an excellent sense of speed. The lines in the road go by very quickly with very little flickering giving you the impression that you’re cruising down the highway very fast. Curves in the road and the other cars only add to the fun, and the destruction of the car is a neat effect to see when it happens.

What then can be said? The game keeps score based on how far you go, so there’s replay value in trying to beat your previous score. Even if the game didn’t keep score, this game is good enough that it would be worth coming back to play occasionally on its merits alone. As an arcade port, this isn’t the most creative game in the world, but a good game that’s a port is easily better than a bad game that is overly creative. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. If you have an Atari 2600 and you don’t have this game, shame on you. Get it immediately. You don’t know what you’re missing.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 10
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 6.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 9.5
Written by Martin Review Guide