Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Radar Lock for the Atari 2600

When people talk about playing the Atari 2600 back in the day, they usually aren’t referring to “1989.” By then, the NES was already the dominant console pretty much everywhere and the 2600 was this incredibly old relic from 1977 (when I was just a year old).

But it was a little different in our household. From start to finish in the 1980s, console gaming in our house was just with the Atari 2600. Discussions with our parents about upgrading to an NES went nowhere (“We already have a video game system!” would usually be the response), and we were still a couple of years away from getting our SNES. So believe you me, my brothers and I played the heck out of the 2600 when we couldn’t go over to a friend’s house to play something newer.

That meant we were also on the prowl for newer games in the late ’80s that featured better gameplay and graphics as Atari tried to extend the lifespan of the system as long as it could. This hunt resulted in part with the acquisition of Radar Lock, a title from 1989 that I’ve never heard people talk about.

And that’s a shame, because Radar Lock quickly became one of my top-five Atari 2600 games ever. On the surface, it wasn’t anything that special: You piloting a fighter jet around the sky, blowing up enemy planes before you ran out of fuel and/or ammo. Also you had a handful of missiles and proximity mines (which, unfortunately, were accessible via the second joystick because of that “only one button” thing the 2600 had).

What it lacked in complexity and depth, Radar Lock made up for in superbly solid gameplay. It was a fast-paced arcade fighter sim that had you dogfighting over an endless ocean. The sounds of the machine guns were weighty and the satisfying explosions of enemy craft kept my butt planted in my seat. Along with titles like Asteroids and River Raid, this game was a perfect “zone out and play for long stretches of time on autopilot” experience.

The graphics were also a highlight: Bold, crisp, and colorful. You jet’s tracers did a neat gradually disappearing effect as they arced out and then down. I always liked the “taking off” sequence at the start, as well as the point in the missions where you had to dock with an airborne tanker to fuel up. I learned later on that making the horizon tilt left and right was actually a very difficult thing to do for the 2600 and required a lot of cheats to make it look smooth.

So while other kids had Top Gun, I had Radar Lock — and spent so, so many afternoons after school blasting my way through waves of bad guys.

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