Friday, January 19, 2007

New Atari 7800 Homebrew - BonQ

Retro gamer and homebrew game designer Ken Siders is busy adding the finishing touches to an excellent Atari 7800 port of the arcade classic Q*Bert, titled BonQ. This is a terrific title that deserves to become a beloved classic.

The near-complete version that Ken has made available is 48K, and is a nearly flawless arcade port of Q*Bert. All the elements from the arcade are present, including the introductory cut scenes, and a high score table. The gameplay is absolutely perfect, and it's a real thrill to play through. This feels like a professional videogame in every sense. Surely if this title had been released back in 1984, it would be hailed as a minor masterpiece.

Hopefully, I'm not piling on the hyperbole too highly. I can do that sometimes. But I'm a supporter of the homebrew videogame scene, and any title of exceptional quality deserves all the attention it can get. You root for the designers and hope that they make a couple bucks in the process.

From a graphics standpoint, BonQ continues to confirm my belief that the 7800 was woefully underutilized. The system was never even close to being pushed to its limits. The 256-color palette is bright and bold and dominant, characters feature impressive animation. That was something that really stood out for me. The 7800's large sprite engine, which dwarfed the NES and Sega Master System, could be used to create brilliant animation - more fluid than anything in the 8-bit generations.

I think Ken's BonQ fares very well against the GCC arcade ports. It's much closer to its original version than, say, the 7800 versions of Galaga, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Jr.

Ken's first 7800 homebrew title was Beef Drop, a home version of Burgertime, another one of the all-time classic aracde games that deserved a proper release on Atari's ill-fated console. I haven't had the chance to play that one yet, but I'll have to be sure to send him some money and ask him to send a ROM so I can play on my MESS emulator. Heck, maybe one of these days I'll get lucky and score an actual 7800, which would be kinda nice. Maybe. We'll see.

You can follow the progress of BonQ and other 7800 homebrew titles at the AtariAge forums here.

Download the 48K BonQ demo.

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