Pong × Breakout + Dragon Fireballs = Warlords

Source // YouTube

I had no idea what Warlords was until starting this review. None whatsoever. Even reading the article in 1001 Video Games, I didn't know what to expect other than 'it's a bit like Pong, a bit like Breakout, and is a great multiplayer game'.

Which means I need to find a Player 2.


Doesn't that look good? Basic, and rather bright, and I don't know what the colour scheme is trying to go for, but doesn't that look good? Whatever you think, it doesn't matter, because I can't emulate it and have to resort to the Atari 2600 version.

Before I even knew what was going on the Green CPU player got absolutely decimated,
the ball getting stuck behind his fort like it was the top row on Breakout.

I often pour a bit of hate on the Atari 2600 in these articles, and I really shouldn't. It took the arcade into the living room - with a hit in quality, usually - and allowed players who couldn't experience a game directly to at least experience something vaguely like it.

In some cases it was nothing like the arcade game, in other cases it was only a watered down version. In all cases though, throughout my complaining, these console ports have allowed me to actually play what I couldn't get to run in their original form (because, with my set up at least, Atari 2600 emulation is better/more successful than MAME).

Long story short, my frustrations shouldn't be with the Atari 2600 or its ports, but with me and the way I'm doing things. Apologies, Atari 2600.

That said, this game can be brutal and unforgiving, though these words are probably an exaggeration.

It moves a tad slower than I expected it to move, knowing that smooth scrolling can be achieved in other titles. Perhaps too much is going on at once, perhaps it needs to be slowed down a tad to make it more playable, I'm not sure, but it's not getting in the way of the fun.

What is getting in the way of the fun is the lack of Players 2 through 4.

Fun Times

Player 2 eventually turned up to offer such insights as "What is this rubbish?" and "Why am I getting stressed on my lunch hour?", which was fun, but not because of what was going on in the actual game.

She's not impressed by Warlords, likely for the following reasons...

Further Frustrations

Firstly, we're sharing a keyboard as a controller. It's not a lean back experience, but a lean forward, squished up, eyes too close to the screen experience.

Secondly, I had a nightmare of finding not only keys that would work, but which game modes those keys would then work in. I was able to control one player with left and right, a second player with up and down, while Player 2 was sometimes able to move with E and D (WASD wasn't playing ball, but ESDF showed some small signs of hope), but would sometimes get stuck - not ideal in a game that requires almost constant movement.

We had two player modes that didn't seem to work and four player modes that did. It was all over the place. If you've got everything set up beforehand, with separate controllers that all work, a knowledge of the game modes and so on, then these emulation woes are behind you, or else easily solvable.

For me, on a brief lunch hour, they got in the way of what we wanted to test. But as I said above, these are problems with the emulation, not the game itself.

The game itself happened to be something she wasn't terribly interested in, so take that for what it's worth - even if everything works, some people won't like a game.

Final Word

Emulation aside, a working version of Warlords would provide entertainment amongst a group of friends gathered around an Atari 2600. It's a simple concept to get, thanks in part to building upon games of the past - I've played games where walls getting destroyed is bad, therefore letting my wall get destroyed will not help me.

It's not going to run away with any awards for best in show, but it's multiplayer, so half the fun comes from what happens outside of the console anyway. It doesn't have to look amazing, it just has to provide a game with rules that all the players understand. Don't let your guy get hit with a fireball. Simple.

Single player is of course available, but doesn't have quite the same pull as the likes of Breakout or Pong. Mashing them together can work, but can work better for more players than for single players.

I'd call Warlords an unexpected entry for this stage in the trip through video game history. Multiplayer games have come before, even though many were single player games that alternated, but Warlords seems to be saying that multiplayer is the focus and single player just doesn't matter - a view that has certainly carried through to the current offerings.

Fun Facts

The Atari 2600 version of Warlords was developed by Carla Meninsky, one of the first few female game developers to work for Atari.

Warlords, developed by Atari, Inc., first released in 1980.
Version played: Atari 2600, 1981, via emulation.