One of my best video game memories is the Activision classic. kaboom! for the Atari 2600. Back in the days when the sheer lure of repetitive score-based games could hold your interest for hours on end, this was the top shelf for a tween like me.

Current young gamers may have some exposure to the game, either through various Activision collections on current or recent generation consoles or through Atari 2600 emulators, but there is a big difference between these versions and the original. Those would be the controls.

Back in the days of the Atari 2600 there were multiple drivers for the system and each game required you to use the right ones. The vast majority used the tried and true joystick controller or Atari Paddle controllers. With the current generation of consoles, there is no acceptable approach to the palette controller. A simple box with a round spinning wheel that gave it “stop on a dime” accuracy for games that required it. The closest you could get to the experience today would be an arcade trackball. kaboom! it was the ultimate paddle controller game. He was the one who wore them down.

It was a simple concept. There was a villain on top of a wall throwing bombs and you were a pile of buckets of water at the bottom of the wall. You had to catch the bombs as they fell. If you missed one: KABOOM! You started with three stacked buckets and every time you missed a bomb you lost a bucket. When you missed three in total, the game was over.

My older brother and I literally spent hours on this game every night. The instruction manual (pretty heavy for such a simple game) talked about a special event that we were obsessed with unlocking.

If you were able to reach the incredible score of 10,000 points, the villain, in recognition of your incredible achievement, would honor you with some mysterious gesture.

My brother and I hit this game for a long time to get there. Back then, there was no internet, so you couldn’t buy the game, run home, and go online to find all the information you needed or wanted about it. His gaming “community” was the other kids in his fifth grade class who also had an Atari or who became his sworn enemy because they had the Intellivision console. My older brother was 20, so his gaming community back then was his old friends from high school that he was still doing drugs with.

kaboom! The game has become an art form. There were eight levels. With each level advanced, the villain swept back and forth across the wall, looting the bombs with greater speed.

Like any replay-based game, you can reduce the first 5 or 6 levels to an art form that is only missing when you get too complacent. Levels 7 and 8 were the wild cards. To get to 10,000 you would have to go through all 8 levels and continue on crazy pace level 8 over and over again until you lose. The last two levels were so fast-paced and chaotic that it was almost impossible to define a pattern that would give him a continuous success rate of over 90 percent.

There were many tricks. Every thousand points, you would get an extra bucket if you dropped below three. Every time you missed a bomb, the game went back and you started at the speed of the previous level. The perfect strategy if you had all three cubes was to deliberately miss the last bomb that would put you on top of the next 1000 point bonus so you could go back and rack up as many points as you could by replaying the previous level knowing you would pick that third cube go back with the first Bomb catch of the next wave at a slower speed.

On odd levels, the villain would throw the bombs together across the wall in a fairly simple pattern. On even levels, he would spread the bomb drops farther and throw an occasional erratic move on the right side of the wall.

The paddle drivers, while accurate, also showed a bit of resistance. One of the controllers was a little better than the other and my brother and I always had to call Dibbs on the “good” one. One of them had a slightly more jerky movement when moving the cubes around the screen. In certain places, you could take your fingers off and the cubes would shrink. Sometimes you hit that spot at the wrong time, and while the effect was minimal, it could cause your cubes to move far from where you needed to be and cause you to miss.

All of these factors were part of our intense study of the game. And for a short period of time it was a big part of our night life. I don’t know how many hours, days, weeks, months my brother and I put into the game, but we started to get quite defeatist about it after a while with conversations like “it’s impossible. The 10,000 point barrier may not be reached.” .

We’d spent so much time speculating on what the hell the mystical 10,000 point reward might be that we’d built it to be just about anything, including the game cartridge that jumped out of the console and jerked you off on the spot. The smart money was in my brother’s speculation that the villain would “take his hat off” to you. Hey, with Atari 2600 graphics, a hat tip was a pretty reasonable expectation!

Everything came to a head one night. He was hitting through level 8 over and over again getting me close to 10,000. Finally, I reached my last bucket of water. Almost there! Almost. And then at 9,998 points, I lost the next bomb. Game over.

That was the bubble burst and we both pretty much lost our taste for the game. We had both had enough.

We played Atari after that, but kaboom! it was just an occasional joke and we went on with our gaming lives. This would have been around 1983.

The story begins about 12 years later, in the mid-1990s. My brother was married with two children at the time. She was married but did not have any of my children yet. He was unpacking some old junk in my modest apartment and found my old Atari 2600. It was still working fine but the TV/GAMES converter box wasn’t working so I literally grabbed the metal end of the cord that went into the switch. the box and taped it to the metal TV antenna and tuned the TV to channel 3. Don’t laugh folks, that worked wonders in the days of channel 3 wireless TVs. Crystal clear image, as long as you don’t hit it.

Anyway. Older. Married. College degree. Full time work. it was time to revisit kaboom!

All the time I spent with him when I was younger. Man, no way was I going to get my skills back in shape, but it was worth a try.

It took about 90 minutes. I don’t know what changed all those years later. Night after night. Week after week. Neither me nor my brother could break that barrier of 10,000. Then, without touching it for a dozen years, I played it for 90 minutes and hit it.

Now, before I end this story, let me tell you that if you play this game on one of these collections, it’s not the same with a keyboard, XBOX controller, or Game Boy. IT’S JUST NOT THE SAME without the paddle controllers.

In any case, at 10,000 points the villain smiles briefly. Normally, he had a simple “V” on his face that was his mouth frowning. At 10,000, the V-shaped frown turns into a smile.

What a load of crap.

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