Even if you’re not as knee-deep in retro Atari paraphernalia as I am, doubtless you have at least a passing familiarity with Greg Christensen’s Caverns of Mars. It was, after all, a defining game in the vertically scrolling shoot ’em up genre — it effectively took the concept of Konami’s classic Scramble, turned it through 90 degrees and created a jolly fine game in the process.
Well, did you know Caverns of Mars had a sequel? No, I’m not talking about Caverns of Mars II, though that is an interesting Scramble clone in its own right. Instead, I’m talking about Phobos, a game that was released through the Atari Program Exchange a year after its predecessor. Take a look!
The Atari Program Exchange, or APX, was a programme run by Atari where people who had composed programs for Atari 8-bit computers could submit them to Atari and get them published. It was a pretty no-frills publishing agreement — no custom box art or anything — but it was a means of small, independent creators to get their work out there and noticed by far more people than they would otherwise be able to reach in a pre-Internet age.
Caverns of Mars was originally released through APX and proved so explosively popular that Atari actually went on to do a “proper” commercial release of it some time later. Sadly, Phobos didn’t enjoy the same popularity despite arguably being a superior game, so it’s not nearly as well-known today.
You, being a discerning retro gamer of considerable attractiveness, however, can do something about this! Nab yourself a copy of Phobos from Atarimania, fire up your Atari 8-bit emulator of choice (Altirra comes highly recommended) and have a thoroughly lovely time blasting your way to a series of Martian bottoms. Err, I mean, blasting your way to the bottom of a series of Martian crevices. No, I, err… Bumhole. Cleft! CRACK!
Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, enjoy Phobos; I did.