Written by Joseph Tobin
This one is a bit of an oddity. Manufactured by a German company (from what little I can find out online about it) named Bit Corp. (which sounds like a really cool chiptune artist name if you ask me) is the Black 4 In One cartridge. Why I refer to it as the Black 4 In One cartridge is because years after acquiring that one (I’ve had it since I was about 10 or 12) I managed to acquire an orange one with a different mix of games on it and the same name (which I may review later).
Anyway the cartridge has 4 games on it and it uses 2 switches to determine which game will play when you turn on the Atari console with it plugged in. This weird as I’ve never seen the same switch system used on any other Atari cartridges yet its very effective.
Something of interest is this cartridge was only released in PAL territories so they are considered pretty rare in USA.
As you can see my personal copy had taken a bit of damage thanks to my kids. Somehow it still works – further proof of how durable these old Atari carts really are (even the cheap third party ones).
Anyway these are the games that are on Black 4 In One –
1 – Space Tunnel (right/right)
2 – Phantom Tank (right/left)
3 – Bobby Is going Home (left/right)
4 – Mr Postman (left/left)
Now for the games themselves…
(Apologies for the nearly blank screenshot – the ROM on Stella doesn’t work properly)
Space Tunnel reminds me a lot of Vanguard except you move up and down instead of scrolling left and right. Alien ships at varying speeds and sizes come at you in squadrons of one, two or three at a time. What makes this a challenge is the bullets they fire richochet off the walls and they tend to be as fast as the ship that fires them. slow ship – slow bullets. Fast ship – oh my god how do I dodge this thing?!? Its usual Atari fare of an endless amount of waves and trying to survive as long as you can whilst scoring as high as possible.
This game is pretty fun – the controls are responsive and the adrenaline shoots up when the fast ships are firing bouncing bullets at you. When you die (by touching a wall, an alien ship or a bullet) your ship becomes a twisted piece of wreckage and there is a loud bang sound. When its game over you can still move your wreckage left and right, further rubbing in the fact your ship is screwed. Whether intentional or not I like that.
(There are supposed to be 4 phantom tanks on screen but due to the nature of the flickering graphics mixed with screenshot precision you can only see one)
In Phantom tank you drive a tank in a maze trying to kill phantom tanks which are attacking your base at the bottom of the screen. What is really cool is this is one game where flickering graphics are actually a good thing because they make the phandom tanks look very ethereal. So you navigate your way around, shoot 20 tanks and on to the next level.
While the first level or two aren’t too tough the third level is an absolute bitch. You are fighting in mostly open terrain with a small barrier to protect the top. Where this sucks is you can only have one bullet on screen at a time and only the screen walls or the moving tanks to stop it. Not to mention if you sneak up the top a single stray enemy bullet can drift down and kill your base. When your base goes it doesn’t matter how many lives you have – GAME OVER!
In spite of this Phantom Tank has remained one of my favourite all-time Atari games.
So the first two games are pretty straightt forward. Not a lot to say about them – they are what they are and are pretty fun. The next two is where it starts to get weird…
Bobby Is Going Home
Warning – this game is cute. I’m talking obnoxiously cute here. How a bunch of Germans came up with this game is beyond me – Germany is known for industrial efficiency, hard electronic music and good beer – NOT FOR CUTE! Don’t believe me – take a look at this screenshot!
Anyway you are Bobby (who is supposed to be a little boy but looks more like an elf on his way to a funeral) and you are trying to get home. In this brightly coloured world you have to traverse such obstacles as fences, ponds, retracting bridges, chickens, bats, butterflies, rolling stones and so on. Controls are pretty good although the high jumping can get you killed sometimes.
Throughout the game an obnoxiously cute tune plays to make this German kawaii nightmare complete. That happy tune will get stuck in your head. Anyway you go from left to right through various screens dodging obstacles. When you jump it plays a little tune which plays instead of the background music’s bass line (yes the game music has treble and bass parts – something that Atari doesn’t have often).
If you hit an enemy Bobby farts when he dies. If you fall into a pond you sink ito it and drown with a bubbly drowny-type sound. As you near your house the music slows down – I guess Bobby is starting to get tired by this point. The final screen is a snow storm with you going into your house and you are treated to a happy ‘there’s no place like home’ type tune. Then it all starts again except a little harder.
This game most certainly has camp value and is very fun to play in spite of the cuteness blasting from every pixel on the screen made even worse by that tune you will find yourself playing in your head for years to come. For what it is this game is very well made – lots of colour, great looking backgrounds, butterflies that look like butterflies, house that looks like a house and so on. However those black things they call rolling stones look pretty weird.
This is a game most reviewers can the crap out of mostly because they can’t get past the first screen so they dismiss it as being a bad game. Personally I think these reviewers are just being AVGN wannabees and are deliberately looking for stuff to trash in games in an attempt to be funny. A bad game is a bad game but Mr Postman is a lot better than many other Atari 2600 titles.
There are three screens in all and I can make it through all of them. But it took a hell of a lot of practice to do it.
In this game you are a postman represented by a teddy bear. The aim is to traverse the three screens and deliver your letter to a house in the ‘City of Silence’. Why I know this and most reviewers don’t? I used to have the scrap of paper that came with this cartridge they laughingly called the instruction manual.
The first screen is very hard, the hardest part of the game in fact. You have to run across the bottom of the screen, climb the tree jump onto the swinging rope, jump off the rope and land on the bird.
Jumping onto the bird is hard enough but many people don’t even get that far as the bird is constantly shitting while spitting at the tree. So you risk being shit on by the bird (which of course kills you). If you make it that far you risk being spat on as you climb the tree (which also kills you). Timing your jump to catch the rope is the easiest part of this screen (again, if you miss the rope or bird it kills you). As the bird is moving a lot its hard to time the jump onto it. But it can be done and when you do a triumphant tune plays and you can fly around on the bird for a bit. Yay.
The second screen you are flying around in a hailstorm. If you touch the trees at the bottom you die. If hailstones hit you (which you have to shoot) you die, if the lightning bolt hits you (kind of like a faster moving missile like in Missile Command) you die. Plus you have to shoot the birds at the top of the screen through the gaps in the clouds. Surprisingly its not as hard as it looks. Anyway you kill all the birds and the hail you make it to the third and final screen.
Congratulations Mr Postman you’ve made it to the City of Silence – now to make your way to the house and deliver that letter. But its not so simple as there are some tight squeezes to slowly inch your way through else you die by touching the walls. As long as you take it slow its not so hard but a couple of those spaces are pretty tight. Ironically there is a simple tune playing in the background as you roam the City of Silence.
There is a certain cute factor to Mr Postman (you are a teddy bear after all) yet its quickly forgotten by the sheer brutality of that constantly shitting and spitting bird. The hailstorm is chaotic and keeps you on your toes. Crawling through the City of Silence can be nerve-wracking navigating those tight corners. You really feel like you’ve accomplished something when you deliver that letter. But wait… it doesn’t end there. Thats right, this is Atari – you go back to the beginning to do it all over again!!!
So there you have it – all four games and for the most part four fairly entertaining ones. All games have excellent responsive yet precise controls so you can’t blame those if you suck at the game. I like the varying difficulty between the games as it caters to gamers of all skill and patience tolerance levels. A rarity for a small third party company as they are generally known for bad games.
Rating them out of 10…
Space Tunnel – 7/10 – Its fun, action packed space shooting in a confined space. The changes in speed keep the challenge going and the richochets keep you on your toes.
Phantom Tank – 8/10 – Great game even if the third screen is nigh impossible to beat
Bobby Is Going Home – 7/10 – Fun but gets repetitive once you know the patterns. Has some replay value as its the sort of game you just have to show to people and laugh when they can’t make it home even once (then you proceed to breeze through it). I can imagine people on drugs having a lot of fun with this one.
Mr Postman – 5/10 – The sheer brutality of the first screen will turn many people off playing it. Yet there are those who will be determined to beat it if only once.
Overall an excellent cartridge to pick up if you can find a copy.