Classic Games – Kaboom! The quest for 10,000 points
One of my best video game memories is the Activision classic. Kaboom! for the Atari 2600. In the days when the simple lure of repetitive, score-based games could keep you interested for hours on end, this was the top shelf for a tweens like me.
Today’s younger gamers may get some exposure to the game through various Activision collections on current or recent gen consoles or through Atari 2600 emulators, but there is a big difference between these versions and the original. Those would be the controls.
In the days of the Atari 2600, there were multiple drivers for the system and each game required you to use the proper 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 approximation for the paddle controller. A simple box with a round spinning wheel that gave you “stop on a dime” precision for games that required it. The closest you could get to today’s experience would be an arcade trackball. Kaboom! it was the best paddle control game. He was the one that exhausted them.
It was a simple concept. There was a villain on top of a wall dropping bombs and you were a pile of water buckets at the bottom of the wall. You had to catch the bombs when they were dropped. If you missed one: KABOOM! It started with three stacked buckets and every time a pump failed, it lost a bucket. When you missed three in total, the game was over.
My older brother and I literally spent hours at this game every night. The instruction manual (quite heavy for such a simple game) talked about a special event that we were obsessed with unlocking.
If you could 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 played 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. Your “community” of gamers were the other kids in your fifth grade class who also owned an Atari or who became your sworn enemy because they had the Intellivision console. My older brother was in his early 20s, so his community of players back then were his old friends from high school that he was still doing drugs with.
Kaboom! gambling became an art form. There were eight levels. With each level that progressed, the villain moved back and forth through the wall and dropped 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 the 8 levels and continue in the crazy level 8 over and over again until you lose. The last two levels were so fast and chaotic that it was almost impossible to define a pattern that would give you a continuous success rate of 90 percent.
There were many tricks. Every thousand points, you would get an additional cube if you had less than three. Every time you lost a bomb, the game would rewind and start you at the speed of the previous level. The perfect strategy if you had all three cubes was to deliberately lose the last bomb that would put you on the next 1000 point bonus so that you could go back and accumulate as many points as you could by repeating the previous level knowing that you would choose. that third cube recoils with the first trapped bomb from the next wave at a slower speed.
On the odd levels, the villain threw the bombs together back and forth along the wall in a fairly simple pattern. At uniform levels, it would spread the bomb droplets farther and make an occasional erratic movement on the right side of the wall.
The paddle controllers, while accurate, also showed a bit of drag. One of the controllers was a bit better than the other and my brother and I always had to call dibbs for the “good” one. One of them moved a little more abruptly as he moved the cubes across the screen. In certain places, you could remove your fingers and the cubes would contract. Sometimes you hit that spot at a bad time and while the effect was minimal, it could cause your cubes to drift away from where you needed to, causing you to miss.
All of these factors were part of our intense study of the game. And for a short time it was a big part of our nightlife. I don’t know how many hours, days, weeks, months my brother and I put into the game, but after a while we started to get quite defeatist by talking like “it’s impossible. The 10,000 point barrier may not be reached.”
We’d spent so much time speculating about what the hell the 10,000-point mystical bounty could be that we’d built it to be just about anything, including the game cartridge that pops out of the console and gives you manual work on the spot. The smart money was in my brother’s speculation that the villain would “take his hat off” to you. Hey, with the Atari 2600 graphics, a hat tip was a pretty reasonable expectation!
Everything came to a head one night. I went through level 8 over and over again getting close to 10,000. Finally, I got my last bucket of water. Almost there! Almost. And then, with 9,998 points, I missed the next bomb. Game over.
That was the bubble popping and we both 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 got 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. I was married but didn’t have any of my children yet. I was unpacking some junk in my modest apartment and found my old Atari 2600. It was still working fine, but the TV / GAME converter box wasn’t working, so I literally grabbed the metal end of the cable that went to the switch. They taped the box and conduit to the metal TV antenna and tuned the TV to channel 3. Don’t laugh, that worked like a charm on channel 3 days of cable-free 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, there was no way I was going to get my skills 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 my brother nor I could break that barrier of 10,000. Then, without touching it for a dozen years, I played for 90 minutes and hit it.
Now before I finish this story, let me tell you that if you play this game in one of these collections, it is not the same with a keyboard, an XBOX controller, or a Game Boy. NOT THE SAME without the paddle drivers.
In any case, at 10,000 points the villain smiles briefly. Normally, he had a simple “V” on his face which was his frowning mouth. At 10,000, the “V” frown turns into a smile.
What a load of crap.