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Posted on Mar 2nd 2011 at 06:00:00 AM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Atari, Room of Doom, Classic Gaming, Retro Gaming, CommaVid, Game Review


Game:  Room of Doom
Year:  1982
Publisher: CommaVid, Inc.
Developer: CommaVid, Inc.
Designer(s)/Programmer: Irwin Gaines
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 6 = Rare+
Controls: Joystick
Number of Players: 1
Average Cost:  varies upon condition and number listed at auction, $25 - $65 loose is typical
Also Available On:  exclusive to the Atari 2600

Tagline/Description: "ESCAPE!  Your mind throbs, trapped in the Room of Doom, the fiendish gunmen are trying to annihilate you.  Shots come from secret portals that mysteriously open and close.  Watch out!  The gunmen have unleashed a hydra-headed monster; it relentlessly pursues you.  Don't panic!  Your marksmanship can stun it, but only for a moment.  Should it remain in the Room of Doom too long; the monster becomes invulnerable to your bullets. Dodge the gummen's firepower; shoot them in return when the secret portals open and Escape....But where?  The next Room of Doom awaits.  An even more diabolical chamber with rapid-fire gunmen and devious monsters trying to destroy you. Can you survive through the full gauntlet of Rooms and escape unscathed?  Only you can test your skill in this latest video challenge from CommaVid."

CommaVid, Inc., originally known as Computer Magic Video, Inc., was the brainchild of three Chicago area physicists who decided to try their hand at video game programming in the late 70s -early 80's.  CommaVid only released seven games for the Atari 2600, and of those seven, two titles were only available via mail-in (listed on AtariAge as having the highest rarity rating of 10 = Unbelievably Rare).  In fact, all Commavid games are very rare (no games below a 6 rating), so if you ever come across them at a good price, you should always pick them up.  Although CommaVid games are not particularly recognized for their stellar graphics or gameplay, the designers were very creative and developed games far different from other titles for the 2600.

Read more on the history of CommaVid at Digital Press: http://www.digitpress.com/archives/cc_commavid.htm

Of the two CommaVid games in my collection, Room of Doom ("RoD") is my favorite, but that's not saying much considering the other game is Cosmic Swarm (a version of Asteriods where you destroy termites).  In RoD, the object of the game is to escape a rectangular prison surrounded by robots who fire at you from portals that randomly open up around the sides.  **WARNING: NERD DIGRESSION** These robots always remind me of the Slayers who fire from holes in the walls inside the mountain/ship in the movie "Krull"....... but I digress.  RoD is conceptually very similar to the more familiar 2600 title, Berzerk, in that your objective is to escape a prison filled with laser wielding robots; however, in RoD, movement is more restricted, since there are no barriers to hide behind and you are always being fired upon from all directions (and angles, should you choose to change the difficulty).  While I'm a huge fan of Berzerk on the Atari 2600, and all other systems, RoD is far more difficult and can ultimately end up frustrating more casual gamers.     

While the majority of my reviews tend to be favorable, this time I am finding it hard to have good things to say about RoD.  Though the concept is original and seems interesting on the surface, the gameplay is very awkward and the controls are extremely tedious.  The only way to destroy the robots firing at you, and subsequently move to the next room, is to wait for the hidden portals to open and fire into them.  The problem is that the portals usually only stay open long enough for the robots to fire off a shot at you and close before you are able to return fire.  Firing your laser is very tedious and is usually done head-on with enemies; while you can fire at an angle, due to the small openings of the portals, it's very difficult to use this strategy to your advantage (unlike in Berserk where firing diagonal is essential in further levels).  As a result, you spend most of your time hanging out in front of the robots to anticipate portal openings to fire off a quick shot, while at the same time having to maneuver out of the way of oncoming fire.  Avoiding fire isn't easy in RoD, since your character floats (yeah, floats) across the screen a bit too slowly; if a bullet even grazes a part of your body or in some cases it seems, just gets too close, it's game over.  This aspect of the game is very frustrating because it forces you to spend most of your time waiting around instead of moving around the room and being fully immersed in the action.  It should be noted that there is a selectable option in which the portals are always open, but it seems that choosing it takes away from what was intended to be an important part of the gameplay.

The addition of a monster in each room is a creative feature of RoD and helps add a little more variety to the gameplay.  I tend to be a fan of more complex titles in which there's a lot going on and where you are forced to take into consideration differing patterns or factor in gameplay.  Monsters are easily avoidable at lower levels and can later be dispatched by your laser if you get in a pinch; however, if you "stun" them too many times, they become unaffected by your fire.  After a monster is stunned, it disappears and reappears in another part of the room, but not before it expands (nearly tripling) in size for a few seconds.  Running into the monster during this "stun" phase will cost you a life; this aspect of the game becomes rather annoying as you progress further into the game and the monsters get faster.  Your movement is initially constrained, because it takes the monster so long to disappear, and furthermore, there is no downtime in between the monsters disappearance and reappearance.  As a result, in further levels or more difficult settings, you are forced to continually fire at the monster as soon as it reappears in order to move through the fray of enemy lasers.  Doing so is not only annoying, but quickly results in an invincible monster chasing you around the room.       

The graphics in RoD are very subpar; your character looks exactly like the robots firing at you (only a different color) and your weapon looks more like a stick than a laser.  The various monster graphics are fairly creative and are one of the very few bright spots of the game.  It really pains me to write such a callous review of a 2600 game, since I love the system and all of its games so much.  But at the same time, I feel like I have to be fair to those reading this submission and who may be considering spending their hard-earned money on this title.  With that said, as a collector I'm a fan of CommaVid titles and can appreciate their relevance as a company and their efforts to make creative titles for the 2600.  I enjoy having a few of these titles as part of my collection and think that others of a similar collecting mindset may enjoy having them as well.  With that said, if you are concerned with cost, as it relates to the overall enjoyment of a game and its replay value, I would advise passing on RoD unless you can find it very cheap in the wild. 

**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89**

RATINGS (on a scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls: 2
Graphics: 2
Sound Effects/Music: 1
Concept: 3
Replay Value: 2
Cart/Box Art: 4
Overall Score: 2.33

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What is this blog, and why does it -- what is the word? Ah, yes... "rule"?
Thank you.  And I have to say that as odd as it might sound, I am really having lots of fun researching the history of these games.  Pretty cool that three Doctors of Physics took a shot at developing Atari games.  Plus, doing these reviews gave me a good excuse to pick up a cheap TV at the Salvation Army in order to keep my 2600 hooked up at all times. Smiley  My "new" 9" Zenith Space Command television rules!
You're just looking for a motivation to keep buying Atari 2600 games to add to the collection. Smiley
Not that anyone minds, as very few have played many Atari 2600 games. I compare it to the Wii, where there's a ton of shovelware but many gems to be found in the rough.
^Seconded.  These reviews are the perfect review format to highlight games that slip through the cracks, or to revisit old favorites.  I didn't know much about this one, so kudos to you, sir, for the service.

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