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Posted on Jan 26th 2011 at 03:07:55 PM by (singlebanana)
Posted under Atari, 2600, Game Review, Space Cavern


Game:  Space Cavern
Year:  1981
Publisher:  Apollo, Inc.
Developer: Apollo, Inc.
Designer: Dan Oliver
Rarity (according to AtariAge): 3 = scarce
Controls: Joystick
Number of Players: 1 -2 (turn-based)
Average Cost: approx $1 - $5 loose
Also Available On: exclusive to the Atari 2600

Tagline/Description: "You command an intergalactic starcruiser that has landed on a mysterious planet riddled with smokey caverns and inhabited by savage Electrosauri whose horns generate deadly electro-molecular charges.  The Elecrosauri stalk you, their horns crackling and sizzling.  If even one blast of energy strikes you, your skeleton will glow as you disintegrate. Warning: Beware the shaggy marsupods [last sentence added for blue cartridge version only]."

Space Cavern is a very simple space shooter created by Apollo Games.  Apollo only officially released 10 games for the 2600, which does not include three (3) unreleased prototypes and an original (and very rare) version of Shark Attack called Lochjaw, that was removed early on from the shelves due to a lawsuit claiming that it's title was too similar to the movie "Jaws."  Two versions of Space Cavern exist, a red box/cartridge and a blue box/cartridge.  Neither version is more rare than the other, the blue version was released by Apollo later only as a means of cutting costs by using a simpler and more cost-effective color palate.     

Unlike the more popular Atari space shooters, in Space Cavern, you do not control a ship fending off enemy starships in outer space, but instead, command laser wielding astronauts who have crash landed on an alien planet.  Sounds cool right?  Well, that's certainly the draw.  Apollo was masterful in their marketing; if you don't believe me, take a look at the cover art for such super lackluster games as Lost Luggage, Infiltrate, or Final Approach (heck yeah a game about landing planes).  I mean what early 80's video game playing kid wouldn't want to buy Space Cavern after seeing it in the store?  Badass cover art - check!  Cool description - check!  Being hit by deadly "electro-molecular charges" and disintegrating - I don't even know what the hell those are, but DOUBLE CHECK!!!!  The reality is that Space Cavern isn't all that great, but for an Atari fiend like me, it isn't all that bad either.

(Apparently someone took out their frustrations for being duped by this game.)

There are three (3) enemies that commonly fill the sky of Space Cavern and they are collectively called Electrosauri; however in my adolescence, they were affectionately named: egg beaters, toilets, and scissors -- I'll let you figure out which enemies fit these descriptions.  By pressing the orange button, your astronaut fires his laser into the sky and is awarded 115 points (wow, random) for each Electrosauri he/she shoots down.  These particular enemies are fairly colorful and typically either bounce in an up and down pattern or diagonally across the screen.  When you zap one, they change to a pale blue and actually fall from the sky, which is pretty creative.  After 20,000 points, smaller and much harder to hit versions of Electrosauri appear in the sky; at each 20,000 points you are also awarded an extra life.

The only other enemy in the game is the Marsupod (200 points each), which are dull gray in color and come out of the caves from the left and right corners of the screen.  Since the orange button only allows you to fire into the sky, your must press the joystick up or down (up = left: down = right) to fire at and dispense with Marsupods - pushing the orange button to fire left to right is not necessary.  Though you'll fire the wrong way several times, recovery time from firing is quick and becomes second nature after continued play.

There are 48 variations of gameplay, which can be set to adjust the number of participants, the number of Electrosauri that appear in  the sky at one time (4 max), the presence of Marsupods, the random angles of enemy lasers, and the difficulty (i.e. speed of the enemies).

Space Cavern is tough to review, since I get a bit nostalgic when returning to play it (**see eggbeater, toilet, scissor discussion above).  The controls are perfect for the 2600 system, since you only use the four (4) main directional positions on the joystick and the fire button.  The sound effects are pretty good: shooting down an Electrosauri sounds like R2-D2 speaking in tongues and blasting a Marsupod is rather blunt and effective.  There is really nothing that bad about this game, other than the replay value.  Let's face it, there's not a whole lot going on in this game, and after about three to four rounds, you'll probably want to put it away if you are playing it alone.  As far as Apollo releases are concerned, I'd put Space Cavern at the top with the Pac-Man clone, Shark Attack.  If you're a serious collector, or just a casual 2600 gamer, the small price tag makes Space Cavern worth picking up.   

**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89 (this video does not represent the more difficult setting which includes Marsupods) **

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

Controls: 4
Graphics: 2
Sound Effects/Music: 2
Concept: 3
Replay Value: 2
Cart/Box Art:  4
Overall Score: 2.83

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I like your enemy descriptions. That si exactly what they look like lol

Great review!
Also love the Final Approach scan lol
I love the old Atari boxart.  So much imagination they hoped you could inject into the graphics. Cheesy

Thanks for the review.  I puttered around with this for a while, but found the speed and fluidity of Spider Fighter to still be my favorite of this genre.
@slackur: "found the speed and fluidity of Spider Fighter to still be my favorite of this genre"

I'm tinkering around with a longer blog post that involves the more popular Atari shooters: Spider Figher, Megamania, Demon Attack, Gorf, etc.  I too love some Spider Fighter and have scored enough to earn a patch.  ha ha
@singlebanana:  Nice!  I'd love to see such a post. 
I think the PS2 Activision Classics disc has seen more use than any other retro compilation I have (and that's a lot. It surprised me how many of the patches I earned rather easily.  Oh, if only I'd sent those in back in the day...:p
Ive never seen this one, and it looks to be quite a bit of fun.  Thank you for the write, I will be keeping an eye out for it going forward

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