Monday, October 31, 2011

Fuck Mountain King

In celebration of Halloween, it only makes sense to make an entry for the first game that ever scared the shit out of me. As an Atari 2600 game, I can't imagine anybody can find the game particularly horrific these days, but, as a kid, Mountain King made me uneasy. I don't know if CBS Electronics, the subdivision of a toy company that just wanted in on some of that Atari money, intended to make the game scary to kids, but that was the way things turned out.

Probably the biggest factor in my fear of Mountain King is that, without having the manual or box or whatever, the game is incredibly mysterious. The player is dropped onto this, well I guess mountain, and I honestly had no idea of where to go and what to do until I read about it on Wikipedia years later. Pressing left or right moves in that direction, pressing down crouches, and pressing up shrugs for some reason, but pressing up while moving left or right executes a pretty impressive jump, depending on how long up is held.

The background is mostly black, and most of the game has no music, which gives the game something of an eerie atmosphere. When I was really young, if I had decided to play the game I would always regret it because I would just aimlessly jump and climb around the mountain collecting specs of white stuff. There are only a few things in the game world that can be interacted with. Near the bottom of the mountain is a throne that holds a crown, but the throne cannot be approached unless the player collects enough white stuff to get a thousand points. This is something I never figured out as a kid, and I never really got anything done.

Apparently the goal of the game is to get the crown and take it to the top of the mountain, but getting the one-thousand points isn't the only restriction to approaching the crown, as a musical theme needs to play, and I still don't know what causes that. I guess that once the crown is grabbed, bats will fly around and try to take it away. Pressing the button turns on a flashlight, which for some reason makes the white things disappear, but apparently makes greater treasures that are worth more points appear.

There are two main reasons I found this game terrifying as a kid. One is the timer that is constantly counting down at the bottom of the screen. Considering I had absolutely no idea of what needed to be done in the game, the fact that there was a strict time limit is really unnerving. Like, sure, running the time out probably just leads to death, but there is a psychological affect that is a lot stronger than in a Mario or Sonic game, probably because it is far more likely to actually run out.

I never wanted to go to the base of the mountain because there is an angry goddamn spider there. It will dash towards the player, and if it is not avoided, the character is wrapped up in web, and the spider goes away. Unlike any logical and straightforward video game enemy, this attack doesn't kill the player, but immobilizes him or her. After a period of time, the spider will return and finally kill the player. The mechanical reason for this is to allow the player to shake out of the web and escape before the spider returns, but the asshole reason for this is to scare the shit out of the player and instill a sense of helplessness. What I am saying is fuck Mountain King.

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