Who Needs Manuals?

Entombed by U.S. Games

By Adam Trionfo and Chris Federico

(April 2011)

Entombed - Front of Box
Column Explanation

Here's a quick introduction to the concept behind this column. Adam came up with an awesome idea: We're playing Atari VCS games that we've never given chances in the past. You know; you play for two seconds, and it's "Nope!" and on to another game. We're seeing if we can figure out all of the mechanics and objectives. Then we're writing about our reactions to these initial attempts -- i.e. before we read the instructions. The second part of our prose about each game will involve our opinions after reading the manual, and playing properly.

Playing Without a Manual (From Chris' Perspective)

The reason I've never given this one a fair shot is that I don't enjoy forced-scroll games that you have to keep up with; but having been spurred by this project to play until we've figured out all we can, I have to allow that this is a pretty good game. Enough variables are thrown in to make it more fun than it seems at first.

For some reason, your explorer reacts to the necessity of making his way through each maze by refusing to do anything but run at full speed. Maybe it's a lingering childhood problem. Either that, or the maze is somehow ambulatory. Either way, the player's view of this situation is that the maze appears to be moving upward; if your trapped person can survive long enough, the network of passages and compartments is very abruptly replaced with a new one. If you're forced to the top border, you get squashed.

Entombed Screenshot

What I've discovered this time, which I never realized before, is that those little rectangles that slide back and forth across the occasional corridor are not deadly; I must have had Venture on the brain. You can actually pick them up, and this adds three to the number at the bottom of the screen. This means that on three occasions, I'll be able to burrow through one section of wall by pressing the fire button. Sometimes, these walls are merely moved; you get through, but a new block of wall appears nearby.

More than cursory thought went into the implementation of this wall-burrowing ability; it's cool that it's still worth going after a moving rectangle that's blocked by a wall. You lose one by burrowing through, but you gain three when you grab the sliding thing.

Entombed - Back of Box

This becomes especially fun in the two-player version (there are only two game selections; the difficulty switches don't seem to change anything). You race to be the first one to the rectangle, and since your excavations occur symmetrically on the other side of the screen, letting yourself through also helps your opponent. You can choose to help the other player instead of opposing him -- digging through a wall to allow him to replenish his own digs, if you have a lot (we've gotten up to twenty) and he's somehow gotten down to zero.

If you're lower on the screen than the other player when the level ends, he loses a life. In the one-player version, there doesn't appear to be any scoring method, other than the color of the labyrinth you've reached. They change from yellow to red to purple to blue to green (if memory serves). They get faster and faster, and it would soon be impossible to get through if some thought hadn't gone into this element as well: Interruptions in the vertical corridors decrease, making straight shots more frequent.

There are bad guys, but I'm not sure what they're supposed to be. When they're blue, they can't move through walls. When they're pink, they can, Dig-Dug-style. For the most part, these guys are easily sidestepped, although it does add another variable to your strategizing.

I wish that diagonal movement were detected. Still: Not bad! Also not durable in longevity, I sense, but a possible saving grace in that sense is another cool attribute of the game: The mazes are generated randomly. This is rather astounding, for a 2600 game. Short-term in its appeal or not, I'm glad we've learned how to play it. It's certainly more fun than Raft Rider. Now, to see if there's anything in the manual that we don't know. - Chris F.

Playing Without a Manual (From Adam's Perspective)

When I used to actively collect game cartridges for the Atari 2600, I owned Entombed, but I never played it.  Like most games in a large collection, I never gave this game a chance.  Where were the Activision-type graphics to hold my attention?  Nowhere to be seen, that's for certain.

Today, I discovered that passing over this was a real shame.  If I had not played some two-player games with my VCS-gaming companion, Chris, then I would not have found this game too attractive.  Yet, I did play the game in two-player mode, and that made all the difference.

Entombed Screenshot

The concept of Entombed is very simple.  You play a small stick-figure who starts at the top of the screen.  A simple maze, which seems randomly generated, but which may come in patterns, moves up toward the player.  The character must reach the end of the maze without getting trapped.  There are moving pieces of wall, which look like they should be avoided, but they actually give you the ability to put holes in the wall to get the player out of a bind (say, when the path is blocked, and the screen is moving up quickly).

I suppose that the manual probably describes pick-ups as bombs used to blast holes in the walls (or to fill a tunnel).  Suffice it to say that you are able to avoid getting trapped if you use these to clear pathways.  Once you reach the end, the play begins in the same manner, but this time, the maze moves up toward the player at an increased speed.  Eventually, a level will be reached wherein the maze moves so fast that the player is quickly trapped three times... at which point he's forever ENTOMBED.  The only way to escape now is to press the Reset button and begin again.

Thus far, I have described a one-player game.  The game is all right in this mode, but lacks any goal or point system.  You just need to reach the next level.  This is where a good buddy comes in handy.  Hand this friend the right joystick, and play against one another to be lowest on the screen when the maze ends.

You both appear at the top of the screen, and must work your ways downward, just like in the one-player game. But this time, you compete for resources.  Who can reach those bombs first?  If you're both able to reach the end of the maze at the same time, then no one loses a life.  Who wants something as BORING as THAT to happen?  Nobody.  That's almost like playing cooperatively.  Yuck!  Instead, make it difficult for the other player by racing ahead of him.  Fill gaps in the wall to trap the other player, so that he gets caught and stuck.  Then proceed with a smile... and evil laughter.

These graphics are simple.  They are playfield graphics no more complicated than what is seen in Combat.  There is nothing about the game that even REMOTELY tries to stretch the graphical limits of the Atari 2600.  This game could have easily been a first-generation game released in 1978 instead of 1982.  If you're looking for creative rainbow patterns, then please look elsewhere. US Games went with the simplest graphics possible here.  Yet, as with all good games, dressing this one up would only have added complications that aren't needed, and which would perhaps even have detracted from the game's fun, simplistic nature. - Adam T.

Playing With a Manual (From Chris' Perspective)

I ended my first appraisal this way: "Now, to see if there's anything in the manual that we don't know." Not much. It transpires that the bad guys are zombies, but why they can occasionally treat the walls as so much cellophane isn't explained. And you do have a score in the one-player version; it replaces the second player's "make-break" count. That odd term is what the manual uses to describe each dig you have left. It so happens that you can also aim your archaeologist up an empty corridor behind you and fill it with a section of wall, in the event that you have a zombie on your tail. (They don't actually seem to chase you, though; their movement appears arbitrary.)

Entombed is a lot of fun as a two-player game; I can definitely see Adam and I returning to it. There's more strategy involved than what's initially apparent. If anything, I have to get even with him for nullifying my last dig-through by refilling the same space a split second later! - Chris F.

Playing With a Manual (From Adam's Perspective)

I just can't understand an author missing a perfect opportunity.  This is a game in which you are supposed to be entombed, yet the manual never even uses that phrase.  What I call bombs are actually called "Make-Breaks."  What the hell kind of lame-ass name is that?

I've got to cut the manual writer a break, though.  It is all made up for by the zombies in the game.  I never mentioned these creatures in my pre-manual summation of the game, because they just didn't leave an impression on me at all.  Still, they could have been anything.  Yet, they are zombies.

Entombed - Cartridge

I suppose that this may have been one of the few action games that John Romero played and actually enjoyed.  "Zombies?" he asked when he read the back of the box.  He kept repeating that phrase over and over as he ran to the cashier.  The cashier gave him a funny look, but he was no different from all the other thirteen-year-old kids buying these video games.  He just happened to be a little older: a pre-cursor of the years to come.

Other than the zombies, I only missed that there actually IS a score system for the one-player game.  Each maze is made up of five sections.  Thus, you can earn up to five points per maze.

When I replayed this game in one-player mode, I yearned for another player.  I didn't have to wait long before Chris wandered back over to this classic wood-grain console to try his hand at playing against me again.  It was worth it, as for some reason, we both took more advantage of trying to block the other player from being able to reach the end of the maze.  It was great fun.

Entombed is very much like Warlords, in the sense that if you have no pals to play it with, it's not worth playing.  Get a friend and try a few rounds, though.  You'll be impressed by the fun that can be squeezed out of these simple, blocky graphics. - Adam T.

[The Raft Rider box and cartridge pictures are from www.atariage.com]