From the pages of the past, ads from yesteryear – Mountain King

Mountain King ad 1983

This was, and still is, a tough game by any measure. It was also innovative for its use of sound as a gameplay mechanic and climactic music as a thrilling backdrop for your race to the top of the mountain.

The video game boom of the early eighties was a time brimming with possibilities — at least before the crash of ’83 and ’84 brought the console market down. Columbia Broadcasting System, CBS, was also interested in dipping their considerable toes into what still was a lucrative bonanza before the party ended. In the late 70s and early eighties, they were on a buying binge, snatching up toy companies such as Gabriel, and in 1982, formed CBS Software and CBS Electronics to break the gaming ice.

CBS Electronics, in particular, specialized in licensing arcade hits and bringing them over to consoles like the Atari 2600 and the ColecoVision. In Europe, they expanded into publishing games for the Atari 2600 as well as picking up the marketing and distribution for the ColecoVision and its games. Not bad for a rookie.

As brash as they were in pushing their way into the market, they also had a solid lineup of licensed games that were just as remarkable such as Bally Midway’s Gorf and Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. They were also responsible for Tunnel Runner, a first-person maze game in which players did their best to avoid hungry “zots” (imagine a meaner looking Pac Man) on their quest for a key to take them to the next level. The 3D look was made possible to another innovative idea from CBS – the RAM  Plus! chip – which gave the game 12KB of additional memory to work with.

And it would be the same tech that would power another game in ’83, Mountain King.

Mountain King was an arcade-styled platformer in which players would control a stick-figure, bubble-headed Explorer as he traversed ‘floors’ on a quest to grab the legendary Crown from the sacred temple. Players had to first collect 1000 points by grabbing diamonds or opening chests for big points. The chests, though, were hidden and could only be revealed using a flashlight — or blind luck. There were more chests at the very bottom of the mountain, but a giant spider lurked there trapping the reckless in giant webs and coming back to snack if players didn’t waggle fast enough to escape.

Once players hit the point limit, they’d need to find the Flame Spirit next to get past the Skull Spirit guarding the entrance to the temple, and this was where the game became even more creative. Using sound, players had to track where the spirit was which was randomly determined every time. Only a golden flicker would reveal its position if the player was close enough to the source of the music.

After kneeling down to pick up the spirit, it was time to head to the temple and appease the Skull Spirit who would then briefly open the way. If you missed out on jumping up into the temple, you’d have to find the Flame Spirit all over again.

Once you grabbed the Crown, the race begins to make it to the peak where the Perpetual Flame sat by jumping floors, onto ladders, and avoiding the bats while Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” played in the backdrop before a special time limit ran out. Bats could pass through the Explorer, but if they touched the Crown, back to the Temple it would go and you’d have to find the Flame Spirit and begin the race all over again.

The box art (this one from AtariAge’s archives) is still fantastic stuff. You can check out more packaging images at AtariAge’s site which covers this and many other titles. Sadly, that art didn’t make to the cart labels as others, like Atari’s, did.

It was also timed. In the first level, players had eight minutes to do all of this prior to grabbing the Crown. After that, they had to beat another limit to get to the top. Subsequent levels shortened the clocks as well as imposing a time limit on finding the Flame Spirit, adding to the challenge making it a tough game.

Players could fall from any level, watching as the Explorer slowly get up from too far a height. Little things, like being able to control just how high you could jump or how long it could take to get up from a fall, were great touches to the challenge. Still, they were only one small concessions made to keep things fair. Players only had one life to live in this game. Getting killed by the Giant Spider or running out of time ended your run.

The ad above does a really great job in getting the point of the game across with its comic-styled narrative filled as it is with plenty of color, though having the protagonist as some normal guy instead of a swashbuckling adventure was odd but not entirely unique to how some ads bluntly tried to bring players into their world in the same way. The box art for Mountain King, however, was great eye candy bringing together all of the elements in a fantastic illustration from the Crown to the ghostly notes flowing into the air from a tattered, ancient scroll.

A real classic from the past, I wouldn’t mind seeing this adventure return to life as a remake or as part of a classic collection. But if you can’t wait for either one to happen, or don’t have any of the older consoles like the Atari 2600, 5200, a computer like the C64, or an emulator handy, you can play it for free at Virtual Atari and see if you can become the next Mountain King.

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