Saturday, February 4, 2023

Dandy (1983)

Publisher:Atari Program Exchange
Developer:John Palevich
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 20 minutes
Won:Yes (61W/56L)

Over the course of this blog I've discovered many games that beat beloved classics to the punch. Games like Midi Maze and Space Vikings predate often-cited firsts in their respective genres, even if today they're quite primitive. Its just one of those funny things you end up finding when you try to explore a genre as much as you can. But, for the most part, its just me saying this, titles remain woefully obscure, in part undoubtedly because my own writings on early titles tend to be simple. Not today's game, no, today's game is something people already know was important, even if its not something they really think about. Because Dandy is Gauntlet before Gauntlet.

The concept, if you don't know, is that the player has to navigate their way through 26 mazes, killing monsters while gathering food and treasure. You move with the joystick. You can fire arrows at hostiles, this is done by holding down the joystick button and moving the stick in some direction. You can only have one shot on-screen, but it moves quickly and you can shoot diagonally. In the right situation it works wonders.

In addition to that, you also pick up food items, represented by red crosses. They're less food and more a healing item. You can carry up to 9 and use them by pressing the 1 key. They fully restore health. The game also has smart bombs, which blow up everything on-screen, activated by pressing shift + 1. In multiplayer, apparently up to 4 players. No split-screen, they all share the same screen. Which sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Opposing you in this task are various enemies, which mostly run at you and drain your health, killing themselves. These come in three varieties, one that looks like a man, a square block and a smiley face. When you shoot a smiley, it turns into a block, which then turns into a man, which then disappears. Rounding out the somewhat lackluster selection are a stationary heart which doesn't hurt you, but when shot turns into a smiley face, and a monster spawner. None of these things have AI beyond just running at you.

These harm health based on how many shots they have left before dying. The smallest causes 10, and so forth. You can't ever be higher than 90%. The heart actually has a purpose in two player mode, in which a player who dies can be brought back by shooting the heart. Difficulty determines how fast enemies move, from laughably slow on trivial, mostly manageable on easy, to hard and deadly, both fitting the speed you deal with.

Starting off, levels are okay. There's not really a lot the game can do with its monsters. They're either placed in a way that so long as you don't go running around like an idiot, you should be able to kill them before you, or on the other side of a divider. Even when you're in a hallways with monsters on either sides of the walls its considerably less dangerous than it seems. The screen moves pretty well though and this is one of the first games of its type to have real levels.
Level E is where the game starts trying to be clever. A series of corridors three tiles wide divided by hearts. Each room contains three enemies of varying types. An interesting idea, nevertheless, not very fun. I'm sure it was fun at the time, but now it just feels like busywork. Shoot in a certain direction for a while, then go to the next room, until you hit a dead end or the end of the level. I tried it again on hard and it honestly wasn't any better.
But its level F where the game starts to succeed. The trick with the heart is that you were only ever in danger if you put yourself in danger, but now, in addition to ramping up the number of enemies and enemy generators, you have money or a door blocking enemies from reaching you. When you move into something slowly, you have to put in a deceptive amount of movement to do so, holding the stick or key down for slightly longer than you would expect. Better be quick backing out. Level G follows it up with having a monster generator on either side of the entrance. Wow, and I doubted this game could do much in the ways of interesting things.

But as I clear more and more levels I can't shake off the feeling of this game feeling like busywork. I'm just shooting an endless amount of enemies with an endless supply of ammo, and while the sound's nice, what I'm doing feels lifeless. The game even throws a level where you have to aim at everything diagonally, and exploit how AI works in such a setting. It was okay.

Level J stitches me back to a more interested opinion of the game. Its deceptively clever. There are a few areas here where if you approach one way, its easy to end up in an unwinnable situation. But if you break away from the whole area and approach from a different path, the whole thing gets much more manageable. Each few levels it focuses on a new trick, before discarding it for the next one. This would make the game pretty good if it weren't for how lackluster the game feels. This rollercoaster continues for a good amount of time.

But outside of level V, most levels around the back 10 or so just feel like the author gave up. Even Level V's idea consists of trying to reach a monster generator slightly offset from where you can attack it, except that you had to enter a diagonal hallway to reach it. Things are placed in a very haphazard, what else can I do, kind of way. The final level even caps things off with a giant treasure room that loops back in on itself. So much for score being important.

Simple but effective. You have a generic gun for most situations along with a smart bomb with takes out everything on-screen. 1/10

As annoying as it could be sometimes, enemy generators did make this game play a lot better. As in the end it doesn't matter how many enemies you have and how many hits they take, they're still really dumb. 2/10


As sort of could be expected for an early game with actual level design, there's nothing special going on now. There are attempts to be clever, but its not very memorable. 4/10

Player Agency:
Diagonal attacks and movement are a little hard to reliably pull off. It takes a bit too much effort to move your character in one direction. Regardless, these are minor issues, the controls are fine for a game as simple as this one. 5/10

The way static items work in the game are kind of clever. Most of them enemies from moving into them, and you're the only one who can do anything. Smart bombs out in the work can even be activated by shooting them. 2/10


I can tell what it is I'm looking at, but none of it looks nice. 1/10


The sound is interesting. Each enemy is created and killed with a unique sound, so in the heat of combat there can be a strangely musical effect to what you're hearing. 2/10

That's 17.

Dandy is ultimately a game of its time, very impressive when it came out, but today it has nothing going for it. There are flashes of brilliance in-between amateurism. Alas, it seems the game didn't make much of an impact at the time, outside of Gauntlet's developers. This was the only game of note from developer John Palevich, though he did other work at Atari, while the Atari sub-label that published this ceased publishing the same year this came out.

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