Reprinted with permission from the Atari 2600 Connection Newsletter:
In the year that the Star Wars trilogy was released in its original form for the final time, only a few months before its theatrical re-release with additional scenes and effects, it seems somehow appropriate that the final game in Parker Brothers' Atari 2600 Star Wars series has surfaced in prototype form. A small part of the Star Wars universe is finally complete.
This find comes via the Internet, where John Bennett contacted 2600 Connection at our World Wide Web site. Like many who owned an Atari VCS years ago, he recently discovered that collecting 2600 games has become an established hobby. He said that he owned an Atari 2600 game which originated from his father's friend who worked at Parker Brothers during the classic 2600 era. If his recollection was correct, the game featured the Ewoks on their forest moon from "Return of the Jedi." He asked whether the game had ever been commercially released, and whether a prototype copy of it would be considered a "rare" game.
Unable to play the game himself, he retrieved the game from long-term storage on his shelf, loaned it to 2600 Connection for review, and is considering auctioning it on the Internet later this year.
As originally described from memory, the game sounded like Ewok Adventure, a title announced by Parker Brothers, featured in its 1983 catalog, but never released. Gameplay has confirmed that this prototype is indeed, the long-lost final chapter in Parker Brothers' Star Wars series, the never-before-seen Ewok Adventure.
Physically, the game is on a prototype board, marked as being 8K in size. The EPROM containing the game code is surrounded by five DIP chips which implement the bank-switching necessary to allow the VCS to address more than 4K. The label on the EPROM is marked "ATARI-2600 EWOK 8K RLS.1" which hints that the game was considered to be a completed product.
So, we've seen plenty of rare, unreleased games that deserved their oblivion. How does Ewok Adventure play? In a word, excellent. Probably the most-welcome, and least-expected, aspect of this game is that even though it features the adorable Ewoks, it's not cuddly or cute. It's a game of strategy and timing, with definite goals accomplished over multiple screens. Though it is difficult to play such a game without a rule book, I've made my best guesses.
Ewok Adventure has solid graphics which, while not ground-breaking, are well-defined and instantly recognizable as the "Chicken Leg" AT-ST Walker, Ewoks, forest speeder bikes, and forest Storm Troopers. The point of view of the player is above and behind an Ewok gliding on a kite as it maneuvers through the woods, similar to Sky Jinks (by Activision). A shadow effectively gives you the altitude of the player, critical to avoid collisions.
Fortunately, the player is not required to avoid the numerous trees, rivers, and boulders in the forest. They smoothly scroll to indicate vertical movement. Horizontally, the game follows the commonly-used "exit to right, enter from left" method of screen transition.
At the bottom of the screen, you will see indications of your lives, location, and weaponry. To the left, you see the number of lives you have remaining; to the right, the number of rock packets you are carrying; in the center, an arrow shows whether the shield generator is to your left or right (if you are directly below it, the arrow disappears).
You use the joystick to control your Ewok kite. Joystick left and right are rotate counter-clockwise and rotate clockwise, respectively. Press up on your joystick to dive and pick up momentum, then pull down on the joystick to gain altitude. This dive/rise method of moving is rather unusual, but with some practice it becomes quite natural. Interestingly, this maneuvering is well-suited to a joypad controller.
Use the joystick fire button to fling rocks from a sling to destroy enemies. You have a limited number of rock packets that you can release, so you must time your shots carefully. If you run out of rock packets, you can fly low over a boulder onscreen and your rocks will be reloaded.
Interspersed through the forest are large swirl shapes. If you fly over them, they will immediately boost your altitude without reducing your speed. Don't collide with the AT-ST walkers, Storm Troopers, or Speeder Bikes, or you will lose a life. Instead, fling your rocks to destroy them.
Or you can fly above the deadly objects. You can easily fly over Speeder Bikes which hover low to the ground. Storm Troopers, being taller, are a little harder to fly above. The tall AT-ST walkers are the most difficult to fly over.
If you fly over an AT-ST walker or a Speeder Bike, exactly matching its altitude, you can occupy it and command it for a brief time. Your kite will disappear and the Walker or Bike will flash as you attempt to control it. I say "attempt" because the Walker or Bike careens wildly out of control as you loosely affect the motion. After all, you're an Ewok, and nobody ever said they were good drivers. Most importantly, however, you can use this opportunity to attack the Ground Station controlling the shield.
Maneuver the occupied vehicle into position immediately below the shield, and fire a thermal grenade into the structure. A lone Ewok will exit the Ground Station, then it will explode. At higher levels of play, you will see more objects, and they will move faster. But beyond the first level you will need to do more than just avoid collision with them; you will also have to avoid their shots. When you reach the third level of play, your kite will initially be difficult to maneuver, until you fly low over one of your fellow Ewoks wandering the forest; then, the kite will maneuver as before. You will get a new ship at 10,000 points. You might get more ships at 20,000, 30,000 points, etc., but those were scores I never reached while reviewing the game.
The only disappointing thing in the game is the lack of music. The sound effects are adequate, if not spectacular, and combined with the lack of musical cues, perhaps this is a hint that if things had worked out differently, the sound might have been fine-tuned prior to release.
Overall, this is a game that should have been
released. Maybe the Ewoks aren't your favorite element of the Star Wars
saga (they certainly aren't mine) but this game effectively utilizes them
in a fast, action-filled contest typical of the 2600 circa 1983. In the
pantheon of Parker Brothers' generally fine Star Wars offerings, I'd place
this right at or near the top, and of the two games associated with Return
Of The Jedi, I'd say this was the better one.