Having established itself as a premier Spectrum developer with the likes of Jetpac, Ultimate Play The Game was already a company to look out for – but in late 1983, it took its releases to the next level. By moving on from the comparatively limited 16K Spectrum, Ultimate could produce bigger and more graphically impressive games like Jetpac’s sequel Lunar Jetman and the all-new Atic Atac. The arcade adventure that saw you piecing together a special key to escape a haunted maze captivated critics, earning high praise including a remarkable 9/10 from C&VG.
Exploring The Unknown
Ultimate was already a great developer in 1983, but targeting the 16K Spectrum computer had its drawbacks. Jetpac is a great example – it’s a wonderful game, but it relies wholly on your twitch shoot-’em-up skills. When players wanted a little bit more depth and variety out of their games, Ultimate wasn’t necessarily the company to provide that – or so we thought. There’s a certain moment of realisation that Atic Atac isn’t quite the same as previous Ultimate games – for us, it came the first time that we ventured down into the caverns. When we began to reach the outer limits of the maze, it became clear that Atic Atac was huge and that we’d have to put considerable effort into finding our way around. With over 100 rooms split across five floors, that was no easy task and we had to become organised in our approach by making maps – so while previous Ultimate games were neat little arcade adventures, Atic Atac turned us into videogame cartographers.
Who needs a regular life bar when you can get something that’s a lot more inventive? Atic Atac provided a novel approach with a tasty roast turkey on the right-hand side of the screen. As your health declined, the turkey would gradually shed its meat to reveal a meagre pile of bones – and fittingly, food items would replenish your health.
While most of Atic Atac’s enemies could be dealt with by using normal attacks, some of the more notorious beasties required a specialised approach. Frankenstein, Quasimodo and the mummy all required specific items, but our favourite is Dracula. Only the fortunate discovery of a handy crucifix could protect you from the undead and otherwise invincible horror.
Atic Atac’s three characters had a crucial difference – each could use different secret passages, which meant that the act of navigating the castle was completely different dependent on whether you picked the Wizard, Knight or Serf. Few games provided this kind of variety, and it ensured that Atic Atac could be replayed over and over.
Nobody likes to die in videogames, but Atic Atac made quite the event out of death. When your character lost a life, a gravestone would be left in place for the remainder of the game – a touch which wasn’t just a neat bit of presentation. The makeshift landmarks provided upon expiring were an excellent tool for players trying to find their way through the huge castle.