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CONSOLE: Atari 2600 DEVELOPER: Atari PUBLISHER: Atari
RELEASE DATE (NA): December 1982 GENRE: Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

Belongs in a landfill.

E.T. the Extraterrestrial was a phenomenally successful movie, earning almost 800 million dollars at the box office, and it has been lauded even to this day as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. The movie follows a boy named Elliott who uncovers an alien given the name of "E.T." and tries his best to help E.T. make his way home to his own planet while dodging the constant eye of government officials.

But this isn't a movie review. We're here to discuss... the GAME.

Yes, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, the fabled game for the Atari 2600. This game is not remembered for its gameplay as much as it is remembered for its absolute commercial bombing in stores, greatly strengthening the resolve of the video game crash in 1983, as well as the legend that millions of leftover copies were buried in a landfill in New Mexico.

In July 1982, Atari bought the exclusive rights to an E.T. video game, paying anywhere between $20-$25 million for those rights, a pretty darn high amount at the time. Despite the CEO of Atari thinking the concept of an E.T. game was, and I quote, "dumb", the company nonetheless went forward with the plan, hiring Howard Scott Warshaw, a programmer who famously developed both Yars' Revenge and the more successful Raiders of the Lost Ark game, to single-handedly create the E.T. game... within 36 days. He considered it a great challenge — and the $200,000 he was reportedly offered, plus a trip to Hawaii, certainly helped sweeten the deal.

Warshaw foresaw a world in which the primary goal was for E.T. to, indeed, phone home. Unfortunately, the pieces of his phone have been scattered throughout the area, which is broken up into six sections based on places in the film., and it's up to our stubby hero to find them, all the while inadvertently stumbling into a bunch of pits and having to escape, which is by far the most annoying thing I've done in a game in a long time. Once he finds all three phone parts, E.T. must locate the place where his phone can be used, then dash to the forest to be picked up by the mothership, at which point, the game restarts. The locations of the phone parts are randomized, so it's not simply a matter of memorization. It wasn't straightforward how to play, either.


E.T. will spend much of his time on Earth in a pit.

As well, E.T. has only a few lives to live and a health meter that constantly drops whenever he does ANYTHING. Even walking wears the poor guy out. And, of course, scientists and FBI agents are also trying to track him down and give him a firm whack on the noggin. Depending on the difficulty level chosen, there may be more or fewer people trying to capture E.T., and they will have different movement speeds. The only way to restore his health is to find Reese's Pieces, the beloved snack of champions.

In short, it's as much fun as trying to snack on horseshoes. I spent more time in holes than I did doing anything of value. Without any clarity or direction, and for a game that doesn't have THAT much complexity, you're just a telephone-shaped ochre blob in search of who knows what to do who knows what. Who knows why marketing executives put their faith in this dank experiment in mediocrity? This contributed significantly to Atari's declaration of $536 million in losses in 1983, essentially debilitating the company.

As for all the remaining E.T. cartridges, for a long time, it was believed that most of these unsold E.T. cartridges were shipped from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas to a junkyard in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and buried in the middle of the night, to be long forgotten by gamers... and by time. It was considered nothing more than an urban legend, until producers from a Canadian entertainment company requested access to the landfill for the purpose of a documentary in 2013. The following year, they dug through... and indeed found buried cartridges of E.T. and other Atari castaways.

Should've left them buried.


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