Break time! Cosmic Ark for the Atari 2600

[Break Time! is a series of posts about video games that Rick has spent entirely too much time with over the years.]

Due to my busy summer at work, I haven’t been very good about keeping this blog updated over the past couple of weeks. But … it’s time to squeeze in another “break”!

Another one of the Imagic titles in my closet of games is Cosmic Ark.

[Cosmic Ark Title Screen]

At first glance, Cosmic Ark appears to be an Atari 2600 knock-off of Midway’s Space Zap***. Your “Ark” is stuck in the center of the screen, and you fire at asteroids by moving the joystick in whatever direction you want to fire.

[Cosmic Ark: Shooting at asteroids]

First, the asteroids come right at you. Later, they weave and dodge your shots****. As is usual for this sort of game, the asteroids come at you faster the farther you progress.

Sounds a little … dull, though. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if – instead of sitting in one place waiting for asteroids to destroy it – your Ark actually went somewhere and did something useful?

[Cosmic Ark: Exploring a planet]

It turns out that the your Ark’s real mission is to do more than serve as a large target for asteroids. It’s supposed to collect animal specimens from different planets. After each wave of asteroids passes, your Ark visits a planet surface to collect these specimens. You fly out of the Ark in a landing craft and use its tractor beam to pick up your targets.

Your targets, though, are understandably wary of being abducted by alien spacecraft. They’ll dodge your tractor beam. Once you’ve locked on to them, though, you can bring them up into your landing craft without further trouble.

[Cosmic Ark: Picking up cargo]

After you pick up all your targets, you fly your landing craft back up into the Ark and depart. Most of the time, there will be an asteroid you must blast (with the Ark) first.

On later planets, your targets become a little more sophisticated. They put up planetary defense lasers that move up and down and blast across the screen. If your landing craft gets zapped, your captured creatures go back down to the planet surface and you have to hunt them down again.

[Cosmic Ark: Planetary defense system]

The lasers, combined with the fact that the creatures you want to grab move faster with each wave, make your job much more difficult. Even so, you can’t loiter around the planet too long. If you do, an asteroid will show up and destroy your Ark.

[Cosmic Ark: Death is not patient]

You can fly back into the Ark and blast the asteroid – even if you haven’t caught all your targets. But, there’s a price. You’ll have to fight off another wave of asteroids and then come back to the same planet again to finish collecting your creatures.

Cosmic Ark is another Atari 2600 game that’s still worth popping into your system today. You can pick up the actual cartridge cheaply on Ebay – it’s not a “rare” title. It’s fast-paced, simple, and fun. Plus, it’s a good example of the kind of variety a developer could cram into such a small package.

***…but I didn’t know that back in 1982. Space Zap wasn’t in our local arcades.

****Wait a minute! Asteroids weaving and dodging?

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