If there is a game that really holds a special place in my heart, it would have to be Synapse Software's 1983 game, Pharaoh's Curse. Oh sure, this game was also available on the Commodore systems, but it was the Atari version that fueled my love for video games at a young age. I remember an ever-present desire to play this game whenever I had the chance, and with my older brother being the computer person in the family, time on the family's Atari 800 system was rare. I don't know where he got it from, but it was on one of those old floppy discs from the 1980's, and it took forever to load (or, at least, it seemed to in my then six-year old brain).
So what was it about Pharaoh's Curse that ignited my passion? I honestly don't know. But I loved this game. It's a simple 8-bit platformer that puts you in control of a treasure-seeking hero (I always imagined that it was Indiana Jones), whose sole job is to run around the inner workings of a pyramid collecting all 16 of the required treasure pieces, all while avoiding pitfalls and two main enemy characters.
The layout of each room within the pyramid is basic, and contains the single required treasure for you to collect. Each one is designed differently and consists of various platforms, pitfalls, ropes, and elevators to navigate. Some rooms also contain keys that will unlock doors and allow passage to adjacent areas. The game is a maze of connecting rooms, each one specifically connected to another within the pyramid, eventually looping back to the first room.
Your biggest objective is to remember how to navigate your way through the pyramid, as some rooms require you to land on an elevator in order to reach the platform with the treasure on it. This is a maneuver that requires timing and a lot of luck. At other times you may need a key, which will send the adventurer on a quest to find one. In some cases the passages between rooms are a one-way path, so you have to be careful when exiting each area. Make the wrong step and you may find yourself having to loop back around and start over.
The main enemies (a pharaoh and a mummy) will also show up on screen from time to time and shoot at you. Luckily, our hero has the ability to shoot back. When you do manage to kill one of them, they will sometimes re-spawn from one of the other entrances. You can also just exit the room and re-enter, making the enemies vanish into thin air. It's funny; the pharaoh always looked more like a Native American in full headdress than it did a pharaoh. And while we're at it, since when could mummies shoot guns?
The only other dangers found within the game come in three forms -- trap doors that spring up and kill you (one being what I always called the golden lobster claw), spikes that pop out of the ground and ceiling, and one I will simply call the "Mystery Item." The "Mystery Item" is the random appearance of a box within the game. This risky item can appear at any time (usually accompanied by a specific sound). It will give you one of two things: The crown treasure ... or an arrow that will instantly kill our hero. Obviously you want the crown, as it's one of the sixteen required treasures you seek.
Oh, and have I mentioned the bird? The bird can either be annoying as hell, or your best friend in the whole wide world. On occasion, you will notice a bird flying around the room. It will appear for a few moments, and then fly off to another room. Should you actually touch it, the bird will pick you up in his talons and whisk you away to a random room. Sometimes he drops you in a room you have been trying to reach the whole time, while other times he will drop you back to the title screen. There are also times when he drops you on top of a trap door or on to an enemy. You can try to shoot the bird if you want but, much like the other two enemies, he will eventually re-spawn.
Pharaoh's Curse is a simple game by today's standards, but one that I will always hold in high esteem. When you consider that this is an 8-bit Atari game from the pre-Nintendo Entertainment System days, it has, at least in my opinion, aged very well. I still find myself itching to play it from time to time. Pharaoh's Curse is worth seeking out.