Lots of mythical monsters get brought up around Halloween. However, one monster that actually gets brought up in everyday life is the gremlin. Every time something breaks down for apparently no reason, people always claim it to be the work of gremlins. However, in 1984, there were three types of gremlins that got major attention: the Gremlins that infested the Joe Dante movie of the same name, the Gremlins games that Atari put out based on that movie, and the gremlins that clearly infested the Atari 5200.
The Atari 5200 is a permanent resident on lists of the worst game consoles. The reasons why are plain for all to see. The bulky console is a pain to set up, its game library mostly consisted of just prettier versions of 2600 games, and its stock controller is one of the worst controllers ever designed despite some advanced features like a pause button and an analog joystick a decade before the Nintendo 64. It's little wonder that the 5200 is often considered worse than other much maligned consoles like the cd-I and the Virtual Boy.
There are, however, a couple of games that showed off what the 5200 could do, and Gremlins is one of them. Unlike the 2600 game which just ripped off Kaboom and Space Invaders and left it at that, the 5200 version actually captured the movie while also having the playability of a classic arcade game. You play Billy with the simple goal of collecting all of the mogwai and putting them in a pen while killing all the gremlins with your sword. The levels start simply but add new elements as the game progresses including malfunctioning kitchen appliances and a TV that distracts anything that gets close. The game even follows the rules established in the movie! If a mogwai or gremlin touches a water puddle, it doubles. If a mogwai touches a sandwich, it turns into a gremlin, even going into the cocoon first! I was amazed at how faithful it was to the movie and how much fun I was having.
There are a couple of issues to mention. The graphics are well-detailed, but the two-toned color scheme seems half-assed. All you see are blue and brown. Surely the 5200 could pull off a larger color pallet. Also the sword swinging is a bit slow and stiff. The fighting is just not as satisfying as it should have been.
Those issues are really just nitpicks. The fact is that I had a blast with Gremlins on the 5200. It stands as one of the best movie-based games I'd ever played and was worth putting up with the 5200's issues. Turn on all the lights, put away the midnight snacks, and check this one out this Halloween.