Game: Midnight Magic
System: Atari 2600
Copyright Year: 1984
Ranking: Three Quarters
When I say, Midnight Magic, the first thought that comes to your mind is probably not "video game", "pinball", nor "Atari 2600". In fact, a quick google search of the expression will link you to the band Midnight Magic. They describe themselves as:
A nine person ensemble bonded by the unwavering desire to make you, the listener, and the rhythm become one; the secret love children of Donna Summer and George Clinton serving up an orgasmic feast of funk, disco, electro and soul.
That's probably closer to the mark.
Despite this branding blunder by Atari, Midnight Magic is in fact an early video pinball game. Midnight Magic was Atari's second video pinball title. Atari's first foray into video pinball came in 1978 when they created a dedicated video pinball home console. Video Pinball included three game types: the eponymous pinball, breakout, and basketball. All three game types would later be released as cartridges for the Atari 2600. While Video Pinball attempted to capture the mechanics of real-world pinball machines, the horizontal orientation of the game screen and wonky physics failed to translate into a realistic simulation.
Midnight Magic was a more mature attempt to simulate real-world pinball machines for the home. The plunger is marked off at regular intervals, so that you can more reliably and consistently launch the ball onto the board to light up the central bumpers, raise the center post, and activate the side kickers. To do all this, you have to hit the indicated drop-target at the top of the board. Failure to do this when launching the ball can cost serious amounts of points. Lit bumpers are worth a whopping 1,000 points. Unlit bumpers are worth a measly 100 points. The center post is also critical to raise. Balls seem to gravitate towards the gaping maw between the lower flippers. Having a raised center post opens up the opportunity for you to perform the eminently cool "chill maneuver". In this technique, you don't use the flippers to stop the ball from going out of play. You simply stand firm and let the ball whiz past the flippers, hit the center post, and bounce back on to the playing field. The maneuver requires nerves of steel, but is necessary to master in order to stay alive long enough to hit all the drop-targets and get the point multipliers. Skilled players will be able to get up to 5x point multipliers.
Midnight Magic is addictive. It saves your in game high score, so you can compete with yourself or your friends to see who can get the highest score in a given session. The drop-targets and point multipliers provide fantastic goals to make the game more exciting. I feel like a complete failure if I don't make at least the 2x point multiplier in a sitting. The game lacks the same level of skill as an actual pinball machine, but there's enough realism to make it enjoyable.
Although Midnight Magic was copyrighted in 1984, it wasn't released until 1986. Like Gremlins for the Atari 5200 (see Retro Game Review -- Gremlins), it's official release was delayed due to the video game crash of 1983. After seeing the success of the NES release in 1985, Atari tried to redirect some of the renewed video game excitement back to their most famous system. Unfortunately, this meant that Midnight Magic was released more than a year after Pinball came out for the NES. Pinball, one of the original 18 launch titles for the NES, had colorful graphics, big sprites, and a scrolling game board. It's a significantly more impressive piece of software and puts Midnight Magic to shame. Maybe it's not fair to compare across platforms, but as a 10 year old boy, I was very sad to be playing Midnight Magic when I knew Pinball for the NES was out there. Now that I'm an old man, I'm just glad that I can play them all.
|Midnight Magic for Atari 2600: Starting color.|
|Midnight Magic for Atari 2600: 2x point multiplier activated. The 2x point multiplier is activated when all the drop-targets at the top have been hit. Flashing colors and a brief musical number announce the multipliers activation.|
Retro Game Rankings: No Quarters to Four Quarters. It should be noted, that although the going price of an arcade game was a single quarter when many of these games first came out, I feel that true retro game fans would be willing to pay a little bit more to capture the glory of playing some of the truly great ones one more time. More reviews can be found here: Retro Game Reviews.