—it’s all greek to me—
MENTION THE word ‘Atlantis‘ in a conversation, and grand, glorious images of an epic underwater civilisation will instantly come to the surface. A harmonious, utopian society thriving at the peak of intelligence, until it was inundated by waters of demise. According to popular legend, the people of Atlantis had become morally bankrupt despite their perfect, unified society. This angered the Gods, and prompted them to besiege Atlantis with a series of torrential floods and earthquakes that would ‘silence the corruption’ so to speak, not unlike what happened in the story of Noah’s Ark, and perhaps more indirectly, the Tower of Babel:
“…in a single day and night of misfortune, the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea” ~ Plato
In his work, Plato postulated that the precise location of Atlantis was just beyond the pillars of Hercules, or what is nowadays referred to as the Atlantic Ocean, west of Spain and Portugal. Even though it is most commonly described as a fictional city, many people believe in its existence, as evidenced by the many books, documentaries and films dedicated to the subject. Just googling ‘Is Atlantis real’ will yield about 42 million search results, which speaks volumes about humanity’s unrelenting fascination with this lost world. So with that in mind, it’s not at all surprising that some creative folks out there decided to make a video game about it.
The Lost City of Atlantis – not to be confused with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the LucasArts point and click adventure – is a 2D adventure platformer set in a mostly underwater locale. It was produced by Noch Software in 1995, a great year for video games-the first E3 was officially held, the PlayStation console ventured outside of Japan, and games like Rayman and Chrono Trigger were born and subsequently immortalised into video game halls of fame. This was a period in which games were quite literally on the cusp of the 3D graphics boom, but their classic 2D ancestors still held considerable weight. During this year, I remember being at my cousins’ house with a bunch of wonderful games available to play on their computer. Mario & Luigi was one of them, but another one was The Lost City of Atlantis, in which you star as a Phoenician merchant named Raghim. The game begins when Raghim is washed ashore on an unknown island following a shipwreck (This already reminds me of the tale of Odysseus, and his journey back to Ithaca, his home town). His fate was foretold by a strange and twinkling wizard in a Greek bazaar:
“Step forth young man and hasty with it, with you a secret I will share. This crumpled scroll is a map into Atlantis.”
And so our hero embarks on a journey in search of great treasures, and finds himself in the depths of the labyrinths of Greece, Egypt, and Atlantis, battling the ghastly beasts of the sea.
One of the first things you will notice when playing is the distinct lack of onboarding. This isn’t always a bad thing-I love guessing how to move and collect things in games as much as the next person. But there is good vague and then there is bad vague. For instance, it’s quite hard to guess the control scheme in Atlantis, but players should at least have some hint at what needs to be done to pass the level. You move Raghim left and right by pressing the arrow keys, and the up key is for jump. Unlike Prince of Persia, the pace of Raghim’s gait cannot be slowed, so sometimes you need to jump very accurately across ledges, but I think it’s awesome that he can swim underwater. The swimming animations are quite good, and Raghim automatically dives into water from lofty heights via a pretty cool splash sequence. The downside is that changing directions whilst swimming can feel a bit awkward, especially when it comes to collecting pearls and avoiding enemies.
Collecting these pearls (represented on the bottom left hand corner of the screen) is essential to buy ammo, which you’ll need to defend yourself against enemies since Raghim starts off without any means of fighting back, or to quote the game manual, no “crystal ball, nor magic mirror, nor flying carpet”. Pearls are the equivalent of money, or ‘rouples’, and can be used each time you access a temple. You also need to collect a total of 7 crystals (bottom right corner of screen) in order to pass the level (the wizard is at the end of each stage waiting to collect them), which is fairly difficult given the amount of enemies. Roaming around the first level, Greece, is pretty fun, and being able to swim underwater was novel and refreshing. Atlantis engages your sense of curiosity with its nicely hidden collectibles and gives you a real sense of delight if you can survive from the throngs of enemies in your path. Sadly, you lose everything if you die and are forced to start all over again. Yes, all your painstakingly hard earned progress! Dear God, where’s Hercules when you need him? Or Xena, for that matter? The enemies in Atlantis are pretty ruthless, but thankfully there are temples (signified by the lit torch just outside the front) where you can basically bargain with the gods. Zeus, Poseidon and Mars each have different weapons that you can use – for a price, of course, so make sure you’ve stocked up on at least 100 pearls before going to spend, spend, spend.
—GRAPHICS & SOUND—
For a game in the 90’s era, Atlantis has a great pixel art style that extends to both the background, character art, and the collectibles/health system. The tranquil blue of the sea is teamed up with soft, textured stone structures that make for a lovely colour scheme. All the little additions in the background, such as the sand, sunken ships and moving jellyfish are beautiful to look at. The bottom of the screen, which essentially keeps a tally on your overall score, health and collected items, is also set out pretty well (the distinction between the playing space is clear).
There is minimal use of sound in the game, which is reserved for things like shooting weapons, collecting pearls, diving into water, and purchasing items from the temples, but it definitely brings the game to life. I would have enjoyed a backing track that captured the feeling of being in an ocean during antiquated times, which I think would have boosted this game’s nostalgic value.
In my opinion, Atlantis could have been much more playable had it not been for its repetitiveness (thanks to a lack of a proper saving system), and its overpowered enemies, especially considering that Raghim begins the game without any defences. This is probably due to the fact that this is a demo version and doesn’t allow opportunity for saving. There are lots of ‘recharge opportunities’ throughout the level, where you can top up your health and go for a few more dives underwater, but the amount of damage dealt by a single enemy can instantly erase the energy you’ve just scavenged. Conceptually, I can really appreciate the incentives used to frame this game: the diverse range of enemies guarding the crystals, the pearl collection mechanic, and the combination of land and underwater exploration all mesh together well. However, I feel that in order to guarantee a more enjoyable gameplay experience, Atlantis needs to be more lenient both in terms of the amount of time players have diving beneath the water’s surface before the health bar depletes, as well a chance to strike back at the baddies before Raghim erupts in a wisp of smoke. As a kid, I really enjoyed this game, and if I ever do manage to find the full version in the near future, I look forward to beating stage 1 and unfolding more of the story in the other levels.
WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT:
- You like ancient history
- You enjoy games that are set underwater
- You are a fan of platform/adventure games
- Is mostly set underwater
- Nice, colourful graphics
- Good storytelling
- Obscure gameplay
- Very easy to die
- No functional save system
This game should be played more for the nostalgia factor rather than the gameplay itself. It’s a good attempt at tackling an interesting part of history/mythology, but it falls short because of its inherently vague objectives and super high difficulty level. Its graphics, underwater breathing gauge system, and weaponry do combine together well, and the integration with mythology and Gods gives the game authenticity and flavour. A better, more effective save system and slightly clearer objectives would improve the game massively, and an optional soundtrack in the background wouldn’t hurt.
*Note: The Lost City of Atlantis is available on Abandonia in both German and English, but the game seems not to run in DOS Box, so the download link above is for another site