Tuesday, March 8, 2011
If you only had the name to go by, one might assume that a video game called Joust would be a mere pitting of two knights, sitting proudly atop their respective trusty steeds, engaging in an effort to successfully skewer their opponent – a reasonable assumption, but one that completely undersells this quirky and enormously popular endeavor. No, Joust, released by Williams Electronics in 1982, offered a much more entertaining challenge, one that focused on a delightfully strange competitive arena.
First of all, forget the typical Middle-Aged imagery of two knights engaging in battle atop equestrian vehicles. Joust replaced the horses with an assortment of aviary hosts. Player #1 emerged atop a proud ostrich, wielding a large lance to attack his adversaries. If a second player joined the fun, his mode of transportation was a large stork. Enemy knights had their own fleet of buzzards, ready to engage in some mid-air battle.
A joystick allowed players to move their feathered friends left and right, and a “Flap” button allowed them to ascend. The laws of gravity were in full-play, meaning that continuous flapping was necessary to remain airborne – an important element since battles were decided by whose lance achieved a higher altitude. Successfully skewering an opponent’s bird resulted in the release of a large egg, which could be retrieved for substantial bonus points. The clock was ticking, however, and missing this opportunity in the allotted time meant the hatching of a new, tougher knight to contend with.
Perils weren’t just limited to opponents either. Procrastinating while trying to defeat a foe meant the emergence of a much more formidable pterodactyl, screeching as it dive-bombed mercilessly. Only a perfectly timed jab of the lance into its deadly jaws would end this prehistoric predator’s assault.
Upon elimination of all enemy knights, it was on to the next stages, each of which provided new challenges from the surrounding environment. Platforms not only moved locations, they also appeared and disappeared randomly with each new level. And that (thankfully) covered lava pit one might have noticed in the earliest stages eventually opened up, ready to cook any bird that fell in. If that weren’t enough, later on a big flaming hand, known as the Lava Troll, would rise from the pit, attempting to pull down any feathered food it could get a grasp on.
In multiplayer mode, Joust provided a fiendishly sadistic twist, in an attempt to encourage two-player gameplay. In some levels, both players worked together to defeat their enemies and cooperation was encouraged. In others, however, players were tempted by rewards to turn on their comrades as well for extra bonus points. A friend one moment might be a vicious enemy the next. This particular twist made the two-player experience especially inviting and helped propel Joust to lofty levels of popularity.
Not surprisingly, Joust became a favorite at arcades around the country, and versions for almost every home gaming system quickly followed. Four years after its debut, a sequel was introduced, Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest. The new version incorporated a split-screen and a handy “transform” button that morphed the less-threatening ostrich into a mighty Pegasus.
The sequel unfortunately didn’t come close to matching the original in terms of success. Joust had simply set a standard that its successor couldn’t match. It remains one of the most beloved and fondly remembered video games of the era, one that players of all ages flocked to in droves. An opportunity to engage in battle while sitting valiantly atop an ostrich is something that few were able to resist.