Something like 400 games were released for the Atari 2600 in North America during its commercial life. Another 50 or so, at least officially, weren’t. Bizarre games with thought-provoking titles like Hell Driver, Dead Ray, Hole Hunter and Square Game. While these games were available throughout Europe from various publishers, the only way to play them on a North American 2600 is to find one of the Taiwanese bootleg releases.
Maybe you’ve seen some of these brightly colored boxes with art that is often completely inappropriate for the game and dismissed them as cheap pirates, unworthy of your attention. And more often than not you’d be right. Despite the unusual titles, most of them are the same games that fill every plastic tub of common 2600 games in every used video game store you’ve ever visited. So unless you have a passion for Engrish, you don’t need Glutton, Tooth Brush, Choplifter or Normandy Landing in your collection.
Instead of getting distracted by the box that says Donkey Kong but clearly depicts Mr. Do’s Castle, stay focused on finding those games you aren’t going to find anywhere else. Mr. Postman. Mission 3000 AD. Criminal Run. And my personal favorite, Squirrel. AKA Snail Against Squirrel. AKA titles in languages I don’t speak that I assume translate to Snail Against Squirrel.
Snail Against Squirrel was originally released in Europe by Bit Corporation. It’s a platform game in which you control a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter while avoiding deadly snails. Well, deadly-ish snails. OK, somewhat bothersome snails.
To complete a level you must carry five nuts to your den at the top of the screen. The snails can get in your way, taking your nut and causing your squirrel to fall to the ground, but they aren’t actually your main obstacle. The main challenge comes from what I have just now decided to call “nut management.” Although your little squirrel can only carry one nut at a time, there are multiple nuts on screen at once, and letting a nut touch the ground costs you a life. If that doesn’t sound like a challenge, remember that nuts, in real life if not on your TV screen, are round. And round things roll.
What you thought was going to be a leisurely climb up a tree avoiding the slowest and least aggressive video game enemies ever is actually a desperate juggling act of carrying one nut as far up as you can before dropping it and scrambling back down to catch another before it rolls to the ground. And although they never seem to be actively pursuing the squirrel, the snails have a knack for being exactly where you don’t want them to be, forcing you to find a new route and sometimes leaving you with no choice but to watch as your last nut hits the ground.
Snail Against Squirrel is in many ways the ideal Atari 2600 game. An utterly but endearingly ridiculous premise combined with easy to understand but challenging and engrossing gameplay.
This is where some writers would wrap everything up with a crass, vaguely euphemistic nut pun, but I won’t subject you to that. I already subjected you to the phrase “nut management” and that’s probably enough for one day.