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Long-lost Tarzan Atari game brought back from the dead

Tarzan for the Atari 2600 - Game 1

An Atari 2600 version of Tarzan from the early 1980s, which had once been thought lost forever, was recently rediscovered and made available to play online.

A collector known as Rob “AtariSpot” was able to buy a copy off a former Coleco employee in 2022. The story of the effort to get it running on emulators was a bit more complicated, however, and the effort to preserve it is detailed in an article written by video game historian and author Kevin Bunch.

Tarzan is unique in that it used a (then) new kind of bankswitching, which basically helped the Atari 2600 and its then-4KB storage limit read larger games. Tarzan was around 12KB, so the technique allowed for a larger, scrolling experience where the players didn’t know what was coming next. This was one of the obstacles that made it difficult to emulate, although thanks to Atari homebrew programmer Thomas Jentzsch, it’s now playable on the Internet Archive.

The game was a part of a licensing deal for the 1984 movie Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, and was being developed for the ColecoVision. There were plans for it to release on other consoles, including the Atari 2600. (That’s why the game has a side view where Tarzan runs, jumps, and fights; the ColecoVision could handle side-scrolling platformers well.) The Atari version was outsourced to James Wickstead Design Associates (JWDA), which had to redesign quite a bit of the game to account for the 2600’s limitations.

While the final product was missing a few details present in the ColecoVision, it ran well overall and was all but finished. The Atari version was announced for a 1984 release. However, those up on their history will recognize this time period as the first major video game recession, spurred along by an influx of available consoles, the rise of personal home computers, and an increase in third-party developers. Atari and Coleco both stopped producing games for a few years, and eventually, Coleco filed for bankruptcy. So while the game came out for the ColecoVision, the Atari version vanished despite being in a finished state until now.

The whole article is worth reading, especially if you have an interest in retro video game history or just want to find a “new” Atari game to play.

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Carli Velocci
Carli is a technology, culture, and games editor and journalist. They were the Gaming Lead and Copy Chief at Windows Central…
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