• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAtari 2600
DeveloperThomas Jentzsch
PublisherAtari Age
ReviewChristian and Dan

Main review

“The resistance is about to launch a major offensive against the Intergalactic Empire. In preparation for this, they have captured several battle-grade starships, but they lack the essential power sources for these formidable craft: Klystron Pods.”

Of course, the empire has plenty of these Klystron Pods and it is up to you to steal them from several storage planets. Each planet is defended by “Limpet” gun towers, which are powered by a nuclear power plant. You can either fire a few shots at these power plants to disable the guns temporarily, or destroy the Limpets themselves. Just be careful not to shoot at the plants too often or they’ll go critical and explode within ten seconds, destroying the entire planet. To steal the pod, you have to hover your spaceship above it and activate the tractor beam, the pod will be connected to your ship with an elastic tow-bar. If you crash your ship or the pod into the background, you’ll lose a life.

Sounds easy? Well, not really because there’s a little twist – gravity. Your ship is controlled indirectly, you can only rotate it around its center and move it by igniting the main jet, similar to Asteroids. On later levels, the gun towers fire at rather high rates, and some of the planets even have reverse gravity. Thrust was released in 1985 by Firebird for the C64 (the original was a full-price release on the BBC Micro) and even today, many people think it was the biggest budget release ever. The visuals were simple but functional, the title music was catchy and the gameplay was absorbing. Nobody, myself included, thought an Atari VCS version would be possible – however, XYPE’s Thomas Jentzsch jumped in to belie us sceptics…

Thrust‘s graphics are totally amazing. Actually, when the first screenshots were released, I thought they weren’t real. The C64 version used crisp hires sprites for the gun towers, pods and power plants and, naturally, the resolution had to be reduced for the VCS conversion but the objects still look great and very close to the original. Even the colours match the C64 palette very well. I noticed a little bit of flicker when a lot of objects are displayed on the same scanline, but it only occurs for fractions of a second and doesn’t affect the great visuals at all. If you ruined your eyes playing Pac-Man before, you won’t even notice it.

The C64 version of Thrust had rather average sound effects and a great title tune by Rob Hubbard. The “normal” VCS version only has the F/X to offer, but they work very well; in my opinion even better than in the original and although there are only a few different effects they sound good. An enhanced version of the game called Thrust+ with a remix of Rob’s title music (which just sounds brilliant!) can be bought from the good folks at Atari Age (at, and the music alone is worth the money. You won’t believe your ears, your VCS never sounded that good!

The VCS controls are very similar to the C64 game, if you compare them to the joystick version released by The Dreams (the original version only supported keyboard input!). However, I think the Atari game is more difficult than the archetype – for example, to use the tractor beam, you have to position your ship exactly at the right spot. If you get used to this, it won’t be much trouble though.

If you played the C64 version of Thrust, you’ll love the Atari VCS conversion. For me, the game has always been too difficult, even frustrating in places. Thrust and especially it’s Thrust+ incarnation is maybe the most impressive VCS game I’ve ever seen, but it just isn’t my piece of cake. You can get both the normal (free) and the enhanced version ($35) at Atari Age. The ROM image of the normal version is 16K and doesn’t work with older emulators (and StellaX) which don’t support illegal op-codes. I also didn’t get it working on real hardware with my (enhanced) Supercharger unit, but it works fine with the Z26 emulator. Thrust+ is available on a real cartridge and works with all VCS models.

Second opinion

Some people claim the simple ideas are the best and to be honest, when playing Thrust who could argue. An absolute gem when it was first released onto the BBC Micro and then onto the Commodore 64 and some could argue a landmark. Why? Because it’s such a simple idea combined with, at the time, a nerds delight, gravity.

Finally, it’s graced the Atari 2600, so I booted up Stella X and loaded the enhanced version which is now the version you can also download from this site. I remember the C64 version with fond memories and was looking forward to see if a 2600 version could actually handle it all. As it was the plus version I was first treated to title music. Ok, it was never gonna rock my world like Rob Hubbard’s superlative effort (one of his finest pieces in my humble opinion) but damn, I never heard the 2600 sound like this. The adaptation is as faithful as you could hope and I was soon humming along to it, shame it switched to effects during the game – maybe it was impossible to be playing the tune during the action, but it would have been nice if instead of choosing the starting level you could have switched between music and effects instead.

After manically swiveling in my chair to the music like a demented robot, I slammed fire for some retro space action. I remember Thrust being ridiculously hard, addictive and so beautiful to watch, especially when you grabbed the pod and could play with it in the air. Guess what? It still was. To be honest I haven’t played this game in years so it took me some use to get the drift (no pun intended) of what was happening but as soon as it struck home I was away, but soon died but then was away again and repeat ad infinitum.

The levels start off pretty easy but then get harder and harder, negotiating some parts of some levels take nerves of steel and to be honest, using a keyboard is far easier than using a joystick. This gets even more trickier when the gun turrets start upping their fire rate and you are left with option of going for the turrets, disabling them for some much needed time and also gambling on whether to grab some extra fuel. You see, the more you “thrust” the more fuel you use (indicated by the read out at the top of the screen) and also not forgetting that when you grab your pod you effectively become heavier requiring more fuel to escape the tunnels. You’re also hindered by the fact that your pod will swing around the ship from its tow line and one touch into the wall and the mission is a failure. In fact, my only problem with the game in this way is that you need the patience of a saint; you need to put quite a bit in to get something out of it as it can be very frustrating, but the rewards are very welcome. Graphically, the game was also functional more than anything and has been a reasonably straight port – although the resolution has decreased I have to say everything looks as good as it used to, even down to the ickle flickering stars in space when you get higher up, which is a nice touch.

To be honest I didn’t notice the flickering Christian has mentioned, maybe I was just concentrating to hard on not getting splatted against the walls. As I already mentioned the title theme is a joy to listen to (chip tune heaven to some) and the spot effects, although sparse, do their job more than effectively.