Survival Island

Survival Island

Company: Starpath / Arcadia
Model #:
Steve Mundry & Scott Nelson
Year: 1983
Only available by mail order

Although the decade had started brightly for the Atari 2600, as the 80's wore on fortunes started to change.  Towards the end of 1983 the Atari 2600 market had become flooded with seemingly every major company starting a games division and pumping out cartridges.  Retailers could only stock so many games and worse yet, gamers only had so much money to spend.  By 1984 the market had entered into a state of free fall which wouldn't recover for several years.  During this time Arcadia (renamed Starpath due to a copyright dispute with Emerson and their Arcadia 2001 game system) was still in the process of making high quality game for their Supercharger add on.  Unfortunately with the market deteriorating so badly sales had started to to falter and their last few games (The Official Frogger, Rabbit Transit, and Party Mix), saw little time on store shelves.  By the time Sword of Saros and Survival Island were finished, Starpath had become a mail order only company trying to clear out their old inventory and keep the lights on.  Because of this Sword of Saros and Survival Island were only sold through mail order with black and white manuals in ziplock baggies.


Survival Island is one of the more advanced games on the 2600 and can best be described as an action/adventure game in the same vein as Quest for Quintana Roo but more complex and more polished.  The game consists of three different areas: The Shipwreck, The Island, and the Secret Temple.  Each section of the game is separate from the others, but items found in one area carry over to the next.  Each section also has a different style of gameplay which adds a bit of variety to the game.  This idea was originally used in Starpath's Sword of Saros.  Unlike Sword of Saros though these three sections actually mesh very nicely forming an overarching story.  Survival Island may be the first 2600 game to implement a password feature in the form of a 12 digit code which allows players to start on the second or third areas once they've completed them.

Part One: The Shipwreck

You start the game rowing in the middle of an ocean having just escaped a terrible shipwreck.  In the distance you'll see a island with an ominous smoking volcano.  Your goal in this section is to row your way to the island and make it there in one piece.  As you row (or drift) towards the island you'll see caches of food and water floating in the ocean waves.  Your secondary objective to collect as much food and water as you can so you can survive on the island (this is noted by the F and W indicators on the right).  To do this all you need to do is maneuver over to the floating object and touch it.  Food and water always appears towards the edges of the screen, so it's smart to hang out near one edge or the other.  During this section you can push up to manually row and make it to the island faster, but this takes up precious life points.  You start the game with 99 life points, and if they fall to zero... well you can guess the rest.  You'll also notice a Duration meter on the left side of the screen, this counts how long you've been playing the game (in seconds) which is used to calculate your rating at the end.

Of course it wouldn't be much of a game if there wasn't a little danger involved.  Also inhabiting the ocean are pieces of debris from your ship, sharks, schools of fish, sea monsters, and even submarines that will take a shot at you!  If any of these hit you you'll be flung out of your raft and lose all the supplies you've gathered so far.  If this happens your goal is to find a new raft ASAP.  As long as you're out of the raft you cannot collect new supplies and touching any monster or obstacle is fatal (and you only get one life in Survival Island).  Thankfully new rafts can be found just floating in the water after a short time.  Each enemy has its own way of attacking.  The shark and the sea monster will home in on the player, making them especially deadly.  The shark seems to be easier to avoid than the sea monster, but both will eventually disappear if you avoid them long enough.  The schools of fish will simply swim across the screen in a straight line, but are very hard to see against the blue of the ocean making them easy to hit if you're not  paying attention.  The submarine is probably the most annoying enemy as you can't seem to avoid its shot, but at least it doesn't knock you out of the raft.  Every now and then you'll see what appears to be a black octopus bobbing in the water, if you're in the raft and touch it you'll see the words 'food to life' appear and you'll gain 12 life points (you can't exceed 99) for the cost of one food.  Be careful though as if you touch the octopus while out of the raft you'll die.

After about 10 minutes (or faster if you've been rowing), you'll eventually reach the island and start part two.


Part Two: The Island

While the first part may have been an action game, the second part of Survival Island is an more of an adventure game.  Now that you've finally managed to reach land, your goal is the find the entrance to the secret temple.  Using the food and water you picked up in part one, you must make your way through the maze like island avoiding enemies and picking up items that will help you in part three.  Here you can select different actions using the games odd menu interface.  Pressing the button brings up the current action (Normal Mode, Search Mode, Eat Food, Drink Water, Use Item, Discard Item), pushing left or right selects a new action, and pushing the button again will execute that action.  It takes a little getting used to, but it's fairly straight forward once you get the hang of it.

Normal and Search Mode are your two modes of walking.  Normal Mode is faster, but you'll automatically pick up or trigger things if you run into them.  Search Mode is slower, but if you run into a trap you won't trigger it and you'll be told what an item is instead of picking it up (although you can still be hurt if you run into the trap with your body).  You can tell which mode you're in by whether or not your character is holding his stick out in front of him or not.  Since the island is fairly dangerous it's recommended to walk around in Search Mode rather than Normal Mode unless you're trying to get around an enemy or passing through a room you've passed through before.  Eat Food/Drink Water are used to consume some of the food or water you picked up in part one to restore life points (20 for food, 10 for water).  Use/Discard item is used to use or throw away items you've collected on the island.

On the island you'll find invisible traps, snakes, cobras, lava, creeks, and bad water.  All of these are harmful to you and should be avoided, although you may have to wade through a creek or two while you explore.  The island is roughly shaped like a pyramid (or more accurately, a volcano!) and consists of 12 rows with 4 to 38 rooms per row.  Each row also wraps around so the island seems bigger than it really is (although it IS big).  Every so often you'll see a bridge or path on the top of the screen that will allow you to move up or down to the adjacent row.  Making your navigation more difficult however are lava runs that block your path in certain rooms.  There's no way to cross these, so you'll have to make your way around them through other rooms.  Making a map of the island is essential the rooms tend to look the same and it's extremely easy to get lost.  While you're main goal is to find the key and the entrance to the hidden temple, there are other items on the island which, while not absolutely required, the temple is practically impossible without them.  Remember, you can only carry six items at once!

Shows the direction you're facing in the temple (you know, like a compass)
Lights up the temple rooms.  There are actually two of these on the island.
Warns you of nearby traps in the temple
Unlocks the temple doors (required to get in)

There are also some items that can be used while exploring the island

Used to bribe the bridge guards so you can pass You're going to need several of these to pass all the bridges.
There are lots of mushrooms on the island.  Some will heal you and some will hurt you.  It's random, so only use them as a last resort
The amulet can be used while outside the temple to turn the player invisible.  While invisible they will be able to bypass the bridge guards without paying!  Also, because only your shoes are visible when invisible, your hit box for obstacles is much much smaller making them easier to avoid.  The effect will last until the player eats a healing mushroom.  Since there are two amulets on the island, the player can save the second one for the temple.

As mentioned earlier, there are several different hazards on the island that you'll have to contend with.  Unlike in part one, the hazards are mostly stationary so you can avoid them as long as you can see them.  The only exception to this rule are the snakes which travel up and down the paths in various rooms.  Thankfully they're pretty easy to bypass as the gaps between them tend to large (make sure you're in Normal Mode so you're moving faster).  Most of your damage is going to come from crossing creeks (I guess they take your stamina away while you wade through them), accidentally bumping into traps (they're always found on screens with top or bottom exits), and just plain walking around.  If you're walking around in Search Mode though, most of the hazards can be easily avoided.  Not all the obstacles you'll encounter are bad however.  Every now and then you'll find a pond, after testing it with your stick to see if it's 'bad water' (which will hurt you), you can walk over it and refill your water supplies.  Good water is far more uncommon than bad however, so always check first.

After you've found all the items and made it to the temple, you'll begin the final part of the game...

Part Three: The Secret Temple

A new area and another genre shift.  This section is entirely in a first person dungeon crawler view ala Wizardry.    Given how hard the first two sections of the game are, it's doubtful many players made it into the temple back in the day. 

Your goal int the last part of the game is to find the rocket and escape the island.  Wait... Rocket?  Yep, hidden in the temple maze is a rocket that's your ticket off this cursed island, you've just got to find it.  Hopefully you've picked up all the items in part two (compass, lamp, and amulet) because they'll make this section a little easier.  You don't have to worry about food or water in the temple nor do you have to worry about your life ticking down every second, you just have to worry about getting lost.  And you WILL get lost.

The temple is divided into eight levels.  On each level there is an item that must be found in order to pass through the barrier and to the next level (you'll know you've found the barrier when the level starts glowing).  In addition to the barrier there are a variety of traps such as pit traps which cause 10 points of damage, teleporters which will send you to a different spot on the level, and one way passages which will prevent you from backtracking.  To make matters worse, the location of the items is randomized each game (although the mazes stay the same).  While this section isn't as brutal as the first two, it's still not easy!  Oh and don't run into walls, doing that will cost you a life point.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this section is that the preview of the area ahead of you doesn't seem to be oriented correctly.  For example when facing right (east) you'll see an opening to north (your left) in the next square, but when you get there it turns out the opening is really to the south (your right).  This is because of the weird way the compass directions work in the maze.  Pushing left on the joystick caused your character to turn clockwise and pushing right causes them to turn counter clockwise.  So in the above example even though the preview makes it look like the opening is to the north/left  (counter clockwise) actually pushing left on the joystick when you get to that spot will make you turn clockwise (right/down) which is where the opening actually is.  This is very confusing and hard to get used to.

After navigating all eight levels you'll be treated to a nice rocket launch with your rank being displayed behind it.  After this you'll start hearing some odd sound effects and random notes.  It sounds like music should be playing here (which would make sense) but it isn't.  Perhaps in the rush to get the game out the door a bug crept into the code and wasn't noticed before copies were sent out?  It's doubtful many people managed to finish the game, and even those that did might not think anything was amiss.  It's unknown if this bug was fixed in the PAL version of the game.

Survival island is a brutally hard game.  Not only are the three stages extremely challenging but they're all rather long.  On the plus side though the three sections tell a cohesive story while being extremely different from each other so the game never wears out its welcome.  It's also interesting to note that all the sections require different sets of skills.  The first section tests your reflexes, the second tests your adventure skills, and the third level tests your mapping skills.  Survival Island a sharp looking game as well that wouldn't be out of place on any home computer of the time such as the Atari 400/800.  It's a shame that the industry was in a state of collapse around this time as games like Survival Island show what the 2600 could do if pushed to the limit.

Version Cart Text Description
6/15/83 Survival Island June 15th, 1983
Incomplete!  For Demo Only!
Copyright 1983 Starpath
WIP version
Survival Island 8/5/83 Starpath-83 067
Final Version


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