Tron Deadly Discs

A Classic from the 4-Bit Era

Platform: Atari 2600, Mattel Intellivision

Release date: 1982

Published by: Mattel

Developed by: Mattel


The summer season is notoriously slow for game releases and due to this fact, I have not seen or bought a game worthy of review. That being said, I’d like to take the reader of The Game Grid on a trip down memory lane, and re-review one of the classics of the 4-bit era.

Tron Deadly Discs was one of the three Tron-themed games that Mattel Electronics developed for the Intellivision, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the 1982 movie. As with most Intellivision and Atari 2600 games, the developers did a wonderful job of overcoming the inherent limitations of the graphics and sound of the Intellivision system. By focusing on gameplay and control, they managed to develop an extremely fun, if somewhat repetitive game. The characters in the game were the generic stick figure animations used in games of the period.

The idea centers on the identity discs that Tron himself and certain other programs in the movie kept on their backs and used as weapons. In the movie, the discs were thrown like Frisbees and traveled in a way that implied they were remotely controlled by their user, the initial throwing doing little more than providing momentum and general direction. In fact, the discs would travel in a straight line and were not controllable in flight, except that they would follow the player to automatically return to the character after it was thrown.

The Intellivision controller looked very different from any other video game controller designed before or since, which some people liked and other people found aggravating. It was a tall rectangle with a control disc at the bottom and a 12-key pad at the top, marked like a telephone keypad. The control disc operated like a joystick except flat, designed to be operated with the thumb. The controller was designed so plastic inserts could be slid over the keypad to label the controls for each individual game. There were also four side buttons, two on each side of the controller. Tron only used the keypad numbers 1-9 and the control disc.

The control disc was used to run around the screen, but the real fun was using the keypad to throw the disc. Using the keys 1-9 (except 5) would throw the disc in a straight line in that direction for example, 1, being at the top left, would throw the disc diagonally up and to the left. When the disc reached the edge of the screen or another solid object, or if the player pushed another keypad button, it would return to the player, following the character wherever it would run. Additionally, the player could press the 5 key to crouch into a defensive position, using the control disc to block in any specific direction except for directly up and down.

Most enemy soldiers had discs just like the player, and more advanced enemies were more accurate with them. The first enemies could be killed, or “de-rezzed” with one hit, and later enemies took two or three hits. Enemies would attack in groups of three, entering the arena from any of three doors on each of the four arena walls, and attack the player. Enemies or the player hit with a lethal blow would de-resolution, or de-rezz, and the killing disc would pass through them.

If the player threw his disc at the door while it was open, or ran directly into it, the door would jam and stay open. If the player could jam open two doors on opposite sides of the screen, the character could cross the screen using them, as in Pac-Man. The enemy AI never used the doors except to enter the arena. Jammed doors could only be closed by the Recognizer. The Recognizer was the large, blocky vehicle seen in the movie shaped a bit like a capital Greek Î . In between waves of enemies, the Recognizer would slowly enter the arena from the North and stop in the center. Then a stun beam would slowly follow the player around the arena, and if caught the player wouldn’t be able to move until the Recognizer finished its work. The Recognizer could only be destroyed by throwing the disc at its “eye.”

Like many games from the early ’80s, Tron Deadly Discs did not have a goal or an ending. Players would play for points, trying to see how far they could advance in the game. The levels got progressively harder as the enemies got more advanced, throwing discs more accurately, armed with stronger discs, and finally being able to kill the player with a single touch, as well as taking more hits to kill. The player meanwhile had the same abilities throughout the game, running no faster and getting no additional armor or weaponry. It was also terribly addicting with excellent replay value. No matter how good you got, making it to a higher level brought a bigger challenge.

My say:

I’m still out on this one!


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