Six enduring questions regarding “Save Mary” for the Atari 2600

Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of time with Garrett figuring out the intricate nature of Save Mary for the Atari. While it was an adventure in itself trying to figure out what was going on, after a bit of time we seemed to get the hang of it.

Wikipedia thoughtfully wrote out the storyline for this odd game in just a few sentences:

Save Mary is an Atari 2600 action game that revolves around creating platforms to save Mary, the damsel in distress. The character is a humble construction worker who must pick up crates to use as platforms to get Mary to climb up, eventually leading to the top of the valley. The villain of the story is a mustachioed fiend who keeps Mary at the bottom of the valley for his own perverse pleasure.


Just one small problem: there was no villain.

Atari games are made to really draw on your imagination. Without it, we make very little sense of what is going on. But in the case of this game, the exact opposite happens: we know exactly where we are and what is taking place before our eyes… Which allows us to ask some questions about our environment, and what really is happening on the screen.

(Keep reading after the break)

There are a few questions that come to mind immediately when playing this game, as well as a few that linger well after you finish.

Who really is the villain here?

While the game’s description mentions the deeds of a “mustachioed fiend”, we never get the opportunity to prove his existence. The whole reason we played this game until its anti-climactic conclusion was to SEE this fiend. But alas, he did not exist.

To fill in the blanks, I’d like to present a theory: Mary is one of the princesses from Mario Brothers, and Wario is the fiend. At least in terms of mental imagery, the problem is solved.

Why not just use a wooden crate?

Metal crates that sink are one way to save Mary, as she can jump higher and higher to safety… But why wouldn’t ANYONE on the worksite consider the possibility of using a wooden crate as a makeshift boat? Someone skipped out on engineering class that day.

Oh, and not only that, the metal crates are filled with explosives.

Why can’t the crates stop the water from flowing in?

We know exactly where the water is seeping up from the ground, which brings us to question why the crates couldn’t just be used to stop the flow of water. Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “If you did this, or had a wooden boat, it would ruin the game!” My response: why create the game in the first place? This is such an odd situation to find yourself in, that an entire video game being created using this plot line is admirable at best. Which leads me into the next question…

Who approved this as a video game plot?

Atari games were known to be imaginative, using only a few pixels to tell whatever stories possible. From Haunted House to Adventure, the story was there because of some thought out background. We can see ourselves looking for items in a haunted house, defending castles from invaders, and fighting monsters in space… but who ever imagined themselves saving a person who is drowning in a quarry, using a crane and metal crates?

Sitting in the boardroom during a brainstorming exercise, someone must have said aloud “what if we had a workplace accident, and it was your job to keep us from getting sued!” Somehow, this resulted from that.

To be fair, the technology was very limited at the time, so any idea (minus E.T.) was a good idea.

What exactly did the power-ups do?

As far as we could decipher, the construction workers aiding the crane operator had a sense of what was going on. One of them had the right idea throwing scuba gear out to help her… but other than that, everything else was next to useless. I’m pretty sure a dodgeball and some cardboard numbers would do nothing to help a drowning lady.

Furthermore, what were the point of any of them if they disappeared after you dropped them to her? No extra points, time, or crates. We learned to ignore them.

How did the crane dig such a deep hole, if it can only reach a few feet into it?

I’m not really going to mess with game mechanics on this one. This is more just a personal complaint about the crane itself.

If you swing a crate by Mary, you knock her in the water. Why then, could she have not just climbed up the crate? Is that so hard? Apparently.

If I were to write the description for this game, it would have been much different. This is more along the lines of what really appears to be happening:

While teasing the men at a local quarry, Mary falls into a freshly dug hole. Thinking it would be funny, the other construction workers decide to blast away the edges of the hole to trap her in it. Little do they know, an underwater reservoir lies just underneath the blasted away rock. The pressure erupts, filling the hole with water. To save her, the construction workers push metal crates into the pit, hoping she’d jump on them. One guy, who can actually think, uses the crane above the hole to hoist them down. Whether or not she is saved depends entirely upon your skills at Tetris, and if you get lucky enough to not drop crates on her overreacting head.

In all honesty, the game is fun. Trying to stack crates high enough to save a panicking, pixelated girl is enough substance to outclass many Atari games.

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