The Raiders of the Lost Ark video game for the Atari VCS was the first Indiana Jones video game released and first video game adaptation of a film.
You and Indiana Jones have a mission: Find the lost Ark of the Covenant. To find the Ark, you must travel to ancient Egypt and follow clues that lead to the Well of the Souls. Use Indy's bullwhip and your own wits to get out of danger–and watch out for snakes!
The game's instruction manual introduces the game's premise which is similar to the Raiders of the Lost Ark film: Expert on the Egyptian occult, archaeologist Professor Indiana Jones ("Indy") is hired by the government of his unnamed country to recover the Ark of the Covenant before their enemies do. In 980 BC, the relic was hidden in the Well of the Souls in the city of Tanis which was buried during a sandstorm that lasted over a year.
The game itself, however, has a looser interpretation of the events. Set in Cairo and the surrounding area, Indy searches for a medallion to learn the location of the Well of the Souls, the burial site of the Ark of the Covenant, hidden amongst the mesa field of the Valley of Poison. Once found, Jones claims the prize.
You start by utilizing the player two joystick to manuever Indiana Jones through the first two screens (the Entrance Room and the Marketplace) without being bitten by a snake. Below the Marketplace is the Mesa Field, which you cannot cross without one of two items. If you fall off the mesa, you briefly see the Mesa Side screen before landing in the Valley of Poison where you lose a life if you don't have and use a parachute. You then need to escape up to the Marketplace before the Tsetse flies paralyze you (temporarily) and the armed Thief touches you to steal any items you have (or shoots you). If you shoot him before he leaves the screen, you get back what he stole. There are items you can find in the first two rooms, such as Indy's whip, a gun (with six bullets) and a grenade. When a dot is below one of these weapons, press the player two joystick fire button to use them. You activate one of a maximum of six objects Indy carries by moving left or right on the player one joystick. Its fire button is used to get rid of the selected item, which usually returns to its starting location. Indy starts with one bag of coins which he can use by 'activating' it, stepping below the black or white sheik and pressing the player one joystick fire button to buy the parachute or flute, respectively. When the flute is activated a tune plays, protecting Indy from snakes and tsetse flies.
Your options are limited until your find the way in to the Temple of the Ancients. One method is to detonate the grenade in order to blast a hole in the wall leading to the Temple Entrance. However, this costs you points at the end of the game. The grenade goes off a few seconds after you activate it, giving you time to leave the screen and avoid losing a life. If you lose the grenade or use it in the wrong place you should either reset the game or look for the second method. Whichever method you use, you can usually leave the Temple Entrance through either exit. In the four new temple rooms, you can find several items, including inexhaustible bags of coins in the Treasure Room, but beware the snake! Other dangers include a spider, tsetse flies, temple guardian and dungeon. The Room of the Shining Light has a dungeon you are sent to if you touch something, including the guardian. Usually you can break out of the dungeon by whip or gun, but if you don't have either, a secret exit may appear at the right time. Using the secret exit causes barriers to go up in the Temple Entrance and you lose points at the end of the game. You then have to go through the Spider Room. You lose a life if the spider touches you, usually after shooting you. Timing is also important for two other situations, which is why one item is a timepiece; though if you're patient you don't need it to win the game. When the timepiece is active, press the player two fire button to show the current of eight time periods.
Once you've explored the temple, items can be used to navigate the Mesa Field without losing a life and to discover the Map Room. A dot circles Indy representing a grappling hook. Move the controller to widen or shorten its rotation. Press the player two fire button to jump. Succeed and you move to that Mesa; miss and you fall along the Mesa Side into the Valley of Poison.
The screen containing the Map Room is dangerous in that one misstep and you fall to the Valley of Poison. There's only a thin strip you can walk up and down. One object is needed to get Indy off the strip and into the correct position in the Map Room, then you switch to activate the other object, then you wait for the right time of day, when the sun shines down causing a blinking light to appear on the map of the mesas, showing where the Ark is buried. After that, you need to switch back to the first object to get back to the strip without falling. You should have encountered everything you need to go there to win, except the shovel which is on sale in the Black Market.
There are now two ways to get to the Black Market. One is by bribing a sheik in the Marketplace with something other than coins. The other involves leaving the screen of the Map Room and crossing through a Room of Thieves with a blanketing strip down the middle that hides your character from view. As the name implies, touching a thief causes you to lose your selected item. If you chose the bribery method, you are placed on the left side of the Raving Lunatic. Try to cross to visit the sheiks and he will kill you unless you pay tribute, by giving him an object on his side (instead of underneath like the sheiks). The shovel-selling sheik drives a hard bargain: a shovel costs two bags of coins. You can visit the Black Market and get the shovel before or after learning of the Ark's location from the Map Room. Once done at the Black Market, exit by a section of the screen to return you to the Marketplace.
If you lose a critical object like the shovel, you don't have to reset the game. You just have to backtrack to get coins and return to the Black Market and buy a replacement. Also, you can practice using the parachute off a Mesa Side before going for the Ark. As you fall, press the player two joystick button; you then have some ability to move left and right. When you land, press the player one joystick fire button to get rid of the parachute so you can move. If you parachute inside a Room of Thieves (with dirt pile) you can select the shovel, then move across the dirt pile, pressing the player two joystick fire button to remove dirt. If you find the exit or dig up the pile and the Ark isn't there, you are thrown out of the room to the Mesa Side, falling to the Valley of Poison. (It's possible to have two parachutes at the same time.)
At the end of the game you are given a score based on your progress in the form of Indy on a pedestal inside the Well of the Souls. When you dig up the Ark of the Covenant, you win the game and the Ark is above Indy's figure. Succeeding without losing a life rewards you with 18 and a half circles, or 74 Adventure Points. You can get a higher score upon winning if you successfully find the hidden Yar (a creature from the designer's previous game, Yars' Revenge) – which may be encountered near the mesa shaped like a flying saucer – that unlocks the bonus ending.
- Black Sheik
- Indiana Jones
- Thieves without guns
- Raving Lunatic
- Sheik Selling Bullets
- Sheik Selling Shovel
- White Sheik
- Ark of the Covenant
Vehicles and vessels
- Flying saucer (Mesa)
Behind the scenes
Raiders of the Lost Ark was designed by Howard Scott Warshaw, his second game after Yars' Revenge. An adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial would follow, in which he included the Indiana Jones sprite as an easter egg.
The packaging, manual, and advertising artwork was painted by Atari Art Director James Kelly.