Nick DeMarco

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Though simple, ‘Keystone Kapers’ is criminally addictive on Atari 2600

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Though simple, ‘Keystone Kapers’ is criminally addictive on Atari 2600
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To those who didn’t grow up with the Atari 2600, it can be easy to dismiss a large part of the library as a complete joke. The idea that many of these games not only entertained us but helped develop our love of video games seems like something a lover of “Fortnite” could not understand, for example, but it is undeniably true.

Yes, Atari 2600 games are basic, very basic indeed, but they are also the basis for many developers that were to come, once children enjoying games like today’s topic – “Keystone Kapers!”

“Keystone Kapers” (Atari 2600, 1983)


Perhaps few other games on the Atari 2600 exemplify the need for gamers to have used their imaginations than this game because, other than limited sound effects, there are no songs and no real soundtrack to this game – just the sound of your character jumping and running on his way to deliver justice to the criminal scurrying around.

Yes, you do get little blips for getting bonus items or getting hit by a randomly bouncing ball, but I do feel that even a little five-second song would have been nice to introduce the game.


Again, highly simplistic in nature, “Keystone Kapers” is nothing more than escalators, elevators, and dodging bouncing balls on your way to catch the criminal. In some ways, the mini map that shows you where the criminal is, and the fact that this is a game not merely contained to one screen (despite the whole level looking exactly the same), is a bit of a feat, but your character and the only real enemy in the game (unless you count the random bouncing ball, I guess) never change.

There are bonus items from time to time, but you’re looking at the same level design each and every time, which admittedly can become quite boring to see after a while.


Despite the sound and graphic limitations, “Keystone Kapers” continues to be a popular title for gamers on the Atari 2600 because, like all good games on the console, it is deceivingly addictive. You will say that you’ve played your last go-through, but you’re still plugging away 10, 15, 30 minutes later because not every play of it is the same.

Yes, the objective is the same each and every time, but how you get there – and how you achieve it – isn’t usually how you’ve mapped it out in your head beforehand, and that unpredictable nature adds to the overall fun of this game.


“Keystone Kapers” isn’t flashy, and it doesn’t even sound like anything, but what keeps it selling at my shop whenever someone is starting an Atari 2600 collection is the fact that it is still consistently fun to play. At the end of the day, great graphics can be breathtaking, and a solid soundtrack adds to the enjoyment of a game, but if it bare bones sucks, what difference does any of that make? As with all great Atari 2600 games, “Keystone Kapers” does more with less, and it does it well.

Next week, we sit down and play one of the games synonymous with the Atari 2600 – the legendary “Pitfall!”

Until then, be sure to take some time in your day to game on!

Tune in to NEPA Scene’s gaming column, Turn to Channel 3, every Thursday for new perspectives on retro gaming as well as fresh twists on the classics from the owner of Nick D’s Video Game Vault in Mayfield. All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.