1982 was a banner year for arcades. One of the games that helped make the year so special was Joust, a simultaneous two-player game from Williams, the company that's now known as Midway. The game is now available for download from Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service, and the classic two-player action is playable over Xbox Live.
In Joust, you control a flying ostrich that has a knight armed with a lance riding on it. Your control is limited to left and right movement and a flap button, which you must hit repeatedly to stay aloft. Your jouster isn't the only thing on the level, though. Similar warriors riding buzzards materialize into each wave, and you must take them on by jousting with them. When you collide, the jouster with the higher elevation comes out victorious, while the other is destroyed. When you kill a buzzard, an egg pops out and usually lands on one of the game's several platforms. If left to its own devices, the egg will eventually hatch a new enemy rider, and a buzzard will fly up, pick up the rider, and resume combat. So it's in your best interest to collect eggs before they become trouble. Finally, if you take too long to complete a level, pterodactyls appear and start roaming the level. These flying dinosaurs can't be beat in the conventional Joust manner, making them foes you'll want to stay away from, though the game gives you achievement points the first time you do finally take one out.
As an emulated version of an arcade game that's more than two decades old, Joust still looks reasonably sharp. That's because the developers have redone the graphics, adding a background and generally redrawing all of the sprites. But purists shouldn't worry, because the game also lets you switch back to the original graphics any time from the pause menu. The crisp sound effects in Joust were always one of the game's high points, and they've all been faithfully duplicated here.
The game's options menu has a collection of difficulty and other settings, including one that lets you re-enable the AI bug that made pterodactyls easier to beat than originally intended. That bug was fixed in later revisions of the Joust arcade hardware, but here you can have it both ways. For the purposes of online scoreboard purity, only games played with the default difficulty settings are recorded.
In addition to online scoreboards, you can play two-player games over Xbox Live. There aren't a ton of people playing the game online, but when you find a game, it seems to work just as well as it would if the person were sitting right next to you. There are versus and cooperative online matches. Versus awards a win to the player who survives the longest, turning some matches into quick bloodbaths. It's an exciting and cool way to play an old favorite.
With its devoted faithfulness to the original and the new twist of online versus play, this might just be the home version of Joust that players have been waiting for since 1982. If you're a fan, you won't be disappointed.