Chances are good that unless you’re a serious Atari fanatic, or were raised by carnies, you’ve
never played Zimag’s Dishaster. It may be that those of you who are too young to remember President Reagan might be
wholly unfamiliar with the basic premise of this game--spinning plates atop tall skinny sticks. Yes,
amazing as it seems, this sort of activity actually passed for entertainment in the “Old Days” when
I was still riding my dinosaur to school, uphill through three feet of snow. Now, through the
magic of television and microprocessors, you’re able to recreate this thrilling spectacle in the
comfort of your very own living room, without risking a single place setting of Mom’s prized
Interestingly for the time, your character is female. I’m guessing job opportunities for 5 year-old
girls are slim when you’re not attractive enough to be a Campbell’s Soup kid, but not quite ugly
enough to be a Garbage Pail Kid. She also appears to be either severely hyperactive or
fully in the throes of St Vitus’ Dance; even when she’s just standing there one leg stamps
viciously at the ground, while one arm waves in the air and the other is apparently trying to start a
particularly stubborn phantom chainsaw. What’s a girl to do? Well hell, you can always go down
to the circus and spin plates! As the game begins, plates start to appear at the tops of the poles.
When a plate begins wobbling you must run over to it and set it back spinning again. If a plate
falls before you can get it spinning again, you still have a chance of catching the plummeting
crockery before it hits the ground. The number of plates you need to worry about is determined
by which game variation you’re playing; 8 on the easiest level, 12 on the hardest. Get into a
groove and get your rhythm going, ‘cause you’re going to be here for awhile. There are no stages
to clear, no governing time limit. The game only ends when all your plates are laying in shards at
your feet. It’s my firm belief that any gamer of moderate ability should be able to play indefinitely
on the first two skill levels; things get a bit hairier after that.
Graphically, Dishaster is a mixed bag. While the effect of the wobbling plates is done quite
effectively considering the 2600’s limitations, the rest of the visuals are mediocre at best. The
unchanging background scene consists of an ill maroon screen surmounted by four circus tents.
Her seizure-like behavior aside, the girl isn’t badly drawn. The falling plates are a real mystery
though. They’re merely large rectangles, so blocky a Lego engineer would cringe. The music is a
pleasant enough little tune, but it merely loops over and over, punctuated only by an anemic
“ding” if a plate happens to hit the floor. On the harder difficulties, the music plays at a faster pace
to match the action.
While many of my favorite Atari games are repetitive, single screen affairs (Missile Command,
Centipede, Asteroids, etc), this game just bored me. The idea just seems so
passive-aggressive--you’re not actually trying to win, you’re just trying not to lose. Add to this
the boring music and generally bland overall presentation and you’re left with a game that’s a bit
less exciting than playing “guess which number I’m thinking of.” It’s astounding to me that so
obscure a concept came so early in the life of video games--did the 2600 even have a ninja
game at this point? In a single word: dishappointing. I give it a 4 out of 10.