In the late 1970s and early 1980s, video games were gaining in popularity. 20th Century Fox joined in on the action by creating a division called Fox Video Games. The idea was to create games for popular platforms using Fox’s intellectual property. At the time, many studios would license their IP to other video game studios, but Fox opted to do it themselves. They did release several games including Flash Gordon, Megaforce, and Alien. In 1983, they released a game for M*A*S*H. The game was actually a collection of eight games on a single cartridge. Fox released M*A*S*H for several popular early 1980s consoles including Atari, Commodore VIC-20, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, Intellivision, and ColecoVision. Fox studios wouldn’t last long after the video game industry crash of 1983, but thankfully this game was released. Let’s take a look!
In the collection, I have versions of the game for two consoles: Atari and Texas Instruments. I do not have either console, but I did find an Atari emulator online that allowed me to play the games. We’ll get to gameplay in a second, but let’s take a look at what you got with the cartridge. I do not have the original boxes for either game, but I do have the instruction manuals. By far the best manual is for Atari. It is in full color, has screenshots from the game, detailed descriptions of each game, and some helpful hints at gameplay. The Texas Instruments manual is much more plain and only provided basic gameplay instructions.
Strangely, the character names are slightly different between the two versions. On Atari, you play as Hawkeye and battle his nemesis, Frank Burns. The Texas Instruments manual doesn’t mention names, but it shows that the score on the left side of the screen is for Hawkeye and the score on the right is for Trapper. So is Player 2 Trapper in the Texas Instruments game instead of Frank? The other major difference between the two is how you play the game itself. Atari had joysticks while the Texas Instrument system had a keyboard. The controls were very different for each as a result. Of course, playing an Atari emulator online, you have to rely on keys as well, so that does make gameplay far more challenging.
As I mentioned, Fox advertise that there are eight games on the cartridges. In reality, there are only four different games, but two versions of each: a single player mode (where the player plays against the computer) and multiple player mode (where two players can play at once). I am going to provide a synopsis of each game using information from the Atari version of the game and Atari manual.
Games 1 and 2 are collectively called “Welcome to Korea.” In this game, you play as Hawkeye and you are required to rescue more men than your opponent, Frank Burns (played by the computer). You use the joystick controller to move the helicopter between the trees to rescue the wounded. Once you have five wounded on board, you must return to your MASH base to deliver the wounded. Every time you return to the base, the value of each man increases by 2 points. The North Korean tank at the bottom of the screen launches projectiles and tries to shoot down your helicopter. Dodge the projectiles. The plane at the top of the screen really doesn’t serve any purpose in the game, but if it is hit by a projectile from the tank, Klinger will drive out with an ambulance to the wreckage. The round is over after a total of 30 men are rescued.
There is a bonus round in this game where you try to remove as much shrapnel from a wounded soldier as you can in 15 seconds. Frank does not get to participate in the bonus round.
Game 2 is identical to Game 1 except that Frank Burns is not played by the computer. A second player can join the game so you can race a friend to rescue as many wounded as possible. The bonus round is still part of this level, but each player gets 15 seconds to remove as much shrapnel from the wounded soldier as possible.
Games 3 and 4 are collectively titled “Colonel Potter.” In game 3, you are in a helicopter and you must race against Frank Burns (played by the computer) to rescue as many of Col. Potter’s skydiving medics as you can. Each man rescued is worth points, and more points are awarded the closer to the ground the helicopter gets. The North Korean tank at the bottom of the screen will launch projectiles at the helicopter with the most points.
This game also has a bonus round, and it is identical to the bonus round in Game 1.
Game 4 is identical to Game 3 except that Frank Burns is not played by the computer. A second player can join the game so you can race a friend to rescue as many of the skydiving medics as possible. The bonus round here functions the same as Game 2.
Games 5 and 6 are collectively called “Cease Fire.” Gameplay in this game is identical to Game 1, except that this is after the ceasefire so the North Korean tank is no longer firing at you. To compensate for this, the helicopter carries fewer wounded at a time before you have to return to the MASH unit.
Game 6 is identical to Game 5 except that your opponent is a second player using the second Atari joystick.
Games 7 and 8 are collectively titled “O.R.” This game is similar the bonus rounds in the other games. In Game 7, the player competes against Frank Burns (the computer) to remove bits of shrapnel from a wounded soldier using the extractor. The point value of each pieces of shrapnel varies depending upon the difficulty of the extraction. The players and computer take turns removing shrapnel. If the piece of shrapnel touches the patient, points are lost and the player’s turn ends.
Game 8 is similar to Game 7 except that two players take turns removing as much shrapnel as they can from a wounded soldier in 15 seconds. When one player’s turn ends, the next player takes their turn. If one player touches their soldier with shrapnel, then the other player receives points.
Reception and Conclusion
This game was released following the conclusion of the series in 1983. We have seen many products 20th Century Fox Television released in 1983 to capitalize on the success of the series. The video game was reviewed at the time by several publications, and the results were mixed. While many reviewers said that gameplay was fun and well done, they questioned the humanity of the game. M*A*S*H always put humanity first in the series, and that is very hard to do in a video game on an 8-bit screen. And I agree with these reviews. Racing against someone to rescue more wounded than your opponent can feel as though the Korean War is being trivialized. The surgeons on M*A*S*H may not have always gotten along, but they always did what right for the patient. It was a nice try by Fox, but it didn’t do well. In fact, by the end of the run of production for the game, it was heavily discounted.
Overall, these cartridges are very important to the story of M*A*S*H as they were officially licensed by Fox and are a relic of the early 1980s and early video gaming. It was interesting playing the game on the emulator as it was a struggle at first. I do agree with the reviews of it lacking the humanity of the series. Personally, I think a Jeep game where the player had to maneuver between the 8063rd and 4077th to deliver a wounded soldier would have been fun, but I am a fan of racing games! The Atari cartridges come up for sale on eBay fairly frequently, and they are a worthy addition to a M*A*S*H collection.
Fleming, Jeffrey. “Video Games’ First Space Opera: Exploring Atari’s Star Raiders.” Game Developer.
Honden, Lisa. “M*A*S*H.” Electronic Games, May 1984.
Snider, Tim. “M*A*S*H.” Classic Gamer Magazine, March 2000.
Stanton, Jeffrey, Robert P. Wells, Sandra Rochowansky, and Michael Mellin. Addison Wesley Book Of Atari Software 1984. The Book Company, 1984.