Feb 22, 2023

A Spaceship Shooter In Your Mouth

Plaque Attack
Atari 2600 (1983)
A unique and addictive shooting game was released by Activision 40 years ago.  Plaque Attack was designed by Steve Cartwright, who would go on to develop several other very fun games that I played on the Atari 2600, including Megamania, Frostbite, and Seaquest.

left: New York Daily News  (January 17, 1983)
right: Sun Sentinel - Fort Lauderdale, FL  (February 1, 1983)

As always, it's difficult to pin down the exact release date of games from this era.  Some online sources have it listed as early as February 22nd, 1983, while others have documented its release to late April or early May alongside Keystone Kapers and Dolphin.  The earliest mention of the game that I could find was in a blurb published in the New York Daily News on January 17th, 1983, which leads me to believe that the February 22nd date might be closer to being correct than the others. 

Miami Herald  (September 24, 1983)

Plaque Attack plays very much like a space shooter, with your character and the enemy characters flying around in an open space.  However, there are two main differences between this and a traditional space shooter.  The first and most obvious is the fact that the graphics have set the game inside of a mouth with toothpaste and food taking the place of spaceships.  The second difference is that the enemy "ships" (food) don't attempt to shoot your character, and they can't kill you by touching you.

Your character is a small tube of toothpaste in a large mouth that is being invaded by food.  The goal is to shoot the food before they can attach themselves to the teeth and destroy them, but you have a limited number of shots per level.  This is represented by the fact that your tube of toothpaste gets smaller every time you shoot, so you have to make your shots count.  As you progress through the game, different food items fly in faster and travel in more erratic patterns.  Some of them have shapes which make them very challenging to hit, like candy canes.  Like most of the games of this era, there is no end to the game, which means that the goal is to get as high of a score as you can before you lose all of your teeth.

If you were able to score over 35,000 points, you could take a photo of the screen and send it in to Activision to receive a free No Plaque Pack patch as a prize to celebrate your accomplishment.

The Morning Call - Allentown, PA  (August 7, 1983)

The game was promoted throughout the summer of 1983 in a cross-branded campaign with Aqua-fresh.  If you purchased Plaque Attack and a tube of Aqua-fresh toothpaste, you could send in the proof of purchase from the box of each product along with the sales receipt for the game to receive a $3 rebate.

Plaque Attack has been re-released as a part of several Activision retro compilations.  The first one that I ever remember seeing was Activision's Atari 2600 Action Pack: Volume 2 for Windows 95.  Just a few years later, it was one of the 30 games in the 1998 release of what I'm assuming is the longest title of any game released on Playstation: A Collection Of Activision Classic Games For The Atari 2600.  It was also one of the games in the 2002 release of a similar game with a much catchier title: Activision Anthology.  This was released on the Playstation 2, PSP and Game Boy Advance consoles, as well as on CD Rom for Windows XP and Macintosh.

It doesn't seem like Plaque Attack has received too much attention in recent years even from the retro gaming community, but it's a game that I had a lot of fun playing when I was growing up.  If you want to give it a shot, you can play it for free on Archive.org.  Click the link, then click the screen to load the game.  Once it's loaded, press 2 on your keyboard to start the game.  You can move the tube of toothpaste with your arrow keys and fire with the control key.  I'm sure there are ways to play it with a controller or on your mobile phone, but I'm the wrong guy to ask about how you would do that.