Publisher: Atari (1980)
I've never met a soul who has even admitted to playing this game, much less enjoying it. How Atari's quality control team let 3D Tic-Tac-Toe out the door is beyond me. The game is played like normal Tic-Tac-Toe, but on four stacked 4x4 boards. It's no Tetris - that's for sure! The minimal graphics are lousy, and calling this "3D" is a bit of a stretch. The basic strategy involves securing as many of the 16 "strong" squares as you can. But once the board has enough X's and O's, the game becomes a real headache. The computer offers eight skill levels, but at the higher levels the CPU can take as long as 20 minutes
to make its move! Personally, I don't think this game is worth investing that kind of time into. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe was one of the first Atari games to be discontinued by the company, and that should hardly come as a surprise. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Simon Quernhorst (2006)
I'm not crazy about its awkward title, but I must admit that A-VCS-Tec Challenge has some of the best graphics and audio you'll experience on your 2600. Apparently this is a partial conversion of an old Commodore 64 title called Aztec Challenge. In the first of its two alternating stages, you run toward a pyramid while ducking under and jumping over spears thrown from the sides. The illusion of movement is impressive, with scaling "blocks" on the side of the road and a pyramid that gradually looms larger as you approach. You view the action from behind your character, and not only is he rendered in large, multi-colored sprites, but he really does appear to be hauling ass! He's even got a realistic shadow
for goodness sake! The second stage is less impressive, as your warrior scales the pyramid while sidestepping boulders that rain down. Unfortunately, once you get to the top, there's no payoff. Would it have been too much to ask to include a bloody sacrificial scene? The gameplay is very simplistic, and there's only one paltry difficulty level. The challenge doesn't truly kick in until waves 4 or 5. I also found the controls in the boulder stage to be a bit "sticky" at times. One thing that slightly elevates A-Tec's tepid gameplay is its amazing
soundtrack. Composed by Paul Slocum, this complex symphony of layered beats and melodies perfectly complements the game's sense of urgency. Not only does the music totally rock, but it seems to "evolve" with each wave. A-VCS-Tec Challenge may come up short in terms of gameplay, but it certainly scores points for its technical prowess. You'll find this game at Atari Age
. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 4410
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Adventure's amazingly rich gameplay transcends its primitive sound and graphics, creating an experience brimming with strategy, action, and suspense. Your mission is to return a chalice to a gold castle, and your character is a simple square you move around contiguous screens. The screens can be wide open or maze-like, and in "dark" areas only the immediate area around you is visible. The world of Adventure features three castles (gold, white, and black), which contain even more areas. The castles look superb, and even have working gates that can lock objects (or creatures) in or out. Objects scattered about this virtual world include a magnet, bridge, sword, and three castle keys. Your quest is fraught with peril in the form of three dragons: the slow yellow Yorgle, the nastier green Grundle, and the vicious red Rhindle. Granted, these creatures aren't much to look at - they look more like zombie ducks than dragons. You have to remember that Adventure was made when the programmers
did their own artwork! The dragons often guard items, but won't hesitate to chase you around. I love how, after a dragon eats you, you appear in its hollow belly, where you can continue to struggle in vain. Add in an item-swapping bat that continuously redistributes items, and you have a very dynamic and unpredictable world. Variation #3, which randomizes the items, is a unique experience each time you play. If there was ever a good example of a sum being greater than its parts, it's Adventure. This was also the very first video game to feature an "Easter Egg" (hidden secret). © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3AA
Publisher: Atari Age (2002)
This hack of Atari's classic Adventure
features redrawn graphics and an entirely new maze layout. Objects like the bridge and chalice certainly look better, but the sword looks more like a big boat anchor. The dragons are larger and more detailed than those "ducks" in the original game, but they still don't look quite right
to me. Doesn't anybody know how to draw a friggin' dragon?! At least the new screen layout is refreshing, rekindling the thrill of discovery I felt the first time I played the original game. The simple gameplay is timeless fun, and running from dragons is even more exciting when you don't know where the heck you're going. The label art is also quite good. I highly recommend this to fans of the original game. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Adventures of Tron
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
This platform jumper doesn't look so bad, but its gameplay is substandard at best. Based on the cheesy Disney flick, you control a man named Tron on a screen with four floors connected by elevators and a shaft running down the center. Your goal is to gather flying "bits" while eluding enemies that emerge from the sides, including missile-firing tanks. The graphics are clean and flicker-free, and Tron is nicely rendered in three colors. Unfortunately, the stages all look the same except for their different color schemes. Adventures of Tron is challenging enough, but it doesn't rate highly in terms of fun. The collision detection is lousy, and it's difficult for Tron to leap over the larger enemies. Your remaining lives are not indicated on the screen, and of the two difficulty levels, level "B" is too slow and "A" is ridiculously hard. In the final analysis, Adventures of Tron gets lost in the noise with so many similar 2600 titles. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 6800
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
This is a highly underrated first-person jet fighter. Unlike so many "simulator" titles that get bogged down with complicated control schemes and busy control panels, Air Raiders is simple to play and fun. You begin the game looking over a runway. Pressing the fire button accelerates, and once you gain enough speed, you pull back to ascend. You'll engage enemy fighters almost immediately. Up to six enemy planes can appear on the screen at a time (!), and it's satisfying to line them up in your crosshairs and blast away with your rapid-fire machine gun. The tight controls make it a breeze to ascend, descend, or bank. Enemy planes won't fire back, but you do have to contend with "flak" from ground fire. This flak varies depending on your position and altitude, and it seems to have a random element. Absorbing too much flak will trigger a sudden drop in altitude, which can potentially crash your plane. To avoid having your game end abruptly, you'll want to keep an eye on that altitude gauge. Other gauges indicate fuel and ammo, which can be replenished by landing. Landing simply involves reducing your altitude to zero and pushing up on the joystick when the landing strip appears. It's easy enough to execute and adds some variety to the gameplay. Your score is measured by the number of planes shot down, and there are two difficulty levels available. Air Raiders delivers fast, exciting dogfighting action, and I regard it as a hidden gem in the 2600 library. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 14
Publisher: Atari (1977)
The VGC is one critic who's not afraid to admit when he's wrong and make proper restitution. I missed the boat on this one the first time around. It may not be much to look at, but Air-Sea Battle is an unadulterated head-to-head shooting game. Is some ways, it's only as good as the people at the controls. Playing it casually against a friend (or the ultra-lame CPU) just isn't going to cut it. It's only properly played between two enraged, testosterone-laden males willing to put everything on the line! As the trash talk begins to flow, Air-Sea Battle really comes into its own. On the surface there's just a bunch of blocky ships, planes, and cannons. I really do like that blue gradient skyline however. The early variations are best, as two cannons take aim at aircraft moving across the sky. It's especially satisfying to strike a plane an instant before your opponent can - causing his missile to fly harmlessly through the explosion. Granted, calling these effects "explosions" is being a little loose with the language. The game moves at a slow, deliberate pace, but that just emphasizes the importance of proper aiming and timing. Each battle lasts 2 minutes and 16 seconds, and when the scores start blinking in those last 16 seconds, it's can get pretty intense. The 27 variations incorporate moving cannons, guided missiles, and even low-flying balloons to complicate matters. I'll pass on the later variations where you control a boat or plane, because the speed control is just terrible. But for pure head-to-head target shooting action, give Air-Sea Battle a try. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 6B
Our high score: 63
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
In Airlock you must escape from a flooding submarine. It's not a bad premise, but the execution stinks in a big way. In fact, this game could be the poster child for the 1983 video game crash - it resembles an unfinished 1979 high school programming assignment. Let's start with the putrid graphics. There are five blocky platforms in what appears to be the most generic platform game ever
. Your character is a static stick figure who must jump over barriers while grabbing rectangular "keys". Your main sources of danger are the runaway torpedoes that move from side to side across each floor. Inexplicably, these "torpedoes" are shaped like your man from the waist up. Worse yet, instead of water gradually filling the lower areas, entire floors simply turn blue at predetermined time intervals. Thanks to the awful controls, you'll find yourself constantly entangled in the barriers. The sound effects are practically non-existent, and there's no score either - you either escape or you don't. Airlock barely qualifies as a game. Did Data Age really think the fancy title screen would compensate for the appalling gameplay? © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3B
Publisher: Independent (1998)
This French-made game from 1998 certainly lives up to its name - it is definitely a challenge. Alfred Challenge boasts four unique screens composed of platforms and ladders, but just clearing the first one is a monumental achievement! Assuming control of an egg-shaped hero, your objective is to collect keys while avoiding monsters. When you reach a key, the next one appears in another area of the screen. Once you snag them all, an exit appears. Reaching each key is a difficult task that requires perfect timing and cat-like reflexes. The biggest problem with Alfred Challenge, besides its excessive difficulty, is the control around ladders. You can't move up or down a ladder unless you are lined up perfectly with it, and that's tough to do with a monster on your tail! Another issue is how upon dying, you lose the keys you've collected and have to restart the screen from the very beginning. For those who relish a challenge - look no further, but casual gamers may find Alfred Challenge more than a little frustrating. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2AB
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1982)
I have to confess I was pretty disappointed to discover that Alien is basically another Pac-Man clone. Fortunately, it's a good one, with challenging gameplay and clean, smooth visuals. Actress Sigourney Weaver is our bald-headed heroine (okay, she wasn't bald in the first movie, but work with me here) who must crunch alien "eggs" (dots) while keeping roaming aliens at bay with her flamethrower. The blue maze isn't much different than Pac-Man, except aliens enter from the bottom and the "power pills" appear one at a time in random areas. There's a tunnel on each side, and it's cool how creatures dissolve as they enter them and reconstitute on the other side. Pressing the fire button allows Sigourney to unleash her flamethrower, which usually (but not always) turns back approaching aliens. The aliens themselves look nothing like those in the movie, but instead resemble chattering teeth. Occasionally bonus items appear in the center of the screen, and these are worth big points. Upon clearing each maze, you play a Freeway-like bonus screen where you move straight up the middle while avoiding aliens converging from the sides. Does Alien manage to transcend its primitive graphics and derivative gameplay? I think so. Does it manage to convey any semblance of the dark atmosphere and nail-biting suspense of the film? Uhh, no. But it's a still a heck of a lot of fun, and if you have a nice arcade-style joystick, Alien will put it to good use. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2AB
Our high score: 19,752
Publisher: Ebivision (2001)
Ebivision's previous two games (Merlin's Walls and Pesco) were pretty mediocre, but I'm happy to report that Ebivision is back on track with Allia Quest. I suggest you grab your favorite joystick and prepare yourself for some good, old-fashioned shooting action (like mom used to make). A simple shooter at heart, Allia adds its own unique twist to the Megamania-style of gameplay. Your ship is situated at the bottom of the screen, and it never actually moves. Instead, approaching targets shift in response to pushing the joystick left or right. It takes some getting used to, but works quite well. The surprisingly large targets are an eclectic mix of colorful shapes, and your rapid-fire cannon disintegrates them nicely. The action is simplistic but addictive and fun. I advanced a bit further each time I played, eagerly anticipating what the next wave had in store. Understated, deep tones provide some interesting background noise. Allia Quest is a pleasant surprise, and a perfect fix for classic gamers looking for something fresh. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,700
Publisher: Fox (1983)
This ancient Fox prototype was recently dug up and is currently available from several web sites. While I'd hardly characterize its gameplay as addicting, Alligator People is an interesting title nevertheless. The playing field consists of moving walls that create an ever-changing maze. You control an orange syringe that needs to keep moving in order to avoid being crushed by the walls. Three infected humans line both the top and bottom of the screen, and your goal is to cure them by "shooting them up" with serums. As you're collecting serums scattered around the screen, the people gradually morph from humanoid to alligator form The transformation looks pretty wild by Atari 2600 standards, and it looks even better when you transform them back with a series of successive shots. Complicating matters are alligators that slowly patrol the screen, but these are easy to avoid. Alligator People is quite innovative but comes up short in the fun department, which may explain why it wasn't originally released. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 9AB
Our high score: 7065
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
This imaginative maze game is a clever combination of Qix and Pac-Man, and Colecovision fans will probably be reminded of Pepper II. Amidar's graphics, however, are pretty shabby. You control a gorilla, but the only way I knew that was by looking at the game label. This has got to be the saddest-looking video game gorilla EVER. Heck, this thing makes the pixelated ape in Donkey Kong look like a digitized image! As you slowly navigate each maze, you'll leave a trail behind as you attempt to cordon off areas of the screen. You're pursued by little green warriors at first and pigs in later stages (who said video games made sense?). By boxing off the corner squares you can turn your enemies into harmless chickens for a few seconds. Invincibility can also be initiated a few times per level by pressing the fire button. I really didn't care for the game's sloth-like pace. It's interesting to note that Froggo's Spiderdroid game (released later) is 99% the same as Amidar. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 6635
1 or 2 player
Publisher: Atari (1983)
I probably would never have heard about this old Atari prototype if it weren't included on the Atari Flashback consoles. Aquaventure is an underwater shooter with some similarities to Fathom
(Imagic, 1983). You play a diver armed with a spear gun, and you can shoot it rapidly left or right. In each stage you'll descend progressively deeper into the ocean to retrieve treasure. Colorful fish swim sideways across the screen, and they are deadly to touch. You'll also want to be careful not to touch that razor-sharp coral that lines both sides. I guess the most impressive aspect of this game is the variety of fish. They come in a wide assortment, and just when you thought you'd seen them all, you'll see something new. You don't need to shoot fish to obtain the treasure, but at 500 points a pop bagging fish are a good way to run up your score, so shoot away. When you return to the surface screen with your treasure, a mermaid takes you to the next stage. A turtle moving across the top of the screen shows your remaining air. There's not much audio except for a constant pinging noise. Normally I don't assign grades to prototypes, but as far as I can tell this one looks complete. Aquaventure isn't spectacular, but its colorful graphics and easy-going gameplay don't deserve to be forgotten. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 103,125
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Considering how popular Combat
(Atari, 1977) has remained over the years, it's surprising that this game doesn't get more attention. Armor Ambush is a two-player tank game with variable terrain and two tanks on each side. Switching control of your tanks is done by simply pulling back on the joystick. The randomized environments consist of roads, grass, forest, water, and buildings that ricochet shots. Certain terrain will slow you down, but in general the tanks move swiftly. The animation is smooth and the large missiles are easy to follow. It all adds up to a terrific two-player contest. Note: I always imagined that Combat 2 would have been a lot like Armor Ambush, and its recently-revealed prototype proved me correct. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
It's a good thing this game was one-half of a double-ender cartridge, because Artillery Duel is barely half of a game! It's a two-player contest that begins with a random mountain range being generated and a cannon placed on each side of the screen. Each player takes turns adjusting the power and arc of his shot while taking the wind into account. Having to wait 30 seconds for your opponent to make his adjustments can be painfully boring. Sure it's a challenge, but there's no payoff. I remember typing in games like this on my old Atari computer in the early 80's. There's just not enough game here. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1981)
This Atari 2600 classic needs little introduction. While not quite
so addicting in 2004, this is still a fine adaptation of the vector-graphics coin-op. You can fire two shots at a time, and the thrust control makes it easy to maneuver your way around the many hazards. The multi-colored asteroids look okay, but they tend to move in predictable up-and-down patterns, making the game much
easier than its arcade cousin. I also dislike how you begin with four ships instead of three. The 66 game variations provide several alternatives to the hyperspace control, including a two-second "shield" and a 180-degree "flip" capability. Both large and small UFOs are included, and the small ones are real sharpshooters. Just be sure to set the difficulty switches to "A" to enable the UFOs. Asteroid's sound effects include a Jaws-like cadence and a "choon choon" shooting sound that always aggravated my father. And if you tire of playing the normal game, you can play "kamikaze" style, thrusting all over the place while shooting like a madman. Yes, Asteroids is still a good time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 6A
Our high score: 15,320
1 or 2 players
Asteroids Vector Edition
Publisher: Hozer (1999)
Unlike the original Atari 2600 title, the objects in this Asteroids hack are rendered with vector-like outlines, making it more closely resemble the original arcade game. It may sound trivial, but it makes a difference - the rocks no longer look like popcorn. Asteroids fans will probably find this worthwhile. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
It's easy to get confused about this title. Astrosmash
was the Intellivision's answer to Asteroids, and Astroblast
is Mattel's version for the 2600. Not only is Astroblast a fun, frenetic shooter, but it's arguably a better game than the Intellivision version! Sure, the graphics are blockier, but the action is smoother and more challenging. You move your cannon back and forth on the bottom of the screen while being bombarded with asteroids, most of which split in half when shot. The left difficulty switch provides auto-fire capability, which I highly recommend. The right switch lets you select one of two difficulties: hard and insane. You get 10 lives, which may seem excessive, but you'll breeze through them in no time. In addition to shooting rocks, you'll also need to blast the occasional UFO, not to mention falling bombs that you HAVE TO shoot (or die!). The joystick control is fine, but plug in the paddles if you want to rack up the serious points. That's right, the game supports BOTH controllers! Astroblast is great fun but has an odd scoring system. You actually LOSE points for NOT shooting asteroids. I guess it's designed to reward aggressive players, but sometimes it's tough to get your score above zero! Fortunately, your peak score is considered your final score. Fast and furious, Astroblast is a highly underrated game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: AB
Our high score: 8490
Atari Video Cube
Publisher: Atari (1982)
There's a common misconception that Atari Video Cube is simply the video game version of the Rubik's Cube, but it's not. Sure it looks
like a Rubik's cube, and yes, the object is to make each side a solid color, but Video Cube's gameplay is much different (and much easier). I couldn't solve an actual Rubik's Cube if my life depended on it, but I can solve an Atari Video Cube in just over 3 minutes. You control a little man on a randomly-scrambled cube, but instead of rotating sides, you carry and drop individual squares around the cube. When you pick up a square, your man turns that color. One catch is that you can't walk over squares that are the same color as your man. Your objective is to solve the puzzle in the fewest moves or race against the clock. It's not hard to solve the puzzle, but doing it quickly and efficiently requires subtle strategy. Atari Video Cube's graphics are minimal, but the animation of the cube rotating is impressive. In terms of audio, the game features non-stop beeping sound effects that are bound to get on your nerves. Of the 14 game variations, most are useless. Many "black out" parts of the cube (too hard), or let you watch the computer
solve the puzzle for you (boring!). The few variations that remain are very good however. Atari Video Cube is an often overlooked title, but it's at least worth a try. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1 and 2
Our high score: 733
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Thanks to its attractive, high-resolution graphics, Atlantis won over a lot of gamers in 1982. The bottom half of the screen features a colorful, submerged city with all sorts of strange-looking buildings and reactors. Overhead, rainbow-colored hostile alien ships zip back and forth until they descend low enough to disintegrate one of the structures. Using three cannons, one in the middle and one on each side, it's your job to keep these invaders at bay for as long as possible. Since you can't aim, the gameplay is remarkably simple - just select your cannon with the joystick and fire. Game variation one is far too easy because you can rely almost solely on the middle cannon, which shoots straight up (unlike the side cannons that shoot diagonally). Even when the middle cannon is finally destroyed, it's promptly replaced thanks to the overgenerous bonus system. Variation two is much better because the middle cannon is disabled, so you'll need to time your shots carefully. The two-player cooperative mode is also a nice option. Besides its sharp graphics, Atlantis is also interesting from an historical perspective. It was one of the first console games to have a real "ending", which briefly depicts a flying saucer escaping after your city is completely destroyed. Additionally, it was the first 2600 game to produce a "sequel": Imagic's Cosmic Ark. Atlantis is an interesting game to look back on, but its gameplay is undeniably shallow. For a better, fully realized version, check out the Intellivision edition. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 56,101
1 or 2 players
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection, Atari 2600 Homebrew