Atari 2600 Reviews D-E

Dancing Plates
Grade: F
Publisher: Zimag (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/2/22


screenshotThis bargain-bin game has appeared under several names, including "Dishaster" (get it?). The object of this circus-style title is to keep several plates spinning on top of poles. You move a girl across bottom of the screen, and holding the fire button below a pole causes its plate to spin faster. The graphics aren't too bad - the girl looks decent and the plates wobble convincingly when they begin to slow down. The gameplay however is terribly monotonous. The little Asian girl on the cartridge label looks like she's having the time of her life, but in reality Dancing Plates feels more like work than play. The early variations just go on and on with no end in sight, and the repetitive "tune" that plays over and over doesn't help matters - it's horrible. Playing Dancing Plates will almost certainly give you a headache. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 5850
1 player 

Dark Cavern
Grade: C+
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Reviewed: 2005/1/26

screenshotLike a futuristic Wizard of Wor, Dark Cavern places you in a maze crawling with spiders, blobs, and shooting robots. In fact there are two types of robots: "normal" robots you can sneak up behind, and "two-headed" robots that can always see you coming. Dark Cavern boasts a level of intensity rarely seen in a 2600 maze game. The robots can shoot even after they're shot, forcing you to take a "shoot and duck around the corner" strategy. Another unusual element is how you can run out of bullets, and must replenish your supply by picking up gun icons that appear periodically. The spiders will paralyze you and the blobs steal your ammo, so it's a good idea to blast everything in sight. Dark Cavern's graphics are plain but smoothly animated and relatively flicker-free. The game's one fault is that it's too generous with extra lives. You start with five and get addition lives on a regular basis. That reduces the challenge, but Dark Cavern is still well worth playing. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 58,000
1 player 

Dark Chambers
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Reviewed: 2002/2/7

screenshotThis is a dungeon "crawler" in the truest sense of the word. Dark Chambers plays like Gauntlet in slow motion as you explore endless mazes of rooms while collecting treasures and shooting monsters. The 26 levels, labeled A-Z, are all boring as hell. Their empty rooms all look the same, so you'll constantly find yourself going in circles. Monsters you encounter include skeletons, zombies, and wizards. Although most of these creatures look good, the zombies look more like doctors. Each monster transforms into a "lower level" creature when shot, so several shots are usually required to finish it off. Potions, weapon upgrades, and bombs add some variety, but the game never manages to generate any degree of suspense or excitement. The challenge is low, even on the hardest difficulty. Dark Chambers is a breeze until you reach levels R or S, and it takes quite a while to get that far! Since power-ups are never lost once acquired, shooting creeps actually becomes easier as you progress! The one-player mode is a thoroughly dull affair that drags on indefinitely, and the two-player simultaneous mode is equally boring. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Hard
Our high score: 44,680
1 or 2 players 

Dark Mage
Grade: C+
Publisher: Greg Troutman (1997)
Reviewed: 2002/2/26

screenshotWhat's this? A text adventure for the 2600?! Okay, now we're talking some hardcore old-school gaming!! It's been quite a while since I've played anything like this, so Dark Mage brought back a lot of fond memories. Text adventures were originally made famous by a little company called Infocom in the early 80's, with their classic home computer titles like Zork, Enchanter, and Hitchhiker's Guides to the Galaxy. Dark Mage is primitive but certainly playable. The text is large, minimal, and easy-to-read despite its ugly yellow-on-red color scheme. Well-designed controls allow you to move in four directions, talk, take, give items, use items, and check your inventory. Once you get a feel for it, you can quickly move from one area to another. Like all text adventures, the main idea is to collect items and use them to unlock new areas. There's plenty of trial and error involved, so expect to see this message a lot: "You can't do that here". It doesn't help that some of the puzzles don't make much sense (using a small dog to subdue an ogre? huh?) You'll also soon realize that it's necessary to map your progress on paper to keep from getting lost. Despite its obvious flaws, I found myself mysteriously drawn into this little adventure. Just the fact that it runs on the 2600 has got to be worth something.
1 player © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Deadly Duck
Grade: D
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Reviewed: 2000/2/29


screenshotDeadly Duck is not as bad as its name would indicate, but it's close. You move a duck across the bottom of the screen while shooting at bomb-dropping crabs. Now there's something you don't see everyday! Adding to the challenge is a barricade of dragonflies that block your shots and drop bombs of their own. As you're probably coming to realize, this is just a generic shooter with wacky graphics. The weird, colorful visuals are entertaining, but the sound is even better. When you fire a shot, your duck actually makes a "quack" sound! But despite all of the novelty, Deadly Duck's gameplay is mediocre at best. Half of your shots are absorbed by those annoying dragonflies, and it's hard to really aim at anything. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 1150
1 player 

Decathlon
Grade: B-

screenshotMy initial review of Decathlon was fairly scathing, probably because I broke a joystick just trying to review the [expletive] thing! But eventually it dawned on me that Decathlon is really the precursor to all of those button-tapping track and field games we all have grown to love (or hate) so much. Moreover, the fact that it packs in ten events and supports up to four players is also noteworthy. The events include the 100m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m race, 110m hurdle, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m race. Your smoothly-animated athlete is rendered in four colors, but for some reason the coliseum is only packing about 18 spectators. Only one player competes in each event at a time. Each requires a good bit of joystick jiggling, and the action can get pretty intense. Unfortunately, there's too much emphasis on running, and these events nearly ruin the game. The 100-meter dash is tolerable, but the 400-meter race will have you jerking your wrist back and forth for a full minute! The final event is a 1500-meter race, and it is sheer torture! Another problem is that in most events each player gets far too many "tries", which is aggravating for the other players. One nice feature is how you can pick and choose individual events to customize your tournament. Overall, Decathlon is a fine choice for some spirited multi-player action. It's the only Atari 2600 game that's ever made me break into a sweat! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Defender
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/7/14


screenshotThis is the game everybody had but nobody loved. In the arcade, Defender was a huge hit, distinguished by its horizontal scrolling, complicated control scheme, and ultra-high difficulty level. This sloppy Atari 2600 adaptation retains the same basic features, but its graphics and gameplay aren't even in the same ballpark as the original. Considering how Atari's Pac-Man was lambasted by critics, it's amazing how this cartridge emerged relatively unscathed. Defender has a lot of issues, but my main beef is how your ship disappears (blinks) whenever you fire. If you fire fast enough on the trigger, you're practically invincible! Apparently the programmer couldn't figure out how to display both the ship and its laser fire on the screen at the same time! Maybe he should have gotten some tips from Chopper Command's programmer. Defender's collision detection is poor and the alien movements are erratic to say the least. They flicker horribly, and often appear from out of nowhere - sometimes on top of your ship! The smart bomb and hyperspace controls are initiated by pressing the fire button after moving your ship above or below the visible field of view. Not only is this clumsy, but your ship pauses momentarily before disappearing off the screen, making you briefly susceptible to enemy fire. Atari should have used the second joystick for these functions (which they later did for Defender II - a much better game). Defender is also too easy. In the relentless arcade game, you are lucky to last for one minute, but this version offers little challenge even on the hardest setting. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 8B
Our high score: 143,750
1 or 2 players 

Defender II
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 1999/6/17

screenshotSee Stargate review. It's the same game. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Demolition Herby
Grade: C+
Publisher: Telesys (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/2/9


screenshotObscure, hard-to-find games for the 2600 are usually lousy, but Demolition Herby proves an exception to the rule. At first glance, Herby looks like a dull Amidar clone, with its large grid and small vehicles moving along the edges. Controlling a green Volkswagen pursued by three tractors and trucks, the screen scrolls up and down as you attempt to cordon off all the squares and clear the level. You also need to maintain your fuel supply, which is slightly replenished whenever you complete a square. Although your adversaries are fast and relentless, you can eliminate them by ramming them from behind. This is easier to accomplish by pressing the "overdrive" button, which consumes more fuel but makes you an instant speed demon. Eliminating the other vehicles early in each stage will make your life easier, but they don't go without a fight. Their movements are wild and unpredictable, and they can abruptly change direction at each intersection. When you do nail one from behind, the vehicle will bounce around the screen for a while, sometimes causing chain reactions (nice). Herby is undeniably challenging and even the first stage is no cakewalk. The graphics and sound are mediocre at best, but Demolition Herby encourages you to be reckless and take chances, and I like that. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 3810
1 or 2 players 

Demon Attack
Grade: B
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/3/22


screenshotThis straight-forward shooter may lack innovation but it still delivers a good time. Demon Attack is clearly a Phoenix clone, and if you want more evidence, check out the Intellivision version which even includes the mothership stage! Demon Attack's gameplay simply involves shooting waves of alien birds that fly around overhead. The winged aliens are large, and in later waves they split into two smaller "birds" when hit. When one of the small birds is shot, its partner will then attempt to ram your cannon. Demon Attack's controls are responsive and your shots travel fast. Some interesting game variations include guided "tracer" shots and a two-player simulatenous mode. With two players, control of a single cannon is periodically alternated between both players - an original feature whose time never came. While Demon Attack's graphics and sound aren't overly impressive, each wave sports a different set of aliens, and I like how they gyrate in a freaky manner. On a final note, Demon Attack's label has a picture of a spray-painted rubber dinosaur which I remember owning as a kid. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 7A
Our high score: 9,240
1 or 2 players 

Demons To Diamonds
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7

screenshotThis unconventional shooter falls flat despite some interesting features. Using the paddle controllers, you move your cannon sideways across the bottom of the screen, and in a two-player game a second cannon moves across the top. Big-mouthed "demons" slowly wander across the screen, and you score by shooting the demons that match the color of your cannon. Scoring a hit produces a white diamond that you can shoot for additional points. Hitting demons of the wrong color creates skulls that shoot rapidly in both directions. The skulls are supposed to provide a strategic element, since creating one closer to your opponent places him in more danger. The shooting controls are unique in that the longer you hold down the button, the further your laser beam travels. It sounds promising, but Demons to Diamond's gameplay is surprisingly lame and its graphics are blocky and unimpressive. Even with two-players, the game was never the fast and furious shootout I was hoping for. When all is said and done, this is one of those games you'll forget about five minutes after playing it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 3057
1 or 2 players 

Desert Falcon
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 1999/10/16

screenshotThis pseudo-3D Zaxxon wannabe provides an isometric view of the action, which is quite rare for the Atari 2600. You control a falcon flying through a desert while shooting enemies and collecting power-ups. Desert Falcon is one of the most poorly designed games I've ever played. First, you must stop and land on the ground in order to grab power-ups, which brings the action to an abrupt halt. Next, only certain combinations of objects grant you powers, which is as confusing as it is complicated. Finally, should you accidentally brush against a pyramid while on the ground, your bird keels over dead! Talk about unforgiving! The scenery, which looks respectable in the 7800 version, is practically non-existent here. There's no way to judge the altitude of oncoming objects and missiles, and everything looks like a blob. Desert Falcon is practically unplayable. The only decent aspect of this game is its exotic musical score. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 2852
1 player 

Dig Dug
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2008/11/25

screenshotAt first blush, Dig Dug for the Atari 2600 doesn't look so hot. Those smooth horizontal lines are a far cry from the grainy "dirt" of the arcade, and let's face it - those square "rocks" look awful! If you give it a chance though, you'll discover the same brand of timeless gameplay that made the arcade game such a hit. Your little man is easy to control as he tunnels through dirt, pumps his enemies with air, and drops rocks on them. Oh how I miss the days when games didn't need to make any sense! All the key elements of the arcade are present, including the fire-breathing dragons and vegetable bonuses. There's only one skill level (not counting the kiddy mode), but it's challenging enough. When enough enemies congregate on the screen, they tend to flicker, but it doesn't really detract from the gameplay. Yes, the background graphics are rough, but the cycling color schemes look good and the audio is remarkably faithful to the original. Dig Dug is surprisingly deep, and knowledgeable players will employ all sorts of tactics to conquer each screen. Like many classic games, Dig Dug's sum seems greater than its parts. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 234,140
1 or 2 players 

Dodge 'Em
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Reviewed: 2013/4/28

screenshotIn the early 80's my friend Andy and I would head over to Billy's house after school for some Atari and MTV. Billy had dozens of games but Andy just wanted to play Dodge 'Em all the time. In retrospect it's quite understandable. This unassuming little maze racer demands split-second decisions and cat-like reflexes. It's perfect for people with short attention spans, since a game rarely lasts more than a minute or two. You drive a little car around a screen consisting of four concentric circles with four intersections. The object is to clear the lanes of dots while avoiding "crash cars" driving in the opposite direction. You hold the fire button to accelerate and use the joystick to change one or two lanes (depending on your speed). Those relentless crash cars never miss an opportunity to ram you, forcing you to think ahead and anticipate their movements. Expect a lot of sudden lane changes and near-misses (or should that be near-hits?). It's a good thing you can pause between rounds to catch your breath! Dodge 'Em is surprisingly challenging and addictive, and you'll find yourself hitting reset again and again. A two-player mode lets a friend control the crash car. Dodge 'Em is more than the sum of its parts. It has to be, right? © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1BB
Our high score: SLN 339
1 or 2 players 

Dolphin
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2001/6/16

screenshotIt may resemble Seaquest, but Dolphin's gameplay is much different. This is an underwater "chase" game with sharp graphics and originality to spare. You control a dolphin swimming towards the right of the screen while being chased by a giant squid. The squid has one of those big nasty eyes, and he appears to be wearing shoes for some reason. As the screen scrolls, approaching sea horses form walls that serve as obstacles. Each wall has a gap however, and by using the game's sound cues you can position your dolphin to swim right through the gaps without slowing down. This is the only 2600 game I'm aware of where the audio plays such a critical role. Occasionally "currents" (which look like arrows) cross the screen to slow you down or give you a boost. In addition, if you leap out of the water and catch the magic seagull, your dolphin can to turn the tables and chase down that rotten squid. Once you catch that ugly S.O.B., you'll rack up some real points. I can certainly appreciate Dolphin's fine graphics and original concepts, but the game does tend to wear thin after a few plays. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5B
Our high score: 20,700
1 player 

Donkey Kong
Grade: B
Publisher: Coleco (1981)
Reviewed: 2008/11/18

screenshotThe Atari 2600 Donkey Kong was the object of much ridicule in its day, and I guess it was partially deserved. Compared to the fantastic Colecovision Donkey Kong, this one looks extremely modest. There are only two screens (out of four), and their designs have been simplified. The object of the first "red screen" is to climb to the top of the structure to rescue the girl. In the second "blue screen" you try to walk over eight rivets while avoiding wandering genie lamps (which are supposed to be fireballs). Kong looks awfully blocky, but I like how he pounds his chest when you change directions. The best looking thing in this entire game is that blonde-haired chick in the blue dress. Despite its meager graphics, the game is still fun thanks to responsive controls and clean, flicker-free graphics. The sounds effects are sparse, and since there's no music when you grab the hammer, it's hard to predict when it will disappear. Since you can only smash one fireball on the second screen, it's hardly worth the effort. The game only has one skill level, which is pretty lame. Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 is competently programmed and enjoyable to play but I wish its programmer had been a little more ambitious. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SLN 79,900
1 player 

Donkey Kong Junior
Grade: D+
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
Reviewed: 2005/1/26


screenshotIn a clever twist on the original game, Donkey Kong Junior reverses roles and makes Mario the bad guy while Donkey Kong plays the ape in distress. Unfortunately, this Atari 2600 version is lacking some key features. The first screen features a set of hanging vines that Junior must navigate both horizontally and vertically as chattering teeth try to knock him down. If you think this screen looks sparse compared to the arcade, it's probably because it lacks fruit. Being unable to drop fruit on enemies really takes a lot of the bite out of the fun factor. In addition, the jumping controls royally suck and the butt-ugly orange color scheme is unattractive. The second screen features three keys (compared to eight in the arcade version) that must be pushed to the top of the screen in order to open Donkey Kong's cage. In addition to wandering teeth, you must also contend with a yellow bird that flies sideways across the screen. This screen's fairly easy, but it ends with a sorry sight. The released Donkey Kong looks pathetic! His head is perfectly square! The final screen is reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, challenging you to traverse a tall steel structure. It's hard, but not in a good way. Frustration will set in almost immediately as your limited movements make you easy prey for the wandering teeth. There are few audio effects to speak of, but the "climbing" sound has a screeching quality that's irritating. Despite having three screens, Donkey Kong Jr. is a lukewarm effort that fails to live up to the arcade classic. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 27,300
1 or 2 players 

Double Dragon
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1989)
Reviewed: 2001/5/14


screenshotConsidering when this title was released (late 80's), it's surprisingly bad. A popular side-scroller on the 8-bit systems of the time, Double Dragon is about a pair of brothers walking the streets and beating up gangs of thugs. The problem with this version is that the characters are extremely tiny and their attacks are really hard to see. You press a button and a small appendage appears - not very exciting. Attempting to perform a "special move" is absolutely futile. The fighters never seem to make contact with each other, and it's hard to tell what the heck's going on (did I hit him, or did he hit me?!). Worse yet, when an enemy lands a shot, you temporarily to lose control as your character is beaten to a pulp. I'd recommend joining a gang before I'd recommend buying this game. Besides, all the cool kids are doing it. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 1,550
1 or 2 players 

Double Dunk
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1989)
Reviewed: 2000/5/4

screenshotDouble Dunk certainly has the "look", but this two-on-two basketball game is ultimately a letdown. The game is played half-court style, so first you have to "clear" the ball by taking it out to the end line - which I always forget to do. Players can shoot three-pointers, pass, and perform modest dunks. Before each possession, you can set up a specific play, but the patterns are complicated and passes are easily intercepted. It's more fun to forgo strategy and either take it hard to the hoop or settle for a three-pointer. The players look good, but their uniforms are ridiculous (white with rainbow stripes?? Bahahaha!!). After each game, the winning players talk "trash" and dance to a funky tune - which looks really odd. If Double Dunk's gameplay would have been tighter, this could have been a lot of fun. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dragonfire
Grade: A
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/7/14

screenshotI can't resist games with castles and dragons, so Dragonfire completely won me over. You prince is nicely animated, and the dragons really do look like dragons (attention Adventure fans). Dragonfire's gameplay alternates between two screens. In the first, you try to cross a castle bridge by ducking under and leaping over fireballs headed your way. The responsive controls even allow you to jump while kneeling (kids, please don't try this at home!) It sure looks goofy, but it's saved my medieval ass many times. The second screen is full of treasures that you attempt to snatch up as the dragon at the bottom of the screen hurls fireballs in a rapid-fire manner. The treasures are wonderfully detailed - not the blocky junk you normally see. The castles and dragons have a nice variety of color schemes, and the challenge ramps nicely. Dragonfire is easily my favorite Imagic game, and one of my favorite Atari 2600 titles overall. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 8,480
1 or 2 players 

Dragonstomper
Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/12/12

screenshotYet another ambitious Starpath cassette-loading game, Dragonstomper is an RPG (!) featuring three distinct stages. In the first, you wander around a countryside fighting monsters and collecting treasure. Your character is a small white dot moving over a scrolling map, and all actions are initiated through easy-to-navigate text menus. With each encounter, you can attack, run, or use an item, but you don't participate in any live combat. After a brief tape load, the second stage kicks in. Here your goal is to purchase items and recruit help for slaying the dragon. The final stage places you in the dragon's lair for the big showdown. Dragonstomper's graphics are high resolution and meticulously drawn. To be honest, I've never seen the actual dragon, but I'm sure he looks impressive. This is a respectable RPG game, and that's no small feat for the 2600. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 501
1 player 

Dragster
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1980)
Reviewed: 1999/8/12


screenshotOne of the very first games published by Activision, Dragster is incredibly short and simple. The split-screen display features two large dragsters on the right side of the screen. After an initial countdown, you shift and accelerate your way through about six to nine seconds of racing action as your dragster slowly moves to the right side of the screen. This is probably the shortest video game I've ever played. The controls are simple, but good timing and dexterity are required to earn a good time. Since the games are so brief, you'll hit reset over and over again, trying to beat your record. Dragster is fun, especially with two players going head-to-head. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 6:58
1 or 2 players 

Duck Attack
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/1/9

screenshotWhen you start playing Duck Attack it doesn't take long to realize that this is really an homage to Adventure - a really weird homage to Adventure. The programmer took the Adventure formula and extrapolated it to the N-th degree, incorporating huge chunky sprites and tons of objects in a bizarre, expansive world. Instead of a square, you control a goofy-looking robot that consumes an alarming amount of real estate. Each stage has a different layout, but your goal is always to collect colored eggs and use them to open like-colored doors. Your main adversaries are giant rampaging ducks, and these are clearly a nod to the dragons in Adventure (who looked like ducks). You'll also need to avoid bees, tanks, arrows, and snakes. Duck Attack has considerable depth, but its ubiquitous objects and arbitrary rules are a little mind-boggling! There's a shield, a magnet, a flashlight, and a "zapper" used to subdue the ducks. There are six types of balloons (not to be confused with eggs), which provide bonus points or special powers. There are warps that let you skip levels and "recharging stations" that I never fully understood. The designer threw everything in but the kitchen sink, but more isn't always better. The maze layouts are confusing, and more often than not I felt as if I had completed a level by accident. The huge objects crowd the screen and make things hard to manipulate. A little restraint would have been nice, but I will credit Duck Attack for the sense of discovery it conveys. There are surprises at every turn, especially when you find yourself walking through screens lifted directly from Video Pinball, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dodge-Em, Berzerk, and yes, Adventure. It's like having an out-of-cartridge experience! The programmer's appreciation for the classics shines through, and I appreciate how he went the extra mile to support the AtariVox attachment (to record high scores). The game's cover art is amazing and the manual is first-rate. Duck Attack takes a while to warm up to, and to be frank, the game is a little obnoxious. But if you're looking for a fresh new adventure that's chock full of surprises, you'll relish the crazy world of Duck Attack. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 17,800
Save mechanism: AtariVox
1 player 

Dumbo's Flying Circus (Prototype)
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/9/8

screenshotUnlike many unreleased prototypes, Dumbo's Flying Circus was discovered nearly complete. The game opens with an impressive intro screen featuring Dumbo the flying elephant illustrated in high resolution. Flying Circus combines elements of Kaboom, Joust, and Defender. You guide your pixelated elephant around the screen while collecting (or shooting) balloons that rise from the ground. Some balloons carry bombs that you'll want to shoot before they reach the top. Periodically a clown rises on a balloon, and shooting the balloon and catching the clown is worth big points. If the clown makes it to the top, he'll appear on a unicycle and drop junk on you. What's up with that? The "roof" gradually lowers as the game progresses, making things tighter and allowing less room for error. Dumbo is not especially fun. Catching and shooting balloons is difficult but rescuing clowns is easy and repetitive. I do like how the clowns change in appearance from wave to wave. Dumbo has some advanced features like a bonus round where you try to catch a cute, bouncing mouse. There are also intermissions, but these appear to be unfinished. As it is, I'd probably give Dumbo's Flying Circus a C-. It's a fascinating prototype, but it could have used a lot more fine tuning. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 3,249
1 player 

Dungeon
Grade: B
Publisher: AtariAge (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/1/3

screenshotMy friends hate this game, but Dungeon struck a chord with me. I really like it! It plays like a simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons as you explore narrow caves and participate in turn-based combat. Your view is limited to a square in the center of the screen showing a small portion of your current dungeon level. The levels are small, so finding your way around isn't a major issue. The animation is minimal, but the modest graphics do a fair job of getting their point across. The monsters are pixelated as hell, but it's fun to see how well they can be rendered with so few pixels. Pretty well, as it turns out! The skeletons, phantoms, zombies, and the black knight all look very colorful and distinctive. During combat you have the option of casting heal, lightning, and "stop time" spells which add some strategy. Normal attacks are based on probabilities, and you'll see graphics like "miss" or "-3" to indicate incurred damage. The bottom of the screen displays your spell points, hit points, and current dungeon level. Dungeon also offers fun things to discover like chests with combination locks, a sword stuck in a stone, a lost princess, a hidden cave, and even the Holy Grail. Atari 2600 gamers with an eye for Easter Eggs will enjoy uncovering the game's mysteries. There's no score, but just trying to reach the end is enough of a challenge. When I bought this game from Atari Age, I also ordered the map/poster, and I'm glad I did. You may have to moderate your expectations, but taken for what it is, Dungeon is a very captivating little adventure. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Grade: D

screenshotMy earliest memory of this game was at a mall during the 1982 holiday season. An electronics store had E.T. on display at the front of the store. Some guy was playing it, and I noticed he was getting increasingly pissed off about falling into pits. Still, when I received E.T. as an unexpected Christmas gift I was totally freaking out! The high-resolution title screen was captivating, and my sister helped convince me it was a good game ("This is a good game Dave, don't you think?") Denial can be an ugly thing! Still, E.T. is not the complete dud people make it out to be. It incorporates many elements from the film and it's challenging. Elliott is rendered in about five colors and E.T.'s side profile looks sharp. The six screens (arranged like a cube) are far less impressive. The Washington DC screen consists of a few blocky structures and the forest screen is a green pattern. The remaining screens are dominated by gigantic pits that are hard to avoid falling into! I don't recall E.T. falling into one pit in the film, much less 20! Your goal is to collect three phone parts, phone home, and meet you ship in the forest. Each screen is divided into zones and a symbol at the top indicates the action you can perform (teleport, call Elliott, eat candy, locate piece, scratch butt, etc.). Navigating the screens is disconcerting. When moving off the top of one, you'd expect to appear on the bottom of the next, but you'll often appear at the top instead. Or you'll walk off the side of a screen only to appear on the bottom of the next. This makes it all the more aggravating when you enter a screen and immediately fall into a pit. When you're not languishing at the bottom of some God-forsaken hole, you're on the run from an FBI agent who wants to steal your junk and a scientist who wants to haul your wrinkly ass to some institute. A lot of times you'll see these guys just walking in place on the edge of a screen for no apparent reason. I hate how they can suddenly appear on any part of the screen, making them hard to elude. Holding in the fire button lets E.T. scurry away but inevitably you'll run directly into a pit. You can levitate out, but it's very easy to fall right back in. The game does offer a surprise or two, like the dead flower that springs to life when you touch it. And it is satisfying to get E.T. safely home because there's a special ending screen. In the "bad" ending, Elliott has apparently buried ET alive in his back yard! So sad! E.T. is not as much bad as it is disappointing, and to say it tarnished Atari's reputation would be an understatement. Atari actually included an extra piece of paper offering hints, but it might as well have been a written apology! © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 9738
1 player 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Fixed)
Grade: D
Publisher: Recompile (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/4/30

screenshotLong the target of scorn and derision, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari, 1982) is regarded as one of the more colossal failures in video game history. For decades rumors persisted that Atari had secretly dumped tons of unsold E.T. cartridges into a New Mexico landfill, and this urban legend seems to have been substantiated during a recent excavation. Despite the game's soiled reputation (sorry), E.T. does have its defenders. I have a soft spot in my heart for those who appreciate classic games, especially games as marginal as this! One such kind-hearted soul recently took the time to "fix" the game by addressing some of its glitches and touching up the visuals. This fascinating web page describes the project in lurid detail. It's a heck of a lot of fun to read, and actually documents the specific code changes. The author tightened up the collision detection, fixed some colors, and adjusted the difficulty. Would this effort finally earn the old game some respect? I love the passion (and programming prowess) but I'm afraid these fixes do not enhance the gameplay. In fact, they seem to make the real problems all the more glaring! Collision detection around the pits is better, but levitating out of them is still a pain in the ass! If you're a novice player, the process can be downright exasperating! Navigating the screens is another headache. You never end up where you would logically expect when entering a new screen. Would this be so hard to fix? And I really hate the relentless frequency in which the agent and scientist pursue you. Changing E.T. from green to yellow isn't much of an improvement since he's brown in the movie. The project was a noble effort, but most people wouldn't notice the changes had they not read the web page first. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Earth Dies Screaming
Grade: D+
Publisher: Fox (1983)
Reviewed: 2000/7/3


screenshotOkay, I'll give this one extra credit for the imaginative title, but it's still marginal. Earth Dies Screaming is a first-person shooter with decent graphics but really shallow gameplay. From your cockpit, you view the earth rotating underneath you when accelerating or turning, and this makes for some excellent eye candy. Likewise, your photon torpedoes and the approaching aliens look sharp and colorful. But alas, there's not much substance to this game. You just track aliens on your radar and destroy as many as you can. It's playable, but not nearly as exciting as its title would imply. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: AA
Our high score: 23,200
1 player 

Eggomania
Grade: D-
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/11/24

screenshotDespite its colorful graphics, fluid animation, tight controls, and harmonized music, Eggomania still manages to suck. It's kind of embarrassing to play, and really should be docked a letter grade for the name alone. Eggomania features rainbow-colored "bird" dropping green eggs from the top of the screen. The bird's blue head makes him look like a turkey that's been held under water for too long! And why are the eggs green?? How hard would it have been to program white eggs? You move blue bear across the bottom of the screen, trying to catch the eggs in a hat. The bear looks more like a frog to me, and when you think about it, a blue frog would have made a lot more sense (blue frogs love to catch eggs in their hats!) While the game is clearly a Kaboom! (Activision, 1981) knock-off, Eggomania ups the ante with special stages that let you shoot the bird with the eggs you've collected. The paddle controls are responsive enough, but I hate how you the game immediately halts whenever an egg passes by the rim of your hat. Any self-respecting egg-catching game deserves a decent "splatter" animation. Adding insult to injury, you're then forced to watch that damn chicken perform some hokey musical number. You can exact your revenge in the shooting stages, but they aren't very satisfying at all. I would have preferred to execute a Mortal Kombat-style fatality on that oxygen-deprived bastard (I call this my "McChicken Filet"). It's too well programmed to merit a failing grade, but Eggomania is far too cute for its own good. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 4,728
1 to 4 players 

Elevator Action
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2014/2/26

screenshotThis unreleased prototype was originally revealed at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo. A fun and original platform shooter, Elevator Action has so much potential it almost breaks your heart to play it in this unfinished state. You control a multicolored bloke with a flat-top haircut standing on the top of a building. Eventually an elevator arrives, and once you get in you can freely move it up or down between floors. Each floor is lined with doors and bad guys in black will randomly step out from behind them and try to shoot you. You can fire two shots at a time, and I love how the baddies do a little flip when they take a shot to the gut. You can avoid the bullets by ducking or suspending yourself in the air in an unnatural manner. Eventually you'll reach the lower basement floors, which have stairwells in addition to elevators. The game is playable but clearly unfinished. For one thing, you play in complete silence. Graphical glitches abound, and many gameplay elements need tweaking. For example, it can take forever for the elevator to show up, and the crooks never get any harder. You shouldn't be able to keep yourself suspended in the air indefinitely. Even so, the fact that Elevator Action is still fun to play in its current, rough form is a testament to how great it could have been. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Elk Attack
Grade: NA
Publisher: M. Hahn (1987)
Reviewed: 2014/2/26

screenshotThis unreleased prototype feels like an experiment that never panned out. The premise of Elk Attack has nothing to do with elk or any other kind of hooved animal. The wacky title seems completely random, so it might as well have been called Chipmunk Riot or Shrimp Apocalypse. I'm told this is actually a port of an obscure arcade game called Electric Yo-Yo. You guide an orb around a rectangular playing field trying to consume colored tiles arranged in various patterns. Three adversaries which look like stacks of pancakes wander around aimlessly. When you roll toward a wafer, a line appears and automatically pulls you to it. This seems like an interesting dynamic at first, but it actually has very little bearing on the gameplay. I suppose on rare occasions the line can pull you into a pancake monster, but in general you can move around freely. Some wafers contain power pill squares that trigger ringing sound effects that let you touch monsters for points. What's interesting is that the pancake monsters don't disappear or go anywhere when you catch them. Therefore you can snag them over and over again to rack big points. Elk Attack is well programmed with tight controls, clean graphics, and smooth animation. Unfortunately it suffers from a severe lack of difficulty. If you begin on level one the sheer monotony becomes almost too much to bear. There are too many power pills, too many free lives, and the enemy AI is non-existent. Begin on level 10 if you want any semblance of a challenge. I suspect the developer was just testing out a concept and he abandoned the project when he realized it wasn't going anywhere. Even if Elk Attack had been completed, I don't think it would have attracted much attention. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 10
Our high score: 147,690
1 or 2 players 

Encounter at L5
Grade: C-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/9/22

screenshotI really like Encounter at L5's brand of non-stop, rapid-fire, shoot-like-a-madman gameplay. The paddle control scheme is unlike anything I've ever seen. By holding down the fire button and aiming a cursor that moving across the top of the screen, you unleash a constant stream of missiles from you cannon at the bottom. You'll need that kind of firepower, because blue fighter ships rain down on you relentlessly. You can reposition your cannon by releasing the fire button, and this is necessary to zero in on lethal, low-flying, red "death ships". Encounter's collision detection could be better, as the bulk of your shots seem to pass right through their intended targets. The games tend to be hectic and short. The action doesn't pause when you lose a ship and it's not obvious when it happens, so you may not even know you've been hit until the game ends! Another thing I hate about Encounter at L5 is its irritating, repetitive sound effects, which forced me to turn down the audio. There are 13 game variations. Encounter at L5 is far from great, but shooter fans looking for something different might find it interesting. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 15AB
Our high score: 569
1 or 2 players 

Enduro
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/1/9

screenshotThis ever-popular racer conveys a fantastic sense of speed via scaling cars and a pair of wavy lines that converge on the horizon. There's not much in the way of scenery, but Enduro's intense gameplay and colorful visuals will have you too riveted to notice. The idea is to pass a certain number of cars in a day - usually a few hundred. That seems like a big number, but since they tend to whiz by in groups, the counter on your dashboard counts down pretty quickly. Enduro is super fast and it's fun to see how long you can go without hitting something. The controls consist of pressing the button to accelerate and pulling back on the joystick to apply the brakes. Once you get a feel for it you can really get into a groove. The concept of days is effectively conveyed through a series of clever visual effects. During the daytime the ground is green and oncoming cars are colorful and easy to see. Later in the day the weather changes to snow, resulting in a white road and less responsive steering. As the sun sets the screen dims until all you can see are car tail lights, and that looks great. The challenge really kicks in as fog rolls in and cuts your visibility by half! As dawn breaks it's pretty exciting as you frantically try to pass those last few dozen cars. Meeting your quota extends the game by granting you a new day. This game can be time-consuming to play, but hey, it is called Enduro! This is one innovative and likeable racer that no Atari 2600 collector should be without. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 577.8 miles
1 player 

Entombed
Grade: C
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2011/1/9

screenshotThis is an obscure title where you move down a maze as it scrolls up the screen. You can descend into one of several randomly-generated passages at any given time, some of which converge and some that lead to dead-ends. Your little man can move freely, but staying positioned near the center of the screen gives you the best vantage point. Just don't stop moving, because getting pushed to the top will cost you a life. You'll also need to keep an eye out for roving zombies that can pass through walls. When you're stuck at a dead-end, pressing the fire button will use one of your "make-breaks" to create an opening. These things are limited in supply so use them wisely and stock up in the early going. You begin with only one but earn three whenever you touch moving blocks (which are easily mistaken for dangerous barriers). The difficulty curve is steep, with each successful maze scrolling more quickly. One player can try to see how long he can last, or two-players can compete simultaneously in a "last man standing" contest. Entombed is interesting in concept but sloppy in terms of execution. For a video game, this is about as minimal as you can get. The solid, blocky maze is unimpressive and the sparse sound effects are terrible. Your character is poorly animated and wandering "zombies" look more like spiders. It's very easy to get hung up on corners, and by the time you reach the third stage, this flaw accounts for most of your deaths. It's nothing spectacular, but Entombed will still have you hitting reset a few times just to see if you can get a little bit further. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 34
1 or 2 players 

Epic Adventure
Grade: B+
Publisher: Red Knight Games (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/8/10

screenshotOne great thing about the homebrew scene is the way it breathes new life into classic titles. Epic Adventure is the latest in a long line of loving tributes to Adventure (Atari, 1980). It thoughtfully expands on the original formula while incorporating new elements to create a whole new dynamic. The idea is move your warrior (in the form of a square block) between contiguous screens to unlock castles, battle dragons, and ultimately capture a golden chalice. The original Adventure is hard to top in terms of pure gameplay, but let's face it - the game was graphically challenged. Epic boasts high-resolution items, majestic castles, and oversized, multicolored monsters. You can "aim" your sword from side to side, and the Staff of Fire even gives you a shooting capability. The maze layouts are totally original but constructed in the same spirit as Adventure. The blocky rooms include a skull-shaped cave entrance and a duck-shaped room that pays homage to the original game. Unfortunately there are several flashing rooms that are really hard on the eyes. There's no "bridge" object, but a Ring of Attraction lets you reach tucked-away objects. The Amulet of Invisibility adds a stealth element as you can sneak around undetected. Instead of a bat, a hawk now freely flies between screens redistributing the items, and sometimes he'll even carry you off! Occasionally he will save your life, but one time he embedded me in a wall. I dislike how you can't "slide" around walls as you could in the original game, and sometimes monsters will appear on the screen and eat you before you can even react. There are three difficulty levels. Epic Adventure is addictive and very exciting at times. It's different from Adventure but not too different. Give this game a try, and let it bring out the little square in you. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Escape From The Mindmaster
Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/12/21


screenshotThis is quite an ambitious title from Starpath. Fully utilizing their cassette-loading technology, Mindmaster loads four times during the course of a full game. Its first-person viewpoint features a smoothly-scrolling maze of hallways and doors. Responsive controls and a helpful on-screen map make it fairly easy to navigate. Each maze presents a puzzle to solve, usually requiring the arrangement of geometric shapes scattered throughout. As you roam the maze, you are stalked by an alien, and you can detect its proximity by the pitch of the annoying music. You'll also periodically stumble across simple mini-games that challenge your reflexes. Those looking for a serious test of both mind and motor skills should appreciate this. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 97
1 player 

Espial
Grade: C-
Publisher: Tigervision (1984)
Reviewed: 2013/10/24

screenshotThis vertical shooter really caught my eye with its vibrant, colorful stages. Espial's instruction manual offers up a typical space station attack scenario, but with a little imagination you can see a lot more. In stage one you appear to be flying over buildings rendered to appear 3D. In stage two you fly over crop patterns of animals like birds and butterflies etched in the ground. The third stage looks like a set of war-torn apartment complexes. You can move your ship freely around the screen as you're approached by planes, helicopters, and various geometric shapes (including the ever-popular rhombus). Beware of ground installations that open and close to discharge bombs. The word Espial means "catch sight of" and that's appropriate because the enemies are hard to see. In fact, they're transparent! You can fire rapidly, but even your fat missiles have a hard time connecting with those ghostly, zigzagging targets. A set of crosshairs hovers a fixed distance in front of your ship, allowing you to target ground installations (ala Xevious). One knock against the game is the musical intermissions, which sound more like off-key nursery rhymes. I suspect these were leftovers from a scrapped game featuring a chain-smoking rabbit and an effeminate dancing frog in a sailor outfit. Espial is a playable little shooter, but its bad parts tend to overshadow its good parts. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12,090
1 player 


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