Recommended variation: 9
Our high score: VGC 5:11
Publisher: Mythicon (1983)
You have to love how even the worst
Atari 2600 games managed to include elaborate background stories in their instruction booklets. The premise behind Fire Fly is that a space pilot testing a high-speed interplanetary craft skips off the rim of a black hole. Upon regaining consciousness, he finds himself in a mysterious world ruled by insects that are half-machine. I could delve even further, but there's no point because the story has absolutely nothing
to do with this pathetic game. Fire Fly is utterly reprehensible in every way and practically unplayable. You control a free-moving blinking object that doesn't resemble much of anything. Moving from screen to screen, you shoot at evil pumpkins, demons, bats, and hydras. I can name these enemies because I looked in the manual, not because I could identify those sloppy, pixilated objects on the screen. Fire Fly's control is atrocious, the animation is jerky, and the non-stop background noise is unbearable! Of all the games in my Atari 2600 collection, this may well be the most worthless. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Once again Starpath has taken a simple video game concept and elevated it to kick-ass status. Fireball builds upon the classic Breakout formula by giving the player the ability to catch, aim, and throw multiple balls. In contrast to the flat, rainbow-colored walls of Breakout, here you get a variety of brick arrangements. You control a juggler on the bottom of the screen who automatically catches up to two balls. Pressing the fire button causes him to throw them back, allowing you to take aim at those final few bricks. You can also hold in the button to have them bounce off of you instead. It's best to stagger the balls, since missing a single ball
immediately ends your turn. The game is especially hard in advanced rounds where you'll need to juggle up to six balls at once!
Keeping multiple fireballs in play multiplies your score, and it's fun to watch the points tally continuously at the top of the screen - even after your turn ends. Five game variations are available but only two are worthwhile. In Firetrap you'll break two balls out of a pair of circular enclosures, and in Cascade there are five
balls to release! The other three variations add complexity but I found them slow and tedious. Stick with the basics however and Fireball is probably the most entertaining Breakout-style game you'll find on the 2600. Note: As with all Starpath titles, Fireball must be loaded from tape unless you can obtain the "Stella Gets a New Brain" CD. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Firetrap B
Our high score: 2,467
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1980)
This ingenious game was created by David Crane, the man who later programmed the legendary Pitfall
(Activision, 1982). Nowadays we take our fishing games for granted, but back in 1980 Fishing Derby was quite the novel concept. Two fishermen sit on docks on opposite sides of the screen, and by adjusting your line with the joystick, you attempt to hook one of the many fishes swimming below. Deeper fish are worth more points but require more effort to reel in. The fire button lets you reel in your fish quickly, and timing is key to avoiding the shark prowling along the surface, ready to snatch up anything in his vicinity. Fishing Derby's graphics are very good. The fish look like fish, the shark looks like a shark, and the rednecks look like rednecks. Fishing Derby doesn't offer much replay value for the solo player, but it does provide some terrific (and sometimes hilarious) head-to-head action. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2AA 1 or 2 players
Recommended variation: 2AA 1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1978)
This game's about as exciting as... a flag. Despite its misleading cover art that suggests a wild, swashbuckling adventure, Flag Capture is little more than a two-player guessing game. The screen presents several rows of white squares, one of which hides a flag. Should you choose incorrectly, you may see a "hint" in the form of an arrow or number. If the sparse visuals don't turn you off, the abrasive sound effects sure will! Even the control feels erratic - you'll wrestle with the joystick just to navigate the simple grid. There are not many redeeming features in this game, and the "moving flag" variations will make you lose your mind. File Flag Capture under "F". It's flag
-tastic! © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Trying to read the instructions for Flash Gordon caused my eyes to glaze over. The manual goes on and on about hatching pods, disrupters, generators, spider warriors, deadly debris, yada yada yada... I never knew a 2600 title could be so complicated! You move a ship across the top half of the screen, and the bottom half is dedicated to a space map. Pay attention to this map! Focus
people! To make progress you need to guide your ship indicator towards blue boxes scattered throughout the maze of caverns. Once there, several diamond-shaped objects materialize, but these are easy-pickings for your laser. Quickly move on to the next blue box or you'll find yourself pelted with colored rocks. Flash Gordon is confusing as hell, partly because the top screen rarely seems to be in sync with the bottom. As you navigate your ship indicator through the maze it doesn't look like your ship on top is really moving at all! Instead it appears to be pushing against the side of the screen, making it vulnerable to collisions. Occasionally a stranded astronaut will appear which you can snag for bonus points. Periodically a "shield" inexplicably appears around your ship in the form of two dotted lines. Wow, that looks terrible. Flash Gordon is not particularly fun or innovative, and like the instructions, it's difficult to comprehend. Note: A reader pointed out that this game actually has nothing to do with the Flash Gordon film, and is really just a port of the computer game Spider City. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 98,680
Publisher: Atari (1978)
In my circle of friends, this classic cartridge will always be known as "trash can football" due to its ridiculous, blocky players. Yes, the graphics are really awful - no two ways about it. The teams are two sets of flickering "trash cans" moving slowly around a tiny, vertical field. But what's truly amazing about Football is that it's actually fun
to play - and often hilarious. The football is a little black square. When hiked, the quarterback can either run the ball, or pass and guide it down the field. Unrealistic for sure, but it works great. You can also punt, but there are no field goals (extra points are automatic). The play selection is limited, but there's plenty of room for improvisation. Exhibiting incredible foresight, the programmer included a visible line showing where you need to get to for a first down. It took 20 more years for TV to invent that! By stripping down the game of football to its bare essentials, Atari inadvertently created a game more entertaining than many modern
football titles. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data Age (1983)
This obscure game is one of the more compelling third-party titles for the 2600. It boasts a refreshing horror motif and its gameplay is surprisingly sophisticated. You control a small but colorful fellow attempting to "wall up" the imposing Frankenstein monster at the top of the screen. If the creature becomes fully charged, he'll break loose and that's always bad news. The big green guy likes to toss girls in ponds, complain about fire, and just generally freak everybody out. Putting the clamps on this psycho will require six trips to the lower dungeon to retrieve bricks. Frankenstein's gameplay borrows heavily from Pitfall
(Activision, 1982) as you traverse multiple platforms fraught with peril. There are pits, spiders, ghosts and even an "acid pool" that looks suspiciously like water
You can drop through a pit and onto a log if your timing is right.) When you hop across the floating logs it feels a heck
of a lot like Pitfall, and the scoring system is also similar as you're docked points for touching spiders. Upon returning with a brick you're transported to a second screen where you have to fight through a swarm of bats. With each successive trip more obstacles are placed in your path and you're also racing against the clock. Flashing lightning and crashing thunder periodically alert you that the monster is gaining strength. The controls are responsive but unforgiving. If you walk to the edge of a pit, you will
slide into it. You can only jump a fixed distance, and it takes a while to learn where to properly position yourself. Even so, the game succeeds on the strength of its challenge, variety, and kick-ass ending. When the monster inevitably breaks loose, he stomps toward the screen with the help of some admittedly rough scaling effects. Eventually the display turns completely green - because the monster is mooning
the screen! Disrespectful! Frankenstein's gameplay isn't terribly original, but its unique theme and entertaining quirks make this one worth tracking down. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 1,480
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1981)
In the early 80's, it seems like whenever I engaged in a conversation about Frogger, somebody would always chime in about how they preferred Activision's Freeway. Both games offer similar cross-the-street gameplay, but Freeway stars a yellow chicken that's roughly six feet tall and ten feet long (measured against the cars). That's a big chicken, people. Frogger's screen was divided into a road and a stream, but Freeway is just one big ten-lane highway. Your goal is to cross as many times as possible within a 2-minute, 16-second time limit, and you can only move up-and-down. It's simplistic for sure, but one thing this game has over Frogger is its two-player head-to-head action. The game requires good timing, and you'll need to anticipate traffic several lanes ahead before attempting a mad dash. Under difficulty A, hitting a car sends you back to the bottom of the screen, which makes the game riskier but more fun. As you would expect from an Activision title, the animation is smooth and the graphics are pleasing to the eye. The well-defined cars and trucks slow down and speed up unpredictably. The sound effects include car horns and engines fading in and out. Freeway is super fun when played head-to-head, but the one-player experience is less than compelling. Overall it falls short of Frogger, but Freeway certainly deserves a spot in any Atari 2600 collection. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 7A
Our high score: 17
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Parker Bros (1982)
A simple premise and inviting graphics made Frogger one of the most popular Atari 2600 cartridges of all time. This timeless classic is enjoyed by both men and women, young and old alike. The idea is to help a frog cross a busy street with speeding cars, trucks, and bulldozers
(?) headed in both directions. Surviving that, you must navigate a river full of logs, snakes, and alligators. Escorting attractive lady frogs and catching juicy flies will earn you bonus points. The jumping animation could be better, but the graphics look clean, colorful, and vibrant. This is every bit as playable as the arcade, and there are special features to boot. Setting the difficulty switches to B let you float off one side of the screen and reappear on the other - something you couldn't do in the arcade. In addition to novice and expert modes, you can also try your hand at "speedy Frogger". This mode lets you take fast, consecutive hops, but it tends to make your frog more accident-prone. A harmonized tune kicks off each screen, but I wish you didn't have to wait for it to end before you could begin. Frogger is a competent but unspectacular title. If you're looking for a little more razzle-dazzle, check out the superior The Official Frogger by Starpath. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3A
Our high score: 2393
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Parker Bros (1984)
Frogger II is deeper and more complex than the original game. It features three distinctive screens that are interconnected in imaginative ways. You begin on the ocean floor swimming toward the surface while battling the water current and avoiding fish, eels, and submarines. Keep an eye out for the friendly turtle; you're safe while riding on his back. The second screen is set on the water surface, and it plays more like the original Frogger as you hop across ducks, whales, hippos, and lily pads. Keep an ear out for the ominous music which signals when a shark is on the prowl through the lily pads. Hopping on the mother duck transports you to the "sky screen", where you bounce off clouds and ride the backs of birds. It's a little far fetched, and I'm sure marine biologists will question if this scenario is even possible. Frogger II's graphics are absolutely first-rate, with high-resolution objects rendered in vivid colors. When Frogger gets killed he becomes "fat", which is somewhat awkward attempt to render a "squished" frog. In terms of design, Frogger 2 is pure genius, but it's not quite as much fun as the original Frogger. You'll spend most of your time in the underwater screen, and fighting the current gets tiresome. Still, Frogger 2 is definitely worthwhile, and this Atari 2600 edition is vastly superior to the sluggish, dull Colecovision version. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: BA
Our high score: 3004
Frogger, The Official
Publisher: Starpath (1984)
The Parker Bros. version of Frogger for the 2600 was very good, but this Official version blows it out of the water
. It's astounding
how faithful this is to the arcade. The lush graphics boast a brilliant color palette and a well-animated frog that takes smooth, measured hops. All of the elements of the arcade are included (even the otter), but what makes the game extra fun is the break-neck pace. You get seven lives (!) but you'll go through them quick thanks to turtles that quickly submerge and cars that abruptly change speeds. The first screen is leisurely but the difficulty ramps quickly. I love how bonus point values appear right on the screen, making it extra satisfying when you escort the lady frog or snag a fly. Like the other Frogger, the difficulty switches determine if you can float off the side of the screen unharmed. But what really surprised me about this game is the music. Several songs play throughout the game, and while they lack harmony, they are all catchy and fun. Since the game rotates through a series of tunes (including Yankee Doodle), you never get tired of hearing them. It's a shame The Official Frogger is so obscure, because it's one of the most impressive titles I've played on the 2600. The game originally appeared on the Starpath series of cassette games, and was later included on the "Stella Gets a New Brain" CD. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 14,070
1 or 2 players
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
With its charming graphics, innovative controls, and head-to-head gameplay, Frogs and Flies is one of the Atari 2600's best kept secrets. Each player controls a small frog who can hop between two lily pads on the bottom on the screen. The control scheme is both unique and effective. By pushing and holding the joystick for a few moments, you control both the angle and distance of your frog's jump. When you miss the lilies and splash into the water, your frog to automatically swims back to a pad. Pressing the fire button flicks your frog's sticky tongue, allowing him to snag the blocky but tastey flies buzzing overhead. Each fly is worth two points and the frog with the highest score by nightfall wins. The fly movements are erratic, and it's always satisfying to snag one just before your opponent can reach it. The scenery is blocky but conveys a cozy pond environment, complete with plants lining the edge and tree branches hanging overhead. As the sky darkens, the action becomes more competitive and intense. At the game's end, a fly pulls a "The End" sign across the screen, and crickets can be heard chirping in the background. My friends and I have a blast
with this game, and there's a surprising amount of trash talk. Frogs and Flies also appeals to women, and is one of the few M-Network games that supports solo play. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: AA
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Front Line is an impressive one-man-army shooter similar to Activision's Commando. You control a soldier forging his way though forests, rocky gorges, deserts, bridges, and forts. Enemy soldiers (or tanks) appear two at a time, and you'll want to take an aggressive stance. It's kill or be killed, so directly approach each new foe and don't give them a chance to get off a shot. It's possible to take cover behind trees, rocks, and cactus, but these blocky objects aren't very useful and tend to impede your progress more than anything else. Enemy bullets are remarkably slow, so another effective tactic is running away from the bullets!
Please kids, don't
try this at home. Every now and then you'll notice a blue block on the screen. No, that's not a glitch in the program (good guess though) - that's a freakin' tank!
Position your soldier on top of it and press the fire button to hop in. There are two varieties of tanks. The heavy tanks are slow, but fire large mortars. Light tanks zip across the screen but require a little more finesse. The best part about the tanks is how you can jump to safety (and save your soldier's life) when it's about to explode (blinking red). Each stage ends with a black cannon you need to destroy to earn a hefty bonus. Front Line's graphics are blocky to the max, but that doesn't detract from the fun. Offering four skill levels of shooting satisfaction, Front Line will unleash the pixelated Rambo that dwells within us all. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 11,900
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1983)
As first glance you might mistake this for "Frogger on ice", but Frostbite is actually more of a Frogger/Q*bert hybrid. The screen features a river with four rows of criss-crossing ice floes. Playing the role of a colorful Eskimo in snowshoes, you must leap between the floes while avoiding birds and crabs. Hopping on a row of ice turns it blue and adds a brick to the igloo being constructed on the top of the screen. Once the igloo is complete, you enter it collect a bonus and proceed to the next stage. Advanced stages feature a polar bear patrolling near the igloo - a nice touch. What really sets Frostbite apart is your ability to reverse the direction of the ice floe you're standing on by pressing the fire button. This adds a lot strategy but it's not
easy to use effectively. The game does suffer from one major flaw, and that's how you become paralyzed when touched by a bird or crab. Watching a bird pecking your face as you're helplessly pushed off a floe is frustrating. Still, you have to love the challenge. Frostbite is deceptively simple, but gamers will need to really concentrate in order to wrap their minds around this one. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 11,290
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (1983)
Based on an extremely unpopular 1981 arcade game, Funky Fish didn't arrive on the Atari 2600 until 2003. Better late than never you say? Not really!
Funky Fish resembles no other game from the past, present, or future
. Its laborious gameplay involves dragging a lazy-ass fish across a side-scrolling, murky-green ocean. A Defender-style scanner on top of screen tracks your four stationary
targets. These so-called "monsters" are evenly spaced out and cleverly disguised as square blocks
. As you approach each, they excrete odd shapes that move erratically. If you make contact with a shape your fish turns to bones and sinks to the sea floor. Fear not however, for Funky Fish can shoot these objects, transforming them into - you guessed it - cherries
. Once you've consumed a certain number of cherries, the monster becomes defenseless, allowing you to sit
on him until he dies. I wish I could say this game "looked better on paper" but how is that possible?
Your slow trek between each monster is unbearable, and adding insult to injury, you can't simply move off one end of the scanner and re-emerge on the other side. Repetitive beeps further add to the misery. Funky Fish is available from Atari Age. Get your copy today! © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 7,390
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection, Atari 2600 Homebrew