Publisher: Atari (1981)
I remember sitting in school listening to my friend Chuck rag
on this game before it even came out! Apparently his mom worked in retail, and word got out early that this game sucked in the worst way. When you consider it's the official version of perhaps the most beloved video game of all time, its glaring flaws are hard to defend. The blocky maze design (which looks nothing like the arcade) is unimaginative and redundant. With so many turns, it's hard to navigate, too. The "escape" corridor (which transports you to the opposite side of the screen) is so poorly positioned that it's practically useless. The ghosts are pale and flicker so much that you can barely tell they're supposed to be different colors! Pac-Man now has eyes, and his mouth chomps continuously whether he's eating or not. Worst of all, he faces sideways when moving up and down, and that's just wrong!
And are those square pancakes supposed to be an acceptable substitute for bonus fruit? This is Pac-Man by name alone, and it has "rush job" written all over it. Even so, the game is playable, and if you select a tough difficulty level you'll have your hands full. Atari would later release fantastic renditions of Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man, but the damage had already been done. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 6A
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Starpath (1983)
Recommended variation: All
2 or 4 players
Pele's Championship Soccer
Publisher: Atari (1980)
I love sports video games, but this one is hard to stomach. Each team is composed of three blobs that move in a triangular formation over a vertically-scrolling field. Reading Pele's Soccer's 17-page instruction book might lead you to believe the gameplay is pretty sophisticated, but in reality it's pure tedium as you slowly bring the ball up the field using a series of short kicks. You can't kick it very far, and passing between players is an exercise in futility. Inexplicably, the goalie resides just inside
of the goal, yet if he catches the ball it's considered a save. None of the 54 game variations offer a way to shorten the games, which tend to run so long that your hands will cramp up, bleed, and eventually just fall off. The highlight of the game is the cool fireworks display shown after each score. Rarely fun and usually agonizing, this marginal soccer game was originally named Championship Soccer before given the celebrity treatment. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1984)
I love how the instruction manual describes Pengo as "The Arcade Blockbuster". I suspect the term "blockbuster" refers to the gameplay, because I never heard
of this game when it was new. Taking control of a red Penguin, the object is to destroy waves of circular yellow creatures called Sno-Bees. The playing field is full of square ice blocks, and you can squish the bees by sliding ice blocks into them. Pengo plays like a zero-gravity Dig Dug, and it's very satisfying to squash two or three bees with one block. Unfortunately, the Sno-Bees aren't too bright, and as a result the gameplay lacks intensity. The graphics are pretty good though, and your penguin actually looks
like a penguin (except for the fact that he's red of course). You can begin this game on one of 10 levels. It's no blockbuster, but Pengo is certainly worth a try. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ebivision (1999)
I admit it - I was much too hard on Pesco when I originally reviewed it. I guess I was expecting more than just another Pac-Man clone from a 1999 game. It's a bit slow, but Pesco's at least as good as Atari's Pac-Man game. You control a fish being pursued by three crabs in a maze of dots. The graphics are crisp and colorful, with solid, nicely defined crabs. Ocean-inspired bonus items like clams and starfish appear in the upper part of the screen, and the tunnel on the bottom makes for a handy escape route. The worst aspect of Pesco is its lack of audio. The only sound effect is when you eat a dot (or dash, in this case). Eating a power pill or getting caught by a crab results in silence, which is pretty lame if you ask me. I do like how the difficulty ramps up in a hurry. Once you reach the third screen, you'll be swimming for your life. Pesco is nothing remarkable, but its challenge makes it worth playing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Pete Rose Baseball
Publisher: Absolute (1988)
I trashed Pete Rose Baseball for the Atari 7800, so I'd be a hypocritical bastard
if I didn't downgrade this one as well. It's a shame, because technically this game offers a level of depth you rarely see in a 2600 title. You get a behind-the-pitcher view like a televised game, and there's even an umpire behind the catcher. The motion is smooth as the pitcher winds up and throws the ball. Once the ball is put into play the screen shows the right or left half of the infield, and when the ball leaves the infield one of three outfield views is displayed. The outfield looks nifty with a warning track and a blue wall complete with distance markings. Fly balls are smooth and easy to follow, and they can even carom off of the walls. As for the fielding controls, this game suffers from the same "limited infield movement issue" that plagued the 7800 version. Still, it seems less of a factor because of fewer dinky grounders. Otherwise the controls are very good. The real problem with this game is the preponderance of home runs, elevating final scores into the teens and beyond. It seems like every other hit
is a line drive over the fence, and it gets boring to watch runners trot slowly around the bases. There are also too many foul balls, and why are both teams wearing the same white uniforms? Pete Rose's has what it takes in the eye candy department, but its gameplay could use a serious tune-up. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Arcadia/Starpath (1982)
Phaser Patrols takes top honors as the Atari 2600's finest first-person space shooter, overtaking Star Raiders (Atari), Star Master (Activision), and Star Voyager (Imagic). Not only is Phaser Patrol's gameplay more advanced, but its sharp visuals put those other titles to shame. The high resolution control panel is chock-full of useful indicators and incoming messages displayed in large, easy-to-read text. Gameplay is similar to other games of its ilk, where you scour the galaxy for aliens and return to your star bases to refuel and repair. But Phaser Patrol has a few tricks of its own. Your "range finder" (aiming cursor) turns red when an enemy is under it, and firing a shot precisely at this time will cause your torpedo to be guided
into its target - very satisfying! Shots that miss still detonate, and these explosions can also take out nearby enemies. Aliens tend to appear two at a time and fire aggressively. A separate map screen indicates locations of friendly star bases and known enemies, but initially initially most sectors are marked as "unknown". The left difficulty switch is used to access the map screen, and the color switch shuts down your shields (not recommended). There are two difficulty levels, and at the end of each game you're awarded a rank and level. Phaser Patrol is a rare game, and that's too bad because it's a real gem. Originally available only on cassette, you can also now find it on the excellent "Stella Gets A New Brain" CD compilation. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Our high score: 56,750
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1983)
This unreleased Fox game was made available for the first time at the 2002 Classic Gaming Expo. While its storyline is fairly original, I suspect its subject matter was considered somewhat risque by early-1980's standards. You play a typical guy out to win over a girl by collecting the following gifts for her: a car, a flower, money, perfume, a wine glass, and a heart. As these objects move overhead, you shoot them with guided missiles in order to collect each one. Shooting the same item twice however will cost you a life (or "chance", as this game calls it). Objects collected are displayed on the bottom on the screen, so at least you know what not
to aim for. Collecting the items looks deceptively easy, but often you'll need to "thread the needle" to reach objects at the very top. While interesting in concept it's not terribly fun. Once you've gathered all six items, you grab your lady by the hand and take her to a tiny hotel with two windows. This where you really
score! After going through the front door, you hear some footsteps and see the shades get pulled down. Five seconds later your guy emerges, revitalized and ready to take on the next level! What a total stud! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Swatting flies at a picnic seems like reasonable video game premise, but Picnic is too sloppy and abstract to pull it off. The screen features two "cheeseburgers" sitting on a checkered tablecloth on the bottom. Who in the hell brings cheeseburgers to a picnic anyway? The big solid box between the burgers is supposed to be a "bug trap". C'mon US Games, is that the best you could do? Using the paddle controllers, you move a "swatter" (small curved line) across the screen to protect the burgers from waves of bugs. As the flies descend, the lowest one will suck up the food with his long, needle-like tongue. By timing your "swat", you transform the fly into a messed-up square that bounces around the screen. If I didn't read the instructions, I would have absolutely no
idea what the hell
was going on. Every few waves an oversized "super bug" emerges, but he's defeated in the same exact way. The controls are fine, but there's no strategy! All you do is hover under the lowest insect and keep hitting the button. The advanced difficulty is so easy and repetitive that I couldn't wait for it to end. The audio consists of an endless droning that's supposed to be the "buzz" of the flies. Picnic is one of those worthless, by-the-numbers games that companies were shoveling out by the dozens in 1982. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3B
1 or 2 players
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Piece O' Cake has its issues, but impressive graphics and imaginative gameplay make it worth a look. Using the paddle controllers, you move a huge baker across the top of the screen, dropping cake layers onto platters riding over a moving conveyer belt below. Cake layers come in three sizes, and to build a cake correctly, you'll need to stack the small layers on top of the larger ones. A perfect cake consists of three layers, and you'll want to top it off with a cherry to complete your creation before it falls off the conveyer belt. The paddles provide pinpoint control, and initially the game is pretty sweet. Once the conveyer belt starts speeding up however, things become unmanageable in a hurry. Piece O' Cake's graphics are surprisingly well done. The baker is huge with a well-defined face, and the cakes actually look somewhat appetizing. The sound effects on the other hand are relentlessly annoying. This one never really lives up to its potential. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 5
Our high score: VGC 10,900
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Some of you may recall Pigs in Space from the old Muppets television program. This cartridge is actually three games in one: "Chickenvaders", "Pastaroids", and "Escape from the Planet of the Gonzoids". It sounds like you're in some madcap intergalactic mayhem but don't get too excited. The first game is a shameless Space Invaders clone except there are no barriers and you shoot at rows of chickens instead of mutants. You take aim with Captain Link at the bottom of the screen, and he's a large target for falling bombs. The graphics are nicely detailed and I especially like that rotating Gonzo head that periodically crosses the top of the screen. That thing looks amazing
, but it's all downhill from there. The second game stars Miss Piggy in a cringe-worthy Frogger rip-off. The idea is weave your way around floating spaghetti and meatballs to reach the space cruiser at the top of the screen. Touching pasta pushes you downward, and you usually end up back at the bottom of the screen. Ugh. The third game is more aggravating still. It involves guiding a milk bottle-shaped ship upward through caverns while shooting at pigs camped out on ledges. Your shots curl around, making it possible for you to shoot yourself!
How could that possibly be a good idea? This game drags on and on and it's almost unbearable. As a marginal collection of uninspired mini-games, I'm afraid that Pigs In Space is just one rotating Gonzo head away from complete failure. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 16270
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Our high score: SLN 85,750
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Our high score: 100,880
Publisher: Spectravideo (1983)
Planet Patrol aspires to be more than a typical side-scrolling shooter, but its programmer wasn't quite up to the task. Large and small missiles approach from the left side of the screen, and while your plane can shoot down the large ones, you're forced to dodge the smaller ones. After a while, you'll reach a "stranded pilot" who can be docked with for bonus points. Next there's an enemy base where you're required to destroy three large green structures. Finally, you'll navigate a maze of "debris" in order to escape. Before proceeding to the next level, you have the option to land on a strip to refuel. There's even the concept of "night stages", where you can only see enemies when you fire a shot. It all sounds pretty ambitious for a 2600 game, but sloppy graphics, awful collision control, and herky-jerky animation expose Planet Patrol as the bargain-bin title it is. The refueling truck, which literally jumps across the screen, looks pathetic. Without a solid engine running the show, the sophisticated gameplay is largely wasted. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Plaque Attack is non-violent game with a positive underlying message, but I'll try not to hold that against it. The action takes place in a person's mouth, where waves of floating junk food attack teeth lining the top and bottom of the screen. Manning a tube of toothpaste, you move freely around the screen. You can shoot either up or down at these evil but surprisingly delicious villains. It's a lot of fun to strafe the teeth when several molars are under attack at once. My one issue with the control is that you can't easily reverse direction if you're near the top or bottom of the screen. Plaque Attack's graphics are better than average, with colorful and easily discernible burgers, hot dogs, French fries, candy canes, strawberries, and donuts. It takes a while for the challenge to kick in, so you'll probably cruise through the first few waves with no problem. The game ends when all the teeth are gone, but an extra tooth is generously awarded at every 2000 points. Like Missile Command, you'll want to concentrate on protecting that last tooth when it's all you have left. Despite its good intentions, Plaque Attack is one of the more forgettable Activision titles for the 2600. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: UA Limited (1983)
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
This obscure shooter is considered by many to be a hidden gem in the Atari 2600 library. Polaris places you in command of a nuclear submarine in two distinct alternating stages. The first is viewed from the side as you blast enemy planes flying overhead while avoiding subs below. The degree of detail in the high-resolution planes is really pretty astounding. I love how their bombs appear to rotate end-over-end as they fall! Nice touch! And if you think the planes look nice, check out the occasional destroyer that zips across the surface. That thing looks freakin' amazing
- no kidding! Once you knock out the bombers, you'll then have to contend with a very dangerous dive-bomber. Not only does this son of a [expetive] fly in quick, unpredictable patterns, but he's armed with heat-seeking missiles! If you make it past him, the second stage offers a vertically-scrolling, overhead view of the sea floor, where you have to navigate around walls and mines. The walls look pretty chunky, reminiscent of the "lost valley" in Raiders of the Lost Ark
(Atari, 1982). But as bad as it looks, the stage provides a nice change of pace as you skillfully blast or maneuver around mines. The audio in Polaris is dominated by really annoying (and constant) sonar pings. Even so, the game offers a nice variety of visuals and gameplay, and the challenge is formidable as you progress through sixteen distinct levels. I really like this one. Play Polaris on your Atari 2600 and all of your wildest dreams will come true. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Publisher: Konami (1982)
Pooyan suffers terribly when compared to the arcade original, which was known for its beautifully-rendered fairly tale characters, funny animations, and terrific harmonized music. This 2600 version is Pooyan by name alone. The game starts off okay, with a set of wolves marching onto the screen as a tuneful jingle plays. But once the action is underway, it's a lost cause. You control a blob (allegedly a pig), attempting to thwart a pack of wolves trying to invade your mountain hideaway. On the first screen, wolves float down on balloons, and by moving up and down along the side of a cliff, you must shoot them down and avoid their projectiles. Occasionally you can knock down several wolves at a time by tossing a rectangular slab of meat (meatloaf?). On the second screen, the wolves are floating up, this time with the intention of dropping a boulder on your head. The original game was brimming with personality, but none of that is reflected in this half-assed translation. The main problem is the horrendously choppy animation. Not only is it hard on the eyes, but it eliminates the sharp-shooting element that marked the original game. The bigheaded wolves look okay on the ground, but when hanging on balloons, they look more like stick figures! The sound effects are limited to sporadic beeps. Pooyan does offer four skill levels and two-player modes, but it's like trying to put lipstick on a pig. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 5
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Parker Bros (1982)
This is a highly playable version of the popular arcade game. A cross between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, Popeye's gameplay has an addictive quality. The graphics could use some work, but at least the gameplay elements are intact. Playing as Popeye, you scurry around platforms while collecting hearts tossed by Olive Oyle which float down from the top of the screen. Bluto is constantly on your tail, and he can jump up or reach down to grab you from another platform. Once per stage you can seize a can of spinach and turn the tables on Bluto - sending him flying across the screen with one punch. One thing Popeye has that few other Atari 2600 games can boast is high quality music that plays throughout the game. The characters are single-colored but nicely detailed. One animation that doesn't look so hot is Popeye's punch - it looks more like he's passing gas (which I suppose could be equally effective). Three screens are included, each with its own unique layout. While the screens roughly capture the flavor of their arcade counterparts, even I have to admit that the third stage (the pirate ship) looks like crap. Those blocky, diagonal lines don't look like something you'd expect to see in a finished game. Oh well, at least Parker Brothers gave it a shot, instead of omitting the third screen altogether (as Coleco did with Donkey Kong). Although there's only one skill level, the level of difficulty is just right (a little on the hard side). If you haven't been spoiled by the Colecovision version yet, you'll have a great time with this one. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1983)
Fans of the original teen exploitation movie may find nostalgic value in this game, but for the rest of us, Porky's is just one long, arduous ordeal. Controlling a guy named Pee Wee, your ultimate goal is to blow up Porky's bar. The first screen plays like a third-rate Frogger, but it contains unlikely obstacles in the form of motorboats, bouncers, and dancers. The second screen features a set of platforms and ladders with a hefty woman chasing you around. In the center of this particular screen there's a figure of a naked woman taking a shower, but the graphics are so rudimentary that it didn't even raise an eyebrow in 1983. Getting caught by the woman sends you falling into a pit, which for many will conjure nightmarish flashbacks of ET. For some reason beyond my comprehension, you must "pole vault" your way out of the pit. You never actually lose a life in Porky's, so the game just goes on and on and on. The final screen requires climbing a scaffolding while avoiding the sheriff, and it's far more confusing than it should be. The bittersweet ending sequence shows Pee Wee finally blowing up Porky's. It's nothing to write home about, but at least there is
an ending. Your final score is calculated by time completed and difficulty. Porky's graphics aren't the worst I've seen, but its gameplay is marred by awkward, unresponsive controls. Climbing requires you to position yourself next
to a ladder instead of underneath it, which takes a while to get used to. Like the movie, Porky's is only good for a cheap thrill. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ebivision (2002)
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Recommended variation: 3/4
Our high score: 10,310
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1984)
From its name, I anticipated Private Eye would be one of those slow, complicated games where you search high and low for obscure clues. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a fast-paced driving game requiring little in the way of thought. The object in all five missions is to drive around town, find three or more items, and transport them to the proper building within a certain period of time. A bizarre control mechanism allows your car to leap
high in the air, letting you snatch clues in windows or avoid oncoming obstacles. The slick graphics have a cartoonish quality to them. There are many screens to explore, but it's too easy to get lost. In the final analysis,Private Eye requires too much trial and error, not to mention constant backtracking. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: VGC 31,100
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
The original Q*bert combined flashy visuals with simple gameplay, and topped it all off with an ultra-cute lead character. It proved to be a recipe for success. Q*bert's Qubes adopts the same style, but takes a Rubik's Cube angle that's hard to wrap your brain around. You hop around a board consisting of 12 cubes arranged in a diamond formation. Three sides of each cube are visible, each being a different color. Depending on which direction you jump off a cube, its sides will change. You're effectively "spinning" the cube, but since the animation stinks, you'll need to visualize it yourself. Once the colors match the "target cube" in the upper left, that entire cube becomes "locked in" (turns green). Lock in four cubes in any row and you're off to the next stage. Complicating matters are bouncing balls, turtles, and pursuing rats. I really hate how these creeps appear without warning near the top, often costing you a life. Q*bert's Qubes has a substantial learning curve, but the game isn't half bad once you get the hang of it. The graphics however are disappointing. Instead of being solid in color, the sides of the cubes are rendered in pixelated patterns that are hard on the eyes. As with the first game, Q*bert is still missing his eyeballs, but at least your adversaries now hop smoothly from block to block. The bulk of the sound effects seem recycled from the first game. Q*bert's Qubes is more cerebral than your typical arcade game, and it won't appeal to most casual gamers for that very reason. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 14,825
Publisher: RetroActive (2001)
This exciting new cartridge was originally released at the Philly Classic 2001 convention. That's right, it's another new game for the 2600, and this one is surprisingly well-designed and brilliantly executed. It borrows some ideas from Q*bert, but offers more than enough originality of its own. The colorful playing field consists of sliding squares that you must arrange in a certain pattern, as shown in the corner of the screen. The star of the game isn't the best-looking character in the world - I can't decide if he looks more like Humpty Dumpty or an un-masked Darth Vader. While sliding around and hopping between squares, Qb can also collect fruit bonuses. There are some dangerous enemies, but he can dispose of them by using the fire button. The graphics are chunky but smoothly animated. The game is a pleasure to play, thanks to its excellent, responsive controls. Had Qb come out in 1982, it may have been a huge hit. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
This extremely rare cartridge was only available via a special offer from Atari Age magazine in 1983. Had I known then what I know today, I would have ordered these things by the dozen.
As the only voice-enabled Atari cartridge released in the U.S., your TV will blurt "Quadrun! Quadrun! Quadrun!" before each wave. In terms of pure gameplay, Quadrun may be the least intuitive
video game ever conceived. The idea is to shoot various objects wtih cute names like goons, nods, brats, and yo-yos. They move up and down the screen, but only one at a time. Your square cursor flips between the top and bottom, and after shooting it's necessary to catch
your missile on the far side of the screen. This awkward concept is a little hard to wrap your brain around. Every now and then a "runt" appears in the side areas that you can snag for bonus points. Quadrun is playable once you get the hang of it, but the controls never feel comfortable or natural. Like patting your head while rubbing your stomach, Quadrun is challenging but not necessarily in a fun
way. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8,500
Quest For Quintana Roo
Publisher: Telegames (1989)
In this elaborate adventure game you explore a pyramid with rooms containing snakes, mummies, and treasure. Quest for Quintana Roo's graphics are generally blocky but adequate for their purpose. An unconventional control scheme allows you to shoot snakes, throw flasks, and discover secret vaults. Unfortunately, the controls prove awkward because the select and reset buttons are used quite a bit during the actual game
. You'll also collect health, maps, and treasure during your journey. Thanks to the game's incomprehensible instructions, it took me a while to figure out exactly how to play. There's not much strategy involved - you just open all the vaults and collect everything you can. Still, the lackluster gameplay didn't stop me from playing for about an hour. The ending was a major disappointment - I'm still not sure what happened. Quest for Quintana Roo will hold your attention for a while, but it has little replay value. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Imagic was known for its quality games, but Quick Step is pretty lousy! Although clearly inspired by Q*bert, Quick Step lacks the charm, style, and everything else
that made that game such a classic. Designed for two players, player one assumes the form of an orange kangaroo while player two (or the CPU) is a purple squirrel that looks more like a massive claw. Hopping around frantically, they compete to turn squares into their
color before the squares scroll off the bottom of the screen. New squares take their place from above, so the action is continuous. There's a certain degree of risk-taking involved as you can try to capture lower squares before they scroll off. Falling off the bottom costs you one of your six
lives. It's really annoying how you tend to respawn on the bottom row
, leading to a quick death if you're not alert. You can make life more difficult for your opponent by making squares disappear (using the fire button), or freezing your opponent in place after obtaining the "magic mat". It all sounds perfectly reasonable on paper (as if!) but Quick Step is a hectic mess that's seriously lacking in the fun department. The game ends abruptly when one player depletes his lives, so your score is pretty meaningless. After playing a game like Quick Step a few times, the idea of the video game industry going belly-up in 1983 doesn't seem so hard to believe after all. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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