Atari 2600 Reviews P-Q

Pac-man
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Reviewed: 2008/11/18

screenshotI 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 

Party Mix
Grade: A

screenshotFive games in one, Party Mix was originally released as title #10 in Starpath's innovative line of tape-loading games. Putting the paddle controllers to good use, Party Mix lives up to its name with impressive graphics, decent music, and hilarious multi-player mayhem. These split-screen games are designed for two-on-two action, but can also be played one-on-one. Needless to say, the four-player action is wilder and often comical. The first game, Bop-A-Buggy, is a race between two large, oddly-shaped vehicles across several screens of obstacles, with a finish line at the end. The paddle controls are very sensitive but provide pinpoint steering. With four players, the other two competitors can fire missiles to slow their opponent's progress. Tug-Of-War is just as you'd imagine, with players mashing their fire buttons continuously to maintain the upper hand. It'll absolutely kill your hand, but with four people going at once, you'll all be laughing your asses off. In the Wizard's Keep, wizards on the left side of the screen shoot fireballs at targets that move down the right side, and timing is crucial. The fourth game, Down The Line, takes place in a factory. One player picks colored packages off a conveyer belt and hands it to his partner who must place them on the correct belt on the other side. The packages come pretty fast so there's no time to rest. The final game, Handcar, puts each pair of players on one of those two-man railroad carts where one guy needs to push a handle down while the other pulls up. Both players must be well synchronized to gain momentum. Any one of these fine mini-games could stand on its own, so having all five in one package is a real bargain. Party Mix can be yours if you purchase the Stella Gets a New Brain CD. Check it out. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: All
2 or 4 players 

Pele's Championship Soccer
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Reviewed: 2006/8/3

screenshotI 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.

1 or 2 players 

Pengo
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Reviewed: 2000/2/14

screenshotI 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.

1-2 players 

Pesco
Grade: C
Publisher: Ebivision (1999)
Reviewed: 2003/10/4

screenshotI 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.

1 player 

Pete Rose Baseball
Grade: C-
Publisher: Absolute (1988)
Reviewed: 2010/5/14

screenshotI 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.

1 or 2 players 

Phaser Patrol
Grade: A
Publisher: Arcadia/Starpath (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/8/24

screenshotPhaser 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.

1 player 

Phoenix
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/4/21

screenshotIn the early 80's Phoenix drew crowds at my local bowling alley. This innovative shooter featured five unique waves culminating with a dramatic showdown with a colossal mother ship. Keep in mind that this was before bosses were so common (and overused). I broke my piggybank to get the Atari 2600 version, bugging my mother to drive me to Toys R Us so I could buy it. The game cost me $36, and adjusted for inflation, that's over $4,800 in today's currency. And worth every penny I might add. Phoenix boasts some of the sharpest graphics and varied shooting action you'll find on the 2600. The first wave consists of eight small birds in formation which are fairly easy to pick off. The second wave is similar, but it's actually easier because it supports rapid-fire shooting (just hold down the button). These waves feature high-pitched, oscillating background audio effects which sound exactly like what a flock of birds would sound like in space. The third and fourth waves feature larger birds swooping across the screen. You can shoot off their wings, but only a direct shot is fatal. When both wings are shot off, new ones sprout, which is a pretty impressive visual effect. I wish Atari had put some beaks on those birds. The fifth screen reveals the imposing mother ship. Although it doesn't have the small birds flying around it (as in the arcade), it's still quite satisfying to wear down its hull and blow up that freaky alien in its interior. From there the waves recycle and the birds become slightly more aggressive. Don't forget you can pull back on the joystick to engage your shield. The game's single skill level is its main liability, and you get too many lives (five plus one at 5K). Experienced players will need to defeat the mother ship a few times before the real challenge kicks in. Phoenix deserves extra credit for its incredible artwork, of which I had a poster of in my bedroom for many years. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 56,750
1 player 

Pick Up
Grade: C
Publisher: Games of the Century (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/10/30

screenshotThis unreleased 1983 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.

1 player 

Picnic
Grade: F
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/11/24

screenshotSwatting 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 

Piece O' Cake
Grade: C
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/6/14

screenshotPiece 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
1 player 

Pigs In Space
Grade: D-

screenshotSome 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
1 player 

Pitfall
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Reviewed: 2011/8/5

screenshotI respect Pitfall for the groundbreaking title it is, but I suspect this oldie is a little overrated. You play the role of Pitfall Harry in a jungle composed of 255 contiguous screens. The game is clearly built around one clever mechanism, and that is your ability to swing over hazards on a vine. It was cool in 1982, but is it still fun in 2011? Yes, as a matter of fact it is! I also love that "Tarzan yell" sound effect. Other hazards include quicksand, tar pits, snakes, fire, scorpions, crocodiles, and rolling logs. Like most Activision titles, the visuals look crisp and well defined. You earn points by snatching up treasure, and it's always satisfying to snag a gold bar or diamond ring. The jungle layout is exactly the same each time you play, but that's okay because the real challenge lies in exploring all the screens within the 20-minute time limit. Casual players will deplete their three lives long before time expires, but experts love to see how far they can get. You can travel towards the left or right, but the left is a lot easier. In fact, you may want to keep separate high scores for heading in each direction. Just don't make the mistake I did and try to use the trees in the background as a point of reference, because their spacing changes with each screen. In addition to providing exotic fun, Pitfall also teaches some valuable lessons in outdoor safety. For example, you can jump on a crocodile without fear of harm - but only if its mouth is closed. Pitfall is challenging at first, but eventually the action becomes monotonous - even mind-numbing. It seems like you're doing the same three things over and over again. Also, I've never been sold on the idea of those scorpion-infested underground routes. They're supposed to provide strategic shortcuts through the game, but there's no treasure down there and some lead to dead ends. Unless you map out the screens or have an excellent memory, you're better off staying the hell out of there. Pitfall is not as great as some of my friends remember it to be, but its classic status was never in doubt. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SLN 85,750
1 player 

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2011/8/5

screenshotThis well constructed sequel did a fine job extending the Pitfall concept while providing that "thrill of discovery" classic gamers crave. The first thing that stands out about Pitfall 2 is its lively, harmonized musical score that plays throughout the entire game. Thank goodness it's so incredibly catchy, because otherwise that looping tune might drive you to throw your TV out the window. Apparently a special chip was implanted into the cartridge to allow for such high quality audio. Unlike the first game, this one takes Pitfall Harry deep into the bowels of the earth. The rich visuals feature multi-tiered caverns, underwater rivers, and even waterfalls. The game feels expansive but retains that distinctive Pitfall look and feel. You'll encounter bats, condors, electric eels, poisonous frogs, and familiar albino scorpions (reprised from the first game). Pitfall 2 has no timer and there's no concept of lives. There are periodic checkpoints, and you have a score that's frequently docked for mistakes. If the first game was horizontal in nature, this one is very, very vertical. Expect a lot of climbing and falling. In one particular shaft you even travel on a hot air balloon to reach high ledges. My only frustration with Pitfall 2 stems from Harry's inability to duck. Low-flying bats and birds are constant hazards, and it requires perfect timing (and luck) to run under them without catching a wing. At one point you need to dodge about 12 of these in a row, and it's frustrating. Then again, the game would probably be entirely too easy if you could duck. As it is, Pitfall 2 is addictive and satisfying, making me wish a Pitfall 3 had been produced in the same exact style. Developer David Crane clearly pulled out all the stops with this one, and the result is an exciting adventure that really pushes the limits of the system. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 100,880
1 player 

Planet Patrol
Grade: D-
Publisher: Spectravideo (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/6/14

screenshotPlanet 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 

Plaque Attack
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2005/2/25

screenshotPlaque 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.

1 or 2 players 

Pleiades
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari Age (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/11/12

screenshotNow available for the first time thanks to the good people at Atari Age, Pleiades is one of those games programmed "back in the day" but never released. According to its instruction manual, Pleiades is the unofficial sequel to Phoenix. If I had to hazard a guess as to why Pleiades never saw the light of day, I'm guessing it's because no one could pronounce its freakin' name. Anyway, this fun but uneven shooter features three completely unique stages. In the first, you control a cannon on a planet surface shooting aliens flying in various formations. The aliens move fast and drop a ton of bombs, but their movements are annoyingly choppy. Occasionally one will crawl across the bottom, leaving a wall that you can poke holes in. There's some scenery on the planet's surface, but nothing particularly impressive. The off-key "music" that plays during this stage is simply awful. The second screen resembles the mother ship sequence in Phoenix. This particular mother ship is large but chunky, with three trap doors that randomly open and close on its underbelly. Timing your shots, you must nail a little star that moves left to right across the center of the ship. Meanwhile, large birds swoop down, drop bombs, and block your shots. Like the first stage, it's moderately fun but over too quickly. The third screen is easily the most difficult and time-consuming. Your job here is to guide a slowly moving, triangular ship up a pyramid-shaped course while avoiding scattered obstacles. This is where you'll lose 90 percent of your ships. Especially near the top of the pyramid, the airplane-shaped obstacles are too densely packed to avoid, and it grows frustrating. Pleiades is still worthwhile to play, thanks to its fast action and sheer variety. I also appreciate the fact that it keeps the high score displayed on the screen at all times. Note: Despite what the manual says, set the left difficulty switch to B for a normal game, and A to practice. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Polaris
Grade: B
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/2/15

screenshotThis 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.

1 or 2 players 

Pole Position
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/12/11

screenshotPole Position is the grandfather of all racers, and while this arcade hit had to be certainly scaled down for the Atari 2600, it's still challenging and addictive. The illusion of speed is quite convincing despite a complete lack of scaling scenery. The background is sparse, save for some mountains and clouds, but you won't even notice them in the heat of a race. Your car is multicolored, but oncoming cars don't look nearly as good. They first appear as yellow blocks on the horizon, and inexplicably morph into castles as they approach. At least the transition is smooth, so if you ram into one, you can't blame the game. Pole Position's solid gameplay makes up for its shabby graphics, thank goodness. You begin each contest with an easy qualifying lap, which becomes tedious after a while. Once the real race gets underway, your car accelerates automatically, and the fire button fuctions as the brake. Pushing up and down on the joystick allows you to shift gears between high and low. The game really keeps you on your toes. Although oncoming cars only appear one at a time, they change lanes unpredictably, so keep your thumb near the brake and approach cautiously. No roadside scenery means you can always drive off the road, but it will slow you down. You begin the race with a 59 second time limit, but your time is extended as you complete laps. Realistic sound effects include passing car engines and squealing tires. I like how the game keeps a running score at the top of the screen. This version of Pole Position is tougher than it looks. Try to reach 50,000 points and you'll see what I'm talking about. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Pooyan
Grade: F
Publisher: Konami (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/9/24

screenshotPooyan 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 

Popeye
Grade: B+
Publisher: Parker Bros (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/10/4

screenshotThis 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.

1 player 

Porky's
Grade: D-
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/9/2

screenshotFans 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.

1 player 

Power Off!
Grade: C
Publisher: Ebivision (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/12/11

screenshotThe French company Ebivision has a checkered past when it comes to producing new video games for the 2600. Their titles tend to be either highly innovative (Marlin's Walls) or awfully derivative (Pesco). Power Off falls more into the latter category. The screen consists of eight red platforms connected by ladders and patrolled by robots. You control a tiny man trying to gather 16 blue blocks spread among the platforms. Please don't confuse this with the 50 other Atari 2600 games that share the same premise. There's really nothing interesting about Power Off. Heck, the fire button doesn't even do anything! Once I started playing however, a funny thing happened - I couldn't stop. Just clearing the first screen required far more technique and strategy than I initially gave this game credit for. It's hard for several reasons. The robots tend to move side-to-side over the ladders, so your timing needs to be impeccable to scale one untouched. It doesn't help that it's aggravatingly difficult to line up properly with each ladder (not unlike Ebivision's Alfred Challenge). Even more frustrating is the fact that no matter how many blocks you've collected, once you die the screen is completely repopulated! I can't tell you how many times I dropped the "F" bomb playing this game, especially after getting snuffed out with just one block remaining. I do appreciate the innovative scoring system however, which rewards the player for picking up consecutive blocks (their values increase by increments). When you finally clear a screen (quite a feat), you proceed to another level with a different ladder layout and new set of robots. Power Off's graphics are clean-looking, the robots are cool, and I like how your little guy scampers around. Except for the musical title screen, there's not much audio. Speaking of the title screen, I like how it scrolls the instructions, but I detected a loss in translation when it mentioned that robots were "haunting" the rooms. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Pressure Cooker
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/5/25

screenshotIf this game is any indication, working in a fast food restaurant is an absolute blast! Pressure Cooker lets you play the role of a short-order cook, a concept we didn't see again until Cooking Momma took the Wii by storm in 2007. Pressure Cooker lets you assemble burgers by piling tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, and onions onto beef paddies moving down a conveyer belt. The bottom of the screen shows a "checklist" of ingredients required to create the next three orders. It's possible to work on multiple burgers concurrently, but even trying to juggle two requires maximum concentration. Once a burger is complete, you carry it to a lower screen and drop it into one of three colored chutes where it's packaged. I love this game's colorful, high-resolution graphics. At the top of the screen the burgers can be seen passing over a flame in an oven before being placed on a bun. It's then transported via a series of conveyer belt contraptions. The cook looks like an old man with a chef's hat, and he's nicely rendered in several colors. The visuals are remarkably clean and the ingredients are easy to differentiate. The control scheme lets you "kick back" items you don't need by holding in the button, but sometimes you'll still get stuck with an unwanted ingredient. Sadly, the only way to get rid of it is to build a "bad" burger. A trash can would have been nice! Another minor complaint is how you have to sit through the intro tune before the action kicks in. But taken as a whole, Pressure Cooker is ingeniously designed and extremely well programmed. This is one of those quirky games that makes you glad you still have an Atari 2600. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3/4
Our high score: 10,310
1 or 2 players 

Private Eye
Grade: D+
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 1999/8/23

screenshotFrom 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.


Q*bert
Grade: B
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/5/25

screenshotLike Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, Q*bert is one of those age-old classics that truly stands the test of time. Long after humans are extinct from this planet, the roach people who replace us will still be playing Q*bert. The game's simplicity and quirky characters are appealing to both men, women, and roach people of all ages. The star of the game is a whimsical character with a cylindrical nose. The object is to hop around a pyramid to turn all of its blocks the same color while avoiding falling hazards. Red balls tumble down the pyramid, a green freak named Sam changes the blocks back to their original color, and Coily the Snake relentlessly chases our hero. To be honest, the first time I played Q*bert on the Atari 2600 I was less-than-impressed with the water-down visuals. I mean, those blocky, disjointed squares are a meager approximation of the pristine pyramid in the arcade game. And what happened to Q*bert's eyes?? The fact that they look like two holes in his head transforms him from lovable icon to soulless freak! And then there's the animation - or should I say lack of animation! Although Q*bert moves smoothly between squares, the rest of the gang simply disappears from one square and reappears on the next. Not only does this make it hard to anticipate their movements, but it makes the game look cheap. Also, the spinning "escape disks" are rendered as simple white lines. The control scheme requires you to tilt the controller 45 degrees, which is slightly awkward. But almost in spite of itself, this Q*bert still manages to capture the spirit and fun of the arcade hit. The color schemes are easy on the eyes, and a tuneful theme song plays between rounds. When Q*bert is caught by an enemy, he exclaims "!#?", and in video game language that little piece of profanity translates to "[expletive]-[expletive] [expletive]." Wow, that's pretty hard-core! Maybe this game needs a Mature rating! There are only two difficulty levels, but the "A" option will give expert gamers a run for their money. All things considered, this arcade translation is flawed yet highly playable. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: VGC 31,100

Q*bert's Qubes
Grade: C
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Reviewed: 2009/12/12

screenshotThe 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
1 player 

Qb
Grade: B
Publisher: RetroActive (2001)
Reviewed: 2001/5/1

screenshotThis 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.

1 player 

Quadrun
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2010/8/25

screenshotThis 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
1 player 

Quest For Quintana Roo
Grade: D+
Publisher: Telegames (1989)
Reviewed: 1999/12/21

screenshotIn 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.

1 player 

Quick Step
Grade: F
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Reviewed: 2008/4/17

screenshotImagic 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.

1 or 2 players 


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