Atari 2600 Reviews Sf-Sm

Shark Attack
Grade: D
Publisher: Apollo (1982)
Reviewed: 2009/6/24

screenshotLooking like an underwater version of Pac-Man, Shark Attack is terribly unimaginative and its gameplay bites! The visuals don't look so bad with inviting blue water and some nice tropical island scenery. The green "reef" maze is unusual in shape, with a lot of odd nooks and crannies. Your yellow diver must collect dots scattered randomly around the maze, but to score he'll need to return them to the "shark cage" in the center of the screen. If that's a shark cage, why do sharks swim right though it? Most of the game's variations have to do with how the cage's doors open, which is totally inconsequential. The poorly-rendered sharks look like gray blobs swimming across the screen. But what truly kills this game are its aggravating controls. You are constantly getting hung up on the walls and poor collision detection makes it difficult to squeeze through narrow openings. Sometimes it seems like an invisible wall is in your way! The four corners of the maze are supposed to be "portals", but you'll have to wrestle with the joystick to get them to register. Occasionally you're chased all over the place by a "Loch Ness Monster" who looks suspiciously like a pink octopus! The sound effects in this game are crazy. When a shark enters he sounds like a giant stomping around. Shark Attack had the makings of a respectable budget title, but it couldn't even get the basics right. Note: This game was originally released by Apollo as "Lockjaw" in 1981. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: VGC 105
1 or 2 players 

Shootin' Gallery
Grade: C-
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Reviewed: 2001/7/1

screenshotSince the manual to this rare game is so hard to find, this review will also provide instructions so you'll know what the heck's going on the next time you play. Shootin' Gallery is an old-fashioned target-shooter that's very similar to Carnival. The object is to maximize your score using a fixed number of shots. The closest targets are snails, frogs, or ducks, and they are worth only 100 points. The next target up is the choo-choo train. Aim for the box cars, which are worth 1000 points each, compared to the 100-point engine. Above that, a monkey flips between bars. He's worth 500 points, and shooting him will summon a new train. The next row features animals like kangaroos, squirrels, and penguins. They are worth 2000 points each, and should be your main focus. On top of it all, there's a clock that is constantly counting down, and if it counts all the way down, a cuckoo will eat into your bullet supply. To avoid this, just shoot the clock periodically to reset it. You receive bonus shots every 20,000 points. Shootin' Gallery's graphics are impressive. The screen is an array of color, and the animals are realistically animated. That circus music really got on my nerves though. This is one of those games that seems interesting at first but doesn't hold your attention for very long. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Sir Lancelot
Grade: B-
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/3/1

screenshotIt's a strange game, but I liked Sir Lancelot much more than I expected. This rare Xonox title contains two alternating stages. The first features a castle at the bottom of the screen with flying beasts combing the skies overhead. Sir Lancelot takes to the air on his Pegasus with the intent of vanquishing these creatures. Uhh... come again? When did Sir Lancelot ever ride a freaking Pegasus? I watched that Monty Python Holy Grail movie at least a dozen times so I'm kind of an expert when it comes to this stuff. Since this is a video game, I'll let it slide, but just this one time. Anyhow, the basic gameplay is a complete rip-off of Joust as you tap the button to flap your wings while moving left or right with the joystick. It's fun though! There's a real sense of momentum and it's exciting to collide head-on with these colorful beasties. After wiping them out you enter the castle for the big showdown. On this screen a dragon drops fireballs while flying back and forth along the top. A maiden can be seen on the left edge of the screen as lava creeps up from below. Still on your steed, you can destroy the dragon by plunging your lance into its belly. If you look closely you never truly make contact with the dragon, which is kind of lame. You tend to bounce off the top of the screen a lot, so luck plays a major role. I do like how being hit by a fireball sends you into a tailspin but you can still recover before plunging into the lava below. Defeating the dragon returns you to the first screen, this time with a tougher, less predictable set of flying monsters. Likewise each subsequent dragon is more erratic and tougher to defeat. Sir Lancelot's gameplay is shallow but it's a lot easier to grasp than most Xonox games. The detailed graphics and formidable challenge combine to create a very respectable fantasy title. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 98,970
1 or 2 players 

Skateboardin'
Grade: D-
Publisher: Absolut (1987)
Reviewed: 2013/5/28


screenshotSkateboardin' manages to capture all the frustration of the sport and very little of the fun. The game is played on a maze-like "neighborhood" of contiguious screens. The idea is to guide a colorful little skateboarder over all the ramps and pipes within five minutes. There's not much in the way of scenery, but plenty of dead ends. You'll see a road with some traffic, brick walls, and steps, but mostly sidewalks and grass. Riding over grass slows you down, and the only way to recover is to keep rolling over the turf until you come to a complete stop. At that point you'll automatically pick up your board and can resume at full speed. Jumping ramps is no problem, but squeezing through the narrow pipes is a headache. You don't have much room to line yourself up, so you'll typically need to start on the next screen over, making slight adjustments as you approach. The controls are clumsy and it's hard to get into any kind of rhythm. The game is challenging but memorization helps. Skateboardin's instruction manual tries to make the game sound hip by using words like "gnarly", "radical", and "totally intense". I guess those sounded better than "unexciting", "mundane", and "annoying". After a few minutes of Skateboardin' you will run - not walk - to grab your copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Playstation, 1998). © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Skeet Shoot
Grade: F
Publisher: Apollo (1981)
Reviewed: 2003/7/29

screenshotBack in the early 1980's, certain game publishers would release any piece of crap to make a buck, and Apollo's Skeet Shoot is a prime offender. With ludicrous graphics and reprehensible gameplay, this cartridge is borderline offensive. Your goal is to shoot as many "clay pigeons" (gray disks) as you can. It would be difficult to imagine worse graphics than those in Skeet Shoot. Those ugly shapes at the bottom of the screen are supposed to be a man with a gun. You can shoot in five directions, but aiming diagonally is terribly difficult, even with a good joystick. The game offers two target speeds, with "slow" being far too easy, and "fast" being so quick you don't even have time to react. Skeet Shoot has 17 useless variations, and once you've played one, you've played them all. This game is so bad that I'd actually be embarrassed to be caught playing it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
1 or 2 players 

Skeleton
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari Age/Eric Ball (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/9/24

screenshotHere's a fresh new title for your Atari 2600. Played from a first-person point-of-view, you navigate a blocky maze while hunting a wandering skeleton. Ominous tones of varying intensity indicate his proximity, and by setting the difficulty level to 'B' you receive visual cues as well. The action grows pretty intense as the tones grow louder, indicating he could be around any corner. Once he's in view, press the fire button one or more times to disintegrate his bony ass. Any hesitation results in "GOT YOU" being displayed on the screen, abruptly ending your game. To complete the game, you need to dispose of 80 (!) skeletons in total. I'm normally not a big fan of maze games like this, but Skeleton's responsive controls and clean graphics won me over. The skeleton looks terrific, even a bit frightening, and it scales nicely when approaching. The mazes are easy to navigate as well. The only things I can criticize about Skeleton is what it does not have (but should). First of all, a skill level select is badly needed. The game is entirely too hard, especially with only one life. Next, when the game ends it should display some kind of score so you can see how well you did. It would have been easy enough to just print out the number of skeletons killed. But despite these flaws, Skeleton is still playable and comes with an attractive instruction booklet. It's a good effort, but a little more polish could have gone a long way. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Skeleton+
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari Age/Eric Ball (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/10/4

screenshotSkeleton Plus (+) is a much needed update to a game that held much potential but was somewhat undercooked. I imagine programmer Eric Ball caught plenty of flack about the original Skeleton's lack of options and steep difficulty. However, I'm happy to report that he has addressed those issues sufficiently in this latest version. As in the original game, you move through a first-person maze, trying to zap wandering skeletons one at a time. The mazes are well rendered and can be navigated quickly and easily. The skeletons look terrific, and you can even follow them around (although they tend to turn on you). This "Plus" version displays the number of skeletons zapped on the bottom of the screen, along with your life points, which drain each time you're touched by a skeleton. Since some skeletons require multiple "zaps" to kill, there's a bit of a "cat and mouse" element. The game has four options: skeletons per level (five or ten), starting life meter (49 or 99), sound on/off, and skeleton speed. Unfortunately, two options are assigned to each difficulty switch, so there are only four combinations in total. I would have preferred if all 16 possible combinations were accessible via the select switch. A "touch of death" mode is also accessible via the black/white switch, in case you preferred the unforgiving gameplay of the original. I couldn't really recommend the first Skeleton game, but Skeleton+ is the real deal. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Skiing
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1980)
Reviewed: 2002/2/26

screenshotSkiing by Activision is fast, smooth, and slick. The straighter you head downhill, the faster you travel, but with speed comes danger. There are two modes of play: slalom and downhill. Slalom requires your skier to pass through a series of gates while avoiding the evergreen trees that litter the course. Downhill mode has no gates - you just try to reach the bottom of the hill as fast as you can. In addition to trees, there are also little gray moguls you can jump over. The novice and intermediate tracks are slow, but the advanced levels are fast and exciting. You can even ski randomly generated courses. Skiing's graphics are plain but silky smooth. The sound effects try to capture the sound of whooshing snow, but they sound too metallic. With ten game variations in all, Skiing provides enough challenge to satisfy any gamer. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

Sky Diver
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2005/7/6

screenshotWhen having to choose between real skydiving or playing this 2600 simulation, I always opt for the pixilated approach. That's because very few people have become a red spot on the ground by playing a video game. Despite being graphically challenged and labeled as a two-player only game, Sky Diver is surprisingly entertaining. Its simple gameplay involves two players jumping from blocky planes moving across the top of the screen, adjusting to crosswinds in order to land on their respective pads. Pulling your ripcord at the last possible instant maximizes your score. You can guide your diver all the way down, but fluctuating wind makes it a challenge. Unlike some 2600 games, the different variations really do have an impact on the gameplay. You can alter the size of the landing pads, and choose between wind or moving platforms. There's even a "chicken" match with a single landing pad both players can vie for. Obviously Sky Diver is designed for head-to-head match-ups, but single players can still play for score. Deceptively plain looking, it's easy to write off Sky Diver, but I recommend you give it a try. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2A
1 or 2 players 

Sky Jinks
Grade: D-
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Reviewed: 2005/4/10

screenshotThis surprisingly weak Activision title plays like an overhead version of Barnstorming, and we already know how boring that game is! Believe it or not, Sky Jinks is even less interesting and more repetitive! Piloting a "P41 Racer" plane, you weave around red and white pylons while avoiding trees and hot air balloons. The fire button is used to accelerate, and your goal is to complete the course in the shortest time. Even when you get a feel for weaving through the pylons, Sky Jinks is never remotely fun. What did Activision see in this? The first game variation features a 25-pylon course which can be completed in about a minute. The courses in the remaining four variations range from 50 to 99 pylons in length, and these seem to take an eternity to complete. Sky Jink's high-resolution graphics are sparse but sharp, and all of the objects (including clouds) have shadows to convey depth. Your plane controls well, and the instructions even boast how it handles like "real flying". All I know is, if I get on a plane and see the pilot holding a cheap Atari joystick, I'm outta there! Sky Jinks is a rare dud released by Activision. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
1 player 

Sky Skipper
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Reviewed: 2007/1/20

screenshotHere's an oddball little game where you fly an airplane through a maze that scrolls up and down. Sky Skipper's gameplay involves bombing gorillas, which somehow cause animals to be "released" from nearby cages. Scoop them all up, and you're off to the next stage. Your plane is smoothly animated, but I can't say the same for the tiny animals. When released, they simply blink in and out of their cages, and it looks pathetic. I can't tell you why it was programmed like that, but I suspect it was pretty easy to do it that way! Later levels feature tougher mazes and faster planes, but Sky Skipper's methodical gameplay is painfully monotonous. In the early stages, your plane tends to move very slowly (boring), but later it moves too fast, causing you to crash into everything. Sure, it's a challenge to avoid the walls, but not the "fun" sort of challenge. Any game that predicates its difficulty on a lack of control has serious issues. Sky Skipper is also the only video game where your airplane can actually crash into a cloud. Now that's just dumb. Sky Skipper is one of those brain-dead, tedious titles that will leave you asking, "What's the point?" Why a respectable company like Parker Bros. would put their name on a piece of junk like this is anybody's guess. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

Slot Machine
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2000/5/4

screenshotVEGAS!! What is the purpose of Slot Machine exactly? I still don't know. All you do is bet one to five coins and pull the handle of the machine. The graphics are unexciting, with blocky, indiscernable objects. Vegas! If you're brain-dead, you can even compete against the computer which places random bets. Playing Slot Machine conveys the excitement of winning money in a real casino, except without the money and without the casino and without the excitement. Vegas...zzzzz © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

Slot Racers
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Reviewed: 2013/4/1


screenshotYou won't have much fun playing this game, but you'll probably have a blast just dogging on the thing. As one of the few two-player-only titles for the 2600, Slot Racers is a shooting match between cars in a maze. The basic premise is similar to Twisted Metal, but the two games are not likely to be confused with each other. I asked my friends Chris and Scott to give Slot Racers a try, and their initial reaction was an incredulous "Oh my God - this is horrible". Each car can fire only one missile at a time, and the missiles seem to have a life of their own as they navigate the maze on their own accord. The front of your car has some kind of weird appendage mounted on the hood, prompting Chris to remark, "I feel like I have an elephant trunk." I could insert a joke here, but it's just too easy! Slot Racer's control scheme is counter-intuitive, and at any given time it's unclear whether you're guiding your car, your missile, or both. The default maze is uninspired, and the alternate mazes are so cluttered you can't possibly direct your shots. In some variations the missiles travel slower than the cars! Slot Racers is so offensive that Scott said the game made him glad to hear Atari "went out of business for the third time!" © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle
Grade: B
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Reviewed: 2009/5/25

screenshotSmurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle looks amazing on the Colecovision, and while this Atari 2600 incarnation is a lot blockier, it still delivers a good-natured, side-scrolling romp. Your mission is to rescue the lovely Smurfette, who is being held "far, far to the right". Don't you wish real life were like video games? "You're looking for the nearest Starbucks? Just keep heading to the right! And oh yeah - if you see a bat, duck!" Rescue in Gargamel's Castle challenges you to guide a brave Smurf through series of contiguous screens as a well-orchestrated tune plays in the background. There's the fence-jumping screen with the hawk, a river-hopping screen with a snake, and a dark cave where you contend with a spider on a web. I like how the music changes to simulate the echo of the cave. Finally, you'll need to hop around some furniture in Gargamel's castle to reunite with Smurfette. And when your weary Smurf lays his eyes on that pixelated figure of hers, he'll be ready for some serious Smurfing action. I enjoyed the variety in this game. Sure, the scenery tends to be blocky as hell, but there are a remarkable number of colors on the screen at a given time. The controls take some getting used to. The normal jump (initiated by pushing up on the joystick) is pretty worthless, but following it up with second jump makes your Smurf execute a huge leap. Be careful not to touch anything, because even rubbing against a chair is fatal. The game contains four skill levels, and I prefer the third one because it really requires a serious effort to rescue Smurfette even once. Smurf may not look as flashy on the 2600, but in terms of fun, it's all here. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 14,300
1 or 2 players 


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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection, Atari 2600 Homebrew

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