Snoopy and the Red Baron
Publisher: Atari (1983)
This game was tough to review. Taking control of Snoopy the flying ace, your goal is to shoot down the elusive Red Baron. Initially I was turned off by the game's repetitive action, but eventually it started to grow on me. The unique controls require you to lure the Red Baron into range before you can get a decent shot at him. The fact that you have both short-range machine guns and long-range missles provides some strategy. In terms of graphics, Snoopy and the Red Baron is impressive. You can easily make out Snoopy with his little scarf and goggles, and his doghouse even models damage in the form of bullet holes. The Red Baron's biplane looks equally good as it scales in and out. The scenery features a big blue sky and rolling hills, and several pleasant musical tunes play in the background. Unfortunately, once you get the hang of this game, it becomes too
easy. The Red Baron simply isn't aggressive enough. Even on the most difficult skill level, you'll be playing until your thumb gets sore. It's the ultimate downfall of an otherwise impressive title. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: CBS (1983)
It's rare that you stumble upon a game you've never even heard of and it still
turns out to be good, but Solar Fox is a pleasant surprise. This interesting space game combines elements of Pac-Man, Q*bert, and Galaga. By guiding an airplane-shaped starship around the screen, you collect fuel cells arranged in various matrixes. Complicating matters are two cannons that fire rapidly from the top and bottom of the screen. Your ship can roam freely, and you can reverse or turn on a dime. The steering controls are a bit quirky, but being able to slow down (using the fire button) helps. In later stages, you'll need to pass over each cell twice, with the first pass only altering its color. Solar Fox is one of those addicting games that'll have you hitting the reset switch over and over again. There are even Galaga-inspired "challenge racks". On the downside, Solar Fox's graphics are only average, and its sound effects have an irritating quality. Still, this low-profile title is worth picking up. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
I'm not sure how this space shooter managed to elude me for so many years, but it's pretty awesome!
Solar Storm is a paddle-controlled blast-a-thon that's simple in concept yet hard to master. You position a cannon on the bottom of the screen as flaming meteors and rainbow-colored alien ships descend. Pressing the fire button unleashes a solid laser beam that instantly disintegrates its target. In the early stages it feels like the paddle gives you almost too much
control, as you can precisely line up with falling aliens and decimate them with ease. On the flip side, these aliens unleash the same type of deadly laser - and it can't
be dodged. This adds some luck to the equation, but it's useful to know that the aliens can only fire once.
You, on the other hand, can fire like a madman, and it's really not a bad idea! The only time you might want to hold your fire is when a funky "sizzloid" appears. Hitting that screeching thing causes other aliens on the screen to be obliterated, so it can be useful to let it travel down the screen a bit. Solar Storm might not look like much, but the difficulty ramps quickly and by the time you reach 1500, it's just crazy
. Sweetening the deal are bonus stages that let you move a cursor around a planet in the center of the screen, firing at ships flying above and below. Nailing five ships before the timer runs out earns you a free cannon. Solar Storm's graphics are extra crisp, and the ominous sound effects grow in intensity. The two-player mode seamlessly alternates between the players, and the action never lets up. So give Solar Storm a try, and let's show these alien bastards how we do things downtown. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 1,955
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1988)
With its sophisticated gameplay and high-resolution graphics, Solaris is a technical marvel. Your objective is to seek out and save the planet Solaris while wiping out hostile alien forces along the way. Although it's played much like a first-person space shooter, you're ship is always visible at the bottom of the screen. There's plenty of dogfighting action which not only happens in open space, but over planet surfaces as well (a la Moonsweeper). For a 2600 title, Solaris is huge
in scope. There are 16 "quadrants", each containing 48 sectors! That means there are 16 different maps to move between, each loaded with a variety of targets including enemy fleets, flagships, planets (friendly and hostile), wormholes, and blockades. There are even special "corridor" areas that challenge you to blast aliens and snatch keys while moving at high speeds. A lot of skill is required to hyperwarp between sectors and dock with repair bases. In addition to blasting aliens, you can also rescue stranded troops on the planets. The graphics in Solaris are first-rate. The multi-colored aliens are flicker-free and glide along smoothly, even when attacking in groups. The planets look beautiful and the map screens are finely detailed. Solaris is an ambitious title, but Atari didn't give it the first-class treatment it deserved. For one thing, they reused the label from Star Raiders on it, which is pretty lame. Next they included the most oversimplified, poorly written instructions I've seen in quite a while. The illustrations are just awful, and as a result, the rules of play are confusing. In fact, I suspect one reoccurring "bug" that I've encountered (getting stuck in a quadrant), might have something to do with my lack of understanding of the game. Solaris is a stellar effort, but you'll need to invest some time to appreciate everything it has to offer. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mythicon (1983)
Mythicon's track record is fairly lackluster, but Sorcerer is a pleasant surprise. In some ways, this rare game is a gem. You begin by moving your wizard across the bottom of a screen as a "flying platform" whizzes around above you. You need to jump up and grab this device, but the jumping animation is pathetic, as your sorcerer suddenly "appears" several feet above the ground before floating softly down to the earth. Once you snag the platform, you can freely fly around the entire screen. Moving off the right edge, you'll encounter wave after wave of enemy which appear three at a time and move in distinct patterns. They fire missiles, so shoot first and ask questions later (like "what was
that thing?" for example). These "forces of evil" aren't hard to overcome once you recognize their patterns, and they drop a nice hunk of treasure behind when defeated. As you progress through the various waves, you'll be introduced to a surprising variety of foes, and it's always interesting to see what the next wave has in store. Sorcerer's sprites are chunky but smoothly animated and multicolored. The action is fast and the controls are responsive. It's definitely a challenge, and Sorcerer holds more surprises than your typical 2600 cartridge. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Even when a video game concept looks good on paper, you never know if it's going to have that intangible "fun" quality until you sit down and play it. Designed with younger players in mind, Sorcerer's Apprentice incorporates some interesting graphics and novel gameplay elements, but in the end it just feels like a chore to play. Assuming the role of a nicely rendered Mickey Mouse, you begin on a screen with colorful mountains and raining stars. You can shoot the stars for points or catch them to earn "buckets". Once you've accumulated buckets you can move off the right edge of the screen, where you'll find yourself on a staircase with rising water. Your buckets will automatically bail out the water, but first you must clear out a parade of water-carrying brooms. Eventually these brooms will overwhelm you, causing the water to fill the screen and end the game. The first screen has a handy meter at the bottom showing the current water level. The graphics are kind of fun, but the game never quite "clicks". Neither screen is particularly enjoyable, and after a while it just feels tedious going back and forth. Even the music is annoying, as it constantly "resets" whenever you fire a shot. I know it's designed for kids, but I can't imagine this holding anyone's interest for long. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3B
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
This was M-Network's attempt at a first-person space shooter, and it's a mixed bag. The radar screen is not a grid as you might expect. Instead it's wide open, with enemy ships approaching your mother ship in the center. From this screen you deploy three squadrons of ships. The best strategy is to deploy your nearest squadron to the most threatening enemy. Space Attack's controls are confusing, so you'll probably need to consult the manual. When one of your fleets meets the enemy, you switch to a battle screen that lets you to move a crosshair and shoot enemies. I do like the fact that the explosion of one enemy ship can take out another. You either win or lose this game - there is no score. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Apollo (1982)
Ready for another run-of-the-mill space shooter? This time you control an astronaut at the bottom of the screen who must shoot bomb-dropping aliens. These aliens are colorful but otherwise non-descript. Occasionally you're attacked from the side by creatures with large mouths. Space Cavern really doesn't have much to offer. It's also unfair - when starting with a new life, you are often bombed before you even get a chance to move! Whatever happened to those few seconds of invincibility you were supposed to get? It's not just a good idea - it's the LAW! © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Apollo (1981)
It doesn't happen often, but every now and then I'll stumble across an Atari 2600 title on Ebay that I've never even heard
of before. Space Chase is one of those games, and it may be the worst video game
I've ever seen!
The screen depicts a planet with vertically-scrolling land masses, conveying the weak illusion of rotation. Apparently this meager "special effect" was the basis for the entire game.
Three rows of blocky, bomb-dropping aliens move across the screen, and you simply plug away at them with your cannon. In the variation I played, they looked like crystal skulls from the Indiana Jones movie. The animation is choppy and the collision detection is pitiful. The fact your missiles can cancel each other out doesn't enhance the overall experience - it degrades
it by needlessly dragging out each wave. It's bad enough that the aliens and color scheme remain constant between waves, but even the difficulty
stays the same! Space Chase doesn't look so hot sticking out of an Atari 2600 console, but it looks terrific in a trash can! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 9B
Our high score: 12,100
Publisher: Atari (1980)
It's hard to come up with anything negative to say about this classic. In many ways this Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders is even better than the arcade, with colorful graphics and countless options. The 112 game variations include moving shields, zig-zagging bombs, invisible invaders, and several two-player simultaneous options. The difficulty switches even let you to make your cannon "skinny" or "fat". The aliens are large, and there are six different varieties, each with its own distinct look. Periodically the red "mother ship" slowly crosses the top of the screen, and at 200 points, it's hard to resist. Three shields along the bottom of the screen are handy to take cover under. It's fun to poke holes in the shields, but the invaders seem particularly adept at dropping their bombs through those narrow openings. As each round winds down, the sound of the aliens marching quickens, adding to the intensity. That last invader is always the toughest to hit. Your shots move slowly, so it's necessary to "lead them" into your target. It's a little slow, but Space Invaders is a legitimate classic that packs a good deal of shooting satisfaction. Tip: Enable the secret "double-shot" mode by holding down the reset button when you turn the game on. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 5B
Our high score: VGC 1,905
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Vidtec (1982)
Playing this game brought memories of the 80's flooding back. My childhood friend Bill had a huge Atari 2600 collection, and it seemed like every time I stopped by he had acquired a new title. So one day we're sitting in his basement, and he's playing his latest acquisition, Space Jockey. I remember thinking how this had to be one of the inane games ever
. As he played on and on, I started thinking, "Man, what is the point
of this?" I waited for what seemed like an eternity before he finally switched out that God-forsaken thing. Since then, Space Jockey has become the designated whipping boy for lame Atari 2600 games, often mentioned in the same breath as "Sssnake", "ET", and "Swordquest". Moving a blimp-shaped "ship" up and down over a planet, you fire at balloons, planes, tanks, and helicopters that approach from the right. What does this have to do
with space? Clearly the game doesn't take place
in space. And why can you score points for shooting houses and trees on the planet below? I just doesn't seem right from an ethics point of view. I mean, when was the last time you scored points for shooting a frickin' tree
?! Space Jockey's gameplay couldn't be more simplistic or monotonous, and it never really changes no matter how long you play. In fairness, the game does have a few redeeming qualities. The objects are rendered in multiple colors and the animation is smooth and flicker-free. If you play a difficult variation, Space Jockey even provides a degree of challenge. And did you know that moving the joystick after a game causes the high score to be displayed? Sadly, that's the highlight of an otherwise extremely bland shooting experience. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3AA
Space Master X-7
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1982)
Space Master X-7 is one of those generic space shooters with little substance - if any. You guide an asterisk-shaped "ship" freely around the screen, holding down the fire button to shoot in any direction. In the center of the screen resides an enemy base surrounded by a shield that expands and contracts. Your goal is to destroy the base as many times as you can while avoiding the various things it tosses out. These things typically resemble zigzags and curly-cues, and are usually easy to avoid. A gauge on the bottom of the screen indicates the base's current strength, and many hits are required to wear it down. For the first dozen waves or so, you can simply navigate a gap in the force field and fire missiles down the base's throat. Once you reach 60K however, the shield moves too fast to penetrate, so all you can do is sneak in a few shots here and there. The problem is, the base regenerates its energy as fast as you can drain it, and that really sucks. Space Master X-7's graphics and sound are average at best, and I didn't find its gameplay to be especially interesting. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Spiceware (2013)
Space Rocks is a homebrew version of Asteroids that's arguably better than the classic arcade version! The game features jagged rocks that rotate (!) and move in all directions, which is a considerable improvement over the predictable up-and-down movements seen in the original Atari cart. Objects on the screen are colorful and vector-like in appearance. It's a great feeling to begin a new wave and fire indiscriminately into a fresh jumble of rocks. The explosion effects are nice, and I like how you get sprayed with space dust after blasting a small rock from short range. Considering the amount of activity on the screen, the lack of flicker is extraordinary. The difficulty has been ratcheted up to arcade levels, but the tight controls are up to the challenge. You can skillfully navigate around the screen, and when you have to fall back on hyperspace, it usually transports you to a safe place. Upon losing a ship the next one appears in an invincible state, allowing you to avoid a cheap death on re-entry. The collision detection is so precise there were times when I escaped a close scrape by angling my ship!
Space Rocks has a convenient menu screen that lets you customize the game entirely with the joystick. Among the more interesting options is a two-player coop mode and the ability to substitute shields for hyperspace. But the most critical option is the one that lets you disable the annoying "Magna-Mines". These mines are heat-seeking pests that will antagonize you to no end just as you're trying to wipe out those last few rocks. With the mines turned off, Space Rocks is pure arcade bliss. This game may lack originality but it's got just about everything else. Space Rocks is available from Atari Age
. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: No mines
Our high score: 37,070
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1982)
This remarkable cartridge is very unique compared to most Atari 2600 titles. It attempts to be a realistic simulator of a space shuttle mission. In addition to the normal joystick controls, Space Shuttle uses all
of the console buttons to control things like primary/secondary engines, cargo doors, and landing gear. The manual is a thick, 30-page booklet containing procedures, diagrams, and charts. A quick reference sheet is also included, and there's even a template to place over your console switches! The screen displays the instrument panel and a view out of the windshield. Activision allegedly worked with NASA to make this as realistic as possible. You might expect such a realistic game with complex controls to be a very dull affair, and you'd be correct. However, after trying it out I have gained a certain appreciation for Space Shuttle. Not that I had enough patience successfully complete a mission, but if someone spent enough time figuring this out, I think they could really derive some enjoyment. Just mastering the controls would derive some degree of satisfaction. Space Shuttle won't appeal to the casual gamer, but its quality and attention to detail is admirable. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1978)
To say this ancient shooter hasn't aged well is an understatement. At first glance Space Bore (whoops - I meant Space War
) looks like Combat with the triangular ships from Asteroids. Its ultra-simple gameplay involves thrusting around a wide-open screen while firing at your opponent. Hyperspace variations let you disappear for a few seconds at a time, which is really annoying for the other player. In some variations a square in the middle represents a sun with a gravitational pull, and in others it serves as a "space station", allowing you to reload your ammo. Space War's concept of running out of ammo and having to reload provides a modicum of strategy to its otherwise vanilla gameplay. But where are the explosions? What's a space game without explosions!? The final straw came when my friend Steve started thrusting continuously up the screen and refused to stop, rendering the game virtually unplayable. There are a few single-player "docking" variations thrown in, but these afterthoughts are even more pointless. It's easy to see why Space War was one of Atari's first discontinued titles, considering its uninspired gameplay and minimal graphics. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sears/Atari (1977)
This cartridge is the Sears version of Street Racer. See Street Racer for a full review. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Back in the early 80's, my little sister surprised me with this cartridge on one of my birthdays. I always thought it was a pretty cool game, but a little on the easy side. Playing it recently reinforced those sentiments. Technically, Spider Fighter is one heck of a shooter, with vibrant graphics, smooth animation, and some of the fastest rapid-fire shooting I've seen in any
video game. Each wave begins with a "master nest" (which looks like a UFO) dispatching eggs and bomb-dropping spiders around the screen. Controlling a cannon on the bottom, you must unleash a steady stream of red missiles to wipe out the vermin and protect the fruit on the top. It's immediately fun and engaging, but the thrill doesn't last. Once the difficulty plateaus, skilled gamers can play this game almost indefinitely. The main problem is how the "master nest" always enters from the left side. Often you can blow it away as soon as it appears. Designer Larry Miller attempted to address this problem by making the nest temporarily invincible when it first enters. Unfortunately, this invincibility doesn't last long enough to make a major difference. Another problem is the excessive number of "free lives" awarded. To earn one, all you have to do is protect the fruit at the top of the screen for an entire wave, and believe me, that fruit is never really in any danger. Consequentially, even during a bad stretches your cannons are replaced as fast as you lose them. It's far from perfect, but Spider Fighter is still a blast for novice gamers. Note: Unlike most 2600 games, the A difficulty setting is actually easier. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: BA
Our high score: VGC 25,710
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Froggo (1987)
If you've played Parker Brother's Amidar, then you've played Spiderdroid. This Froggo rip-off is the same game with slightly
modified graphics. The game reminds me Qix with a fixed maze. Controlling a spider, you try to "fence off" areas while avoiding the bad guys. The graphics are so non-descript that I can't even tell what these enemies are supposed to represent. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
With the new Spiderman movie just released, it seemed like a great time to give this oldie a second look. I'm happy to report that I underestimated Spiderman for the 2600 the first time around. It's challenging, plays very well, and manages to incorporate many aspects of the comic book. And guess who the villain is? That's right - the Green Goblin himself! Spiderman is rendered in blue and red colors, and he looks great. You begin each stage on the street below a tall building, and by holding the fire button down, you can shoot web of various length. If it sticks to something, you can either swing side-to-side on it or pull yourself up. Criminals appear in the windows and try to cut your web, which will send you into a free fall. Fortunately, Spiderman can catch himself by slinging web in mid-air! That's pretty cool. The Green Goblin hovers from side to side on his glider in front of the upper floors of the building. Here you'll also see bombs set to go off. Spiderman earns points by snagging criminals and diffusing bombs, accomplished by swinging over them. The stage ends when our hero diffuses the "super bomb" at the very top of the building. Then he's off to a new building. This is a game for gamers - it's difficult but can be conquered with skillful play and strategy. My only complaint is how Spiderman can't actually fight
the Green Goblin - only avoid him. The programmers should
have allowed you to defeat the Goblin somehow
. As it is, Spiderman is still challenging and addicting. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
Like so many other Xonox titles, Spike's Peak features multiple stages and high resolution graphics. It's a shame that its gameplay sucks so bad. Persevering this crappy game is analogous to climbing Mount Everest with a rock in your shoe, a knife in your back, and an ice cream headache, only less fun. I will admit that the multi-colored main character is nicely rendered with a baseball cap and backpack. The first screen places Spike on a winding mountain trail, where he can take cover behind orange boxes to avoid approaching hawks or polar bears. The hiding controls are anything but responsive, making this stage far more challenging than it's meant to be. But the second screen is where the real
frustration sets in. Here Spike must scale the side of a cliff while bouncing boulders and swarms of bees continuously knock him down. Spike moves at a snail's pace, so avoiding the numerous dangers requires more luck than skill. Sometimes a boulder will appear from out of nowhere just as you near the top of the screen, sending Spike all the way down to the bottom. The final screen is a combination of the first two, set on a snowy mountainside with wandering snow monsters. While game's visuals are fine, the abrasive sound effects really got on my nerves. Spike's Peak's controls will kill
your wrist, and if you do manage to reach the peak, you'll be subjected to one of the most irritating "endings" you'll ever witness. Enjoy. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
Springer is an obscure platformer, and that's probably for the best. If the manual cover is any indication, it stars one of those creepy rabbits that show up in malls around Easter time. The game begins with a lighthearted ditty and you're forced to wait until it's over before you can start playing. Don't you hate that? The idea is to hop up platforms to reach the top of the screen. Along the way you'll collect bonus items like carrots, toothbrushes, coffee mugs, and sunglasses for bonus points. I don't know what a rabbit would do with a coffee mug, but he's sure going to look cool in those shades! With a name like Springer, you'd expect this bunny to be light on his feet, but in fact his movements are painfully slow. The jumping controls are both confusing and hard on the hands. There's a very subtle
difference between holding the joystick to the side or diagonally while jumping. In a nutshell, one will land you safely while the other will send you plummeting to your death. And falling even one millimeter
will turn Springer into a steaming plate of Hasenpfeffer. Springer is a chore to play, and I'm surprised I even completed the first level. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 785
Publisher: Atari (1988)
This is an excellent version of the mildly popular overhead racing arcade game. Sprint Master resembles an updated Indy 500, but isn't quite as fun. You can choose between nine tracks and several modes of play. Each track has a completely different design, and some even feature ramps, overpasses, or gates. The tracks and cars are well-defined, and icons that appear on the track allow you to improve your traction or speed. You can also adjust the number of laps and even set the track surface to be black, dirt, or ice. The computer presents a fair challenge, but going head-to-head is always more fun. So what's the problem? Well mainly I wasn't crazy about the joystick control. It's a shame this game doesn't support the Indy 500 controllers. But overall Sprint Master is still one of the better racing games for the 2600. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1983)
I've played many versions of this arcade classic, some good and some bad, but this Atari 2600 adaptation is simply outstanding. It retains all the elements of the arcade game, and is super fun to play. Driving a James Bond-style, weapon-equipped car down a highway, you destroy or avoid enemy cars trying to run you off the road. The overhead view allows you to anticipate oncoming traffic and forks in the road. After a while, you switch to a boat for some action on the water - very cool. The best part of Spy Hunter is the control. Originally this game was sold with a device that would give your joystick two buttons, one for front weapons (machine guns, missiles), and one for the back (oil slicks, smoke). I don't own this device, but I got by just fine by using the fire button on joystick #2. Spy Hunter's graphics are plain but clean, although the helicopter looks like a big floating tree. The Peter Gun theme plays in the background, and there are two difficulty levels. I highly recommend this one. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: US Games (1982)
There are bad games, horrible games, and then there's Squeeze Box. US Games should be ashamed for inflicting this garbage on the video game-playing masses. Spawned from the depths of hell, Squeeze Box puts you in control of a large criminal shooting his way out of a box closing in from both sides. The monotonous gameplay involves systematically removing one row of bricks after another until there's room to escape. The game is totally devoid of strategy or fun. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection, Atari 2600 Homebrew