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(s): 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(s): 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(s): 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(s): 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(s): 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(s): 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: 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(s): 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.
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Anybody still wondering why the video game crash of 1983 occurred needs to look no further than this pathetic piece of crapola. Sssnake is the kind of trash game companies spewed out by the dozens. In terms of gameplay, Sssnake is a poor man's Centipede. Your cannon moves around a small box in the center, shooting at creatures running around the screen. The snakes look like dotted lines, and shooting them yields unpredictable results. Sometimes they become smaller and sometimes they split, but mostly your shots just go right through and nothing happens at all. There are other creatures as well that resemble pixilated blobs. The control is awkward, to say the least. Sssnake looks more like an unfinished project. It's got to be one of the sssloppiest games I've ever seen. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Stampede is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated Atari 2600 games of all time. It never caused a big commotion like Pitfall or River Raid back in the day, but everyone who played it got a kick out of it. Like most Activision titles of its day, Stampede boasts clean graphics, smooth animation, responsive controls, and madly addictive gameplay. You'll find yourself hitting the reset button "just one more time" over and over again (a sign of any good 2600 game). Controlling a cowboy on a galloping horse, you slowly move up and down the left side of the screen as groups of cattle approach from the right. Using your lasso, you must snag each one before it passes, and if you can't quite reach a group in time, you can still "nudge" them ahead to buy extra time. It's a pretty ingenious concept. The game ends when three cattle pass, but you'll earn a free one every 1000 points. Complicating matters are cow skulls that trip you up and stationary black cows that you really need to keep an eye out for. It seems like every time you play Stampede you get a little better. And let's face it, any game that awards you a "free cow" is a winner in my book. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 1B
Our high score: SLN 2,772
Publisher: Xype (2003)
Most first-person space shooters on the Atari 2600 follow the Star Raiders formula, emphasizing strategy over action. Starfire on the other hand lets you blast away like there's no tomorrow. Only your laser temperature gauge (which indicates overheating) prevents you from ripping the universe a new black hole. A scanner on the bottom lets you track enemy craft, and it's not uncommon for three or four large fighters to zoom into view at the same time. Blasting them is easy and fun, and you'll also need to shoot down their missiles (or guide them off the screen). Once you've destroyed enough ships, a portal appears that whisks you off to the next stage (much like Star Voyager). I like how your score is displayed between waves, which also provides you with a short breather. The waves are manageable until you reach around 1000 points, at which time the missiles come in almost as fast as you can shoot them down. Star Fire is really shallow but I like its bold, frenetic pace. The music on the title screen is wild. I can't decide if it's a brilliantly complex composition or just random noise. Another interesting aspect of the game is its familiar spaceship designs. It doesn't take much imagination to make out Tie Fighters (including the Vader model), Star Destroyers, Slave I (Boba Fett's ship) and even a Death Star. Rest assured, however, any similarities between this game and Star Wars are purely
coincidental. You can purchase this game from AtariAge.com
. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mythicon (1983)
This is one of those games that plays so poorly
that if you didn't know any better, you'd think the cartridge was broken. Star Fox's graphics and sound are minimal, and its controls are utterly repugnant. A side-scrolling shooter, the idea is to collect blue "crystals" (flashing boxes) on the planet surface while avoiding (or blasting) black UFOs. Although your ship is equipped with rapid-fire, its movements are so spastic and squirrelly that you can never aim with any degree of precision. Instead of being evenly distributed on the surface of the planet, the blue crystals mysteriously "appear" whenever you change direction, which is a serious crock of [expletive]. But what I hate
most about Star Fox is how you inexplicably cannot
move side-to-side while flying low on the screen. The instructions provide this half-assed explanation: "The energy crystals have ionized the gases to such an extent that your horizontal drives will be useless: you may not be able to move left or right at low altitudes." Give me a break! Why don't they just admit that the programmer stinks!? To pick up a crystal, you must position your ship directly above it before landing, but your ship doesn't want
to stay there, so you end up wrestling with it. The whole game is pointless and shallow. I love how the instruction manual attempts to build it up with lines like this: "Star Fox by Mythicon has a high level of computer intelligence built in. Your enemy is very smart and always knows where you are." Wow, I hope this cartridge doesn't suddenly become self-aware and try to take over the world! Quick - shut it off! © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): None
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1982)
This first-person space shooter plays like Star Raiders, but I think it's much better. As in Star Raiders, you're trying to eliminate enemy forces in deep space, and you can dock with star bases to repair damage and refuel. But unlike Star Raiders, the graphics here are more detailed, and Star Master doesn't have as many boring lulls in the action. Instead of employing a bulky keypad, Star Master simply uses the black and white switch to toggle between the main view and the map screen, and it works fine. The game keeps you on your toes. Whenever you hyperwarp to a sector, you have to avoid asteroid collisions along the way by dodging or shooting them. When you warp to your star base, you actually have to "dock" with it by centering it in your crosshairs, and this requires some skill. There's only one type of enemy ship, but it looks pretty cool. Only one enemy appears at a time, and you can only destroy it if it's directly in your crosshairs. One thing that bothers me about Star Master's graphics is the erratic movement of the stars. Instead of smoothly moving towards the outer edge for the center of the screen, they move in an odd manner. Another flaw is the confusing evaluation system. Still, I'd take this over Star Raiders any day. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
This is the original first-person space shooter, but this 2600 version is a weak effort. Star Raiders came packaged in a fat orange box with a gratuitous eight-button "touch pad" and an overlay. No other game ever supported the touch pad, so Atari would have been better off using the extra console switches for these functions like Star Master did. Your mission is to wipe out 10 to 40 alien ships, depending on the difficulty level, but much of the game is played by staring at crosshairs as stars pass by. At the start of each game, you switch to your Galactic Map, locate the enemy's location, and warp to their sector. This Galactic Map is so
lame. It's a blocky four-by-four grid, and the only indicators are your position, your base, and the alien fleet. What's the point really? The first-person shooting action is more respectable, thank goodness. Every few seconds one or two ships appear, zipping around while scaling in and out. It takes some practice to target in on these guys. Of the three alien ship styles, one looks like a Tie Fighter (Star Wars), and another looks like a Cylon Raider (Battlestar Galactica). The sound effects are confusing. During battle you hear constant explosions, but can't tell if they're from you being hit, an alien getting destroyed, or missiles colliding. Taking hits damages your shields, computer, photon torpedoes, or engines. I do like the various ways in which the damage manifests itself (shields flicker, left torpedo stops working, etc). If your shields get damaged, you'll want to repair them immediately or risk instant death. You always have the option to turn off your computer or shields to save energy, but energy is usually the least of your worries. Star Raiders isn't much to look at with its choppy, flickering graphics and blocky displays, but it is certainly challenging at the higher levels. At the end of each game you get rated from a "Cook" all the way up to a mystery rank
. Star Raiders is okay, but for better first-person shooting action, try Star Master, Star Voyager, or Phaser Patrol. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Take Star Raiders, remove all of its strategic elements, saddle it with the most hideous graphics ever conceived, and voila, you have Star Ship. Yes, I know this game is really old, but I still can't resist cracking on it. The main game variation is a first-person shooter in the loosest sense of the word, where you try to blast as many big blocky aliens as possible within 2 minutes 16 seconds. Some variations allow a friend to control the aliens you target. Believe me, if you make someone play Star Ship with you, they won't be your friend for long! There are some other incredibly lame variations in which you just try to avoid oncoming squares - umm I mean "asteroids". And the "lunar lander" variations are truly pathetic. You simply move your little ship to the asteroid and push the button. Incredibly, there's no
gravity, and hence, no challenge! What an embarrassment! No wonder Atari yanked it from their lineup. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mattel (1982)
Much like the climax of the first Star Wars film, Star Strike places you in the trench of an evil battle station, where you attempt to save the Earth from imminent destruction. Looming large at the top of the screen, the Earth gradually moves into targeting range. In order to save the planet, you must bomb eight vents that cycle below. The illusion of movement through the trench is fairly well done considering the vintage 1982 3D effects. You view the action from just behind your ship, and flying saucers sneak up from the rear as meteors approach from the front. Shadows on the surface help you determine your position relative to these hazards. Taking a hit will temporarily send you out of control, possibly crashing into the trench below, which ends the game. Although you can fire forward, there isn't much to shoot, and targeting is difficult. Flying low in the trench automatically puts you into "bomb mode". Gameplay is mainly a matter of dodging projectiles while occasionally plunging into the trench when a vent comes into range (a series of beeps will warn you). While its gameplay is simplistic and no score is provided (you either win or lose), Star Strike did manage to hold my attention for a little while. I was intent on beating this thing at least once, and it took some perseverance. Win or lose, you're treated to a short ending sequence. The difficulty switches allow you to configure four skill levels. There's not much to Star Strike, but the challenge might just keep you coming back for more. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): AB
Publisher: Sega (1983)
This game pretends to incorporate strategic Star Trek elements, but it's really just another mediocre shoot-em-up. The screen is divided into three areas: a status screen (mainly composed of colored blocks), a radar screen (providing a third-person view of the action), and a viewer (to help you aim). The are six stages in each level: 4 Klingon encounters, an asteroid field, and a boss. The Klingon ships are very easy to blast, and as long as you keep moving you'll avoid enemy fire. The rocks in the asteroid stage are easy to dodge and Nomad the boss isn't any more difficult than the Klingons. Star Trek comes with an unnecessary joystick overlay so you won't forget which button is used to fire (hint - it's the RED one!). With lackluster gameplay and only one skill level, not even a trekkie could love this one. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
This is yet another Star Raiders-inspired first-person space shooter, but it's one of the better ones. Star Voyager doesn't waste time with fancy maps, shields, or damage indicators. Instead, the emphasis is on shooting enemy ships, which I think is a good idea. Your ship is equipped with two types of weapons. You trigger the secondary weapon by pressing the fire button on the second joystick (I like to use my toe for that one). Your lasers are far more powerful than your photon torpedoes, but consume ten times more energy! Once you expend all of your energy, the game ends. After shooting down each group of enemy ships you have the opportunity to fly through a portal and replenish your energy. The graphics are fairly minimal, but the colors are vivid and the explosions are amongst the best I've seen on the 2600. There are two skill levels along with a two-player cooperative mode. Star Voyager is a heck of a lot of fun, and seriously underrated in my opinion. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Death Star Battle
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Man, this is so lame
! An instantly forgettable shooter, Death Star Battle puts you in control of a tiny Millennium Falcon. Inexplicably, you're confined to a cramped area on the lower half of the screen! A partially completed Death Star is visible at the top, behind a rainbow-colored shield
. If you don't remember this from the movies, that's because it wasn't in
the movies. You can blast passing Imperial vessels, but it's hard enough to avoid colliding with them because they appear from out of nowhere. If you're looking for a cheap way to inflate your score, just wait for Vader's shuttle to cruise by - it's worth a cool 3,000 points (compared to a paltry 100 points for the others). Periodically a "hole" appears in the shield, a temporary gateway to the second (and final) stage. Here, the Death Star is presented as an ugly, gray, blocky monstrosity -- with a red dot in the center. Avoiding a roving laser, you must wear down the outside of the Death Star to expose its core. It's Star Wars meets Breakout, and it's not
a pretty sight. After shooting the core, you must dodge a series of fireballs before the Death Star finally explodes. The explosion isn't bad (by Atari 2600 standards) but then it's back to the beginning for another uneventful round. Playing Death Star Battle is a shallow experience, lacking any sense of strategy or fun. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Jedi Arena
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Who's bright idea was it to put two Jedi knights
into a game, arm them with powerful lightsabers, and then keep them separated
for the entire frickin' game?! Jedi Arena is so bogus
that it's not even funny. It's very
loosely based on a brief scene from the first Star Wars film. You may recall when Luke was practicing his saber skills on a floating metal orb inside the Millennium Falcon. In Arena, this orb shoots electrical charges and floats between these so-called Jedi. Actually, these competitors look like more two fat guys cooped up in boxes, protected by a four-layer shield. Using a paddle controller, you swing your saber from side to side - too bad it doesn't stick out far enough to touch
anything! Jedi Arena's control scheme is counterintuitive (to say the least). You use your saber to block the orb's charges, and press the fire button to initiate charges toward your opponent. Blocking is easy enough, but aiming your shots is awkward - I could never get a feel for it. Every now and then the orb goes nuts and start shooting charges in all directions. It's a big, confusing mess. Jedi Arena is a real dud and a complete waste of the Star Wars license. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 3AA
1 or 2 players
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Publisher: Parker Bros (1984)
It's remarkable that Parker Bros was able to squeeze this multi-stage, vector-graphics game into an Atari 2600 cartridge. Although simplified, the visuals are still impressive. I love how you can see the nose of your ship on the bottom of the screen, along with two guns in the lower corners (none are shown on top). In the first stage, you fire at Tie Fighters zooming across the screen, but the clumsy crosshair control proves a liability. Not particularly responsive, the cursor has some kind of delay mechanism that's really annoying. The Tie fighters are nicely rendered; however, their missiles look more like big fuzz balls. You'll need to neutralize these, but that's less fun than targeting Ties. Eventually the ominous purple (?) Death Star moves into view. Next, you find yourself flying over the surface of the Death Star, trying to shoot the tops of pillars without running into them (what movie was that
from?) Your crosshair not only aims, but also guides your ship - which is somewhat awkward. The final stage places you in the Death Star trench, avoiding barriers and incoming missiles long enough to blast the exhaust port. It looks surprisingly good, with wire-frame 3D visuals that convey both depth and speed in a convincing fashion. Once you shoot the port, you're treated to a rather unspectacular explosion, before starting over on a harder level. Star Wars: The Arcade Game has two levels of difficulty. Casual gamers may not be impressed, but Star Wars aficionados will certainly appreciate this ambitious cartridge. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): B
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Publisher: Parker Bros (1982)
Easily the best Star Wars game for the 2600, Empire Strikes Back provides satisfying "twitch" gameplay and relentless challenge. I love it! Based on the best action sequence from these movies (the battle on [ice] planet Hoth), you pilot a tiny Snowspeeder attempting to subdue a parade of approaching Imperial Walkers. Your scanner indicates their position, and should one of these hulking mammoths reach the right edge of the scanner, the Rebel Alliance is defeated and your game is over. The screen scrolls rapidly as you whiz over the icy wasteland, and when you encounter a Walker, a high tech game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Not only are the Walker's missiles deadly accurate, but they also deploy "smart bombs" that behave like heat-seeking missiles. Empire's graphics are minimal, but the control is tight and the action fast and furious. Destroying a Walker is tough, considering each can withstand up to 48(!) shots. Fortunately, weak spots appear periodically, allowing a single well-placed shot to take them down. Should you manage to stay alive for two minutes, the Star Wars theme kicks in and you're awarded with 20 seconds of invincibility (yeee-ha!). The damage level of both the Walkers and your Snowspeeder is indicated by their respective colors. A red ship indicates critical damage, but you're permitted to land for repairs twice (per ship). You can't fly through a Walker's body (at least in the hard variations), but you can
fly through its legs unharmed, and I like that. Crashing into a Walker inflicts major damage to it, and sometimes it makes sense to sacrifice a ship as a last ditch-effort to extend the game. Empire has no "stages" per se; the Walkers just keep coming until you're overcome. Easy to play and always exciting, Empire Strikes Back lives up to the Star Wars name. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 7B
Our high score: SLN 2,249
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Stargate, also known as Defender II, is a far cry from its predecessor, which to many is regarded as one of the most disappointing Atari 2600 carts of all time. Atari's programmers must have learned quite a bit between programming the original Defender and this masterpiece. Stargate's graphics are high in resolution with smooth animation and arcade-quality sound effects. Better yet, no controls were sacrificed. In a wise design decision, the second joystick activates smart bombs, "inviso-shield", and hyperspace. All of the enemies are present with minimal flicker. Stargate is so good that it's actually difficult to believe this is an Atari 2600 game! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Telesys (1982)
For such a rare title, Stargunner is a respectable space shooter that resembles Defender at first glance. Your skinny red ship fires left or right, and when it flies off one side of the screen it reappears on the other. Upon hitting reset you're greeted with a tiny explosion that's guaranteed to elicit these words, "What? I'm dead already?
" The idea is to blast invading aliens that materialize and dart around in erratic patterns. Adding challenge is a droid at the top of the screen who suffers from a terrible case of spastic colon syndrome. He frantically drops bombs while moving from side-to-side, and unfortunately he's out of your shooting range. The first wave spawns one egg-shaped creature at a time, but as waves progress new shapes (like linked squares) appear in greater numbers. I like how the waves become increasingly chaotic. New aliens are composed of four parts that fly in from different angles, and sometimes you can gauge where they will materialize for a quick kill. I usually opt for the hardest variations in Atari 2600 games, but the medium difficulty on Stargunner kicked my ass
. In the hard level, the only points I could score was for colliding
with aliens! Stargunner is pretty shallow but I enjoyed its quick games and twitch gameplay. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 2B
Our high score: 5,000
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sears (1980)
This Sears-exclusive title makes for some surprisingly fun four-player action. I pulled this one out when some friends were over, and we all had a ball! Four horses run across the screen and jump hurdles of various sizes. Using the paddle controllers, you adjust the height and timing of each jump, but it's not easy. The first horse to reach the right hand side wins. Three computer skill levels are included, but playing against three humans is the main draw. The only fault with Steeplechase is that the jump height indicator is on the far right, and it's tough to keep an eye on both that and your horse. But if you're looking for some unique four-player action, Steeplechase is worth checking out. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2007)
This five-in-one holiday cartridge was released by Atari Age to coincide with Christmas 2007, but it arrived about a month late if I recall correctly. Oh well! Stella's Stocking boasts some excellent production values. There's a hottie on the label (in stockings no less), a colorful manual with fun illustrations, and a gorgeous "fireplace" title screen. The first game, Stay Frosty, is an interesting platformer where you control a melting snowman. Each screen presents a bunch of small fires you need to extinguish while collecting ice cubes to maintain your solid form. The crisp controls and sharp graphics are commendable, but the action is a bit easy and repetitive. The second entry, Tossing Cookies, is a bit of a throwaway title (pun intended) played on alternating screens. In the first screen you guide Santa around on his sleigh as he collects cookies, and on the second screen you toss them at reindeer. The graphics are rough, and the lack of a score limits the fun. Perhaps there's some kind of special ending when you complete all 12 rounds, but we'll never know.
The next game, Elf Dash, is my favorite. You control an elf in an out-of-control toy factory consisting of six floors and several constantly-moving elevators. You must collect candy canes, presents, ornaments, and other seasonal icons while avoiding patrolling tanks, teddy bears, and of course the obligatory AT-AT Walkers. If you complete the game within eight minutes, the remaining time serves as your score - a pretty neat idea! Grandma's Revenge is an irreverent take on the "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" song, and it has an Indy 500 vibe. Controlling a marauding sports car, you run down
waves of reindeer, causing the screen to become cluttered with blocky road-kill obstacles. It's pretty crazy, and fun power-ups can cause your car to become huge
or transform it into a snow mobile. The final game, Cold War, is a two-player snowball shootout where both players control a pair of snowmen. I like the idea, but the unconventional control scheme is hard to grasp. None of these games really stand out, but they're all pretty inventive and you can't beat the variety. If you're looking for some Christmas fun, Stella's Stocking definitely has some holiday cheer in store for you. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sears (1980)
I was expecting an epic galactic odyssey from Stellar Track, but all I got was a bunch of text-only strategy crap! Yuck! The object is to maneuver your ship through a series of space maps and destroy alien invaders. Think Star Raiders minus the graphics. Games like this were common on personal computers back in the early 1980's. Usually written in BASIC, they tended to employ overly complex control schemes to compensate for the lack of graphics. There wasn't much software back then, so we inflicted games like these on ourselves voluntarily. Well I'm sorry, but this just isn't going to cut it in 2001! I don't have the patience to master the confusing, non-intuitive user interface. Stellar Track is a lost relic that should remain that way. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1981)
Strategy X is one seriously ugly
game, but its extreme challenge keeps things interesting. You control a tank moving up a vertically scrolling screen, blasting enemy cannons while maintaining your fuel supply. The screen is littered with blocky green "bogs" that slow you down and consume extra fuel. Besides your moving tank treads, there's not much to see. You can speed up, slow down, or move side-to-side, but the lack of diagonal movement makes the animation look choppy. The enemy cannons look rough, but at least they explode nicely. Enemy shots travel fast and are difficult to elude. Fuel towers can replenish your fuel supply, but these are also vulnerable to shots fired from the cannons. If you make it to the "triumphal arch" at the end of the stage, you'll advance to stage two. This time, you face a squadron of bombers that fire wiggly lines, and it looks even worse than the first stage. All in all, Strategy X is low in quality, but there's something addictive about its gameplay that kept me coming back for more. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
I remember way back in the 1980's when my little sister was into Strawberry Shortcake big time. Naturally, I would make fun of all of those sissy characters of hers. Little did I know that twenty years later I'd find myself playing Strawberry Shortcake Musical Match-Ups on the Atari 2600! Fate can be a cruel, twisted thing. Anyway, this was one of the first games marketed to little girls (4-7 years) and evidently video game reviewers (30+ years). The screen displays a mixed-up character with the head, body, and legs of six random Strawberry Shortcake characters. We're talking about all your favorites, like Purple Pie Man, Lime Chiffon, and Huckleberry Pie. You need to combine the correct character parts in a certain period of time. The characters are large and colorful, and each has its own cute little theme song. Would a young child enjoy this game today? It's not beyond the realm of possibility, but the thrill wouldn't last. Once you memorize all the body parts, the game loses its replay value. Plus you can't blow up anything. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1977)
I remember buying this cartridge as a kid, partly because I wanted another paddle game and partly because it was on sale for $19.95. Street Racer gets a bad rap for its eye-rollingly-bad graphics, but it does offer variety and fast action. The screen is divided in half by a thick bar. Each game is a head-to-head contest lasting two minutes and sixteen seconds or
until a player scores 99 points. In most variations you steer with the paddle and use the fire button to moderate your speed. In the "Street Racer" variations you steer a car from side-to-side while avoiding oncoming traffic. I use the term "car" loosely, as these are the worst looking automobiles I have ever seen. Next, the "Slalom" variations let you ski through blue gates, and some precision is required as you "whoosh" from side to side. In "Dodgem" you drive your car up the screen while avoiding green blobs. Did I say the cars in the first variation were the worst I had seen? Make that second
worst, because these
cars look positively atrocious
. I'm starting to think the programmer had never actually seen
a real car. "Jet Shooter" lets you fire slow-moving missiles at descending planes, but there's no challenge to it. "Number Cruncher" was always the most popular variation in my household, mainly because the games were so short. The idea is to catch falling digits with a guy in a wheelchair. In "Scoop Ball" you catch "plus" signs and deposit them into pieces that fit. The fact that it's not completely mindless gives it a leg up on the other variations. These games tend to be awfully repetitive, and after playing one variation you're ready to move on to the next. Up to four players can participate, but the concept of "stacking" two players on each side doesn't work well. The one-player modes are a joke, as the CPU opponent just sits there. Street Racer's six-games-in-one combo may have been a decent value at one time, but this game has aged about as well as fake wood trim. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 7A
Our high score: 93
1 to 4 players
Publisher: CommaVid (1983)
This ultra-rare space shooter is repetitive but challenging. You control a hot air balloon with an appendage that can fire missiles up, down, and diagonally (but not sideways). Jellyfish ascend from below, and you'll need to shoot fast and perform evasive maneuvers to avoid their onslaught. You can only fire one shot at a time, but hitting the fire button will "cancel" your current shot (a la Gorf). A three-layered rotating shield eventually appears on the bottom of the screen, protecting a small Mexican woman. Okay, that object is supposed to be the "stronghold", but it's not very imposing. You can poke holes in the shield, but keep in mind that if you eliminate an entire layer it will regenerate. When the woman lines up directly beneath you, she'll unleash a huge blast in your direction. Wow, this lady is pissed!!
You'll also need to contend with red drones and rotating blue number eights that float around the screen. The action is pretty frantic as you scramble around while hoping one of your shots will thread the needle and take her out. She tends to follow your movements so you can use this to your advantage. Each wave is the same, but a little harder. There are 16 variations, but even the easiest will give you a run for the money. A variety would have been nice, but gamers looking for a challenge may find this appealing. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 1B
Our high score: 2,570
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Sub Scan should be prescribed to insomniacs, because it is so
slow and boring. You control a ship that crawls across the top of the screen, dropping bombs into the water below. Subs approach from the left and right sides of the screen. Every object on the screen seems to move in slow motion, and waiting for the bombs to reach the subs is excruciating. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sears (1982)
How could it be that this submarine shooter remained off my radar for 30 years? Maybe it was the "Sears" brand name? Playing Submarine Commander was an eye-opening experience. It's an exciting first-person shooter with just enough
strategy to make things interesting. The screen depicts a green ocean, blue sky, and several gauges. Enemy boats move across the horizon, and there's a modest sense of 3D as distant boats are smaller that the massive, chunky ships up close. Despite the pixelation the ships are brightly-colored and even generate a little wake in the water. The controls are highly responsive and unique for a 2600 game. When you move up and down the screen scrolls slightly, so you never see the complete picture from your "periscope" view. You can fire a pair of torpedoes at a time, and they're spaced apart, so timing is critical. It's fun to watch the ships sink into the depths, and it's especially satisfying to sink two at once! Gauges indicate engine temperature, fuel, torpedo status, sonar detection, and depth charge detection. To be honest I don't really have a firm grasp of what all of these mean, but it's that subtle complexity that makes the game so intriguing. Submarine Commander demands frantic shooting and quick maneuvering at times, but you need to know when to let things cool off. When you're out of fuel, a wild laser sound effect lets you know your game is over. Fast, fun, and unique, Submarine Commander is probably one of the more underappreciated Atari cartridges. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 7A
Our high score: 1715
Publisher: Hozer (2000)
If you've mastered Adventure and are looking for some real punishment, Suicide Adventure is for you. Let me tell you, this thing is relentless! Not only are the rooms reshaped and often cluttered with obstacles, but the dragons are truly ferocious! You can't outrun them and they snap their jaws in an instant. This game may be a little bit too
hard, but it makes for some exciting, fast-paced action. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Suicide Mission is a cassette-loading game by Starpath which owes more than a little bit to Asteroids. It even manages to simulate low-quality vector graphics. The objects look rough, but at least they move very smoothly. The background story involves a microscopic submarine injected into a patient to destroy viruses. That would explain why these asteroids look like shape-changing amoebas. Your sub has substantial firepower, so you can shoot several shots at once (nice!). Your sub controls are similar to those in Asteroids, but instead of hyperspace, you have a shield, and thrusting gives you no momentum. Suicide Mission isn't very original, but it's a perfectly respectable shooter with some innovative graphics. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
What's so "super" about this? All Atari did was take Realsports Baseball, turn up the contrast, and slow down
the action to a crawl! If this was Atari's attempt to fix Realsports Baseball, then they shouldn't have bothered. Super Baseball looks and plays nearly the same as its worthless predecessor, but the colors are deeper and the players are shorter. The insipid gameplay has been left intact, and the players look slightly worse
as they are now rendered in a single color. They do move faster - faster than the ball in some cases! In fact, it's more effective to have your outfielder run
around the bases tagging runners out than to throw the ball! Throws don't go sailing over basemen's heads as often as they did in Realsports Baseball, but batted balls are still hit to the same spots over and over. Unlike Realsports, you have the additional annoyance of having to wait for the batters lounging to and from home plate These guys are so slow
that it's comical. My buddy Scott and I were literally rolling on the floor laughing
as we watched these guys literally crawl to the batter's box. You could heat up a pizza in the oven in the time it takes for one of these slackers to step up to the plate! The CPU opponent is nearly invincible, and playing against a human opponent is just plain unpleasant. There's a nice title screen, but it can't hide the fact that Super Baseball is repackaged garbage. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1981)
As most of you probably know, Atari is famous (or infamous) for its elaborate label illustrations that radically
overstate the contents of the actual game. Super Breakout is a prime example, showing an astronaut floating in space and smashing a rainbow-colored wall with a stick (I'm sure there's a Space Shuttle in the background somewhere
). I'm sorry, but even the most active imagination would find it hard to pretend that Breakout was some kind of perilous space adventure. In terms of gameplay, Super Breakout is better than the original, but that's not saying much. Variations feature double-paddles, multiple balls, and even "progressive walls" that gradually move down the screen. There are also some "metallic" sound effects that are so futuristic that you'll feel like you're in the mid-eighties
! Super Breakout is mildly entertaining, but I couldn't help but think of all the opportunities Atari missed. First of all, couldn't they have improved the control so you weren't at the mercy of the predetermined angles? And you'd think they could have worked in some two-player cooperative modes. In the final analysis, Super Breakout is okay but should have been better. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 3B
Our high score: MKG 1,656
1 or 2 players
Super Challenge Baseball
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Many classic gamers have fond memories of Super Challenge Baseball and that's understandable. Compared to Atari's super-lame Homerun, Super Challenge is a full-featured baseball extravaganza. You can throw a wide range of pitches, steal bases, and easily toss the ball between bases. It's hard to believe, but the simple fact that there's a diamond
fielders (no shortstop) was notable for its time. The pitching and hitting controls are simple enough, but taking control of the correct fielder requires a complicated combination of button and joystick movements. It's not insurmountable, but there's a steep learning curve. Once you get it down however, it suddenly becomes really, really
hard to score. Every hit is treated as a grounder, although homeruns can occur if the ball travels off the screen. The graphics are substandard - even for a 2600 title. My friend Scott speculated that M-Network devised a special algorithm to make the graphics extra
blocky for this game! The diamond is jagged as hell, and who can possibly make sense of that confusing hodgepodge of numbers on the top of the screen? The fielders resemble men's room symbols, but at least the flicker is kept to a minimum. As with most M-Network titles, this game lacks a single-player mode. Super Challenge Baseball isn't as super as it used to be, and once you grasp its non-intuitive controls, the challenge part goes out the window as well. Still, this is at least worth pulling out for nostalgia's sake. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Super Challenge Football
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
In its time, this was easily the most popular football game for the Atari 2600. Super Challenge looks absolutely terrific with its side-scrolling field, full set of hash marks, and players that look somewhat realistic. The play-calling procedure has a slight learning curve, but in time it becomes second nature. Before each play, your quarterback instructs each teammate to block in a certain direction, go out for a pass, or act as a decoy receiver. On defense, the safety assigns each teammate to rush or cover a receiver. It's actually quite ingenious when you consider all the possibilities. Interceptions are possible, but there are no kicks, punts, or running out of bounds. The game's most famous (or perhaps infamous) feature is the ability for the defender to run off one side of the screen and reappear on the other. It's pretty silly, but sometimes the only way to catch a breakaway receiver. It's also not uncommon for the guy with the ball to "fake out" the defender - leaving him in the dust! Super Challenge Football plays very well, but the lack of crowd noise makes the game far too quiet. The down and quarter indicators are displayed in the center of the screen, but these are awfully small. A single-player mode would have been nice. But all things considered, Super Challenge Football is a lot of fun, and it's one of several quality football games for the 2600. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1982)
Super Cobra and its predecessor, Scramble, are two of my favorite arcade shooters of all time, but this is a major disappointment. Most Atari 2600 translations of arcade games at least capture the spirit
of the game, but this does not
feel like Super Cobra. The arcade version is an intense side-scroller where you guide a chopper that shoots forward and drops bombs, inflicting massive destruction. This 2600 version is lacking in just about every possible way. Let's begin with the graphics. The terrain is just a bunch of horizontal lines - they're not even solid! Needless to say, it looks hideous. But the real travesty lies in the "animation", and I use the term loosely. The scrolling is extremely jerky and hard on the eyes. Your chopper jumps all over the place - not good for a game that requires precise control. The fire button alternates between the missiles and bombs, but you can only shoot one at a time - man that's lame. Finally, despite the graphical limitations, this game is remarkably easy. Fuel is abundant, and the floating UFOs (lemons) that were so hard to beat in the arcade are sitting ducks in this version. Losing lives is usually the result of the poor control. Parker Bros. really screwed this one up. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
It's a shame this cartridge was released near the very end of the Atari 2600's lifecycle, because it really knocked my socks off. Super Football is the missing link between the early "flat" football games and the Genesis Madden titles. Its vertical-scrolling field is rendered in a pseudo-3D style, with small players that actually scale
as they move in and out! The five players on each team are rendered in multiple colors, but the colors selected by the programmers were ill-advised to say the least. Not only are the two teams hard to differentiate, but the two user-controlled players wear different uniforms as well! That's just too many colors on the screen at once. The play-calling scheme is rather complex, and you'll need to consult the manual to select formations and receiver patterns. Once again, the incompetent folks at Atari really let us down with regards to the remarkably cheap instruction booklet. If you're not going to include a quick reference sheet for plays, at least
list the offensive and defensive formations on adjacent pages! As it is, the two players not only need to constantly pass the instructions back and forth, but they need to flip through the pages as well! The action on the field is pretty decent. The ball moves in a nice arc, but completing passes to those tiny receivers is tough. The game incorporates kick-offs, punts, and field goals, making it the most comprehensive football game for the system. Yes, you can actually see the football sailing through the uprights! Heck, you can even have a player in motion at the line of scrimmage! The black and white console switch serves the purpose of a pause button, and that's really handy. The single player mode boasts four skill levels, including a novice setting where the CPU selects your plays for you. Extremely ambitious and fun to play as well, Super Football really pushes the system to its limits. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Superman is an early Atari 2600 adventure that lets you freely fly around Metropolis as the Man of Steel. Your goal is to rebuild a bridge, carry crooks to jail, save Lois Lane, and revert back into Clark Kent in the shortest time. There are few hazards to slow you down, but if you touch the floating kryptonite you'll need to reunite with Lois to regain your ability to fly. Much like Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980) you move between contiguous screens, and you can even take "short cuts" through the subway. The problem is, Superman's screen layout is confusing! One reader contended that "even a young child could figure it out." Really?
I've seen a map of the game, and the screens are wired together in a manner that defies logic. It's possible to move down off one screen, and move back up only to find yourself on a third screen. It doesn't help that they all look the same with those blocky building backdrops. The characters look pretty good. They're large and rendered in multiple colors. When you get a few large objects on the same screen however they start to flicker like crazy, making it very hard to pick up or drop items. Classic gamers will appreciate Superman's old school charm and it's always a challenge to beat your best time. Still, the poorly-designed screen layout too often made me feel like I was on a wild goose chase. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): BB
Our high score: 1852
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Surround is one of the earliest Atari 2600 games, and you'll believe it when you witness its archaic graphics and beeping sound effects. After playing a few rounds with a friend, we were pretty much at a loss regarding how to grade it. There's not much here to criticize, but there's nothing to get excited about either. The bottom line is that Surround doesn't have much in the way of substance. Two players guide blocks around the screen. Each block leaves a wall behind it, and you win when your opponent collides with a wall. Although it's sometimes possible to cut the other guy off, winning is largely a function of not dying
before the other guy does. Twelve variations include diagonal movement, an erase option, and "wrap around", which allows you to move off one side of the screen and re-enter on the opposite side. The best option is "speed up", which gradually increases the pace of the game. The computer opponent is a complete idiot, but Surround is mildly amusing with two players. And let's not forget the "video graffiti" variations that let you paint blocky pictures on the screen. It's hard to believe this was once considered entertainment. Surround was one of the first Atari games to be discontinued. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 5
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Starpath (1983)
Spawned from the depths of hell, Survival Island is one of the most unpleasant experiences I've ever had to endure. I'd prefer to be marooned on a deserted island and beaten savagely by a band of apes every day for the rest of my life than play this masochistic piece of garbage again. Survival Island is one of those tape-loading games, and there are three separate nauseating stages. The graphics aren't bad, but the gameplay is vomit-inducing. In the first stage, you swim in an ocean with a volcanic island in the background. The smoke rising from the island looks nice, and I like how the island looms closer as you swim towards it. Unfortunately, that island is a lot
farther away that it appears. You'll have to push against the top of the screen for what seems an eternity as you slowly
swim toward the thing. You'll find supplies floating in the water, but you must avoid the occasional shark and some green thing that resembles a snake. If they touch you, you die instantly and have to restart this brutal ordeal from the beginning. It's awfully laborious, and there's little strategy involved. But if you thought that was bad, wait until you play the unforgiving second stage, where you aimlessly wander the island in search of a temple. The instructions recommend "mapping" your journey, and I can see why. The island is a maze of paths that all look the same with invisible death traps all over the place. You can go into "search mode" if you want to be extra careful, but then it takes an eternity just to walk across one screen! You can move reasonably fast, but instant death is around every corner. Only by noting the exact
trap locations on each screen will you possibly survive. Lacking the intestinal fortitude to continue, I quit in disgust at this point. No, I never saw the third stage, but if the instructions are any indication, I didn't miss a thing. Basically it's one of those much-maligned first-person mazes with invisible walls (yuck), one-way walls (ugh), and transporters (arrgh!!) all over the place. Once again, you're forced to map your progress - not my idea of a good time! Then again, it's an appropriate ending to an absolutely abysmal excuse for a game. I can't believe the 2600 Connection gave Survival Island four out of five stars in 1993. What the [expletive] were they thinking
?! © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Milton Bradley (1983)
I used to think this first-person shooter was pretty cool, but in retrospect, Survival Run is average at best. More sophisticated than your garden-variety 2600 shooter, you use a crosshair to navigate 3D passages and shoot bat-like creatures. Your goal is to exit a maze before you run out of fuel. The complete maze is displayed on the top on the screen, and you'll need to keep an eye on it to prepare for your next turn. Occasionally you'll encounter a flickering force field you can deactivate by shooting its "switch", which takes the form of a block placed in a random spot on the screen. To be honest, it's hard to tell if you shot the switch in time or ran into the force field. Poorly defined, blocky creatures scale in from the distance, but they're easy to shoot thanks to your rapid-fire gun. Unfortunately, you'll want to minimize your shots because they drain your energy. Should you reach the end of the maze, you'll encounter a boss that you'll need to pump some serious lead into. Once again, it's difficult to tell if you defeat him, since the game abruptly switches over to a new maze. I wasn't thrilled with Survival Run, but it might be more interesting to play with the special controller the game was originally packaged with. According to the instructions, the "Cosmic Commander" required four "D" size batteries, and featured light and vibration special effects. If I ever get a hold of that beast, I'll update this review. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): 5
Publisher: Retrotopia (2000)
Unlike most Atari 2600 games, Sword Fight features some tall, well-animated fighters. It's a shame the developer couldn't secure it a Star Wars license, because it would have made for a perfect light saber battle game. From the minute you see those swords "power up", the Star Wars influence is obvious. Heck, even the game description was written as if to avoid a lawsuit: "Two knights face each other at the edge of the universe. Gripping their 'laser swords', they advance, prepared to fight to the death...". Swordfight was programmed by one of Mattel's famous Blue Sky Rangers, Steve "Don't Sue Me" Tatsumi in 1983. While it was never released by Mattel, Retrotopia thankfully resurrected it in 2000. The joystick allows for three types of attacks (overhead, right, left), and three types of blocks. You can advance and retreat using the fire button. According to the manual, "once players get familiar with the moves, long and challenging battles are possible". I have to agree - the game is confusing at first but it's not bad once you get a handle on the controls. Sword Fight is an innovative title unlike anything else I've played on the 2600, and collectors should definitely try to pick up a copy. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Starpath (1983)
Starpath was a company that released a series of games on cassette tape that had to be loaded using their Supercharger attachment. Most were of high quality, so what the heck happened here? Something bad! Sword of Saros starts out promising enough. The object is to escape from a series of mazes while being pursued by a wizard and a bat. Pressing the fire button displays a menu of items, including crosses, scrolls, and rings. Your tiny character can quickly scamper down hallways, but it's far too easy to get hung up on the corners. Scattered throughout the mazes are rooms, and entering each one switches the game to a full screen view. Here you'll see treasures and items lining the top and bottom of the screen, and a monster lurking in the center. These creatures are hardly intimidating, and some look downright goofy. While in these rooms, the control is atrocious. Your character moves sluggishly, and inexplicably pauses every few steps. There's no strategy involved in avoiding the monster, which moves in the same stilted manner. Worse yet, to grab an item you must press against it for a few seconds - not fun when you have a monster bearing down on you. Adding insult to injury, the exits are unmarked and can only be located by pressing against the walls. These sequences alone are sufficient to downgrade the game to an F. The maze section isn't bad, and I do like the idea of using items, but these room encounters are simply too painful to endure. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Swordquest was designed to be a four-game series, each with its own puzzle, and solving all four games would reveal a monumental secret. Unfortunately, the series began prior to the big video game crash of '83, and as a result only Earthworld and Fireworld were widely released. Waterworld is an extremely rare collector's item, and the fourth title, Airworld, was never even made. In light of those events, I think it's safe to say the project was a huge failure. So I don't feel too bad about trashing this horrendous game. It's designed to be used with a comic book, an idiotic idea if I ever heard one. You control a man who looks a lot like Mr. Rogers in a light-blue sweater and light green pants. Wandering aimlessly from room to room, you will find many useless, boring objects. Some rooms provide challenging mini-games with some of the most heinous graphics and gameplay ever. That's about it. This is some ill-conceived garbage. The sad part is, this was supposed to be the sequel to Adventure, one of the most beloved Atari 2600 games of all time! But these Swordquest games are only of value to collectors. Steer clear. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Here's the second title of the ill-conceived, ill-fated, and just plain ill series of Swordquest games. In this unexciting chapter, your man is a solid color (no blue sweater!), and the rooms all contain CIRCULAR obstacles this time (wow). The method for manipulating items is the same as in Earthworld, but it doesn't matter because you don't care about those worthless things! You just want to play those mini-game challenges! And boy oh boy do we have some stinkers here. Whether you're catching birds with a Mexican blanket, or shooting turkeys with a slingshot, the medieval fantasy theme really shines through. Of course, these are just my interpretations of the poor graphics. I'm sure other people could come up with even more imaginative stuff, but you get the idea. This game is one of the absolute worst, and should be the object of much ridicule. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2007)
If you've ever tried to play a musical game like Donkey Konga, Samba De Amigo, or Dance Dance Revolution without
the special controller, you know that's no fun at all. Sync tries to incorporate joystick control into the popular rhythm/reflex genre, but it doesn't work very well. There are tons of variations, but just because you throw a lot of stuff against a wall doesn't mean something will stick. In "Mantra" and "Jitter" you must quickly respond to a sequence of directional arrow and button prompts. "Flow" is a puzzle game where you stack bars around the screen in order to clear out adjacent stacks. "Four" is a collection of marginal mini games, including 1K versions of "Jitter" and "Flow". On a positive note, the user interface is well constructed, with a nifty menu system that makes it easy to navigate the game types and adjust your skill level. A few of the game variations are playable, but none are particularly enjoyable. In terms of audio, Sync plays impressive layered melodies during the menu screens, but the audio during the games is very repetitive. As for the AtariVox support, a robotic voice utters some gibberish whenever you make a successful move, but that gets annoying after approximately five seconds. My friends really hated Sync, and Scott lamented it was "so bad it gave me cancer". I suspect he was exaggerating, but there's no question that Sync lacks that addictive quality desireable for any rhythm-based title. Everyone raved about the cartridge label and manual however, which look extremely attractive and professional. Clearly some talented people were involved with this project, but I'm afraid they need to find some better material. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection