Atari 5200 Reviews A-E

Adventure II
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari Age (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/7/19

screenshotAdventure II does a wonderful job of preserving the gameplay of the original Adventure (Atari 2600, 1982) while offering vast new worlds to explore. Once again you assume the role of the heroic "square", navigating mazes, slaying dragons, and unlocking castles in your quest for the gold chalice. Adventure II's graphics are outstanding. Not only are the manicured hedge mazes and majestic castles artistically rendered, but fountains flow and weeds sway in the wind. The game offers a nice combination of open spaces and narrow mazes to explore, just like the original game. New locations include the "Ice Kingdom" with snow-covered evergreens and the "Dark Kingdom" with dead trees that cast looming shadows. The item-swapping bat of the first Adventure has been replaced by a hideous troll, and a Minotaur now patrols the hedge maze and will expel you on contact. These two are annoying, and I really, really wish you could kill those bastards with the sword. The three dragons have come a long way from the "ducks" in the first game; they now look like seahorses. They're extremely aggressive, chasing you from screen to screen and requiring several sword "pokes" to slay. The 5200 joystick responds very well, but it's way too easy to get caught up on the edges of the scenery. You can't just "slide around" the mazes as you could in the original game. The control scheme is basically the same, except an extra button is used to reposition the bridge or sword. The bridge really does look like a bridge this time, but it can be awkward to handle, partly due to the game's loose collision detection. Adventure II offers a generous 22 variations that let you adjust the difficulty, set the size of the "world" (small, medium, vast), and even select "alternate" mazes. Adventure II is pretty tough, but should you meet an untimely demise, you can just press the #5 key to resume play. Upon returning the chalice to the gold castle, you're awarded a rating like "castle guard", "peasant", or "duck food". The sound effects are decent, but a little in-game music would have been nice, as the game is played in almost complete silence. The packaging and instructions are first-class, and there are even a few Easter Eggs hidden within the game. Adventure II doesn't tinker with the formula too much, and as far as most classic gamers are concerned, that's a good thing. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Astrochase
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Brothers (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/3/19

screenshotAstrochase begins with a beautifully animated sequence, showing an astronaut walking out to a landing pad and getting beamed aboard a flying saucer. The 3D looking scenery and celestial bodies look gorgeous. Granted, it won't turn many heads in 2004, but in 1982 it rocked my world. It's a fitting introduction too, because Astrochase is all style and no substance. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. When the actual game begins, you move a flying saucer around a cordoned-off section of "space", with a large planet Earth situated in the middle. You could move around freely, if not for the fact that you're constantly bouncing off big planets and tiny stars which litter the screen. It's like an intergalactic obstacle course! Your goal is to destroy small "meteors" as they approach the earth in waves. You'll also need to contend with aliens that try to ram you. At least these aliens are considerate - they always line up perfectly so you can easily blast them. Your ship can fire in eight directions, but the squirrelly controls make it impossible to aim with any sort of precision. Combine that frustration with the fact that you're constantly getting caught up in the scenery, and it adds up to a thoroughly miserable experience. Despite my overwhelming desire to stop playing, the game constantly awarded me with extra ships -- extending the duration of my agony. The music also sucks. It's one of those generic old tunes that everybody recognizes (but nobody knows the name of) and it seems terribly inappropriate. Astrochase is pure garbage. I've gotten more enjoyment out of games that refused to load. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Ballblazer
Grade: B+
Publisher: Lucasfilm (1984)
Reviewed: 2002/10/26

screenshotThis is one of two groundbreaking titles released by LucasFilm for the Atari 5200 and Atari computers in 1984 (the other being Rescue on Fractalus). Ballblazer is a futuristic, split-screen sports game that was well ahead of its time. It's a soccer-style contest played between two small hovercraft-like vehicles, and surprisingly, it's played from a first-person point of view. The graphics are smooth and effectively convey the feeling of zooming around a large, checkered playing field. Each end of the field has a set of moving goal posts that you shoot the ball through to score. Naturally, longer shots are worth more points. When your opponent gains control of the ball, you try to jar it loose and regain possession. The sound effects are incredible, and the music is simply amazing. These remarkable tunes sound both ultra-modern and funky. Ballblazer is an exciting game, and the action gets more intense as the clock ticks down. The control is outstanding - you can accurately aim your shots -- even from a distance. If there's one inherent problem with Ballblazer, it's that the camera angle is constantly changing with respect to the ball, and therefore it's easy to get disoriented. There are nine levels of difficulty available in the one player game. Ballblazer was later "updated" for the Playstation, but that awful game didn't deserve the Ballblazer name. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Battlezone
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/12/15

screenshotWhen I first laid eyes on Battlezone for the 5200, I was like "Wow - vector graphics just like the arcade version!" But it didn't take long for my excitement to dissipate. Sure, everything in this first-person shooter is rendered in wireframe (except the mountains in the background) but the game just doesn't play nearly as good as the arcade, or even its Atari 2600 counterpart for that matter. The tanks scale smoothly as you approach, but turning looks rough and fired shots move extremely slow and in a choppy manner. The collision detection is also questionable, and especially aggravating when you're frantically trying to shoot enemies homing in on you. While the transparent square obstacles add a slight bit of strategy, they're more often just a pain the ass. The tanks look cool, but when shot, they fall apart instead of exploding. At least that's more than I can say for the UFOs, which simply disappear without a trace. When you get shot, your windshield cracks, and it looks dumb. All in all, this Battlezone fails to bring the arcade experience home. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Beamrider
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2006/10/7

screenshotThis space shooter hasn't aged particularly well, mainly due to its reliance on a not-so-special visual effect. In Beamrider, your ship appears to be moving down a flat blue grid in outer space while blasting aliens moving between the lines. To be honest, the psuedo-3D effect was never all that hot - even in the early 80's. If you take away the grid you're left with a remarkably barebones vertical shooter. To complete each stage, you need to shoot a certain number of tiny alien spacecraft, indicated by a counter in the corner of the screen. You'll need to avoid avoid incoming asteroids as well as enemy projectiles. Your basic shooting range only extends three-quarters of the screen, but you also have a limited supply of "bombs" that can reach the edge of the horizon. Be sure to save a bomb or two for the end-of-round "boss" ship that slowly hovers across the top of the screen. Although small, the aliens scale in and out nicely, and some of the audio effects have a cool reverberating quality. The control isn't too bad, although the Atari 5200 joystick doesn't allow for concise side-to-side movement. You can hold in the fire button to constantly fire, and thank God for that! With three levels of challenge, Beamrider isn't a bad little game, but you'll probably forget about it as soon as you turn it off. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Berzerk
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2000/10/14

screenshotGood Lord this game is hard!! For the uninitiated, Berzerk is all about running through a series of mazes while shooting robots and avoiding the diabolical smiley-face named Evil Otto (possibly the first video game boss?). While your first instinct is to be aggressive, patience is often better rewarded as the robots eventually tend to shoot each other or run into the electrified walls. Occasionally you can destroy all of them without even taking a shot. Avoiding one-on-one confrontations is a good idea, because these guys are accurate shots! Even their explosions will kill you, so keep your distance. The control suffers a bit thanks to the Atari 5200 joystick which keeps you moving long after you want to stop. Nifty voice synthesis delivers classic lines such as "Chicken! Fight like a robot!" Berzerk is always a good time, and with 11 levels of difficulty, this has got to be one of the most challenging Atari 5200 games ever. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Blueprint
Grade: F
Publisher: CBS (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/8/17

screenshotDespite its pretty graphics, Blueprint for the 5200 is a complete bore - even worse than the 2600 version. Gameplay involves collecting odd weapon fragments hidden in a maze of houses, then assembling them on the bottom of the screen. Actually, this "weapon" looks more like a camel than a cannon. Once it's complete, you can use it to shoot the freaky-looking red creature chasing your girlfriend across the top of the screen. Complicating matters are flowerpots that fall from the top and bounce across the bottom. Blueprint's attractive scenery and multi-colored objects put the 2600 version to shame, but the game itself feels like a chore. It's very slow and methodical, and the 5200 joystick doesn't do you any favors when it comes to traversing the maze. You also need to remember which houses you've already visited, or else you'll end up with a bomb in your hands. Granted, you can dispose of these bombs by dropping them in the "monster pit" at the bottom on the screen, but it's still a pain. In my opinion, whenever a video game asks you to remember something, it's a blatant design flaw! Blueprint is quite original and it does incorporate some interesting concepts, but the whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/12/31

screenshotRemember Gil Gerard and his little robot friend Twiki from the Buck Rogers TV show? Relax, they aren't in this game. Buck Rogers is no classic, but the 5200 version isn't so bad. You fly your ship over a planet surface, weaving between electric posts and blasting UFOs. The psuedo-3D scaling is relatively smooth and looks good, but navigation using the 5200 controller is no walk in the park. I do like how a counter at the top of the screen keeps track of your progress. Each of the five levels ends with a confrontation in deep space with a mother ship that looks like a double tie-fighter. Holding down the fire button initiates rapid fire, which is always a good thing. Buck Rogers plays fairly well despite some occasional collision detection glitches. One aspect I hate is how the screen flashes and makes an explosion sound whenever you complete a stage - it looks like your ship blew up! In the end, Buck Rogers is playable but thoroughly forgettable. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Centipede
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/5/3

screenshotThis frantic, rapid-fire shooter is one of my all-time favorites, and probably one of the most addictive games of all time. This Atari 5200 conversion captures the challenge and fun of the arcade hit, and is surprisingly hard! Your cannon can move freely around the lower part of the screen, blasting mushrooms, bugs, and centipede that slither down from the top (and break into parts when shot). Unlike the vertical screen of the arcade game, this translation features a horizontal playing field so the action is flattened out a bit. The centipede make their way down the screen faster, and the spider tends to move in sideways patterns - and often attacks like a heat-seeking missile! Since he's large and can move at blinding speeds, it's hard to avoid him, much less get below him for a shot. Equally hazardous are the falling fleas, which usually ram your cannon when you attempt to shoot them. If you have the track-ball controller, you'll want to use it for the full arcade experience, but the normal controller works surprisingly well. Centipede for the 5200 is a tough game, but it's that relentless challenge that keeps you coming back for more. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Choplifter
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Reviewed: 2012/3/6

screenshotIn Choplifter you fly a helicopter behind enemy lines and perform surgical strikes to save hostages. It's an exciting premise backed up with solid gameplay that requires a careful approach and good technique. You can pilot your helicopter with precision and a sense of momentum adds realism. One button is used to fire and the other rotates your copter, and the scheme works remarkably well. Blowing up strongholds, collecting hostages, and shuttling them back to your base is satisfying. You need to be on the lookout for roving tanks and a red jet that approaches ominously from the background. The tiny hostages look like they were taken straight out of Lode Runner, which happened to be another popular title by the same publisher (Broderbund). Choplifter is very cool but it's hampered by technical issues. The frame-rate takes a serious hit when things get hectic, slowing the action to a crawl. The Atari 5200 controller can introduce some "drift" if it's not properly calibrated, so make sure the joystick is "straight" when you plug it in. Once all of the hostages are accounted for, the game abruptly ends, so the fun is fleeting. This Atari 5200 version is the same one as the one released in 1982 for the Atari 8-bit computers. I wish Atari had spruced it up a little for the 5200, because this feels like a lazy port. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 32
1 player 

Congo Bongo
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/10/26

screenshotUgh! This is the worst version of Congo Bongo I've ever seen! The original was a fun arcade game that played like a 3D Donkey Kong. Decent translations appeared on the Colecovision and Atari 2600, but this one is utterly revolting. Let's start with the fact that there are only two screens, unlike the Colecovision version which has three (the arcade has four). The first screen is rendered in a putrid yellow and brown color scheme, and the animation is hellacious! There's NO WAY you can possibly tell where those blinking coconuts are heading. The blocky monkeys also look dreadful, and seem to be oblivious to what you're doing. Controlling your little man is a chore. Your view is from an angled perspective, so pulling down on the joystick should move your man diagonally right? But instead he moves straight down so you constantly have to re-adjust. At least Congo the ape looks respectable. The second screen is a Frogger-like river stage, but it's not much better. Everything in the water is an ugly shade of brown, and the choppy animation makes leaping between hippos an exercise in frustration. No question about it - this game is a total piece of crap. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Countermeasure
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/2/21

screenshotCountermeasure a terrific tank game, one of the few original titles for the Atari 5200. Your main goal is to move up the screen and destroy a bunch of missile silos within a certain period of time. On the way you'll encounter cannons, tanks, jeeps, and cruise missiles. You can refuel at supply depots, which also provide letters to a "fail-safe" code. The terrain consists of trees, ponds, and small towns. Touching any of these will slow your progress to a crawl. The graphics aren't anything special but they do the job. At least the background colors rotate as you progress through the levels, adding a little bit of variety. The well-designed controls let you aim your turret independently of your tank's movement. This isn't a strategy game, but you'll need to use your head before barging into the crossfire. It's a shame Atari didn't include a two-player simultaneous mode - that would have been awesome. When the game's timer runs out you are prompted to enter a three-letter code to avert a nuclear strike. This adds an element of suspense, since you may only know one or two of the letters of the code. With only possible 27 combinations, it's always possible to guess the code correctly. If you don't, you'll be treated to a flashing skull and crossbones which fills the screen. I remember admiring this graphic in an Atari Age magazine twenty years ago, and I'm happy to say it still looks pretty cool. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Decathlon
Grade: C+

screenshotFinally I have discovered a game well suited to those wobbly Atari 5200 joysticks! Decathlon requires you to shake the joystick continuously, and it's especially easy with a controller that's designed to be loose. This Olympic-style contest includes ten events: 100M dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400M, hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the grueling 1500M run. Up to four players are supported, but only two compete at any given time. Decathlon's controls are so easy that you won't need a manual. Running involves twiddling the joystick and jumping is done by pressing a button (or holding it in, as in the case of the pole vault). Your performance in each event awards points toward your overall tally, and it's fun trying to edge out your buddies down the stretch. Most events are brief, and the throwing events are the best for that very reason. Longer events like the 400M dash will wear on your wrist, and my advice for the 1500M is to skip it altogether. It requires about 7 minutes of constant joystick wiggling, and no game is worth inflicting such repetitive stress on your wrist. The athletes are nicely detailed and fluidly animated, but it looks funny how their upper bodies remain perfectly still while running. Decathlon's audio is so quiet that my friend Scott likened this game to "performing athletic feats in a funeral home". Activision could have probably done more with it, but Decathlon provides some much-needed multi-player action for the system. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: All but 1500M
Our high score: SDZ 7005
1 to 4 players 

Defender
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/8/17

screenshotThis is a pretty sweet rendition of the side-scrolling classic. Defender is one truly difficult game, but that's what makes you keep coming back for more. Unlike most shooters of its time, you can't just blast everything in sight because human lives hang in the balance. Alien landers abduct people from the planet surface, carry them to the top of the screen, and combine with them to form red mutants - your fiercest enemy! When you catch a lander in the act, you can shoot it, catch the falling human (500 points), and return him safely to the planet below (another 500 points). This edition incorporates all the complex controls (including the smart bombs and hyperspace) from the arcade. The graphics are very close to the arcade game, and the sound effects are practically identical. The animation gets a little choppy at times, and the screen tends to get messy as artifacts from explosions tend to stick around. That's okay, because chaos rules in this game. Overall, Defender is one of the more intense shooters for the 5200. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dig Dug
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2000/10/5

screenshotDig Dug is one of the most ingenious video games of all time. It seems like the better you get, the worse you score. Experienced Dig Dug players thrive on living dangerously and take unnecessary risks -- it's in their blood. You control a little miner who digs tunnels through the ground. To clear each stage, you must eliminate all the monsters on the screen. This is done by either dropping boulders on them or inflating them until they explode. Come to think about it, that's pretty gross. You can take out several baddies with a single, well-timed boulder, but that requires planning and strategy. Dig Dug's graphics are only fair. The background looks good, but the Pookas and Fygars are single-colored and less detailed than the arcade version. They look like blobs. Oh well, at least Dig Dug plays like the original. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dreadnaught Factor
Grade: D-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2002/12/15

screenshotDespite its snazzy graphics and innovative gameplay, nobody likes this game. There's a reason for that. Dreadnaught Factor is too awkward to control and its gameplay too tedious to be fun. Apparently "dreadnaught" is codeword for "big-ass space ship". Unlike typical shooters where you fire at waves of small aliens, in this game you battle one humongous "dreadnaught" at a time. These things span several screens in size, and the viewing areas scroll downward as you fly over them. Some dreadnaughts bear an uncanny resemblance to the Star Destroyers from the original Star Wars trilogy. Despite manning a tiny ship, you can destroy these freighters by bombing all of their "energy vents". Far from defenseless, the dreadnaughts shoot cannons and send guided missiles your way. It takes several passes to finish off each of these beasts, and you'll have to finish the job before the thing reaches your space station. It sounds like fun, but the lousy control scheme forces you to press the fire and bomb buttons continuously, which is very demanding on your hands. The shooting action gets repetitive, and having to shoot every last friggin' vent is a pain. Worst of all, there's no payoff - the screen just goes white as the dreadnaught appears. Dreadnaught Factor introduced some cool concepts, but really couldn't capitalize on any of them. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, Moby Games

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