Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Here's a perfect example of a great arcade game nearly ruined by those bizarre Atari 5200 controllers. As everybody knows, the object of the game is to navigate a traffic-filled street and then cross a stream of logs and crocodiles. The graphics here are very close to the arcade, although your frog looks more like a spider when he faces sideways. Although some music plays before and after each game, the catchy in-game melody is conspicuous in its absence. There are two speed settings. The gameplay seems less forgiving than most Frogger games, and the turtles don't give much notice before diving. Although at first this appears to be a respectable version of the arcade hit, the control is problematic to say the least. Since the joysticks do not auto-center, you have to press the button in conjunction with pushing the joystick in order to hop. This is to prevent extra, inadvertent hops, but it makes it awfully hard to change directions quickly. Frogger of the 5200 is playable, but it's far more enjoyable on other systems. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Frogger II: Threeedeep!
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
In the first Frogger, your frog simply wanted to cross the street and pond. This time his journey will take him from the bottom of the sea all the way up into the frickin' clouds in the sky
! Yes, this is one ambitious amphibian. I'm happy to report that the nasty control issues I experienced with the first 5200 Frogger are much less severe in this edition. I think that's because Frogger II is a less frantic game, relying more on deliberate leaps instead of quick hops. The action takes place over three screens: underwater, the water's surface, and up in the sky. Underwater you'll encounter an array of colorful fish along with dangerous crocodiles and barracudas. You'll have to deal with the water current, though a friendly sea turtle will give you a ride on his back. Once you make it to the surface, you'll encounter rows of whales, hippos, ducks, and shark fins. This stage plays like the original Frogger, as you hop your way towards inner tubes at the top of the screen. The mother duck is your ticket to the sky screen, where you can bounce off clouds and hop between birds. This screen also features some fantastic creatures like pterodactyls and fire-breathing dragons! There's plenty of eye candy in Frogger II - every animal is finely detailed and nicely animated. Frogger II is a real winner for the 5200. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1985)
Whenever one of my friends tries this, the first words out of their mouths is always "Dave, I can't play this - the controller's broken". We should be so lucky. In the arcade, Galaxian was an excellent Space Invaders-style shooter, but this Atari 5200 conversion is positively half-assed
. The graphics look pretty nice with a multi-colored cannon at the bottom of the screen, and crisp, colorful aliens on top. Too bad the yellow "boss" ships look like the rest, instead of assuming the "Y" shape they have in the arcade. The explosions are meager, but keep an eye out for the mysterious "Atari" symbol that sometimes appears. The controls are fairly horrible
. Your cannon slides continuously from side-to-side, so you end up spraying missiles in a desperate attempt to hit something. Thank God you can hold down the fire button to shoot continuously. As if to compensate for the lousy controls, aliens often fly sideways
across the screen or even pause
momentarily, making them sitting ducks. Galaxian also has its share of technical issues including rampant slow-down and fishy collision detection, although these often work to your advantage. The crude audio effects are another black eye. The rhythmic "cadence" sounds like a constipated robot, and the explosions sound like rubber bands and trashcan lids. Once you get on a roll, it sounds like you're beating up the black guy from the Police Academy movies! After my original disparaging review of this game, a thoughtful reader informed me that I should play this using the track-ball controller. I'm glad I did, because the track-ball provides a fine degree of precision that even surpasses the arcade game! In fact, if you own one of these massive controllers, you can safely bump up the grade by not one but two
whole letter grades! On a side note, my friend Mike taught me an alternate way of playing Galaxian - by not shooting at all!
That's right, this "boogie style" of play is done by touching the missile on the tip of your cannon to oncoming aliens. Now there's
a challenge! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: CBS (1983)
When the sun gets hot and the days grow long, a man's mind turns to thoughts of Gorf
. This classic arcade hit features four stages of space-shooting mayhem. The first two are variations of Space Invaders and Galaxian, followed by a third "black hole" stage, and culminating with a boss encounter featuring a mother ship moving side-to-side as you blast its hull. There's plenty of game here, so stick the cartridge into your console, hit of the power button, and prepare to have all of your hopes and dreams shattered
. Playing Gorf on the 5200 is like trying to play basketball in a hockey rink. I'm not sure who to blame for this abomination: Atari or CBS. On one hand, the wishy-washy Atari 5200 joystick is poorly suited to a shooter like this (or most other
video games for that matter). On the other hand, CBS seemed to buy into the controller's weaknesses by giving the game the weirdest sort of analog control. When the stick is centered, your cannon sits in the center of the screen (more or less). Moving it slightly lets you meander around the center, and pushing the stick hard to either side moves it against the edge of the screen. Your movements tend to be fast and jittery, making it difficult to aim. Lacking any sort of precision, I often found myself slamming into enemy missiles or hugging the edge of the screen. Worst of all, this just doesn't feel
like Gorf. The graphics aren't particularly impressive, and I noticed glitches related to both the visuals and collision detection. In the first stage, the shield disappears when you hold down the fire button, which is totally wrong. In the arcade, you poked holes in the shield. A lot of liberties were taken, and none for the better. And what happened to the trademark "My Name Is Gorf" voice synthesis? Where is that distinctive sound effect between the stages? By the time I was done with Gorf I don't know what hurt worse: my twisted, contorted hands or my broken heart. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8970
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Unlike the horrible Atari 2600 version, this Gremlins game is not only fun to play, but it conveys the spirit of the movie. The first thing I noticed was the ominous musical theme, which embodies the dark (yet playful) spirit of the film. At the start of each level, the screen is populated with Mogwai, Gremlins, food, and water puddles. If a Mogwai touches food or water, it transforms into a Gremlin. When a Gremlin touches water, it splits in two! The object is to grab all of the Mogwai and place them in a pen in the corner of the screen. Meanwhile you'll need to destroy the multiplying Gremlins using a sword. The gameplay is frantic and fun, with each level growing more intense. Walls and furniture begin to appear in the advanced levels, adding structure to the screen. The graphics are outstanding, featuring detailed, well-animated characters. Check out the gremlin tossing food out of the fridge! You can even select your starting level. Gremlins for the 5200 is a real gem, and one of the few original titles for the system. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Gyruss fans are always asking me to give this Atari 5200 translation another chance, but whenever I do I just find more things to complain about. In the arcades this was a truly original space shooter. Instead of aliens approaching from the top or sides of the screen, they emerge from the center with the help of some nifty scaling effects. Your ship moves in a circular pattern, shooting into the distance. Gyruss borrows several elements from Galaga, including the "double-shot" power-up and the "chance" bonus stages. Realizing the 5200 controller offered 360 degrees of circular movement, the developers incorporated it into the control scheme. Well, just because you can
do something doesn't mean it's a good idea!
Moving your ship around is not the intuitive experience the developers envisioned. It tends to move in fits, stopping and starting unpredictably as you struggle with the joystick. And bad controls aren't the only problem. Thanks to the super low resolution graphics, the aliens look like shapeless blobs. Their missiles blend in with them, making it almost impossible to see them coming. Unlike the arcade game, aggressive play is punished, not rewarded. The up-tempo musical score is terrific, but music by Bach is too good to be wasted on this sloppy effort. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 37,800
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1984)
H.E.R.O. was an interesting little adventure game for the Atari 2600, but on the 5200 it's a major letdown. Assuming the role of a rescuer sporting a propeller backpack and laser goggles, you must navigate mineshafts to save injured miners. To complete each stage, you'll need to blow up walls with dynamite and shoot small but deadly creatures. The levels get longer and more difficult as you progress, and some rooms are pitch dark so you'll need to feel your way around. The characters and objects are plain looking (and small like the 2600 version) but the underground walls have a more realistic, granular texture. Unfortunately, the wobbly Atari 5200 proves to be a serious liability, preventing you from navigating the narrow mineshafts with precision, causing many undeserved deaths. H.E.R.O. isn't a bad game, but the 2600 version is more playable. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Haunted House II 3D
Publisher: Mean Hamster (2002)
This game really fills a void in the Atari 5200 library, considering there aren't many adventures for the system (much less scary ones). Haunted House II 3D is an expanded version of the original Atari 2600 game. The graphics are better and the house is larger, but the basic premise remains the same. You control a pair of square eyes, trying to collect all the treasures in the house and get the heck out of there. You can light a candle by pressing a button, which will reveal any hidden objects lying around. As you wander through the house, you will encounter spiders, bats, skeletons, and ghosts. Their movements are unpredictable, but they don't pursue you from room to room. Sometimes one will appear from out of nowhere -- which is not fair at all. A sword is available for protection, but you can't collect items while holding it. So what is the "3D" all about? Actually, it's a bit of a stretch. Unlike the original Haunted House, each screen is a separate room (there's no scrolling) with psuedo-3D walls and doors in the background. But it's just eye candy - the gameplay is still completely 2D. As a matter of fact, the "rendered" rooms are more confusing than anything else. Haunted House II is challenging, but it's not polished enough to merit an average grade. Graphical break-up, hit-and-miss collision detection, and inconsistent speed all hamper the action. One minute you're flying around the screen, then suddenly you've slowed to a crawl. Sound effects include footsteps and thunder, but these are sloppy. Haunted House II 3D does deliver in terms of challenge. There are two houses to complete, and just trying to finish the first one kept me playing for quite a while. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Wow, I really can't get over what an absolute piece of [expletive] this game is. Not only is it terribly unpleasant to play, but the entire concept behind it is idiotic. It's hard to believe someone actually gave the "go ahead" to this ill-advised project. James Bond 007 begins with an incredibly shabby intro that borders on embarrassing. First you see a huge James Bond character getting into a tiny yellow car. Next, the car's wheels inexplicably begin to blink, and then the car shrinks down even smaller. The accompanying theme song is decent, but the visuals look positively half-assed. The intro is followed by a nausea-inducing first stage that perfectly embodies the game as a whole. Looking like a half-baked Moon Patrol knock-off, you jump over craters will shooting blue "diamonds" floating in the night sky. Bomb-dropping satellites fly just overhead, but inexplicably, you cannot
shoot them! Soon you find yourself moving over water while doing the same damn thing, except now you have to deal with shooting divers. If you're sadomasochistic enough to complete the stage, you can expect equally brain-dead gameplay in the stages to come. Each level is supposedly based on a different Bond film, but they all look and play pretty much the same - crappy! Did Parker Bros. really think the Bond license alone would justify this inexcusable tripe? I'm still waiting for them to issue a formal apology to the gamers of the world. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
In this eccentric arcade classic you control a warrior armed with a lance, flying around the screen atop a flapping ostrich. There are several floating platforms and a lava pit located on the very bottom of the playfield. You "joust" other flying warriors by colliding with them, and victory goes to the warrior whose lance was higher at the point of impact. It sounds overly simplistic, but it works remarkably well. Two players can cooperate to clear each wave together (the best way to play), or engage in cutthroat competitions. There's not much to criticize about this version (which is identical to the Atari home computer version, by the way). It delivers all the sights and sounds of the arcade, plus four levels of difficulty as well. The hand of the lava troll only has three fingers, but now I'm nitpicking. The 5200 controller is the only drawback, with slow response and a fire button that's not conducive to constant tapping. Overall this is a rock-solid translation of an old arcade favorite. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Jr. Pac-Man stars in a remarkable game, although he's often overshadowed by his parents. In this innovative spin-off, the mazes are so big that they don't even fit on a single screen! That's right, as you move junior around, the screen scrolls sideways to display the current section of the maze. You'd think this might slow down the action, but in fact Jr. Pac-Man is faster than Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man. The scrolling is relatively smooth, and our little hero zips around with unabashed youthful exuberance. The graphic quality of the mazes and ghosts is comparable to Ms. Pac-Man, but these huge labyrinths are far more satisfying to clear! Instead of fruit bouncing around there are little toys, although they're often difficult to discern. The only thing missing are intermissions! Jr. Pac-Man is only available from www.atariage.com, so I recommend you head on over and buy a copy right away. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
When I frequented my local arcades in 1982 I pumped a lot of quarters into a game called Jungle King. This home version was renamed Jungle Hunt and Tarzan was replaced by a dorky explorer decked out in a yellow outfit. The game features four unique screens, beginning with a vine-swinging section. The vines swing back and forth at varying rates, but it's not hard to leap between them if you take your time. After the last vine there's a nifty animation of your man diving into a river. The second screen is the most impressive-looking as you swim in a crocodile-infested river with a pink coral seabed. You're armed with a knife and when you stab it sounds like a friggin' shotgun blast! The hit detection is suspect however so it's wise to avoid confrontation. I really hate those pink "bubbles" that immobilize you for several seconds. According to the manual they are "mysterious murk". In other words, even the manual writer
didn't know what the [expletive] they were! Your next challenge is to run up an inclined plane while jumping over small boulders and ducking under large ones. Ducking requires more skill yet only earns you half as many points. Use the joystick in conjunction with the button to increase the height of your jumps. It's pretty methodical until you encounter two boulders at once, which really throws off your timing. On the final screen you must leap over a pair of politically-incorrect, spear-toting tribesmen with your captive girlfriend suspended over a boiling cauldron. You'll need to make contact with her on your second jump to save her, even if it means burying your head in her crotch. Then the stages restart but you get a new color scheme and now have to contend with a monkey on the vine stage. The imprecise 5200 joysticks controls don't do you any favors in a twitch game like this, but Jungle Hunt is still a fun romp thanks to its bright arcade graphics and sheer variety. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 16,600
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Like most ports of their other Atari 2600 titles, Activision didn't bother sprucing up Kaboom! for the 5200. They just slapped some blocky buildings in the background, and as you catch bombs, the game plays notes from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (otherwise known as the theme to the Bad News Bears). The only other addition is a "pitch and catch" mode, which allows a second player to be the mad bomber - not a big deal. The 5200 joystick has analog capabilities, so the control is respectable -- but there's really no substitute for a good paddle controller. I'm a pro on the 2600 version, but I couldn't get very far on this one, and didn't find it nearly as fun. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
It's clearly inspired by Donkey Kong yet Kangaroo has a certain charm of its own. You are a mother Kangaroo attempting to save her kid at the top of the screen. The platforms are formed by tree branches, and these trees happen to be inhabited by apple-hurling monkeys. But get this: you can punch
the monkeys in the face!
Yes, your kangaroo is armed with a boxing glove and I love how it gets extra large when you unleash your fury. It reminds me of Battletoads
(NES, 1991). Climbing the trees isn't easy due to apple crossfire and the fact that falling any distance
will kill you. You collect fruit along the way for points and ringing a bell causes more valuable fruit to appear. The arcade-style graphics look sharp but the audio is lousy. The nursery rhyme-style music will make you cringe and the high-pitched sound effects are just grating. And since this is on the Atari 5200 it almost goes without saying that the control sucks. You push up on the stick to jump, and since it doesn't auto-center you end up hopping several extra times. Leaping between platforms requires a precision these controllers lack. The spaces between branches are small but your timing needs to be exact or you'll plunge to your death. Your toe literally needs to be just over the edge
before you initiate that jump! My first instinct was to dial down the difficulty, but there are only two skill levels: novice and advanced! I guess it's that challenge that keeps me coming back for more. Kangaroo follows a familiar formula but has enough twists to keep things interesting. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Advanced
Our high score: 7,700
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1983)
While I love the Atari 2600 version of Keystone Kapers, I wasn't impressed with this adaptation. That graphics are nearly identical to the 2600, except for some additional background department store items which have no bearing on the gameplay. I was expecting Activision to at least add a few new obstacles, but no, this is the same game. Happy music plays incessantly, but fortunately it can be turned off. The control is fine until you try to take the elevator. It was difficult enough to line up your man in the 2600 version, and it's nearly impossible here! One nice feature is the ability to select your starting level. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Koffi: Yellow Kopter
Publisher: R.W. Lloyd (2002)
Available from Atari Age, this 5200 homebrew cartridge is highly original. You control a yellow fire-fighting helicopter named Koffi, and your main adversary is a storm cloud by the name of "Pyro". Pyro likes to set forest fires with his lightning bolts, but can be defeated simply by bumping into him a number of times. Be warned; you'll need to time your attacks carefully to avoid his bolts. Koffi must also collect raindrops to fill up his water tank, allowing him to douse the flames below. Rescuing animals in the forest earns you bonus points. Koffi's graphics are colorful and appealing. Lightning bolts shoot from the side of Pyro to form actual words like "BURN!" - a nice touch. The three forest screens are colorful and attractive, and I especially like the one with the evergreen trees and snow. There are ten different animals you can save, and each is nicely rendered in multiple colors. I found it amusing how this group includes a blue whale and kalamari. The fourth screen is a "boss" confrontation with Pyro's mother -- a cloud stretched across the top of the screen with two huge eyes. The game has a few technical issues. First, you must fly at just the right height
above the fire in order to release your water, and it took me a while to figure this out. Also, the clumsy 5200 controller will cause Koffi to "slide" into the fire if you're not careful. Rescuing the animals is fun - too bad it's not more integral to the game. Finally, the whole "bumping into clouds" business does get repetitive after a while. Koffi is an acquired taste, but it's fun once you get the hang of it. Five skill levels are provided, so there's ample challenge. Koffi Yellow Copter is a fresh addition to the 5200 library that should appeal to arcade fans of all ages. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, Moby Games