Mat Mania Challenge
Publisher: Atari (1990)
It's almost unfair to rate this game, considering how far fighting games have come since the Street Fighter revolution. But I have to rate this based on how fun it is now, and certain games just don't age well. Mat Mania is an ambitious wrestling game with complicated controls. The primary moves involve kicking and punching, but kicks never seem to work. Once you stun your opponent with a series of punches, you can pull off more complicated moves like a pile driver or knee drop. You can also do running attacks, climb the post, or fight outside the ring. Considering the limited number of buttons (two), there are an impressive list of moves. The graphics are good and there's even a referee who does absolutely nothing, just like real wrestling! Although there are plenty of moves, the fights tend to dissolve into boring punching contests. A huge problem is the lack of a health meter; it's impossible to tell who's winning at any given time. Mat Mania may have been worth playing in 1990, but it sure doesn't have much going for it now. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1989)
I'm not exaggerating when I say it took nearly ten years
to acquire this rare cartridge. Why is Mean 18 so hard to track down? Oh I don't know - maybe because it's freakin' awesome?
The game is exceptionally easy to play and its graphics are clean and attractive. There are no fancy hole previews, no alternate camera angles, no commentary, and no wind to be concerned with. It's actually quite refreshing to play a golf game that sticks with the basics and does them so well. Before each hole you view a small overhead map and some minimal distance information. The tee-off screen offers a nice vantage point, and the three-press swing meter extends down the entire left edge of the screen. The distance to the hole is indicated on the screen, but you'll need to consult the manual to see the range of each club. Why the game can't display this basic information I have no idea, but you'll quickly memorize the distances anyway. The swinging animation is smooth and it's fun to watch the ball sail. It tends to waiver in the air, adding drama as you apply "body english" to keep it on the fairway. On short approach shots the ball has a tendency to "spaz out" in the air, but it lands in the right spot. Getting the ball onto the green isn't hard and the putting is forgiving. Arrows that look like Lego blocks indicate slope, but they are rarely even a factor. My favorite aspect of the game is how you can play 18 holes in well under a half hour. With intuitive controls, an uncluttered interface, and a gentle learning curve, Mean 18 is everything you'd want in a classic golf title. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1990)
Meltdown is an average light gun game that reminds me of Reactor for the 2600. You try to shoot particles bouncing around the screen before they hit your core blocks in the middle. It's kind of like a reverse breakout game. Initially the game seems pretty bad, especially with its boring graphics. But after playing for a while, I discovered some cool features. Missed shots form a temporary blockade, adding some strategy. There are several useful power-ups, including continuous fire. When you complete a level, you are given a passcode so you don't have to start over next time. This is critical because the early levels are too easy. The later levels are more hectic and fun, although the screen flashes brightly every time you fire, which could induce headaches (or epilleptic seizures). © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1990)
This highly original game lets you to roam freely around a haunted town full of hideous monsters. Your goal? To save Grandpa Munster! Along the way you'll find weapons like a knife, axe, cross, and gun. As you gather objects, new areas to explore open up, some containing large bosses to defeat. The graphics and sound are outstanding. Nicely detailed scenery includes a forest, pumpkin patch, mansion, and graveyard. An ominous refrain plays in the background. By pressing the right button you can communicate with Grandpa, who will offer directions and advice. Midnight Mutants offers a nice mix of exploration, strategy, and action. The manual contains a map and a guide which most people will need to get started. There are a few flaws. Control is a bit awkward because there's no diagonal movement. You can easily get lost in certain areas which "wrap around" on themselves. And since there's no way to save the game, you'll need to finish it in one sitting (although there are shortcuts). There's a lot to see and do in this one. It's one of the few old games that caters to the horror crowd. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1990)
With a name like Motor Psycho, I was expecting some intense motorcycle combat with drivers beating the hell out of each other with crowbars. But Atari forgot to put the "psycho" into this game. It's just a normal motorcycle racer! It actually has more in common with Pole Position than Road Rash. You just change gears from low to high and try to stay on the road. The turns are extremely difficult to navigate without reducing your speed. You'll crash into a lot of arrow signs, resulting in goofy-looking explosions that look like cats fighting in a bag. After an excruciating pause, you're back on the road. There's no sense of place or rank, and the other motorcyclists seem to appear randomly. Holding down the left accelerate button made my thumb tired. The right button is for jumps, which let you catch big air before landing on a sign and exploding. It's too bad the jump feature wasn't fully realized - it was a good idea. The graphics are pretty mediocre, although the rolling hills don't look too bad. There are four boring tracks, differentiated mainly by color scheme. Besides arrow signs, there's no scenery on either side of the road. There are some glitches in the sound effects, making the game unpleasant to listen to at times. It's not particularly fun to play either. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1986)
What's not to love about Ms. Pac-Man? It's one of the best arcade games ever, and this Atari 7800 version is surprisingly faithful. In terms of looks, this is a dead ringer, complete with the animated title screen, colorful mazes, and cute intermissions. The bonus items, which include a pretzel and various fruits, look especially appetizing. One thing I'm not crazy about are the ghosts' eyes, rendered in an indistinct, light blue. That color may have looked fine on a sharp arcade monitor, but on the TV they're hard to make out. In general though, the colors appear more vibrant than most Atari 7800 titles. This version of Ms. Pac-Man is faster than most, and even in the very first stage she moves at a brisk pace. The controls are responsive but could be more forgiving; it's possible to get hung-up on turns if you're not exact with the controls. But the biggest flaw is the fact that you begin with five lives
instead of three. If Atari was trying to emulate the original arcade game, why water down the difficulty with excessive lives? Even so, this game is a true classic, and it's as fun to play now as it ever was. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1990)
I wonder what the people at Atari were smoking when they came up with this one? Ninja Golf actually combines three different types of video game action: fighting, shooting, and golf. And believe it or not, it's not half bad! The graphics are very good. There's really not much to the golf aspect; you just need to aim your shot and time the distance. After you hit the ball, you run after it and fight other ninja along the way. You also need to avoid mud-throwing gophers. The two buttons on your controller allow you to attack and jump. Attacking mainly consists of kicking, unless you have some throwing stars. Depending on where your ball lands, you may have to travel through various environments like sand pits, trees, or water hazards, which introduce new adversaries like snakes and sharks. When you finally make it to the green, you throw stars to defeat a dragon and finish the hole. There are a few problems. First, fighting can be frustratingly difficult when multiple ninja are attacking from both sides. When fighters overlap, it's hard to tell what's going on. The limited number of moves make the action somewhat repetitive. Occassionally enemies seem to disappear from the screen for no apparent reason. Overall, Ninja Golf is no classic, but it gets by on its wicked originality. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Here's a neat little one-on-one basketball game featuring Dr. J and Larry Bird. The guys look cartoonish, but they can still exhibit their patented fade away jumpers and slam dunks. I love these graphics. The half-court is well detailed, and the wooden floor looks great. The gameplay is simple and fun, although a bit slow. The only offensive moves are spin and shoot, and the defensive moves are limited to steal and jump. There is a nice menu of play modes to choose from, which makes it easy to customize your game. The computer opponent provides a worthy challenge. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bob DeCrescenzo (2006)
With Pac-Man Collection, Bob DeCrescenzo took the Atari 7800 Ms. Pac-Man engine and ran wild with it. It wouldn't be fair to call this a simple hack considering all the new material that's been added. First of all, you get an excellent rendition of the original Pac-Man (previously unavailable for the 7800), along with the ever-popular Ms. Pac-Man. Both are remarkably close to their arcade counterparts - minus the "waka-waka" sound effects (which apparently are hard to emulate). There are several variations of each game that tweak the graphics, difficulty, and maze configurations in various ways. These include Puck-Man, Hangly-Man, Ultra Pac-Man, Random Mazes, and Ms. Pac-Attack. An extensive options menu lets you toggle a "fast mode" for a turbo-charged Pac-Man, and there's a "plus mode" that wreaks havoc on the general rules. In plus mode, ghosts will not necessarily become "scared" when you eat a power pill, and special beverage-shaped power pills render the ghosts temporarily invisible. Other menu options let you adjust the number of players, starting level, and number of lives. Atari 7800 owners looking to take their Pac-Man game to the next level will find this well-conceived cartridge a nice addition to their collection. Pac-Man Collection is available at Atari Age
. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Pete Rose Baseball
Publisher: Absolute (1989)
Pete Rose had the makings of a perfectly good baseball game. The field looks terrific, and the pitcher/batter view looks like a real television broadcast. But is there a reason why the players' heads appear to be wrapped in bandages?
It looks like a bunch of freakin' mummies
out there, and last time I checked Egypt did not
have a team! King Tut can deliver four types of pitches at varying speeds, keeping the batter off-balance. Once the ball is hit, you only see a portion of the field at a time. The infield is split in half, and each outfield has its own screen. Those blue outfield fences with the distance marked on them look pretty sharp! The screen "flips" when the ball is thrown between areas, but it's not so bad. What kills
the game is the mechanism for fielding balls in the infield. Instead of automatically taking control of the nearest player, you need to manually
select between the four fielders visible on the screen. Fair enough, but each player can only move within strictly-defined horizontal zones. As a result, when a grounder dribbles behind the mound, only first-basemen
can reach it, despite the fact that the second-baseman is only a millimeter away! Invisible walls are the order of the day, turning an otherwise respectable game into a complete joke
. Isn't it odd how they can't get the basic fielding right, yet there's an infield fly rule!?
The audio is another detriment, with droning static for the crowd and a repetitive "charge" fanfare. Pete Rose Baseball had a chance to be the definitive baseball game for the Atari 7800, but it failed to get the basics right. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1990)
Planet Smashers is a prime example of the uninspired trash
Atari was pumping out in its waning years. This may be the most worthless
shooter ever concocted. You move a plane around the lower part of the screen while firing at generic objects that slowly float down. Although the "space semen" may raise an eyebrow, most targets are terribly uninspired (big eggs and
little eggs - wow). There's no variety and minimal audio except for the incessant "choom choom" of your cannon fire. Gauges at the bottom try to convey some semblance of sophistication, but it's all just an illusion. A special ship drops colored capsules, and collecting these in the correct order
will expedite the end of the stage. Take it from me - it can't come fast enough! You can activate a "cloaking device", but it's hardly necessary considering you have five
ships, each equipped with shields that can withstand several hits. Planet Smashers just goes on and on, long after the player has lost interest. Each stage ends with a forgettable boss, and if you're lucky he'll put you out of your misery. The Atari 7800 controller doesn't help matters. Constantly tapping that side button is awkward at best and painful at worst. It only takes five minutes to realize Atari didn't put any effort into this game whatsoever. Planet Smashers is hard to track down because it's so rare, but even ardent collectors should save themselves the aggravation. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tynesoft (2009)
Plutos is a long-unreleased shooter recently resurrected by several Atari 7800 enthusiasts, and classic gamers everywhere should be overjoyed. There's a lot
to like about this vertically-scrolling shooter, not the least of which is its support for two-player simultaneous action! There's no slow-down as both players blast away, each with his own score displayed at the top. The graphics are excellent. Shading is effectively used to give each stage a dark, foreboding look. The scenery features imaginative futuristic structures, but you never actually interact with it. Rotating enemies spiral down the screen in bunches and move in unpredictable patterns. Your default weapon is fairly weak, but power-up icons abound, each of which is labeled with a number. I prefer the double shot (#1), although the wide shot (#2) is also effective. I try to avoid #3, which is a single straight laser beam. Unfortunately, an icon will often appear right on top of you, changing your weapon whether you want to or not. You'll want to collect the same number to upgrade your firepower, but after you max out you'll inexplicably be downgraded
. Each stage ends with an obligatory (and unremarkable) boss. I like how you can hold down the fire button to shoot repeatedly, but the lack of music makes Plutos bland in the audio department. When the game ends, a nifty high score screen ranks you in. I played Plutos with several friends, and every one of them was impressed as hell. If you appreciate classic gaming, Plutos belongs in your collection. It can be obtained at Good Deal Games
. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 32,500
1 or 2 players
Pole Position II
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Man, talk about LAME
! As the official "pack-in" game for the 7800 system, this is not the least bit impressive. I suppose the race cars look okay with their rounded, shiny exteriors, but Pole Position II's gameplay is no different from the original, antiquated arcade game. What's the "II" supposed to be all about? Heck, this isn't even as good as the original
Pole Position, because you don't have that lady's voice announcing the start of each race! Before each contest, you're forced to complete one of those obligatory qualifying laps, and that sucks big time. The races themselves are fair, but the animation is pretty choppy, and the handling is not what I'd call precise. Even the audio sounds messed up, with your engine sounds cutting out whenever you roll over the shoulder. The scenery is minimal, except for those annoying Atari signs that appear every 50 feet or so. Although the instructions recommend using the standard two-button 7800 controller to allow for accelerating and braking, you'll want to ditch that thing like a bad habit and use your favorite 2600 joystick instead. Who needs a brake in a racing
game for Pete's sake?! Isn't the idea to go fast
? Duh! For a game this basic, Atari screwed it up as only they could have. That company's incompetence always amazed me. Was this expected to compete with the NES and Super Mario Bros? Give me a [expletive] break! © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
This game is a huge step DOWN from the remarkable Atari 5200 version. First the good news. The graphics are attractive, detailed, and smoothly animated. A big scoreboard at the top of the screen displays the line score. The controls are well-designed and easy to learn. You can play a one or two player game. But the problems are many. It's tough to judge fly balls. Hits travel so quickly that there's virtually no time to react with your fielder. The base runners are too fast, and the cpu is too tough. The crowd sounds like a strong wind. Can't one team come onto the field at the same time the other team is coming off the field? Do we really have to wait for both? On top of everything, this game has been known to freeze up well into a contest. Yikes. This game has much more in common with the Atari 2600 version than the 5200 one. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1986)
Robotron 2084 is one of my favorite arcade games of all time, but this version doesn't measure up. If you're not familiar with this frantic shooter, you control a little guy who begins each level in the middle of the screen, surrounded by hostile robots that begin to close immediately. You run around blasting everything in sight and save (touch) humans for big bonus points. Gameplay is fast and furious, demanding good control. Unfortunately the only way to get this type of control on the 7800 is to use two joysticks, which is problematic unless they can be secured somehow. Another problem is that the animation tends to get choppy when things get hectic, making it difficult to tell what the heck's going on. Overall this is just a fair adaption of the arcade classic. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age