Publisher: Atari Age (2012)
For those of you too young to remember, Scramble was a pretty kick-ass arcade game back in 1981. I remember it from the local bowling alley. This side-scrolling space shooter takes you through harrowing caverns lined with missiles that launch unpredictably. In addition to avoiding airborne hazards you'll need to bomb fuel depots to replenish your own fuel gauge. Okay, that part doesn't make much sense, but work with me here!
There are two fire buttons - one for missiles and one for bombs. Both are unlimited but you can only drop two bombs at a time so you'll want to focus on your timing. Your guns can fire rapidly, and it feels great to blast through a row of ground installations and fly right through the ensuing explosions. Scramble has constantly changing scenery so it never feels boring or repetitive. In one area you encounter dancing UFOs and in another area you must dodge meteors. In advanced stages you'll navigate some very tight corridors that will put your skills to the test. The tension mounts as fuel tanks become more and more sparse. This Atari 7800 version is a very close translation of the arcade game, although some of the colors are muted. The scrolling creates a "choppy" effect on each side of the screen, but you won't notice it once the action is underway. I would not recommend using the stock 7800 "pain-line" controller with this, as the constant button tapping will destroy
your hands. If you are lucky enough to own the European-style 7800 control pad, it's a more comfortable option. Scramble is a slick adaptation of a sweet arcade shooter. If you own a control pad, bump up the grade by a letter. This game is available at AtariAge.com
. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 29,970
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1990)
This was clearly intended to be Atari's answer to Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers. Unfortunately, Scrapyard Dog lacks the charm and originality to compete with that classic. It's not even in the same league. You control a goofy-looking guy with a big nose who can jump on his enemies and throw cans at them. Various stages portray him running around different parts of town trying to save his dog. The control is responsive, but certain objects blend into the background, making it difficult to tell what you can and can't jump on. There are too many obstacles flying through the air that are hard to avoid. If you're lucky, you'll find some bonus rooms to play mini-games or purchase items. Overall Scrapyard Dog is not particularly bad, but the so-so gameplay and dorky main character are major turn-offs. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1991)
This previously unreleased cartridge has recently become available through an on-line video game store. After playing it for a while, I came to the realization that some things are best left unreleased. Sentinel is a dismal light gun game that actually was
released for the 2600. The 2600 version didn't have much to offer, and despite some improved graphics, this 7800 version remains equally worthless. A large orb sits on the left side of the screen, hovering over a planet that scrolls by below. Uninteresting enemies approach from the right, and you must destroy them and their missiles before they can strike the orb. Shooting an enemy causes the orb to rise, but it sinks when it gets hit. Sentinel's gameplay equal parts repetitive and boring, and the light gun's accuracy could stand improvement as well. The single strategic element is that when the orb is "powered-up", shooting it destroys all on-screen enemies, like a smart bomb. Big freakin' deal. The mountains, buildings, and volcanoes in the background certainly look better than the plain 2600 version, but there's nothing here that will catch your eye. The monotonous background music will give you a serious headache. You can turn it off using the difficulty switches, but that also turns off the sound effects! Sentinel is a complete dud, and only serious collectors should take note of it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tynesoft (2009)
Like Plutos, Sirius is an old prototype that was recently unearthed and completed by some of the nicest people in the world. And thank goodness! Sirius is the kind of fast-paced, side-scrolling shooter that the 7800 really could have used in its heyday. It has terrific graphics that effectively use the system's color palette to convey texture and depth. The fact that you often have a "satellite" shooting by your side gives the game a certain R-Type flavor. Unfortunately, since this device is roughly the same size and shape as your ship, it can be easy to confuse the two. Holding down the fire button lets you shoot continuously, and frequent power-ups let you amass a level of firepower rarely seen on the 7800 console. When fully loaded, blasting through each stage is a thrill. Enemies tend to be large, rotating shapes, yet even with your substantial firepower they can be tough to hit. Why? Well, the collision detection is erratic for one thing. Also, certain enemies can absorb an inordinate number of shots. But the most irritating aspect of the game is those little rocks you can crash into, which aren't much bigger than the stars in the background. They tend to be positioned in some of the worst possible spots! Despite the high difficulty, when you rank into the top 10 score screen it's hard to resist hitting reset. As with Plutos, the lack of music gives the game a slightly unfinished quality. Still, Sirius is one of the more addicting titles in the Atari 7800 library. It may be 20 years too late, but we'll take it anyway! Sirius can be obtained at Good Deal Games
. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 31,900
Publisher: Atari Age (2008)
Here I am surrounded by all of the latest video game technology, yet my friends just want to play Space Duel on the Atari 7800. Over and over again.
Space Duel was originally released in 1982 as an Asteroids spin-off with wire-frame, vector graphics (in color no less). I always loved this game as a kid. Instead of rocks, you aim at rotating geometric shapes, and the action is non-stop. While fun to play solo, Space Duel's cooperative mode really steals the show, allowing two players to blast away at the same time while sharing the same cache of ships and a combined score. The number of objects of the screen is crazy at times, yet slowdown never seems to be a problem. Each wave has several tiny stars that that require multiple shots to destroy, and it seems like those little bastards are always breathing down your neck. You can fire rapidly, and pulling back on the joystick activates your shield. I can't emphasize enough how critical that shield is! Unlike the one in the Atari 2600 version of Asteroids, this shield causes objects to bounce off
of you. Sometimes these objects linger dangerously close, and that's when it pays to have a buddy around to bail you out. Your shield gradually fades away, but be sure to get your use out of it. I like how the high score is displayed at the top of the screen - taunting you to play just one more game!
One element missing from this Atari 7800 translation is the mode that lets both players be "tethered" together, but I can overlook that. I do wish the programmer used brighter colors, because some of the darker ones (like purple on black) are hard to make out. Even so, Space Duel is an easy "A" thanks to its amazing fun factor. If you have an arcade-style joystick, get it out and start tapping away like it's 1982. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari/Epyx (1987)
Summer Games puts you in the Olympics and lets up to eight players compete in six events. The graphics are excellent, with plenty of attention to detail. I really like the opening ceremonies. The athletes are colorful and animated realistically, although not always smoothly. The first event is diving, and it's probably the best of the bunch. You control your diver's body position and rotation speed during the dive. Although you want plenty of movement, you need to make sure you enter the water head-first, which requires some skill. The next event is the 400 meter relay, and the key to this one is to control your pace. The following contest, the 100 meter dash, is one of those events that breaks joysticks. You have to wiggle it as fast as you can - not much strategy there. Gymnastics (vaulting) is another winner. You control every aspect of the vault, so there's plenty of room for error. It requires some practice, but it's great fun when you get the hang of it. The last two events are swimming. The only control you have is a button push for each stroke, which is supposed to speed up your swimmer if you time it correctly. The freestyle relay swimming event runs a bit too long. Overall, Summer Games features two great events, three good ones, and one that's just fair. You have the option of playing one, all, or some of these. The running and swimming events allow you to go head-to-head against another person, which always livens up the action. I was disappointed that there's no closing ceremonies, but overall Summer Games is a great sports title. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Here's another outdated first-person air combat game that's frustrating and tedious to play. Super Huey puts you in control of a well-armed attack helicopter entering hostile territory. There are three modes: arcade, flight school, and reality mode. Arcade is pure dog-fighting action, but it's not very challenging. Flight school is a confusing tutorial meant to teach you how to lift off and control your helicopter. You'll need these skills in order to tackle reality mode, which combines flight simulation with air combat. Due to the limited number of buttons, the menu interface used to control the aircraft instruments is very complicated (the original game used a keyboard). It takes a lot of effort just to get the thing off the ground. Once you're airbourne, your cockpit depicts the horizon and small buildings on the ground. Maneuvering your helicopter is difficult and confusing, and the shooting is easy by comparison. Overall, Super Huey is too much work and not enough fun. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Absolute (1988)
Skateboarding was huge in the 80's, in no small part thanks to Michael J. Fox in those Back to the Future flicks. With the word "Super" prominently mentioned in the title, I was expecting big things from Super Skateboardin'. My expectations were tempered however when I first caught sight of the main character. Decked out in polka dot "jam" shorts, black socks, and toting a pink
skateboard, this guy is a total loser
. Worse yet, instead of grinding rails and doing back flips on half-pipes, this kid spends his time skating through buildings
turning off office equipment. What an outlaw! We'll teach those executives not to waste energy!! Once you hop upon your skateboard, you cruise through one room after another, knocking doors open and reversing direction without hesitation. Your goal is to turn off all of the equipment in the entire building, which includes computers, coffee makers, light bulbs, projectors, and manufacturing machines. You can change floors by ducking into ducts that run between them. At first it's a blast because the gameplay is simple and fun. The problem is, the multi-level office building is configured like a huge maze, and all the rooms all look pretty much the same. There's a LOT of gadgets to turn off, and it can be maddeningly hard to locate the last one. It's a good thing the doors remain open when you hit them, because otherwise you'd have no idea if you were going in circles. At least with the doors, you know
that you're going in circles! Skateboardin's graphics are clean and colorful, but you'll want to shut off its monotonous, droning soundtrack. I really wanted to like this game, but by the time it was over I was just tired of it. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Tomcat F-14 Fighter Simulator
Publisher: Absolute (1989)
This game is bogus
! Yeah, I enjoyed the Atari 2600 Tomcat F-14, but that was a simpler, "dumbed down" version. This one was apparently designed for actual experienced fighter pilots because I couldn't shoot down a dang thing! Tomcat F-14 tries to be as realistic as possible, with its instrument-crammed cockpit, authentic take off and landing procedures, and instruction manual filled with technical jargon. To be honest it's all a façade and most of that instrumentation is only for show. All the critical info is displayed on the small computer screen in the center. The select and reset buttons are used to navigate the computer menu, but it's incredibly unintuitive and hardly worth the effort. Taking off is no problem, and once you reach 5000 feet you encounter your first enemy bogey. The manual recommends making all sorts of tedious adjustments to your computer at this time, but once I started fiddling around I was shot down immediately. My luck didn't improve much when I actually tried to engage the bogey. Enemy planes look realistic but move in an erratic, choppy manner. Maneuvering them into your crosshairs is impossibly difficult, as they tend to "stick" to the edge of the screen. When you're jostling the joystick like crazy and the enemy is sitting perfectly still in the corner of the screen, you start to wonder if it's a glitch in the game. Having to use the standard 7800 controller is painful enough without having to wrestle with it! The radar display is fairly worthless and rarely reflects what you're seeing out front. I got off a few decent shots, but none hit. After about eight games I finally said the hell with it. Maybe I missed the boat on this one, but I have better ways to waste my time. Like playing a different game for example. Next! © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari/Electronic Arts (1988)
This incredibly lame football game features respectable graphics but slow gameplay and choppy animation. There are six players per team, and they're colorful but move slowly. The football moves in a choppy manner, making it difficult to tell where it's headed. This game was poorly programmed. Forget about the running game - you'll be lucky to make it back to the line of scrimmage! Yes you can kick field goals and extra points, but they are automatically performed, and often missed from short range! There's a wide variety of plays to choose from, but who cares? The longest pass you can throw is about 10 yards. The single cheerleader looks like a muscular dude. I could go on and on about this one. It's pathetic. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
I was tempted to trash this game after getting completely frustrated on the very first level. But Tower Toppler has a certain addictive quality that I couldn't resist. The goal is to move your frog (that IS a frog, isn't it?) to the top of a series of towers. Each has platforms, elevators, and holes to crawl through. A variety of baddies wander the platforms trying to knock you off. You can destroy most of these with your arsenal of snowballs. The graphics are pretty nice. Your frog is well-animated, and the towers rotate smoothly as you move around them. The control is okay, but there are some slippery edges that can be very unforgiving. The game simply does not give you the benefit of the doubt on close jumps. The gameplay is straightforward and the levels are challenging and well-designed. While it may not be easy to climb the towers, you'll find yourself getting a bit further on each subsequent turn. There are ten towers in all. In addition, there's a short bonus stage between each tower that lets you shoot fish from a submarine. Want to cheat? Use the right difficulty switch to choose your stage. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2009)
This game seems seriously undercooked to me. Wasp doesn't come with a manual, nor does it need one. The idea is to guide a cute character with an oversized nose around a meadow sprinkled with flowers and mushrooms. Large wasps appear around the screen and approach with erratic movements. Your goal is to collect all of the red mushrooms while avoiding the slow, converging wasps. The simplistic gameplay might have worked if the difficulty ramped properly. Unfortunately, the game never gets particularly hard, making it possible to play indefinitely
. Each screen looks the same, and the constant scuttling becomes mind numbing after a few waves. Between stages the screen is reset using a hackneyed "tunnel" effect. Wasp's arcade-style graphics are respectable, but the inappropriate audio effects sound like they were recycled from a space game. Severely lacking in depth, Wasp feels like a half-finished project that the programmer got tired of working on. Atari 7800 fans may be hard up for new titles, but I find it hard to believe they're this
desperate! © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 44,800
Publisher: Froggo (1988)
I spent literally years
trying to track down a copy of this ultra-rare title. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I mean, Froggo doesn't have the best track record as a game publisher, and rare games typically aren't very good. But Water Ski proves an exception to the rule with its innovative controls and highly original gameplay. The game opens with some of the worst noise ever produced by an electronic device. That's supposed to be a theme song?
Thankfully, once you start playing the audio is limited to the gentle hum of your motorboat. Water Ski's graphics boast a great deal of detail with oversized boats and grassy shorelines. Your water skier is a pale dude in green shorts whose feet appear that to be on fire
(oh wait, that's just yellow water splashing up). The river course is strewn with rocks, logs, and ramps. You'll use the joystick to steer the boat and press the two buttons to move your skier left and right. It takes some getting used to doing two things at once, but eventually I grew to like the scheme. Although jumping ramps nets you big points (10K a pop), finding a route through the debris-laden water is difficult enough! Your boat moves continuously up the screen, and while you can increase its speed by pushing up, I have no idea why anyone would want to do such a thing. Water Ski is relentlessly difficult, and just making it to the second stage (out of three) took all the skill I could muster. I lasted all of three seconds in the shark-infested waters of level two. The top score remains posted at the top of the screen at all times, egging you on to give it "one more try". Interesting in concept and hard as nails, Water Ski proved to be well worth the wait. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 265,600
Publisher: Atari/Epyx (1987)
This Olympic-style title is even better than Summer Games, thanks to its bright, wintery conditions. You can almost feel the chill in the air! Only four events are included, but they're all winners. The first is the biathlon, which is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The key to this event is moving your skier's legs to the beat of the heart displayed in the lower corner. The scenery is a winter wonderland of snow-covered evergreens, and the controls are nice and simple. On the downside however, the event runs a bit too long, to the point of feeling repetitive. Next up is speed skating, which is the only event that lets you go head-to-head against a friend. You'll need to move the joystick rhythmically to your skater's strides to reach maximum velocity. The ski jump event is arguably the best of the bunch. As you take off and soar through the air, you need to constantly correct the position of your body to maintain balance and nail the landing. Points are awarded for both distance and style. The final event is the bobsled, and there really isn't much to it. You basically just steer in the opposite direction of turns to prevent the sled from tipping over. There's no closing ceremonies to wrap things up, and that's a shame because otherwise this is a stellar effort. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1989)
It's clearly inspired by the Alien movies, but unlike those films, Xenophobe fails to generate any
degree of excitement or suspense. It's just a slow, plodding ordeal where you methodically move a blocky bald guy between rooms and floors while shooting every generic alien you see. And since misery loves company, the game is conveniently presented in a split-screen mode for two to play at once. The graphics are dull and blocky, and the gray spaceship backgrounds are plain. Your bald-headed hero moves slowly, and the sluggish controls are even more maddening. You can walk or crawl, but what's really needed is a run button. The poor animation is evident by the fact that he leaps without even bending his knees! That's just sad. The collision detection is dreadful, and most of your damage is caused by accidentally jumping into closed doors. There are a variety of weapons, but they're easily knocked out of your hands, and then it's open season on pixilated bald guys. In addition, this game is far too easy at the standard level. The only
thing I liked about Xenophobe was how your man could still shoot while laying on his side after getting knocked down. That looks cool, but the rest of the game is garbage. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1986)
It may not look impressive today, but Xevious was a groundbreaking arcade shooter in 1983. Not only did it popularize the vertically-scrolling shooter genre, but your ship can simultaneously blast UFOs in the air and bomb nicely-landscaped ground installations below. I've always been a fan of the game, but it's hard to get excited about this version. The screen is cropped on both sides, and while this annoyed me at first, I suspect Atari was just trying to remain faithful to the original arcade hit (which featured a sideways screen). At first I thought this Xevious was much harder than the arcade, but then I realized that had more to do with the controls than the actual gameplay. After a few minutes of pressing the side buttons of Atari's "Pain Line" joystick, your wrists will cramp up in the worst way, and your score suffers accordingly. After hooking up a special joystick with the two buttons on top however, I found the game to be much more playable. There are a few subtle differences between this and the arcade game. The graphics aren't very sharp and the colors look washed out. Are those tanks really supposed to be in the water? Your bomb target is a bit too close to your ship, making it harder to home in on bosses. White explosions tend to obfuscate incoming missiles, so you'll need to keep an eye out. This version is a bit on the slow side, so you'll want to crank the difficulty up to "expert" if you want the same degree of challenge. The game's audio emulates the distinct arcade sound effects to near perfection. There are better versions of Xevious out there, but if you can find a good joystick, it's still a wild ride. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age
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