Arcadia 2001 Reviews A-L

3D Bowling
Grade: A-
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2009/4/8

screenshotWhen the marquee title for a system is a bowling game, that's not a good sign. But it's the truth: 3D Bowling is one of the most sophisticated, playable games for the Arcadia 2001. The main screen is split into three parts. A rack of pins is displayed up top, a scorecard scrolls across the middle, and your bowler can be seen on the bottom, standing in the lane from a side-angle. I really like how he's holding the ball up in front of him like a professional bowler trying to concentrate. The controls have a learning curve, but once you get the hang of them, they offer a fine degree of control. Not only do you line up your bowler and administer the curve, but by holding in the spin duration button you determine exactly how much spin is applied. You press the bowl button to initiate your roll, and press it again to release the ball. This is the only bowling game I can recall where you can actually step over the foul line - resulting in a penalty! The ball looks a bit like a flat tire as it begins its trek, but when the game switches to a close-up of the pins, it looks much better. I suspect this close-up angle is what the "3D" in the title refers to. The ball is large and moves in a realistic manner, but the pins simply fall in place instead of knocking into each other. Don't hold your breath about making that split! The collision detection is a little fishy, especially with regard to that pesky second pin from the left in the back row (sometimes known as "the phantom"). There's a lot of room for technique, and the computer does a good job of keeping score. You can view the entire score sheet at any time with the press of a button. 3D Bowling is genuinely fun, and best of all - you don't need to wear those damp, stinky shoes. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Alien Invaders
Grade: C
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/9/7

screenshotThe title screen for Alien Invaders tries to convey impending doom, but it's hilariously bad. As aliens are shown congregating over a city, the ominous background score sounds more like a second grader struggling through a clarinet recital! It's so stilted and off-key that you almost have to laugh. Although clearly a Space Invaders clone, Alien Invaders does have its moments. First off, there are a ton of aliens jam-packed into that formation at the top of the screen. If I were Carl Sagan, I'd say there were billions and billions of them! How any of your shots can miss is beyond me! Rendered in four colors, the aliens also tend to shift directions unpredictably and "wrap" around the sides of the screen. Your cannon floats across a platform on the bottom, and can seek refuge under three shields. A blocky city skyline looms in the background, although this goes away as the aliens descend. Unlike the original Space Invaders, mother ships continuously move across the top, and shooting one pauses the action for a brief "explosion" animation. Alien Invaders is pretty fun to play, but only if you wait until a missile is visible on the tip of your cannon before you fire. If you simply pound the fire button there's an annoying delay before the next missile is armed. Maybe it's like that by design, but I kind of doubt it. The only thing that ruins this otherwise enjoyable shooter is its incomprehensible time limit! That's right - every game is only about three minutes long, no matter how well you're doing! And since there's only one wave, you'll spend most of that final minute picking off the mother ships. Wow, the designers really shot themselves in the foot with that bone-head decision! It effectively reduces Alien Invaders from an intense shooter to a cautionary tale. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

American Football
Grade: D+
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/9/7

screenshotIt's pretty sloppy, but I have to credit Emerson for at least attempting to create a full-featured football game. American Football is played on a side-scrolling screen with players that look like those generic "people" from the Odyssey 2 games. Some of this game's notable features include field goals, safeties, fumbles, and off-sides penalties. You get two run and two pass plays, but also have the option to run with the quarterback or activate a "decoy" receiver. The overall design is ambitious, but the execution is lacking. You only control one player at a time, and his movements are terribly jerky. Players not under your control tend to stand around like a bunch of idiots. But American Football's biggest downfall is its convoluted control scheme. The keys on the keypad serve multiple functions, and having to constantly look down at the controller while a play is unfolding is unacceptable. Worst yet, the keypad overlays have tiny text and the buttons are poorly organized. At the very least, you'd think they could have assigned "pass" to one of the side buttons, but no, those are left unused. You'll also want to turn the volume down because the constant "whooshing" sounds like a freaking hurricane is coming through! American Football is playable, but let's face it - most other football games of the same era blow this out of the water. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Astro Invader
Grade: C
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2013/8/6

screenshotThis obscure arcade shooter combines elements of Space Invaders and Galaxian. It begins with an impressively large mother ship whizzing across the top before depositing little aliens into a series of chutes. You move a cannon across the bottom of the screen, blasting these sitting-duck aliens as fast as you can press the fire button. It's a shame there's no automatic fire option, because this game is murder on your thumb. The aliens don't provide any resistance for the first few waves, leading you to wonder what the point of this game is exactly. Once you reach about 5000 points however, they begin to dive bomb and the difficulty goes from non-existent to astronomical. It wouldn't be so hard if the aliens didn't "splatter" when they hit, as their wide explosions can engulf your cannon. Worse yet, diamond-shaped "nukes" periodically float down and will cost you a ship if they hit the surface. Things get crazy in a hurry, so it's just a matter of persevering long enough to snag the high score. Rest assured that by 10K your thumb will be in agonizing pain. I do admire the frenetic pace of this shooter, even if the animation is a little choppy. With each wave, the mother ship deploys a different variety of alien of various colors and shapes. Astro Invader has a nice arcade vibe, but my thumb did not appreciate the vertical difficulty curve. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 11,140
1 player 

Baseball
Grade: F
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/9/7

screenshotThis comedy of errors belongs on the permanent DL. It only takes one look at that white grass and green diamond to know that this game is hurting in the worst way. The players are large and the ball moves smoothly, but that's the extent of the good news. You can't even throw a pitch until the second player presses the "signal to pitch" button on his controller. Ugh!! This ill-conceived design flaw makes every game about twice as long as it should be! The pitches come in pretty fast, and you swing by pressing a button on the keypad. When balls are hit to the infield, the fielding is totally automatic, which is lame as hell! When a ball is hit to the outfield, a cut-away screen depicts a fielder in a large triangle. Apparently this is meant to show the ball heading towards the fence, but it looks atrocious and is completely disconcerting. Once you have the ball, you can whip it between the bases pretty quickly thanks to the diamond-shaped graphic on the control pad overlay. Unfortunately, the programmers had to get cute and add "arcs" to each throw. As a result, the ball moves through the air like it has a mind of its own! Baseball also has its fair share of glitches, including one that will not let your fielder relinquish the ball until all the runners have scored! Yeah, I know it's just a minor bug, but I like to nitpick! And then there's the audio. This game beeps so incessantly that it should come with ear plugs! My buddy Scott offered a five word review for this game: "Beep beep beep beep F!!!" © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Breakaway
Grade: B
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/9/16


screenshotAt first glance, Breakaway resembles an ugly version of Breakout (Atari 2600, 1978). Its walls aren't exactly a rainbow of colors, but its unorthodox control scheme works surprisingly well. Your joystick-controlled paddle moves slowly by default, but holding down a keypad button gives it a nice boost. In the basic variation you just deflect a ball against a wall, but others let you steer, catch, or slice right through the wall. A nasty glitch makes these games a lot more challenging than they should be. Many times when you press the button for a new ball it comes flying down so fast you have no chance to react! You'll lose a lot of balls that way, so it's a good thing you get five. Before you dismiss Breakaway, check out its innovative head-to-head mode. Two players defend walls on each side of the screen, giving it a bit of a Warlords (Atari 2600, 1977) vibe. You can compete against a friend or the CPU, and it's a lot harder than it looks! You move your paddle up and down instead of left to right, but the programmers didn't bother to adjust the controls, so you'll have to hold your controller sideways. My friend Scott discovered a technique that allowed him to press both the keypad (for speed) and side button (to catch) - in addition to the joystick. "Hey look - I can do both at the same time!" "Gee Scott, that's looks really uncomfortable." "Yeah! And it hurts like a b*tch!!" We had some fun, but some contests seemed to end prematurely thanks the game's unnecessary time limit. Even so, these head-to-head variations make Breakaway one of the more entertaining Arcadia titles. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Cat Trax
Grade: A-
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/9/1

screenshotCat Trax takes a page from every maze game ever invented, and the results are pretty good! You control a feline in a cat-nip-lined maze with three dogs in pursuit. Like Pac-Man, "tunnels" along the edge of the screen allow you to escape to the opposite side. Your movement is a little sluggish, but the controls are responsive enough. A fish randomly appears in the center of the screen (that's a fish?), and touching it changes your cat into a dog-catching truck. The pause that occurs during this transformation can be slightly annoying. As a truck you quickly zip around the maze and snag dogs for points. The dogs make little attempt to escape, and they are neatly "crated up" as you catch each one. I like how the dogs don't return to the maze until you after you return to your cat form. Spicing up the action is your ability to open and close "gates" around the maze - much like Mousetrap. Your cat even has the ability to "warp" out of trouble - a feature referred to in space games as "hyperspace". The graphics in Cat Trax are exceptionally good, and that bright blue maze is very attractive. Each dog has its own distinctive look, although some look more like demons with horns. The sound effects are definitely weak, mainly limited to beeps and buzzes. 32 game variations are included, which is a lot for an Arcadia game. Cat Trax has a friendly arcade quality that makes you want to play, and enough depth to keep you playing. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1-1
1 player 

Combat
Grade: C
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2013/8/6

screenshotMost classic gamers associate the word Combat with Atari's 1977 classic. This Arcadia 2001 rendition mimics the same tank/plane shooting formula, but adds scenery, mines, and a slew of options. You can adjust your speed, the range of missiles, and the ability to see and/or destroy mines. There's even a setting that lets you shoot "over" scenery, which consists of simple houses and trees placed randomly around the screen. The tank variations are severely hampered by an awkward control scheme that requires you to press a button on the keypad to move forward. The battlefields are cluttered, resulting in a lot of abrupt starting and stopping. The game never establishes a flow and tends to be really irritating. The airplane variations are much more enjoyable. The controls are simple since you're flying over the scenery. The action is fast and smooth, and I like how it's possible for the planes to collide with each other. The battles go on indefinitely, so you and a friend will need to agree on a final score, which is lame. There are 88 variations in all but the pathetic instruction manual makes it hard to find the one you want. It contains a "grid" of options, but not all the numbers are listed along the top and most don't even line up with the squares! Atari demonstrated the proper way to do this in 1977, so there's no excuse for this 1982 game. In many ways Combat on the Arcadia improves upon the original, but you would never know with the lousy instructions and poorly-designed tank controls. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Escape
Grade: F
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/9/16


screenshotThis curious title is practically identical to Robot Killer, except enemies assume random "mutant" shapes instead of robots. And oh yeah - that bouncing ball has been replaced by a spinning bow tie. Any classic gamer will immediately identify both as Berzerk rip-offs. I suspect Escape was meant to replace Robot Killer, perhaps in an effort to avoid a lawsuit (Escape's product number is higher). This game does make a good first impression with its well-defined mazes peppered with a diverse assortment of enemies. But once the sluggish action kicks in, it feels like your man is wading through molasses. The monsters have all day to elude your slow-ass missiles, but they just stand around like a bunch of wallflowers. Pretty soon both your wrist and attention span will languish as you easily escape one uneventful screen after the next. That spinning bow tie is pretty quick, but since it lashes out in random directions, it's rarely a threat. Escape's pathetic gameplay is only matched by its atrocious box art. At first glance I thought a little kid had attempted to "color in" the poorly drawn characters, but apparently that's just the design. Berzerk fans might want to give Escape a try, but no one will ever make the mistake of playing this game twice. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4-4
1 player 

new Hobo
Grade: D
Publisher: UA Ltd (1983)
Reviewed: 2014/9/26

screenshotVideo games allow us to be superheroes, sport stars, space marines, and medieval warriors, but precious few let you play the role of a homeless slob. Why? Perhaps because it's such a bad idea. Hobo is a marginal game that bastardizes elements of Frogger (Atari 2600, 1982) and Lode Runner (Atari XE, 1983). It would be a blatant rip-off if two of its three screens weren't oriented diagonally. That's right, on a system with some of the most unresponsive joysticks ever made, you're asked to execute precision diagonal movements. In the first screen you try to cross a street with cars moving in opposite directions. Trying to navigate your hobo is so aggravating; it feels like you're wrestling with the controller! The second screen is even more painful as you climb ladders while avoiding police on patrol. As if the awful controls aren't bad enough, your margin of error is razor thin. When caught by police your hobo is escorted to a big cinder block with "JAIL" written across the top. Apparently being dirt-poor is a crime! The final stage looks pretty good with criss-crossing trains, but why are they surrounded by letter Z's? Are passengers sleeping inside? Your hobo is tiny on this screen, and since the trains move horizontally it's not hard to hop between them. Then it's back to the first screen, but now the cars move so fast only pure luck will guide you across. I like the graphics and variety of Hobo, but the controls really bummed me out. (Sorry!) © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 1360
1 player 

Jungler
Grade: C
Publisher: Emerson (1982)
Reviewed: 2009/4/8

screenshotWhen I told my friend Scott we were about to play this, he immediately launched into an elaborate Morris Day song and dance routine ("ow-wee-oh-wee-oh! I think I wanna know ya"). I felt bad about breaking it to him that the name was Jungler - not Jungle Love! Silly rabbit! Many readers have recommended Jungler to me, especially since I've been routinely bad-mouthing Arcadia games and claiming that most are excruciatingly slow. I was led to believe this was the Holy Grail of the Arcadia library - a lost gem that would elevate my opinion of the system from bad to marginal. The box looked promising enough with its intertwined dragons and the magic words "licensed arcade game"! Wow, this must be as good as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong! Jungler does look arcade-ish when you fire it up, with its crisp, elaborate maze and long "dragons" slithering through it. Actually, those things look more like bees followed by a trail of circles, but hey, we can pretend, right? Setting up the game took me a while. The default variation is painfully easy, and with 64 variations to sift through, it's hard to find the one the one that hits that "sweet spot" combination of speed and difficulty. When you begin a game you're greeted with a very unpleasant, off-key string of disjointed musical notes. That's got to best the worst song I've ever heard! Jungler's gameplay involves guiding a dragon around a maze while shooting at the tails of two other dragons. After shooting off their tails, you can hit them head-on for points. The controls are not terribly exact (Scott kindly referred to them as "inelegant"), but the collision detection just plain stinks. Half the time your shots don't even register! Granted, some variations move remarkably fast, but those border on unplayable. Truth be told, Jungler is not that fun, and far less entertaining than watching Scott get funky. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1-5
1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, OldComputers.com, Games Database, Arcadia 2001 Central

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