Publisher: Bally (1978)
This nicely fills the role of the obligatory "race to the end of the maze" cartridge, not unlike Maze Craze for the Atari 2600 (1978). Amazing Maze adds a few new wrinkles but doesn't quite live up to its name. Prior to each race the CPU has to generate a random maze, and the process can take up to 30 seconds on the hard level. This pompted my friend Steve to immediately declare the game as "beer friendly". The mazes are rendered with fine green lines, and each player begins on opposite ends of the maze, often passing each other on their brief journey. Excellent controls let you swiftly navigate your square around corners without getting stuck on the edges. I did get a bit annoyed with that warbling noise that plays throughout the race. Three levels of difficulty are available, with easier mazes having wider corridors. Surprisingly, I found the harder mazes less
fun because you pretty much have to guess a route and go with it. At least with the easier mazes you can usually spot the correct path, making it feel more like a race to the finish. Afterwards the winner's route is shown with a dotted line - a nice touch. It's hard to get excited about Amazing Maze in 2009, but my friends seemed to enjoy it enough. I will give the game credit for one thing - it provides a CPU opponent
when nobody else is around! I've never seen that in a game like this before! Also included is the game of Tic Tac Toe - a throw-away title if I've ever seen one. Yes, we're talking about the original
Tic Tac Toe - not some space-aged 5D edition. I got so irritated watching my friends play it that I nearly knocked the grade down another letter. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bally (1977)
This Space Invaders look-alike is nothing short of spectacular
especially considering its 1977 release date. The gameplay never wavers from the formula as you aim a cannon at an alien armada that gradually descends upon you and your four red shields. The multicolored aliens are impressively large, and each row is distinctive in design. Your cannon moves swiftly from side-to-side, and its small size makes it easier to dodge the torrent of bombs. Your shots travel fast, which really keeps the pace brisk and the action non-stop. Whenever an alien is shot, a static red "explosion" briefly appears, but it almost looks like a glitch
. This also appears when your missiles collide with alien bombs - something that happens with alarming frequency! In later stages, it seems like half of your shots
are canceled out! The sound of your cannon firing is an extremely weird effect, like a bird in a pipe or something. One major problem with Astro Battle is its difficulty progression, which really hits a wall around the fourth wave. When the aliens are relentlessly dropping bombs about a millimeter above your cannon, there's not much you can do. Even so, Astro Battle is sure to "wow" Space Invaders fans. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Intermediate
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1981)
This pinball game might not look like much, but there's more to this than meets the eye. First and foremost, Bally Pin's excellent controls feel more natural than any other video pinball game I've played. You hold one controller in each hand, using the triggers to activate the left and right flippers. Not only is it extremely comfortable, but the small flippers let you wield a fine degree of control. The sparse playfield doesn't offer much variety, populated with a few assorted bumpers, drop-targets, and a single spinner. Still, the round bumpers kick the ball around nicely, and it's always a challenge to knock out all of the drop-targets (causing scoring to double). You'll go through your five balls fairly quickly, so don't worry - this game doesn't drag on like so many other pinball titles. The physics is a little off, but considering this was released in 1981, I'd feel like a real dick
complaining about something like that! Hell, I have new
games that can't get the physics right! Bally Pin includes two tables, but except for the color schemes, their layouts are very similar. It's not much to look at, but Bally Pin has it where it counts. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
It's difficult to fathom this was once considered legitimate software that living, breathing people actually exchanged official currency for. Biorhythm is a pseudoscience based on the premise that our physical, mental, and emotional states fluctuate in mathematical cycles. The cartridge initially prompts you to enter your name, birthday, and current date. I bet the programmer never envisioned someone would ever enter March 15, 2014, but that's what I did! The screen then presented me with a graphical chart spanning a few weeks with colored waves indicating the highs and lows for my physical, mental, and emotional states. Note that half the screen is completely blank. You can slide the timeline, triggering the same sound effect one would expect to hear while traveling through time. I like how my name remains displayed on top of the screen, in case I forget. According to the manual, the graphs help you understand past moods and "avoid potentially critical situations." Unfortunately, the vague instructions leave the graphs open to wild interpretions. If Biorhythm says your mental state is low on exam day, you should cut class! If your wedding happens to be scheduled on an emotional low, just call the whole damn thing off. Just this past weekend I told my friend Jon I couldn't play tennis because this piece of [expletive] cartridge (circa 1981) said I wasn't physically strong
enough! According to the manual, Biorhythm will "help you work with (and around) mood changes towards a more harmonious existence." I don't know what that means!
My buddy Brent noted that the bulk of this program consists of the interface that lets you enter your name and date. He proceeded to declare Biorhythm as "the worst thing I've ever seen." Biorhythm is the video game equivalent of snake oil, only far less useful. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Blackjack, Poker, and Acey Deucey
Publisher: Bally (1977)
The first time I played Blackjack, Poker, and Acey Deucey I thought it was pretty decent. The screen displays a green table with well-defined cards and intuitive prompts. Betting is performed by turning the knob on your controller to select the desired dollar amount, which would be fine if the controls weren't so damned touchy!
I really wish you could "lock in" a value instead of having to "dial up" the same amount (usually the maximum) every turn. The Blackjack variation lets you "hit", "double", or "stand" by moving the joystick and pressing the fire button. It's fairly effortless with one player, so I figured four players would be four times the fun. I was badly mistaken! For some odd reason, only a single player
can do anything at a time. So instead of having all four players place their bets at once, you have to go around the horn in a very time-consuming manner. The Poker variation is especially tedious as each player is prompted whether to keep each one of their five cards. It's like the game goes out of its way
to be as slow as possible! The audio seems missing in action, as the games are played in almost complete silence. If not for the solo Blackjack mode, this card game would be a total bust. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Esoterica (1983)
I love the concept behind Blast Droids, and with more polish it could have qualified for a hidden gem icon. Looking a lot like Omega Race
(Colecovision, 1983), you control a tiny ship on the fringe of a rectangle with several openings. You can fire rapidly at alien ships (some of which resemble hamburgers) bouncing around the interior. I like the Asteroids-inspired controls with the animated thrusters. Enemies don't fire back, but they move in dangerously erratic patterns. Adding to the challenge is the fact that you cannot
touch the walls! Your ship is so fragile that even shrapnel from a nearby explosion will destroy it. Each stage is unique but the progression is weird. A stage will end abruptly before you clear the enemies; I guess there's a quota or something. Each stage offers a new layout, and occasionally you're challenged to navigate a maze a la Gravitar
(Atari 2600, 1988) with a razor-thin margin for error. I enjoy the back-to-the basics gameplay of Blast Droids, but its list of flaws is longer than Lindsay Lohan's rap sheet
. Enemies spawn without warning - often on top of your ship!
The collision detection is questionable, so it's hard to tell if enemies can withstand multiple hits, or if your shots are just not registering. I dig the old-school electronic sound effects, but the volume goes in and out. The two-player simultaneous mode is ruined by the fact that players can shoot each other
. Finally, I really wish there was an easy way to restart the game without exiting out completely. Still, Blast Droids is fun if you follow my strategies. First, you can pretty much coast through the first two stages by remaining on the left edge and firing away where they can't get you. It may be cheating, but when the fate of the galaxy is at stake, you do whatever is necessary. Also, never stop shooting!
Your missiles wrap around the screen and errant shots have a way of taking out newly-spawned aliens. Blast Droids is definitely undercooked, but I found myself playing it a lot, so it can't be all that
bad. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 7,770
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1979)
What is it about clowns that creeps me out? Is it their beady eyes, pale white skin, or the fact that they like to hide under your bed with a knife?
It's the knife thing. Most classic gamers will write off Clowns/Brickyard as a blatant knock-off of Circus Atari and Breakout (Atari 2600). They'd be right, but this is a surprisingly entertaining
knock-off! The graphics in Clowns far exceed those of Circus. The large characters assume goofy poses and the balloons are actually round
). They're spaced out far enough that sometimes your bouncing clown will pass right through them. You can't "flip" the teeter-totter as you can in Circus, and this necessitates large trampolines on each side of the screen. The game loses momentum when you bounce off these, but Clowns is still fun to play for a few rounds. Brickyard looks absolutely heinous with its minimal graphics and ugly mauve/orange color scheme, but don't write this one off just yet. On its advanced settings your paddle is small and the ball is extremely unpredictable. It changes speed at random and a weird gravitational effect causes it to fall at strange angles. Sometimes you'll knock out a single brick and sometimes you'll get lucky and knock out a big chunk. Normally I prefer classic games on their hardest difficulties, but try that with Brickyard and you'll get your ass
handed to you. I respect that! The audio is limited to beeps, and the game mocks you with a nany-nany-boo-boo tune when you mess up. The only real negative with this cartridge is its lack of a restart option, which is aggravating. Still, this is a heck of a lot better than you would expect. It almost has
to be! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3 Lives/5 Lives Adv
Our high score: 302/631
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Riff Raff Games (2011)
I feel lucky to own one of these limited edition cartridges considering homebrews for the Astrocade are pretty rare. The premise of Crazy Climber is to scale a series of colorful buildings while dodging hazards like shutting windows and falling objects. These objects include flowerpots, bottles, dumbbells, and "condor excrement" that looks a lot like cat hairballs. I don't know who the hell is throwing dumbbells out of windows, but they need to cut that [expletive] out because it's dangerous!
Compared to the Atari 2600 Crazy Climber this one looks very good. The characters are blockier but larger, and the colors are more vibrant. The doors at the base of the building are a nice touch, and I like the glare on the windows. The controls are a major source of contention. Climbing involves methodical and well-timed up and down movements. Moving the joystick slightly lets you make fine adjustments to your hand positions, and I like how you can straddle two windows. The downside of this precision is the controls are hard to grasp. Isn't that ironic? Frankly, my friends hated
the controls, and Chris went so far as to claim they hurt his self esteem!
I fared much better, but hey, I'm the freakin' VGC right? Still, I can see why they might struggle. Grabbing a ledge is accompanied by a beep, but this audio cue plays a fraction of a second too soon. This can cause novice players to reverse direction prematurely, causing your man to inexplicably drop down
a floor. The controls are also overly sensitive to diagonals, causing your guy to inadvertently slide sideways. Two elements lacking in this version are the falling-when-hit animation and the helicopter that picks you up at the top. But this version has something that 2600 does not. A handy map is displayed on the right side of the screen which indicates your progress, and it's a terrific feature. The game also supports a dual-joystick configuration, but it's useless due to ergonomic factors. I enjoyed Crazy Climber's challenging arcade-style, and despite their incessant whining my friends played it over and over again. It's great to see an obscure title like this one get new life on an obscure classic console. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 35,400
Publisher: Bally (1977)
This is one of those oddball titles that collectors should not overlook. Dog Patch is a simple can-shooting game with two riflemen positioned on each side of the screen. A square "can" is tossed up the middle, and both players try to shoot it off the opposite side of the screen. Thanks to the analog knob on the Astrocade controller, you can finely adjust your aim. What's cool is that these shotguns actually spray
bullets, as if they were sawed-off
shotguns. That means you don't have to be perfectly on target to hit the can. Both players will often knock the can around in mid-air, turning it into a volleyball game of sorts. The more hits the can absorbs, the more points it's worth. Dog Patch is surprisingly fun and requires good reflexes. There's not much to see, but the large, multi-colored characters are nicely detailed. You can play solo for score, but the real satisfaction comes from going head-to-head. My friends absolutely fell in love with this game. The only blemish is the high-pitched, cringe-worthy sound effects, which will make you turn down the volume immediately. Still, Dog Patch is one of the simple pleasures of classic gaming. I suspect Dick Cheney would love
this game, despite the fact that you can't shoot your opponent in the face. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 25 cans
Our high score: 212
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1977)
This is a surprisingly sophisticated football game, and if not for its tedious play-calling system, it would be classic material. Designed for head-to-head play, Football also supports two-on-two
action (four players), which is pretty remarkable! The action on the field is fluid and lively. After hiking the ball, you move the quarterback and can adjust his arm to throw at any angle (by turning the knob). When the ball is in flight, you control two receivers while the defense controls two cornerbacks. It's fun to fight for the ball, although it can be hard to tell who came down with the thing! Still, with a little practice I found myself consistently picking up first downs. Each contest is played with four-minute quarters, and it's a shame you can't adjust that because it's way too long! But Football's real Achilles heel is it's play-calling mechanism. Only the offense selects a play, which involves watching a cursor move slowly
down a list of five formations. You move the joystick to when the cursor is next to your desired play, but get this - you always
have to sit through the entire sequence - even when you pick the first play! I suspect this time-consuming process was meant to provide a mechanism for disguising your selection, but it's not
worth the aggravation! Even if the player on defense diverts his eyes from the other player, he can usually hear the joystick move! When playing my friend George, it was hilarious how he resorted to various coughs and unnatural body movements in order to hide his selection. I was also amused by the two play-calling sheets provided. While one is clearly designated "for YELLOW TEAM
" and the other is labeled "for BLUE TEAM
", they are in fact exactly the same
. There's a lot to like about Football, but the unweildy play-calling system compromises the fun. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Not only is this a well constructed Galaxian clone, but it actually eclipses
the original in terms of frantic action. This may be the fastest, most relentless shooter I've ever played on a classic system! You move a cannon back and forth across the bottom of the screen while firing at a colorful alien armada. There are fewer aliens on the screen than in Galaxian, but they are larger and multi-colored. Blue drones line the bottom row, red ones fill in the middle, and two yellow, triangular "bosses" are perched on top. When bosses descend they are usually escorted by two red ships, and taking out all three nets you big points. The action is fast and furious as the aliens typically peel off in groups of 4 or 5 at a time! And these guys are fast!
The orange-and-yellow explosions look sweet, and when you destroy a boss the point amount is briefly displayed (nice). When you clear an armada - don't blink
- because a new one immediately appears in its place. Likewise, when one player dies in the two-player mode, the second player immediately
picks up where the other left off! The fact that the action never lets up prompted by buddy Steve to declare, "This is not
a beer-friendly game!" But even the breakneck pace can't hide a few flaws. First, when the aliens drop bombs, their bombs materialize about 10 pixels below the alien, giving you less time to react. And while there are nine skill levels to choose from, the difficulty seems to remain constant as you play. It's not that big of a deal though, since even the lower difficulties are formidable. In retrospect, I'm glad Galactic Invasion wasn't a faithful translation of Galaxian, because this game offers a unique shooting experience all of its own. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4-3
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Looking a lot like Indy 500
(Atari 2600, 1977), Grand Prix offers basic racing action with three tracks, along with a bonus demolition derby mode. Four players can compete at once, and each car looks slightly different to eliminate any confusion. Two driving modes are available, with "pro" incorporating some drifting action. You can configure each race for up to 99 laps, and if you're playing solo, racing against the clock is also an option. It sounds like a surefire winner, but Grand Prix is actually pretty boring! The first track is a basic oval, and the third is a pointless circle, so only track #2 is the least bit interesting. You steer by pushing the joystick left or right, but why wasn't the knob used for that function? The cars are very wide, leaving little room to pass. You're constantly hitting another player or scraping the edge of the track, slowing the action to a crawl. In terms of audio, the droning of engines and screeching of tires aren't anything to write home about. My friends were pretty pumped up about the demolition derby mode, but it turned out to be an unplayable mess. I appreciate Grand Prix's four player support, but I can't shake the nagging feeling that this should have been much better. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Built right into the Astrocade console, Gunfight is pretty freakin' awesome. This one-on-one cowboy showdown is not unlike Outlaw on the Atari 2600, but Gunfight looks much
better and is far
more sophisticated. The multi-colored gunfighters are large and their bullets really zip across the screen. The knob on your controller adjusts the angle of your gun, and being able to adjust your aim independently of your movement really enriches the gameplay. You can shoot away at the scenery or ricochet bullets off the top and bottom of the screen. Both sides are limited to six shots, and should you run out of ammo, you'll be a sitting duck until the round timer runs out (so start dancing!). There's no single-player option, but the game is ideal for a quick shootout with a friend. Gunfight doesn't have any variations, but it feels
like it does. That's because the scenery changes between rounds, gradually incorporating cactus plants, evergreen trees, and moving covered wagons. The game is not glitch-free however, and in some instances stray pixels appear which can interfere with the gameplay. Oh well, you don't throw away a Cadillac just because it has a dent in it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Incredible Wizard, The
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Finally - a game that lives up to its name! Expertly programmed and super fun, I would have to describe Incredible Wizard as ... awesome. This game is known as Wizard of Wor on other classic systems, but none of them can touch this. For the uninitiated, the gameplay involves blasting monsters in a maze that changes from round to round. Certain creatures can become invisible, but these can be tracked via a radar display on the bottom of the screen. Periodically you'll face a sub-boss (!), followed by the wizard himself who comes out guns-a-blazing. Other home versions tend to be lacking in some regard, but Incredible Wizard has it all. The characters are rendered in multi-colored sprites, and the explosions are sweet. The fact that you can't shoot through
the explosions slightly limits your destructive capabilities, but it is
possible to shoot two creatures at once
(if they're overlapping). The action grows progressively more intense, but the animation remains smooth and the controls perfectly responsive. Three skill levels are provided, and two-player simultaneous mayhem is encouraged. As icing on the cake, you're treated to some amazing audio. The beautiful noise generated by this game calls to mind the din of a 1982 arcade. The distorted, multi-layered music is a feast for the ears, easily surpassing anything else I've ever heard on a classic console. Incredible Wizard rocks the Bally Astrocade, but to be honest, this would be considered top-notch entertainment on any
system. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Letter Match/Spell 'N Score/Crosswords
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Most gamers would dismiss this semi-educational title off-hand, but my friends Chris and Steve take their non-jobs as game critics very seriously. They had a heck of a good time with this! As you can surmise from the cumbersome name, this cartridge is three games in one, and that's usually not a good sign. Letter Match is like the Memory game you played as a kid. There are rows of squares and each player takes turns selecting two. Each square reveals a letter, and if you can match a pair you earn a point and your turn continues. So what's so special about this Astrocade version? Well, the "medium" variation offers the perfect number of cards (4 x 8) for quick yet competitive games. Up to four players can participate at once - each with their own controller no less! Last but not least, certain squares have hidden bonuses attached to them. This makes each contest less predictable and even allows for dramatic comebacks. If only a timed mode had been included for solo play. The other two games feel hopelessly outdated. Spell 'N Score challenges players to spell as many words as they can with a group of letters, but trying to play it is a headache. The lack of a spell checker is understandable (it was 1977 for Pete's sake!) but having to use the keypad on the console is just awkward. The Crosswords variation has similar issues so you can skip that one as well. There's not much to see here, but give Letter Match a try for some timeless head-to-head fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, GameFAQs.com, Digital Press