Publisher: L&M Software (1983)
The original Candy Man didn't exactly demand a sequel, but we got one anyway! Ms. Candy Man opens by presenting a flashing title screen while blaring nauseating carnival music. I don't know whether to cover my eyes or ears! I need more hands!!
The original Candy Man was lacking in color so Ms. Candy Man overcompensates to the max. She assumes the form of a face with a bow that hops between spaces in a grid, collecting blacks squares while avoiding littles elves with hats. There's a little dude jumping around in a cage at the bottom, and I assume that's Candy Man. The control feels less sluggish than the first game, but the AI is pretty weak. As long as you don't jump directly on the elves you're pretty safe. It's tougher in advanced stages because the action gets more frantic and the controls become touchy. When you die, you fall to the bottom of the screen, accompanied by an obnoxious sound effect. Your remains are then hauled away by a tow truck or ambulance. When the game ends that ear-splitting music returns. With three skill levels Ms. Candy Man would appear to be a superior sequel, but it's impossible to enjoy with the volume on. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: normal
Our high score: 51,084
1 to 2 players
Publisher: Esoterica (1982)
This perfectly-executed Pac-Man knock-off impressed the hell
out of me. If you take the original Pac-Man arcade game, lower its resolution and cut out the intermissions, you're left with Muncher. The vibrant graphics are flicker-free, and the blockiness only adds character. The layout of the maze is faithful to the original game, complete with the various fruit bonuses. The "waba waba" sound effects are nicely done, although you can't hear the looping background "siren" as you're eating (apparently the game can only play one sound at a time). Your little "Muncher" doesn't continue moving when you release the joystick (as he does in real Pac-Man), but otherwise the controls are flawless. When you eat the ghosts, they turn into red eyes, and your point bonus is displayed on the left side of the maze. There's only one difficulty level, but the pace increases rapidly, and kicks into overdrive
upon reaching the fourth round. I find it ironic that Muncher lacks an official Pac-Man license, because it is by far
the most faithful adaptation I've played on a classic system. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Recommended variation: level 5/3 lives
Our high score: 10,382
1 or 2 players
Red Baron/Panzer Attack
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
This two-in-one cartridge offers the same brand of tank/airplane action as Combat
(Atari 2600, 1977), but it's less fun. The dogfighting action (Red Baron) isn't so bad, bearing a striking resemblance to Triple Action
(Intellivision, 1981). You view your plane from the side, and can adjust both your direction and speed
as you try to shoot down your opponent. Random clouds cover parts of the screen, and a red barn is centered on the ground below. You can't fly off the top
of the screen, but the sides "wrap" around. The planes look terrific and vary slightly in shape. It's a shame they both happen to be the exact
same color (red), because that makes it too easy to confuse the two. The action moves at a nice pace and I like how planes go into a tailspin when shot down. The Panzer Attack tank variations are far less interesting, despite supporting up to four players!
The sparse maze is lifted straight out of Combat, and I wish
I could say the same about the gameplay. Your inabilitiy to curve or ricochet your shots severely limits the strategy, and most contests degenerate into defensive stalemates. Tanks don't even relocate when shot, making them sitting ducks for follow-up attacks. Both Red Baron and Panzer Attack let you set a time limit, but there are no options to customize the game. Wow, Combat is looking better all the time! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Esoterica (1986)
I was going to call Road Toad a Frogger knock-off, but then I remembered toads are different from frogs. I think. Anyway, like many Astrocade titles Road Toad only consumes the upper part of the screen. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks cross the street in opposite directions. The vehicles are multicolored but tend to overlap, causing some of the trucks to resemble centipede. Your score is the number of times you cross the street, but it's not displayed until you die. The controls are pretty good. I like how your frog (um - I mean toad
) takes half-hops instead of moving from lane to lane. I also like how race cars occasionally appear and drag race up certain lanes. Seeing one lined up on the edge adds a little excitement because you never know when he'll take off. The graphics are very sloppy with random glitches littering the playfield. Thankfully the cars tend to clean them up as they ride over them. Road Toad is fun for a while, but the difficulty plateaus early, and the game becomes boring. It's playable, but there are much better Frogger-style games to choose from. Like Frogger, for example. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: SDZ 30
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Atari fans will recognize this two-in-one cartridge as the Astrocade equivalent of Air-Sea Battle
(Atari 2600, 1978). In the Sea Wolf variation two players move submarines along the bottom of the screen, firing torpedoes at ships patrolling above. The huge tankers are sitting ducks, but those little speed boats are tough to hit. The ships are painted pink and yellow, which ruins the otherwise perfect illusion of a realistic simulation. At first I thought I was supposed to shoot the "other" color, but apparently color doesn't make a difference. Sea Wolf has a few cool features to spice up the derivative action. You can fire two shots at a time, and after depleting your ammo your shooting is briefly suspended during a reload phase. In addition, a layer of mines lines the center of the screen which can block your shots. The Missile variation is a bit more exciting. In this one you fire at airplanes flying overhead, but you can only move your cannon across your half of the screen. This seems limiting until you realize you can guide
your missiles. The head-to-head action is pretty competitive, especially when you and a friend are both zeroing in on the same small plane. Before each game you enter the duration in seconds, and I'd recommend 111 because it's easy to type and keeps the matches short. There's nothing spectacular about Sea Wolf/Missile, but it has just enough bells and whistles to keep things interesting. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Missile 111sec
Our high score: 660
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Astrocade (1981)
Recommended variation: 3 ships
Our high score: 3,030
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
Recommended variation: 1 base level 9
Our high score: 3,300
Publisher: Bally (1977)
I've seen a lot of games try to recreate the dramatic Death Star trench battle from the first Star Wars film, but this has got to be the sorriest
of the bunch. Programming the illusion of moving through a trench is surprisingly easy - you just render a static trench with several sections, and then cycle the section colors. But no matter how effective the illusion, it's pretty pointless without some solid gameplay to back it up. Star Battle is sorely lacking in this regard! You control (and I use the term loosely) an X positioned near the bottom of the screen. At first I thought it was a cross-hair, but it eventually dawned on me that it's supposed to represent an X-Wing fighter! Pressing the fire button lets you fire at the Tie Fighter meandering near the top of the trench. Your X-Wing bounces around on its own accord, so you really need to wrestle with it and it's impossible to shoot with any precision. The Tie Fighter returns fire, and the winner is the first side to reach a pre-determined score. A two-player mode allows a second human to control the tie fighter, but why drag someone else
into this mess? Star Battle is so astoundingly bad, you may find yourself looking around and asking, "Is this supposed to be a joke?
Okay guys, you can come out now!" © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Tornado Baseball, Tennis, Hockey, and Handball
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Publisher: Esoterica (1983)
Recommended variation: 3 lives
Our high score: 3,919
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Riff Raff Games (2012)
This limited edition, second-run Warlords clone is pretty remarkable. Lacking only in the originality department, this is actually superior
(Atari 2600, 1977) in a number of ways. The Astrocade controllers have built-in analog control, and the fact that the system supports four controllers makes it ideal for medieval destruction. War is designed for four players, but the CPU will happily fill in for missing players. Each player assumes the form of the crown (or mask) in each corner surrounded by a wall. A nicely-rendered red dragon kicks off each round by unleashing a fireball from the center of the screen. You can either deflect the fireball or hold in the button to catch it. While it's in your possession you temporarily acquire some sort of STD that burns away at your castle wall. You can't hurl fireballs at other players as fast as you can in Warlords, which makes it a little harder to pick on your neighbor. That becomes less of a factor however as additional fireballs gradually enter the fray. Chaos reigns supreme and seeing all those balls bouncing around is downright mesmerizing!
War is a tough game, but it's fun as hell. Heck, I even enjoyed playing it solo. One thing I would change is that the number next to each castle reflects the player number
(1-4) instead of his current win total (only shown between rounds). It's easy to nit-pick, but it's hard to argue that War is one of those amazing homebrews that far exceeds anything originally produced for the system. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bally (1978)
Sloppy, boring, and with a ridiculous name to boot, Zzzap and Dodgem represents some of the worst of what the Astrocade has to offer. These two driving games look more like half-finished projects than legitimate games. The object in both is to travel the furthest distance within a time limit (configurable up to 99 seconds). Zzzap is a first-person driving game that plays like Night Driver
(Atari 2600, 1980) but without the challenge and fun. You steer a huge box
between a narrow set of moving posts. Steering is no problem using the controller knob, and if you have any driving skill whatsoever you'll complete each run at full speed without incident. Should you hit a post the words "BANG!" or "ZORK!" inexplicably display across the screen. Why is this even called Zzzap?? Dodgem is the second game, and it's a lame overhead driving game along the lines of Street Racer
(Atari 2600, 1978). You steer your small car up a roadway while avoiding red cars that bounce off the guardrails. The steering is not particularly responsive and the collision detection stinks. This cartridge was obviously an early entry in the Astrocade's short lifecycle, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.