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CGE Adventures
Grade: C-
Publisher: RGR (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/5/28

screenshotThis wacky homebrew was inspired by a bizarre incident that occurred during the 2010 Classic Gaming Convention in Las Vegas. According to accounts, a thief tried to make off with a spindle containing 100 podcast promo CDs. It turns out the thief was deaf, and this bit of irony was not lost on the designers of this game. CGE Adventures uses the formula of Adventure (Atari, 1980) as you navigate contiguous screens while collecting items and avoiding enemies. Items include a key, VIP pass, hearing aid, NES Zapper, and a bottle of "Studson Musk" cologne. You play the role of the thief trying to locate the CDs and escape with the stack. You're pursued by a custodian, policeman, podcaster, and muscle-bound chef. The level of detail in these large characters is impressive, but the size of your thief makes it a struggle to navigate the narrow corridors and escape tight scrapes. My friends were confounded by the confusing screen layouts which tend to have a lot of dead-ends. The most detailed area is the casino, but the slot machines look more like rows of houses. I realize the main character is deaf, but I don't like how the game is played in almost complete silence. The fact that the custodian constantly redistributes the items randomizes things for better or worse. In one game he deposited the stack of CDs right near the exit for me. The colorful intro and animated endings are fun, but the rest of the game feels like an inside joke (which of course it is). You won't see any showgirls, but Elvis does make an appearance, and that has to count for something. CGE Adventure is worth a look, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was designed by a bunch of guys over a few rounds of beer. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


California Games
Grade: A
Publisher: Epyx (1987)
Reviewed: 2001/6/16

screenshotFew were paying attention when this late-arriving 2600 title was released in the late 80's, and that's too bad because California Games is impressive. One to eight players can compete in four fun-in-the-sun events, including foot bag (hackeysack), half-pipe (skateboarding), BMX racing (biking downhill), and surfing. The cart kicks off with a flashy title screen and a killer rendition of "Louie Louie". The graphics are some of the best ever for the 2600. Objects and backgrounds are multi-colored, finely detailed, and rendered in high resolution. I was especially impressed by the waves in the surfing event. Each event poses a completely unique challenge, and players choose sponsors to identify their character. California Games is a blast to play. Who would have thought they could have pulled this off on the 2600? © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Bike
Our high score: 17450
1 to 8 players 


Canyon Bomber
Grade: D+
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Reviewed: 2004/6/30

screenshotCanyon Bomber is a plain, unexciting game that won't hold your attention for very long. Its main variations feature two aircraft flying over a canyon, dropping "bombs" onto colored bricks in order to rack up the highest score. The rows of colored bricks resemble the walls in Breakout. Remarkably, your only control is via the paddle button. All you do is time your shots to hit the most blocks - pretty lame. Your aircraft takes different forms for each pass, including bombers, planes, and helicopters. As an indication of the low graphic quality, my friend Jonathan mistook some of the planes for flying race cars, and it was an honest mistake! In certain variations the blocks cave in, and in others they defy gravity. It's a shame there are no explosions of any kind - your bombs simply slice through the blocks. Adding some much-needed variety is a second set of variations entitled "sea bomber", which lets you bomb ships at sea. This time, you employ your paddle's knob, which allows you to set your depth. It's worth playing once or twice, but it's still slow and the collision detection is not particularly good. Although best played against a friend, there are also single-player variations in Canyon Bomber. The brain-dead computer opponent just seems to drop bombs continuously, but it still somehow manages to kick my butt. Canyon Bomber is playable, but definitely not my idea of a good time on a Saturday night. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2B
Our high score: 369
1 or 2 players 


Carnival
Grade: C
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7


screenshotI'm sorry to say that this version of Carnival can't hold a candle to the arcade game, which I loved to play at the local bowling alley as a kid. A very unique game, Carnival lets you shoot ducks, owls, and rabbits in what appears to be an old-fashioned shooting gallery. You aim using a pistol on the bottom of the screen, and the targets "clank" nicely when shot. While you only have a fixed number of bullets, periodic bonuses add (or subtract) from your ammunition supply. Carnival features bright and colorful graphics, but its gameplay is lackluster. For one thing, the targets are huge in comparison to the arcade game. Heck, it's hard not to hit them. The ducks that attempt to swoop down and eat into your bullet supply are easy to pick off. On the other hand, the rotating "pipes" at the top of the screen are frustratingly difficult to hit, and you'll spend an inordinate amount of time try to line up with them. And what happened to the trademark "carnival" music? The lack of music is bad, but a more unforgivable omission is the absence of the memorable "shoot the bear" bonus stage. That was always my favorite part of the arcade game, and I really wish they had squeezed it in here. Heck, there's even a bear on the cover of the manual for Pete's sake! Carnival for the 2600 is still mildly amusing, but it pales to the real thing. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 34,840
1 player 


Casino
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7

screenshotIt's surprising how much I enjoyed playing Casino, which combines blackjack, stud poker, and a surprisingly addictive poker solitaire game into one handy package. Up to four players can join in on the fun using the paddle controllers. Casino's graphics are simple yet attractive with the cards laid out on a classy striped green "table", although the tiny suits can be hard to decipher. The paddle controllers let you to quickly and easily select your bet amounts and make decisions. It's important to note that these games are not just simplified versions of the actual games. In blackjack, you can split, double-down, and even buy insurance. Poker allows players to leave the game and return later with their previous bank total. "Poker Solitaire" is another pleasant surprise. In it, you're dealt 25 cards and must arrange them in a five-by-five grid yielding the best poker combinations, and your score is not revealed until the very end. It may seem odd to be playing card games on the television, but it's nice not having to worry about shuffling and counting chips. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 1480
1 to 4 players 


Cat Trax
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari Age (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/11/12


screenshotReleased in 2003 along with two other long-lost Atari 2600 titles (Pleiades and Funky Fish), Cat Trax may be the best of the bunch. Sure it's a conventional maze game at heart, but the graphics look sharp and the control is just right. You guide a cat around the screen with three dogs in hot pursuit. To be honest, you're only steering a cat head, and those dogs look more like mice. That's okay - it's fun to pretend. Anyway, like any reputable maze game, there are tunnels on each side of the maze and bonuses (cat nip in this case) that materialize periodically in the center of the screen. Instead of power pills, a green potion randomly appears which can transform you into a dogcatcher truck! While this graphical transformation probably wouldn't technically qualify as morphing, it still looks pretty darned cool. Cat Trax is challenging thanks to the fairly intelligent dogs that tend to change directions unexpectedly. The upper maze corners are areas where you may easily become trapped, so for the love of God, stay out of there. There's nothing spectacular here, but the game serves its purpose. Cat Trax is available from Atari Age. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 14,780
1 player 


Centipede
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2010/4/7

screenshotUpon firing up Centipede you're treated to a high-resolution title screen with multi-colored mushrooms and a gyrating centipede. After that, it may come as a shock to see a playing field composed entirely of orange blocks. The mushrooms are the small blocks and your cannon is the big block. It's fun to pretend! The centipede itself glides smoothly from the top of the screen, but its sections flicker intermittently. A four-legged spider hops around the lower part of the screen in a herky-jerky manner. Although clearly graphically-challenged, Centipede still somehow manages to stay true to the original game. You can fire your cannon rapidly and the frantic action gets pretty intense. All the elements of the arcade have been retained, including the diving fleas and poisonous scorpion (worth a cool 1000 pts, by the way). If you own a trak-ball controller, that adds a nice arcade flavor. There's only one skill level, but the difficulty ramps quickly, and you'll find yourself hitting reset again and again as you attempt to beat your high score. It's easy to scoff at its marginal graphics, but a few rounds Centipede for the 2600 will make you a believer. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 49,156
1 player 


Chase the Chuckwagon
Grade: D+
Publisher: Spectravision (1983)
Reviewed: 2000/6/3

screenshotChase the Chuckwagon is one of the most famous games for the system. Available only via an old Purina dog food promotion, this cartridge is extremely rare and highly sought-after by collectors. People who frequent flea markets dream about stumbling upon this game. Chuckwagon is also regarded as being pretty awful, but that's not entirely true. It may be a derivative maze game, but it does feature multiple mazes, a bonus screen, a dog with a little wagging tail, and a nice-looking chuckwagon at the top of the screen. Not too shabby, although I still haven't figured out why colliding with the dogcatcher causes an explosion sound. Perhaps Spectravision was recycling the sound effects from another one of their games? © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 810
1 player 


Checkers
Grade: D
Publisher: Activision (1980)
Reviewed: 2001/10/17

screenshotI don't care for checkers in general, but Activision's brand of checkers is far superior than the Atari version. There are four variations: easy, intermediate, expert, and two-player. Sorry, but I can't imagine pulling this game out with a friend over. The graphics are minimal, but still better than those in Atari Checkers. I hate how the screen goes black when the computer is "thinking". Apparently this is done to save processor time. Although you can only move the cursor diagonally, I found the control to be responsive enough. Activision Checkers does the job, but nothing more. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


China Syndrome
Grade: F
Publisher: Spectravision (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/11/20

screenshotChina Syndrome offers a few original concepts, but not enough to compensate for its other flaws. I've never actually seen the movie this game is based on, but it stars Michael Douglas and it has something to do with a nuclear reactor. The object of the game is to keep a reactor under control. The screen is separated into three sections, each with its own set of bouncing atoms. Your job is to move your crosshairs around and catch the atoms before they multiply out of control. In later levels, obstacles appear around the screen to complicate matters. The difficulty is uneven. so the game tends to be either ridiculously easy or maddeningly difficult. And after 10 levels, China Syndrome comes to an abrupt end with the text "All Clear" -- just when it was getting interesting! © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.


Chopper Command
Grade: A
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/7/14

screenshotThe first time I set eyes on this game was at my friend Bill's house way back in 1982. My friend Andy and I headed over there one morning because Bill had recently acquired both Chopper Command and Defender (quite a coup back then!). At the time I was personally caught up in Defender-mania, so I wasn't particularly interested in this lame knock-off I had never even heard of. But my attitude changed as we compared the two games. Sure, Defender had deeper gameplay, but those flickering, choppy graphics were borderline offensive. Chopper Command on the other hand was so easy on the eyes, with its solid, well-defined objects and smooth animation. And that tan desert background under the bright blue sky had to be the most gorgeous sight we'd ever seen on the 2600. Best of all, you could hold down the fire button for some serious rapid-fire action. Taking out those darting planes and helicopters didn't require much strategy but it was great fun. Although your mission is to protect the caravans of trucks on the ground below, you have little control over their safety. Chopper Command has stood the test of time. Only recently did I come to realize just how challenging this game is. Even on the normal skill level it's difficult to last very long. Every 2600 fan should have a copy of Chopper Command in their library. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: SDZ 39,900
1 or 2 players 


Chuck Norris Superkicks
Grade: C
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
Reviewed: 2000/1/10


screenshotSee the review for Kung Fu Superkicks. It's the same game. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 300


Circus Atari
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Reviewed: 2011/4/21

screenshotSo many classic systems feature a game with clowns bouncing on a teeter-totter, and scientists have never been able to determine why. Circus Atari brings back a lot of old memories. I recall talking my mom into driving me to the local discount store so I buy this for $22, mainly because I wanted a game to play with my paddle controllers. The idea is to vault two clowns high enough to pop three rows of balloons moving quickly across the top of the screen. The paddles provide precision control, and the fire button can be used to flip the teeter-totter at any time. The higher balloons are worth more points, and clearing the top row will earn you an extra life. Those square balloons look pretty awful, by the way. Of the eight variations, several incorporate moving barriers. While these barriers often deflect your clown directly back, they also tend to keep him bouncing around up top longer, so I guess it's a wash. You have to feel a little sorry for the clowns in this game. Clearly they had no idea what they had signed up for. I'm sure they were happy just to get a job, but they failed to inquire about the very real possibility of death-by-concrete. I notice the clowns get a little nervous when they see me drinking a few beers and my response times are a little off. It's a hard-knock life, but people find it hilarious when a clown splatters on the ground, legs still kicking. It's like a low-definition fatality! I enjoy the frantic nature of the game, but have you noticed how the action always tends to gravitate towards the right side of the screen? I don't like that. Few would consider Circus Atari a great game, but its fast action puts your reflexes to the test. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: MKG 2,355
1 or 2 players 


Coconuts
Grade: D-
Publisher: Telesys (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/1/27

screenshotCoconuts is a simple game with colorful visuals but questionable gameplay. My initial review of this game was quite controversial, mainly due to my off-hand reference to the main character as a "total homo". I was taken to task by several gay readers who correctly pointed out that homosexual men tend to be very good dressers. So for this re-review at least, I promise to be more sensitive and avoid using terms like homo, queer, fruitcake, flamer, etc. Anyway, Coconut's gameplay is best described "Kaboom in reverse", as you move a guy named Stanley across the bottom of the screen while some bastard monkey tosses coconuts from the palm trees above. The game is controlled via a joystick - there's no paddle option. The first sustained hit removes his umbrella, followed by his hat, and then his pants. Just kidding - the game ends on the third hit. Coconut's graphics are its strong point, with large multi-colored characters and tall palm trees. You can even see the whites of that demonic monkey's eyes! Stanley is decked out in a bright blue outfit, matching umbrella, yellow sun hat, and red shoes. He looks kind of... umm... flamboyant. Why do I get the feeling this guy likes Broadway show tunes? I wouldn't be surprised if he enjoys shopping at the Pottery Barn. I bet he's a big Kylie Minogue fan. He even appears to be skipping around (c'mon now!) While Coconuts requires quick reflexes in the later waves, it's still one of the shallowest games I've ever played. This makes Pong look like Chess. Gamers can easily live long, fulfilling lives without this cartridge in their collections. Avoid it unless you're intrigued by the idea of a monkey attacking a choreographer. Not that there's anything wrong with that. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 1265
1 player 


Codebreaker
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2000/9/4

screenshotOf all the keypad-controlled Atari cartridges, this is probably the most entertaining, but that's not saying much. If you've ever played the board game Mastermind, you know the basic strategy behind Codebreaker. You need to solve simple code combinations using logical deduction (and guessing). Pretty lame, but at least the two-player game is playable. The last few variations offer a simple puzzle called NIM. Codebreaker is no prize, but I've seen much worse. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 player 


Combat
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Reviewed: 2002/2/26

screenshotThis game is an enigma. In the 80's, all of my friends detested Combat, often poking fun at its plain graphics and simplistic gameplay. But now, twenty years later, everybody I know swears up and down that it's one of the greatest games ever made. To be honest, I was never a huge fan, but I can't deny its competitive one-on-one action. Each of the game's 27 variations challenges you to outshoot your opponent over a 2 minute, 16 second time period (nice round number huh?). The tank variations have loads of options including different maze layouts, guided missiles, bouncing missiles, and even invisible tanks. The fact that a tank is relocated after taking a hit reduces the opportunity for "piling on" additional cheap shots. Most people agree that the "tank pong" variations are the best of the bunch, often resulting in wild and unpredictable matches. The biplane and jet variations are less exciting, but still deserve a look. When you fly your plane off one side of the screen you appear on the other side, and clouds are also an option. The three planes vs. one bomber variation isn't fair though - that big ol' bomber has no chance! Combat is an archaic, simplistic game, but after all these years it's finally getting some respect. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
2 player 


Combat 2
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/7/14

screenshotThis long lost prototype was recently released at a classic gaming convention, but to be honest, there's not much of a game here. Yes, Combat 2 is playable, but it pales in comparison to the original. The game introduces a few interesting concepts, but definitely feels unfinished. It resembles M-Network's Armor Ambush, except there's only one tank per side instead of two. A blue river with two bridges divides the screen in half, and the rest of the screen is scattered with green blocks. Depending on the play mode, you can either pass under the blocks (tree mode) or be forced to go around them (wall mode). Either way, you can shoot them to clear them out. Some variations let you lay out the blocks before the game, but this time-consuming task isn't worth the effort. The controls differ from the original Combat in that your tank moves forward on its own, and you adjust its speed. It's not very effective, since you can't go far without running into something. Tanks can sustain multiple hits before blowing up in a small mushroom cloud, and the game ends when a player depletes his tank supply. If you're looking for fun, look elsewhere. Combat 2 is awkward and shallow, and it's easy to see why this project was shelved. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.


Commando
Grade: D+
Publisher: Activision (1988)
Reviewed: 2006/1/27

screenshotWith its sloppy animation, minimal variations, and Xerox-quality instruction manual, you can tell Activision was just going through the motions with this one. Commando is a one-man-army game in the same vein as Ikari Warriors (NES, 1986) and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (Sega Master System, 1986). This game is playable but far less thrilling than the aforementioned titles. As your commando forges up a vertically-scrolling screen, he engages enemies while advancing on a fortress. Commando's graphics aren't bad, with well-defined soldiers and scattered palm trees. Your character is easy enough to control, and beside normal shots, you can hold down the fire button to lob grenades. While detonated grenades make an audible "boom", the lack of a visual explosion is disappointing. The shoot-outs are mediocre as well, often playing out like mini games of cat and mouse. Bullets only travel a fixed distance (about half the screen) and you can actually outrun them! Please kids, don't try this at home! Enemy bullets also have the strange characteristic of not being able to travel in a straight line! The collision detection is suspect as well. I can only assume that the shot that passed through my head missed all vital organs. I hate the way enemies soldiers materialize out of nowhere, often right next to you! In advanced stages you must avoid trucks that cross the screen, but the execution is so sloppy that it looks like an afterthought. Once you finally infiltrate the fortress at the end of each stage, it appears to explode just as you enter, and it's unintentionally hilarious! Commando's audio features a little marching ditty that repeats over and over. I usually like this style of game, but Commando feels like a half-hearted effort. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 18,500
1 player 


Commando Raid
Grade: B-
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/1/27


screenshotFor a virtually unknown game, this shooter is surprisingly enjoyable. Commando Raid's screen is beautiful, featuring a picturesque sunset behind the silhouettes of four desolate buildings on a hill. During each wave, a pair of green helicopters fly across the screen, releasing paratroopers. Aiming a cannon situated in the center of the screen, you fire high-speed guided missiles at the helicopters and parachutes. Paratroopers that reach the ground destroy your buildings and eventually begin tunneling underneath. Their goal is to burrow under your cannon, where they can detonate a bomb and end your game. It's a cool concept, and I like how you can see the tunnels forming under the ground. This also adds some subtle strategy since you'll want to pay more attention to protecting buildings with tunnels closest to completion. Periodically a black bomber will fly across, dropping a large bomb. When you see this bomb, be sure to make it your top priority, because once if it reaches the ground, it's game over. Better yet, try to nail that bomber before it can release its payload. Commando Raid's collision detection is questionable at times, but that inadvertently makes the game more challenging (and realistic?). I like this game. It's a good-looking shooter that mixes rapid-fire shooting with a touch of strategy. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: BB
Our high score: 35,510
1 player 


Communist Mutants From Space
Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/4/22


screenshotDespite the campy title, Communist Mutants From Space is a first-rate shooter. It was originally one of several cassette-based titles designed to be loaded via the "Supercharger" device. Fortunately, you can now conveniently find them all on the "Stella Gets A New Brain CD" (highly recommended). Communist Mutant's graphics are exceptional, with animated aliens that assume a variety of shapes, and a large, hideous mother alien. The game resembles Galaxian, with its formation of alien "eggs" lined across the top of the screen, and a mother (who resembles a centipede) constantly replenishing them. As you might guess, it's a good idea to destroy her as soon as possible. Although the eggs look like simple squares, they transform into full-grown aliens that swoop down and drop bombs. The onslaught can become fairly intense, but you have two defense mechanisms at your disposal. Pushing forward on the joystick activates the innovative "time warp", which slows the alien assault to a crawl without affecting your movements. Pulling back on the joystick activates a temporary shield, making you temporarily invincible. These are recharged each wave, and you can even use them in conjunction, so apply them liberally. But the most impressive feature of Communist Mutants is its rich options menu - very unusual for a 2600 game! Here you can select the number of players (1-4 alternating) and difficulty level (1-9), as well as toggling the shields, time warp, guided missiles, and penetrating fire options. Space Invader's and its 112 game variations have nothing on Communist Mutants From Space! The game even displays the high scores! Mutant's single blemish is the excessive number of lives you're allotted. You begin with five, and then receive an extra life after each wave. Why didn't they make that adjustable? This proliferation of lives waters down the challenge, but overall this game is no joke. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4 (shields, warp, guide off, penetrate off)
Our high score: 11,030
1 to 4 players 


Condor Attack
Grade: F
Publisher: Ultravision (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/1/11


screenshotCondor Attack is an obvious rip-off of Demon Attack (Imagic), which was a blatant rip-off of Phoenix (Atari). But while Demon Attack and Phoenix have a lot to offer, Condor Attack is a piece of crap no matter how you look at it. The gameplay involves shooting at pairs of large, bombing birds. You'll also see a line of small birds across the top of the screen, but although they appear to be well in range, you can't shoot them! Condor Attack is as poorly programmed as it is designed. The birds are dull and blocky, and always look the same. The animation is terribly choppy and the game runs at inconsistent speeds - not a pretty sight. Sometimes you'll shoot one bird and another will inexplicably explode! The erratic graphics are accompanied by some truly obnoxious sound effects. Condor Attack is only challenging with both difficulty switches set to A, which makes your cannon HUGE. Despite its general worthlessness however, Condor's rareness makes it valuable to collectors. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: AA
Our high score: 1963
1 player 


Congo Bongo
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Reviewed: 2001/6/16

screenshotLet's face it - the Atari 2600 was not designed to handle 3D graphics, and this game is barely recognizable as Congo Bongo. Surprisingly, it still gets by. The gameplay is faithful to the original, even if only two of the three screens are included. The first resembles a 3D Donkey Kong with its tiered mountain design. It's not pretty, but it does play quite well. Your tiny explorer must scale the mountain while avoiding falling coconuts and affectionate monkeys. It's awfully tough to judge where those 2D coconuts are going to land. The second stage plays like Frogger, and features nifty water effects and rainbow-colored hippos. The jumping controls are unforgiving, but the worst aspect of the game is Congo the ape himself. He bears a striking resemblance to Curious George - not very intimidating. After you conquer both screens, your man walks over and lights poor Congo on FIRE! I could barely watch as that poor monkey writhed in agony! This game is sick! Oh - what a minute - the manual says it's only "play fire", so I guess that's okay. Despite that disturbing scene, Congo Bongo provides a worthy challenge. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: BB
Our high score: 23,680
1 or 2 players 


Conquest of Mars
Grade: D-
Publisher: Champ Games (2006)
Reviewed: 2008/2/15

screenshotI hate to rag on a game that was obviously programmed with a great deal of skill and care, but Conquest of Mars has one glaring flaw that's hard to overlook. The game offers six unique stages, but as far as I can tell, the third one is impossible. It might as well say "Thanks for playing" and display your final score! Conquest is actually inspired by a not-so-wildly-popular Atari computer game called Caverns of Mars (1981). It's a vertically-scrolling shooter where you blast ground installations while navigating craggy passages. The graphics are similar to the original game, with blocky but cleanly rendered and smoothly animated objects. In the first stage you descend into a tunnel, strafing platforms of rockets and fuel pods. I find it interesting how in so many video games you gain fuel by blowing up fuel depots. Since when did this make sense? I certainly wouldn't blow up the local gas station when I need a tank of gas, and I'm not going to torch a nearby 7-11 when I want a Big Bite hot dog. If anything, I tend to frown upon that type of behavior! Anyway, the responsive controls let you fire two shots at a time, and you can control your ship's speed by positioning it closer to the top or bottom of the screen. The second stage is wide open as you shoot and dodge your way through a bombardment of rockets and fuel pods launched from below. That's pretty intense, but then the game hits a brick wall. The third stage features another set of caverns, but this time the vertical passages are blocked by "laser gates" which blink on and off at regular intervals. There are no visual cues to help position your ship between the closely positioned gates, and there's zero room for error! Even if you get lucky and survive the first few, trickier ones are yet to come! Even adjusting the difficulty level doesn't help. My friends and I could never get through this stage even after dozens of attempts. Conquest of Mars was competently programmed and looks great, but only the most dedicated gamers will be able to overcome this single ruthless stage. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Pilot
Our high score: 20,850
1 or 2 players 


Cosmic Ark
Grade: C-
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/5/5

screenshotSome claim that Cosmic Ark was the first console video game sequel. If you've ever played Imagic's Atlantis, you'll recall how a flying saucer escapes the doomed city at the end of each game. Well, Cosmic Ark picks up where that game left off, chronicling the subsequent space adventures of those Atlantis survivors. The game alternates between two screens. In the first, your mothership is situated in the center, and you shoot meteors approaching from all sides by moving the joystick up, down, left, or right. As a kid, I remember thinking this screen looked so lame. Not only do the meteors always approach from perfect 90 degree angles, but they slow down just before hitting your ship (to make the game easier no doubt). After shooting about a dozen meteors, your ship descends on an alien planet with two small "beasties" scurrying along the surface. There are different sets of creatures on each planet, and despite their tiny size, they are exceptionally well-animated and imaginative in design. Your mother ship on the upper part of the screen deploys a small saucer (yep - the one from Atlantis) to pick up these strange creatures. To perform the abduction, you hover over each one and hold down the fire button to engage your "tractor beam". It looks cool as they're lifted from the surface, but keep an eye out for lasers that shoot horizontally across the screen. You have a fixed amount of time to perform your mission before returning to the mother ship. Cosmic Ark suffers from uneven difficulty. In the standard mode, it's far to easy and you can play almost indefinitely. On the other hand, the "advanced" mode is nearly impossible. You'll need the reflexes of a cat to fend off the incoming meteors, and the laser beams on the planet surface require pure luck to avoid. I do find it amusing how when the game ends, the flying saucer once again manages to escape, just in case a third game was necessary (it wasn't). © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4B
Our high score: SDZ 1,860
1 or 2 players 


Cosmic Creeps
Grade: D+
Publisher: Telesys (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/10/29


screenshotCosmic Creeps is a great looking game, but holy cow, its gameplay is too freakin' confusing for its own good. In the first of two stages, you guide an astronaut from the bottom of an asteroid-filled screen to the spaceship at the top. That's the easy part. The second, poorly-designed stage is where you'll spend all of you time. It begins with a child running across the bottom of the screen with two aliens hot on his tail. As the kid works his way up the screen, you can fire missiles at the pursuing aliens from your ship above. Your missiles are so slow that you'll need to "lead" your shots. If the kid arrives safety (or gets caught), you trigger the next kid by pushing the joystick up. Your goal is to score 5000 points in this stage, but this is readily apparent unless you've read the manual. The scoring system is equally confusing, since the number on the screen only reflects points scored in the current stage. Your cumulative score isn't flashed until after the stage. Cosmic Creeps does feature some impressive high-resolution graphics, with sharp, multi-colored characters. The sound effects aren't bad either. Unfortunately, by the time you figure out what's going on, you've discovered Cosmic Creeps just isn't very fun in general. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 27,900
1 player 


Cosmic Swarm
Grade: D-
Publisher: Commavid (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/5/27


screenshotIn a misguided attempt at originality, Cosmic Swarm is a patchwork of elements taken from "good" games like Centipede and Asteroids. The result is a convoluted mess. Using the joystick you move a triangular ship freely around the screen. Large bugs crawl down from the top, depositing green boxes in random places before making a beeline for your ship. The confusing control scheme uses the fire button to both shoot and rotate your ship. It's awkward, imprecise, and completely counter-intuitive. The boxes are deadly to the touch, so the game becomes progressively tougher as the screen becomes more crowded. To clear the boxes out, you must shoot one in transit directly from the bottom at a 90 degree angle. Got that? I didn't think so. If you can execute that idiotic move, the boxes temporarily turn red, making them vulnerable to your shots. But wait - there's more. Every so often a "refueling ship" moves down the side of the screen, and unless you touch it, your game will abruptly end. The pieces don't come together very well in this game. Even when you figure out how to play, Cosmic Swarm is never particularly fun or exciting. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: AA
Our high score: 134
1 player 


Crackpots
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/9/22


screenshotI must admit that I was far too harsh in my initial assessment of Crackpots. This simple game involves pushing flowerpots off the top of a wall down onto approaching spiders attempting to crawl into windows below. It's a little slow for my taste, but Crackpots does have a few things going for it. For one thing, the graphics are sharp. The spiders creep menacingly, and the colorful sunset in the background is pure Activision all the way. The best aspect of the game is the color-coded spiders, each of which climbs in its own distinct manner. Some climb straight, others climb sideways, and some zigzag. It's crucial to recognize these patterns early to avoid being overwhelmed. Your character moves side-to-side rather slowly, making positioning important. It can be really satisfying to crush multiple spiders with one pot. It's a shame Crackpots only has one skill level, because once you get the hang of it, the game tends to run long. Still, sharp graphics and thoughtful gameplay make this one worth a look. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 17,940
1 or 2 players 


Crash Dive
Grade: C
Publisher: Fox (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/2/9


screenshotCrash Dive is a pretty generic side-scrolling shooter for the most part, but it does contain a few nifty elements. First, your plane can fly above or under the water, and a neat splash occurs when you move between the two (although it's easy to mistake this for an explosion). Like Chopper Command you approach groups of enemies at a time. Adversaries include planes and helicopters patrolling the air, boats on the water surface, and a host of undersea creatures including squid, lobsters, stingrays, and sharks. Only the aircraft and boats fire at you, so you'll want to eliminate those first. The birds are worth zero points, so don't even bother with them. Every few waves a treasure appears on the ocean floor, and this is where the real points are scored. Crash Dive's gameplay is not too exciting as you methodically destroy each wave and periodically touch your "friendly" refueling ship. Note that you can blow up this ship after you're through with it (a la River Raid). The background features a bright blue sky and a colorful sunset. The "prize indicator" on the bottom of the screen is confusing, since it also shows prizes you haven't picked up yet (?). It's not a stand-out title, but Crash Dive serves its purpose, although I haven't quite figured out what that is yet. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: AA
Our high score: 10,950
1 player 


Crazy Climber
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/10/29

screenshotI first heard about this hard-to-find game through a magazine called Atari Age in the early 80's. Crazy Climber was an "exclusive" title available to Atari Age members only, although you still had to shell out 30 bucks for the friggin' thing! Allegedly based on a "hit" arcade game I had never heard of, the magazine gave it a glowing review (no surprise there). Crazy Climber involves methodically scaling a series of buildings while avoiding various hazards. The game's control scheme is quite innovative, as you push up on the joystick to reach for the next ledge, and then pull back to pull yourself up. You'll want to use a nice arcade-style joystick, since the constant rocking motion can tire your arm. The buildings have rows of windows that open and close randomly. If they shut on your fingers you'll fall, but you won't actually lose any progress. Besides the windows, you'll need to keep an eye out for falling flowerpots, girders, egg-dropping condors, and neon lights with electrical shorts. Reach the top of the building and you're picked up by a helicopter and awarded bonus points. Crazy Climber sounds better than it plays. To avoid costly mistakes you need to be patient and proceed slowly and cautiously. Four buildings are included, but except for the colors they all look pretty much alike. Your climber is large and nicely animated so you can always see where his hands are, but that green and pink outfit has got to go. It never lived up to the hype, but Crazy Climber is still a solid, well-programmed game. It was never widely distributed, and as a result it's now very rare and highly sought after by collectors. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 103,600
1 player 


Crazy Valet
Grade: D+
Publisher: Brian Prescott (2000)
Reviewed: 2001/9/23

screenshotRemember those little plastic puzzles where you slid around the squares to assemble a picture? Well Crazy Valet is very similar. It's played with a bunch of white rectangles in a big box. Your goal is to move the single colored square to the exit. I know this is only a puzzle game, but boy, these graphics are pretty bad. Are those really supposed to be cars? The rules are simple - vertical rectangles only move up and down, and horizontal ones only move side to side. There are 60 unique puzzles, and while the first few are easy, later levels require a lot of complicated manipulation. Your final score is the number of moves you make, so the lower the better. Crazy Valet is amusing in a Rubik's Cube kind of way - interesting at first, but soon begins to wear thin. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.


Cross Force
Grade: B-
Publisher: Spectravision (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/9/22


screenshotSpectravision games aren't usually any good, but Cross Force is an exception. It's a wildly unconventional shooter where you move two "Spectrons" across the top and bottom of the screen. Pressing the fire button causes them to both shoot simultaneously, obliterating anything between them (hence the name I suppose). An indestructible "transport ship" regularly drops aliens into the center of the screen, and these tend to split in two when shot. The aliens take aim at both of your Spectron cursors, so you'll need to stay alert. In advanced waves the screen can become rather crowded, and it's satisfying to eliminate two or three aliens with one shot. The graphics are a little sloppy but they do the job. Cross Force is a surprisingly fresh shooter that will probably have you pressing the reset switch several times before its over. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2B
Our high score: 3580
1 or 2 players 


Crossbow
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Reviewed: 2006/3/29

screenshotAs one of the last few Atari games released for the 2600, Crossbow is basically a light gun shooter without any light gun support. While not exceptional in terms of gameplay, it does feature some very attractive stages. Played from a first-person point of view, you watch your "friends" individually trek cross landscapes strewn with perilous hazards. Using a square crosshair, you shoot and neutralize obstacles and impending dangers. The colorful stages include a desert crawling with scorpions, an ice cave with falling stalactites, a jungle infested with coconut-tossing monkeys, a volcanic area with falling cinders, and a drawbridge protected by an archer. Despite repeated attempts, I never achieved my ultimate goal of reaching the "main hall". According to the instructions, there's a fire-breathing dragon in there! The problem with Crossbow is that each stage falls into its own predictable pattern. In the volcano and ice cave stages, you simply keep the cursor positioned over the person's head to protect him from the barrage of falling objects. On the desert screen, you just clear out scorpions that emerge from the left and right. There are plenty of extraneous targets you could aim for, but little incentive to stray from the immediate area around the person. Still, Crossbow is challenging enough, and I like how you can change the order of the stages. It won't set the world on fire, but Crossbow is definitely respectable and a unique entry in the 2600 library. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 23,600
1 player 


Cruise Missile
Grade: F
Publisher: Froggo (1987)
Reviewed: 2001/5/15


screenshotAs one of the most despised Atari 2600 game manufacturers, Froggo was known to release just about anything to make a buck. In this infamously bad shooter, you guide a UFO over a planet while firing at various surface and underground structures. Your UFO bears a striking resemblance to the one in Laser Blast. What exactly makes Cruise Missile so bad? Perhaps it's the poor control, which forces you to push the joystick in the direction you want to shoot. Perhaps it's the repetitive, uninspired gameplay. Or maybe it's the stomach-turning graphics and lousy sound effects. It's probably a combination of all of the above, but any way you slice it, Cruise Missile is one sorry game. Moreover, nowhere in the instructions is it ever explained why they named this thing "Cruise Missile" in the first place. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3500
1 player 


Crypts of Chaos
Grade: F
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1982)
Reviewed: 2005/1/8

screenshotI used to believe that even a primitive first-person dungeon crawler could still be enjoyable if you had enough patience and tolerance for "abstract" (read: bad) graphics. But Crypts of Chaos has disproven my theory. I tried to give it a fair chance, but I just couldn't get into this. Back in the early 80's, being able to freely explore 3D dungeons while fighting monsters and plundering treasure was a gamer's dream. Fox probably did the best it could with the technology available, but that doesn't make Crypts of Chaos any less painful to play. As you slowly crawl down blocky hallways, the intersections, dead-ends, and stairs are represented by unintuitive colors and confusing screen designs. According to the instructions, there are 16 floors and four different maze configurations, but I never really had any idea where I was. The manual recommends "mapping" as you go along, which in of itself practically justifies a failing grade! Periodically a tiny monster emerges as a pixel in the distance - even when you're facing at a dead end, oddly enough. The creature eventually materializes into a small, blocky creature that doesn't appear to be more than a foot in height. How small does a dragon have to be before it's just considered a lizard? Then there's the awkward user interface that uses the same joystick to move AND select icons. For weapons, you can arm your sword (short line), wand (long line), or ring (smart bomb). Three other icons let you choose between grabing treasure, turning away a monster, and making a U-turn. There was a time when I might have given Crypts of Chaos the benefit of the doubt, but those days have passed. This is practically unbearable. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 1274
1 player 


Crystal Castles
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Reviewed: 2004/4/9


screenshotCrystal Castles for the 2600 is a respectable translation, but its gameplay feels sluggish compared to the quick, crisp arcade version. The game features a series of 3D castle mazes strewn with blue gems. You control Bentley, a gay bear (he wore red boots and a red sash in the arcade version - c'mon now!). His job is to gather all the gems while avoiding walking trees, skeletons, ghosts, crystal balls, a swarm of bees, and gem-eaters resembling upright centipedes. Pots of honey provide bonus points, and a magic hat makes Bentley invincible for a few seconds. It's a tall order for the 2600, but Atari managed to retain all the elements of the arcade. Naturally these castle designs are modest compared to the arcade, but at least they come in a nice variety. The characters are well animated and the flicker isn't too bad either. Is it my imagination, or does Bentley say a bad word when hit? My main issue has to do with the control. The arcade game uses a trak-ball to whiz that queer bear all over the place, but the Atari 2600 trak-ball control is terribly slow, no matter how fast you spin it (the Wico trak-ball isn't any better). Making matters worse are the flat "gems" that are awfully hard to pick up. I had to settle for using a joystick, and that's a shame. On the bright side, the sound effects are faithful to the arcade, and there are eight difficulty levels. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 21,566
1 player 


Custer's Revenge
Grade: F
Publisher: Mystique (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/9/2
Rating: Adults Only

screenshotCuster's Revenge is easily the most politically incorrect video game I've ever seen. The game stars the legendary Civil War general whose "last stand" occurred at the Battle of Little Big Horn against the Sioux Indians. This adult video game allows Custer to exact his revenge by getting "busy" with an Indian girl tied to a post. Decked out in only a holster and boots, Custer must cross the screen as arrows rain from above and cactus sprout from below (ouch!). If the general reaches the girl, you can pound the fire button to have him "score" in more ways than one. Custer's Revenge caused a great deal of controversy in 1982, but in truth, its blocky graphics are more hilarious than offensive. The exaggerated body parts are comical, and getting struck by an arrow causes Custer to literally jump out of his boots. Despite its titillating premise, the game itself isn't all that fun. The arrows and cactus appear at random, so there's little skill or strategy involved. A novelty item at best, Custer's Revenge is mainly only good for a laugh. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3A
Our high score: 131
1 or 2 players 



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