G.I. Joe Cobra Strike
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Bizarre to say the least, G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike is definitely not
what I was expecting. It features a huge cobra looming on the upper half of the screen, slithering side to side in a menacing fashion. The snake looks imposing, and the manner in which its body twists and contorts represents a pretty nifty piece of programming. Army recruits can be seen running between buildings at the bottom of the screen, making them vulnerable to the cobra's venom and devastating laser beams. To protect these men you move a shield across the middle of the screen and fire missiles at the snake with cannons situated on each side. Paddle controllers are used, but they don't provide for very precise control. Your shield tends to slide around, evoking the feeling of trying to pick up a watermelon seed. Holding in the fire button unleashes a missile from your cannon, but its movements are equally squirrely. Did the programmers purposely made the controls inexact in order to maximize the difficulty? Despite the erratic controls however, G.I. Joe is not a bad game. A coop mode allows two players to protect the troops, and a third player can even control the cobra! G.I. Joe is probably too weird for its own good, but Parker Bros. almost
managed to pull it off. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3A
Our high score: 7,420
1 to 3 players
Publisher: Atari (1983)
A logical evolution of Space Invaders, Galaxian puts you up against a colorful armada of dive-bombing aliens with two "boss ships" positioned at the top. At first glance, you might be tempted to dismiss this as a watered-down rendition of the arcade hit. The playing field is surrounded by a tacky orange border, and the aliens are spaced out more than they are in the arcade. Fear not - this is one of the more exciting and frenetic shooters for the Atari 2600. Your shots travel rapidly and holding down the fire button initiates continuous fire. In later stages multiple aliens glide across the screen at a time, so you'll need to avoid collisions as well as falling bombs. Pay special attention to those dangerous purple ships that make extra-wide sweeps. You can usually "thread the needle" between the falling bombs, but take care not to get trapped in the corners. Galaxian has a nice flow to it, and once you get in a zone you can pick off as many as dozen aliens in a row. As with the original arcade game, it's possible to blast two
with a single shot, and dude - that is awesome.
The audio effects perfectly recreate the same pulsating electronic sounds you'd associate with a typical alien invasion (we've all been there). With solid gameplay and nine skill levels, Galaxian delivers pure shooting satisfaction. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 6B
Our high score: VGC 28,560
Publisher: Spectravision (1982)
This primitive first-person shooter has some interesting elements, but it lags a bit in the fun department. When you first flip on Gangster Alley, the word "Wanted" is displayed on top of the screen, along with the mug shots of five villains. Take a good look, because these are the low-life scumbags you'll be shooting in the face. One looks like a red Frankenstein, and another is a dead-ringer for the Grinch. A third looks like a hitchhiker from Disney's Haunted Mansion ride. As the game begins, you're staring at the side of a building with randomly placed windows. People slowly rise from each window, and if they're bad, you need to shoot them before they shoot you. Be careful not to accidentally shoot a woman or child, or you'll be penalized severely. You move the crosshair with your joystick, and the collision detection is forgiving - to a fault
. Occasionally you're presented with a "night level" where the building is pitch-dark, illuminated only when you fire your gun. Since you have limited ammo, these stages are particularly challenging. Lurking on the roof at all times is "Nitro Ed" - one of the worst lowlife scumbags you'll ever see in an Atari 2600 cartridge. When he holds a grenade above his head, you need to blast him immediately or he brings your game to an abrupt conclusion. Check out his reaction when you shoot him - the son of a [expletive] actually likes it!
Adding insult to injury, if he ends your game he mocks you relentlessly with a pixelated close-up and the flashing word "ha". I try not to take my gaming too seriously, but this bastard just made it personal!
© Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 3,340
Publisher: Spectravision (1983)
This rare game has questionable play value. Playing Gas Hog involves driving a vehicle over a planet's surface while jumping over holes and shooting aliens approaching from front and rear. A scanner on the bottom of the screen displays your progress through each stage. That description should sound very
familiar to Moon Patrol fans. UFOs drop bombs from above, but despite having what appears to be a roof-mounted cannon (quite an imagination I have), you can only
shoot forward, which really sucks. In addition, there are actual numbers that appear between 20 and 90 which you can touch for points. Yes, we're talking about numeric digits floating in space. Be sure not to shoot them, however, or they'll subtract
from your score. I hate games that take away from your score - it just doesn't sit well with me. But wait - it gets worse. Every so often, the screen turns red and beeps to indicate you are low on fuel. In order to replenish, you have to fall into the underground area where fuel cells can be found. The problem is, once you're down there, you automatically move towards the LEFT, negating much of the progress you've already made! Once you refuel, getting back to the top level is extremely hazardous, usually resulting in death. Gas Hog isn't the worst game I've ever played, but it sure tries to be. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
This game isn't particularly scary or fun, and frankly it doesn't make a lot of sense. But Ghost Manor does have one thing going for it, and that's five unique stages
. That's pretty monumental for a 2600 game. The idea is to save your friend from Dracula's castle, and you have the option of playing as a cute blonde chick in a blue dress or a dorky guy in a red cap. I have no idea
what she sees in him. Anyway the action begins with a graveyard rising from the ground as scary music plays and a red castle looms in the distance. Your first task is to chase a rainbow-colored ghost
around the graveyard. Very few video games employ gay ghosts, and I applaud Xonox for keeping such an open mind. On the advanced difficulty the ghost is replaced by a bisexual skeleton. After the pointless graveyard stage you move to the castle exterior which looks pretty awesome. Bats flutter around the towers, bugs crawl on the walls, and an axe-wielding mummy named "Choppy" guards the entrance. This stage plays like a mini-shooter and it's the highlight of the game. After killing all the creatures you enter the castle. The next two mazelike screens feature scattered coffins and moving walls that are deadly to touch. Examining the coffins will reveal a pair of crosses needed for the final showdown. It's easy to get caught up on the walls of the maze, especially in advanced stages which are pitch dark! Ascending the final staircase puts you in a room with Dracula slowly approaching from the left. Without the instructions you'd be at a complete loss what to do next. It turns out you need to position yourself directly beneath
him and press the button to force him into a tower at the top right corner. If successful, your friend is released, you watch a quick ending (which looks suspiciously like the intro), and the game is over. There are four skill levels. Ghost Manor is very difficult at first, and with only one life any slip-up brings the action to an abrupt conclusion. Once you get the patterns down however, you can get through the screens quickly. Ghost Manor looks great and offers plenty of variety, but once you beat it you won't be dying to play it again. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: BA
Our high score: 193,750
Publisher: Activision (1985)
Ghostbusters is hard to stomach on any platform, but this Atari 2600 edition is better than most. It forgoes the tedious set-up screens found in other versions so you can immediately begin vacuuming ghosts off roads and trapping them in front of buildings. On the main screen you guide a Ghostbusters logo around a grid of city blocks to your next destination. The driving sequences don't go on and on
as they do in some other versions (notably the NES), and your hearse looks remarkable!
Taking up a huge chunk of the screen, this is probably the largest single object
I've ever seen in an Atari 2600 game! When it comes to trapping ghosts in front of buildings, the graphics are equally impressive with multi-colored characters and nicely detailed building fronts. The green "slime ghosts" look terrific, but those yellow "street ghosts" look more like smiling bananas. Unfortunately, the controls for trapping ghosts are even more
confusing than in other versions (if that's even possible). Certain parts of the game even require you to fiddle with the difficulty switches
a good sign! Advancing to the finale is just as hard and perplexing as it is in the other versions. The Ghostbusters theme plays throughout the proceedings, and while it's a decent rendition, you'll tire of it after a few verses. Ghostbusters is not bad on a technical level, but as a video game it leaves much to be desired. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2007)
Subtitled "One Tough Cookie", this new platformer is one of the most challenging games I've played on my 2600. Its five unique screens will require a little bit of brain power in addition to reflexes. Gingerbread Man may be a tasty treat, but he knows how to take care of himself. In the first stage our hero hurls cookies at fire creatures using a decidedly non-intuitive control scheme. Since your cookies travel in an arc, it's sometime possible to take out several baddies at once, and that's pretty sweet. In other stages you'll construct a roof, collect balloons, help a baby bird, and even face a boss!
The controls are crisp and responsive, and this is one of the few 2600 games where you actually have the ability to duck!
G-Man (as he's known in the hood
) can jump, but not high enough to hurdle enemies, which increases the challenge substantially
. The graphics are as blocky as blocky can be, but the stage layouts are very thoughtfully designed. Deadly to the touch are pixilated, single-colored adversaries like dogs, cats, birds, and flames. Just reaching the third screen is a major accomplishment, although the game does include a handy "continue" feature which appropriately resets your score. Also notable is the harmonized music of the title screen, incorporating sinister undertones normally associated with Gingerbread men that come to life. I invited a few guys over to play Gingerbread Man with me (and no, that is not
a euphemism) and I really expected them to embrace the challenge. Instead they dissed
G-Man, even wishing bodily harm
upon our sugary hero. Those guys just don't get
it. Each stage is a puzzle, and once you find a pattern that works, the game doesn't seem quite so insurmountable. Personally I like Gingerbread Man for its variety, originality, and unlikely hero. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: VGC 3,646
Publisher: Telegames (1989)
Glacier Patrol may have "bargain-bin" written all over it, but at least it tries
to be different. Loosely-based on a true story, invading aliens are attempting to encase our entire planet in ice. I sure am glad this is just a video game!
An alien ship that looks straight out of Atlantis
(Imagic, 1982) drops ice blocks from the top of the screen. Apparently Earth's last defense is some lanky dude with a laser gun. Scampering side-to-side along the bottom, you must methodically disintegrate the falling blocks. Only one block falls at a time but once it falls into place it cannot be destroyed. Each block is worth 50 points. In theory you can earn 70 or 90 points by shooting early, but that only happens by accident. Glacier Patrol would be awfully repetitive if not for the occasional snow ball that rolls across the bottom of the screen. You need to leap over it or be incapacitated for a few seconds. The jumping controls make no sense (pull back?
) but I like how you can continue to fire after getting knocked on your ass. When a complete wall of ice is formed the game comes to a merciful conclusion. Your goal is to reach 10,000 points, at which point the sun rises and melts the wall. Completing the first wave is a formidable challenge, but subsequent waves are exactly the same. Glacier Patrol won't win any awards but there are probably worse ways to spend your time. I said probably.
Note: You may have difficulty inserting this cartridge into some consoles. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 16,620
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (2005)
If you're expecting an Atari 2600 version of Shark! Shark!
(Intellivision, 1982), I'm afraid you'll be very disappointed with Go Fish. In both games you are a fish that grows by consuming other fish of equal size or smaller, but the similarities end there. In the Intellivision game the other fish moved in unpredictable patterns, but here the water is separated into neat rows, with one fish (or electric eel) traveling across each. There's not nearly enough danger in this game. Even with the difficulty switch set to "A", the game is entirely too easy, despite the fact that you only have one life. The action unfolds very slowly, and you have to eat a ton of fish just to grow slightly. The other fish grow proportionally to you, causing the degree of pixelation to go from bad to just plain ugly!
The sharks are pretty small, and their predictable movements aren't likely to strike fear in your fish's little heart. The two-player head-to-head game is surprisingly lame. The first fish to grow can continuously eat the other player, leading to a very lop-sided victory. The musical soundtrack also got on my nerves after a while. I do like how the game supports the AtariVox voice attachment, but it's only used to save high scores. A few underwater bubble sound effects would have been nice. I was looking for some summer joy, but with Go Fish, I'm afraid my high hopes were scaled and gutted. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Take one look at Golf's crude graphics, and you might be tempted to dismiss it as an ancient relic best left forgotten. That however, would be a mistake. Golf's blocky graphics and sparse audio are certainly rudimentary, but there's some fine gameplay under the hood! Golf features a single course with nine screen-sized holes dotted with trees, water hazards, and sand traps. The controls are the precursors of today's modern golf games: aim, wind up, and swing away. Upon hitting the ball onto the green, a second "close-up" screen appears for putting, and that's pretty cool. You don't have many options (none really), but that simplicity makes it possible to play nine holes in less than ten minutes, and I like that a lot. Playing against a friend is especially fun. There are no game variations (besides number of players), but the difficulty switches determine if the ball will sail over the rough or stop on the edge, and that dramatically affects how you approach each hole. Golf would have been awesome with multiple courses or randomized hazards, but it's still worthwhile just as it is. Rumor has it that Tiger Woods himself honed his game by playing Golf on the Atari 2600. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
1 or 2 players
Publisher: US Games (1982)
I never claimed to be a gopher expert. In fact, the bulk of my gopher knowledge is derived from repeated viewings of the movie Caddyshack. But I do know one thing: this bargain-bin game does little to repair the pesky vermin's reputation. You play the role of a farmer obsessed with protecting three measly carrots
. Umm, ever heard of a grocery store?
Duh! I like how the programmer rendered the farmer in five colors, but did he need to make the guy so creepy looking?
He looks like John Malkovich
for crying out loud! Under the ground a gopher can be seen busily digging tunnels, and it's amusing to watch him scuttle around unpredictably. After digging side-to-side, he'll burrow multiple tunnels to the surface, occasionally making a dash for the closest carrot. This gopher is a cocky little fellow, occasionally sticking his head out of the ground just to taunt
you. Son of a gopher!
You move the farmer sideways, using your hoe to fill in holes or "bonk" the gopher over the head for a cool 100 points. Good reflexes come in handy, but there's also a lot of guesswork involved. Adding a wrinkle is a seed-dropping duck that periodically flies across the top of the screen. If you catch the seed, you can use it to replace a stolen carrot. Gopher isn't a great game, but there's enough substance here to justify hitting the reset button a few times. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 5,160
1 or 2 players
Publisher: CBS (1981)
Gorf distinguished itself in the arcades with its five-games-in-one design, but it was some cutting-edge voice synthesis that really grabbed gamers' attentions ("My name is Gorf"). I wish CBS had incorporated the voice into this Atari version, because it would have spiced up an otherwise lackluster shooting experience. Four out of the five stages have been retained for this home version (Galaxian is gone), and several elements of the arcade game were also ditched. The first stage offers standard (maybe sub-standard) Space Invaders-style gameplay, but there's no shield to poke your shots through. The next stage is somewhat original and far more challenging. As a group of aliens whisks from one area of the screen to the next, they stop only to unleash a killer laser beam. Orange aliens will break off from the formation and descend upon you quickly, so keep moving. The third stage depicts a "black hole" of sorts with alien ships scaling out of the center in a circular pattern. You can take out most of them quickly by firing repeatedly to the left of the hole. The final stage features a mother ship which moves side-to-side as it works its way down the screen. Once you hit the vulnerable spot on its underbelly, its pixels sizzle for a few seconds and then the game cycles back to the first screen. Unlike the arcade, you can only move your cannon side-to-side and not up-and-down. You can still abort your shot by pressing the fire button before your previous shot has left the screen, but that's not terribly useful. Alien bombs often cancel out your shots, which is really annoying. Only one skill level is available, and the difficulty shoots way up on the third wave. All in all, this is a lukewarm effort that will just barely provide your daily recommended allowance of Gorf. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 7300
Publisher: Activision (1982)
It's a little shallow, but Grand Prix will win you over with its slick visuals, sonic effects, and twitch racing action. You move your sizeable car up and down as traffic approaches from the right. The large Indy-style cars are rendered with a color gradient which makes them look rounded and shiny. Even more impressive is how their fat wheels spin at varying rates!
That's a pretty big deal considering the technology. Complementing the action are some amazing engine sounds which reverberate as you whiz past cars. Your goal is to clear each course in the shortest time, and races typically last a minute or two depending on which of the four tracks you select. Besides length, there's not much difference between them. They all have the same bushes alongside of the road, along with one or two "bridges" where the road becomes a narrow strip over a blue background (hint: a lull in the traffic means a bridge is ahead). The game is really at its best when you're flying down the road at full throttle, weaving through traffic. Pressing left on the joystick applies the brake, but you'll need cat-like reflexes to make good use of it. Despite the high production values Grand Prix has limited play value. You're really just dodging cars and there's little drama or suspense. There's a clock at the bottom of the screen but no indication of your proximity to the finish line. Grand Prix is a well-programmed racer that could have used a little more spice. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 1:57.96
Publisher: Atari (1988)
In general I frown upon gravity. It makes my life a lot harder, particularly when I'm taking out the trash. But this space shooter proves that gravity can in fact serve a useful purpose (for once). You may have heard Gravitar is one of the more challenging games for the 2600. Hell, you'll be hard-pressed to find a shooter this tough on any system
. Gravitar kicks fancy graphics to the curb in favor of balls-to-the-wall shooting action, and I like that.
The opening stage presents a screen-sized solar system you can freely navigate. Your small triangular ship controls just like the one in Asteroids
(Atari, 1981). You can liberate the planets in any order. Each has its own rocky landscape with turrets and fuel depots. Destroying the turrets while resisting gravitational forces is surprisingly difficult, especially with saucers attacking from above. Gravitar requires all the finesse you can muster to keep your ship under control. You must continually thrust away
from the center of gravity, and sometimes it's not obvious where that is! There are tight spaces to navigate, forcing you to make fine-tuned adjustments while homing in on your target. The graphics are a little chunky, adding to the challenge of finding a decent shooting angle. Did I mention you also need to maintain your fuel supply? You refuel by hovering over a depot and activating your tractor beam - a task easier said than done. In addition to clearing planets you can invade the "alien reactor base" for the ultimate challenge. Good luck navigating this twisting labyrinth, blasting the core, and escaping before time runs out. And don't expect any visual reward for pulling off this monumental feat; you're simply whisked off to the next solar system. There are twelve in all which is astonishing for a 2600 title. My friends were seriously impressed with Gravitar, with Scott drawing comparisons to Space Taxi
(C64, 1984). If you think you're good at Atari games, this may be your ultimate test. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 16,200
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Gremlins was a very dark and often funny 1984 film about evil little creatures that overrun a small town. Gremlins begin life as cute, furry "mogwai" creatures, but transform into green, scaly gremlins under specific conditions. Don't expose them to bright light, don't get them wet, and never ever
feed them after midnight. After playing Gremlins on the 2600, one question comes to mind: Is this game really the best Atari could come up with? Really Atari?
How could such an imaginative film be reduced to such a generic, derivative piece of garbage? The action alternates between two equally uninspired stages, both of which involve moving a guy across the bottom of the screen. In the first screen you catch mogwai falling off the roof of the house, and it's a little like Kaboom!
(Activision, 1981), only without the good control. Instead of supporting a paddle controller (which would have been a natural fit), you're forced to use a joystick with stiff, imprecise movements. In the second screen you simply shoot gremlins slowly marching down the screen. When the action speeds up in later stages, your character becomes extremely jumpy and hard to position. Atari obviously didn't put much thought into this one, and squandered a valuable license in the process. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 35,760
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Apollo (1982)
Here's a rarity - an Atari 2600 game I had never heard of - and a paddle game to boot! Guardian is part Missile Command
(Atari, 1982) and part Demons To Diamonds
(Atari, 1983). A blue saucer moves across the middle of the screen dispatching birds, zigzags, spinners and "O-faces". You move your triangular cannon from side-to-side, protecting a trio of Earth-style planets moving behind a force field. At first Guardian seems like fun, as your solid-beam laser pierces multiple enemies at a time. Then after about ten minutes it just starts to get old. This game is too easy! Normally I go with the hardest variation but good luck trying to find it here! And no wonder it's so easy. When an enemy hits your ship, you don't die but just freeze for two seconds. What kind of a penalty is that? And even when an enemy gets past there's a force field that replenishes every 10K! They should have included an option to disable that altogether. Setting the difficulty switch to A makes your life harder by breaking the controls
. Now you only fire half the time you hit the button, making the controls feel unresponsive. Guardian does have a two-player simultaneous mode which lets both players battle at opposite ends of the screen. That's nice, but not good enough to elevate gameplay that wavers between "bad" and "not good". © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 15B
Our high score: 176,025
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Xype (2001)
The successor to Atari's Outlaw (1978) has finally arrived, and it's outstanding. Gunfight's musical intro features a superb rendition of the great Johnny Cash tune "Ring of Fire". As if that wasn't enough to earn Gunfight an instant "A", the gameplay itself is fast and exciting. The cowboys are well rendered, and can fire two bullets at a time. I can't emphasize how key this feature is, because it allows you to catch your opponent in your crossfire. And you'll need to shoot him twice, since the first shot just takes off his hat! Selectable stages feature an impressive array of obstacles that separate the fighters, including cactus, stage coaches, rocks, arrows, and even a saloon! Using the right difficulty switch, you can select between a human opponent and a skilled CPU outlaw. The left difficulty switch adjusts the speed of the bullets, and the black/white switch enables horizontal bouncing. On top of everything, there are four
distinct gameplay variants. The first is your standard shoot-out, the winner being the first player to take down the other one seven times. The second variation, "six shooter", only gives you six shots before you have to pick up some more ammo. The "escape" variation lets the left player shoot at a defenseless right player, who tries to survive until the counter expires. Finally, a "score" variation lets players earn points by shooting obstacles. I can't say enough good things about Gunfight. I can only hope to see more new quality games like this one for the 2600. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sears/Atari (1978)
See review for Outlaw. Gunslinger is the Sears version of the same game. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros (1984)
It isn't pretty, but give Parker Brothers credit for even attempting
to bring this graphically complex arcade hit to the 2600. Gyruss is a very unique space shooter where you move a cannon around in a circle, firing at aliens that emerge from both the outside and center of the screen. There's a good deal of scaling and rotation involved - a tall order for most classic systems. This 2600 adaptation is plagued by flicker, and the alien ships look like pixilated blobs. Unlike the arcade, you won't see many aliens on the screen at once (six at most), and they don't settle into formations in the center of the screen (they just disappear). But despite its mediocre visuals, this version still plays remarkably like its arcade cousin. Aliens attack in patterns, disappear into the center, and then re-emerge in pairs. Asteroids are a constant danger, appearing with little warning. Like Galaga, there are "double shot" power-ups and "chance" bonus stages. If you have an arcade-style joystick, you'll need it for this game, because Gyruss requires incessant button-tapping. A destination planet appears in the center of the screen every few rounds, with your ultimate destination being Earth. I can't forget to mention that this version does contain the great classical soundtrack by Bach which Gyruss is known for. There are no sound effects, but the music is some of the best you'll hear on the Atari 2600. Gyruss is a bit on the easy side, so be sure to play it on the hardest skill level. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
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