Publisher: Activision (1984)
While I certainly can appreciate this game's clever programming and innovative design, H.E.R.O. simply isn't fun enough to qualify as a classic. Controlling a man with a laser mask and helicopter pack, your job is to locate and rescue lost miners in underground caverns. It's a bit like a vertical Pitfall. With a limited power supply and fixed number of dynamite sticks, you can hover over pits, fly down narrow openings, and blast through walls. The early stages are short and easy, gradually easing you into larger, puzzle-like configurations. You'll have to contend with creepy-crawlies, pitch-dark areas, and "lava walls" deadly to touch. H.E.R.O.'s graphics are sharp and the gameplay requires a great deal of skill., but a few flaws dampened my enthusiasm. When you drop down into a lower screen, certain hazards appear suddenly and are hard to avoid, forcing you to take a very slow, deliberate approach. It also sucks when you run out of dynamite, and are forced to slowly chew through walls with your laser beam. The stages are thoughtfully designed but repetitive in appearance. Although not as memorable as Pitfall, H.E.R.O.'s sharp graphics and interesting stages make it worth a try. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Publisher: Wizard (1983)
Wizard was dead-on with this clever video game adaptation of the classic slasher film. You play the role of the babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) in a two-story house several screens wide. Points are scored by escorting children to "safe rooms" at either end of the house. The rooms are colorful but devoid of detail except for an occasional window or doorway. When you find a child you can lead it to safety, but the child "lock-on" controls are erratic. The knife-waving Michael Myers looks intimidating in his jumpsuit, but I don't recall Jamie Lee Curtis wearing that poufy red skirt. As in the movie, Michael is slow but relentless. You never know when he's going to suddenly appear in a doorway or at the edge of the screen. Better yet, his appearances are punctuated by an excellent rendition of the spooky Halloween theme song. If he grabs hold of a victim, you're treated to gratuitous gore bordering on hilarious. A lot of people lose their heads, and the spurting, pixelated blood is over-the-top. Halloween's gameplay is a little slow but there are some subtle nuances. Michael's movements are predictable, and with good timing you can lead children right past him. Occasionally you'll find a knife which allows you to briefly turn the tables on him. The lights on the top floor occasionally black out, adding additional suspense as you "feel" your way around in the pitch dark. Jack-o-lanterns track your "lives" on the top of the screen - a nice touch. My biggest gripe is that Michael appears too often which minimizes the suspense factor. Halloween isn't the best game in the world, but fans of the film and game collectors should be fascinated by it. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 10,150
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
This new 2600 game is a technical marvel - probably the best video game ever crammed into a meager 4KB of memory! Equally impressive is how it ingeniously translates the classic Xbox first-person shooter into a riveting 2D experience. Halo 2600 begins with a nifty title screen that even recreates the ominous theme song. The game itself employs an Adventure-style engine that lets you move between contiguous screens. Your pixelated Master Chief looks great as he scuttles around and engages in shootouts with gangs of ruthless aliens. He can only fire left or right, but aliens can fire in any direction and their bullets whizz by at high velocity. Fortunately the responsive controls make it possible to dodge bullets and slip through crossfire situations. Your foes come in a remarkable variety of shapes and sizes, and even in low resolution you'll recognize many familiar alien species. The landscape is sparse but there are scattered trees, generators, and cannons. A critical power-up is available for your gun, shield icons provide one-hit protection, and you can find special boots that let you run twice as fast. It's tempting to dismiss Halo 2600 as a clever novelty, but this is one of the more addictive and intense titles I've played on the system. There's plenty of technique involved, although memorization helps too. Destroying the oversized boss sends the game into "legendary mode". Unfortunately, the only difference is that you move much
slower, prompting my friends to deem it "molasses mode". Lacking randomization, scoring, and a password feature, Halo 2600 comes up short in terms of replay value. Still, the frantic action is great fun while it lasts. This makes you wonder how other
modern franchises might fare on the 2600. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Hangman doesn't try too hard, but it's not as bad as you might think. You have two play options: one player can attempt to guess a word in eleven tries, or two people can compete. Initially I believed the limited word lengths (six characters) would make the game too easy, but in fact shorter words are more difficult to guess. You can choose between four vocabulary levels, ranging from first grade to high school. I chose the high school and was given reasonably tough words like "torque" and "murmur". Hangman's gameplay is entertaining but it gets old in a hurry. The graphics are very blocky but the letters are easy to read, and the alphabet song plays as you cycle through them. The "hangman" himself takes the form of a monkey hanging from a pole by one arm. I can only assume that Atari had some kind of misguided policy against lynching people in their games. The difficulty switches can be used to institute a 20 second time limit, which I highly recommend. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Haunted House doesn't look like much, and if you only play the default variation you might think it's pretty lame. If you try variation 9 however you'll discover a harrowing adventure with plenty of action, suspense, and even strategy. Your goal is to escape from a four-story mansion after finding three pieces of an urn. You control a pair of square eyes but can only see objects in the area illuminated around you (via a lit match). This limited visibility effect was previously employed in Adventure
(Atari, 1980). Roaming through the house are three spiders (blue, orange, red), a bat, and a ghost. The creatures are well animated and I love how the spiders' legs twitch. These creatures are deadly to the touch, but thankfully you get nine lives. Each floor contains six square rooms, but locked doors make it a challenge to find your way around. Holding the skeleton key lets you move freely from room to room, but you can't hold it and the urn pieces at the same time. A scepter makes the bat and spiders oblivious to your presence, but it won't protect you from the ghost. Evading the monsters by running is possible, but they have a way of ganging up on you. Since the bat steals your items, it's often good strategy to let a spider bite you instead. Haunted House isn't spectacular in any way, but its elements combine to create a compelling dynamic. It's pretty intense as you try to find your way back to the entrance with the completed urn in hand and one life remaining. You never know what's waiting behind the next door. Complementing the action are crisp sound effects including footsteps, thunder, howling winds, and slamming doors. Your final score (if you escape) is a combination of remaining lives and matches used. Trying to convey any degree of terror on the 2600 is not an easy task, but Atari did a very respectable job with Haunted House. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 9B
Our high score: 27 matches 2 lives remaining
Publisher: Atari (1978)
I can see why Atari didn't name this "baseball", since Homerun bears little resemblance to the national pastime. This early title is primitive and has few redeeming qualities. The sound and graphics are about as minimal as you can get. There are four bases, but no dirt around them. Your three fielders move in unison, and can't even throw the ball between each other. There are no fly balls, and hits to straightaway centerfield are automatic home runs. The pitching is the probably the best aspect of the game. You have total control of the ball and can often fool batters by catching a corner of the plate. The computer AI is dumb and easy to beat, and the two-player game is pointless - no one usually scores unless someone screws up. Homerun has not aged well, and many will argue it was never any good to begin with. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1979)
In this day and age, Human Cannonball isn't considered much of a video game. The goal is to launch a tiny man from a cannon across the screen into a water tower. You can adjust the velocity, angle, and distance of each shot, and your score is the number of successes in twelve tries. Atari didn't put much effort into these graphics. Even the "death" animation, which displays the letters O-U-C-H, seems awfully lame. The sparse sound effects are nothing but a series of monotones. Still, I can't deny that the game is quite challenging and requires some thought. The water tower is a small target on difficulty B, and downright miniscule on A. Some variations incorporate moving barriers, which test your reflexes as well as your mind. I found the difficult variations to be nearly impossible. Human Cannonball is a weak title, but had it been combined with Circus Atari, they would have made a nice package. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Chris Walton (2005)
This unassuming homebrew platformer will give even seasoned gamers fits. Hunchy II is loosely based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Your hunchback doesn't have a pronounced hunch, but his vertical leap certainly is impressive. Your goal is to collect bells while traversing 14 levels of increasing difficulty. The action allegedly takes place in a Cathedral, but there's not much in the way of scenery. Color is used to good effect and the guards look cool, but Hunchy II lets its gameplay
do the talking. The controls are fantastic. In fact, I can't recall another game with controls this responsive. Hunchy quickly scuttles up and down ladders and can even jump onto (or off of) a ladder mid-rung!
The fact that he can fall any distance without getting hurt not only boosts the fun factor but adds strategy as well (catch bells while you're falling). The stage layouts are tricky and a few are just plain diabolical. Some bells require you take a circuitous route while keeping an eye out for blue projectiles that randomly cross the screen. Once you get a feel for the controls you can whiz through the early screens with ease, but it's easy to hit the proverbial wall difficulty-wise. It doesn't help that many jumps have low clearance, which can result in hitting your head and falling into abyss. I hate it when that happens. Otherwise Hunchy II is a well-crafted platformer that will put your skills to the test. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 555
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Quite possibly the best sports game ever produced for the Atari 2600, this two-on-two game brilliantly captures the essence of hockey. As a kid, my father surprised me by bringing this one home one afternoon, and my best friend Andy and I played it constantly. Ice Hockey's graphics are clean and bright, with nicely animated, multi-colored players and a puck that's easy to follow. The outstanding gameplay boasts non-stop action and pinpoint control. When in possession of the puck, it moves back and forth across your stick, and your timing determines the exact angle of your pass or shot. Playing off the boards is really the key to this game. Despite having only two players on each team, passing is surprisingly effective. Player control switches automatically between your forward and goalie, and it always seems to occur at exactly the right moment. You can even get physical by swinging your stick wildly, knocking your opponent onto his backside! The computer is a worthy challenge, but nothing can beat this game's two-player action. Ice Hockey by Activision is not only a sports classic - it's even better than the real thing! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Indy 500's beauty lies in its simplicity, and like wine, this classic racer seems to improve with age. Compared to most modern racers with their complicated control schemes and unpredictable handling, this game is like a breath of fresh air. Indy 500 features single-screen tracks and a wide array of play modes. The special driving controllers (required) are simply paddles which can be rotated continuously in any direction, and they provide pinpoint
control. I remember how this game was originally packaged in a thick orange box and was very expensive ($36 I think). The main game variation is a two-player, 25-lap race with four tracks to choose from, including two excellent "ice" tracks. And Indy is hardly a one-trick pony. There's a terrific "crash n' score" mode where both cars race to collect "dots" on a semi-open playfield, and the action is wild and competitive. Equally fun is the "tag" variation where one car tries to remain "it" for the longest time. There are even "time trial" variations that let you play solo. After all these years, Indy 500 still remains one of the best racing games around, so grab a friend and give it a go. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: All
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (2008)
If you couldn't get enough of the original Indy 500
(Atari, 1977), this game is for you. Indy 500 XE is interesting hack of the original, incorporating 16
new tracks! The track designs are extremely clever, and many are surprisingly complex considering they are only one screen in size. A few take the whole "drive off one side and appear on the other" to a mind-blowing extreme. One of the ice tracks even features a grandstand with blocky spectators! Some designs even incorporate images from classic Atari games like E.T., Sky Diver, and Berzerk. Upon switching to a higher difficulty, your car not only has a higher top speed, but assumes the look of a dragster! The highlight of the game is the "crash 'n score" variations where the players dart around open playing fields to collect squares that pop up at random. My friend Steve and I had a blast playing those. Indy 500 XE is an exciting title for classic gamers, but I have to take exception to the manual which states "More tracks, more fun!" For one thing, the tracks tend to be extremely narrow, making passing extremely difficult. In close races, the cars will constantly bang into each other, slowing the action to a crawl until someone finally breaks loose. It's a shame there's no option to turn off the collision detection. Indy 500 XE is designed with two players in mind, but there are plenty of single-player variations that let you race against the clock. Paired with the original game, this is probably all the Indy 500 action you'll ever need. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Apollo (1983)
Some gamers believe Infiltrate is one of those "hidden gems" in the 2600 library, but I don't see it. At first glance, its generic platform layout and blocky graphics are sure to elicit groans from Atari veterans. As you guide your man between platforms via elevators, the idea is to collect "documents" (rectangles) while avoiding "assassins" (ghosts with legs). One element guaranteed to catch first-timers off-guard is that these assassins actually shoot
at you! Whoa - we're not in Pac-Land anymore, Toto! Fortunately, you can fire back. Infiltrate's action is faster and more frantic than most platformers, but its controls are touchy and the flickering "assassins" jump around erratically. Even so, Infiltrate is not as bad as it looks. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
1 or 2 players
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
This action-packed soccer title straddles the line between realism and fun. International Soccer offers a vertically-scrolling field with all the proper lines and even the correct number of players on each team. You won't see any headers or bicycle kicks, but passing and shooting goals is easy enough. I like how the ball never comes to a complete stop or goes out of bounds, which keeps things moving. On the downside, the ball can blend into those thick white lines, and your goalie can stray from his post at the most inopportune moments (where the [expletive] did he go?!
). Sometimes it's hard to determine which defender you're controlling as well. The contests are lively but tend to run a little too long, so you'll probably want to settle for just playing a half. My friend Steve is an actual soccer player, and he genuinely enjoyed kicking everybody's ass at this. Some single-player variations would have been nice, but International Soccer is definitely worthwhile if you're up for some head-to-head competition. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
When trying to determine the best adjective to describe James Bond 007, the best I could do was "wretched". This sure is a far cry from that impressive (but apparently bogus) "train shoot-out" preview screen shown in the Parker Bros. catalogs! This travesty of a game is a generic side-scroller, and a poor one at that! Its four stages are meant to recreate different Bond movies, but you'd never know it unless you read the manual. The brief intro features a nice rendition of the James Bond theme song, but the game itself looks like a third-rate Moon Patrol. Your pod-shaped car is supposed to be some kind of all-terrain vehicle. As you cruise along the planet surface and "hop" over volcanic craters, satellites and helicopters drop bombs from overhead. The helicopter's searchlight looks cool, but it never even comes close
to reaching the ground. Perhaps the pilot should consider flying below
the satellite! Yes, that's right, the helicopters fly above
the satellite orbit. Your vehicle is armed with a cannon, but get this - you can't
shoot your attackers! No, that might be fun
, so it's not allowed. Instead, you can only shoot the periodic "diamonds" that appear in the sky. The second half of the stage takes place over water, where you'll witness enemy aircraft inexplicably bombing their own divers in the water below! Once you reach the oilrig (which is invisible half the time), you'll need to perform a complicated maneuver to bring the stage to a merciful conclusion. It only took me about 20 tries or so. The second stage forces you to deal with "poison bombs" which spell instant death if you don't shoot them down at launch. That's as far as I got, but I can only assume that the subsequent stages are equally as idiotic. James Bond 007 is
challenging, but only because you don't know what the [expletive] is going on half of the time. What a complete and utter waste of a movie license. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
When it comes to Pac-Man clones on the 2600, Jawbreaker is the cream of the crop. You guide a pair of white choppers around a screen composed of nine horizontal corridors filled with dots. Your adversaries are big round smiley faces that travel from side-to-side, and a power pill occasionally appears in the center. So how do you move up and down between the platforms? Each wall has an opening that moves from side to side, and the varying speeds of these openings create an ever-changing maze. Consequentially, these provide for plenty of narrow-escape opportunities. Ain't it cool?! Yeah, and it's a blast to play! The action is non-stop and the control is dead-on. Jawbreaker takes an old theme and manages to make it exciting again. Highly recommended! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Upon turning on this game, you'll hear the classic rock tune "Don't Stop Believing", and it doesn't sound half bad! But please, don't start
believing that this game is any good! Journey Escape is definitely horrible, with mindless gameplay and laughable graphics. The object is to guide Journey to their "spaceship" within a time limit. Controlling individual band members, you march up the screen while avoiding "groupies" and "greedy promoters", rendered with atrocious-looking abstract symbols. The promoters are floating heads and the groupies are big hearts with legs. The screen displays your money total, and this decreases whenever you are touched. This scoring system really doesn't make any sense, since you lose money as you progress. Journey Escape is monotonous on the normal difficulty, and just plain annoying on the high setting. Its novelty value may attract collectors, but the game itself is a joke. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Atari had to take a few liberties to shoehorn Joust into the Atari 2600, but it still offers the same addictive brand of gameplay. Flying an ostrich around platforms while holding a lance, you knock adversaries off their mounts by colliding with them in mid-air, with the higher ostrich winning. The graphics are minimal in this version, with flat platforms, a fireless pit, and single-colored warriors. The control is quite good however, and Atari even managed to include the pterodactyl! The main difference between this and the arcade is that when enemies are defeated, eggs they produce don't settle on the platforms, but instead bounce around until hatched or caught. It sounds cheesy, but it actually makes the egg waves more interesting. Most important, the excellent two player simultaneous action has also been retained. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
When the original Pac-Man arrived on the 2600 it bore little resemblance to the arcade version. Ms. Pac-Man was more faithful to the original but a little on the easy side. Jr. Pac-Man hits that "sweet spot" by delivering both arcade-style graphics and challenging gameplay. It has a nice collection of mazes and each is so large that the screen scrolls up and down as you move. Junior is decked out in a little beanie cap with a propeller, and when caught by a ghost he disappears as the cap falls to the ground. The select switch lets you choose your starting maze based on a toy-shaped symbol at the bottom of the screen. These toys are really hard to make out! No matter what level you pick your skills will be put to the test, so grab your best joystick and hold on tight. The torrid pacing requires both quick-thinking and cat-like reflexes. This game gets my vote for "most likely to shatter your wrist." The ghosts pursue you so relentlessly that you have to use the power pills as a defense mechanism!
The effect of these pills doesn't last long, so gobbling up four ghosts is a rare occurrence. Heck, just clearing one maze
is a monumental achievement! As if the game wasn't hard enough, some dots become "fat" to slow you down, and wandering toys can destroy power-pills. Now that's just uncalled for. Still, Junior Pac-Man is extremely addicting and will give jaded gamers a real run for their money. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 19,500
Publisher: Atari (1982)
I purchased Jungle Hunt at the start of my 1983 summer vacation, and my timing could not have been better. This is a terrific adaptation of my favorite arcade game of the time, "Jungle King". Although this home version contains smaller characters, it arguably offers cleaner graphics and tighter controls. Jungle Hunt has four unique stages, each more entertaining than the last. You begin deep in the jungle, swinging from vine to vine. From there, you must survive a crocodile-infested river, armed only with a knife. Next, you're back on shore, jumping over rolling rocks and ducking under large boulders. Finally, you must leap over two spear-toting natives in order to rescue the girl. The main character is rendered in several colors, and that alone was pretty exciting back in 1983! The jungle scenery is modest but features some parallax scrolling to convey depth. There's minimal flicker in the high-resolution graphics, and the controls are responsive. Fans of the arcade game may frown on the level landscape in the boulder stage, since the arcade version had a slope. The ending is admittedly weak (if you can even call it an ending) but overall this is a quality title. There are two levels of difficulty, and the second one offers a genuine challenge. If you own an Atari 2600, Jungle Hunt is worth tracking down. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2009)
Excellent home-brews like this one continue to breathe new life into the classic consoles. When you fire up this new Atari 2600 shooter, you're treated to a jaunty, futuristic tune that instantly compelled me perform "the robot" dance in front of my TV. That's some funky music! Juno First resembles one of those "over the planet" shooters along the lines of Moon Sweeper and Solaris. You can actually move forward and backward
over the surface, and I love how you see your thrusters engaged on the back and front
of your ship (details are everything). Juno First is simple, fast, and fun. A large number of enemies appear on the screen at once, with closer craft scaling in and distant craft represented by pixels on the horizon. They tend to flicker when the action gets intense, but you have to be impressed by the sheer number of aliens on the screen at a given time. Not only do they move quickly, but the aliens literally spray you with missiles! Holding the fire button initiates rapid-fire, and I love how your shots slice through multiple aliens like butter! You can fly around them, but they never go away. Instead they "wrap around" the playing field, so be extra careful when moving backwards. When my friend Chris accidentally backed into an alien, he remarked, "I didn't realize how small the world was!" Apparently he's never been to a certain Disney World attraction. Juno First is a true original, and its single skill level is ideal. If you own an AtariVox, it will save top 10 high scores (sweet). The graphics in Juno First are relatively high in resolution, but for some reason the game does seem to have a lot of electromagnetic interference. That didn't prevent my friends and I from totally digging this wild new shooter. Buy it now! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 61,800
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Arguably the most fun Atari 2600 game ever
, Kaboom is also the one of the simplest. Using a paddle controller, you move a set of "buckets" from side to side, catching bombs being dropped by an escaped convict at the top of the screen. Each wave gradually becomes faster until you're dealing with an astonishly fast 13 bombs per second! At that point the game's practically mesmerizing. Kaboom's graphics look sharp, its gameplay is madly addicting, and there are some nice little graphical details as well. The mad bomber wears a black mask and changes expressions during the game. The lighted fuses on the bombs flicker, and bombs splash when they hit the buckets, which incidentally look nothing
like buckets. There's even a little strategy involved. When you have all three buckets, it's a good idea to mess up intentionally just before obtaining your bonus bucket at 1000 points. This will slow down the bombs temporarily, and you'll get your third bucket right back! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: GWC 3,877
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Kangaroo is one of the better Donkey Kong clones, despite its really lousy graphics. You play a mother kangaroo attempting to rescue her baby in a tree, all the while being terrorized by a band of apple-throwing monkeys. Unlike the arcade game with platforms constructed from lush tree branches, this version has dull orange rectangles for platforms. Your kangaroo looks pretty good, and it's easy to make her jump, punch, and duck. The monkeys look okay but their animation is choppy, and the square apples they hurl move in an equally jerky manner. What's great about Kangaroo is its unapologetic difficulty. There are three screens to conquer, and just reaching
the third one is a major accomplishment. There's fruit to collect along the way, and ringing a bell will replenish the fruit. Kangaroo's scoring system doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You can amass a much higher score by concentrating on the fruit instead of clearing the game levels. Kangaroo's control is unforgiving, and stepping off any platform will send you plummeting to your death, even if it's a tiny step. There seemed to be a few times when I died for no apparent reason. The sound effects are minimal, but cute jingles play at the beginning and end of each screen. Kangaroo won't impress you with its graphics, but its challenging gameplay should keep you occuppied. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: VGC 8,900
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Ultravision (1983)
When my friends play Karate for the first time, they all tend to have the same reaction. First they stare at the screen in disbelief for a few seconds, before finally blurting out "Are you F-ing kidding me?!" This unplayable abomination is a personal affront to anyone who has ever paid money for video game entertainment. It's a one-on-one Karate contest where the fighters never actually touch each other! The green and purple characters are admittedly huge, but then couldn't be more blocky or slow moving. The way they constantly gyrate, it looks as if they're dancing
with each other for Pete's sake! In fact, if you crank up the Bee Gee's "Staying Alive" as you play, the game almost
makes sense. The fighting "action" is a complete joke, with punches and kicks that look simply heinous (what appendage is that
?!). The collision detection is non-existent; your opponent can be right up against you, yet is always out of reach. If not for the scores displayed on top of the screen, you'd never even know that contact was made! If you can convince yourself this is a dancing game with controls that transcend human comprehension, then Karate is the best game in the world. Otherwise this garbage gets my vote for worst Atari 2600 game of all time. Note: This game was reissued by Froggo in 1987. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1983)
With its department store setting, flicker-free characters, and smooth animation, this may be the best-looking Atari 2600 game ever produced. And thanks to its simple concept and crisp controls, Keystone Kapers plays
as good as it looks
. You are a cop armed with a billy club on the trail of a thief decked out in a conspicuous black-and-white striped prison outfit. The chase takes place in a three-story department store that's several screens wide. He's heading for the roof, and you must catch him before a timer expires. Beginning on the lower floor, you work your way toward the elevator and escalators while ducking under bouncing beach balls and leaping over runaway shopping carts. Today we take ducking for granted, but in 1982 it was a pretty fantastic feature. Touching most obstacles costs you time, but if that toy plane nails you in the face, you're a goner. The most memorable aspect of the game has got to be the escalators. Not only do those things look totally cool, but you will never ever
get tired of riding them! Even 29 years later! They are so much fun that I never even questioned why one of them leads to the roof
. The elevator is pretty neat too, but the fact that it's so narrow makes it hard to squeeze into on the run. Oh well, I guess it just adds to the challenge. The single skill level is kind of lame, but Keystone Kapers has passed the test of time and deserves a place in every classic game collection. Hint: To save a split-second, jump onto
the escalators. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 32,350
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1983)
A Defender clone at heart, Killer Satellites is attractive to look at, but lousy to play. That's a shame, because graphics-wise, this blows away the Atari 2600 Defender game. Your ship is solid (no flickering) and even has fire shooting out of its thrusters. The planet surface is covered with buildings and trees, and the aliens are multi-colored and detailed. Your job is to blast them before they reach the surface. A scanner indicates enemy position, but not altitude, unfortunately. Killer Satellites has an astounding 100 levels! So what's the problem? It's the difficulty progression. Each level is littered with more and more tiny meteors which turn the screen into an obstacle course! It effectively grinds the action to a halt and takes away from the fun. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
There's nothing spectacular about King Kong for the Atari 2600, but this generic-looking platformer is better than I first gave it credit for. The cartridge itself is molded blue plastic, which looks pretty awesome. The artwork on the front is impressive as well. If you've already pegged King Kong as a blatant Donkey Kong rip-off, you'd be correct. That's painfully obvious when you hear the familiar background music and watch Kong hop side-to-side up the building structure. The human characters are small but well defined. Your tiny hero sports a cool blonde hairdo and is decked out in jeans and a green jacket. Likewise the damsel in distress is rendered in several colors as she waves her arms wildly at the top of the screen. Unfortunately, the main character - Kong - looks absolutely pathetic
. I really wish the programmer had spent more than two minutes designing his pixelated monkey ass. He looks like a freakin' gingerbread man
for Pete's sake!! It goes without saying that the object is to scale the building so you can "score" with the chick. Your character moves slowly, but his running motion looks good. While climbing the platforms you have to jump over bombs that travel both up and down the structure. Sometimes they fall through gaps in the floor, and sometimes they don't, and this blatant disregard for the laws of physics irked my friend Scott to no end. Leaping over "magic" bombs will give you a lift to the next floor, and they're worth seeking out for that reason. King Kong's collision detection is very forgiving, but it's annoying how you can't jump when you're on the top platform. Still, for a game so hopelessly derivative, King Kong proves to be an interesting little diversion. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 1,460
1 or 2 players
Publisher: M-Network (1983)
The opening sequence of this game reminds me of those old Kool-Aid commercials, where that huge pitcher would come crashing through a wall just when the kids needed a refreshing drink. I always wondered why the kids looked so happy, when in fact they should have been utterly terrified. Let's face it; anybody who dresses up in a big pitcher outfit and then trashes the local swim club is not
someone you want your kids accepting beverages from. As a game, Kool-Aid Man is simple and fun. The object is to eliminate evil round creatures that try to drink all the water from the pool. These troublemakers are only vulnerable when they're drinking, which is indicated by a long straw. Touch them while they're in motion and they'll knock you all over the place. Fortunately, there are also power-ups that transform you into SUPER Kool-Aid Man, making you invincible for a few seconds. The graphics are plain but colorful, and the left difficulty switch pauses the action. Kool-Aid Man is a shallow game, but sometimes less is more. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Krull was one of those cheesy, early 80's science fiction flicks billed as "the next big thing" before flopping at the box office. I wonder how much money Atari blew to acquire the license? Krull contains four distinct screens, and the graphics aren't bad at all. The action begins with a wedding ceremony being interrupted by an invading army. As enemy soldiers storm down the screen, you must repel them for as long as possible. The multi-colored soldiers look great and I like how they fling laser bolts across the screen. Despite a valiant effort, you're eventually overwhelmed and your bride is carried off. The next screen is one of the many "travel" sequences depicted by two tiny horsemen riding across a barren landscape (don't ask me who the second guy is). The animation and sound effects of the horses are impressive. This screen also lets you collect "glaives" (throwing weapons) by hitting the button just as they pass below your horse. It's a cool mechanic that's underused. The next screen is the spider's lair, and this is where you'll be spending the bulk of your time, languishing in pain. Although it looks great with its fine strands of web, you'll soon discover that it's really a colossal pain in the ass. Jumping over the strands is difficult, and touching one will drag you clear across the screen. A lot of gamers would shut the game off in frustrationat this point, and I can't say I'd blame them. Should you persevere, you'll acquire the location of the Black Fortress where your bride is being held. The fortress looks impressive rising from the ground, but it's rainbow colored
and not shaped like the one in the film. Enter the castle and you'll face off against a red "beast" with a huge noggin. You'll need to avoid his fireballs while chipping away at your girl's jail cell with your glaives. Upon breaking through, you'd expect the round to be over, but not so fast! You're now imbued with the power of fire, which you must hurl at the beast to destroy it. It's nice how they went the extra mile to stay faithful to the film, but Krull is too repetitive and aggravating for its own good. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 20,690
Kung Fu Superkicks
Publisher: Telegames (1989)
For an Atari 2600 martial arts game, Kung Fu Superkicks isn't half bad, although you'll definitely need the manual to help you along. This game was originally released by Xonox as Chuck Norris Superkicks. The first screen (out of seven) is simply a path you must navigate to reach a monastery. On your way, you'll encounter various groups of thugs, which transport you to wide-open "play action" screens. Each stage requires using a certain Kung Fu move, which is where the manual comes in handy. Thugs in the early screens can be dispatched with simple kicks, but later screens require the use of blocks, punches, or somersaults. The fighters are small but easy enough to discern. Superkicks is not bad if you know what you're doing, but otherwise it can be awfully confusing. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Champ Games (2006)
Colecovision and Intellivision owners enjoyed this game in the early 1980's, but Ladybug was never available for the Atari 2600 - until now. Classic gamers should take notice, because this game is no joke. On the surface, Ladybug might seem like any other generic maze game, but there's much
more to it than meets the eye. In addition to evil bugs that emerge from the center, you need to avoid deadly skulls scattered throughout the maze. But it's the green "doors" that truly set this game apart. When you push your ladybug though a door, it stays in its new position. Not only do the doors come in handy for evasive maneuvers, but you can effectively adjust the maze layout to your advantage. It's even possible to redirect the insects into the poison skulls. But wait - there's more. By collecting letters scattered throughout the maze, you can spell out the words "extra" for a free life or "special" to access a hidden stage. An obligatory veggie item periodically appears in the center of the screen, and it's worth crazy points so go get it NOW! Graphically, Ladybug features well-drawn, smoothly animated sprites, but the maze does tend to flicker in an unsightly manner. A nice harmonized soundtrack complements the action, and there are three skill levels. Easy to play but surprisingly deep, Ladybug is a shiny new gem in the Atari 2600 library. You'll find it at Atari Age
. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Sure, a few people out there like this game, but trust me, it's 100 percent nostalgia. It has
to be, because Laser Blast is such a bad
game. Everything about it is poor: the plain graphics, minimal sound, and mind-numbing, repetitive gameplay. You move a flying saucer across the top of the screen, firing on cannons that crawl across the planet surface below in groups of three. You can't even get off a shot until the cannons have completely moved onto the screen, which is irritating. The cannons shoot solid-line lasers that appear instantly, and since there's no way to dodge them, the only way to evade harm is to keep moving. Unfortunately, your ship comes to a dead stop whenever you fire. You can shoot straight down or diagonally, but the sticky controls often cause you to fire in the wrong direction. There's little strategy as you systematically shoot each three cannons that march out, until you just get sick of the whole never-ending cycle. If Laser Blast was a food, it would be boiled cabbage - it has no flavor. This may well be the worst Activision game ever made. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
This rare and unimpressive side-shooter plays like the first stage of Vanguard. The bottom half of the screen is dedicated to an oversized "instrument panel" that displays your energy, shield, and time. Incidentally, you don't need to know any
of this information as you play the game. Your tiny space ship flies through a narrow cavern on the top half of the screen, avoiding dangers like blinking walls, destructible walls, incoming missiles, and cannons. You know the drill: shoot and dodge your way to the end of the level. The control is okay, but the graphics and sound are unspectacular and repetitious. You'd think the developers could at least
change the colors between levels! Laser Gates is challenging at first, but once you figure out how to overcome each obstacle, it becomes dull and monotonous. There's no level select, difficulty options, or two player mode, so this action wears thin after just a few plays. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Taiwan Cooper (1983)
This Taiwanese rip-off of Frostbite (Activision) is only worth noting for just how absurd it is. First of all, it amazes me how Zimag could expect the Eskimo in the game to be passed off as the panda bear on the cartridge label. Making matters worse, the panda in the picture is sitting in a green meadow - a far cry from the ice-covered streams featured in the actual game. Finally, if it wasn't obvious enough that this is a blatant rip-off, you can even see the rainbow part of the Activision logo on the bottom of the screen (only the name has been removed). It's amazing what people will do to make a buck. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
As Mattel's answer to Pac-Man, this was the first console game to let you
be the bad guy! You guide a little thief around a maze with four cops your tail. The graphics aren't very sophisticated - just a simple blue maze and some chunky, poorly animated characters running around. Heck, your lives aren't even displayed on the screen, which indicates some very
lazy programming if you ask me. Dashes line the maze, and the bonus "treasure" appearing in the middle looks like a cake. Even the sound effects stink. Fortunately, there's more to Lock 'N' Chase than meets the eye. You have the ability to construct horizontal barriers behind your thief as you move up or down (not sideways), and these are ideal for cutting off cops hot on your tail. You can drop two barriers at a time, and they inject a great deal of strategy into an otherwise lackluster game. It's even possible to box yourself in, which usually results in death but has saved my sorry ass at least once. The key to racking up high scores is snagging bonus items whenever possible, since they're worth up to 2000 points. As a nice side effect, they also freeze the cops momentarily. Once a maze is cleared, you'll want to head directly towards the exit at the top of the screen. Don't get caught or you'll be screwed out of your bonus. Lock N Chase is always a challenge, even on the "easy" skill level, and I like how it "pauses" between lives. It may be a little slow and derivative, but give Lock N Chase a chance and it'll give you a run for your money. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1983)
If you think this looks like a boring 3D maze game, well, you're right. Still, London Blitz has a few things going for it. Sporting a nifty first-person view and an overhead map, your goal is to locate and disarm a series of bombs in a maze. The first-person point of view is surprisingly high in resolution and smoothly animated as well. It's confusing to navigate the maze however, and you'll need to consult the overhead map constantly. It gets slightly easier with practice, but everything looks the same! When you approach a bomb, a close-up screen reveals three sliding switches, and you'll get several attempts to diffuse the bomb by sliding these switches to their proper positions. Most bombs have lights indicating if a slider is positioned correctly or needs to be adjusted - similar to the board game MasterMind. I found the controls to be a bit slippery - especially when trying to select the correct switch. The first few bombs are easy, but the later ones have very short fuses. The further you progress, the higher the rank you are awarded. London Blitz is not a bad game overall, but awkward controls and less-than-exciting gameplay keep it grounded in mediocrity. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Apollo (1982)
If you've ever fantasized about being an airport baggage handler (and who hasn't?), Lost Luggage is the game for you! A lame Kaboom clone, the object is to catch a bunch of suitcases falling from the top of the screen. Depending on the difficulty setting, you'll control one or two men who move in unison. The joystick control allows you to move up and down as well as sideways, but the action is more tiresome and predictable than it is fun. The first few waves are downright boring, but at around 2000 points the challenge abruptly shifts from "easy" to "impossible". Well-constructed games are able to find the "sweet spot" in terms of difficulty, but Lost Luggage fails miserably in that regard. In terms of graphics, the planes in the distance look nice, but the baggage carousel looks like a triangular island in the middle of the runway. The game's only highlight occurs when you miss a suitcase, causing it to pop open, revealing "unmentionables" such as underwear, bras, socks, and shoes. It's cute, but that gimmick can't overcome the tepid gameplay. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
1 or 2 players
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection, Atari 2600 Homebrew
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