Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Anybody still wondering why the video game crash of 1983 occurred needs to look no further than this pathetic piece of crapola. Sssnake is the kind of trash game companies spewed out by the dozens. In terms of gameplay, Sssnake is a poor man's Centipede. Your cannon moves around a small box in the center, shooting at creatures running around the screen. The snakes look like dotted lines, and shooting them yields unpredictable results. Sometimes they become smaller and sometimes they split, but mostly your shots just go right through and nothing happens at all. There are other creatures as well that resemble pixilated blobs. The control is awkward, to say the least. Sssnake looks more like an unfinished project. It's got to be one of the sssloppiest games I've ever seen. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Stampede is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated Atari 2600 games of all time. It never caused a big commotion like Pitfall or River Raid back in the day, but everyone who played it got a kick out of it. Like most Activision titles of its day, Stampede boasts clean graphics, smooth animation, responsive controls, and madly addictive gameplay. You'll find yourself hitting the reset button "just one more time" over and over again (a sign of any good 2600 game). Controlling a cowboy on a galloping horse, you slowly move up and down the left side of the screen as groups of cattle approach from the right. Using your lasso, you must snag each one before it passes, and if you can't quite reach a group in time, you can still "nudge" them ahead to buy extra time. It's a pretty ingenious concept. The game ends when three cattle pass, but you'll earn a free one every 1000 points. Complicating matters are cow skulls that trip you up and stationary black cows that you really need to keep an eye out for. It seems like every time you play Stampede you get a little better. And let's face it, any game that awards you a "free cow" is a winner in my book. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: SLN 2,772
Publisher: Xype (2003)
Most first-person space shooters on the Atari 2600 follow the Star Raiders formula, emphasizing strategy over action. Starfire on the other hand lets you blast away like there's no tomorrow. Only your laser temperature gauge (which indicates overheating) prevents you from ripping the universe a new black hole. A scanner on the bottom lets you track enemy craft, and it's not uncommon for three or four large fighters to zoom into view at the same time. Blasting them is easy and fun, and you'll also need to shoot down their missiles (or guide them off the screen). Once you've destroyed enough ships, a portal appears that whisks you off to the next stage (much like Star Voyager). I like how your score is displayed between waves, which also provides you with a short breather. The waves are manageable until you reach around 1000 points, at which time the missiles come in almost as fast as you can shoot them down. Star Fire is really shallow but I like its bold, frenetic pace. The music on the title screen is wild. I can't decide if it's a brilliantly complex composition or just random noise. Another interesting aspect of the game is its familiar spaceship designs. It doesn't take much imagination to make out Tie Fighters (including the Vader model), Star Destroyers, Slave I (Boba Fett's ship) and even a Death Star. Rest assured, however, any similarities between this game and Star Wars are purely
coincidental. You can purchase this game from AtariAge.com
. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mythicon (1983)
This is one of those games that plays so poorly
that if you didn't know any better, you'd think the cartridge was broken. Star Fox's graphics and sound are minimal, and its controls are utterly repugnant. A side-scrolling shooter, the idea is to collect blue "crystals" (flashing boxes) on the planet surface while avoiding (or blasting) black UFOs. Although your ship is equipped with rapid-fire, its movements are so spastic and squirrelly that you can never aim with any degree of precision. Instead of being evenly distributed on the surface of the planet, the blue crystals mysteriously "appear" whenever you change direction, which is a serious crock of [expletive]. But what I hate
most about Star Fox is how you inexplicably cannot
move side-to-side while flying low on the screen. The instructions provide this half-assed explanation: "The energy crystals have ionized the gases to such an extent that your horizontal drives will be useless: you may not be able to move left or right at low altitudes." Give me a break! Why don't they just admit that the programmer stinks!? To pick up a crystal, you must position your ship directly above it before landing, but your ship doesn't want
to stay there, so you end up wrestling with it. The whole game is pointless and shallow. I love how the instruction manual attempts to build it up with lines like this: "Star Fox by Mythicon has a high level of computer intelligence built in. Your enemy is very smart and always knows where you are." Wow, I hope this cartridge doesn't suddenly become self-aware and try to take over the world! Quick - shut it off! © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: None
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1982)
This first-person space shooter plays like Star Raiders, but I think it's much better. As in Star Raiders, you're trying to eliminate enemy forces in deep space, and you can dock with star bases to repair damage and refuel. But unlike Star Raiders, the graphics here are more detailed, and Star Master doesn't have as many boring lulls in the action. Instead of employing a bulky keypad, Star Master simply uses the black and white switch to toggle between the main view and the map screen, and it works fine. The game keeps you on your toes. Whenever you hyperwarp to a sector, you have to avoid asteroid collisions along the way by dodging or shooting them. When you warp to your star base, you actually have to "dock" with it by centering it in your crosshairs, and this requires some skill. There's only one type of enemy ship, but it looks pretty cool. Only one enemy appears at a time, and you can only destroy it if it's directly in your crosshairs. One thing that bothers me about Star Master's graphics is the erratic movement of the stars. Instead of smoothly moving towards the outer edge for the center of the screen, they move in an odd manner. Another flaw is the confusing evaluation system. Still, I'd take this over Star Raiders any day. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
This is the original first-person space shooter, but this 2600 version is a weak effort. Star Raiders came packaged in a fat orange box with a gratuitous eight-button "touch pad" and an overlay. No other game ever supported the touch pad, so Atari would have been better off using the extra console switches for these functions like Star Master did. Your mission is to wipe out 10 to 40 alien ships, depending on the difficulty level, but much of the game is played by staring at crosshairs as stars pass by. At the start of each game, you switch to your Galactic Map, locate the enemy's location, and warp to their sector. This Galactic Map is so
lame. It's a blocky four-by-four grid, and the only indicators are your position, your base, and the alien fleet. What's the point really? The first-person shooting action is more respectable, thank goodness. Every few seconds one or two ships appear, zipping around while scaling in and out. It takes some practice to target in on these guys. Of the three alien ship styles, one looks like a Tie Fighter (Star Wars), and another looks like a Cylon Raider (Battlestar Galactica). The sound effects are confusing. During battle you hear constant explosions, but can't tell if they're from you being hit, an alien getting destroyed, or missiles colliding. Taking hits damages your shields, computer, photon torpedoes, or engines. I do like the various ways in which the damage manifests itself (shields flicker, left torpedo stops working, etc). If your shields get damaged, you'll want to repair them immediately or risk instant death. You always have the option to turn off your computer or shields to save energy, but energy is usually the least of your worries. Star Raiders isn't much to look at with its choppy, flickering graphics and blocky displays, but it is certainly challenging at the higher levels. At the end of each game you get rated from a "Cook" all the way up to a mystery rank
. Star Raiders is okay, but for better first-person shooting action, try Star Master, Star Voyager, or Phaser Patrol. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Take Star Raiders, remove all of its strategic elements, saddle it with the most hideous graphics ever conceived, and voila, you have Star Ship. Yes, I know this game is really old, but I still can't resist cracking on it. The main game variation is a first-person shooter in the loosest sense of the word, where you try to blast as many big blocky aliens as possible within 2 minutes 16 seconds. Some variations allow a friend to control the aliens you target. Believe me, if you make someone play Star Ship with you, they won't be your friend for long! There are some other incredibly lame variations in which you just try to avoid oncoming squares - umm I mean "asteroids". And the "lunar lander" variations are truly pathetic. You simply move your little ship to the asteroid and push the button. Incredibly, there's no
gravity, and hence, no challenge! What an embarrassment! No wonder Atari yanked it from their lineup. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mattel (1982)
Much like the climax of the first Star Wars film, Star Strike places you in the trench of an evil battle station, where you attempt to save the Earth from imminent destruction. Looming large at the top of the screen, the Earth gradually moves into targeting range. In order to save the planet, you must bomb eight vents that cycle below. The illusion of movement through the trench is fairly well done considering the vintage 1982 3D effects. You view the action from just behind your ship, and flying saucers sneak up from the rear as meteors approach from the front. Shadows on the surface help you determine your position relative to these hazards. Taking a hit will temporarily send you out of control, possibly crashing into the trench below, which ends the game. Although you can fire forward, there isn't much to shoot, and targeting is difficult. Flying low in the trench automatically puts you into "bomb mode". Gameplay is mainly a matter of dodging projectiles while occasionally plunging into the trench when a vent comes into range (a series of beeps will warn you). While its gameplay is simplistic and no score is provided (you either win or lose), Star Strike did manage to hold my attention for a little while. I was intent on beating this thing at least once, and it took some perseverance. Win or lose, you're treated to a short ending sequence. The difficulty switches allow you to configure four skill levels. There's not much to Star Strike, but the challenge might just keep you coming back for more. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: AB
Publisher: Sega (1983)
This game pretends to incorporate strategic Star Trek elements, but it's really just another mediocre shoot-em-up. The screen is divided into three areas: a status screen (mainly composed of colored blocks), a radar screen (providing a third-person view of the action), and a viewer (to help you aim). The are six stages in each level: 4 Klingon encounters, an asteroid field, and a boss. The Klingon ships are very easy to blast, and as long as you keep moving you'll avoid enemy fire. The rocks in the asteroid stage are easy to dodge and Nomad the boss isn't any more difficult than the Klingons. Star Trek comes with an unnecessary joystick overlay so you won't forget which button is used to fire (hint - it's the RED one!). With lackluster gameplay and only one skill level, not even a trekkie could love this one. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
This is yet another Star Raiders-inspired first-person space shooter, but it's one of the better ones. Star Voyager doesn't waste time with fancy maps, shields, or damage indicators. Instead, the emphasis is on shooting enemy ships, which I think is a good idea. Your ship is equipped with two types of weapons. You trigger the secondary weapon by pressing the fire button on the second joystick (I like to use my toe for that one). Your lasers are far more powerful than your photon torpedoes, but consume ten times more energy! Once you expend all of your energy, the game ends. After shooting down each group of enemy ships you have the opportunity to fly through a portal and replenish your energy. The graphics are fairly minimal, but the colors are vivid and the explosions are amongst the best I've seen on the 2600. There are two skill levels along with a two-player cooperative mode. Star Voyager is a heck of a lot of fun, and seriously underrated in my opinion. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Death Star Battle
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Man, this is so lame
! An instantly forgettable shooter, Death Star Battle puts you in control of a tiny Millennium Falcon. Inexplicably, you're confined to a cramped area on the lower half of the screen! A partially completed Death Star is visible at the top, behind a rainbow-colored shield
. If you don't remember this from the movies, that's because it wasn't in
the movies. You can blast passing Imperial vessels, but it's hard enough to avoid colliding with them because they appear from out of nowhere. If you're looking for a cheap way to inflate your score, just wait for Vader's shuttle to cruise by - it's worth a cool 3,000 points (compared to a paltry 100 points for the others). Periodically a "hole" appears in the shield, a temporary gateway to the second (and final) stage. Here, the Death Star is presented as an ugly, gray, blocky monstrosity -- with a red dot in the center. Avoiding a roving laser, you must wear down the outside of the Death Star to expose its core. It's Star Wars meets Breakout, and it's not
a pretty sight. After shooting the core, you must dodge a series of fireballs before the Death Star finally explodes. The explosion isn't bad (by Atari 2600 standards) but then it's back to the beginning for another uneventful round. Playing Death Star Battle is a shallow experience, lacking any sense of strategy or fun. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Jedi Arena
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Who's bright idea was it to put two Jedi knights
into a game, arm them with powerful lightsabers, and then keep them separated
for the entire frickin' game?! Jedi Arena is so bogus
that it's not even funny. It's very
loosely based on a brief scene from the first Star Wars film. You may recall when Luke was practicing his saber skills on a floating metal orb inside the Millennium Falcon. In Arena, this orb shoots electrical charges and floats between these so-called Jedi. Actually, these competitors look like more two fat guys cooped up in boxes, protected by a four-layer shield. Using a paddle controller, you swing your saber from side to side - too bad it doesn't stick out far enough to touch
anything! Jedi Arena's control scheme is counterintuitive (to say the least). You use your saber to block the orb's charges, and press the fire button to initiate charges toward your opponent. Blocking is easy enough, but aiming your shots is awkward - I could never get a feel for it. Every now and then the orb goes nuts and start shooting charges in all directions. It's a big, confusing mess. Jedi Arena is a real dud and a complete waste of the Star Wars license. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3AA
1 or 2 players
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Publisher: Parker Bros (1984)
It's remarkable that Parker Bros was able to squeeze this multi-stage, vector-graphics game into an Atari 2600 cartridge. Although simplified, the visuals are still impressive. I love how you can see the nose of your ship on the bottom of the screen, along with two guns in the lower corners (none are shown on top). In the first stage, you fire at Tie Fighters zooming across the screen, but the clumsy crosshair control proves a liability. Not particularly responsive, the cursor has some kind of delay mechanism that's really annoying. The Tie fighters are nicely rendered; however, their missiles look more like big fuzz balls. You'll need to neutralize these, but that's less fun than targeting Ties. Eventually the ominous purple (?) Death Star moves into view. Next, you find yourself flying over the surface of the Death Star, trying to shoot the tops of pillars without running into them (what movie was that
from?) Your crosshair not only aims, but also guides your ship - which is somewhat awkward. The final stage places you in the Death Star trench, avoiding barriers and incoming missiles long enough to blast the exhaust port. It looks surprisingly good, with wire-frame 3D visuals that convey both depth and speed in a convincing fashion. Once you shoot the port, you're treated to a rather unspectacular explosion, before starting over on a harder level. Star Wars: The Arcade Game has two levels of difficulty. Casual gamers may not be impressed, but Star Wars aficionados will certainly appreciate this ambitious cartridge. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Publisher: Parker Bros (1982)
Easily the best Star Wars game for the 2600, Empire Strikes Back provides satisfying "twitch" gameplay and relentless challenge. I love it! Based on the best action sequence from these movies (the battle on [ice] planet Hoth), you pilot a tiny Snowspeeder attempting to subdue a parade of approaching Imperial Walkers. Your scanner indicates their position, and should one of these hulking mammoths reach the right edge of the scanner, the Rebel Alliance is defeated and your game is over. The screen scrolls rapidly as you whiz over the icy wasteland, and when you encounter a Walker, a high tech game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Not only are the Walker's missiles deadly accurate, but they also deploy "smart bombs" that behave like heat-seeking missiles. Empire's graphics are minimal, but the control is tight and the action fast and furious. Destroying a Walker is tough, considering each can withstand up to 48(!) shots. Fortunately, weak spots appear periodically, allowing a single well-placed shot to take them down. Should you manage to stay alive for two minutes, the Star Wars theme kicks in and you're awarded with 20 seconds of invincibility (yeee-ha!). The damage level of both the Walkers and your Snowspeeder is indicated by their respective colors. A red ship indicates critical damage, but you're permitted to land for repairs twice (per ship). You can't fly through a Walker's body (at least in the hard variations), but you can
fly through its legs unharmed, and I like that. Crashing into a Walker inflicts major damage to it, and sometimes it makes sense to sacrifice a ship as a last ditch-effort to extend the game. Empire has no "stages" per se; the Walkers just keep coming until you're overcome. Easy to play and always exciting, Empire Strikes Back lives up to the Star Wars name. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 7B
Our high score: SLN 2,249
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Stargate, also known as Defender II, is a far cry from its predecessor, which to many is regarded as one of the most disappointing Atari 2600 carts of all time. Atari's programmers must have learned quite a bit between programming the original Defender and this masterpiece. Stargate's graphics are high in resolution with smooth animation and arcade-quality sound effects. Better yet, no controls were sacrificed. In a wise design decision, the second joystick activates smart bombs, "inviso-shield", and hyperspace. All of the enemies are present with minimal flicker. Stargate is so good that it's actually difficult to believe this is an Atari 2600 game! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Telesys (1982)
For such a rare title, Stargunner is a respectable space shooter that resembles Defender at first glance. Your skinny red ship fires left or right, and when it flies off one side of the screen it reappears on the other. Upon hitting reset you're greeted with a tiny explosion that's guaranteed to elicit these words, "What? I'm dead already?
" The idea is to blast invading aliens that materialize and dart around in erratic patterns. Adding challenge is a droid at the top of the screen who suffers from a terrible case of spastic colon syndrome. He frantically drops bombs while moving from side-to-side, and unfortunately he's out of your shooting range. The first wave spawns one egg-shaped creature at a time, but as waves progress new shapes (like linked squares) appear in greater numbers. I like how the waves become increasingly chaotic. New aliens are composed of four parts that fly in from different angles, and sometimes you can gauge where they will materialize for a quick kill. I usually opt for the hardest variations in Atari 2600 games, but the medium difficulty on Stargunner kicked my ass
. In the hard level, the only points I could score was for colliding
with aliens! Stargunner is pretty shallow but I enjoyed its quick games and twitch gameplay. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2B
Our high score: 5,000
1 or 2 players
Stay Frosty 2
Publisher: Atari Age (2014)
Well-designed and expertly-programmed, Stay Frosty 2 is one of those quality homebrews that elicit reactions like "this
is an Atari 2600 game?
" The original Stay Frosty appeared in the Stella's Stockings (Atari, 2007) compilation and really stood out as an innovative little platformer. The idea was to use a snowman to squash flames without completely melting. This ambitious sequel takes the concept to the next level and really cranks up the difficulty. Special items give you the ability to do stuff like toss snowballs and even double-jump!
Hard-to-reach gifts provide "glory seeking" opportunities that net big points. The animation is smooth and I love how the snowman changes facial expressions when standing still. The music is slightly muffled but the fact that it plays a different Christmas tune for each screen
is pretty remarkable. Each level is like a puzzle, and some can be a little onerous. My disdain for invisible mazes is well documented, and I also dislike having to deliberately melt
to squeeze through certain passages. There are a lot of narrow platforms that are hard to stay on. It's no cakewalk, but clearly a lot of thought went into each screen. The manual is a pretty sweet too. Stay Frosty 2 is an exceptional technical achievement and a good choice for players who prefer their snowman games extra hard. You can purchase this at AtariAge.com
. Note: To properly enjoy after
the holidays, move the right difficulty to A to disable the music. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ 10,787
Publisher: Sears (1980)
This Sears-exclusive title makes for some surprisingly fun four-player action. I pulled this one out when some friends were over, and we all had a ball! Four horses run across the screen and jump hurdles of various sizes. Using the paddle controllers, you adjust the height and timing of each jump, but it's not easy. The first horse to reach the right hand side wins. Three computer skill levels are included, but playing against three humans is the main draw. The only fault with Steeplechase is that the jump height indicator is on the far right, and it's tough to keep an eye on both that and your horse. But if you're looking for some unique four-player action, Steeplechase is worth checking out. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2007)
This five-in-one holiday cartridge was released by Atari Age to coincide with Christmas 2007, but it arrived about a month late if I recall correctly. Oh well! Stella's Stocking boasts some excellent production values. There's a hottie on the label (in stockings no less), a colorful manual with fun illustrations, and a gorgeous "fireplace" title screen. The first game, Stay Frosty, is an interesting platformer where you control a melting snowman. Each screen presents a bunch of small fires you need to extinguish while collecting ice cubes to maintain your solid form. The crisp controls and sharp graphics are commendable, but the action is a bit easy and repetitive. The second entry, Tossing Cookies, is a bit of a throwaway title (pun intended) played on alternating screens. In the first screen you guide Santa around on his sleigh as he collects cookies, and on the second screen you toss them at reindeer. The graphics are rough, and the lack of a score limits the fun. Perhaps there's some kind of special ending when you complete all 12 rounds, but we'll never know.
The next game, Elf Dash, is my favorite. You control an elf in an out-of-control toy factory consisting of six floors and several constantly-moving elevators. You must collect candy canes, presents, ornaments, and other seasonal icons while avoiding patrolling tanks, teddy bears, and of course the obligatory AT-AT Walkers. If you complete the game within eight minutes, the remaining time serves as your score - a pretty neat idea! Grandma's Revenge is an irreverent take on the "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" song, and it has an Indy 500 vibe. Controlling a marauding sports car, you run down
waves of reindeer, causing the screen to become cluttered with blocky road-kill obstacles. It's pretty crazy, and fun power-ups can cause your car to become huge
or transform it into a snow mobile. The final game, Cold War, is a two-player snowball shootout where both players control a pair of snowmen. I like the idea, but the unconventional control scheme is hard to grasp. None of these games really stand out, but they're all pretty inventive and you can't beat the variety. If you're looking for some Christmas fun, Stella's Stocking definitely has some holiday cheer in store for you. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sears (1980)
I was expecting an epic galactic odyssey from Stellar Track, but all I got was a bunch of text-only strategy crap! Yuck! The object is to maneuver your ship through a series of space maps and destroy alien invaders. Think Star Raiders minus the graphics. Games like this were common on personal computers back in the early 1980's. Usually written in BASIC, they tended to employ overly complex control schemes to compensate for the lack of graphics. There wasn't much software back then, so we inflicted games like these on ourselves voluntarily. Well I'm sorry, but this just isn't going to cut it in 2001! I don't have the patience to master the confusing, non-intuitive user interface. Stellar Track is a lost relic that should remain that way. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1981)
Strategy X is one seriously ugly
game, but its extreme challenge keeps things interesting. You control a tank moving up a vertically scrolling screen, blasting enemy cannons while maintaining your fuel supply. The screen is littered with blocky green "bogs" that slow you down and consume extra fuel. Besides your moving tank treads, there's not much to see. You can speed up, slow down, or move side-to-side, but the lack of diagonal movement makes the animation look choppy. The enemy cannons look rough, but at least they explode nicely. Enemy shots travel fast and are difficult to elude. Fuel towers can replenish your fuel supply, but these are also vulnerable to shots fired from the cannons. If you make it to the "triumphal arch" at the end of the stage, you'll advance to stage two. This time, you face a squadron of bombers that fire wiggly lines, and it looks even worse than the first stage. All in all, Strategy X is low in quality, but there's something addictive about its gameplay that kept me coming back for more. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
I remember way back in the 1980's when my little sister was into Strawberry Shortcake big time. Naturally, I would make fun of all of those sissy characters of hers. Little did I know that twenty years later I'd find myself playing Strawberry Shortcake Musical Match-Ups on the Atari 2600! Fate can be a cruel, twisted thing. Anyway, this was one of the first games marketed to little girls (4-7 years) and evidently video game reviewers (30+ years). The screen displays a mixed-up character with the head, body, and legs of six random Strawberry Shortcake characters. We're talking about all your favorites, like Purple Pie Man, Lime Chiffon, and Huckleberry Pie. You need to combine the correct character parts in a certain period of time. The characters are large and colorful, and each has its own cute little theme song. Would a young child enjoy this game today? It's not beyond the realm of possibility, but the thrill wouldn't last. Once you memorize all the body parts, the game loses its replay value. Plus you can't blow up anything. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1977)
I remember buying this cartridge as a kid, partly because I wanted another paddle game and partly because it was on sale for $19.95. Street Racer gets a bad rap for its eye-rollingly-bad graphics, but it does offer variety and fast action. The screen is divided in half by a thick bar. Each game is a head-to-head contest lasting two minutes and sixteen seconds or
until a player scores 99 points. In most variations you steer with the paddle and use the fire button to moderate your speed. In the "Street Racer" variations you steer a car from side-to-side while avoiding oncoming traffic. I use the term "car" loosely, as these are the worst looking automobiles I have ever seen. Next, the "Slalom" variations let you ski through blue gates, and some precision is required as you "whoosh" from side to side. In "Dodgem" you drive your car up the screen while avoiding green blobs. Did I say the cars in the first variation were the worst I had seen? Make that second
worst, because these
cars look positively atrocious
. I'm starting to think the programmer had never actually seen
a real car. "Jet Shooter" lets you fire slow-moving missiles at descending planes, but there's no challenge to it. "Number Cruncher" was always the most popular variation in my household, mainly because the games were so short. The idea is to catch falling digits with a guy in a wheelchair. In "Scoop Ball" you catch "plus" signs and deposit them into pieces that fit. The fact that it's not completely mindless gives it a leg up on the other variations. These games tend to be awfully repetitive, and after playing one variation you're ready to move on to the next. Up to four players can participate, but the concept of "stacking" two players on each side doesn't work well. The one-player modes are a joke, as the CPU opponent just sits there. Street Racer's six-games-in-one combo may have been a decent value at one time, but this game has aged about as well as fake wood trim. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 7A
Our high score: 93
1 to 4 players
Publisher: CommaVid (1983)
This ultra-rare space shooter is repetitive but challenging. You control a hot air balloon with an appendage that can fire missiles up, down, and diagonally (but not sideways). Jellyfish ascend from below, and you'll need to shoot fast and perform evasive maneuvers to avoid their onslaught. You can only fire one shot at a time, but hitting the fire button will "cancel" your current shot (a la Gorf). A three-layered rotating shield eventually appears on the bottom of the screen, protecting a small Mexican woman. Okay, that object is supposed to be the "stronghold", but it's not very imposing. You can poke holes in the shield, but keep in mind that if you eliminate an entire layer it will regenerate. When the woman lines up directly beneath you, she'll unleash a huge blast in your direction. Wow, this lady is pissed!!
You'll also need to contend with red drones and rotating blue number eights that float around the screen. The action is pretty frantic as you scramble around while hoping one of your shots will thread the needle and take her out. She tends to follow your movements so you can use this to your advantage. Each wave is the same, but a little harder. There are 16 variations, but even the easiest will give you a run for the money. A variety would have been nice, but gamers looking for a challenge may find this appealing. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 2,570
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Sub Scan should be prescribed to insomniacs, because it is so
slow and boring. You control a ship that crawls across the top of the screen, dropping bombs into the water below. Subs approach from the left and right sides of the screen. Every object on the screen seems to move in slow motion, and waiting for the bombs to reach the subs is excruciating. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sears (1982)
How could it be that this submarine shooter remained off my radar for 30 years? Maybe it was the "Sears" brand name? Playing Submarine Commander was an eye-opening experience. It's an exciting first-person shooter with just enough
strategy to make things interesting. The screen depicts a green ocean, blue sky, and several gauges. Enemy boats move across the horizon, and there's a modest sense of 3D as distant boats are smaller that the massive, chunky ships up close. Despite the pixelation the ships are brightly-colored and even generate a little wake in the water. The controls are highly responsive and unique for a 2600 game. When you move up and down the screen scrolls slightly, so you never see the complete picture from your "periscope" view. You can fire a pair of torpedoes at a time, and they're spaced apart, so timing is critical. It's fun to watch the ships sink into the depths, and it's especially satisfying to sink two at once! Gauges indicate engine temperature, fuel, torpedo status, sonar detection, and depth charge detection. To be honest I don't really have a firm grasp of what all of these mean, but it's that subtle complexity that makes the game so intriguing. Submarine Commander demands frantic shooting and quick maneuvering at times, but you need to know when to let things cool off. When you're out of fuel, a wild laser sound effect lets you know your game is over. Fast, fun, and unique, Submarine Commander is probably one of the more underappreciated Atari cartridges. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 7A
Our high score: 1715
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
As a big Imagic fan, I can't believe
it took me so long to review this game. If I was waiting to obtain a complete copy of the game first, that's not going to happen (this game is rare
). Imagic was known for its well-programmed, visually-appealing software, and Subterranea fits that description. You control a ship that can freely move around the screen and fire rapidly to the left or right. The first screen pits you against a truly hideous beast called a "Hexuplex". This green monstrosity roves around the bottom of the screen, deploying killer "aerobots" that try to ram you. The best strategy is to keep your distance from those things so you can get a clean shot at them. I also noticed a pixelated pattern across the top of the screen that looks like an ominous figure looming over you. After blasting so many aerobots a hole appears that lets you descend into the depths. It really sucks that you can't kill that ugly Hexuplex! The next two stages take place in side-scrolling caverns where you shoot chomping creatures. There's not much to see but I like how the cave walls are lined with human skulls. Between stages an "electro gate" appears, and you must time your descent to avoid its charges. Subterranea looks and sounds nice, but it's not particularly fun. By the time the screens started to repeat, my heart really wasn't in it anymore. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2-1
Our high score: 5625
Publisher: Hozer (2000)
If you've mastered Adventure and are looking for some real punishment, Suicide Adventure is for you. Let me tell you, this thing is relentless! Not only are the rooms reshaped and often cluttered with obstacles, but the dragons are truly ferocious! You can't outrun them and they snap their jaws in an instant. This game may be a little bit too
hard, but it makes for some exciting, fast-paced action. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Suicide Mission is a cassette-loading game by Starpath which owes more than a little bit to Asteroids. It even manages to simulate low-quality vector graphics. The objects look rough, but at least they move very smoothly. The background story involves a microscopic submarine injected into a patient to destroy viruses. That would explain why these asteroids look like shape-changing amoebas. Your sub has substantial firepower, so you can shoot several shots at once (nice!). Your sub controls are similar to those in Asteroids, but instead of hyperspace, you have a shield, and thrusting gives you no momentum. Suicide Mission isn't very original, but it's a perfectly respectable shooter with some innovative graphics. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
What's so "super" about this? All Atari did was take Realsports Baseball, turn up the contrast, and slow down
the action to a crawl! If this was Atari's attempt to fix Realsports Baseball, then they shouldn't have bothered. Super Baseball looks and plays nearly the same as its worthless predecessor, but the colors are deeper and the players are shorter. The insipid gameplay has been left intact, and the players look slightly worse
as they are now rendered in a single color. They do move faster - faster than the ball in some cases! In fact, it's more effective to have your outfielder run
around the bases tagging runners out than to throw the ball! Throws don't go sailing over basemen's heads as often as they did in Realsports Baseball, but batted balls are still hit to the same spots over and over. Unlike Realsports, you have the additional annoyance of having to wait for the batters lounging to and from home plate These guys are so slow
that it's comical. My buddy Scott and I were literally rolling on the floor laughing
as we watched these guys literally crawl to the batter's box. You could heat up a pizza in the oven in the time it takes for one of these slackers to step up to the plate! The CPU opponent is nearly invincible, and playing against a human opponent is just plain unpleasant. There's a nice title screen, but it can't hide the fact that Super Baseball is repackaged garbage. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1981)
As most of you probably know, Atari is famous (or infamous) for its elaborate label illustrations that radically
overstate the contents of the actual game. Super Breakout is a prime example, showing an astronaut floating in space and smashing a rainbow-colored wall with a stick (I'm sure there's a Space Shuttle in the background somewhere
). I'm sorry, but even the most active imagination would find it hard to pretend that Breakout was some kind of perilous space adventure. In terms of gameplay, Super Breakout is better than the original, but that's not saying much. Variations feature double-paddles, multiple balls, and even "progressive walls" that gradually move down the screen. There are also some "metallic" sound effects that are so futuristic that you'll feel like you're in the mid-eighties
! Super Breakout is mildly entertaining, but I couldn't help but think of all the opportunities Atari missed. First of all, couldn't they have improved the control so you weren't at the mercy of the predetermined angles? And you'd think they could have worked in some two-player cooperative modes. In the final analysis, Super Breakout is okay but should have been better. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3B
Our high score: MKG 1,656
1 or 2 players
Super Challenge Baseball
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Many classic gamers have fond memories of Super Challenge Baseball and that's understandable. Compared to Atari's super-lame Homerun, Super Challenge is a full-featured baseball extravaganza. You can throw a wide range of pitches, steal bases, and easily toss the ball between bases. It's hard to believe, but the simple fact that there's a diamond
fielders (no shortstop) was notable for its time. The pitching and hitting controls are simple enough, but taking control of the correct fielder requires a complicated combination of button and joystick movements. It's not insurmountable, but there's a steep learning curve. Once you get it down however, it suddenly becomes really, really
hard to score. Every hit is treated as a grounder, although homeruns can occur if the ball travels off the screen. The graphics are substandard - even for a 2600 title. My friend Scott speculated that M-Network devised a special algorithm to make the graphics extra
blocky for this game! The diamond is jagged as hell, and who can possibly make sense of that confusing hodgepodge of numbers on the top of the screen? The fielders resemble men's room symbols, but at least the flicker is kept to a minimum. As with most M-Network titles, this game lacks a single-player mode. Super Challenge Baseball isn't as super as it used to be, and once you grasp its non-intuitive controls, the challenge part goes out the window as well. Still, this is at least worth pulling out for nostalgia's sake. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Super Challenge Football
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
In its time, this was easily the most popular football game for the Atari 2600. Super Challenge looks absolutely terrific with its side-scrolling field, full set of hash marks, and players that look somewhat realistic. The play-calling procedure has a slight learning curve, but in time it becomes second nature. Before each play, your quarterback instructs each teammate to block in a certain direction, go out for a pass, or act as a decoy receiver. On defense, the safety assigns each teammate to rush or cover a receiver. It's actually quite ingenious when you consider all the possibilities. Interceptions are possible, but there are no kicks, punts, or running out of bounds. The game's most famous (or perhaps infamous) feature is the ability for the defender to run off one side of the screen and reappear on the other. It's pretty silly, but sometimes the only way to catch a breakaway receiver. It's also not uncommon for the guy with the ball to "fake out" the defender - leaving him in the dust! Super Challenge Football plays very well, but the lack of crowd noise makes the game far too quiet. The down and quarter indicators are displayed in the center of the screen, but these are awfully small. A single-player mode would have been nice. But all things considered, Super Challenge Football is a lot of fun, and it's one of several quality football games for the 2600. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1982)
Super Cobra and its predecessor, Scramble, are two of my favorite arcade shooters of all time, but this is a major disappointment. Most Atari 2600 translations of arcade games at least capture the spirit
of the game, but this does not
feel like Super Cobra. The arcade version is an intense side-scroller where you guide a chopper that shoots forward and drops bombs, inflicting massive destruction. This 2600 version is lacking in just about every possible way. Let's begin with the graphics. The terrain is just a bunch of horizontal lines - they're not even solid! Needless to say, it looks hideous. But the real travesty lies in the "animation", and I use the term loosely. The scrolling is extremely jerky and hard on the eyes. Your chopper jumps all over the place - not good for a game that requires precise control. The fire button alternates between the missiles and bombs, but you can only shoot one at a time - man that's lame. Finally, despite the graphical limitations, this game is remarkably easy. Fuel is abundant, and the floating UFOs (lemons) that were so hard to beat in the arcade are sitting ducks in this version. Losing lives is usually the result of the poor control. Parker Bros. really screwed this one up. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
It's a shame this cartridge was released near the very end of the Atari 2600's lifecycle, because it really knocked my socks off. Super Football is the missing link between the early "flat" football games and the Genesis Madden titles. Its vertical-scrolling field is rendered in a pseudo-3D style, with small players that actually scale
as they move in and out! The five players on each team are rendered in multiple colors, but the colors selected by the programmers were ill-advised to say the least. Not only are the two teams hard to differentiate, but the two user-controlled players wear different uniforms as well! That's just too many colors on the screen at once. The play-calling scheme is rather complex, and you'll need to consult the manual to select formations and receiver patterns. Once again, the incompetent folks at Atari really let us down with regards to the remarkably cheap instruction booklet. If you're not going to include a quick reference sheet for plays, at least
list the offensive and defensive formations on adjacent pages! As it is, the two players not only need to constantly pass the instructions back and forth, but they need to flip through the pages as well! The action on the field is pretty decent. The ball moves in a nice arc, but completing passes to those tiny receivers is tough. The game incorporates kick-offs, punts, and field goals, making it the most comprehensive football game for the system. Yes, you can actually see the football sailing through the uprights! Heck, you can even have a player in motion at the line of scrimmage! The black and white console switch serves the purpose of a pause button, and that's really handy. The single player mode boasts four skill levels, including a novice setting where the CPU selects your plays for you. Extremely ambitious and fun to play as well, Super Football really pushes the system to its limits. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Superman is an early Atari 2600 adventure that lets you freely fly around Metropolis as the Man of Steel. Your goal is to rebuild a bridge, carry crooks to jail, save Lois Lane, and revert back into Clark Kent in the shortest time. There are few hazards to slow you down, but if you touch the floating kryptonite you'll need to reunite with Lois to regain your ability to fly. Much like Adventure
(Atari 2600, 1980) you move between contiguous screens, and you can even take "short cuts" through the subway. The problem is, Superman's screen layout is confusing! One reader contended that "even a young child could figure it out." Really?
I've seen a map of the game, and the screens are wired together in a manner that defies logic. It's possible to move down off one screen, and move back up only to find yourself on a third screen. It doesn't help that they all look the same with those blocky building backdrops. The characters look pretty good. They're large and rendered in multiple colors. When you get a few large objects on the same screen however they start to flicker like crazy, making it very hard to pick up or drop items. Classic gamers will appreciate Superman's old school charm and it's always a challenge to beat your best time. Still, the poorly-designed screen layout too often made me feel like I was on a wild goose chase. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: BB
Our high score: 1852
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Surround is one of the earliest Atari 2600 games, and you'll believe it when you witness its archaic graphics and beeping sound effects. After playing a few rounds with a friend, we were pretty much at a loss regarding how to grade it. There's not much here to criticize, but there's nothing to get excited about either. The bottom line is that Surround doesn't have much in the way of substance. Two players guide blocks around the screen. Each block leaves a wall behind it, and you win when your opponent collides with a wall. Although it's sometimes possible to cut the other guy off, winning is largely a function of not dying
before the other guy does. Twelve variations include diagonal movement, an erase option, and "wrap around", which allows you to move off one side of the screen and re-enter on the opposite side. The best option is "speed up", which gradually increases the pace of the game. The computer opponent is a complete idiot, but Surround is mildly amusing with two players. And let's not forget the "video graffiti" variations that let you paint blocky pictures on the screen. It's hard to believe this was once considered entertainment. Surround was one of the first Atari games to be discontinued. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 5
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Starpath (1983)
Spawned from the depths of hell, Survival Island is one of the most unpleasant experiences I've ever had to endure. I'd prefer to be marooned on a deserted island and beaten savagely by a band of apes every day for the rest of my life than play this masochistic piece of garbage again. Survival Island is one of those tape-loading games, and there are three separate nauseating stages. The graphics aren't bad, but the gameplay is vomit-inducing. In the first stage, you swim in an ocean with a volcanic island in the background. The smoke rising from the island looks nice, and I like how the island looms closer as you swim towards it. Unfortunately, that island is a lot
farther away that it appears. You'll have to push against the top of the screen for what seems an eternity as you slowly
swim toward the thing. You'll find supplies floating in the water, but you must avoid the occasional shark and some green thing that resembles a snake. If they touch you, you die instantly and have to restart this brutal ordeal from the beginning. It's awfully laborious, and there's little strategy involved. But if you thought that was bad, wait until you play the unforgiving second stage, where you aimlessly wander the island in search of a temple. The instructions recommend "mapping" your journey, and I can see why. The island is a maze of paths that all look the same with invisible death traps all over the place. You can go into "search mode" if you want to be extra careful, but then it takes an eternity just to walk across one screen! You can move reasonably fast, but instant death is around every corner. Only by noting the exact
trap locations on each screen will you possibly survive. Lacking the intestinal fortitude to continue, I quit in disgust at this point. No, I never saw the third stage, but if the instructions are any indication, I didn't miss a thing. Basically it's one of those much-maligned first-person mazes with invisible walls (yuck), one-way walls (ugh), and transporters (arrgh!!) all over the place. Once again, you're forced to map your progress - not my idea of a good time! Then again, it's an appropriate ending to an absolutely abysmal excuse for a game. I can't believe the 2600 Connection gave Survival Island four out of five stars in 1993. What the [expletive] were they thinking
?! © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Milton Bradley (1983)
I used to think this first-person shooter was pretty cool, but in retrospect, Survival Run is average at best. More sophisticated than your garden-variety 2600 shooter, you use a crosshair to navigate 3D passages and shoot bat-like creatures. Your goal is to exit a maze before you run out of fuel. The complete maze is displayed on the top on the screen, and you'll need to keep an eye on it to prepare for your next turn. Occasionally you'll encounter a flickering force field you can deactivate by shooting its "switch", which takes the form of a block placed in a random spot on the screen. To be honest, it's hard to tell if you shot the switch in time or ran into the force field. Poorly defined, blocky creatures scale in from the distance, but they're easy to shoot thanks to your rapid-fire gun. Unfortunately, you'll want to minimize your shots because they drain your energy. Should you reach the end of the maze, you'll encounter a boss that you'll need to pump some serious lead into. Once again, it's difficult to tell if you defeat him, since the game abruptly switches over to a new maze. I wasn't thrilled with Survival Run, but it might be more interesting to play with the special controller the game was originally packaged with. According to the instructions, the "Cosmic Commander" required four "D" size batteries, and featured light and vibration special effects. If I ever get a hold of that beast, I'll update this review. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 5
Publisher: Retrotopia (2000)
Unlike most Atari 2600 games, Sword Fight features some tall, well-animated fighters. It's a shame the developer couldn't secure it a Star Wars license, because it would have made for a perfect light saber battle game. From the minute you see those swords "power up", the Star Wars influence is obvious. Heck, even the game description was written as if to avoid a lawsuit: "Two knights face each other at the edge of the universe. Gripping their 'laser swords', they advance, prepared to fight to the death...". Swordfight was programmed by one of Mattel's famous Blue Sky Rangers, Steve "Don't Sue Me" Tatsumi in 1983. While it was never released by Mattel, Retrotopia thankfully resurrected it in 2000. The joystick allows for three types of attacks (overhead, right, left), and three types of blocks. You can advance and retreat using the fire button. According to the manual, "once players get familiar with the moves, long and challenging battles are possible". I have to agree - the game is confusing at first but it's not bad once you get a handle on the controls. Sword Fight is an innovative title unlike anything else I've played on the 2600, and collectors should definitely try to pick up a copy. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Starpath (1983)
Starpath was a company that released a series of games on cassette tape that had to be loaded using their Supercharger attachment. Most were of high quality, so what the heck happened here? Something bad! Sword of Saros starts out promising enough. The object is to escape from a series of mazes while being pursued by a wizard and a bat. Pressing the fire button displays a menu of items, including crosses, scrolls, and rings. Your tiny character can quickly scamper down hallways, but it's far too easy to get hung up on the corners. Scattered throughout the mazes are rooms, and entering each one switches the game to a full screen view. Here you'll see treasures and items lining the top and bottom of the screen, and a monster lurking in the center. These creatures are hardly intimidating, and some look downright goofy. While in these rooms, the control is atrocious. Your character moves sluggishly, and inexplicably pauses every few steps. There's no strategy involved in avoiding the monster, which moves in the same stilted manner. Worse yet, to grab an item you must press against it for a few seconds - not fun when you have a monster bearing down on you. Adding insult to injury, the exits are unmarked and can only be located by pressing against the walls. These sequences alone are sufficient to downgrade the game to an F. The maze section isn't bad, and I do like the idea of using items, but these room encounters are simply too painful to endure. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Swordquest was designed to be a four-game series, each with its own puzzle, and solving all four games would reveal a monumental secret. Unfortunately, the series began prior to the big video game crash of '83, and as a result only Earthworld and Fireworld were widely released. Waterworld is an extremely rare collector's item, and the fourth title, Airworld, was never even made. In light of those events, I think it's safe to say the project was a huge failure. So I don't feel too bad about trashing this horrendous game. It's designed to be used with a comic book, an idiotic idea if I ever heard one. You control a man who looks a lot like Mr. Rogers in a light-blue sweater and light green pants. Wandering aimlessly from room to room, you will find many useless, boring objects. Some rooms provide challenging mini-games with some of the most heinous graphics and gameplay ever. That's about it. This is some ill-conceived garbage. The sad part is, this was supposed to be the sequel to Adventure, one of the most beloved Atari 2600 games of all time! But these Swordquest games are only of value to collectors. Steer clear. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Here's the second title of the ill-conceived, ill-fated, and just plain ill series of Swordquest games. In this unexciting chapter, your man is a solid color (no blue sweater!), and the rooms all contain CIRCULAR obstacles this time (wow). The method for manipulating items is the same as in Earthworld, but it doesn't matter because you don't care about those worthless things! You just want to play those mini-game challenges! And boy oh boy do we have some stinkers here. Whether you're catching birds with a Mexican blanket, or shooting turkeys with a slingshot, the medieval fantasy theme really shines through. Of course, these are just my interpretations of the poor graphics. I'm sure other people could come up with even more imaginative stuff, but you get the idea. This game is one of the absolute worst, and should be the object of much ridicule. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2007)
If you've ever tried to play a musical game like Donkey Konga, Samba De Amigo, or Dance Dance Revolution without
the special controller, you know that's no fun at all. Sync tries to incorporate joystick control into the popular rhythm/reflex genre, but it doesn't work very well. There are tons of variations, but just because you throw a lot of stuff against a wall doesn't mean something will stick. In "Mantra" and "Jitter" you must quickly respond to a sequence of directional arrow and button prompts. "Flow" is a puzzle game where you stack bars around the screen in order to clear out adjacent stacks. "Four" is a collection of marginal mini games, including 1K versions of "Jitter" and "Flow". On a positive note, the user interface is well constructed, with a nifty menu system that makes it easy to navigate the game types and adjust your skill level. A few of the game variations are playable, but none are particularly enjoyable. In terms of audio, Sync plays impressive layered melodies during the menu screens, but the audio during the games is very repetitive. As for the AtariVox support, a robotic voice utters some gibberish whenever you make a successful move, but that gets annoying after approximately five seconds. My friends really hated Sync, and Scott lamented it was "so bad it gave me cancer". I suspect he was exaggerating, but there's no question that Sync lacks that addictive quality desireable for any rhythm-based title. Everyone raved about the cartridge label and manual however, which look extremely attractive and professional. Clearly some talented people were involved with this project, but I'm afraid they need to find some better material. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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