Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
In Failsafe you drive a tank across a side-scrolling landscape while methodically taking out rotating cannons, roving jeeps, and heat-seeking cruise missiles. Your ultimate goal is to guess the four-digit "failsafe" code, which you're given various hints about periodically during the game. I like Failsafe's bit-mapped graphic style, which takes me back to my Atari 8-bit days (Eastern Front, anyone?). I also got a kick out of that jaunty title screen tune which incorporates explosion sound effects into its melody. Failsafe's opening stage lets you invade small townships, and later you'll travel on highways, beaches, and the inside of a fort. Your tank moves smoothly with its animated treads, and it's surprisingly agile and easy to control. That's good, because the two keys to this game are positioning and timing. Your diagonal line-of-fire is slightly different than your enemies, and you can exploit this fact to systematically destroy them. You also have better range, so as long as you can avoid crossfire situations, you're not in imminent danger. Spicing up the action are power-ups left behind by blown-up enemies. These icons provide invincibility, extended shooting range, and the ability to freeze enemies momentarily. These powers really don't affect your strategy, which is always pretty much the same. Failsafe's slow, deliberate pace might test the patience of action-oriented gamers. When you snag a "speed" power-up you'll be tempted to whiz right across the screen, but more often than not that strategy places you in harm's way. If you play it right, Failsafe can be a little time-consuming. It's not the kind of thing you'll want to play over and over again, but if you're in the mood to really hunker down with a well-programmed shooter, this is a safe bet. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Intermediate
Our high score: 37,850
Publisher: Atari (1990)
Fatal Run is similar to Pole Position, except instead of racing other cars, you're blowing them up. Your mission in each stage is to make it to the next city in time to save the people there. You have an arsenal of weapons and supplies. The graphics are similar to Pole Position, except there are also hills and valleys which are very effectively rendered. Control is only fair. At times it's tough to keep your car on the road, and it's also hard to see oncoming cars. Blowing up other cars is fun at first, but since they are basically sitting ducks, the initial thrill wears thin. I didn't find Fatal Run to be very exciting. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
This boxing game got me pretty excited initially with its sharp, detailed graphics, but the gameplay proved to be an utter disaster. There are twelve large characters to choose from, and no two look alike. Rendered in numerous colors with black outlines, their exaggerated features give the game a whimsical Punch Out (NES) flavor. Similarities to that classic end there. In Fight Night, the action is viewed from the side, and there's absolutely NOTHING
in the background. You'd think they could put a few obligatory spectators out there at least. The fighters look great - until they start moving! The animation is so jerky and disjointed that you can't even tell what the heck's going on! When a boxer leans forward I can't tell if he's keeling over or lunging for me! The collision detection is atrocious - punches that aren't even close
register as hits. There are only two punches (high and low), and the "fake" and "guard" moves aren't even worth the effort. The life meters replenish so quickly that you can never seem to get ahead. The "running water" crowd sound effects are embarrassing, and the "training" modes are pointless. In the end, Fight Night is a frustrating button masher that pales in comparison to Punch Out. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Not only is Food Fight an outstanding arcade-style game, but it's pretty much exclusive to the Atari 7800 console. The action is fast and fun as you move a kid from the right side of the screen to a melting ice cream cone on left. Potholes and piles of food are randomly placed around an otherwise wide-open screen. Chefs emerge from the potholes and try to stop the kid, but they can be defeated by throwing food at them. I really love the simple premise, and the ability to hurl food in a rapid-fire manner is immensely satisfying. I especially love how the bananas rotate as they fly through the air. Food Fight isn't too difficult until the chefs also begin tossing food, creating some nasty crossfire situations. Once the kid reaches the ice cream, he freakishly unhinges his jaw
like a python to swallow the entire thing. You're then rewarded bonus points as the unused food is literally sucked into your score. Likewise, when caught by a chef, all the food converges on you, creating a big mess. Occasionally a round is played back in a "slow motion" replay, but I could have done without that. If you own an Atari 7800, Food Fight needs to be in your library. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2016)
The 1980 arcade hit Berzerk was a futuristic game of survival, pitting a single man against an army of cold, unfeeling robots in an endless sequence of mazes. Its sequel Frenzy didn't garner much attention or receive an Atari home release - until now! This glorious new cartridge from Atari Age
includes both Frenzy and Berzerk, along with some unexpected multiplayer variations. Your goal is always to exterminate all robots on the screen (for a sweet bonus) before the invincible bouncing head "Evil Otto" chases you out. The robots aren't too bright and cajoling them into shooting or colliding with each other is part of the fun. The colors tend to be a bit monochromatic but the detail is good. Berzerk is pretty intense and you need to be quick on the trigger. Frenzy ups the ante by doubling the number of robots and incorporating destructive and reflective walls! With bullets passing through tiny openings and ricocheting all over the place, you may need to take your anxiety medication! Those skinny-ass skeletons are so hard to shoot from above or below, sidestepping your shots. But the thing that really burns me up about this game (literally) are the explosions. Not only are they deadly to touch, but they block your shots at well! Still, Frenzy is addictive as hell. I love how you can continue to score points after you die
(the perfect time to earn a free life, by the way). The game incorporates Otto's digitized voice with memorable lines like "intruder alert" and "chicken, fight like a robot". Sadly, Otto has a lot of phlegm in his throat (allergies?) which makes him hard to understand. I kind of wish there was an option to turn off the voice since it pauses the action momentarily, hurting the flow of the game - especially in two-player mode. Speaking of which, in addition to alternating turns, you can play cooperatively or competitively! Coop is a blast, but it's the competitive mode that really takes things to a new level. During one epic game I narrowly eluded Otto, leaving my friend Scott in a precarious position. But just as I was making a celebratory exit, Scott shot me in the back! A cartridge like Frenzy cartridge not only revives a pair of classics but gives retro gamers the ability to experience them in exciting new ways. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8,899
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Galaga is arguably the most popular shooter of all time. Its gameplay is similar to Galaxian, except the insect-like aliens fly around in patterns before settling into their formation. Sacrificing a ship gives you the opportunity to double your firepower later, which is quite helpful during the "challenge" stages. To be honest, this Galaga does NOT compare favorably to the Nintendo version (1988), which was virtually arcade-perfect. In this 7800 version, your cannon is quite a bit smaller, making it easier to dodge bombs. The aliens look a bit washed out, and the boss aliens aren't any larger than the others. At least the distinctive Galaga melodies and sound effects are included. To be fair, this game was actually written in 1984, although it sat on the shelf until 1987 (nice going Atari)! The gameplay is still fast and furious, but ONLY on the expert
mode (forget about the others). In a way, I like the fact that this version is unique, because I've already played the original one to death. Be sure to use a good arcade-style 2600 joystick instead of the standard 7800 controller for this one. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It has become apparent to me that sports games are NOT the strength of the 7800. This one-on-one hockey game contains some very choppy animation and is about as fun as getting smacked in the head with a puck. The rink looks nice, but the players are difficult to discern from the overhead view. Control is unresponsive and the animation is rough, making this game almost as difficult to watch as to play (but not quite!). On a positive note, you can control the goalie by holding down the fire button. Overall this is pretty bad. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1990)
This vertically-scrolling shooter lets one or two players play Rambo through several jungle stages. While the action is fast and fun, comparisons to the NES version are unavoidable. The graphics are much sharper and cleaner on the NES, and the animation is smoother as well. Fortunately, the 7800 gameplay is about the same, if not better. Still, the graphics do detract somewhat from the experience. For example, it's difficult to tell when an enemy soldier has been shot - it looks like he takes a few steps backwards and disappears. Still I found the control to be excellent, better than the NES. You use the left button for shooting, and your right button to throw grenades. The difficulty level is fair and the exciting gameplay will keep you coming back for more. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1989)
Impossible Mission has everything: platforms, puzzles, robots, auto-mapping, and even randomly-generated levels!
You play a secret agent infiltrating a high-tech subterranean facility. Each room contains platforms with electronic equipment like mainframes, printers, and terminals. While standing in front of a machine a "searching..." progress meter appears. If it completes, it may or may not provide you with a clue. The thing is, nearly every platform is patrolled by indestructible rolling robots that fire electrical beams from their eyes. Most move in predictable patterns but some will mirror your movements. You'll often find yourself playing a tedious game of cat-and-mouse, darting over to a device whenever a robot is looking the other way. You can somersault over the robots, but precise timing and positioning is required. Your "portable computer" lets you piece together clues to form passwords, but it's hard!
A phone icon lets you "dial out" for hints, which is accompanied by distinctive dial tone and modem noises (circa 1982). Even if you overcome the sizeable learning curve however, you still have to play the game, and that's a problem! The audio is obnoxious as hell, and whenever you enter a room full of robots the noise is migraine-inducing. The abrasive sounds will bore into your brain like a small alien insect. I should also mention that a coding glitch makes it literally
impossible to finish the game, making this the saddest case of truth in advertising ever
. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SLN 1000
Publisher: Atari (1989)
Jinks gets credit for innovative design. It's a combination of breakout and pinball played over a wide, side-scrolling screen. You control a free-moving paddle used to direct the ball into bricks, bonuses, and finally the exit (on the far right side of the screen). Your goal is to clear out the screen before exiting. The graphics are detailed but limited in color. Later levels contain enemies that try to shrink your paddle or destroy your ball. The are four stages, and after completing the first, you can select your next challenge. The main problem with Jinks has to do with control and ball movement. I found it to be frustratingly difficult to move the ball where I wanted it to go. Also, the ball only moves at one angle, making its movement predictable and boring (unlike real pinball). At least the music is interesting. Jinks seemed cool at first, but frustration with the control left a bad taste in my mouth. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Any video game historian will tell you that Joust is one of the greatest all-time video games. It's also one of the most imaginative, featuring ostrich-riding knights attempting to knock each other off of their mounts. And I'm happy to say that this version is nearly identical to the arcade, and there are four difficulty levels. My only complaint is that the Atari 7800 standard joysticks are not well suited to this type of game. The buttons on the side of the controllers aren't conducive to constant tapping required to flap the wings. Still, you can always just hook up an Atari 2600 joystick instead. Go for it. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari Age (2014)
My friends are big fans of K.C. Munchkin
(Odyssey 2, 1981), so I was surprised at their negative reaction to this Atari 7800 remake. The gameplay is very similar to Pac-Man except the dots actually move around the maze
. The developer tried to stay faithful to the original K.C. Munchkin which was famously pulled from store shelves after Atari sued Magnavox for copyright infringement. The selectable mazes look exactly the same, but the characters have been reimagined with mixed results. The star of the game (a blue head with antenna) has been outfitted with a set of big white teeth which look pretty heinous! The gameplay is challenging and having only one life makes things exceptionally nerve-wracking. I love the worried look on K.C.'s face when he gets caught by a mutant. The main problem with the game is the controls, which is surprising considering the original had outstanding controls. It's hard to describe, but K.C. tends to move in fits and starts. This is really problematic when the action gets fast and there's no time to hesitate. Upon earning the high score you enter your initials at the bottom of the screen, but even that is awkward and confusing. I like the idea of bringing K.C. Munchkin to a wider audience, but in this case I'm afraid something was lost in translation. This cartridge is available from Atari Age
. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ 320
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Whoa, this game is simply horrendous!! Atari has taken a classic martial arts game and completely ruined it. Karateka was once a very popular, one-player karate game back in the early 80's. Kids in my high school used to play it on the Apple II, and the graphics used to astound me. Your warrior has to defeat a series of ninjas before facing the boss and saving the girl. In addition to the kung-fu action, sharp, realistic graphics were a big part of the game's appeal. In this version, the graphics aren't bad, but the animation is jerky as hell and the control is utterly poor. The controller is not responsive at all. Your fighter may or may not react to a button or joystick push you made three seconds before. Karateka was originally designed for keyboard control, and it shows. This implementation of joystick control is ill-conceived and completely counter-intuitive. For example, in order to punch right you need to press the joystick left. Just be glad that I've gone through this torture so you don't have to. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Absolute (1989)
This is one of those games that I know, deep down inside, is not very good. But I can't help it - I like
Kung Fu Master. It's a side-scrolling martial arts fighter that takes you through five floors of an Asian temple. You'll kick and punch ninjas, elude traps, and face off against bosses armed with weapons. Kung Fu's graphics are colorful enough, but all of the floors look the same! The controls are not exactly intuitive. The fire button initiates punches and kicks, but only
when you hold the joystick in a particular direction. Pressing the button alone does nothing
, which is very confusing! You can also jump or duck, which is critical to dodging projectiles. Your most common enemies are blue henchmen who hold up their arms like mindless zombies. Once they get you in their grasp, they'll try to hold you in place and drain your life. It's not obvious, but you can shake them off by wagging the joystick. One key to success is to keep moving
- you don't need to defeat every foe. Each boss weilds a traditional Japanese weapon such as a staff, a boomerang, or lightning. The game is definitely challenging, especially when you encounter that spastic knife-thrower on the third floor. I'd recommend using an Atari 2600 joystick, or anything that lets you tap the fire button rapidly. Kung Fu Master is an enjoyable fighter despite its awkward design. You just need a little patience and perseverance. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 42,980
1 or 2 players
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