Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Publisher: Sega (1985)
Pitfall II (Atari 2600, 1983) was an ambitious title for the Atari 2600 and at a glance this SG-1000 version looks just as good. It's got the same rollicking musical score and the scenery is actually more detailed. Pink scorpions, silver electric eels, and flying frogs (?) are smoothly animated with no signs of flicker. The question is, why in the world is Pitfall Harry decked out in a blue suit and bobby hat? He looks like he belongs in Keystone Kapers
(Atari 2600, 1983) for crying out loud. Anyway the controls are responsive enough and you get plenty of clearance when leaping over scorpions and rolling logs. Upon releasing from a swinging vine you land with a pronounced thud. Jumping across crocodiles is more effortless than other versions of the game, and for those who think the concept is silly check out the famous crocodile stunt
from the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die. The main problem with this version of Pitfall II is poor design. The rooms have been awkwardly remixed, perhaps as a side-effect of squeezing the game onto a card. Some of the early screens tease you with bags of money that are physically impossible to reach. I don't know if the programmer did this by accident or was just being a douchebag. My friends hated this game. They couldn't score a single point!
In order for Harry to "get paid" he must survive a series of harrowing cave passages with falling stalactites, ice patches, and hard-to-avoid swooping birds. When he gets killed his body simply floats upward. Is he supposed to be a ghost? If so, why doesn't he look any different? Once you reach the underground river the game opens up with multiple paths and doesn't suck nearly as much. This may be a poor-man's version of Pitfall II, but I still played the heck out of it. If nothing else, this gives fans of the game a whole new adventure to embark upon. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8,000
Publisher: Sega (1983)
I don't know what's worse about this game, the fact that it sounds like a derogatory term or the fact it stars a bong-toking mouse. In Pop Flamer you guide a gray mouse around a vertically-scrolling maze while being pursued by cute animals. Your adversaries include a mole, octopus, and bastard frog that really seems to have it out for me. The whimsical characters, colorful scenery, and ice cream truck music are pleasant enough. Scattered around the maze are balloons you collect for points. Balloons also give you the ability to breath fire
) and burn your enemies to a crisp. It's best to keep your distance however, because those guys have the ability to freeze you with their mind-control waves. At the top and bottom of the screen are bongs and I have no idea what you're supposed to use them for (outside the obvious). Pop Flamer is challenging due to rapidly respawning enemies but mainly due to horrendous controls. In most maze games you navigate invisible lanes but here you'll get hung up on an opening just because you're one pixel off! The controls feel so stiff I felt the need to switch controllers which is never
a good sign. The collision detection is downright appalling. My friend Scott was totally incensed after he walked over a balloon several times yet it failed to register. It didn't help matters when I commented "I think you missed it." At the end of the first stage a pumpkin boss appears which you "beat" simply by touching him. The second stage seems better because it's more wide open, yet that just means animals converge on you faster. The games don't last long but you get a little further each time. I like Pop Flamer for its unique qualities, but boy oh boy, these technical issues are just too much. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,700
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sega (1984)
I've never been on a real African safari, so everything I know about them I learned from this game. Apparently there's a wide road with racing curbs running straight down the center of the continent. As you drive down the road at speeds of 300 kpm, you'll veer from side-to-side to avoid lions, elephants, and rhinos! Wow, safari's are fun!
Wait, was that a freakin' reindeer?
The graphics aren't bad. In fact, my buddy Brent recognized the car on the title screen as a Lancia Stratos. The mountains in the distance look great but scaling objects are hollow, calling to mind the LCD portable games of the 1980's. The animals are detailed but single-colored and move in predictable patterns. The control scheme is bizarre, requiring you to push up or down to accelerate. The music is an annoying little jingle and the faster you go the faster it plays. Eventually the pace reaches comical proportions, calling to mind the Benny Hill theme. If Safari Race has one thing going for it, it's the challenge. Just finishing the first stretch is a monumental achievement. Your fuel depletes so fast you can literally watch the gauge drain before your eyes! You need to "dock" with blue gas pumps on the side of the road to refuel, and going from 300 kph to a dead stop is not easy! Fortunately there are signs (which look like safes) to tip you off when a pump is ahead. The animals are actually pretty easy to avoid since they only show up one at a time. If you do crash, you have four "wheels" per stage, so no big deal. Safari Race is a racer that succeeds in spite of itself. It's not well designed and frankly pretty silly, yet you'll find yourself trying so hard
to beat this thing. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11,047
Publisher: Sega (1983)
The SG-1000 library isn't exactly loaded with big-name titles so Sega-Galaga stands out like a sore thumb. Sega must have been really proud of this one to slap its name on it! The graphics, sound effects, controls, and smooth animation are quite faithful to the arcade. Each wave begins with aliens entering the screen in swirling patterns before settling into an armada formation. You can fire rapidly by tapping a button and the high-resolution explosions look like blood splattering. When you shoot boss ships point values are rendered right on the screen. As all Galaga fans know it's good strategy to let one ship get captured so you can "rescue it" and acquire the highly-coveted double-shot. The only thing missing from Sega-Galaga are the not-so-challenging "challenge" bonus stages. Their absence makes the game feel a little repetitive, especially since the waves are so short. Then again when you have the doubleshot every stage feels like a bonus stage. The aliens enter the screen so slowly you can usually wipe them out before they even have a chance to fall into formation. The game offers minimal resistance until around stage 10, and by then the carpal tunnel will be setting in. Now the aliens descend so quickly you don't really have a chance. Some even try to ram you from below. It would preferred the game begin on a higher difficulty and ramp more gradually. Another issue is how your dark blue shots tend to blend into the black background. I didn't mind it too much but it really seemed to irk my friends. Sega-Galaga could have used some tweaks in the difficulty department but captures the spirit of the arcade game just fine. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 79,320
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sega (1985)
It may look as generic as its name, but Star Force was a precursor to more notable vertical shooters such as Space Megaforce
(SNES, 1992). This game has a straightforward style that's hard to resist. You just hold down the button for continuous fire while blasting criss-crossing alien ships. You can fire quite a bit faster if you'll willing to tap the button like a madman. Your ship glides over blue platforms etched with odd shapes and letters. If there's any significance to those letters and symbols they are lost on me. Star Force is super hard. Enemies not only attack in large groups but unleash barrages of projectiles. Your ship moves slowly and it's easy to run out of real estate when the screen becomes crowded. Some of the less-intelligent enemies conveniently line up directly in your line of fire, but the hamburger-shaped aliens are less considerate and will attempt to ram you from the side. Once per stage you have an opportunity snag a power-up that effectively doubles your firepower. Make sure you get that thing because it's awesome! It makes your ship twice as large however, so enjoy it while it lasts. The bosses are kind of a joke. At the end of stage A you face a floating box with the letter "A" emblazoned upon it. Care to guess what the boss in stage B looks like? Despite its repetitive nature Star Force is a fine shooter I never get tired of playing. Simplicity and challenge make for one potent combination. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 114,800
Publisher: Sega (1985)
Perhaps the most playable home version of Zaxxon ever created, this cartridge validated my decision to pick up an SG-1000. Zaxxon was a groundbreaking isometric shooter in 1982, letting you soar over walls and buzz low to take out cannons and fuel depots. The Colecovision version looked sharp but suffered from stiff controls. This version features smooth, responsive steering that make it a pleasure to play. One issue you do notice right off the bat is the choppy scrolling. While the walls of the space platform convey the illusion of depth, the landscape just sort of "chunks along" below you. It's unsightly at first but after a while you really don't even notice. A meter along the left edge runs from 0 to 7, gauging your altitude. It's always tempting to clear a tall wall and immediately drop down low enough to strike the next depot. When your ship explodes, the chunky pixelated effect looks kind of lame. Strafing depots and cannons is easy, especially since they rarely fire back. The space stages have an audio-visual indicator to let you know if you're lined up with an enemy - a feature missing from other versions. One stage takes place in a dark tunnel and it looks impressive. The boss is a medium-sized ship with one big guided missile you need to shoot down. The audio is a pleasant surprise, offering clear sound effects and excellent, otherworldly music. Zaxxon for the SG-1000 is probably guilty of being too easy and repetitive (didn't I just play this stage?), but it's nice to finally enjoy the game without spraining my wrist. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 30,700
Publisher: Sega (1983)
I'm sorry, but this motorcycle racer gets docked a letter grade for its name alone. Zippy Race?
C'mon now. The action begins with an overhead view and the sound of your motorcycle revving sounds more like somebody passing gas. Working your way up from 90th place, you weave around traffic while driving down branching roads. The pleasant scenery offers fountains, houses, and well-manicured landscaping. Holding in the accelerator lets you reach a speed of 210 KPH, but it seems a lot
slower than that. Cars in front of you try really hard
to block you, but there's an easy trick for getting around those guys. As you approach their rear bumper, just tap your brakes to effectively freeze them in their tracks. Hey, I never said the game made any sense. Eventually your viewpoint changes to a behind-the-rider view with a glitzy Las Vegas skyline in the distance. It looks freakin' awesome but dag
this part is boring. The cars you pass are so slow they appear to be moving in reverse!
Upon reaching your destination you receive a bonus before heading off to the next city. I love how the game puts quotes around each destination, as if it's being facetious about you going to "Houston". Where in the hell is the arch in the St. Louis skyline?! "St. Louis", huh? Yeah right!
Stages alternate between suburban roads and dirt tracks with mud puddles and rivers. You can tell where the ramps are because they actually have the word "JUMP" stamped onto them. Real subtle, huh? The key to this game is maintaining your fuel supply, but being on the same side of the road as the gas cans often comes down to luck. Once you finally reach New York (quite the accomplishment, by the way) the game restarts at the 750cc level. By then I guarantee that horrible looping music will have pushed you over the edge. Zippy Race is mildly entertaining but hardly something you'll want to play over and over. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: BSC 90,300
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