F-15 Strike Eagle
Publisher: Microprose (1985)
one brings back some memories. I was very much into the Atari computer scene of the mid-80's, and F-15 Strike Eagle was a critically acclaimed jet fighter simulator. I generally steered away from realistic military games, but Strike Eagle had a certain arcade flair that won me over. Most simulations of the time featured abstract visuals, but F-15 renders everything on the screen with brilliant colors and bold black lines. The bottom of the screen displays a map of targets, a radar screen, and a diagram of your plane and its missile supply. A more realistic game would force you to painstakingly hunt down your first target, but in Strike Eagle, a wire-frame enemy plane appears right in front of you from the start! Shooting it down causes a chaotic pattern of blacks lines to appear. Bombing triangle-shaped ground installations is also straightforward, with a hit resulting in a bright flash and a satisfying "boom!
" The joystick makes it easy to maneuver your plane and fire weapons, but the game has a sophisticated side as well. The entire keyboard is used for a myriad of functions, like adjusting your speed, arming missiles, and discharging chaff to neutralize incoming missiles. The game has remarkable depth and is far more satisfying than most games of its kind. The manual contains a series of diagrams illustrating how your plane will react to the laws of physics. There are seven challenging missions to choose from, and a score is displayed after each game. The cockpit view was impressive in its time, but now its wire-frame terrain and triangular planes look pretty rough. The ultra low frame-rate doesn't help matters, resulting in choppy animation and less-than-crisp controls. It may not be the prize it once was, but for gamers with some patience and imagination, F-15 Strike Eagle still has the "right stuff". © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Final Legacy tries to be a sophisticated war epic with strategic implications, but under the surface it's just a series of mediocre shooting mini-games. You begin by viewing a map with a series of disjointed land masses. You move a circular cursor freely over the water, but it stops when it hits land for some odd reason. Your objective is to destroy all enemy bases while protecting your own. Moving your cursor near an enemy base causes a screen with an inset window to appear. In this small window you navigate a pseudo-3D green grid, blasting pink UFOs you position in your sights. Once they're wiped them out, you'll need to deal with one or more launched missiles. After you track them down on the map screen, you play another mini-game where you move a crosshair over scaling missiles on a black screen. Your third option is to engage warships at sea by firing torpedoes at skittish pixelated boats on the horizon. But since that seems to have no bearing on events, what's the point? Final Legacy wants to be more than the sum of its parts, but unfortunately, it's exactly
the sum of its parts. And those parts don't add up to much. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Flight Simulator II
Publisher: Atari/SubLogic (1987)
Originally released for the Atari 8-bit computers by SubLogic in 1984, this was one of the three pack-in games for the Atari XE game system. It's understandable why Flight Simulator II (FS2) was selected; it utilized the keyboard and made the package look more sophisticated as a whole. When first released in 1984, this program was certainly impressive. The physics and aircraft control are extremely realistic, and you can fly over four real areas of the United States. Taking off is easier than one would expect. You basically just set your flaps and apply throttle, and the plane takes off automatically. But once you reach the proper altitude, you begin to notice just how incredibly boring this whole affair is. There's really not much to see besides a few lines on the ground. If you're lucky
, you'll fly over some wireframe buildings, but there aren't many of these. There's not a whole lot to do
either. While there's an impressive array of gauges and controls, you won't even need most of them. Besides using most of the keyboard, FS2 uses the joystick which is terribly unresponsive. The plane's movements lag far beyond your joystick commands, making you prone to oversteering. FS2 comes with two 90-page highly technical manuals. The Operations Manual contains plenty of good information but is poorly organized. The second book contains all kinds of crazy flight physics information and diagrams which you'll never need to know. Certain games do not age well, and I think flight simulators fall into that category. I bet few people who bought the XE game system ever completed an entire flight. Even the WWI flying ace variation is sleep inducing. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1982)
Avalon Hill is an old gaming company originally based in Baltimore. It still remains an enduring - and endearing
- name in board game circles. I was thrilled to obtain a brand new copy of an Avalon Hill video game, even if it's just a so-so title like Flying Ace. Just look at that gorgeous box art
for crying out loud! You control a blocky biplane flying over a side-scrolling screen with generic trees and perfectly-rounded mountains. On the road below is a procession of trucks, jeeps, and artillery units. Blasting these requires good timing, because once you begin your dive (to aim your guns) there's little room between you and the ground. After hitting your target (or missing) you need to pull up immediately
. Complicating matters is a black biplane hot on your tail. Eventually the road ends and you need to land on a short runway. The directions for landing are unintentionally hilarious [view here]
. Flying Ace isn't bad but it's not good either. I like the fact that you can evade the black plane and sometimes shoot him down. The thing is, once you get into a rhythm each stage is just the same thing over and over. Though hardly a paragon of programming prowess, my friends seem to have a soft spot for Flying Ace. In my school days, my buddy Eric F. would have a ball playing this. And recently my friends were quick to defend it, telling me not to be so harsh. There's not much to Flying Ace, but I guess there's a certain charm in its innocent graphics and simple premise. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3400
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Electronic Gaming magazine once declared Forbidden Forest be "one of the top 50 games of all time". I can only assume they were referring to the Commodore 64 version, because this Atari edition is a mess
. You are an archer centered at the bottom of a screen, and as you move through a side-scrolling forest, giant spiders, bees, and frogs converge upon you. There's one bizarre creature that looks like a flying lobster claw!
After loading up an arrow (push forward and backward), you simply aim and shoot. It's fun for a while, and between stages your guy performs a little dance routine. The graphics are not bad! Some enemies scale in and out, and eventually you face larger foes like spear-chucking skeletons and creepy floating phantoms. Forbidden Forest has a few things going for it, but playability is not one of them. Too many monsters approach directly from the side, and since you can't shoot below a 45-degree angle, you're forced to flee like a total wuss!
Another major problem is the super-low difficulty. Most gamers will be able to play this thing indefinitely!
The headache-inducing looping background music doesn't help matters. Forbidden Forest is a prime example of what happens when a game is hastily ported between systems. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Synapse (1982)
It's time to bring the old-school back!
Destiny (Playstation 4, 2014) has nothing
on an old-school powerhouse like Fort Apocalypse! The title screen emanates a siren that just keeps escalating in intensity. Alarmed? You should
be, because this intense rapid-fire shooter delivers non-stop, white-knuckle thrills. You control a wireframe helicopter on a screen that scrolls in all directions. You're almost immediately thrust into a chaotic warzone with floating mines, mobile cannons, heat-seeking missiles, and attack helicopters. Explosions light up the sky and aircraft disintegrate under heavy fire. It's freakin' awesome, but the controls take some getting used to. As in Choplifter
(Atari 5200, 1984), you fire shots at a downward angle allowing you to strafe the surface. If you stop and rotate 90 degrees you can fire straight downward. Your challenge is to infiltrate a multi-level fortress, rescue prisoners, blow up the core, and escape. Its caverns are narrow so expect a lot of combat in tight spaces while blasting away at walls and dodging laser beams. Certain sections have rotating blocks which you need to follow closely. The problem is, the blocks are so large it's hard to tell which direction they are cycling. Another tricky element is the laser beams. Some teleport you to a different area (good) but some incinerate you (less good). Is it unfair? Probably, but this is an apocalypse
for crying out loud! Hey - you have ten lives so stop crying! The blue helicopter is your constant nemesis, often appearing unexpectedly (and scaring the hell out of you) - like Jason from Friday the 13th. Mobile missile launchers unleash heat-seeking missiles that get a "second wind" just when you think you've eluded them. Sometimes the missile will drop on its own launcher, which is awesome. The main flaw of the game is its brevity. After two gangbuster stages the game is over, prompting my friend Scott to ask, "that's it?" It brings the grade down, but the fact that Fort Apocalypse leaves you pining for more says a lot. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ 67,140
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Given the fact that this is basically the same game as the Atari 5200 version, why did this one score so much higher? Because you can actually control your friggin' frog, that's why! I still have painful flashbacks of trying to play Frogger with a Atari 5200 controller, despite trying to block it out of my mind. Fortunately on an Atari 8-bit system you can just grab your favorite Atari 2600 joystick and have a grand old time. The arcade-style graphics won me over in a big way, especially those big, crazy looking cars. Too bad the in-game melody of the original game is missing or this would have been the ultimate Frogger. There are two difficulty settings, and the fast one is a worthy challenge that kept me coming back for continual punishment. The turtles dive quickly, and the game is rather unforgiving when you try to jump onto the very edge of the a log. But thanks to its simple yet engrossing gameplay, Frogger remains a timeless classic. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Spectrum Holobyte (1985)
There's a reason why I shy away from realistic military simulations, and that's because they are so freakin' tedious
. Back in high school there was always a certain type of nerd who would savor the subtle details of a submarine simulation like Gato. Is it pronounced "gat-o" or "gate-o"? Either way, the game is 99% boring
. In fairness, I'm sure that life aboard an actual submarine is pretty dull most of the time too. The game has a nice tutorial, followed by a series of lengthy missions, most of which involve sinking enemy ships with torpedoes. It doesn't take long to figure out how to navigate, and the keyboard is used to view charts, radar, damage reports, captain's logs, and various periscope views. The problem is, your targets are usually halfway across the Pacific Ocean, and it takes forever
to reach them. It's particularly painful when you need to navigate around islands. The developers clearly put realism ahead of fun. Not only are ships named after actual WWII vessels, but your mission instructions are transmitted via Morse code! Unfortunately, Gato's sub-par graphics provide minimal pay-off. Once a wire-frame boat appears in view, it's only rendered from the side, even when it's speeding away
from you. When your torpedoes hit their mark you'll see a splash and bright flash, followed by a pathetic sinking animation (the ship goes down horizontally). Considering all the work involved to hunt down a single ship, that's pretty lame
! Repairing damage requires you to rendezvous with another friendly ship, but that just prolongs the agony, and Gato is one game experience you'll prefer to end sooner than later. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mindscape (1985)
Regurgitated from the depths of hell, this disgraceful arcade adaptation is not
worthy of the Gauntlet name. I expected the fast-paced overhead dungeon shooter to translate well to the XE, as most arcade titles of the time did. Upon loading it up, my anticipation grew as an attractive title screen appeared, followed by a several instructional screens. I was hardly prepared for the horror that would be inflicted upon my soul. When the actual game screen appeared, I sat in disbelief. This
is supposed to be Gauntlet?! Are you [expletive] kidding me? The characters and monsters look like chunky blobs, the scrolling is jerky, and the animation is practically non-existent
. The monsters essentially "hop" from one spot to the next, and your projectiles never even touch
their targets. Enemy herds simply "thin out" as you shoot them, and it's unsatisfying to say the least. This couldn't hold a candle to the frenetic dungeon-shooting action of the original game. Your projectiles move remarkably slowly, making it impossible to keep the hordes of pixilated demons at bay. And then you have the putrid audio track. Calling the sound effects sparse would be an understatement. If not for some mono-tones and static, you'd being playing in complete silence. The arcade version of Gauntlet may have been a demanding game, but I find it hard to believe that this was the best the XE could do with it. Mindscape had a lot of balls to release this garbage. I'm sure it completely disgusted many gamers back in the day. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Ghostbusters was released on a number of platforms, but this home computer version (for the Atari XE and Commodore 64) was the original. The game is pleasing on an audio/visual level, but its inherent flaws are pretty obvious after a play or two. Upon booting up the floppy, you're greeted with a karaoke-style sing-along, complete with a bouncing ball and lyrics. This harmonized rendition of the Ghostbusters theme is easily the best I've heard, and I never get tired of listening to it. Likewise, the game's crisp graphics feature detailed building fronts and an exceptionally large hearse. Ghostbusters tries to mix skill and strategy while incorporating elements of the film. It looks great on paper, but playing the game is a repetitive exercise that usually ends in frustration. You spend most of the time staring at your hearse driving down a featureless road. Even wrangling ghosts becomes monotonous since there's minimal strategy involved. After about a half-hour the giant marshmallow man finally appears to unleash his destruction. You'll need to quickly hit the "B" button on the keyboard to "bait" him. That's inconvenient, considering you've been just using the joystick up to that point. Next thing you know, you're staring at the "better luck next time" screen. By that time, you may be wondering if there will be
a next time. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Datasoft (1985)
This arcade/puzzle hybrid perfectly captures the excitement, mystery, and suspense of the classic film. Each stage puts you in control of a pair of kids from the movie attempting to overcome hazards in treacherous, trap-laden caverns. Hey - I don't remember a black kid being in the movie! Anyway, working as a team is crucial as one kid must activate switches to allow safe passage for the second. One player can toggle between kids with the press of a button, but the game is easier, faster, and more satisfying when played cooperatively with a friend. Considering the limitations of the system, the graphics are drop-dead gorgeous. The first stage takes place in a decrepit house with cobwebs, a rickety roof, and moonlit reflections. Someone illustrated this pixel-by-pixel and it shows. The craggy passages, sparkling water, and elaborate contraptions make each screen fun to explore. The controls are a little touchy considering the degree of precision required, and you have to press diagonally to execute precarious leaps. There is definitely a lot of trial and error involved, but once you beat a screen you feel a true sense of accomplishment. The music, a melodic rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "Goonies R Good Enough", is icing on the cake. It's a shame so few people have played Goonies, because this game is a treasure. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ&VGC 3800
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
The three-color look of this game (red, green, white) harkens back to the early days of computers with their limited CGA palettes. I suspect the developers of Hard Hat Mack were willing to sacrifice color in favor of crisp, higher resolution graphics. The game does look pretty sharp. Its premise is clearly derived from Donkey Kong, with each level offering a new girder configuration and fresh objectives. The first level is surprisingly tough as your little construction worker must fill in missing girders and then rivet them into place. You can't pick up a girder while holding a jackhammer, so you'll need to hit the spacebar on the keyboard to release it (it took me a long time to figure that out). Wrenches, drills, and other tools scattered throughout the levels serve as bonus objects. On the second screen you collect toolboxes, and some of the precision jumps you're asked to make are pretty outrageous. Good luck making it to the third screen! This game is fraught
. Wandering vandals and a raving witch doctor are fatal to the touch. Some objects that look totally harmless (like a box) prove to be deadly. Hazards abound like flying rivets and squashing machines, but gravity is your most deadly foe by far, as you can't withstand a fall from any height. Apart from the substantial challenge, Hard Hat Mack fails to distinguish itself. The game has no music, and the sound effects are limited to beeps. The variety of stage objectives is neat, but the excessive difficulty crushes the fun factor. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 4,600
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It hasn't aged as well as certain other "classic" baseball games (Atari 5200 Baseball comes to mind), but Hardball isn't all that bad. Lacking a MLB license, the team selection is limited to the "Champs" and "All Stars". A sweet pitcher/batter screen offers a behind-the-pitcher view - just like a real telecast. This viewing angle was later adopted by the wildly successful Bases Loaded series for the NES. Your pitcher can select from a wide range of pitches and locations, and the catcher's glove follows the ball, occasionally floating away from his body! When a ball is put into play, only half of the field is displayed at a time - a truly ill-advised design decision. Throwing from one side of the diamond to the other causes the view to "flip" between sides. While this scheme allows the fielders to be larger and better animated, it's detrimental to the overall gameplay. Making matters worse, the outfielders are tiny and move slowly. This was apparently done to convey distance, but balls tossed in from the outfield take an eternity
to arrive. On the bright side, Hardball's controls make it easy to toss the ball around the bases, steal, and substitute players. The audio is weak, and that creepy carnival music that plays during the title screen has got to go. Taken an a whole, Hardball does manage to provide a competitive baseball experience, but its experimental camera angles keep it firmly entrenched in the minor leagues. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Journey To The Planets
Publisher: Roklan Software (1983)
Time has not been kind to homegrown, garage-programmed games like Journey to the Planets. It's been a long time
since I've programmed an Atari 8-bit computer, yet I can still recognize the rudimentary techniques used to create the game's simple visual effects. You move a funny-looking character with wiggly legs across a sparse landscape with a few colorful buildings and signs. Although the ground appears to drop off on the left and right sides of the screen, there are actually other contiguous screens you can move to. Anticipating the confusion, the manual assures you that "you can't fall off the edge of the world". After locating your gun (which can be aimed at several angles), you climb into your space ship (which is half as big as you are) and take off. While flying around non-scrolling screens of black "space", a handy intergalactic map indicates your position and the location of planets. Your goal is to collect a "prize" from planet. After entering the atmosphere of a new planet, you'll navigate around barriers in order to reach the landing pad (a la Gravitar). On the planet surface, your character will manipulate abstract objects in not-so-obvious ways to obtain inexplicable prizes like a "snake plant" or "magical fountain". In the early 80's, this game had a lot going for it. Not only could you freely explore outer space, but each planet was like its own mini game! Unfortunately, the puzzles are really, really
abstract, requiring a lot of trial and error to solve. Journey to the Planet's brain-teasing gameplay is still mildly interesting, but attention spans aren't as long as they used to be. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
As a huge fan of the original arcade game, it's hard to find fault with this 8-bit version. Knights with lances on flying ostriches - what's not to like about that? Joust may not look too exciting at first glance, but once you play, you experience a unique test of skill that's brutally addictive. I can play this game all day! The graphics would have been better if the lancers were multi-colored, and that three-fingered lava troll doesn't look so hot, but otherwise this version is identical to the arcade. The two-player simultaneous action is especially fun. The sound effects are superb, and there are several difficulty levels to choose from. I've never really seen anybody "master" this game. And by the way, the Pterodactyl can
be defeated. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Originally known as Jungle King
, Jungle Hunt was my go-to game in the early days of the arcades. The fact that the game had four separate stages
to me. This XE version delivers the same bright arcade graphics but with less-forgiving controls. In the first stage you need to be very patient while leaping between the swinging vines. If you try to whiz through this part you'll exhaust your three lives in a hurry. I like how you dive off the last vine into water - a slick transition into the crocodile-infested river stage. While swimming you stab (or avoid) approaching crocs while maintaining your air supply. You'll want to be either very aggressive or totally evasive. When you're going in for the kill you'll want to stab like a madman. The third stage puts you back on land where you jump over small boulders and duck under larger ones. It's pretty easy until they start coming two at a time, which really throws off your timing. The climactic final stage shows your girlfriend being lowered into a huge pot. To rescue her, you'll need to leap over two natives and bury your head in her crotch. The second time around a monkey hangs out on the vines and tries to knock you off. He's a real bastard. Fortunately if he knocks you off the last vine you'll land safely in the water. Jungle Hunt for the XE is not quite as tight as the arcade original but it's close enough. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Kaboom is surprisingly fun, considering just how simple it is. All you do is move a set of "buckets" across the bottom of the screen, catching bombs dropped by the "Mad Bomber". Personally, I was never on board with the fact that those flats things are supposed to be "buckets", but I digress. The game starts out easy but gradually reaches the frantic pace of thirteen bombs per second! This particular edition of Kaboom is identical to the 5200 version, with one big exception. You can use Atari 2600 paddle controllers - and thank God - this game begs
for a good paddle. The only difference between this and the original 2600 version are some blocky gray buildings in the background and musical notes that play whenever you catch a bomb. The gameplay is exactly the same, which is a very, very good thing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Broderbund (1985)
Before the NES unleashed a deluge of ninja games on us, there was Karateka, a stylish title that treated martial arts with the reverence it deserves. I remember watching the kids in high school play this on the Apple II in the computer lab and not letting me have a chance (may those heartless bastards burn in hell!). With mind-blowing graphics and a cinematic flair, Karateka was far ahead of its time. There's an opening text crawl, an elaborate introduction, and several cut-scenes intertwined with the action. In the epic story, you must rescue princess Mariko who is being held in the palace of the evil Akuma. In order to infiltrate the palace, you'll have to defeat a series of guards, one by one, before eventually facing Akuma himself. The fighters are large and fluidly animated, although admittedly slow by today's standards. Each guard has his own unique headgear and fighting style, and in general they get tougher as you progress. The keyboard controls let you punch or kick high, medium, and low. You can run but be sure to stop before you reach a guard or he'll knock you out with one punch. The keyboard control could be more responsive - your fighter lags behind your commands somewhat. The fights require patience and skill, and can be lengthy because fighters recover
health as time passes. While Karateka is basically just a series of one-on-one battles, there a few surprises thrown in, such as Akuma's attacking hawk. And the ending(s) are truly classic. All in all, Karateka is a stellar achievement that stands as a showcase game for the Atari 8-bit system. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
I have some fond memories of Lode Runner from my 8-bit computer days. Platform games were abundant in the early 80's, but most only offered a handful of screens. Lode Runner on the other hand boasts 151 (!) levels of strategic, thought-provoking gameplay. Each level is a maze-like construction of ladders, brick platforms, and hand-over-hand bars. The object is to collect a number of "chests" while avoiding pursuing guards. You can drop down from any distance without sustaining injury, but this also applies to your adversaries. It's easy to become surrounded, but you have one special ability that can bail you out of almost any situation: the ability to drill holes. Guards will blindly fall into these, allowing you to run right over them. You can also drill holes to create escape routes. A typical game of Lode Runner has a lot of close calls that require quick thinking. It's pretty exhilarating to scurry up a ladder or drop through a hole just as guards are converging from all sides. Some stages will have you scratching your head trying to figure out how to reach buried chests. In terms of graphics, the characters are very small, but their animation is remarkably lifelike. I also like the game's unusual color scheme. Lode Runner is a quality title, but it tends to drag on for too long. Not only do you begin with five lives, but you receive extra lives on a regular basis. This is also one of the quietest games I've ever played, with no music and sparse sound effects. There are no passwords, but there is a level select. It may not look like much, if you're looking for a thinking man's platform game, Lode Runner will deliver the goods. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
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