Publisher: Atari (1983)
Considering how the Atari XEGS and Atari 5200 are so similar under the hood, it's surprising how they ended up with totally different versions of Mario Bros. Both look and play very well, but each offers a unique look and feel. Mario Bros. is known for its two-player simultaneous action, as Mario and Luigi attempt to knock crawling creatures on their backs and then kick them off the screen for points. A special "POW" button allows you to bump all the platforms at the same time. Mario Bros. is simple in concept, but offers ample room for strategy. This version plays extremely well with tight controls and sharp graphics. There are even introductory screens for each stage. Still, I'd give a slight
edge to the 5200 version because of its more elaborate animations and richer sound effects. Also, in that version you could send the creatures flying in different directions when you bumped them, but in this version they always just flip over in place. Still, it's hard to find much to fault with this fun, arcade-style title. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Ugh! And I thought Centipede for the XE had issues! This is exactly the same as the lame Atari 5200 Millipede, only without the trak-ball support. In the arcade, Millipede featured all the thrills of Centipede but threw in multiple spiders, a wider variety of insects, occasional "swarm" attacks, and DDT bombs that produced poisonous clouds. In other words, utter mayhem. Perhaps it was too much for the XE to handle, because the animation of the millipedes and spiders is awfully choppy! How can you be expected to dodge three spiders when they're all over the place? Incidentally, the secondary
insects move perfectly smoothly! Another issue is the idiotic scoring system. You can select an initial score to start with - up to 60,000 points! Okay, I see where they're going with this - they want to let experts skip the early stages (which I can attest are far too easy) without having their score suffer. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I think you should have to earn
your points. Sure, Centipede was tough, but that's what made it so relentlessly addictive. Millipede for the Atari XE is a major disappointment. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1981)
This game was built into
the Atari XE Game System, and I don't think it was a wise choice. Sure, Missile Command was an excellent arcade game, but it was five
years old by the time the XE game system came out, so it couldn't be expected to generate much excitement. Perhaps the most defensive
video game ever created, the object is to shoot down incoming missiles and protect your six cities through progressively difficult waves. This version is an exact copy of the Atari 5200 edition, which was not
the best version they could have used for the Atari XEGS. The main flaw is the fact that you only have one missile base, compared to three in the arcade. Considering the XE includes a keyboard, this oversight is not easy to forgive. The graphics barely do the job, although the gameplay is rock solid. I think including Missile Command with the XE game system was largely a cop-out from a company running low on innovative new titles. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory
Publisher: Datamost (1983)
If you've never heard of Mr. Robot, you're not alone. Similar to Miner 2049er, the object is to traverse a series of platforms embedded with white dots. You control a large, well-animated robot, walking over the dots and causing them to disappear. Depending on the screen, platforms are connected by ladders, escalators, or trampolines. Large fireballs with eyes (a la Donkey Kong) patrol the platforms, but these can be neutralized when Mr. Robot grabs an "energizer token" (a la Pac-Man). Yes, it's all very derivative, but still fun. One original element consists of platforms composed of dynamite. Walking over these causes their fuses to light and momentarily explode. It adds some urgency to an otherwise leisurely game. But what really sets Mr. Robot apart is its expert programming. The sprites are large and high-resolution, the platforms are rainbow-striped, the collision detection is crisp, and the control is outstanding. Unfortunately, one flaw practically ruins the whole game, and that is how your robot can only withstand very
small drops. With platforms arranged at so many heights on each screen, it's a fine line between a safe jump and a lethal one, and too much trial and error is required to determine this. That's a shame, because otherwise Mr. Robot is an impressive effort. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
While many sequels fail to match the quality of their predecessors, Ms. Pac-Man well surpassed the original Pac-Man. This game is absolutely timeless - kids will be playing Ms. Pac-Man 100 years from now. And except for the arcade original, you're not going to find a better version than this Atari 8-bit edition. The graphics, music, sound effects, and intermissions are all faithful to the arcade, and the high score is displayed on top of the screen. I especially like the sound effects of the fruit bouncing around the maze. The difficulty is perfect, although Blinky (the red ghost) seems particularly aggressive. In a way this version is even better
than the arcade game, because you can choose between eight skill levels. The control is perfect. I had a lot of fun with this one, and you will too. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Synapse (1982)
I can appreciate what Necromancer is trying to do, but its crisp controls and arcade graphics are betrayed by some seriously non-intuitive gameplay. At first glance, you might mistake Necromancer for some kind of Robotron clone, as your wizard is situated in the center of the screen with ogres approaching from the sides. Guiding your magic "wisp" around the screen, you methodically wipe them out. It seems simple enough, but there's more to this game than meets the eye. You also need to plant trees using the fire button, and as they grow, they must be protected from the marauding ogres and poisonous spiders. The action gets pretty frantic but it's not what I'd call fun. The second stage offers a series of blue platforms. As you guide your wizard across pits and down ladders, you'll need to magically animate trees to help clear your path. Like the first stage, it takes a few plays to figure out what the hell's going on. There's a lot of "grabbing hands" which seem to be appear at random, but closer inspection reveals their patterns. The final stage is similar to the first, only with gravestones, swarming spiders, and an enemy wizard. Although its graphics are terrific and its soundtrack haunting, Necromancer is one of those games whose whole is less than the sum of its parts. It takes a while to figure it out, and once you do, you may be sorry you even bothered. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mastertronic (1986)
Ninja isn't a great game, but I find it fascinating for a number of personal reasons. First off, I like how it takes the Karateka formula and expands upon it with projectile-throwing and multi-level environments. You move your ninja in black between contiguous screens, each of which presents a new martial artist to fight. The scenery is loaded with eye candy, including ornate temples, colorful markets, and tranquil sea views. Harmonized oriental music plays in the background, and while it sounds bizarre at first, it eventually grows on you. All of your moves are performed via the joystick, including throw, jump, duck, punch, kick, and jump-kick. You can throw stars and knives to wear down adversaries from a distance, but ultimately the jump-kick is your most effective move. Unfortunately, the controls are erratic, lending themselves to frantic joystick waggling and button tapping. Likewise, picking up items is a lot more aggravating than it should be. Upon clearing a set of screens you'll want to look for a hole you can jump through to access a new set. It's tough to make much progress in Ninja because the game is extremely unforgiving. Your health meter is tiny and one unlucky hit can instantly end your game. Believe it or not, I actually programmed a very similar game in the early 80's - with more modest graphics of course. Ninja's erratic gameplay won't knock your socks off, but the game is a worthy challenge if you're up for it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: VGC 2,500
Publisher: Zeppelin (1989)
Ninja Commando looks a lot better than it plays. You control a small man running and leaping his way through a series of side-scrolling caverns. I have to admit that the high-resolution scenery is impressive with its textured surfaces and pseudo-lighting effects. Your character is well animated but it looks like he's wearing a helmet
instead of a mask. As you leap between platforms, generic thugs emerge from caves, and these guys are deadly to the touch!
All you have to do is rub up against one and you go up in a puff of smoke! So much for realism! Enemies can
be defeated by pouncing on them (Mario style), but your slow, floaty jumps are terribly imprecise. Typically you'll land right next to an enemy and be instantly killed. If you do manage to take out a few baddies, you're rewarded with a supply of throwing stars or bombs. Unfortunately, these are not very effective due to the game's questionable collision detection. Even if they were, enemies you kill regenerate almost immediately. Upon losing a life you pick up immediately where you left off, but you'll lose any weapons you've acquired. Ninja Commando looks good from a distance, but if you're looking to hone your ninja skills there are far better alternatives. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 210
One on One Basketball
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It's been a long time since I've played this one, and I'm happy to say One On One has held up quite well over the years. The characters are a little slow by today's standards, but since you're only playing on half a court, it's not a big deal. You can be Dr. J or Larry Bird, and each player has his own strengths and weaknesses. The graphics are great. The players have large heads but are nicely animated. It's surprising how well the game controls with only one button, considering the latest basketball games use about ten. Tapping the button lets you spin 180 degrees, keeping the ball away from your opponent. Holding the button shoots, and releasing it at the right time is key to nailing shots (a convention used in most basketball games ever since). You can perform some nice turn-around jumpers, fade-aways, or 360 degree jams. Not too many basketball games let you dunk when this game was originally released by Electronic Arts in 1983! The defensive player can steal the ball and block shots. It's great fun and very competitive, especially with two players. A referee who looks like Mario calls penalties like traveling, charging, hacking, and "reaching in" (a little outdated there). Extra features include automatic instant replays and the ability to shatter the backboard
. That's right, and when the backboard is broken, a robot with a broom shows up and screams profanity at the players (I'm exaggerating a bit). Another thing I love about One on One is its extensive options menu. You can select between four skill levels and set various rules. This game was, and is still, all that! © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
This version of Pac-Man is a step down from the arcade in terms of graphics, but the gameplay is just terrific. It looks just like the Atari 5200 version, but this Pac-Man moves slower, which makes it harder to nab ghosts. You can choose from 9 skill levels, and the control is dead-on. The graphics are fair overall, but could have been better. The dots and power pills are blocky, and the ghosts have black eye sockets instead of moving eyes. I was also a bit disappointed that the intermissions are not included. Oh well, at least the Pac-Man "death" animation is faithful to the arcade. The fruit looks good, but always seems to disappear just as I'm about to pass over it (rats!). This is a challenging version of Pac-Man, and it's fun to play too. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Here's an attractive platform game that comes up a bit short in the gameplay department. Pharaoh's Curse reminds me of Montezuma's Revenge, only with smaller characters. Your pyramid-exploring adventurer is multicolored and easy to control, and his diminutive size allows for some very elaborate screen configurations. Responsive controls allow you to run, climb, jump, and shoot a gun. You ascend platforms via ropes and elevators, and descend by simply dropping down. Part of the game's appeal is how fast you can move - it's great how you can shimmy up ropes in a flash. There are three stages, each containing 16 treasures that are conveniently represented by icons across the top of the screen. Each stage is composed of a set of contiguous screens with their own distinct layouts and hazards. The graphics are clean and colorful, with walls adorned with interesting Egyptian hieroglyphics. In addition to collecting treasures, you'll also want to avoid a wandering pharaoh, mummy, and a "winged avenger" that transports you to random spots (a la Adventure). Pharaoh's Curse is generally fun, but two flaws frustrated me to no end. One is the whole "trap" system. Traps are visible and triggered momentarily after they are touched. In general they are easy to avoid, but many are dangerously situated at the end of elevators, leading to many undeserved deaths. I do
find it entertaining that the mummy and pharaoh also fall victim to these traps - you'd think they'd know better. The second annoyance is the fact that the pharaoh and mummy can actually shoot
at you! Huh?! What could they possibly be using, a slingshot?! That's bogus! Pharoah's Curse is hard, probably too hard for novices, but determined gamers may find this little adventure hard to quit. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Pirates of the Barbary Coast
Publisher: Starsoft (1986)
This is my kind of pirate game - a little strategy, a whole lot of action, and plenty of eye candy. Upon starting a game, you're instantly thrust into a one-on-one sea battle. You see the action from a first person viewpoint, looking across the bow of your ship. As a hostile ship sails across the screen, you must ready your cannons, set their trajectories, and time your fire just right. Control is done via an arrow cursor controlled by the joystick. Loading the cannons seems tedious at first; you must click on the powder, push rod, cannonballs, and brush in a specific order. But once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Enemy ships make several passes at different distances, making precise trajectory targeting a challenge. Once a ship is disabled, you have the option of reading the captains log (which provides clues about trading and buried treasure) or claiming the ship's bounty. Although primarily a sea battle game, you also strategically move between ports along the North African coast. You can trade goods and make repairs, but your ultimate goal is to defeat the evil "Bloodthroat", who has kidnapped your daughter. Pirates of the Barbary Coast looks terrific. Although most of its screens are static images, these are nicely illustrated. The cursor control could use some work (click on the edge of a button and it won't register), but at least the arrow moves at a reasonable speed. I'm not crazy about having to flip the floppy disk between plays, but otherwise there's little to complain about. With good graphics and a nice mix of strategy and action, Pirates of the Barbary Coast is everything a pirate game should be. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1984)
To be honest, my first impression of Pitfall 2 for the Atari XE wasn't so hot. Screenshots gave the impression that this had substantially better graphics than the 2600 version, but that wasn't really the case. The trees have branches, the cliffs look craggier, and the water sparkles a bit, but the rest of the game looks exactly
the same. The upbeat soundtrack and stage layouts are identical as well. I was a little bummed until an astute reader pointed out that this "Adventurer's Edition" includes a second level!
It took me a while to uncover it, because you need to finish the game after collecting four key items: Rhonda, the ring, the rat, and Quickclaw. Once you do, a portal appears to a whole new world! This second level is far more expansive and challenging, mixing elements from the first level in some very imaginative (and tricky) ways. Oh and did I mention all the animals have gone buck-wild?
Oh yeah, the bats swoop erratically, giant ants scurry back and forth, and the frogs are hopping around freely. If you ever wondered what Pitfall 3 would have been like, this will probably give you a pretty good idea. There's a lot of shiny gold bars to be uncovered in Pitfall 2, but this cartridge is the real
treasure. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 140,755
Publisher: Epyx (1985)
Pitstop was moderately fun on the Colecovision, but this Atari home computer version is just plain shoddy
. The title screen looks nice enough, and there are options to configure the number of players, laps, and circuit format. Once a race begins you're staring at a gray road that stretches to the top of the screen with little guard posts running along each side. The only scenery is the occasional tree or Epyx sign that appears on the side of the road. The gameplay is repetitive-to-the-max as the same two cars approach again and again. You adjust your speed by moving up and down in the lower area. Collisions just weaken your tires, which turn colors to reflect their damage. The one thing Pitstop really has going for it is, well, its pitstops
. Pulling into these areas takes you to a separate screen where you control a four-man crew (one at a time). It's fun to change the tires and fill up on gas in the pit, but it's not even necessary unless you're driving at least six laps. Six laps is pretty long, especially considering the monotony of this game. And you're not even really racing
anyone - the game is just an extended time trial. I wasn't having much fun with this, and my opinion took a nosedive when I noticed that the guard rails on some of the tracks didn't even line up with the road. Ugly! I usually enjoy Pitstop games but this is the weakest version I've played by far. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1983)
Who can resist a good game of Pooyan? This cute arcade title is irresistibly fun and original. You control a piglet being raised and lowered in a basket on the right side of the screen, defending your siblings from a gang of hungry wolves. In the first stage, wolves float down off a cliff on balloons, and you need to shoot them down with arrows before they reach the bottom. I love how the wolves hit the ground with a satisfying thud. There's also a "chunk of meat" that periodically appears that can be used to knock down several wolves at once. Actually, the meat looks more like a white bone, but that's beside the point. You also need to dodge stones the wolves toss at you. In the second stage, the wolves float up from the ground on balloons, and if enough wolves reach the cliff above, they'll drop a boulder on your head, which is not cool. There are also two bonus screens as well. The gameplay requires ample skill and technique, but it's the graphics that really make the game so appealing. The bright, sharp scenery is bursting with color and detail. You can see piglets on the top of the screen hoisting your basket or bobbing their heads to the harmonized music. The cheerful melody and whimsical graphics are impossible not to like. Is there anything wrong with this game? Well, with five lives, it is a bit on the easy side, but this is still the best version of Pooyan you'll find outside of the arcade. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Mania, Video Game Museum, Retroist