Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Q*bert was an ingenious arcade hit with engaging gameplay and a loveable star with a tubular nose. Q*bert hops around blocks on a pyramid-shaped stack, trying to turn them all the same color. Complicating matters are bouncing enemies and hazards, including a purple snake named Coily. Unlike most home editions, this one incorporates all the elements of the arcade game, including Ugg, Wrong Way, Sam, and the green ball that lets Q*bert temporarily freeze his enemies. When Q*bert is caught, he "curses" via a little word bubble containing punctuation marks. The controls are a bit stiff, requiring you to hold the joystick at a 45-degree angle. The audio effects are faithful to the arcade, but the graphics are lacking. Q*bert is pixelated and has holes for eyes, making him look like a zombie! The "shaded" sides of the cubes are ugly pixilated patterns instead of solid colors - what's up with that? When Q*bert escapes from Coily via a flying disc, the animation is jerky, and worse yet there's an unnecessary pause before you resume play at the top of the pyramid. Clearly Parker Bros. didn't put a whole lot of effort into this project. Q*bert's timeless gameplay is hard to resist, but this home translation is a little weak. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
It's not the flashiest version the arcade classic, but this 8-bit Qix gets the job done. In case you're new to the game, Qix is played by moving a small diamond around an empty screen, drawing lines to cordon off territory while eluding wandering enemies. Your adversaries include "sparx" which patrol the perimeter, and the free-roaming "helix", which assumes the form of a rotating set of colored lines. Your goal is to enclose at least 75 percent of the board, and should you exceed that, you'll earn a cool grand for each additional percentage. Qix is brilliant by design, but this version is not the best. For one thing, the helix is only about half as big as it should be, and it's rendered in cycling colors instead of a rainbow pattern. When touched by an enemy your diamond doesn't instantly explode, but silently blinks as a slow
software routine clears out any lines you were in the progress of drawing before contact occurred. This ten-second pause is followed by a belated explosion sound effect. Pretty lame!
The collision detection is also fishy at times. On the bright side, the controls are comfortable, since you can use any Atari joystick. There are several skills levels and an alternating two-player mode. It could have been better, but a second-rate Qix is better than no Qix at all. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Questprobe featuring The Hulk
Publisher: Adventure International (1984)
I don't know what's more remarkable: the fact that somebody made an Incredible Hulk text adventure
, or the fact that my friends actually agreed to play the God-forsaken thing!
But we did indeed put this through its paces. Steve was hunched over the XEGS keyboard with its outstretched one-and-a-half foot long cord. Scott was tapping away on my laptop desperately searching for some kind of FAQ. I was kicking back with a beer, amused. For those too young to remember the early days of the home computers, a popular style of game in the early 80's were "text adventures". These allowed you to type in simple two-word commands (Ex. GET HAMMER, PRESS BUTTON), and then read
about what happened via text. More often than not, the computer would respond with "I don't know how to do that" or "You can't do that now". It was really easy to get stuck! At least this game presents you with colorful, comic-book style illustrations between commands. I was hoping to see Hulk kick some ass, but the object of the game is to collect gems. You begin as Bruce Banner tied to a chair in an empty room, which is a pretty helpless predicament (hint: shake). Once freed, you can explore two sparse rooms, and if the Internet is any indication, few people ever got further than that. I could forgive Hulk's trial and error gameplay if the game made any sense, but it does not. The first time you step outside you're instantly crushed by gravity. Come again?
Later, in order to obtain a hidden gem you need to dig a hole, and then dig again.
And who in their right mind would ever think of lifting
a huge dome
to uncover another gem? The Incredible Hulk is as bad as the movie - and I'm talking about that Ang Lee
version. It's that bad!
My friends decided to finally call it quits after Hulk got defeated by ants
. Yes, ants. By that point the only command we wanted to type was "FORMAT DISK". © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: floppy disk
Realm of Impossibility
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1984)
In my book, Realm is one of the most underrated video games of all time. Sequel to a game called "Zombies", Realm of Impossibility challenged one or two players to journey through of series of multi-screen mazes while avoiding monsters. Once you grabbed the key or crown at the end of the last screen, you had to high tail it back to the beginning. The psuedo-3D graphics are still attractive today. Each player controls a tiny but well animated person. Each screen contains wandering monsters like zombies, spiders, or spheres that drain your hit points when they touch you. The two-player mode is especially fun, because if one player dies he can be revived by the other. Along the way, you can collect spells the freeze, protect you from, or confuse the monsters (use the space bar to initiate). The bouncy music is unforgettable, and the levels are selectable. The gameplay is fun, frantic, and ultra-simple to play. My sister and I use to love this game in the early 80s, and after recently playing it with her, I'm happy to report that Realm has held up quite well. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: MKG 13,295
1 or 2 players
Publisher: CBS (1983)
The name may raise a few eyebrows, but Satan's Hollow is just a typical shooter, and it doesn't make a great first impression. The mediocre graphics and simple "beep" sound effects suggest a second-rate Phoenix (Atari). The castle sitting on the hill in the background looks like crap, and it serves as a living example of why programmers don't do the artwork for video games anymore. Likewise the gorge on the left of the screen looks like some huge graphical glitch. The flying birds and demons are chunky and are poorly animated. But if you have the intestinal fortitude to stick with this game, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise. You can shoot two missiles at a time, and you have a rechargeable shield that actually moves with you (unlike Phoenix). Demonic creatures sometimes drop flaming balls that create little fires on the surface. But the real innovation of Satan's Hollow is the bridge that you can build on the right side of the screen. Bridge pieces periodically appear on the left, and you need to drag them to the right while shooting the targets above. Building a complete bridge takes you to a second screen featuring Lucifer himself! Consistent with the rest of the game's graphics, he looks more like a stick figure than the prince of darkness, jumping around like a flea as he tosses pitchforks your way. He's really not hard to shoot, and you are rewarded handsomely for nailing him. Besides earning bonus points, you can now shoot FOUR missiles at a time, and this rapid-fire action makes for a great time. Too bad you lose this ability when your ship gets hit. There are nine skills levels, and I'd recommend number five. Satan's Hollow really had me hooked. And what other shooter lets you battle Satan from the comfort of your own family room? © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1984)
This game was developed in my hometown (Baltimore) by the now-defunct Avalon Hill Game Company. I recall seeing an impressive preview screenshot for Space Cowboy in Antic (a 1980's Atari computer magazine), but never heard anymore about it after that. I assumed it was canceled, until recently while shopping for old games on the Internet I stumbled upon it for sale. When I finally received this long-lost relic, I was surprised at its large box and elaborate artwork. The game comes on a floppy disk, and despite the conventional wisdom of the 80's (which claimed floppies wouldn't retain their data) these things pretty much last forever. What really surprised me was that the game is programmed in BASIC! I use to program in Atari BASIC back in the 80's, so I can vouch that it's not easy to squeeze a game like Space Cowboy out of it. The game features some outstanding graphics and smooth scrolling. The main characters is a jailed outlaw who must escape from a futuristic prison by traversing an elevated walkway lined with cannons. The game utilizes a very cool isometric viewpoint, and the scenery is quite detailed and colorful. You can adjust you cowboy's speed as he runs the walkway and use his "jet boots" to dash across holes. Unfortunately, your cowboy isn't animated at all - he's just a static sprite you move around. The game is fun for a minute or so, but then you realize it's strictly a one-trick pony. All you do is dodge cannon fire, and the placement of the cannons is totally predictable. To say this game is repetitive is like saying fish enjoy water. I was hoping for unique stages, but subsequent levels only added some additional hazards. Despite bringing back some nice memories, Space Cowboy's gameplay is undeniably awful. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mastertronic (1986)
This bargain-bin title wants to be Pole Position with motorcycles, but it lacks the horsepower. You get a wide selection of tracks in diverse locations (Sweden, Italy, Spain, Daytona), but as far as I could tell the only difference is the shape of the mountain backdrops. Wait a minute
- since when are there mountains in Florida?
I can't tell if my driver looks more like Princess Leia or a Japanese woman in a Kimono. Speed Queen
would have been a more appropriate title, but I guess that sounds too much like a drug-addicted transvestite. You accelerate and shift gears to build up speed, but 200 MPH seems more like 20. The sensation of speed is non-existent, and with no roadside scenery there's nothing keeping you from riding on the grass. Eventually you'll catch up with the rest of the pack who look like a gang of Asian motorcycle chicks. Not only are they pixelated beyond belief, but their scaling animation is jittery as hell. You'll wreck if you come within a pixel of them, and these are some pretty big pixels we're talking about. Speed King wouldn't be bad as a type-in game from Compute magazine (remember that one?), but nobody should be paying money for this. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: First Star (1984)
This game brings back a lot of memories of playing my Atari 1200XL computer in the early 80s. Spy Vs. Spy was really one of those "show-off" games, thanks to its incredible graphics and catchy music. Who would have thought that the silly Mad magazine cartoon would translate into such an innovative arcade game? It's played on a split screen, with the white spy on top, and the black one on the bottom. Both spies move around a maze of rooms searching furniture for objects and planting booby traps. Traps include bombs, springs, and electrified water buckets over doorways. You can find objects to disable traps, including umbrellas and pliers, but you can only carry one item at a time. Keeping an eye on your opponent while taking care of business is tough. A map lets you keep track of your position. Occasionally you encounter your opponent, which usually results in a quick brawl. The spy who collects four special items can escape and win the game. The graphics were cutting edge at the time of its release, featuring some wonderfully humorous animations. The background music is superb, and fits the whimsical theme perfectly. Unfortunately, although the gameplay is certainly original, it's also rather difficult and confusing. It's easy to accidentally trigger your own traps, and collecting all the items is tedious. In addition, your opponent can wait for you at the exit door, beat you up, and win the game after you did most of the work! Spy Vs. Spy is still a nice collector's item despite its flawed gameplay. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
This game was obviously conceived on the back of a cocktail napkin over a few beers during a happy hour, and programmed the next day! Rushed out the door with no regard for quality, Jedi is a prime example of "shovelware". As unexciting as it is unimaginative, you guide a pixilated Millenium Falcon around the bottom third
of the screen as Imperial ships randomly appear out of nowhere and whiz around you. A small Death Star is visible on top, which periodically unleashes a green laser beam that's impossible to avoid. Stretching across the center of the screen is a rainbow-colored shield, which might be effective if not for those ship-sized holes
that appear in it every ten seconds! Flying through a hole treats you to a mercifully brief "hyperspace" sequence. The second screen is much like the first, only uglier. Now the Death Star is large and blocky, and firing at it removes chunks
at a time. After striking its core, the Death Star's explodes, sending a barrage of meatballs your way. Wow, this really sucks. Did the designers even watch the movie?! Of all the great ideas contained in the original trilogy, just about anything else
would have been better than this. A Star Wars license is a terrible thing to waste. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Epyx (1984)
Some may prefer Decathlon (Activision, 1983), but for my money, this is the game that pioneered in the multi-event, Olympic-style games popular to this day. And Summer Games has held up incredibly well over the years, with intuitive controls and fast pacing that puts a lot of modern Olympic games to shame. The eight events cover a nice cross-section, and there's really not one dud in the bunch. Only the 100-meter dash relies on frantic joystick wiggling, with the others employing precise timing techniques. Some of the athletes look a bit blocky, but you have to love the fluid animation. The diving event is the most spectacular graphically, with its deep blue sky and colorful stands of spectators. In the track events, it's neat how the crowd forms the pattern "USA" in the background. The gymnastics springboard event is surprisingly fun, and the skeet shooting is perfectly executed. The weakest event is the swimming freestyle relay which runs too long and is glitchy to boot. But the biggest problem with Summer Games is how you must constantly flip the floppy disk and sit through those blue load screens (beep beep beep...) It's especially obnoxious when it's just loading the worthless "medal ceremony" screens. I will give the game props for saving all world records (to disk) along with the player's initials. You can configure the game to use two joysticks, but when players are not going head-to-head, you still have to share a joystick, which makes no sense. Summer Games does show its age at times, but if you're looking for some back-to-basics Olympic action, you will love this. Note: An enhanced version of this game was later released for the Atari 7800. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Superman the Strategy Game
Publisher: First Star (1986)
Any sense of anticipation I had for Superman was dashed when I noticed the subtitle "The Strategy Game
". Say whaaaaat?
The only strategy Superman should be concerned with is what foot
he's going to use to kick a super-villain's ass!
The opening screen depicts a grid of city blocks, triggering nightmarish flashbacks of the original Ghostbusters game (gah!
). You guide a flying superman between the buildings as the nefarious DarkSeid scurries around the streets. Both can fire laser beams at each other, and these are deflected by strategically angled mirrors in the intersections. It's somewhat original in concept but mostly a confusing mess. And since both have huge health meters, the stage just goes on forever. Superman can carry people, but even after reading the instructions I have no idea where I'm supposed to take them. After a few minutes the game mercifully switches to a vertical shooting mode. While trading shots with a cannon seems refreshing at first, it soon becomes repetitive and pointless. Eventually you find yourself in another mirror level, but this time in a cave. Superman doesn't make any sense and it's way too complicated. Heck, the instructions even include diagrams
to illustrate how the various screens fit together. Some computer games are worth investing some time to figure out, but I think this is one mystery best left unsolved. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Polarware (1985)
Released on several home computer platforms in the mid-1980s, Transylvania is an old-fashioned text adventure enhanced by artistically rendered illustrations. The keyboard is used to enter simple directions (N for North, S for South, etc) to navigate a wooded landscape with a castle, lake, and old house. Simple commands like "take", "drop", and "move" are used to interact with items. The game progresses in a linear fashion as you look for key items to open a door or initiate an event. Transylvania's graphics are pretty good. Having played my share of text-only games years ago, I will admit that there's something to be said for being able to see
your environment. Most of the illustrations won't strike fear into your heart, but that dark werewolf with glowing eyes certainly looks creepy. Transylvania is interesting to play, but the game doesn't always make sense, and can be terribly unforgiving at times. For example, when you open a coffin to reveal a set of items, you need to grab the mice immediately
before they run away, or it becomes impossible to finish the game! Stuff like that makes the game more frustrating than it should be (hint: use the FAQ). The inventory management system is awkward, and the storyline tends to go off on weird tangents, including an alien encounter. Transylvania definitely lacks polish and good design, but its hand-drawn visuals and old-school gameplay do have their charm. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Wizard of Wor
Publisher: Roklan (1981)
I love Wizard of Wor. This maze shooter lets one or two players shoot waves of freaky creatures before facing off against a mysterious wizard. The graphics are a little chunky, but they are colorful and well defined. Each wave offers a variety of foes including dog-like creatures that fire missiles and the winged "Worluck" that frantically flutters about. Certain enemies can turn invisible, but a handy radar display lets you track their position. The sound effects in this game are downright ominous
. The opening refrain sounds like a haunted organ, and during each stage a resonating cadence gradually quickens. The directional controls take some getting used to, but I like how you can duck around a corner and get off a quick shot. When you shoot a creature, its projectile also disappears, and I have mixed feelings about that. It makes the game easier but it doesn't make much sense. Also, I really wish you could shoot through explosions. The two-player action is okay, but once both players start shooting each other, it cuts the game short. I'm reviewing the cartridge version, but the disc version allows you to save your high scores. The one thing missing from this game is the voice, which is a little disappointing since the Atari XEGS is capable of voice synthesis (without added hardware). Still, Wizard of Wor's simple, fast-moving style will appeal to arcade-minded gamers. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 46,300
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Datasoft (1983)
I still recall the day I first laid eyes on this isometric space shooter at the local bowling alley. It blew my mind back then, and frankly the game still looks pretty sharp today. Prior to reviewing this I played a few rounds of the highly-regarded Colecovision edition as a basis for comparison. I was surprised by the difference between the two. This Atari version is much
smoother, faster, and better looking. The graphics are cleaner and your ship is significantly larger. This game runs roughly twice
as fast as the Colecovision version, so you can blow through the first few stages in no time. If I have a complaint, it would be how in the "deep space" sections it's really
hard to judge the position of approaching ships with respect to yours. Also, it's not quite clear how to defeat that robot boss. Otherwise this is probably the best home version of Zaxxon. I noticed that the box has a $49 price sticker, which seems pretty steep for a floppy disk. I'm considering filling out the registration card so I can receive a full-color iron-on transfer (allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery). © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ 15,900
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Mania, Video Game Museum, Retroist