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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Atari 2600 Reviews A

3D Tic-Tac-Toe
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Posted: 2004/5/5

screenshotI've never met a soul who has even admitted to playing this game, much less enjoying it. How Atari's quality control team let 3D Tic-Tac-Toe out the door is beyond me. The game is played like normal Tic-Tac-Toe but on four stacked 4x4 boards. It's no Tetris - that's for sure!

The minimal graphics are lousy, and calling this "3D" is a bit of a stretch. The basic strategy involves securing as many of the 16 "strong" squares as you can. But once the board has enough X's and O's, the game becomes a real headache. The computer offers eight skill levels, but at the higher levels the CPU can take as long as 20 minutes to make its move!

Personally, I don't think this game is worth investing that kind of time into. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe was one of the first Atari games to be discontinued by the company, and that should hardly come as a surprise. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 9
1 or 2 players 

50 Shades of Grey
Grade: F

screenshotWhat kind of demented individual came up with the idea of translating 50 Shades of Grey into a video game?! Upon further inspection the game is actually a blatant rip-off of the legendary adult title Custer's Revenge (Atari 2600, 1982). In case you can't remember back that far, Custer's Revenge was the most infamous and reprehensible video game ever made. That's a hard act to follow!

The instructions for 50 Shades state the game is intended to be experienced between two consenting adults, which makes no sense considering it's a one-player game. The object is to move the guy across the screen to the girl standing next to the pole on the right. Is that a blindfold she's wearing?! Inappropriate!

The controls are deplorable, but in fairness it's not easy to walk with your pants around your ankles (been there). On his way over "Grey" can collect items like rope (oh dear) and duct-tape (shut the front door). I'll spare further detail to avoid offending the sensibilities of my readers. Suffice to say 50 Shades of Grey is the most sexist, degrading video game ever conceived.

It would have been subject to outright ban except an unlikely demographic has taken up its cause, namely book clubs comprised of middle-aged women. Apparently sex, books, and video games make for strange bedfellows. All I know is, this game is going to set the feminist movement back 30 years. Ms. Pac-Man is rolling in her grave as we speak. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 17,300
1 player 

A-Team, The
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Posted: 2016/2/16

screenshotIn 1984 somebody at Atari toyed with the idea of an A-Team video game, resulting in the creation of this bizarre prototype. But instead of creating a new game from scratch, they "adapted" an unreleased game called Saboteur (Atari, 1984). Square peg, meet round hole! In A-Team you control the disembodied head of B.A. "I pity the fool!" Baracus aka "Mr. T". You hover around three screens, killing criminals by spitting bullets at them.

I'd be willing to write the entire thing off right there if Mr. T didn't look so damn good! It's an uncanny likeness, right down to his gold chain! The rest of the graphics are so abstract I had no idea what the [expletive] I was looking at. Fortunately I found a nifty web site called Atari Protos which shed some much needed-light on things.

In the first screen you shoot pizza delivery guys while trying not to hit the occasional Murdock face. Apparently those delivery guys are actually building some kind of missile. It's hard to selectively shoot people, so I recommend the buck-wild approach. That green guy at the top of the screen is a real son of a [expletive], by the way.

The second screen is completely incomprehensible as you dodge bouncing bullets while shooting electricity at a guy who deflects it towards the bottom of the screen. I'm glad this stage is short because it's utterly pointless.

In the final screen Mr. T must shoot a spear at a helicopter that happens to be flying below him. This stage usually takes about two seconds to complete, at which time your efforts are rewarded with that distinctive A-Team music. That rousing theme is so good, it makes you wish Atari had actually officially released this game. No, not really! © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,862
1 player 

A-VCS-Tec Challenge
Grade: C
Publisher: Simon Quernhorst (2006)
Posted: 2007/1/20

screenshotI'm not crazy about its awkward title, but I must admit that A-VCS-Tec Challenge has some of the best graphics and audio you'll experience on your 2600. Apparently this is a partial conversion of an old Commodore 64 title called Aztec Challenge. In the first of its two alternating stages, you run toward a pyramid while ducking under and jumping over spears thrown from the sides. The illusion of movement is impressive, with scaling "blocks" on the side of the road and a pyramid that gradually looms larger as you approach.

You view the action from behind your character, and not only is he rendered in large, multi-colored sprites, but he really does appear to be hauling ass! He's even got a realistic shadow for goodness sake! The second stage is less impressive, as your warrior scales the pyramid while sidestepping boulders that rain down. Unfortunately, once you get to the top, there's no payoff. Would it have been too much to ask to include a bloody sacrificial scene?

The gameplay is very simplistic, and there's only one paltry difficulty level. The challenge doesn't truly kick in until waves 4 or 5. I also found the controls in the boulder stage to be a bit "sticky" at times. One thing that slightly elevates A-Tec's tepid gameplay is its amazing soundtrack. Composed by Paul Slocum, this complex symphony of layered beats and melodies perfectly complements the game's sense of urgency. Not only does the music totally rock, but it seems to "evolve" with each wave. A-VCS-Tec Challenge may come up short in terms of gameplay, but it certainly scores points for its technical prowess. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 4410
1 player 

Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Posted: 2002/5/25

screenshotAdventure's amazingly rich gameplay transcends its primitive sound and graphics, creating an experience brimming with strategy, action, and suspense. Your mission is to return a chalice to a gold castle, and your character is a simple square you move around contiguous screens. The screens can be wide open or maze-like, and in "dark" areas only the immediate area around you is visible.

The world of Adventure features three castles (gold, white, and black), which contain even more areas. The castles look superb and even have working gates that can lock objects (or creatures) in or out. Objects scattered about this virtual world include a magnet, bridge, sword, and three castle keys.

Your quest is fraught with peril in the form of three dragons: the slow yellow Yorgle, the nastier green Grundle, and the vicious red Rhindle. Granted, these creatures aren't much to look at - they look more like zombie ducks than dragons. You have to remember that Adventure was made when the programmers did their own artwork!

The dragons often guard items, but won't hesitate to chase you around. I love how after a dragon eats you you appear in its hollow belly, where you can continue to struggle in vain. Add in an item-swapping bat that continuously redistributes items, and you have a very dynamic and unpredictable world.

Variation #3, which randomizes the items, is a unique experience each time you play. If there was ever a good example of a sum being greater than its parts, it's Adventure. This was also the very first video game to feature an "Easter Egg" (hidden secret). © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 3
Recommended variation: 3AA
1 player 

Adventure Plus
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari Age (2002)
Posted: 2003/9/14

screenshotThis hack of Atari's classic Adventure features redrawn graphics and an entirely new maze layout. Objects like the bridge and chalice certainly look better, but the sword looks more like a big boat anchor. The dragons are larger and more detailed than those "ducks" in the original game, but they still don't look quite right to me. Doesn't anybody know how to draw a friggin' dragon?!

At least the new screen layout is refreshing, rekindling the thrill of discovery I felt the first time I played the original game. The simple gameplay is timeless fun, and running from dragons is even more exciting when you don't know where the heck you're going. The label art is also quite good. I highly recommend this to fans of the original game. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Adventures of Tron
Grade: C
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Posted: 2024/5/1

Tron joystickAt a glance Adventures of Tron has a lot going for it. It opens with a title screen displaying a pulsating "TRON". The game graphics are bursting of color with nary a flicker to be found. The platforms are sharp with all sorts of animated objects moving about. Our hero is rendered in three colors (three!) and runs like a freaking gazelle. Naturally the game plays better when you use an official Tron joystick. Not really, but it looks badass.

The four platforms are connected via a pair of elevators, but you can only use them alternately. Sparkling "bits" float along each level which can be snagged by jumping. Unfortunately the collision detection is so lousy that half the time they pass clear through you. Sigh. Collect them all and you can step into the center "I/O beam" to be whisked off to the next stage.

Patrolling the platforms are magnets, dancing folding tables, and tanks. Obviously it's the tanks you need to worry about. It's difficult to leap over them, and when they're firing mortars, your best bet is to turn tail. Funny how the collision detection suddenly becomes pinpoint accurate when it comes to them hitting you. Enemies move in predictable patterns at least, dropping from one platform to the next so you can anticipate their arrival.

The left difficulty switch serves two functions, with the right being unused. On A you can run fast but killer tanks appear from the git-go. It sure would be nice if you could run fast without getting thrown to the wolves! On B the game is slow and strategic, while on A it feels like a mad dash. Adventures of Tron is terribly uneven but there's enough challenge to keep you hitting that reset switch. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 6800
1 player 

Air Raiders
Grade: B+
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Posted: 2004/6/1

screenshotThis is a highly underrated first-person jet fighter. Unlike so many "simulator" titles that get bogged down with complicated control schemes and busy control panels, Air Raiders is simple to play and fun. You begin the game looking over a runway. Pressing the fire button accelerates, and once you gain enough speed, you pull back to ascend. You'll engage enemy fighters almost immediately. Up to six enemy planes can appear on the screen at a time (!), and it's satisfying to line them up in your crosshairs and blast away with your rapid-fire machine gun. The tight controls make it a breeze to ascend, descend, or bank.

Enemy planes won't fire back, but you do have to contend with "flak" from ground fire. This flak varies depending on your position and altitude, and it seems to have a random element. Absorbing too much flak will trigger a sudden drop in altitude, which can potentially crash your plane. To avoid having your game end abruptly, you'll want to keep an eye on that altitude gauge. Other gauges indicate fuel and ammo, which can be replenished by landing.

Landing simply involves reducing your altitude to zero and pushing up on the joystick when the landing strip appears. It's easy enough to execute and adds some variety to the gameplay. Your score is measured by the number of planes shot down, and there are two difficulty levels available. Air Raiders delivers fast, exciting dogfighting action, and I regard it as a hidden gem in the 2600 library. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 14
1 player 

Air-Sea Battle
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Posted: 2006/11/24

screenshotThe VGC is one critic who's not afraid to admit when he's wrong and make proper restitution. I missed the boat on this one the first time around. It may not be much to look at, but Air-Sea Battle is an unadulterated head-to-head shooting game. In some ways, it's only as good as the people at the controls. Playing it casually against a friend (or the ultra-lame CPU) just isn't going to cut it. It's only properly played between two enraged, testosterone-laden males willing to put everything on the line!

As the trash talk begins to flow Air-Sea Battle really comes into its own. On the surface there's just a bunch of blocky ships, planes, and cannons. I really do like that blue gradient skyline however. The early variations are best, as two cannons take aim at aircraft moving across the sky. It's especially satisfying to strike a plane an instant before your opponent can - causing his missile to fly harmlessly through the explosion. Granted, calling these effects "explosions" is being a little loose with the language.

The game moves at a slow, deliberate pace, but that just emphasizes the importance of proper aiming and timing. Each battle lasts 2 minutes and 16 seconds, and when the scores start blinking in those last 16 seconds, it can get pretty intense. The 27 variations incorporate moving cannons, guided missiles, and even low-flying balloons to complicate matters. I'll pass on the later variations where you control a boat or plane because the speed control is just terrible. But for pure head-to-head target shooting action, give Air-Sea Battle a try. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 27
Recommended variation: 6B
Our high score: 63
1 or 2 players 

Grade: F
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Posted: 2003/7/29

screenshotIn Airlock you must escape from a flooding submarine. It's not a bad premise, but the execution stinks in a big way. In fact, this game could be the poster child for the 1983 video game crash - it resembles an unfinished 1979 high school programming assignment. Let's start with the putrid graphics. There are five blocky platforms in what appears to be the most generic platform game ever.

Your character is a static stick figure who must jump over barriers while grabbing rectangular "keys". Your main sources of danger are the runaway torpedoes that move from side to side across each floor. Inexplicably, these "torpedoes" are shaped like your man from the waist up. Worse yet, instead of water gradually filling the lower areas, entire floors simply turn blue at predetermined time intervals.

Thanks to the awful controls you'll find yourself constantly entangled in the barriers. The sound effects are practically non-existent, and there's no score either - you either escape or you don't. Airlock barely qualifies as a game. Did Data Age really think the fancy title screen would compensate for the appalling gameplay? © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3B
1 player 

Alfred Challenge
Grade: C-
Publisher: Independent (1998)
Posted: 2021/9/4

screenshotI initially reviewed this French homebrew way back in 1999 before homebrews were commonplace. It looks like a basic platformer but looks are deceiving. Most Atari 2600 games tend to be on the easy side - at least when played on their default variations. Alfred Challenge takes a new approach, kicking your ass from the outset. The game has four screens but simply clearing the first feels like a monumental achievement.

The screen layouts are deceptively simple with platforms connected by ladders, some of which are patrolled by crab-like creatures. Our egg-shaped hero, who bears a strong resemblance to Humpty Dumpty, must reach the fuzzy dot located somewhere on the screen. Retrieve that "key" and a second dot appears. Rinse and repeat until the exit is revealed.

The animation is smooth and the controls are responsive. It's a good thing because Alfred Challenge is all about timing. Complicating matters are the various types of ladders. Some are up-only, some are down-only, and some don't allow you to stop in the middle. Some platforms disappear and reappear, forcing you to think ahead and execute precise, deliberate moves.

With enough practice you eventually get the timing down. The screens reconfigure a bit whenever you grab a key, so you'll typically need to circumvent the same screen multiple times. But just when you think you're in the clear, an even more insidious foe rears its ugly head: the timer! Give me a BREAK! Alfred Challenge is very frustrating but at the very least it lives up to its name. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2AB
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1982)
Posted: 2022/4/11

screenshotThe first time you fire up Alien you may be in for disappointment. It's yet another Pac-Man (Atari, 1982) clone, albeit a very good one with excellent control, clean visuals, and ample challenge. Our heroine Ripley must crunch alien "eggs" in a maze while brandishing a flamethrower (!) to keep wandering aliens at bay.

If I'm not mistaken I believe Ripley was the first human female protagonist to appear in a video game. If you squint hard enough, that running figure really does bear a striking resemblance to Sigourny Weaver. You don't see it? A bald-headed Sigourney perhaps...? No...? Forget it. Damn this is a tough crowd.

I like Alien's maze layout and the fact that the pulsars (power pills) appear unpredictably, one at a time. You can try to catch aliens after grabbing a pulsar, but they are quick and elusive. I just wish the sound effects weren't such a blatant rip-off of Pac-Man. The fire button lets Ripley unleash her flamethrower, which usually (but not always) turns back approaching aliens.

The game has a few nice touches. A lucrative "prize" periodically appears in the center, and comes in a number of shapes. There's a tunnel on each side, and it's cool how creatures (and you) dissolve as they enter and reconstitute on the other side. I love that "airlock" sound when it happens. Upon clearing each maze there's a Freeway-like bonus screen where you try to move up the middle while avoiding criss-crossing aliens.

It kind of bothers me how the manual refers to the creatures as aliens, yet they more closely resemble the face-grabbers. Had the designers gone with this premise and somehow incorporated the "real" alien into the bonus round, they may have been on to something.

Alien deserves a little more credit than your typical shameless movie tie-in. It's fun to play and when played on the right variation the action can be quite frantic. The animation is smooth and the aliens are extremely unpredictable. The game is derivative as hell, but at least you can play this before bed and it won't keep you up all night. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2AB
Our high score: 22,535
1 player 

Alien's Return (Europe)
Grade: F
Publisher: ITT Family Games (1983)
Posted: 2019/7/24

screenshotThis is not an Alien sequel as the title would suggest. This generic maze crawler stars a sad ET wannabe. He vaguely reminds me of that pathetic alien from the horrendous 1988 film Mac and Me. You scuttle around a spaceship maze with a layout and color scheme reminiscent of Pac-Man (Atari 2600, 1981).

I would have never figured out how to play Alien's Return if not for some helpful readers. There are eight "chambers" around the screen. Pushing against any of these compartments while pressing the button causes either a guard to emerge or a "spaceship part" to materialize in a corner. You need to collect all the parts to complete the stage. The problem is, you need to collect them in a specific order, and that's tedious as [expletive].

The difficulty is low however because the guards move slowly and never speed up. You can drop blocks to slow them down but that's hardly necessary. Alien's Return is seriously lacking in entertainment value. The one and only challenge to be had is figuring out how to play the damn thing. Note: This rare European PAL game was converted to NTSC and reviewed on a Harmony Cart. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 11186
1 player 

Allia Quest
Grade: B
Publisher: Ebivision (2001)
Posted: 2002/6/17

screenshotEbivision's previous two games (Merlin's Walls and Pesco) were pretty mediocre, but I'm happy to report that Ebivision is back on track with Allia Quest. I suggest you grab your favorite joystick and prepare yourself for some good, old-fashioned shooting action (like mom used to make). A simple shooter at heart, Allia adds its own unique twist to the Megamania-style of gameplay.

Your ship is situated at the bottom of the screen, and it never actually moves. Instead, approaching targets shift in response to pushing the joystick left or right. It takes some getting used to, but works quite well. The surprisingly large targets are an eclectic mix of colorful shapes, and your rapid-fire cannon disintegrates them nicely.

The action is simplistic but addictive and fun. I advanced a bit further each time I played, eagerly anticipating what the next wave had in store. Understated, deep tones provide some interesting background noise. Allia Quest is a pleasant surprise, and a perfect fix for classic gamers looking for something fresh. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 13,700
1 player 

Alligator People
Grade: C-
Publisher: Fox (1983)
Posted: 2003/5/4

screenshotThis ancient Fox prototype was recently dug up and is currently available from several web sites. While I'd hardly characterize its gameplay as addicting, Alligator People is an interesting title nevertheless. The playing field consists of moving walls that create an ever-changing maze. You control an orange syringe that needs to keep moving in order to avoid being crushed by the walls. Three infected humans line both the top and bottom of the screen, and your goal is to cure them by "shooting them up" with serums.

As you're collecting serums scattered around the screen, the people gradually morph from humanoid to alligator form. The transformation looks pretty wild by Atari 2600 standards, and it looks even better when you transform them back with a series of successive shots. Complicating matters are alligators that slowly patrol the screen, but these are easy to avoid. Alligator People is quite innovative but comes up short in the fun department, which may explain why it wasn't originally released. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 9AB
Our high score: 7065
1 player 

Alpha Beam with Ernie
Grade: NA

screenshotYou know I've nearly exhausted the Atari 2600 catalog when I'm reviewing games like Alpha Beam with Ernie. Yes, that's Ernie of Sesame Street fame minus his long-time "companion" Bert (*ahem*). Alpha Beam is an educational game for kids aged 3-7. It's designed for use with Atari's Kid's Controller which is basically an oversized keypad with large, easy-to-press buttons. I can see why it's necessary because I'm playing with normal keypad controllers and the buttons are so tight they are killing my fingers!

The game screen features a large blue spaceship with four slots labeled with letters. You move a very slow flying saucer side-to-side, and it looks a lot like the vessel from Laser Blast (Activision, 1981) or maybe Cosmic Ark (Imagic, 1982). The idea is to zap floating letters at the top of the screen and deposit them into the slots on the ship. When the available letters match what you need, the game is easy. In advanced variations however you'll need to "zap" letters multiple times to get the one you want.

Cooperative variations add slots to the bottom of the ship, challenging two players to place matching letters. When successful, there's a little animation of the ship thrusting, stopping over a planet, and teleporting Ernie down to a surface. Ernie is so tiny I could barely make him out! Considering that's his only appearance, the Sesame Street theme feels a bit tenuous. The manual states that Alpha Beam helps kids learn to match identical letters and discern between "confusing" letters, but it sounds more like a solution looking for a problem. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Game variations: 12
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Posted: 2001/3/17

screenshotThis imaginative maze game is a clever combination of Qix and Pac-Man, and Colecovision fans will probably be reminded of Pepper II. Amidar's graphics, however, are pretty shabby. You control a gorilla, but the only way I knew that was by looking at the game label. This has got to be the saddest looking video game gorilla EVER. Heck, this thing makes the pixelated ape in Donkey Kong look like a digitized image!

As you slowly navigate each maze, you'll leave a trail behind as you attempt to cordon off areas of the screen. You're pursued by little green warriors at first and pigs in later stages (who said video games made sense?). By boxing off the corner squares you can turn your enemies into harmless chickens for a few seconds. Invincibility can also be initiated a few times per level by pressing the fire button. I really didn't care for the game's sloth-like pace. It's interesting to note that Froggo's Spiderdroid game (released later) is 99% the same as Amidar. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 6635
1 or 2 player 

Another Adventure
Grade: NA
Publisher: Keith Bradbury (2011)
Posted: 2018/7/26

screenshotIt's a sure sign of greatness when so many programmers hack one particular game, and there's no shortage of hacks for Adventure (Atari, 1980). Another Adventure is the most artistic one I've played and probably the most playable. Its stage select screen impressed the hell out of me, featuring a huge dragon head! The first three variations adhere to the formula of the original game, except with additional areas and much improved graphics.

When I saw that gold castle for the first time my jaw hit the floor! Its exquisitely-detailed design completely belies its low resolution. The artwork in this game is sensational. Screens that were formerly empty rooms now contain huge fountains, a bridge, or a forest. The hedge maze is now green instead of blue - a change that's long overdue. When you hold the sword, it actually aims in the direction you're moving! I felt right at home playing this.

New areas include a red hovel that leads to an underground area and an absolutely gorgeous ice castle (wow). Two new variations (4 and 5) are provided for experts, and they had my heart racing as I dashed through screens with the red dragon in relentless pursuit. This brings me to my one complaint, which is the design of the dragons. While certainly more detailed than the "ducks" of the original, they are kind of hard to make out. Where is the head? That said, Another Adventure is far more than just Another Adventure. This is the Adventure game I always wanted and didn't even know it. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2012/12/8

screenshotI probably would never have heard about this old Atari prototype if it weren't included on the Atari Flashback consoles. Aquaventure is an underwater shooter with some similarities to Fathom (Imagic, 1983). You play a diver armed with a spear gun, and you can shoot it rapidly left or right. In each stage you'll descend progressively deeper into the ocean to retrieve treasure. Colorful fish swim sideways across the screen, and they are deadly to touch. You'll also want to be careful not to touch that razor-sharp coral that lines both sides.

I guess the most impressive aspect of this game is the variety of fish. They come in a wide assortment, and just when you thought you'd seen them all, you'll see something new. You don't need to shoot fish to obtain the treasure, but at 500 points a pop bagging fish are a good way to run up your score, so shoot away.

When you return to the surface screen with your treasure, a mermaid takes you to the next stage. A turtle moving across the top of the screen shows your remaining air. There's not much audio except for a constant pinging noise. Normally I don't assign grades to prototypes, but as far as I can tell this one looks complete. Aquaventure isn't spectacular, but its colorful graphics and easy-going gameplay don't deserve to be forgotten. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 103,125
1 player 

Arcade Golf
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sears (1979)
Posted: 2017/3/2

screenshotThis is the same as Miniature Golf (Atari, 1979). Why Sears went with the title Arcade Golf is anybody's guess. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Sparrow (1983)
Posted: 2020/9/12

screenshotYet another quality prototype has been unearthed for the Atari 2600! This platformer is far too handsome to have been collecting dust for 35 years. The cleverly-titled (or not) Arkyology is based on Noah's Ark from the Bible. The screen layout is the shape of an ark viewed from the front, rendered in attractive orange hues. There are three main floors connected via a series of ladders. The only thing not up to Old Testament standards is Noah's outfit. He looks like a flamboyant superhero in those purple tights with yellow boots. Judging...

His first order of business is to open all the animal stall doors, which is more tricky than you'd expect. You need to approach each handle from the side and jump diagonally to reach it. To be honest it doesn't look like you ever get high enough but whatever. Making your life difficult is a spiky thing moving across the top of the screen dropping brown things (?!) on you. You'll also need to duck under flying birds and jump over scurrying bugs.

The controls are responsive enough but exiting ladders is problematic because you need to be at the perfect height. Once all twelve stalls are open the next round begins. This time you'll need to feed the animals that appear randomly in the stalls. I was impressed by the sheer variety of livestock: horses, rhinos, swans, cats, pigs, reindeer... you name it.

Once feeding time is over you see an odd little intermission of Noah sleeping in a bed as the moon passes over. Then the next round begins. Arkyology scores points for both eye candy and challenge. It's hardly a game of Biblical proportions but this long-lost prototype is certainly worth checking out. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Armor Ambush
Grade: B+
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Posted: 2001/3/17

screenshotConsidering how popular Combat (Atari, 1977) has remained over the years, it's surprising that this game doesn't get more attention. Armor Ambush is a two-player tank game with variable terrain and two tanks on each side. Switching control of your tanks is done by simply pulling back on the joystick.

The randomized environments consist of roads, grass, forest, water, and buildings that ricochet shots. Certain terrain will slow you down, but in general the tanks move swiftly. The animation is smooth and the large missiles are easy to follow. It all adds up to a terrific two-player contest. Note: I always imagined that Combat 2 would have been a lot like Armor Ambush, and its recently-revealed prototype proved me correct. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Artillery Duel
Grade: D-

screenshotAfter I posted a glowing review of Artillery Duel (Bally Astrocade, 1982) an inquisitive reader asked why I didn't rate the Atari version highly, as it's the same game. Well, it's not the same game. The Astrocade edition boasted lush mountain scenery and some very sophisticated-looking controls. There was even a bit of pomp and circumstance with soldiers marching about to drum music.

This Atari version feels bare bones by comparison. I'm pretty sure I typed in a better version of this game on my Atari home computer in 1982. Two cannons are dropped on opposite ends of a randomly generated, blocky landscape. Players take turns launching mortars at each other, adjusting power and angle while taking the fluctuating wind into account. Thanks to the 2600 sound processor the explosions have a nice resonating quality.

The controls are poorly labeled. I find it odd that "B" sets your angle, considering "A" wasn't taken. While trading volleys the mortars take their sweet old time traveling through the air. A single hit on your opponent spells victory; there's no concept of incremental damage. It's apropos that this game appears on a double-ender with Chuck Norris Superkicks (Atari 2600, 1982) because it feels like half a game. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Assembloids 2600
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari Age (2017)
Posted: 2017/11/14

screenshotHave you ever noticed most puzzle games tend to be knock-offs of Tetris (NES, 1989) or Dr. Mario (NES, 1990)? Not Assembloids. I've never played anything quite like this. The game is so simple and unique you'll wonder why somebody didn't think of it 25 years ago! The goal is to assemble four-piece images of cute animals for points. The screen consists of a square surrounded by four other squares. A randomly-colored piece appears in the center and you move the joystick to place it in one of the four assembly areas.

Upon completing a creature it disappears and you score. If you place a piece in a square that already has that piece, you lose a life. Adding a sense of urgency is a meter on the bottom of the screen that rapidly drains during each move. You get about two seconds at first to make up your mind, but the pace gradually quickens.

In addition to quick thinking there's some strategy as you earn more points for assembling creatures with four of the same colors. After every 1,000 points the shape of the creatures changes to a new imaginative design. I set up Assembloids at my recent Halloween party and people caught on to it right away.

You can tell the game has been honed over time with its charming graphics, pinpoint controls, and fair ramping difficulty. Everybody who plays this raves about it. If you happen to own an Atarivox attachment it will even retain high scores. Assembloids is the best puzzle game for the Atari 2600, and had it been released in the 1980's it would have been huge. The instruction manual has some nice behind-the-scenes information as well. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: KC 3990
1 player 

Asterix (Europe)
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2014/9/4

screenshotAsterix was the European adaptation of the Taz game released in America. What prompted the name change, and who the [expletive] is this Asterix fellow? Judging from the title screen he looks like a hillbilly with... wings on his head!? Are people in Europe familiar with this freak? In the game you control... uh.. what is that? Apparently you're moving his disembodied hillbilly head around the board! Exactly who thought this was a good idea?

As in Taz, you freely hop between eight lanes as objects move across in both directions. You collect certain items for points (pots, helmets, shields) while avoiding indiscernible red things that kill you. There's not much to this, but the controls are tight and there's a certain risk/reward dynamic. It's satisfying to watch point values displayed on the screen as you go around snagging objects. Still, I personally prefer Taz because it makes more sense and the items are easier to make out. The bottom line is that Asterix is the exact same game, only weirder. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,500
1 player 

Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 2021/4/26

screenshotAsteroids was a formative title in my early gaming days. I discovered it over my cousin Todd's house during a family function. I was mesmerized by the game and played it for hours on end. Today it's easy to take a common title like Asteroids for granted, but even after forty years it continues to impress.

The first thing worth mentioning are its vibrant colors. The fine lines of the vector-graphics arcade game were sharp but a little bland. The 2600 version features bright blue, orange, and yellow rocks that really stand out in front of that black background. Even the red score across the top strikes a brilliant contrast.

Using an arcade-style joystick has given me a new appreciation for this game's button-tapping goodness. At the start of each wave you can really lay into that moving wall of rocks, blasting away like there's no tomorrow. It's satisfying to glance up at your score and see all those points racking up. There's no pause between rounds; hit that last asteroid and the next set instantly appears. In fact, an errant shot from the previous wave will often strike one of the fresh new asteroids.

When a collision is imminent you can pull back on the joystick to engage hyperspace - a maneuver that repositions you on a random part of the screen at your own peril. The game's 66 (!) variations also offer alternative options like a three-second shield and a 180-degree "flip". The controls are super-responsive, and that's key because I usually initiate hyperspace at the last possible instant.

Upon losing a ship the game doesn't just place your next one in the center. No, it actually waits until things to clear out so you'll have some room to work with. Very considerate! When things get truly hectic I like to go into my "kamikaze mode" which entails thrusting wildly across the screen while shooting like a madman. Good times!

To truly appreciate Asteroids you need to play a challenging variation. The default is pretty tame, with most rocks floating in predictable up-and-down patterns. Faster variations have asteroids moving in diagonal patterns, creating harrowing crossing patterns. Be sure to set the difficulty switches to A to enable the UFOs. These not only amp up the challenge but increase the excitement and scoring.

The audio features an ominous Jaws-like cadence that quickens as each wave progresses. Your shots make a "choon choon" sound, and man, that incessant noise used to drive my dad up the wall! The explosion sound effects are fantastic and the warbling noise of a UFO entering the fray will demand your attention.

Asteroids is an outstanding game that actually improved upon the original in many regards. Whoever programmed this thing was a genius. The Asteroids formula has often been imitated but I love the purity of the original. This game defies the aging process, at least when it comes to fun. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 66
Recommended variation: 6A
Our high score: 27,080
1 or 2 players 

Asteroids Vector Edition
Grade: NA
Publisher: Hozer (1999)
Posted: 2001/5/15

screenshotUnlike the original Atari 2600 title, the objects in this Asteroids hack are rendered with vector-like outlines, making it more closely resemble the original arcade game. Not a big deal, but Asteroids fans may find it a pleasant change of pace. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
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1 or 2 players 

Astro War
Grade: F
Publisher: Taiwan (1983)
Posted: 2020/9/12

screenshotAstro War is one of those dubious Taiwan Atari carts of obscure origin. The game itself is a blatant sideways version of Astroblast (M-Network, 1982) with a yellow ship blasting asteroids approaching from the right. Your ship is tiny and agile, allowing you to effortlessly dodge any rocks you don't shoot. Occasionally a pixelated alien will make an appearance and if he gets by you'll lose a ship.

The programming here is a little sloppy. As new rocks materialize on the right they "wrap around" to the left in a disconcerting manner. The fact that your "lives" count doesn't update in a timely manner is another source of confusion. Color schemes change periodically, but I found most to be visually offensive.

Astro War employs some kind of multiplier scoring system. Since you lose points for letting rocks pass the screen may violently flip between color schemes as you straddle a 10K point boundary. Astro War might have been halfway respectable had its difficulty been calibrated correctly. You begin with six lives and bonus lives are handed out like confetti. I could play this game all day but I really don't want to play it all day. To be honest I don't want to play it at all. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 30410
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Posted: 2021/5/23

screenshotAs their answer to Atari's wildly-popular Asteroids (Atari, 1982), arch-rival Mattel released Astrosmash (Intellivision, 1981). Then they proceeded to port it to the Atari 2600 under the name Astroblast. Confused? Instead of busting up rocks in space, Astroblast has you moving a "star base" across a planet surface being bombarded with meteors, many of which split when shot. Add in falling spinners that detonate upon reaching the surface and you have a recipe for intergalactic mayhem. You could argue this is better than its Intellivision cousin, with smoother animation and better control.

Astroblast has an unconventional scoring system to discourage the player from "camping out" on one part of the screen. Your score is docked for each asteroid that you don't shoot, with your final score being your "peak" score. The left difficulty switch enables auto-fire capability which is awesome. The right switch lets you select one of two skill levels: hard and insane. Offsetting the difficulty is the fact that you get 10 lives and earn an additional base for every thousand points.

The graphics are nothing to write home about. How much time did they spend on that chunky green landscape? You'll hardly notice it once the action heats up. Upon crossing certain point thresholds the background color changes, a la Missile Command (Atari 2600, 1982). Some of the colors look amazing, but it's demoralizing when your score dips and you return to the previous color.

Astroblast's biggest surprise is how it supports both joysticks and paddles, with each providing a unique experience. Since you move slower with the joystick, the challenge is much greater. If you want to go buck-wild however you want to reach for the paddles. These ultra-precise, super-sensitive controllers let you effectively spray the entire screen. You may even live to see the bomb-dropping UFOs which make their first appearance at 20K!

Astroblast is frantic fun but its progression could be better. It's tough sledding for those first few thousand points, but once the game starts throwing high-value "spinners" and "pulsars" the game loses some of its identity as the rocks become secondary. Also, the constant awarding of lives means you reconstitute lives as fast as you lose them. Still, you have to respect the torrid pacing and the fact that this game can be enjoyed in multiple ways. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: AB
Our high score: 24,250
1 player 

Atari Video Cube
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2002/4/5

screenshotThere's a common misconception that Atari Video Cube is simply the video game version of the Rubik's Cube, but it's not. Sure it looks like a Rubik's cube, and yes, the object is to make each side a solid color, but Video Cube's gameplay is much different (and much easier). I couldn't solve an actual Rubik's Cube if my life depended on it, but I can solve an Atari Video Cube in just over 3 minutes.

You control a little man on a randomly-scrambled cube, but instead of rotating sides, you carry and drop individual squares around the cube. When you pick up a square, your man turns that color. One catch is that you can't walk over squares that are the same color as your man. Your objective is to solve the puzzle in the fewest moves or race against the clock. It's not hard to solve the puzzle, but doing it quickly and efficiently requires subtle strategy.

Atari Video Cube's graphics are minimal, but the animation of the cube rotating is impressive. In terms of audio, the game features non-stop beeping sound effects that are bound to get on your nerves. Of the 14 game variations, most are useless. Many "black out" parts of the cube (too hard), or let you watch the computer solve the puzzle for you (boring!). The few variations that remain are very good however. Atari Video Cube is an often overlooked title, but it's at least worth a try. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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Game variations: 18
Recommended variation: 1 and 2
Our high score: 733
1 player 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Posted: 2003/6/14

screenshotThanks to its attractive, high-resolution graphics, Atlantis won over a lot of gamers in 1982. The bottom half of the screen features a colorful, submerged city with all sorts of strange-looking buildings and reactors. Overhead, rainbow-colored hostile alien ships zip back and forth until they descend low enough to disintegrate one of the structures. Using three cannons, one in the middle and one on each side, it's your job to keep these invaders at bay for as long as possible.

Since you can't aim, the gameplay is remarkably simple - just select your cannon with the joystick and fire. Game variation one is far too easy because you can rely almost solely on the middle cannon, which shoots straight up (unlike the side cannons that shoot diagonally). Even when the middle cannon is finally destroyed, it's promptly replaced thanks to the overgenerous bonus system. Variation two is much better because the middle cannon is disabled, so you'll need to time your shots carefully. The two-player cooperative mode is also a nice option.

Besides its sharp graphics, Atlantis is also interesting from a historical perspective. It was one of the first console games to have a real "ending", which briefly depicts a flying saucer escaping after your city is completely destroyed. Additionally, it was the first 2600 game to produce a "sequel": Imagic's Cosmic Ark. Atlantis is an interesting game to look back on, but its gameplay is undeniably shallow. For a better, fully realized version, check out the Intellivision edition. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 56,101
1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, 2600 Connection, Atari 2600 Homebrew, Moby Games, Atari Protos.com, Atari Mania