Atari 2600 Reviews B

BMX Airmaster
Grade: B-
Publisher: TNT (1989)
Reviewed: 2004/4/27

screenshotThis late-arriving 2600 title boasts some respectable visuals and top-notch music, but it's not very easy to play. BMX Airmaster includes three different bike events: half-pipe, quarter-pipe, and a ramp jump. In the half-pipe you ride from side to side, flying into the air and performing stunt combinations. The instructions don't explain how to perform the stunts, but they don't take long to figure out. The controls are not especially intuitive, but with some practice you can pull off an impressive string of mid-air tricks.

Still, no matter how fancy your stunts are, they don't count for jack unless you manage to land your bike safely - and that's not easy. After 90 seconds of half-pipe, you move on to the quarter-pipe. This plays just like the half-pipe, except you only get three jump attempts. Short and lame, quarter-pipe has "filler" written all over it. The final challenge, the ramp jump, is definitely the most exciting. Set on an ocean pier, you fly off one ramp and execute tricks before landing on a second ramp. It's a shame you're not actually jumping over anything - that would have been far more exciting.

BMX Airmaster's graphics are clean and attractive. Your rider peddles his bike convincingly, and when he reaches a certain altitude, a second screen with clouds shows him in mid-air. The graphics are minimal, but the mountain and island backdrops are a nice touch. I also have to give BMX credit for its terrific music. Its edgy, grinding tunes are quite appropriate for a sport of this "extreme" nature. BMX Airmaster takes time to learn, but if you can make it past the learning curve, you might have a good time with it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,332
1 or 2 players 

Bachelor Party
Grade: D
Publisher: Mystique (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/12/5

screenshotThis so-called "adult" game is only good for a few laughs. If you didn't know any better, you would probably just pass it off as another lame Breakout clone. Only after you read the instruction manual do you realize that odd looking thing is supposed to be a guy, and those jagged shapes are ladies. By bouncing the guy off the side of the screen, you can touch the ladies and make them disappear!

The hilarious instructions attempt to convince you that through the "superb color graphics" and "realistic sound", you are acting out some kind of fantasy situation. I'm sorry, but playing Bachelor Party is a far cry from having a Playmate on your lap. And what kind of bachelor party only has one guy? This is just silly. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3B
Our high score: 350
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Chad Lare (2003)
Reviewed: 2015/7/19

screenshotI have a soft spot for homebrews, especially one that delivers as much challenge and originality as Backfire. Its glossy, professional-grade instruction manual doesn't hurt either. Of course, these things don't necessarily equate to fun. The idea behind Backfire is so basic you wonder why nobody thought of it before. You toggle control between two cannons on the top and bottom of the screen, taking aim at enemy ships moving across rows.

For the most part you'll want to take control of the cannon closest to your target for a better shot. Moving barriers soon begin to appear which deflect your shots directly back at you. Not only do you need to watch for bouncing projectiles, but you need to be really careful not to shoot your cannon on the other side! The barriers can also be beneficial. If your shot is a little off, it'll sometimes hit its target on the rebound.

If an enemy fighter comes too close to the edge of the screen your cannon begins convulsing in the most annoying way. It's almost as irritating as the "death" animation which combines the shaking with random beeps. Keep an eye out for special ships that move across the middle and net big bonuses. Backfire is a dynamic game and sometimes it seems chaotic because there's so much going on! A two-player mode would have been nice, but the single-player action was good enough to keep me coming back, trying my best to score more than just a few hundred points. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 565
1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 1999/9/15

screenshotPrior to reviewing this game, I had not played Backgammon since my childhood. But after skimming through the manual and watching the computer play, I was able to pick up on this fairly easily. Backgammon is a simple board game that involves moving pieces from one side of the board to the other.

The board is nicely rendered on the screen, and you can easily see what's going on as the pieces are being moved. The paddle control is fast and convenient. I like how the game moves along quickly, unlike other Atari board game adaptations like Video Chess. Eight play variations let you compete against the computer or another person. I'm skeptical about the computer opponent however since I was able to defeat it on the first try, and there's only one difficulty level. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Bank Heist
Grade: B-
Publisher: Fox (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/2/9

screenshotBank Heist may look like another generic maze game, but it's actually quite interesting. For one thing, it accurately depicts what it was like to be a gangster in the 1930s. Man, things sure were a lot blockier back then. As you cruise around a maze in a vintage automobile, you pull off bank robberies by running over white pillar symbols.

Three cop cars are in hot pursuit, but they can be eliminated by dropping dynamite sticks behind your car. Since the dynamite takes a second or two to detonate, careful timing is required. As you eliminate cops, new banks appear, and after you've robbed nine, you can exit the maze and receive a free tank of gas for your troubles.

The graphics aren't much to look at, with the exception of those nifty old-time cars with the spinning wheels. Bank Heist is more involved than your typical maze game and takes a few plays to get the hang of it. But once you do it's quite satisfying, especially in the later stages where the action becomes fast and furious. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4AA
Our high score: 4,851
1 player 

Grade: D
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/6/30

screenshotWhen I first played Barnstorming in 1982, it seemed rather pointless, and in 2004 my opinion hasn't changed much. Flying a biplane up over windmills and down through barns, the object is to complete a "course" in the shortest time. It's a quiet game, and guiding your plane up and down is almost a relaxing experience.

White birds in the sky can slow you down, but in general Barnstorming requires little technique or strategy. Back in the day this game could get by on its clean, attractive graphics. Your yellow plane features a spinning propeller and a blowing scarf, and the windmills certainly look detailed. Heck, the barns even have weather vanes!

The first few variations are set courses you can memorize, but there's also a random course. Barnstorming is yet another good-looking Activision title, but its humdrum gameplay might just put you to sleep. There's never been another game like this - and let's hope it stays that way! © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4A
Our high score: 1:33.04
1 player 

Grade: D-
Publisher: Sears (1978)
Reviewed: 2017/3/4

screenshotSee review for Home Run (Atari, 1978). This is the same game under the Sears brand name. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Basic Programming
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2000/9/4

screenshotThis well-intentioned but poorly-executed cartridge was probably meant to compete with other video game systems that offered (or promised to offer) keyboards and computer capabilities. Basic Programming allows you to write programs up to 63 characters in size. In other words, you really can't program anything useful. Oh sure, you can print your name or move a block across the screen, but that's about it. It's really just a tool to teach the basic concepts of programming.

You have to flip between various screens to view your variables, stack, program, and output. Unfortunately, the keypad controllers are ill-suited for letter entry, and you have to press crazy combinations of keys on both controllers just to enter simple commands. It's a tedious process and definitely not worth the effort - especially since your work can't be saved when you're done. Basic Programming might have been a good learning tool in the late 70's, but today not so much. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Reviewed: 2020/5/31

screenshotThis unintentionally funny sports title features a square ball and players with one static leg and one blinking leg. Basketball was even a gag in the movie Airplane, as the air traffic controllers are seen playing it instead of doing their job. Once the hilarity subsides however you're left with a surprisingly playable and competitive basketball game. This is a fast-moving, one-on-one free-for-all where you race up and down the court trying to steal the ball before your opponent can get off a shot.

The pseudo-3D court conveys a nice sense of depth which was pretty innovative for 1978. The longer you hold in the button the longer your shot. The backboard is very forgiving and you don't even need to call glass. I played this game against my buddy Steve, successfully running my trademark "crossover" zigzag against him again and again. At one point I thought I broke his player's ankle, until I remembered it always blinks like that.

In retaliation Steve would execute his patented alley-oop play which involves passing the ball to himself. It's a little crazy but whenever I play Basketball with anybody new they always admit it was more fun than they thought it would be. It's a back-handed compliment but a compliment nonetheless. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2019/2/13

screenshotThere are two great first-person tank shooters for the Atari 2600. Robot Tank (Activision, 1983) has more style but Battlezone delivers a more realistic combat experience. You could argue this home version is more playable than the arcade game! There are no barriers or vector graphics but the game is still played in a 3D space. If a tank fires on you from the side and you back up in time, you can actually watch the shell whiz by your windshield! It's even possible for enemy tanks to collide or unintentionally shoot each other!

A circular radar indicates the position of multiple adversaries who don't hesitate to fire from off-screen. Enemy tanks converge quickly and "super tanks" are fast and elusive. Drones approach in zigzag patterns, forcing you to shoot or be shot. Hovering red flying saucers don't present a threat but at 5000 points they're an irresistible target.

The graphics aren't bad at all. Moving treads are visible on the bottom of the screen and the mountainous backgrounds are colorful. When you die chaotic static envelops the screen. In terms of challenge, few 2600 games can match Battlezone's intensity level. This one will put even seasoned gamers to the test. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 48,000
1 player 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2004/6/30

screenshotLike a flat version of Tempest, this challenging space shooter puts you in control of a cannon on a 3D grid. Granted, the vertical lines look more like trails of dots, but work with me here! Your main weapon has limited range (pretty weak), but you also have a limited supply of torpedoes that can reach the very top of the screen. It's a good idea to save some of these for the mother ship, which slowly crawls across the top at the end of each wave.

Beamrider's graphics are clean and attractive, and enemy ships scale nicely over the grid. To complete each stage, you'll need to shoot 15 white saucers, and I like how the number of remaining targets is displayed in the corner of the screen. You'll need to keep an eye out for missiles fired by the saucers, as well as indestructible objects like asteroids. Beamrider's gameplay is solid and the stages gradually increase in intensity. There are two difficulty levels, and the harder one is no joke. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 8,014
1 player 

Beany Bopper
Grade: D-
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Reviewed: 2013/2/5

screenshotIt's amazing what they used to slap onto a cartridge in the early days. Beany Bopper tosses together a bunch of random wacky elements in the hope that fun will ensue. It never does. You control a purple eyeball moving around a square arena with blocky obstacles scrolling down from above. Entering the field of play are mean faces with propellers that bounce around. You can shoot these rotten bastards to freeze them in place, and then touch them to collect points. Points are also earned by catching falling airplanes, parachutes, oranges, and monkeys.

The controls are responsive and the animation is smooth and flicker-free. The early rounds are mind-numbingly boring however, and I don't like how bonus items tend to fall along the edges of the screen, forcing you to constantly cross the entire screen to snag them. The audio effects sound as if they've been recycled from other Atari 2600 games. The challenge finally kicks in at around 30K, and the manual even mentions a "surprise" at 100K. Beany Bopper will give your wrist a workout but with minimal strategy and little variety, it just feels like a pointless exercise. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 37,500
1 player 

Bermuda Triangle
Grade: D-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/1/11

screenshotFrom the outset, Bermuda Triangle appears to be a fun shooter in the same vein as Seaquest (Activision, 1983). Its colorful graphics include the best looking sub I've ever seen in a 2600 game. The object is to collect relics from the ocean floor and return them to a research ship patrolling the water surface. As the screen scrolls, you'll need to avoid mines, UFOs, squid, sharks, and enemy vessels.

Your sub moves swiftly and shoots rapidly, but despite the fast action, Bermuda Triangle is lacking in terms of fun. For one thing, it's entirely too easy. When you collide with most obstacles, they just rattle you a bit. The real dangers are laser beams that appear at random and are impossible to avoid. Why these unfair devices even exist is a mystery on par with the actual Bermuda Triangle. They seem to serve no purpose except to make the game artificially harder.

I have a few other gripes as well. Returning items to the surface should net you 600 points, but your score doesn't register immediately, which is disconcerting. I also hate how you can lose points by taking a hit while transporting an item to the surface. All in all, Bermuda Triangle doesn't play nearly as well as it looks. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 3A
Our high score: 5,750
1 or 2 players 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/5/1

screenshotThis has got to be one of the most underrated Atari 2600 cartridges of all time! This fast-action shooter puts you in control of a fugitive with no neck who must escape mazes full of armed robots. Each robot has a single rotating eye that conveys a menacing appearance despite the low-resolution graphics.

A few concessions have been made from the arcade version, but nothing major. Specifically, the mazes are simpler and the robots cannot fire diagonally. Although these may alter the gameplay slightly, they don't diminish the fun or addictiveness.

Despite what the title would suggest, patience and strategy are required to do well in this game. By tactically positioning yourself, you can dupe robots into running into walls or even shooting each other. But if you stick around too long, Evil Otto, the invincible bouncing head, will chase you out. Otto may look silly, but he keeps the game moving and creates a sense of urgency. Always a challenge, Berzerk stands the test of time. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 9
Our high score: 8,720
1 players 

Berzerk Voice Enhanced
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari Age (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/22

screenshotIf you've only played Berzerk on the 2600, you may be unaware that the real gimmick behind the original arcade game was its awesome voice synthesis. Its robotic voice would utter such witticisms as "Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!", "Humanoid must not escape", and my personal favorite, "Chicken, fight like a robot!"

Now you can experience the same voice-equipped arcade action on your Atari 2600 thanks to this voice-enhanced cartridge. The voice plays between screens, and while hard to discern at first, hardcore Berzerk fans will savor these classic lines. In terms of gameplay, this is the exact same 2600 Berzerk you've always loved. It might not be a big step up, but the voice addition makes this the definitive version of a great shooter. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 6
1 player 

Better Pac-Man, A
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari Age (1999)
Reviewed: 2001/11/19

screenshotThe original Atari 2600 Pac-Man was a real dog, so it's nice to see a version that's faithful to the arcade, even if it is 20 years late. "A Better Pac-Man" is appropriately named. It's essentially a hack of Ms. Pac-Man, one of the best Atari 2600 carts ever made. The graphics are sharp and well-defined, and the control is dead-on.

Like the arcade original, there's only a single maze and fruit bonuses appear in the center. It certainly lives up to its name, but A Better Pac-Man is not as good as it could have been. Instead of a "waca-waca" sound effect, Pac-Man makes a harsh, fuzzy sound when he eats that's not particularly pleasing to the ear. Otherwise, this is a terrific game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 17,090
1 player 

Bioshock 2600
Grade: D
Publisher: Spiral Rift Productions (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/4/1

screenshotWhat we have here is Bioshock "reimagined" - for 1981. It may have seemed inconceivable a few years ago, but with the advent of sophisticated homebrews with larger ROMs, I guess anything is possible (or so it would seem). Technically impressive but overreaching in scope, Bioshock 2600 attempts to squeeze a highly sophisticated first-person shooter into a meager Atari cartridge.

I was somewhat amazed how the game manages to incorporate the same stages, demented enemies, and bizarre storyline. You explore a submerged art-deco world with diverse areas that include an atrium, theater, market, and medical center. The furniture looks plush by 2600 standards, but those vintage signs can be hard to read.

As far as enemies go, the Big Daddies look imposing - especially up close. The crazed lunatics however are severely pixelated, and when shot they just blink and disappear. Bioshock 2600 pushes the hardware to its breaking point. The uneven frame-rate makes it hard to aim with precision, and severe flicker occurs when you unleash plasmids like fire and acid.

The clunky inventory system forces you to use the black/white switch to access your items. Worst of all, the game fails to convey the surreal, unsettling atmosphere of the original game. The wall textures are repetitive and the blood looks incredibly chunky. The water effects are unconvincing and the physics often goes completely out of whack.

The programmer equated "lighting effects" with "flashing", but they're not the same thing. Even the off-key music lacks the haunting quality of the original game. Blocky cut-scenes do a respectable job of conveying the tale of an undersea metropolis gone mad, but only one of the two endings are included.

Finally, $70 is pretty steep, especially considering it costs more than the original game! I can admire the ambition, but in trying to remain faithful to the original subject matter, Bioshock 2600 is ultimately crushed under its own weight. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7

screenshotThis archaic cartridge allows up to three players to simultaneously bet against a computer-controlled dealer. Big deal huh? Blackjack wisely uses the paddle controllers and lets you choose between two sets of rules. The cards themselves look awfully plain and don't even have suits! The sound effects are just as sparse, limited to some card shuffling, beeps, and occasional buzzes. Is Blackjack for the 2600 outdated? Definitely. Is it fun? Hell yeah!

I actually played this game for much longer than I had intended. Why? Well, the game of Blackjack doesn't require fancy graphics, and this version is fast and easy to control. Sure you can have sharper versions on your PC, but who wants to hunch over a keyboard and mouse to enjoy a card game? There's something to be said for sitting back and relaxing with a paddle controller.

Once you blow through a few hands you can really get into a groove. The game starts you off with $200, and it's fun to see how high you can go. The game's realistic too, in that eventually you always lose all of your money. Expert card players may be disappointed however that you can't double down or split pairs. Blackjack was discontinued after Atari released their four-player Casino game, which also contains Blackjack. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 244
1 to 3 players 

Blair Witch Project, The
Grade: NA
Publisher: Tim Snider (2000)
Reviewed: 2000/6/3

screenshotNo, your eyes do not deceive you! Yes, a Blair Witch game has been created for the Atari 2600, although it's really just a hack of Atari's Haunted House (1981). I happen to be a huge fan of the movie, making this a neat game to own. The gameplay is exactly the same as Haunted House, but the graphics have been "updated" Blair Witch style.

You are now pursued by moving handprints, the ghost of Rustin Parr, and even the Blair Witch herself! The scepter is now shaped like a totem, and instead of finding pieces of an urn, you must assemble parts of a camera. The font used to display the numbers at the bottom of the screen has also been modified to good effect. Tim Snider did a great job matching up a classic game with this scary film. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Grade: C-
Publisher: CBS (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7

screenshotA few years back, Blueprint won me over with its flashy graphics and sophisticated gameplay. Of course, in those days I was young and easily impressed. Older and wiser now, I can scrutinize the game with a more critical eye. Your goal is to save your girl from what appears to be a fat red fish running on its tail. First you must construct a cannon by collecting parts which are scattered in a maze of houses.

The beginning of each stage offers a brief glimpse of where the parts are hidden, so pay attention! Personally, I found this whole "memorization" aspect a real pain. If you can't remember where the parts are, the game becomes an exercise in trial-and-error. Should you enter a house that does not contain a part, you end up with a bomb in your hand that must quickly be disposed of.

A red creature pursues you around the maze, but the fire button provides a handy turbo boost to help you escape. Once the cannon is fully assembled, a second screen appears. Here the villain can be seen closing in on your girlfriend on the top of the screen, and a well-timed shot is required to take him out.

Then it's off to the next, more difficult round with more pieces and a shorter timer. Blueprint has impressive graphics, with multi-colored objects all over the place. The nonstop music, on the other hand, is pretty awful. All things considered, Blueprint has nice visuals and ample originality, but its headache-inducing gameplay makes it hard to recommend. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 3000
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: First Star (1983)
Reviewed: 2001/10/17

screenshotHere's a fast-paced Q*bert clone that's very rare. In Boing, you bounce a bubble over a grid of squares, attempting to turn them all the same color. The control is outstanding; you can bounce around very quickly and the game won't let you fall off the edge. Your adversaries assume the form of pins and "bubble busters", but these can be neutralized by making them collide with each other. It's interesting to note how you can only die when your bubble is situated on a square, and not in the act of jumping. I'm not sure whether this is a feature or a bug, but players will want to take advantage of it. Boing's graphics are simple but smoothly animated. The game is easy and fun, and the challenge ramps nicely. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 7220
1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2004/3/3

screenshotIt would be easy to dismiss this oldie off-hand, considering its primitive graphics and simplistic gameplay, but Bowling is a respectable little game. You control a multicolored bowler with an oversized head who flashes and jumps for joy after converting a strike or spare. The pins are simple black squares, which frankly look pretty awful.

Bowling offers three types of control: straight ball, curve, and steerable. The straight variations are pointless, but the curve and steerable modes are fun. In the curve variations, you throw the ball straight but can initiate the curve at any time. The steerable variations let you freely guide the ball left and right as it rolls down the lane.

You'd expect this degree of control to guarantee a strike or spare every time, but the game has a random element that results in some unpredictable pin setups. Pins can also knock into each other, making it possible to nail tough shots including splits. The on-screen scoring feature is nifty, and the two-player contests can be quite competitive, so grab a friend and give it a go. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3A
Our high score: 177
1 or 2 players 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (1980)
Reviewed: 2001/7/14

screenshotPeople tend to love or hate Boxing, but I think it captures the spirit of the sport perfectly. Its relentless, non-stop action and constant button-pounding can really make you work up a sweat! Boxing's minimal graphics feature an overhead view of a boxing ring with two goofy-looking boxers, one black and one white. Each bout is two minutes long, and you can face off against a friend or the CPU.

It's very satisfying to watch your opponent's head fly back after a hard hit to the face. Despite the simple controls, there is subtle strategy involved. You can keep your distance with jabs, or go in for the kill with a ferocious combination. Close bouts are especially fun, and the intensity builds as those last few seconds tick down.

Will the boxer who's ahead remain aggressive, or try to run out the clock? One thing's for sure - this game can make your thumb very sore. Back in the early 80's, I used a piece of construction paper to cover the scores during the matches to create a sense of uncertainty. One of my friends named this clever invention "the Boxing Buddy", and I've still been known to use it on occasion. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: BB
Our high score: 74-68
1 or 2 players 

Brain Games
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Reviewed: 2001/5/14

screenshotBrain Games is one of several Atari cartridges designed for use with the 12-button keypad controllers. And let me tell you, it's a sad bunch. The illustration on Brain Games shows a wizard casting a magical spell. It must be a "sleep" spell, because this game made me want to take a nap! Most variations require you to repeat a growing sequence of keys or numbers (like that annoying Simon hand-held game). Let's face it, that may have been fun in the 1970's, but... check that - it wasn't even that fun back then! Other variations challenge you to find the symbol "that doesn't belong". This reminds me of those cognitive learning tests given to first graders - not my idea of a good time! Finally, there's a variation that lets you play "music" with your keypad. This makes your Casio keyboard look like a grand piano! Forget this! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Relational Framework (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/8/10

screenshotOn the surface Breakanoid is a sloppy Breakout clone with weird physics and obnoxious sound effects. The animation is rough and the collision detection is suspect. If the programmer was going for the vintage 1977 look, he pretty much hit the nail on the head. The basic premise involves deflecting a ball at a colorful, blocky wall, and it's nice how each hit takes out multiple bricks.

Since Breakanoid rhymes with Arkanoid, you're expecting a little razzle-dazzle, right? Well, there is some of that. Power-up icons frequently rain down, allowing you to do things like catch the ball, fire missiles, or speed up the ball. Actually I try to avoid the speed icons because they make the game a lot harder.

Each stage has a unique wall design, but Breakanoid's real ace in the hole is its "magnetic paddle". This feature is on by default, but can be toggled via the black/white switch. The magnetic paddle lets you guide the ball to a limited degree, allowing you to ease it into a narrow crevasse or take out a pesky lone brick.

It's a weird and loose sort of control, but it's kind of mesmerizing. I liked it enough to forgive the lack of support for paddle controllers. I also like how you don't need to clear out every last brick before advancing to the next screen. It's not much to look at, but if you give Breakanoid a try, you may find it habit-forming. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 5,334
1 player 

Breakaway IV
Grade: C
Publisher: Sears (1978)
Reviewed: 1999/12/9

screenshotSee Breakout (Atari 2600, 1977) for a full review of this one. Breakaway IV was the same game issued by Sears. Apparently the IV denotes the fact that four people can play at once. Quite the bizarre naming convention. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

Grade: C

screenshotBreakout is what we in the business call "abstract". There's no rhyme or reason to this thing. Oh wait - you're telling me there's an athlete on the label? And he's swinging a paddle? Bloody hell! Leave it to Atari to demystify their games. Then again a box with a rainbow wall on the front probably wouldn't have sold very well. With the exception of Pong it doesn't get much more basic than Breakout. Using the most precise controller known to man (a paddle) you repeatedly deflect a ball against a wall of colored bricks, chipping away until they're gone.

The strategy is always the same - create an opening on the far left or right side (or middle if you're feeling adventurous) so the ball becomes trapped in the hollow top area. When this occurs the ball accelerates, bounces around like mad, racking up points and doing most of your work for you. Your paddle then experiences severe shrinkage, adding to the difficulty.

I prefer Breakout's default variation. Simply clearing a single wall is a major accomplishment! I noticed the ball will sometimes hesitate when hitting the paddle, as if it's trying to determine the next random angle it's going to take. The other variations feel gimmicky. The steerable ones let you exert a weird influence on the ball, but you're not so much steering it as fighting it. The catch variations are boring and the invisible wall games are annoying. There are also timed variations that track how many seconds it takes to clear the wall, assuming you can.

Then there's a whole separate set of "breakthru" games where the ball just slices through the wall like butter, taking out huge gashes at a time. I have to admit this is great fun when paired with the steering feature. Each mode supports up to four players and it's not the usual turn-based crap. No, when two players are on a team, each player's paddle covers one-half of the screen. Very clever! So if you think Breakout is lame, pop in this cartridge and try to clear that wall. It will teach you the meaning of humility. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 403
1 to 4 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Reviewed: 2015/11/5

screenshotIn its early days Activision wasn't afraid to tackle subjects other game companies avoided. Dragster racing... cattle lassoing...the three little pigs... even hot-air balloon racing! Suffice to say you can count the number of Bridge games on one finger. This antiquated card game is meant to be played between four players (two-on-two). Most people associate the game with old people. In fact, had the ESRB rating system been around this could have been assigned "Seniors Only (80+)"

I remember seeing this in the games section of the newspaper way back in the day. Bridge was the last of the original Activision titles I hadn't reviewed, so I figured, "how hard could it be?" Well... pretty hard. I began to wonder just what I had gotten myself into. The manual inexplicably assumes you already know how to play, tossing out obscure references like the "Stayman and Blackwood conventions". Ummm... what?

The manual has the nerve to state this "is like playing any game of bridge". As if it's common knowledge! There's an extra piece of literature ("How your partner bids in Bridge by Activision") which is totally worthless. I was forced to do some Internet research to get the basics down. I'm still not sure how the "bidding" process works but that doesn't seem to matter.

The object is to win a certain number of hands called "tricks". Players take turns putting down a card (you also play as your partner), and the team with the high card wins. The main rule is to put down the same suit if possible. Sometimes there's a trump suit that adds a little spice. There's quite a bit of strategy and frankly I found the game quite addictive!

There's not much graphics or audio, but the screen layout makes sense, the suits are easy to discern, and the controls are great. I'm surprised this is only a one-player game. I'd imagine joining forces with a friend against the CPU could be fun. As it is, playing Bridge is a lot like playing Solitaire. There's nothing special about it but once you start playing it's kind of hard to stop. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom
Grade: D+
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Reviewed: 2008/8/23

screenshotI still remember that awful Buck Rogers television show from 1979. Gil Gerard was the star, and his sidekick was a robotic midget named Twiki. In one particularly idiotic episode he actually teaches the people of the future how to dance. I don't know about you, but if people of the future all dance like white guys, then I want no part of it. Fortunately this game has little to do with the show, besides the fact that it's set in space.

You begin by guiding your ship over a planet surface, weaving through gates while firing on enemies that appear on the horizon. I like how your ship leans into turns, and the explosions look pretty good! You can fire rapidly, but your missiles travel further if you shoot one at a time.

After passing through a certain number of gates, you enter deep space and take aim at groups of saucers that scale in and out. Once cleared, you face a pink boss ship shaped like a Tie Fighter. You must knock out both halves of this boss to destroy it and advance to the next stage.

Planet of Zoom looks really sloppy, with jumpy objects, erratic collision detection, and some truly heinous color schemes - including a bright red and puke green planet. In spite of that, the game is fairly enjoyable due to its fast action. The timer on top of the screen also adds suspense.

It's a shame there's only a single difficulty level because it really takes about 15 minutes before the challenge finally kicks in (around stage 9). It doesn't help that you get free lives early and often. I could deride this game as sloppy and buggy, but since it's pretty ambitious, I'll be nice and call it quirky and unpredictable. Had Sega taken the time to polish this up, it could have been a real gem. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 546,008
1 player 

Grade: D-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/7/1

screenshotDo I dislike bugs? Yes. Do I wish to inflict bodily harm upon them? Absolutely. Needless to say, I expected a shooter called "Bugs" to be a dream come true. So why am I shooting freakin' lizards!? Lizards have never done anything to me, and I'm not about to start shooting them now. The title is clearly misleading, and the game itself is pretty lousy.

Before each stage you travel through some kind of inter-dimensional tunnel, but those blinking colors look more like a bad acid trip. Once the action begins, your paddle-controlled crosshairs provide pinpoint side-to-side movement as you aim at centipedes (and lizards!) slowly creeping toward the top of the screen. You also have to contend with a pesky gizmo called a "Phylax" which moves across the screen, zeroing in on your crosshairs.

That thing can only be destroyed by "leading" your shots, and it's the one really difficult element in the game. Unlike every other game for the 2600, the "A" difficulty switch setting is easy, and "B" is hard. Bugs is a pretty sorry-looking game, but its steep challenge might just keep you coming back for more. Even scoring a measly 100 points would be an achievement worth bragging about if the game was any good. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 145
1 or 2 players 

Bugs Bunny
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2008/11/18

screenshotAn unreleased Atari game from 1983, Bugs Bunny was finally completed and released to the public at the Philly Classic 2002 show. The visuals are striking and the concept original, but that doesn't always equate to fun! You move Bugs across one of three platforms as Elmer Fudd fires shots from the top of the screen. A well-animated dog digs you up, and you must quickly dive into a nearby hole amid a rain of bullets. I wonder if this level of violence would merit a "teen" rating in 2008?

On the highest platform you also have the option of "stealing" Elmer's bullets, which buys you a little time and nets you 100 points. Be careful: Just because you stole his supply doesn't mean he doesn't have one left in his shotgun! The game looks impressive with its large, flicker-free characters. I like how Elmer closes one eye as he aims, and Bug's diving motion is swift and fluid.

The game demands precision timing, and it's satisfying to dive into a hole as a bullet whizzes by your tail. There's minimal strategy, but the sharply-ramping difficulty prevents monotony from setting in. A two-player option allows a second player to assume the role of Elmer. Atari may not have thought much of Bugs Bunny back in the day, but for classic gamers this is a worthy addition to the collection. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1AB
Our high score: 1,940
1 or 2 players 

Bump N Jump
Grade: B+
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Reviewed: 2009/3/3

screenshotBump N Jump lets you act on the natural urge to run other cars off the road and smash them into oblivion. Or maybe I just need counseling. Anyhow, this arcade-style driving game lets you weave through traffic, hop over holes, and bump other cars for points. When you knock other drivers into guardrails, they are instantly incinerated, and I like that!

It's easy to throw your weight around when you're dealing with wimpy sports cars, but those heavy-duty tractors are hard to budge, and dump trucks will unload on you! Your most aggressive opponents are skulls-and-crossbones - literally! Couldn't the programmer have placed the symbol on some kind of black box so it vaguely resembled a car? I mean c'mon now - that looks cheesy as hell.

Pressing the fire button sends your car soaring high through the air, and this marginally-convincing illusion is created through the magic of pixelated scaling. This comes in handy, because would you believe every single [expletive] bridge on the road is out!? This just isn't your day man!! A series of beeps indicates an upcoming gap, but even then it can be hard to time your jump. This jumping ability can also be used to destroy other cars (by landing on them), or as a defensive mechanism to avoid hitting walls.

There's really no scenery to speak of, but the stages are divided into seasons, each with its own color scheme. Bump N Jump's graphics are minimal, but the animation is fast and smooth, and the game is just plain fun. The developers wisely included an option to turn that irritating "happy" background music off (via the black and white switch), and I recommend you do that. Bump N Jump doesn't look like much, but its pick-up-and-play quality is hard to resist. There's only one variation, but it will have you hitting the reset button again and again. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 34,408
1 player 

Bumper Bash
Grade: B-
Publisher: Spectravideo (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/2/22

screenshotHere's a good-looking pinball game with round bumpers, drop targets, multipliers, rollovers, and ball kickers. Let's face it, round bumpers are something we don't take for granted in an Atari 2600 game! The table is fairly detailed and there are plenty of targets to keep you busy. One unique aspect of Bumper Bash is its unusual control scheme, which uses both paddle buttons to activate the flippers (the knobs are not used). This makes the game feel more like real pinball, but rules out any kind of nudge control.

Bumper Bash is tough because the flippers are small and there's a significant gap between them. It also doesn't help that one of the rollers is poorly positioned directly over the hole. The physics is fair for the most part, but sometimes the ball appears to "stick" to a flipper instead of caroming off it. In terms of fun, I'd have to say Bumper Bash falls somewhere between Video Pinball and Midnight Magic. Not bad, but not the best. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 21,265
1 player 

Grade: D-
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/6/30

screenshotThis has got to be the most unpleasant version of Burgertime I've ever played. I think I hate it. It's slowly paced, the controls stink, and the graphics are truly appalling. In case you've never played this classic platform/ladder game, you control a stocky little chef pursued by eggs, hot dogs, and cheese. Your job is to assemble burgers by walking across the ingredients, causing them to drop to the bottom of the screen.

In fairness, this version does have all the basic elements of the arcade game, including multiple screens, pepper, bonus items, and the music. But playing this game made me nauseous. Your chef moves like a snail, and it's hard to navigate the ladders. These graphics have a raw, unfinished look. The eggs and cheese are nothing but flickering squares, and tossing pepper on them causes the whole game to pause momentarily. Yes, the original arcade game was a little on the slow side, but this one is particularly laborious. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 9900
1 player 

Byte Before Christmas, The
Grade: B+

screenshotThis four-in-one cartridge delivers an eclectic mix of yuletide cheer. The opening screen plays "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as characters from four selectable games pop up around the screen. The game Santa's Scabs is a fighter pitting you against rows of marching elves. Kicking one in the face causes a lump of coal to be dropped (I think that's coal) and collecting three lumps lets you battle the "union boss" elf. It's not the most heart-warming premise, but the fluid animation of your pixelated little guy is amazing.

The second game, Naughty List, puts you in the role of Santa flying his sleigh. The idea is to drop presents onto buildings below, causing them to collapse (and you thought the first game was weird!). With each pass Santa's sleigh loses altitude, so you'll want to take out the taller buildings first. It would all be a little easier to swallow if the buildings didn't look like giant phallic symbols. When you see a pink building suddenly grow, you wonder how that got by the testers.

My favorite game of the bunch is Bell Hopper, a mega-addictive mini-game you'll play over and over again. You control a fluffy white bunny in a snowy forest hopping on bells that float down gently from the sky. Each bell boosts you further skyward, and as you ascend so does your score. You might get vertigo playing this!

Last but not least is Christmas Adventure, which takes the classic gameplay of Adventure (Atari, 1980) and gives it a "Grinch That Stole Christmas" makeover. The scenery is blocky but surprisingly artistic. It's fun to search houses for items, and with a little imagination you can make out fireplaces, Christmas trees, and furniture. The colorful cast of characters includes psychotic toys and an oversized Grinch.

The game would be perfect if not for the pitch-dark areas that require a candle to illuminate. Feeling your way around is no fun, especially when you can't even see yourself! Byte Before Christmas is impressive on the whole and gets extra credit for its elegant instruction manual. My friends couldn't get over the quality, and Brent actually said "this... is beautiful!" Byte Before Christmas is a first-class package that will make you look at the holidays in a whole new way. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: Bell Hopper
Our high score: 397,360
1 player 

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