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

Atari 2600 Reviews D

Dark Cavern
Grade: C+
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Posted: 2023/9/9

screenshotPart of me wants to believe Dark Cavern is awesome but I'm just not feeling it. This is basically the Atari version of Night Stalker (Intellivision, 1982). You're a soldier navigating a maze while engaging in shootouts with wandering robots, occasionally seeking gun icons to replenish your ammo. In many ways this feels superior to the original game, with faster pacing and smooth, flicker-free animation. The robots lack detail but your character retains that patented "running man" look.

Dark Caverns maintains a futuristic vibe with its steely color scheme and the sound of a generator constantly chugging in the background. The difficulty switch lets you toggle between normal robots and "two-headed" robots which are just regular robots looking rapidly from side-to-side. You can sneak up behind a normal robot but two-headed robots always see you coming.

The problem with these robots is that they usually get off a shot at you - even if you shoot them first! In fact, I have witnessed shots coming out of them after they've completely vaporized! This means you need to be a safe distance when you shoot so you can duck out of the way, but the maze layout has few corridors long enough to allow you to do that.

One novel element was how it's possible to run out of bullets, and must replenish your supply by picking up gun icons that appear periodically. Besides robots, spiders will paralyze you (briefly) and blobs can steal your ammo, so it's a good idea to blast everything in sight.

Dark Cavern is challenging enough but extra lives come early and often, making it feel like a war of attrition. The cage in the middle of the maze acts as a "safe space" but the tunnels on the sides are deceptive as you can't enter them. Dark Cavern delivers some intense action but ultimately feels like less than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 69,000
1 player 

Dark Chambers
Grade: F

screenshotI guess Atari wanted to get in on some Gauntlet (NES, 1987) action on the 2600 and this was the best they could do. Dark Chambers is a "dungeon crawler" in the truest sense of the word. A dorky red elf slowly trudges through mazes while collecting loot, shooting monsters, and looking for the exit. The levels are labeled A-Z, and they are boring as hell.

The action unfolds in slow-motion and there's only one or two enemies on the screen at a time. The fact that every room looks the same makes it very easy to go in circles. Monsters include skeletons, wizards, and doctors wearing scrubs. Oh, those are zombies. When shot, each creature transforms into a lower form, so multiple shots are required to kill anything.

Since you can only fire one shot at a time it takes forever to kill something from a distance. Move in close however and you unleash some kind of rapid-fire action to wear them down quickly. The animation is smooth and I like how you can fire diagonally. Unfortunately Dark Chambers never generates suspense or excitement. Weapon upgrades are never lost once acquired, so the difficulty actually drops as you progress. There are smart bombs, but what fun is that when you can only kill two creatures at most?

The challenge is low even on the hardest difficulty. The monsters move like snails so the only danger lies when you enter a room and there's one standing next to you. I got so tired of dragging that elf's schlumpy ass from one side of the screen to the next, I couldn't stand it! And if you thought the single-player mode was a dull affair, the two-player simultaneous mode is nothing less than excruciating. I'm starting to think Dark Chambers was never meant to be the title of this game, but perhaps a storage suggestion. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 3
Recommended variation: Hard
Our high score: 44,680
1 or 2 players 

Dark Mage
Grade: C+
Publisher: Greg Troutman (1997)
Posted: 2002/2/26

screenshotWhat's this? A text adventure for the 2600?! Okay, now we're talking some hardcore old-school gaming!! It's been quite a while since I've played anything like this, so Dark Mage brought back a lot of fond memories. Text adventures were originally made famous by a little company called Infocom in the early 80's, with their classic home computer titles like Zork, Enchanter, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Dark Mage is primitive but certainly playable. The text is large, minimal, and easy-to-read despite its ugly yellow-on-red color scheme. Well-designed controls allow you to move in four directions, talk, take, give items, use items, and check your inventory. Once you get a feel for it, you can quickly move from one area to another. Like all text adventures, the main idea is to collect items and use them to unlock new areas.

There's plenty of trial and error involved, so expect to see this message a lot: "You can't do that here". It doesn't help that some of the puzzles don't make much sense (using a small dog to subdue an ogre? huh?) You'll also soon realize that it's necessary to map your progress on paper to keep from getting lost. Despite its obvious flaws, I found myself mysteriously drawn into this little adventure. Just the fact that it runs on the 2600 has got to be worth something. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Deadly Duck
Grade: D-
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Posted: 2023/9/9

screenshotIf you want to get an idea of why the Video Game Crash of '83 occurred, play a few rounds of Deadly Duck! This is one of those empty, mindless shooters that doesn't really bring anything new to the table. I guess the designer was hoping that some zany sound effects and random elements might somehow result in the next Galaga. Yeah... that didn't happen.

You move what appears to be a pink rubber duckie across the bottom of the screen, shooting at crabs moving sideways around the screen. Crabs really do walk sideways like that, so I guess this game is accurate on a scientific level. Whether crabs actually drop bombs on ducks is a discussion for another time. This is neither the time nor place. Focus people!

The graphics look colorful and clean. When firing shots at the crabs your duck makes a noise that I suppose could be construed as a quack sound. Your shots don't travel very fast, so you're not so much aiming as shooting in a general area, hoping a crab will move into your shot. It's possible to shoot down crab bombs, but if they land next to you they remain there for a few seconds, providing an obstacle that hems you in.

After stage one a row of dragonflies form a barricade above your duck, flying side to side and sporadically obscuring your shots. While this sounds like an original idea it's really just a pain in the ass. Some of your shots pass through them, but most result in the flies dropping exploding bombs on your duck. If you're going to shoot around these things you need to keep moving.

You can play it safe and steer clear of the flies, but if you only fire when you have a clean shot it drags things out to insufferable lengths, downgrading the action from boring to terrible. Deadly Duck is a cookie-cutter shooter that has languished in obscurity and it's probably best we keep it that way. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 4
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 1230
1 player 

Death Trap
Grade: C-
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1983)
Posted: 2015/5/27

screenshotDeath Trap reminds me of modern shooters like Chaos Field (GameCube, 2006) that consist solely of boss battles. In retrospect that concept can be traced all the way back to Yars' Revenge (Atari, 1982). There are plenty of similarities between these two games. It seems slow and tedious at first, but Death Trap ultimately manages to generate some excitement and suspense. You move your ship around the lower half of the screen, firing at two generators on top. The generators launch heating-seek missiles to keep you on your toes, but they'll sail right by if you just hold right or left.

The generators have "health" meters so you can see how much damage you've inflicted. When you hit a generator a white block is created that moves across the screen and can absorb your shots. As more criss-crossing blocks are created, it becomes difficult for your slow-moving torpedos to get through. But there's a twist. By holding in the fire button you steer your missiles. Not only can you skillfully snake your way through the moving blocks, but you can speed up your missiles as well. Sadly, this mechanic is undermined by some seriously mediocre collision detection. You might be able to weave through wide gaps in the early going, but once the blocks become dense a fire-and-forget strategy seems to work best.

Once you think you have the upper hand a shield slowly moves up from the bottom of the screen, seriously cramping your style. At this point the game gets intense and the color-cycling is mesmerizing. Will you be able to take out that last generator before getting crushed? If you do, there's a cool power-down sound effect and your final score is displayed. Three skill levels are available, but anything other than easy is impossible. Deathtrap isn't a standout title but it's at least good enough to make you want to beat it. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: square
Our high score: 32,381
1 player 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2002/2/7

screenshotMy initial review of Decathlon was fairly scathing, probably because I broke a joystick just trying to review the [expletive] thing! But eventually it dawned on me that Decathlon is really the precursor to all of those button-tapping track and field games we all have grown to love (or hate) so much. Moreover, the fact that it packs in ten events and supports up to four players is also noteworthy.

The events include the 100m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m race, 110m hurdle, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m race. Your smoothly-animated athlete is rendered in four colors, but for some reason the coliseum is only packing about 18 spectators. Only one player competes in each event at a time. Each requires a good bit of joystick jiggling, and the action can get pretty intense. Unfortunately, there's too much emphasis on running, and these events nearly ruin the game.

The 100-meter dash is tolerable, but the 400-meter race will have you jerking your wrist back and forth for a full minute! The final event is a 1500-meter race, and it is sheer torture! Another problem is that in most events each player gets far too many "tries", which is aggravating for the other players. One nice feature is how you can pick and choose individual events to customize your tournament. Overall, Decathlon is a fine choice for some spirited multiplayer action. It's the only Atari 2600 game that's ever made me break into a sweat! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2021/4/26

screenshotDefender took arcades by storm in 1981 with its innovative horizontal scrolling, complicated controls, and ultra-high difficulty. I remember trying to play this game at the local High's convenience store and being embarrassed! This Atari 2600 version looks great. Well, the box does at least! Defender benefited from some of the best box art in the business, calling to mind the Battlestar Galactica TV series.

At a glance the game itself doesn't look bad either, with blue buildings lining the planet which arguably look better than the angular red hills of the original. All the elements of the arcade were retained including alien landers who abduct tiny squares - I mean humans - from the surface. If they carry a square/human to the top of the screen that poor bastard is transformed into a mindless mutant. However if you can shoot the lander on the way up and catch the blinking square - umm... human - you can rack up big points.

What's remarkable about this game is how the developer managed to shoehorn one of the most complicated control panels in history into a one-button joystick! Granted, a few liberties had to be taken. To use a smart bomb (which incinerates all on-screen enemies) you have to duck below the city skyline and press the fire button. To initiate hyperspace you move above the upper boundary and hit the button. I think that's pretty clever.

The graphics however are another story. Apparently the programmer couldn't figure out how to display your ship and its streaming shots at the same time, so when you fire your ship disappears! Maybe he should have taken some tips from the programmer of Chopper Command (Activision, 1982)? Tap fast enough and you're practically invincible! It may not be enough to save you from a swarm of aliens, but it's quite common to witness an enemy missile pass harmlessly through the area where your ship should have been. The graphics also suffer from a major case of flicker-itis, rough scrolling, and erratic alien movement.

Defender is the game everybody had but nobody loved. When you consider how Atari's Pac-Man (Atari, 1982) was lambasted by critics, it's remarkable this cartridge emerged unscathed. Far better ports of the game are available for the Colecovision and Atari 5200. Defender is sloppy but all things considered, not terrible. Atari did eventually rectify the situation with a sequel called Stargate (Atari, 1984), but by then it was a little late. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 20
Recommended variation: 8B
Our high score: 143,750
1 or 2 players 

Defender II
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Posted: 1999/6/17

screenshotSee Stargate review. It's the same game. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

Demolition Herby
Grade: C+
Publisher: Telesys (1983)
Posted: 2004/2/9

screenshotObscure, hard-to-find games for the 2600 are usually lousy, but Demolition Herby proves an exception to the rule. At first glance, Herby looks like a dull Amidar clone, with its large grid and small vehicles moving along the edges. Controlling a green Volkswagen pursued by three tractors and trucks, the screen scrolls up and down as you attempt to cordon off all the squares and clear the level. You also need to maintain your fuel supply, which is slightly replenished whenever you complete a square.

While your adversaries are fast and relentless, you can eliminate them by ramming them from behind. This is easier to accomplish by pressing the "overdrive" button, which consumes more fuel but makes you an instant speed demon. Eliminating the other vehicles early in each stage will make your life easier, but they don't go without a fight.

Their movements are wild and unpredictable, and they can abruptly change direction at each intersection. When you do nail one from behind, the vehicle will bounce around the screen for a while, sometimes causing chain reactions (nice). Herby is undeniably challenging and even the first stage is no cakewalk. The graphics and sound are mediocre at best, but Demolition Herby encourages you to be reckless and take chances, and I like that. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 3810
1 or 2 players 

Demon Attack
Grade: B
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Posted: 2023/9/9

box I have a theory about why Demon Attack was so popular in its time. There was a popular arcade game called Phoenix (1980) that featured a cannon firing at swooping birds. Demon Attack felt like the home version of that. Atari would eventually release Phoenix (Atari, 1982), but not until Demon Attack had enjoyed its time in the sun.

On the surface this is a pretty standard shooter. You move a cannon across the bottom of the screen shooting flying aliens moving in erratic side-to-side patterns. It's cool how the birds "form" from two masses flying in from each side. In later waves the large aliens split into two small "birds" when hit. When one is shot, its counterpart will seek revenge by making a high pitched whiny noise while attempting to ram your cannon.

Demon Attack changes aliens between waves and employs some vivid color schemes. Besides birds there are crab monsters, beasts with tentacles, blobs that expand and contract, and headless freaks that gyrate in a freaky manner. Who said aliens can't get down? As waves progress the action becomes faster and more intense. I especially like when you destroy an alien just as it's forming on the screen.

Another thing Demon Attack has going for it is a plethora of options. I really like the idea of the guided "tracer" shots. While these let you home in on an enemy, they can also steer you into that enemy's bombs. There's a co-op mode but it's weird. Instead of two cannons being on the screen, you both control the same one, alternating control every few seconds.

Demon Attack is good but not spectacular. The default variation can take a while to ramp up but the hardest variation (7A) is crazy from the git-go. Besides fun games, Imagic was also known for their photographic cover art, and Demon Attack's label features a photo of a spray-painted rubber dinosaur which I remember owning as a kid. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 10
Recommended variation: 7A
Our high score: 9,240
1 or 2 players 

Demons To Diamonds
Grade: D+

screenshotThis two-player shooter looks good on paper but didn't quite pan out. Demons to Diamonds uses paddle controllers, with player one moving a cannon across the bottom and the other moving across the top. Large-mouthed "demons" slowly materialize in rows in the center, slowly gyrating across the screen. The blocky graphics are underwhelming, with demons that look more like possessed trash cans.

The idea is to shoot demons of your own color, and picking them off is like shooting fish in a barrel. Destroy one and a diamond appears, zipping across the screen which you can shoot for bonus points. Hitting a demon of the "other" color creates a gray skull that rapidly fires shots in both directions. If there's any strategy to be employed, it all gets lost in the shuffle.

One notable feature is the longer you hold in the fire button, the further your laser beam travels up the screen. This had the potential for a nice a risk/reward element, but it never really came to fruition. The fact that moving diamonds tend to collide with the side of your beam makes destroying them feel less satisfying.

I was expecting a pretty lukewarm reception from my friends, but they actually enjoyed Demons to Diamonds! Brad and Brian liked the head-to-head scoring and simplicity of it all ("We like simple things, Dave"). Frankly I think it's the paddle controls. Whenever I whip these things out, my friends are just mesmerized by the precision analog control. Sadly, this magical technology was lost decades ago and never recovered.

I enjoy paddle games as much as the next guy but Demons to Diamonds feels less than the sum of its parts. The two-player action offers more confusion than strategy and the single-player mode feels tacked on. When all is said and done, this is one of those games you forget about the minute you yank it out of the console. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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Game variations: 6
Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: 1328
1 or 2 players 

Desert Falcon
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Posted: 2020/5/20

screenshotDesert Falcon was a playable Zaxxon (Colecovision, 1982) clone for the Atari 7800 but porting it to the 2600 version was ill-advised! This Egyptian shooter employs a 3D isometric viewpoint as you guide a giant falcon over pyramids while firing arrows and occasionally landing to collect power-ups. Did some Atari executive really think the system was up to the task? The scenery here is so abstract you need to play the Atari 7800 version just to know what you're supposed to be looking at!

Your pixelated bird flaps smoothly but never gains much altitude. Enemies are pixelated blobs and it's so hard to gauge their position that when you shoot one it feels like an accident. Desert Falcon is just poorly designed from the ground up. Random missiles are constantly being fired from off-screen. Landing to pick up symbols brings the action to a screeching halt, and touching any pyramid makes you keel over dead.

Only specific combinations of symbols will grant you powers, which is confusing. Sometimes you'll respawn directly on an obelisk, costing you another life. The sphinx boss looks impressive but the game places you in an awkward spot where you can't properly line up to shoot it! Desert Falcon's exotic musical score isn't bad, but it comes with a video game, and that is quite bad. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 4
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 2852
1 player 

Dig Dug
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2017/5/2

screenshotI knew my buddy Scott was a huge Dig Dug fan so when we started hanging out in the late 90's I'd always pop in this cartridge whenever he stopped by. Then a few months later I loaded up the arcade-perfect Dig Dug from my Namco Museum Volume 3 (PS1, 1997) and he was like "Wait, you've had this version the whole time?!" He never let me live that down. It may look a little plain, but this Atari version preserves all the moving parts and strategic complexity of the arcade. And the fact that it runs on the 2600 makes it all the more impressive.

Dig Dug stars a little dude in a white outfit tunneling through the ground to rid each stage of round orange creatures with goggles and cute fire-breathing dragons. You eliminate enemies by pumping them with air until they pop or by dropping rocks on their heads. It's good strategy to pump them up a little to delay their progress and time it so several can be crushed by the same rock. Come to think about it, this game is brutally violent.

As you might expect the graphics are less detailed than the arcade. The dirt is lacking the granular quality and the perfectly square boulders look cheesy. That said, the game retains all the distinctive monster behaviors and exciting risk-versus-reward strategy. Even the music is faithful to the arcade! Whoever programmed this really knew what they were doing.

Here are some helpful hints for new players. When the veggie like a carrot or eggplant appears in the center of the screen, immediately go after it! Those are worth crazy points. Next, if you're not going to catch that last monster fleeing the screen try to dig some extra dirt because every chunk nets you 10 points. Finally, when you start each stage look for "easy kills" in the form of obvious boulder drops. Take what they give you! Dig Dug is greater than the sum of its parts and knowledgeable players will devise all sorts of fun techniques. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 2
Our high score: 234,140
1 or 2 players 

Grade: D-
Publisher: Zimag (1983)
Posted: 2019/3/10

screenshotIn this vaguely circus-themed bargain bin title you attempt to keep plates spinning on ten poles (not five as pictured) for as long as you can. The cheesy name is an awkward mishmash of "dish" and "disaster", in case you haven't figured it out by now. The graphics are sparse but serviceable. I have to admit the dishes look pretty good spinning atop the poles, wobbling convincingly as they begin to slow down. You move a girl across the bottom, holding the button under each pole to spin it up.

Dishaster is an exercise in multitasking. The plates slow at different rates, and you need to move quickly to prevent them from crashing down. After four plates drop the game is over. The first two variations are endless, but the third offers just enough challenge. I noticed you can hold in the button the entire time, adding a little spin to each pole you pass by. I'm pretty sure there are other strategies you can employ to maximize your score. For example, letting plates on some poles drop so you can focus on others. Repetitive circus music plays throughout the game. This game may be Dishaster but I wouldn't call it a complete disaster. Note: Also released under the name Dancing Plate. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 10,680
1 player 

Dodge 'Em
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Posted: 2013/4/28

screenshotIn the early 80's my friend Andy and I would head over to Billy's house after school for some Atari and MTV. Billy had dozens of games but Andy just wanted to play Dodge 'Em all the time. In retrospect it's quite understandable. This unassuming little maze racer demands split-second decisions and cat-like reflexes. It's perfect for people with short attention spans, since a game rarely lasts more than a minute or two.

You drive a little car around a screen consisting of four concentric circles with four intersections. The object is to clear the lanes of dots while avoiding "crash cars" driving in the opposite direction. You hold the fire button to accelerate and use the joystick to change one or two lanes (depending on your speed). Those relentless crash cars never miss an opportunity to ram you, forcing you to think ahead and anticipate their movements.

Expect a lot of sudden lane changes and near-misses (or should that be near-hits?). It's a good thing you can pause between rounds to catch your breath! Dodge 'Em is surprisingly challenging and addictive, and you'll find yourself hitting reset again and again. A two-player mode lets a friend control the crash car. Dodge 'Em is more than the sum of its parts. It has to be, right? © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 3
Recommended variation: 1BB
Our high score: SLN 339
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2001/6/16

screenshotIt may resemble Seaquest, but Dolphin's gameplay is much different. This is an underwater "chase" game with sharp graphics and originality to spare. You control a dolphin swimming towards the right of the screen while being chased by a giant squid. The squid has one of those big nasty eyes, and he appears to be wearing shoes for some reason.

As the screen scrolls, approaching sea horses form walls that serve as obstacles. Each wall has a gap however, and by using the game's sound cues you can position your dolphin to swim right through the gaps without slowing down. This is the only 2600 game I'm aware of where the audio plays such a critical role.

Occasionally "currents" (which look like arrows) cross the screen to slow you down or give you a boost. In addition, if you leap out of the water and catch the magic seagull, your dolphin can turn the tables and chase down that rotten squid. Once you catch that ugly S.O.B., you'll rack up some real points. I can certainly appreciate Dolphin's fine graphics and original concepts, but the game does tend to wear thin after a few plays. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5B
Our high score: 20,700
1 player 

Donald Duck's Speedboat
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2020/7/7

screenshotThis unreleased Disney prototype offers light aquatic fun for the whole family. It begins with Donald sitting in his boat on the left side of the screen between two buoys. Pressing the joystick right lets you move between contiguous screens while navigating perilous obstacles on your way to the finish line.

Each screen offers a new set of dangers like rocks, bogs, whirlpools, and flying fish. One even features Donald's three nephews floating in the water. Your boat moves slowly but holding in the button provides a boost, allowing you to rack up points. There's not much to see except green mountains in the distance reflected off the water.

After reaching the finish your nephews march onto the screen with a gold, silver, or bronze trophy based on your score. With a sharp title screen and multiple endings, Donald Duck's Speedboat is pretty much a complete game. It's repetitive and shallow however, especially with the longer courses repeating the same sections over and over. This would have been a questionable release, but there's a certain appeal to the game's innocent charm. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 93,170
1 player 

Donkey Kong
Grade: B+
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Posted: 2022/12/15

screenshotDonkey Kong for the Atari was subject to heavy criticism back in the day, perhaps unfairly so. This arcade conversion had only two alternating screens, and it certainly paled to the dazzling Colecovision edition. Yet while this version is scaled-down, it might just be the most playable Donkey Kong out there.

The first screen features rolling barrels rolling down diagonal red beams. Donkey Kong stands atop the structure, holding your girlfriend hostage for some reason. He looks chunky but I like how he pounds his chest whenever you change directions. The girl looks kind of cute by video game standards. Work with me, people!

Though optional, it's hard to resist the urge to grab the hammer and smash barrels for big points. Problem is, you only have it for a short period of time and there's no warning when it's about to disappear. Get a little too greedy and it will spell your demise!

The second screen consists of five flat blue girders patrolled by genie lamps (or whatever). The idea is to walk over eight connectors holding the structure together. There's another hammer on this screen, but since the lamps don't climb ladders you can only smash one. The true challenge comes when the lamps begin to move erratically, sometimes hopping across the gaps.

Some may scoff, but two screens was respectable back in the day considering the memory constraints. And while there's only one skill level, it ramps up nicely. The controls are responsive, the animation is smooth, and the characters are flicker-free. Donkey Kong does a perfectly good job of capturing the look and feel of the original arcade classic. Plus it goads you into taking chances - always a sign of a good game. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SLN 79,900
1 player 

Donkey Kong Junior
Grade: D+
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
Posted: 2005/1/26

screenshotIn a clever twist on the original game, Donkey Kong Junior reverses roles and makes Mario the bad guy while Donkey Kong plays the ape in distress. Unfortunately, this Atari 2600 version is lacking some key features. The first screen features a set of hanging vines that Junior must navigate both horizontally and vertically as chattering teeth try to knock him down. If you think this screen looks sparse compared to the arcade, it's probably because it lacks fruit. Being unable to drop fruit on enemies really takes a lot of the bite out of the fun factor.

In addition, the jumping controls royally suck and the butt-ugly orange color scheme is unattractive. The second screen features three keys (compared to eight in the arcade version) that must be pushed to the top of the screen in order to open Donkey Kong's cage. In addition to wandering teeth, you must also contend with a yellow bird that flies sideways across the screen. This screen's fairly easy, but it ends with a sorry sight. The released Donkey Kong looks pathetic! His head is perfectly square!

The final screen is reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, challenging you to traverse a tall steel structure. It's hard, but not in a good way. Frustration will set in almost immediately as your limited movements make you easy prey for the wandering teeth. There are few audio effects to speak of, but the "climbing" sound has a screeching quality that's irritating. Despite having three screens, Donkey Kong Jr. is a lukewarm effort that fails to live up to the arcade classic. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 27,300
1 or 2 players 

Double Dragon
Grade: F-
Publisher: Activision (1989)
Posted: 2019/8/25

screenshotThe Atari 2600 console proved to be an exceptionally versatile machine but every console has limits. Double Dragon was a wildly popular side-scroller of the late 80's starring a pair of brothers beating up gangs of thugs on the mean streets. The game was successfully ported to most systems including the NES, but in this case I think the developers bit off more than they could chew.

The opening scene doesn't look so bad with its colorful garage backdrop and multicolored characters. The controls are reasonable considering you only have a single button to work with. You can punch, kick, throw an elbow, or perform a jump kick without the benefit of a running start. But the fighting action is a joke. These tiny sprites have no range! Your punch extends your arm by one pixel and the kick isn't much better.

The collision detection is so horrendous you need to look at your score to tell if a punch landed. The jump kick is the only effective move, mainly because it keeps you at a safe distance. Linger anywhere near a thug and you'll sustain multiple hits as you struggle to escape. The opening screen says "Mission 1", suggesting there are multiple levels, but getting past the second screen requires extraordinary perseverance.

The two-player simultaneous mode limits each player to the upper or lower plane, so there's no teaming up. The looping "music" that plays throughout is just mind-numbing. Double Dragon is a throwaway title. It comes off as the kind of game somebody would program on a dare, yet Activision shipped it anyway! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,400
1 or 2 players 

Double Dunk
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari (1989)
Posted: 2021/4/7

screenshotSo... the name Double Dunk. I'm pretty sure that's not a thing. Anyway this two-on-two, half-court basketball game is better than it has any right to be. On paper it looks like a lost cause. Prior to each possession the offensive player uses the joystick to enter a play such as a pick-and-roll or outside shot. Better keep that manual on hand! As each play unfolds, pressing the button might initiate a pass or shot, depending on the play.

Speaking of shots, you press the button once to go up for a shot, and a second time to release the ball. Forget that second press and you'll be called for a travel. When playing against the CPU the pace is pretty hectic. There are a lot of steals and it's hard to tell who has the ball. The "dunks" are pretty modest and it's easy to accidentally go flying out of bounds when trying to perform one.

With enough patience Double Dunk can be surprisingly competitive. You get a full set of customization options including uniforms. From the color schemes it appears you can be the Pistons, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Trailblazers, or the all-yellow Lakers. The colorful players are different heights and smoothly animated. It's fun to fight for rebounds but don't forget to clear the ball before taking a shot. When playing the CPU I found myself getting a little better each time, gradually narrowing his margin of victory.

After each game you're presented with a statistical breakout of points, rebounds, blocks, and dunks. You might even find yourself on the receiving end of some trash talk displayed on the screen like "in yo face!" It may not seem so great at first but stick with it and you'll find Double Dunk to be a pretty tight little basketball game. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Grade: A
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Posted: 2019/12/31

screenshotBoy do I wish I had lived during medieval times. Dragons, castles, treasure, fair maidens... what's not to like? Dragonfire captures the exuberant spirit of that carefree period of history. The game alternates between two screens. First your little squire needs to reach the castle entrance, and that's not easy because fireballs are shooting sideways out of it. In addition to jumping and ducking, the innovative controls let you hop while kneeling. I don't know how that's even possible but I do it a lot.

Once inside the castle you're tucked away in a protective little box in the lower right. Dazzling treasure is strewn about the screen. Rendered in high-resolution, items include pots, chalices, candelabras, genie lamps, helmets, harps, crowns, and sparkling diamonds. The graphics look so amazing my friend Brent had to be reassured he was in fact playing an Atari 2600 game. The idea is to snag all the treasure, causing an escape door to appear on the right. A dragon prowls across the bottom and can unleash fireballs in a rapid-fire manner. The fact that smoke is emanating from his snout shows the programmer went far beyond the call of duty.

You won't find another version of the game as fast as this as you zig-zag across each room, occasionally ducking for cover. You'd expect a game like Dragonfire to get repetitive but it doesn't. Each castle offers a gorgeous new color scheme, each dragon is a different color as well. The difficulty ramps quickly. Don't make the mistake of holding the joystick left after entering the castle or you'll immediately dash into danger. A few of my newbie friends got burned doing that. With its vibrant colors, eye candy, and frantic action, Dragonfire is one for the history books. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 8,480
1 or 2 players 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Posted: 1999/12/12

screenshotYet another ambitious Starpath cassette-loading game, Dragonstomper is an RPG (!) featuring three distinct stages. In the first, you wander around a countryside fighting monsters and collecting treasure. Your character is a small white dot moving over a scrolling map, and all actions are initiated through easy-to-navigate text menus. With each encounter, you can attack, run, or use an item, but you don't participate in any live combat.

After a brief tape load the second stage kicks in. Here your goal is to purchase items and recruit help for slaying the dragon. The final stage places you in the dragon's lair for the big showdown. Dragonstomper's graphics are high resolution and meticulously drawn. To be honest, I've never seen the actual dragon, but I'm sure he looks impressive. This is a respectable RPG game, and that's no small feat for the 2600. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 501
1 player 

Grade: C-

screenshotThis was an early effort from programmer David Crane who would go on to do great things like the ground-breaking hit Pitfall (Atari 2600, 1982). Dragster may be the shortest game you'll ever play, clocking in under 10 seconds - if that! There's not much to it. The split-screen view presents two large race cars lined up on the left.

After an initial countdown you quickly shift and accelerate your way through about six to nine seconds of racing hysteria. Your vehicle's motor growls, sputters, and grinds gears as it slowly moves to the right while popping the occasional wheelie. Dragster is habit-performing if only because it's so damn hard. Accelerate too fast and you'll blow the engine.

Beginners will see the word "BLOWN" over and over, requiring them to keep hitting reset. You could argue the reset switch is the primary button for this game! Once you get a feel for it, playing Dragster feels like playing a musical instrument. And if you manage to post a time under seven seconds, you can die a happy man. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: BSC 6.34
1 or 2 players 

Duck Attack
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
Posted: 2011/1/9

screenshotWhen you start playing Duck Attack it doesn't take long to realize that this is really an homage to Adventure - a really weird homage to Adventure. The programmer took the Adventure formula and extrapolated it to the N-th degree, incorporating huge chunky sprites and tons of objects in a bizarre, expansive world. Instead of a square, you control a goofy-looking robot that consumes an alarming amount of real estate.

Each stage has a different layout, but your goal is always to collect colored eggs and use them to open like-colored doors. Your main adversaries are giant rampaging ducks, and these are clearly a nod to the dragons in Adventure (who looked like ducks). You'll also need to avoid bees, tanks, arrows, and snakes. Duck Attack has considerable depth, but its ubiquitous objects and arbitrary rules are a little mind-boggling!

There's a shield, a magnet, a flashlight, and a "zapper" used to subdue the ducks. There are six types of balloons (not to be confused with eggs), which provide bonus points or special powers. There are warps that let you skip levels and "recharging stations" that I never fully understood. The designer threw everything in but the kitchen sink, but more isn't always better. The maze layouts are confusing, and more often than not I felt as if I had completed a level by accident. The huge objects crowd the screen and make things hard to manipulate.

A little restraint would have been nice, but I will credit Duck Attack for the sense of discovery it conveys. There are surprises at every turn, especially when you find yourself walking through screens lifted directly from Video Pinball, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dodge-Em, Berzerk, and yes, Adventure. It's like having an out-of-cartridge experience!

The programmer's appreciation for the classics shines through, and I appreciate how he went the extra mile to support the AtariVox attachment (to record high scores). The game's cover art is amazing and the manual is first-rate. Duck Attack takes a while to warm up to, and to be frank, the game is a little obnoxious. But if you're looking for a fresh new adventure that's chock full of surprises, you'll relish the crazy world of Duck Attack. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 17,800
Save mechanism: AtariVox
1 player 

Dumbo's Flying Circus (Prototype)
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2009/9/8

screenshotUnlike many unreleased prototypes, Dumbo's Flying Circus was discovered nearly complete. The game opens with an impressive intro screen featuring Dumbo the flying elephant illustrated in high resolution. Flying Circus combines elements of Kaboom, Joust, and Defender. You guide your pixelated elephant around the screen while collecting (or shooting) balloons that rise from the ground.

Some balloons carry bombs that you'll want to shoot before they reach the top. Periodically a clown rises on a balloon, and shooting the balloon and catching the clown is worth big points. If the clown makes it to the top, he'll appear on a unicycle and drop junk on you. What's up with that? The "roof" gradually lowers as the game progresses, making things tighter and allowing less room for error. Dumbo is not especially fun.

Catching and shooting balloons is difficult but rescuing clowns is easy and repetitive. I do like how the clowns change in appearance from wave to wave. Dumbo has some advanced features like a bonus round where you try to catch a cute, bouncing mouse. There are also intermissions, but these appear to be unfinished. As it is, I'd probably give Dumbo's Flying Circus a C-. It's a fascinating prototype, but it could have used a lot more fine tuning. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 3,249
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: AtariAge (2009)
Posted: 2010/1/3

screenshotMy friends hate this game, but Dungeon struck a chord with me. I really like it! It plays like a simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons as you explore narrow caves and participate in turn-based combat. Your view is limited to a square in the center of the screen showing a small portion of your current dungeon level. The levels are small, so finding your way around isn't a major issue.

The animation is minimal, but the modest graphics do a fair job of getting their point across. The monsters are pixelated as hell, but it's fun to see how well they can be rendered with so few pixels. Pretty well, as it turns out! The skeletons, phantoms, zombies, and the black knight all look very colorful and distinctive.

During combat you have the option of casting heal, lightning, and "stop time" spells which add some strategy. Normal attacks are based on probabilities, and you'll see graphics like "miss" or "-3" to indicate incurred damage. The bottom of the screen displays your spell points, hit points, and current dungeon level.

Dungeon also offers fun things to discover like chests with combination locks, a sword stuck in a stone, a lost princess, a hidden cave, and even the Holy Grail. Atari 2600 fans with an eye for Easter Eggs will enjoy uncovering the game's mysteries. There's no score, but just trying to reach the end is enough of a challenge. When I bought this game from AtariAge, I also ordered the map/poster, and I'm glad I did. You may have to moderate your expectations, but taken for what it is, Dungeon is a very captivating little adventure. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

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