Atari 2600 Reviews E

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Grade: D

screenshotMy earliest memory of this game was at a mall during the 1982 holiday season. An electronics store had E.T. on display at the front of the store. Some guy was playing it, and I noticed he was getting increasingly pissed off about falling into pits. Still, when I received E.T. as an unexpected Christmas gift I was totally freaking out! The high-resolution title screen was captivating, and my sister helped convince me it was a good game ("This is a good game Dave, don't you think?") Denial can be an ugly thing.

Still, E.T. is not the complete dud people make it out to be. It incorporates many elements from the film and it's challenging. Elliott is rendered in about five colors and E.T.'s side profile looks sharp. The six screens (arranged like a cube) are far less impressive. The Washington DC screen consists of a few blocky structures and the forest screen is a green pattern. The remaining screens are dominated by gigantic pits that are hard to avoid falling into! I don't recall E.T. falling into one pit in the film, much less 20!

Your goal is to collect three phone parts, phone home, and meet your ship in the forest. Each screen is divided into zones and a symbol at the top indicates the action you can perform (teleport, call Elliott, eat candy, locate piece, scratch butt, etc.). Navigating the screens is disconcerting. When moving off the top of one, you'd expect to appear on the bottom of the next, but you'll often appear at the top instead. Or you'll walk off the side of a screen only to appear on the bottom of the next.

This makes it all the more aggravating when you enter a screen and immediately fall into a pit. When you're not languishing at the bottom of some God-forsaken hole, you're on the run from an FBI agent who wants to steal your junk and a scientist who wants to haul your wrinkly ass to some institute. A lot of times you'll see these guys just walking in place on the edge of a screen for no apparent reason. I hate how they can suddenly appear on any part of the screen, making them hard to elude. Holding in the fire button lets E.T. scurry away but inevitably you'll run directly into a pit. You can levitate out, but it's very easy to fall right back in.

The game does offer a surprise or two, like the dead flower that springs to life when you touch it. And it is satisfying to get E.T. safely home because there's a special ending screen. In the "bad" ending, Elliott has apparently buried ET alive in his backyard! So sad! E.T. is not as much bad as it is disappointing, and to say it tarnished Atari's reputation would be an understatement. Atari actually included an extra piece of paper offering hints, but it might as well have been a written apology! © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 9738
1 player 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Fixed)
Grade: D
Publisher: Recompile (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/4/30

screenshotLong the target of scorn and derision, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari, 1982) is regarded as one of the more colossal failures in video game history. For decades rumors persisted that Atari had secretly dumped tons of unsold E.T. cartridges into a New Mexico landfill, and this urban legend seems to have been substantiated during a recent excavation. Despite the game's soiled reputation (sorry), E.T. does have its defenders. I have a soft spot in my heart for those who appreciate classic games, especially games as marginal as this! One such kind-hearted soul recently took the time to "fix" the game by addressing some of its glitches and touching up the visuals.

This fascinating web page describes the project in lurid detail. It's a heck of a lot of fun to read, and actually documents the specific code changes. The author tightened up the collision detection, fixed some colors, and adjusted the difficulty. Would this effort finally earn the old game some respect? I love the passion (and programming prowess) but I'm afraid these fixes do not enhance the gameplay. In fact, they seem to make the real problems all the more glaring!

Collision detection around the pits is better, but levitating out of them is still a pain in the ass! If you're a novice player, the process can be downright exasperating! Navigating the screens is another headache. You never end up where you would logically expect when entering a new screen. Would this be so hard to fix? And I really hate the relentless frequency in which the agent and scientist pursue you. Changing E.T. from green to yellow isn't much of an improvement since he's brown in the movie. The project was a noble effort, but most people wouldn't notice the changes had they not read the web page first. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

new Earth Dies Screaming, The
Grade: D+
Publisher: Fox (1983)
Reviewed: 2021/11/27

screenshotI like the look of this one. The graphics are smooth and clean as you glide over the planet, its surface rotating below. A helpful radar display along the top indicates aliens in the vicinity and it's not hard to get them into firing range. The shooting is fun because the reticle locks in on the X axis, so you only have to aim from side-to-side. You can fire rapidly too.

So... what am I supposed to be doing exactly? The gameplay is hard to comprehend, and ironically enough the instructions only add to the confusion. Colored boxes along the bottom of the screen are supposed to represent your ship and the earth's energy level, but it's not clear what is what. Considering the manual contains pictures with arrows, this oversight is hard to forgive.

Then there's the concept of regaining energy by destroying a "Trillian base". But according to the literature, in order to get a base to appear you need to keep a "returning ship" (conveniently "not shown" in manual) "in view" for five seconds. All I can say is, what's being described on those pages does not match what I'm seeing on my screen. I don't even know what the base looks like. And why do enemy ships tend to vanish for no apparent reason?

Granted, Earth Dies Screaming is so simple that you can basically just shoot everything in sight. It's cool how your points rack up on the bottom like a speedometer. This game was well-programmed but I think its overall concept was lost on just about everybody - including the poor schmuck writing the manual. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: AA
Our high score: 35,900
1 player 

Eggomania
Grade: D-
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/11/24

screenshotDespite its colorful graphics, fluid animation, tight controls, and harmonized music, Eggomania still manages to suck. It's kind of embarrassing to play, and really should be docked a letter grade for the name alone. Eggomania features rainbow-colored "bird" dropping green eggs from the top of the screen. The bird's blue head makes him look like a turkey that's been held underwater for too long! And why are the eggs green?? How hard would it have been to program white eggs?

You move a blue bear across the bottom of the screen, trying to catch the eggs in a hat. The bear looks more like a frog to me, and when you think about it, a blue frog would have made a lot more sense (blue frogs love to catch eggs in their hats!) While the game is clearly a Kaboom! (Activision, 1981) knock-off, Eggomania ups the ante with special stages that let you shoot the bird with the eggs you've collected.

The paddle controls are responsive enough, but I hate how the game immediately halts whenever an egg passes by the rim of your hat. Any self-respecting egg-catching game deserves a decent "splatter" animation. Adding insult to injury, you're then forced to watch that damn chicken perform some hokey musical number.

You can exact your revenge in the shooting stages, but they aren't very satisfying at all. I would have preferred to execute a Mortal Kombat-style fatality on that oxygen-deprived bastard (I call this my "McChicken Filet"). It's too well programmed to merit a failing grade, but Eggomania is far too cute for its own good. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 4,728
1 to 4 players 

Elevator Action (Prototype)
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2014/2/26

screenshotThis unreleased prototype was originally revealed at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo. A fun and original platform shooter, Elevator Action has so much potential it almost breaks your heart to play it in this unfinished state. You control a multicolored bloke with a flat-top haircut standing on the top of a building. Eventually an elevator arrives, and once you get in you can freely move it up or down between floors.

Each floor is lined with doors and bad guys in black will randomly step out from behind them and try to shoot you. You can fire two shots at a time, and I love how the baddies do a little flip when they take a shot to the gut. You can avoid the bullets by ducking or suspending yourself in the air in an unnatural manner. Eventually you'll reach the lower basement floors, which have stairwells in addition to elevators.

The game is playable but clearly unfinished. For one thing, you play in complete silence. Graphical glitches abound, and many gameplay elements need tweaking. For example, it can take forever for the elevator to show up, and the crooks never get any harder. You shouldn't be able to keep yourself suspended in the air indefinitely. Even so, the fact that Elevator Action is still fun to play in its current, rough form is a testament to how great it could have been. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Elk Attack
Grade: NA
Publisher: M. Hahn (1987)
Reviewed: 2014/2/26

screenshotThis unreleased prototype feels like an experiment that never panned out. The premise of Elk Attack has nothing to do with elk or any other kind of hooved animal. The wacky title seems completely random, so it might as well have been called Chipmunk Riot or Shrimp Apocalypse. I'm told this is actually a port of an obscure arcade game called Electric Yo-Yo. You guide an orb around a rectangular playing field trying to consume colored tiles arranged in various patterns.

Three adversaries which look like stacks of pancakes wander around aimlessly. When you roll toward a wafer, a line appears and automatically pulls you to it. This seems like an interesting dynamic at first, but it actually has very little bearing on the gameplay. I suppose on rare occasions the line can pull you into a pancake monster, but in general you can move around freely. Some wafers contain power pill squares that trigger ringing sound effects that let you touch monsters for points. What's interesting is that the pancake monsters don't disappear or go anywhere when you catch them. Therefore you can snag them over and over again to rack big points.

Elk Attack is well programmed with tight controls, clean graphics, and smooth animation. Unfortunately it suffers from a severe lack of difficulty. If you begin on level one the sheer monotony becomes almost too much to bear. There are too many power pills, too many free lives, and the enemy AI is non-existent. Begin on level 10 if you want any semblance of a challenge. I suspect the developer was just testing out a concept and he abandoned the project when he realized it wasn't going anywhere. Even if Elk Attack had been completed, I don't think it would have attracted much attention. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 10
Our high score: 147,690
1 or 2 players 

Encounter at L5
Grade: C-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/9/22

screenshotI really like Encounter at L5's brand of non-stop, rapid-fire, shoot-like-a-madman gameplay. The paddle control scheme is unlike anything I've ever seen. By holding down the fire button and aiming a cursor that moves across the top of the screen, you unleash a constant stream of missiles from your cannon at the bottom.

You'll need that kind of firepower because blue fighter ships rain down on you relentlessly. You can reposition your cannon by releasing the fire button, and this is necessary to zero in on lethal, low-flying, red "death ships". Encounter's collision detection could be better, as the bulk of your shots seem to pass right through their intended targets.

The games tend to be hectic and short. The action doesn't pause when you lose a ship and it's not obvious when it happens, so you may not even know you've been hit until the game ends! Another thing I hate about Encounter at L5 is its irritating, repetitive sound effects, which forced me to turn down the audio. There are 13 game variations. Encounter at L5 is far from great, but shooter fans looking for something different might find it interesting. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 15AB
Our high score: 569
1 or 2 players 

Enduro
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2019/2/13

screenshotThis unique racer conveys a brisk sensation of speed as you weave past car after car at high speed. Enduro gets a heck of a lot of mileage out of its simple graphics, mostly consisting of simple scaling cars and a pair of wavy lines converging in the horizon. There's minimal scenery but the changing color schemes and varying weather conditions keep things interesting. You race non-stop over several "days", and need to pass several hundred cars per day to keep it going.

It sounds like a big number but they tend to whiz by in groups so the counter on your dashboard will quickly count down. It's fun to see how long you can go without hitting something. The simple controls consist of an accelerate button and pulling back to brake. Early each day the ground is green and oncoming cars are easy to see. Later snow moves in, resulting in bright white visuals and less responsive steering.

As the sun sets the screen dims until all you see are tail lights. This visual effect is actually pretty amazing. The challenge really kicks in as fog rolls in and cuts your visibility in half! Suspense builds as the sun begins to rise as you desperately try to pass the last few remaining cars. It's quite a relief to get in just under the wire. Sound effects include excellent engine sounds and whooshing of snow. This game can be time-consuming to play, but hey - they call it Enduro for a reason. This is an innovative, likeable racer that delivers a surprising amount of excitement. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 577.8 miles
1 player 

Entombed
Grade: C
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2011/1/9


screenshotThis is an obscure title where you move down a maze as it scrolls up the screen. You can descend into one of several randomly-generated passages at any given time, some of which converge and some that lead to dead-ends. Your little man can move freely, but staying positioned near the center of the screen gives you the best vantage point. Just don't stop moving, because getting pushed to the top will cost you a life. You'll also need to keep an eye out for roving zombies that can pass through walls.

When you're stuck at a dead-end, pressing the fire button will use one of your "make-breaks" to create an opening. These things are limited in supply so use them wisely and stock up in the early going. You begin with only one but earn three whenever you touch moving blocks (which are easily mistaken for dangerous barriers). The difficulty curve is steep, with each successful maze scrolling more quickly. One player can try to see how long he can last, or two-players can compete simultaneously in a "last man standing" contest.

Entombed is interesting in concept but sloppy in terms of execution. For a video game, this is about as minimal as you can get. The solid, blocky maze is unimpressive and the sparse sound effects are terrible. Your character is poorly animated and wandering "zombies" look more like spiders. It's very easy to get hung up on corners, and by the time you reach the third stage, this flaw accounts for most of your deaths. It's nothing spectacular, but Entombed will still have you hitting reset a few times just to see if you can get a little bit further. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 34
1 or 2 players 

Epic Adventure
Grade: B+
Publisher: Red Knight Games (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/8/10

screenshotOne great thing about the homebrew scene is the way it breathes new life into classic titles. Epic Adventure is the latest in a long line of loving tributes to Adventure (Atari, 1980). It thoughtfully expands on the original formula while incorporating new elements to create a whole new dynamic. The idea is to move your warrior (in the form of a square block) between contiguous screens to unlock castles, battle dragons, and ultimately capture a golden chalice.

The original Adventure is hard to top in terms of pure gameplay, but let's face it - the game was graphically challenged. Epic boasts high-resolution items, majestic castles, and oversized, multicolored monsters. You can "aim" your sword from side to side, and the Staff of Fire even gives you a shooting capability. The maze layouts are totally original but constructed in the same spirit as Adventure.

The blocky rooms include a skull-shaped cave entrance and a duck-shaped room that pays homage to the original game. Unfortunately there are several flashing rooms that are really hard on the eyes. There's no "bridge" object, but a Ring of Attraction lets you reach tucked-away objects. The Amulet of Invisibility adds a stealth element as you can sneak around undetected. Instead of a bat, a hawk now freely flies between screens redistributing the items, and sometimes he'll even carry you off!

Occasionally he will save your life, but one time he embedded me in a wall. I dislike how you can't "slide" around walls as you could in the original game, and sometimes monsters will appear on the screen and eat you before you can even react. There are three difficulty levels. Epic Adventure is addictive and very exciting at times. It's different from Adventure but not too different. Give this game a try, and let it bring out the little square in you. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Escape From The Mindmaster
Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/12/21


screenshotThis is quite an ambitious title from Starpath. Fully utilizing their cassette-loading technology, Mindmaster loads four times during the course of a full game. Its first-person viewpoint features a smoothly-scrolling maze of hallways and doors. Responsive controls and a helpful on-screen map make it fairly easy to navigate. Each maze presents a puzzle to solve, usually requiring the arrangement of geometric shapes scattered throughout. As you roam the maze, you are stalked by an alien, and you can detect its proximity by the pitch of the annoying music. You'll also periodically stumble across simple mini-games that challenge your reflexes. Those looking for a serious test of both mind and motor skills should appreciate this. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 97
1 player 

Espial
Grade: C-
Publisher: Tigervision (1984)
Reviewed: 2013/10/24

screenshotThis vertical shooter really caught my eye with its vibrant, colorful stages. Espial's instruction manual offers up a typical space station attack scenario, but with a little imagination you can see a lot more. In stage one you appear to be flying over buildings rendered to appear 3D. In stage two you fly over crop patterns of animals like birds and butterflies etched in the ground. The third stage looks like a set of war-torn apartment complexes.

You can move your ship freely around the screen as you're approached by planes, helicopters, and various geometric shapes (including the ever-popular rhombus). Beware of ground installations that open and close to discharge bombs. The word Espial means "catch sight of" and that's appropriate because the enemies are hard to see. In fact, they're transparent! You can fire rapidly, but even your fat missiles have a hard time connecting with those ghostly, zigzagging targets.

A set of crosshairs hovers a fixed distance in front of your ship, allowing you to target ground installations (ala Xevious). One knock against the game is the musical intermissions, which sound more like off-key nursery rhymes. I suspect these were leftovers from a scrapped game featuring a chain-smoking rabbit and an effeminate dancing frog in a sailor outfit. Espial is a playable little shooter, but its bad parts tend to overshadow its good parts. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,090
1 player 


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