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

Atari 2600 Reviews H

H.E.R.O.
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Posted: 2023/11/10

screenshotWhen you think of classic Activision games, you think of titles like Pitfall, River Raid, and Keystone Kapers. H.E.R.O. is rarely included in that conversation, partly because it was released after the video game crash of '83. Another thing going against it was its title. Acronyms just suck, especially when they have to bend over backwards to find words that fit. In this case those words are Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation.

H.E.R.O. deserved better. It's a fun, challenging game incorporating a number of innovative ideas. Your mission is to save lost miners by flying down mine shafts with a little helicopter contraption. You have dynamite sticks to clear out walls and special goggles that shoot red laser beams to kill snakes and spiders.

I like how H.E.R.O. slowly eases you in, providing a simple cave layout to begin, and then building on that in terms of size and complexity. Advanced elements include lamps that turn out if you touch them, plunging you in pitch darkness. You can use a stick of dynamite to provide a brief glimpse, but there's only a limited supply.

The controls can be a little tricky. Holding up will let you fly upward. Pulling back places dynamite, and when you do that you'd better move your ass. It's very easy to accidentally plant a stick dynamite. Half of your deaths will be the result of blowing yourself up!

The mines often branch into multiple paths, and sometimes you'll need to backtrack after taking the wrong one. On the other hand, sometimes taking that route gives you a peek at dangers ahead.

The graphics are crisp and colorful, although the rock walls are just big blocks. The boom of your dynamite is satisfying and frying animals with your eye laser is insanely fun. In advanced stages you need to navigate narrow passages that are deadly to touch, so you really need to go light on the joystick.

One thing I like about H.E.R.O. is how its timed stages are very fast, making it excellent speed-run material. There are variations that let you skip the early stages, but I actually enjoy seeing how fast I can run through the early ones. That's a credit to the game. I think H.E.R.O. would have generated a lot more noise had it been released in 1982. As it is, I consider it a hidden gem. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 32,340
1 player 

Halloween
Grade: B-

screenshotWizard was dead-on with this clever video game adaptation of the classic slasher film. You play the role of the babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) in a two-story house several screens wide. Points are scored by escorting children to "safe rooms" at either end of the house. The rooms are colorful but devoid of detail except for an occasional window or doorway. When you find a child you can lead it to safety, but the child "lock-on" controls are erratic. The knife-waving Michael Myers looks intimidating in his jumpsuit, but I don't recall Jamie Lee Curtis wearing that poofy red skirt.

As in the movie, Michael is slow but relentless. You never know when he's going to suddenly appear in a doorway or at the edge of the screen. Better yet, his appearances are punctuated by an excellent rendition of the spooky Halloween theme song. If he grabs hold of a victim, you're treated to gratuitous gore bordering on hilarious. A lot of people lose their heads, and the spurting, pixelated blood is over-the-top. Halloween's gameplay is a little slow but there are some subtle nuances.

Michael's movements are predictable, and with good timing you can lead children right past him. Occasionally you'll find a knife which allows you to briefly turn the tables on him. The lights on the top floor occasionally black out, adding additional suspense as you "feel" your way around in the pitch dark. Jack-o-lanterns track your "lives" on the top of the screen - a nice touch. My biggest gripe is that Michael appears too often which minimizes the suspense factor. Halloween isn't the best game in the world, but fans of the film and game collectors should be fascinated by it. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 10,150
1 player 

Halo 2600
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
Posted: 2010/8/25

screenshotThis new 2600 game is a technical marvel - probably the best video game ever crammed into a meager 4KB of memory! Equally impressive is how it ingeniously translates the classic Xbox first-person shooter into a riveting 2D experience. Halo 2600 begins with a nifty title screen that even recreates the ominous theme song. The game itself employs an Adventure-style engine that lets you move between contiguous screens.

Your pixelated Master Chief looks great as he scuttles around and engages in shootouts with gangs of ruthless aliens. He can only fire left or right, but aliens can fire in any direction and their bullets whizz by at high velocity. Fortunately the responsive controls make it possible to dodge bullets and slip through crossfire situations. Your foes come in a remarkable variety of shapes and sizes, and even in low resolution you'll recognize many familiar alien species.

The landscape is sparse but there are scattered trees, generators, and cannons. A critical power-up is available for your gun, shield icons provide one-hit protection, and you can find special boots that let you run twice as fast. It's tempting to dismiss Halo 2600 as a clever novelty, but this is one of the more addictive and intense titles I've played on the system. There's plenty of technique involved, although memorization helps too.

Destroying the oversized boss enables the "legendary mode". Unfortunately, the only difference is that you move much slower, prompting my friends to deem it "molasses mode". Lacking randomization, scoring, and a password feature, Halo 2600 comes up short in terms of replay value. Still, the frantic action is great fun while it lasts. This makes you wonder how other modern franchises might fare on the 2600. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Hangman
Grade: D+
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Posted: 1999/9/9


screenshotHangman doesn't try too hard, but it's not as bad as you might think. You have two play options: one player can attempt to guess a word in eleven tries, or two people can compete. Initially I believed the limited word lengths (six characters) would make the game too easy, but in fact shorter words are more difficult to guess. You can choose between four vocabulary levels, ranging from first grade to high school. I chose high school and was given reasonably tough words like "torque" and "murmur".

Hangman's gameplay is entertaining but it gets old in a hurry. The graphics are very blocky but the letters are easy to read, and the alphabet song plays as you cycle through them. The "hangman" himself takes the form of a monkey hanging from a pole by one arm. I can only assume that Atari had some kind of misguided policy against lynching people in their games. The difficulty switches can be used to institute a 20 second time limit, which I highly recommend. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 9
1 or 2 players 

Haunted House
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 2021/10/17

screenshotHaunted House may not look like much of a game, and if you only play the default variation you'll think it's pretty lame. Dive into variation 9 however and you're in for a harrowing adventure with plenty of action, suspense, and even strategy. Your goal is to escape from a four-story mansion after collecting three pieces of an urn.

You control a pair of square eyes that can only see objects in the area illuminated around you (via a lit match). This limited visibility was previously used to good effect in Adventure (Atari, 1980). Roaming the house are three spiders (blue, orange, red), a bat, and a ghost. Each is deadly to the touch, but you get nine lives.

Each floor has six square interconnected rooms, but locked doors make it a challenge to navigate between them. A skeleton key lets you move freely from room to room, but you can't hold it and the urn pieces at the same time. A scepter makes the bat and spiders oblivious to your presence, but it won't protect you from the ghost. Since the bat steals your items, you might be better off letting a spider bite you instead.

Haunted House isn't spectacular but its simple elements blend to create a compelling dynamic. With the completed urn in hand and no lives remaining, it's a pretty intense situation as you desperately try to find your way back to the entrance. You never know what's behind the next door.

Complementing the action are crisp sound effects including footsteps, crashing thunder, howling winds, and slamming doors. Should you escape, your "score" is a combination of remaining lives and matches used. Trying to convey any degree of fright on the 2600 is a tall order, but with the right mindset, Haunted House gets the job done. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 9
Recommended variation: 9B
Our high score: 9 matches 5 lives left
1 player 

The Hobbit
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2014/4/1

screenshot
titleExcavated from the land of lost ROMs (where is that?), The Hobbit was an unfinished and long-forgotten project (circa 1983) finally unearthed and revealed at a recent classic gaming convention. The timing seemed awfully suspicious considering the recent Hobbit movie trilogy, and I had to see the game for myself to believe it.

I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for The Hobbit's elaborate title screen. This high-resolution image manages to incorporate Bilbo, 13 dwarves (give or take), a spell-casting Gandalf, and even a fire-breathing dragon! Clever use of color-cycling was used to create the whirling spell and flame effects. I was totally pumped when I saw it, but my high hopes would soon come crashing to the ground.

Calling The Hobbit's visual style "abstract" would be an understatement. The main character (Bilbo I presume) is rendered as a blue square. This is not so objectionable considering that Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980) also featured a square as its main character. Unfortunately, thanks to a poor design decision, the dwarves are also rendered as blue squares. Gandalf is a gray square... I think. The ring is a yellow circle... or don't I wish! Nope, it's a God-damned yellow square!

The dungeons are remarkably blocky. What resolution was this game programmed in, 12x10?! And what's with all the flashing rooms? I swear this game gave me epilepsy. Some may claim The Hobbit is 95% complete, but I find that hard to swallow. I was constantly hounded by orcs in the form of flickering brown squares. After you grab the ring you turn invisible, but the fact that you can't see yourself makes the game pretty much unplayable.

After stumbling around blindly for a several minutes you start to wish the developer had not expended quite so much effort on that fancy title screen, which undoubtedly consumes 95% of the game's memory. I'm also starting to think that gray square isn't even Gandalf, because that bastard just killed me and that did not look like an accident!

It seems like everything in the game makes the same beep sound. I wish the programmer would have at least mixed in a few "boops" to spice things up a little! Apologists will make endless excuses for The Hobbit, but the game is a cautionary tale. This is one lost treasure that should have been cast into the fires of Mount Doom 30 years ago. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.


Home Run
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Posted: 2017/5/2

screenshotIn all my years it just dawned on me that Home Run is in fact two words! I suspect Atari didn't go with "Baseball" because this game only vaguely resembles our national pastime. Home Run's graphics are as minimal as you can get with a field consisting of four bases. There's no dirt, no baselines, no fans, and no pitcher's mound. You pitch from second base for crying out loud!

Your three fielders move in unison and can't even throw the ball. You just scoop it up and run down the baserunner before he can reach the next base. It's not as hard as it sounds because your fielders are speed demons. I like how the runner's footsteps continue long after he's disappeared from the screen. There are no fly balls but hits to straight-away center are automatic home runs. You'll want to share that little tidbit of information with your opponent or he'll be really mad at you.

The pitching is the best part of the game. You have total control of the ball and can fool the batter by having it flutter all around before catching a corner of the plate. It's also possible to hit the batter in the face, which is always a good time. I have fond memories of playing Home Run with my dad as a kid but today I find the game borderline unplayable. If you employ a few basic techniques you'll throw a shutout every time.

As an experiment I had my friends Brent and Kevin give it a try. They had never even heard of the game. To my surprise they seemed to have a great time, especially when it came to tormenting each other with those crazy-ass pitches. After that I wondered if I had been too hard on the game. But then I had Scott and Chris play and they hated it.

Scott remarked that if he had a choice between playing Home Run or being poked in the crotch repeatedly with a sharp stick, he would only reluctantly choose Home Run. Home Run is a likeable but shallow sports title that's only fun for a while. On a final note, one astute reader pointed out that Home Run is only 1.84 kilobytes in size. By comparison, MLB The Show 17 is 38 gigabytes, making it 20.5 million times larger. The question is, is it 20.5 million times more fun? I doubt it. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 8
1 or 2 players 

Human Cannonball
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Posted: 2001/8/15

screenshotIn this day and age, Human Cannonball isn't considered much of a video game. The goal is to launch a tiny man from a cannon across the screen into a water tower. You can adjust the velocity, angle, and distance of each shot, and your score is the number of successes in twelve tries. Atari didn't put much effort into these graphics. Even the "death" animation, which displays the letters O-U-C-H, seems awfully lame.

The sparse sound effects are nothing but a series of monotones. Still, I can't deny that the game is quite challenging and requires some thought. The water tower is a small target on difficulty B, and downright miniscule on A. Some variations incorporate moving barriers, which test your reflexes as well as your mind. I found the difficult variations to be nearly impossible. Human Cannonball is a weak title, but had it been combined with Circus Atari, they would have made a nice package. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

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Game variations: 8
1 or 2 players 

Hunchy II
Grade: B
Publisher: Chris Walton (2005)
Posted: 2011/11/23

screenshotThis unassuming homebrew platformer will give even seasoned gamers fits. Hunchy II is loosely based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Your hunchback doesn't have a pronounced hunch, but his vertical leap certainly is impressive. Your goal is to collect bells while traversing 14 levels of increasing difficulty. The action allegedly takes place in a Cathedral, but there's not much in the way of scenery. Color is used to good effect and the guards look cool, but Hunchy II lets its gameplay do the talking.

The controls are fantastic. In fact, I can't recall another game with controls this responsive. Hunchy quickly scuttles up and down ladders and can even jump onto (or off of) a ladder mid-rung! The fact that he can fall any distance without getting hurt not only boosts the fun factor but adds strategy as well (catch bells while you're falling). The stage layouts are tricky and a few are just plain diabolical.

Some bells require you take a circuitous route while keeping an eye out for blue projectiles that randomly cross the screen. Once you get a feel for the controls you can whiz through the early screens with ease, but it's easy to hit the proverbial wall difficulty-wise. It doesn't help that many jumps have low clearance, which can result in hitting your head and falling into the abyss. I hate it when that happens. Otherwise Hunchy II is a well-crafted platformer that will put your skills to the test. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 555
1 player 


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