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

Atari 2600 Reviews K

Grade: A
Publisher: Activision (1981)
Posted: 2022/4/11

screenshotKaboom is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding titles in the Atari 2600 library. Gameplay involves moving a set of "buckets" from side to side, catching bombs dropped by an escaped convict moving across the top. Each wave becomes progressively faster until you're staring at a mesmerizing 13 bombs per second!

What sets this game apart is its control. Paddles provide a degree of precision you won't find with any modern controller. It's literally the one single device on the planet that could possibly keep up with the Mad Bomber's onslaught. By the time the game reaches its maximum speed you practically need to place yourself into a zen-like state to keep up. If you're not having an out-of-body experience then you're not doing it right.

Kaboom's graphics look sharp and its gameplay is addictive. There are some nice little details as well. Like criminals in real life, the convict is decked out in the appropriate striped suit and black mask ensemble. The bombs have amazing flickering fuses and they splash upon hitting the buckets. Granted those "buckets" look nothing like buckets but... hey, work with me people!

Despite its pure simplicity there is some subtle strategy. You earn a bonus bucket every 1000 points. If you still have all three buckets in your possession it's a good idea to intentionally "mess up" just before you hit the next 1000-point mark. Why? Because the game resumes at a speed "one slower" and you'll get that third bucket right back anyway! Clever huh?

Should you reach the exalted plateau of 10,000 points the Mad Bomber reportedly makes his "O" face. I wish I could testify as having witnessed this myself but it's pure hearsay. What's indisputable is the fact that Kaboom is the fastest video game ever made. This game pushes the limit of human visual acuity. Before playing, first check with your doctor to ensure you're healthy enough for Kaboom activity. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 3,891
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2004/7/7

screenshotKangaroo is one of the better Donkey Kong clones, despite its really lousy graphics. You play a mother kangaroo attempting to rescue her baby in a tree, all the while being terrorized by a band of apple-throwing monkeys. Unlike the arcade game with platforms constructed from lush tree branches, this version has dull orange rectangles for platforms.

Your kangaroo looks pretty good, and it's easy to make her jump, punch, and duck. The monkeys look okay but their animation is choppy, and the square apples they hurl move in an equally jerky manner. What's great about Kangaroo is its unapologetic difficulty. There are three screens to conquer, and just reaching the third one is a major accomplishment. There's fruit to collect along the way, and ringing a bell will replenish the fruit.

Kangaroo's scoring system doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You can amass a much higher score by concentrating on the fruit instead of clearing the game levels. Kangaroo's control is unforgiving, and stepping off any platform will send you plummeting to your death, even if it's a tiny step. There seemed to be a few times when I died for no apparent reason. The sound effects are minimal, but cute jingles play at the beginning and end of each screen. Kangaroo won't impress you with its graphics, but its challenging gameplay should keep you occupied. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 8,900
1 or 2 players 

Grade: F-
Publisher: Ultravision (1983)
Posted: 2006/7/9

screenshotWhen my friends play Karate for the first time, they all tend to have the same reaction. First they stare at the screen in disbelief for a few seconds, before finally blurting out "Are you F-ing kidding me?!" This unplayable abomination is a personal affront to anyone who has ever paid money for video game entertainment. It's a one-on-one Karate contest where the fighters never actually touch each other!

The green and purple characters are admittedly huge but they couldn't be more blocky or slow moving. The way they constantly gyrate, it looks as if they're dancing with each other for Pete's sake! In fact, if you crank up the Bee Gee's "Staying Alive" as you play, the game almost makes sense.

The fighting "action" is a complete joke, with punches and kicks that look simply heinous (what appendage is that?!). The collision detection is non-existent; your opponent can be right up against you, yet is always out of reach. If not for the scores displayed on top of the screen, you'd never even know that contact was made!

If you can convince yourself this is a dancing game with controls that transcend human comprehension, then Karate is the best game in the world. Otherwise this garbage gets my vote for worst Atari 2600 game of all time. Note: This game was reissued by Froggo in 1987. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Keystone Kapers
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2011/4/21

screenshotWith its department store setting, flicker-free characters, and smooth animation, this may be the best-looking Atari 2600 game ever produced. And thanks to its simple concept and crisp controls, Keystone Kapers plays as good as it looks. You are a cop armed with a billy club on the trail of a thief decked out in a conspicuous black-and-white striped prison outfit.

The chase takes place in a three-story department store that's several screens wide. He's heading for the roof, and you must catch him before a timer expires. Beginning on the lower floor, you work your way toward the elevator and escalators while ducking under bouncing beach balls and leaping over runaway shopping carts. Today we take ducking for granted, but in 1982 it was a pretty fantastic feature.

Touching most obstacles costs you time, but if that toy plane nails you in the face, you're a goner. The most memorable aspect of the game has got to be the escalators. Not only do those things look totally cool, but you will never ever get tired of riding them! Even 29 years later! They are so much fun that I never even questioned why one of them leads to the roof.

The elevator is pretty neat too, but the fact that it's so narrow makes it hard to squeeze into on the run. Oh well, I guess it just adds to the challenge. The single skill level is kind of lame, but Keystone Kapers has passed the test of time and deserves a place in every classic game collection. Hint: To save a split-second, jump onto the escalators. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 32,350
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: CBS (1982)
Posted: 2020/2/26

screenshotWhen I was a kid in the early 80's arcade games were a never-ending source of fascination. Every time I turned around there was some innovative new concept drawing crowds at the local arcade or sub shop. Kickman was kind of a "fringe" title but it still made an impression on me when I spotted it at the local bowling alley. It features a clown on a unicycle catching balloons on a city street. A trackball controller was used to quickly move side-to-side, stacking balloons on his head.

If you couldn't reach a balloon in time you could make a last-ditch effort to propel it back upwards using the kick button. It's a sound premise, but Kickman upped the ante by incorporating Pac-Man and his ghosts! That's right, Pac-Man is mixed in with the balloons, and when you catch him he gobbles the balloons right off your head for big points. How a game released by Midway could feature Namco's Pac-Man is beyond me, but perhaps that accounts for its limited home release (only on the Commodore 64).

I always wanted to own a copy of Kickman. In the late 90's a video game magazine article had a screenshot which appeared to be an Atari 2600 version of the game. That version never materialized but this prototype is probably better. It lacks background scenery but plays like a champ. The kicking controls require good timing but it's satisfying when you do it right. I don't think I've ever played another game quite like Kickman.

The only thing that sucks is that drawn-out "tooooo baaad" music that plays when you miss. Pac-Man is back along with his ghosts, and nine skill levels offer more than enough challenge. If someone would just add background graphics and trackball control this would be damn near perfect. That said, I'm more than happy to settle for this fun prototype. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 17188
1 or 2 players 

Killer Satellites
Grade: D
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1983)
Posted: 1999/12/30

screenshotA Defender clone at heart, Killer Satellites is attractive to look at, but lousy to play. That's a shame, because graphics-wise, this blows away the Atari 2600 Defender game. Your ship is solid (no flickering) and even has fire shooting out of its thrusters. The planet's surface is covered with buildings and trees, and the aliens are multi-colored and detailed.

Your job is to blast them before they reach the surface. A scanner indicates enemy position, but not altitude, unfortunately. Killer Satellites has an astounding 100 levels! So what's the problem? It's the difficulty progression. Each level is littered with more and more tiny meteors which turn the screen into an obstacle course! It effectively grinds the action to a halt and takes away from the fun. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 30
Our high score: 3820

King Kong
Grade: C+
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
Posted: 2010/4/7

screenshotThere's nothing spectacular about King Kong for the Atari 2600, but this generic-looking platformer is better than I first gave it credit for. The cartridge itself is molded blue plastic, which looks pretty awesome. The artwork on the front is impressive as well. If you've already pegged King Kong as a blatant Donkey Kong rip-off, you'd be correct. That's painfully obvious when you hear the familiar background music and watch Kong hop side-to-side up the building structure.

The human characters are small but well defined. Your tiny hero sports a cool blonde hairdo and is decked out in jeans and a green jacket. Likewise the damsel in distress is rendered in several colors as she waves her arms wildly at the top of the screen. Unfortunately, the main character - Kong - looks absolutely pathetic. I really wish the programmer had spent more than two minutes designing his pixelated monkey ass. He looks like a freakin' gingerbread man for Pete's sake!!

It goes without saying that the object is to scale the building so you can "score" with the chick. Your character moves slowly, but his running motion looks good. While climbing the platforms you have to jump over bombs that travel both up and down the structure. Sometimes they fall through gaps in the floor, and sometimes they don't, and this blatant disregard for the laws of physics irked my friend Scott to no end.

Leaping over "magic" bombs will give you a lift to the next floor, and they're worth seeking out for that reason. King Kong's collision detection is very forgiving, but it's annoying how you can't jump when you're on the top platform. Still, for a game so hopelessly derivative, King Kong proves to be an interesting little diversion. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 1,460
1 or 2 players 

Klax (PAL)
Grade: B
Publisher: Tengen (1990)
Posted: 2022/12/12

screenshotWhy did it take me so long to review Klax? Maybe I dismissed it as a lame Tetris knock-off? Well it certainly is gimmicky. Its graphics have a pseudo-3D thing happening which has no bearing on the gameplay. Atari marketed Klax with some weird K-shaped hand symbol, hoping it would catch on with the cool kids. Even the name and spelling has a trendy "forced fun" sound to it. If you can look past all that corporate garbage however, Klax is a heck of a lot of fun.

Blocks of various colors advance down the screen along five lanes which you must stack below. You systematically eliminate the blocks by lining up three of the same color in a row (called a klax). What sets this game apart is how you "catch" each block on a paddle before depositing it on the bottom. You can catch more than one, and even toss them back up into a lane. It feels like juggling!

Adding variety are specific wave objectives like completing a certain number of diagonal klaxes. I like how a counter on the bottom of the screen tracks your progress. Excellent controls let you catch and deposit the blocks with ease and precision.

While the game plays great on the 2600, it looks better on other systems. Its visual gimmick is how the flat blocks "flip" towards you, scaling in as they approach. The 3D illusion is modest here, as the blocks only slightly wobble and increase in size.

But my main issue with this game is the color choice. Most are easy to distinguish, but who decided to have blue blocks and slightly lighter blue blocks? Those get me every time. I think I'm about to complete a blue Klax and that last block just doesn't match. It looked right when it was coming down the lane!

Overall Klax is an easy-to-play, addictive puzzler for the 2600. You can begin on three different waves, effectively providing three skill levels. There are a whopping 100 waves in all, so you'll never get bored. If you ask me, this is the real 3D Tic-Tac-Toe (Atari, 1977). © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 6
Our high score: 19,840
1 player 

Kool-Aid Man
Grade: B-
Publisher: M-Network (1983)
Posted: 2020/8/19

screenshotWhen I was young all the kids in the neighborhood drank Kool Aid pretty much nonstop. And why not? This vitamin-C fortified beverage contained 800% of the daily recommended sugar allowance our growing bodies needed. Kool Aid was also one of the first video game product tie-ins.

The game's opening sequence recreates the classic Kool Aid commercials featuring a huge pitcher crashing through a wall to the delight of parents and children. Looking back, these people should have been looking on with sheer terror. Any guy who dresses up in a big pitcher outfit and trashes the local swim club is not fit to be serving children!

The game itself is very basic. You're freely roaming around a colorful screen as round "thirsties" cruise in both directions. The object is to eliminate these guys before they can slurp up all the water from the bottom. They are vulnerable when they deploy a long straw, but touching a thirsty in motion sends you bouncing all over the place. I guess it's appropriate that a game about a sugary drink would have you bouncing off the walls.

Grabbing a power-up transforms you into Kool Aid Man, providing temporary invincibility. The game has a fast-moving, free-for-all quality with just the right degree of randomness. The visuals are pleasant enough but the rubber band sounds, beeps, and bloops can be a little grating. It's definitely shallow, but if you're looking for something simple and quick, Kool Aid Man can be a sweet, refreshing treat. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 36900
1 player 

Grade: D+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2013/5/28

screenshotKrull was one of those cheesy, early 80's science fiction flicks billed as "the next big thing" before flopping at the box office. I wonder how much money Atari blew to acquire the license? Krull contains four distinct screens, and the graphics aren't bad at all. The action begins with a wedding ceremony being interrupted by an invading army. As enemy soldiers storm down the screen, you must repel them for as long as possible. The multi-colored soldiers look great and I like how they fling laser bolts across the screen.

Despite a valiant effort, you're eventually overwhelmed and your bride is carried off. The next screen is one of the many "travel" sequences depicted by two tiny horsemen riding across a barren landscape (don't ask me who the second guy is). The animation and sound effects of the horses are impressive. This screen also lets you collect "glaives" (throwing weapons) by hitting the button just as they pass below your horse. It's a cool mechanic that's underused.

The next screen is the spider's lair, and this is where you'll be spending the bulk of your time, languishing in pain. Although it looks great with its fine strands of web, you'll soon discover that it's really a colossal pain in the ass. Jumping over the strands is difficult, and touching one will drag you clear across the screen. A lot of gamers would shut the game off in frustration at this point, and I can't say I'd blame them. Should you persevere, you'll acquire the location of the Black Fortress where your bride is being held.

The fortress looks impressive rising from the ground, but it's rainbow colored and not shaped like the one in the film. Enter the castle and you'll face off against a red "beast" with a huge noggin. You'll need to avoid his fireballs while chipping away at your girl's jail cell with your glaives. Upon breaking through, you'd expect the round to be over, but not so fast! You're now imbued with the power of fire, which you must hurl at the beast to destroy it. It's nice how they went the extra mile to stay faithful to the film, but Krull is too repetitive and aggravating for its own good. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 4
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 20,690
1 player 

Kung Fu Superkicks
Grade: B-
Publisher: Telegames (1989)
Posted: 2000/1/10

screenshotSee review for Chuck Norris Superkicks (Xonox, 1983). This is the same game republished under a new name, presumably after the Chuck Norris license ran out. Oddly enough Chuck's likeness still appeared on the box and manual. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 112700
1 player 

Kung-Fu Master
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1987)
Posted: 2022/10/13

screenshotI'm a little embarrassed to admit it has taken me 35 years to review this game! Wait - please, I can explain! At some point I got this confused with Kung Fu Superkicks (Telegames, 1989)! Seriously. Anyway, Kung-Fu Master's advanced graphics and sound are something you'd expect on the NES. The rich, colorful graphics feature characters that are smoothly animated, multi-colored, and flicker-free.

Despite the single-button control you can execute punches, high-kicks, low-kicks, and jumps with ease. Better yet, you can tap away to dish out rapid-fire hits like a real Kung-Fu Master would. It's so satisfying to dispatch a row of henchmen attempting to latch onto you and drain your life. More formidable foes include knife-throwers that test your duck and jump skills. There are also tiny ninjas (referred to in the manual as midgets) that hop around like fleas.

The second stage really mixes things up with vases falling from the ceiling, releasing deadly snakes, moths, or tiny fire-breathing dragons. This game has more depth than your garden-variety Atari 2600 title. There are five unique stages, each culminating with a boss employing new attack patterns. When in doubt, kick that bastard in the shins repeatedly until he disappears. That advice applies in real life as well. I should be a life coach.

Kung-Fu Master was one of the final cartridges produced for the Atari 2600 so it didn't garner the attention it deserved. It also deserved a better manual than that cheap black-and-white pamphlet Activision tossed in. There's not one damn picture in that thing! Kung-Fu Master is a serious test of reflexes, but learning its patterns is also necessary to achieve spiritual enlightenment. This the most realistic fighter for the system. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go kick the living shin outta somebody. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 56,000
1 or 2 players 

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