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

Atari 2600 Reviews N-O

Name This Game
Grade: D
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Posted: 2009/6/24

screenshotThis bizarre cartridge was released around the time of the video game crash of '83, and it gives some insight into just how disposable video games were considered at the time. The full name of this cartridge is "Name This Game and Win $10,000". This goes beyond tacky. This is "guess your age" carnival stuff. It's the freakshow of video games, and a permanent scar on US Games. How many people even remember the game itself?

You play a diver swimming above the ocean floor with a huge black octopus and menacing sharks preventing you from returning to your boat. Dude, you are in a world of hurt! Your buddy on the surface occasionally drops down an oxygen line, but most of the time he's too busy goofing off! Just look at him clowning around in your boat!

The pixelated octopus has tentacles that "grow" towards you and these must be shot off. Chomping sharks move side-to-side down the screen (one at a time), and they are rendered nicely. You can fire rapidly at the sea creatures above, and I'd strongly advise holding down the fire button. This game may not sound bad, but there's minimal strategy and the gameplay is monotonous to say the least! Name This Game is just plain lousy, and all the gimmicks in the world couldn't help it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5A
Our high score: 8,220

Grade: D+
Publisher: Spectravision (1982)
Posted: 1999/11/20

screenshotHere's a fast-paced space shooter that's fun at first but wears thin in a hurry. Horizontal lines in the background cycle through colors, producing the hypnotic illusion of forward motion. Enemies that resemble Tie fighters emerge from the center of the screen and fly towards the outer edge. Nexar's unique control scheme allows you to use a cursor to direct your shots. Should your cursor collide with an enemy (or an enemy explosion), you lose a life. Clearing the stage requires destroying a certain number of boxes within 90 seconds. Nexar is entertaining for a while, but as the stages progress, the action gets out of hand and your slow-ass cursor simply can't keep up. You end up shooting wildly and just hoping for the best. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 50450

Night Driver
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Posted: 2022/2/19

screenshotIt's not everyday I can pop in a video game circa 1976 and everybody oohs and aahs over it, but Night Driver is that game. It was really the first racing game to truly put you into the driver's seat.

Two smoothly-animated rows of posts are surprisingly effective at conveying the illusion of speeding down a winding country road at night. Unlike the original 1976 black-and-white coin-op, this edition features oncoming cars and even roadside scenery like houses and trees. The humming of the well-tuned engine further enhances the sensation of speed.

You choose from a selection of 90-second courses of increasing difficulty along with a random track. Faster tracks offer a nice sense of risk/reward, since you're forced to periodically slow down in anticipation of hairpin turns. Crashing causes the screen to flash wildly to the sound of a resonating explosion.

As one of my first Atari 2600 games, Night Driver brings back all sorts of childhood memories. I remember my dad playing this and laughing himself to tears whenever he crashed repeatedly. My sister and I would take the paddle controllers in the car with us so we could "steer" from the back seat.

Night Driver won't win any awards for graphics. I'd like to think the programmer never intended to keep that boxy "car" on the bottom of the screen but didn't get a chance to fix it. The oncoming blue cars look vaguely like the face of Grover from Sesame Street.

The sheer playability of Night Driver impresses me to this day. Each race is only 90 seconds long which is great if you just want a quick fix. There are even some "no time limit" variations in case you want to pull an all-nighter. I would never condone drinking and driving in real life, but while playing Night Driver I say go for it. The only thing that's going to get smashed is Grover's face, which I think we can all agree is a risk worth taking. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 8
Recommended variation: 3AA
Our high score: 82
1 player 

No Escape!
Grade: B-
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Posted: 2009/3/3

screenshotIf nothing else, No Escape gets credit for sheer originality. Its gameplay is unlike anything you've ever seen in the past, or future for that matter. You control Jason the Argonaut, moving across the floor of a Greek temple while attempting to destroy mythical "fury" monsters flying overhead. You can hurl stones upward (and guide them to a degree), but there's a catch - you can't strike the furies directly. No, that causes them to regenerate, and that's no good at all. Instead, the idea is to knock loose the colorful bricks that make up the roof of the temple, causing them to fall onto the furies below.

It's an interesting twist - a "reverse shooter" of sorts. It doesn't provide for much precision, but I like how you can knock out two or three blocks at a time and make it rain like Pac-Man Jones baby (aww yeeah!) Don't get careless though - the blocks can also crush your Greek ass. No Escape incorporates wave after wave of imaginative, high-resolution creatures rendered in an array of bright colors. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you what most of those things are supposed to be, but it's always interesting to see what the next wave has in store.

One thing that annoys me about No Escape is the cheap hits. The furies tend to hover about one millimeter above your head, dispensing fireballs at point-blank range. When they begin moving erratically in later waves, skill rapidly gives way to luck. One astute reader explained that you can exert some degree of influence on the fury movements by holding in the fire button. He's right, but this is a very limited, funky sort of control that only advanced players will be able to use to their benefit. Still, No Escape provides a nice break from the typical shooters and maze games. It also gets credit for its nifty little ending depicting Jason flying off on his Pegasus. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: 3289
1 or 2 players 

Grade: F
Publisher: Technovision (1983)
Posted: 2022/8/6

screenshotAwwww nuts! Why am I playing this awful game? To fulfill my contractual obligations that's why! At some point I foolheartedly agreed to review all these miscellaneous European PAL shovelware titles and now it's time to pay the piper. Never sign a legally-binding document after seven shots of tequilla! Lesson learned.

Nuts has a single screen with trees on each side joined by a pair of branches. On the lower part of the screen there appears to be some kind of glowing gold nugget nestled into a branch. Oh wait - you're telling me that's supposed to be the sun peeking out of a cloud? That is the worst-looking sun I've ever seen, and I've seen more suns than Luke Skywalker for crying out loud. Think about it.

There's no rhyme or reason to Nuts. You move a purple squirrel side-to-side across the bottom, firing nuts straight up at bomb-dropping foxes creeping across the branches. The instructions claim these are weasels but I know a fox when I see one. If ten cross safely you lose one life. Big deal! The good news is you can fire rapidly. The bad news is, the wonky controls cause you to frequently become momentarily stuck. During advanced rounds the action is plagued by ugly flicker and collision detection issues.

It may sound dirty, but Nuts reminds me of a poor-man's Pooyan (Konami, 1983). Even the two-player co-op mode can't redeem this mess. You can toss this one on top of the overflowing barrel of inconsequential PAL dreck. When a game makes me think my indestructible 40-year-old Wico joystick is on the fritz it's clearly time to move on. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 7800
1 or 2 players 

Ocean City Defender
Grade: NA
Publisher: Zellers (1983)
Posted: 2003/9/14

screenshotOcean City Defender is nothing but a rip-off of Atlantis (Imagic) with slightly modified graphics. The new saucer-like designs of the ships and underwater buildings look really cheesy - a big step down from the original game. The one interesting aspect of Ocean City Defender is the cartridge label. It features a 1950s-era robot shooting lightning from its hands, and a metallic Loch Ness monster being ridden by a skinny robot. Weird! To be honest, the only reason I picked this up this piece of crap is because the title reminded me of my favorite vacation spot, Ocean City, Maryland. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
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1 or 2 players 

Off The Wall
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1989)
Posted: 2001/4/1

screenshotAs one of the last games created for the 2600, most gamers are unaware of Off The Wall, but it's probably just as well. It was Atari's attempt to modernize the classic game Breakout by updating the graphics with an Asian theme and loading it with power-ups. Using a joystick (no paddles - rats!) you move a guy across the bottom of the screen, deflecting a ball towards a colorful wall. A black bird flies in front of the wall, and he can block your shots as well as deflect the ball back towards the wall. The bird also drops some useful power-ups, like the "bomb" that lets you blow out a large chunk of the wall.

Another handy power-up allows you to "steer" the ball, making it easier to clear those last few bricks. There are also power-ups that make your life harder, such as the one that makes the ball travel faster. A "red dragon" dances on top of the wall, but it looks more like a big red caterpillar and only serves as an easy way to score bonus points.

Off The Wall is less tedious than Breakout, but it's also too easy. Another problem is the annoying 10-second pause before each new ball is released. What's that all about? Off the Wall is respectable as a one-player game, but the two-player mode is lousy. Both players have to share the same wall, and the scoring system is totally unfair. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5
Our high score: 4757
1 or 2 players 

Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2001/5/14

screenshotIn this rare misstep from Activision, you control three little pigs trying to protect their houses from a wolf. Controlling one pig at a time, you move him around the interior of his house, grabbing bricks and placing them in holes made by the wolf below. Should a hole become too large, you're bacon. Each pig introduces a new style of house (straw, wood, brick) but they all play the same. Oink's graphics are actually quite good, with large, detailed characters. But the game suffers from a serious lack of fun. Going back and forth carrying bricks to the biggest hole is mind-numbing and hard on the wrist. With little variety or strategy, you may find yourself rooting for the wolf. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 8276
1 or 2 players 

Omega Race
Grade: B
Publisher: CBS (1983)
Posted: 2021/5/23

booster gripThis fine vector-graphics shooter got lost in the deluge of innovative arcade games in the early 1980's. It's too bad because Omega Race provides one-of-a-kind, edge-of-your-seat thrills. There's no actual "racing", although I suppose the playing field is configured similar to a racing oval. Unlike the arcade, the outer boundaries of the track are invisible. You thrust around the screen, bouncing off barriers while blasting alien fighters. There's only one skill level but it will have you reaching for that reset button again and again.

What's unique about the game is how your ship caroms off the walls, letting you finely adjust your line of fire while remaining a moving target. It's fun to be reckless but easy to collide with stationary objects scattered around the screen. Take too long to clear the "rack" and an X-shaped "death ship" appears, zipping around the screen while laying mines and shooting like crazy. When you shoot at this guy you'd better not miss.

Omega Race isn't the prettiest game in the world but then again the arcade original (rendered in single-colored vector graphics) was no beauty either. Objects here are rendered in light blue and the flicker is noticeable. Each level is basically the same as you begin in the upper left and enemies congregate in the lower right. An Asteroids-style cadence plays in the background, picking up in intensity as each wave progresses. Clear a "rack" of enemies and you're rewarded with a triumphant refrain that sounds suspiciously like the Star Wars theme.

Omega Race has one interesting but completely unnecessary gimmick, which is the inclusion of a special "booster grip". This joystick attachment adds two buttons (thrust and fire), with the normal fire button also serving as thrust. Why CBS felt the need for this device is beyond me. The same functionality could have been achieved using Asteroids-style controls, where you simply push forward to thrust. It's a hard pill to swallow when you realize this hard-to-find device is required to play the game. Actually, you can plug a Colecovision controller directly into your Atari and that will work too!

It's a shame you have to jump through so many hoops to enjoy Omega Race because this is a pretty solid shooter. The playing field never changes but the gameplay forces you to keep moving, bouncing around while narrowly avoiding collisions. For such a simple concept Omega Race is remarkably challenging. Your game won't last long but you're in for a wild ride. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 42,500
1 or 2 players 

Open Sesame
Grade: C
Publisher: Bit Corp (1982)
Posted: 2021/1/1

screenshotWhen it comes to obscure PAL conversions I've come to expect chunky graphics and simplistic gameplay, so Open Sesame came as a shock. I'm actually impressed! The platforms and the characters that patrol them are sharp and rendered in a dazzling array of colors. The game itself is set in exotic Arabia. You play Ali Baba - a guy decked out in exotic yellow duds. Your goal is to ascend the structure by triggering floating ropes at various marked points - two per level.

The game requires you to activate every single rope, even though they aren't necessary to reach the top. Patrolling the platforms are "guards" that look more like panicked Mouseketeers. Occasionally a "magic ball" comes bouncing through, and grabbing it lets you defeat the guards. There's some strategy to this game, as you must often crawl half-way up a rope just to avoid a passing guard. You have to respect the pixel-perfect collision detection. The object at the top of the screen looks like a blue cyclops monster but is actually the "sesame treasury".

Reach this and you'll be rewarded with a "close up" shot of the palace, along with a series of tones that vaguely mimic the words "Open Sesame!" You have to use your imagination, but it sounds pretty neat. Unfortunately there's only one skill level and the difficulty hits a wall around 25K. Still, I enjoyed Open Sesame. It may be a Donkey Kong knock-off but it's one of the better ones. NOTE: Zimag published an abbreviated version of this game under the title I Want My Mommy. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 26,840
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 1999/8/24

screenshotUnlike Atari's Chess, this classic board game (often called Reversi) provides an enjoyable and thought-provoking diversion. It's played by laying black and white squares on a checkerboard, trying to capture as much of the board as you can. Othello is simple to learn but tough to master. The secret to winning seems to lie in controlling the edges and corners, something the computer player tends to be quite proficient at. Three skill levels are provided along with a two-player variation. Each contest is quick, which encourages you to hit the reset switch for "just one more game". Othello's graphics and sound may be minimal, but they do the job. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Game variations: 4
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 37-27
1 or 2 players 

Outer Space
Grade: F
Publisher: Sears (1977)
Posted: 2017/3/2

screenshotSee review of Star Ship (Atari, 1977). This is the same game, except released by Sears. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Posted: 2002/1/23

screenshotIt's hard to be critical of Outlaw, considering it's such an old favorite. This simple shoot-out game features large, slow, blocky cowboys. You can shoot at three different angles, with ricochets adding to the strategy. But what really makes Outlaw interesting are variations with cactus, covered wagons, and moving walls. There are even a few one-player target-shooting variations that are harder than they look! For an early Atari cartridge this isn't bad. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Game variations: 16
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B+
Publisher: Hozer (1998)
Posted: 2001/11/19

screenshotWhat a surprise this game was. When I first played it, I was like, "what the heck is going on"? After an hour, I was still playing and my thumb was getting sore. Despite its goofy name, Oystron is no joke. While it may look like a simple shoot-em-up, there is subtle strategy involved. You control a ship on the left side of the screen that can fire both left and right.

Objects approach from the right, including "space oysters" which you can blast open to reveal pearls. Collecting eight pearls earns you a bomb. After a certain period of time, a boss emerges, which can only be destroyed by one of those bombs. After you take him out (not too tough), you're thrust into a fast-paced "warp phase". Oystron provides fast, non-stop shooting action, and it's very challenging. My main beef is that the stages tend to run a bit too long. But overall, this is a real gem. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 860
1 player 

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