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

Atari 2600 Reviews P

Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 2008/11/18

screenshotI remember sitting in school listening to my friend Chuck rag on this game before it even came out! Apparently his mom worked in retail, and word got out early that this game sucked in the worst way. When you consider it's the official version of perhaps the most beloved video game of all time, its glaring flaws are hard to defend.

The blocky maze design (which looks nothing like the arcade) is unimaginative and redundant. With so many turns, it's hard to navigate, too. The "escape" corridor (which transports you to the opposite side of the screen) is so poorly positioned that it's practically useless.

The ghosts are pale and flicker so much that you can barely tell they're supposed to be different colors! Pac-Man now has eyes, and his mouth chomps continuously whether he's eating or not. Worst of all, he faces sideways when moving up and down, and that's just wrong! And are those square pancakes supposed to be an acceptable substitute for bonus fruit?

This is Pac-Man by name alone, and it has "rush job" written all over it. Even so, the game is playable, and if you select a tough difficulty level you'll have your hands full. Atari would later release fantastic renditions of Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man, but the damage had already been done. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 8
Recommended variation: 6A
Our high score: 4147
1 or 2 players 

Panda Chase (Europe)
Grade: D-
Publisher: Home Vision (1983)
Posted: 2020/5/20

screenshotAt a glance Panda Chase looks intriguing. Its main screen features a multi-colored Panda surrounded by a bunch of colorful houses and green pixelated patches. A pleasant sing-song melody plays in the background. You can freely move your bear and touching anything transports you to a separate platform screen. Unfortunately, while there appear to be eleven destinations on the main screen, there are only three platform challenges.

Touching a house takes you to an underground tunnel where you must jump up the sides while avoiding scurrying rats. Touching a green patch sends you to a screen dominated by a massive tree, but it's purely eye candy. You simply run right to exit, hopping over any rats in your path.

A third screen places you at the bottom of a rocky ravine. This time you must carefully hop between narrow ledges to reach the top. In addition to rats there appears to be an Afghan dog patrolling the upper part.

The controls are responsive but the game is unforgiving as hell. When jumping you need to land perfectly on top of the next ledge. Rub against the side and your Panda will make a farting noise as he's sucked down to the bottom of the screen. So aggravating!

Normally you begin at the bottom of each screen, but due to some glitch you'll sometimes start at the top, giving you a pretty cheap way to score 100 points! Panda Chase is an alluring title and I like its sense of discovery. Unfortunately there's no sense of progression; it's just the same thing over and over. Still, if you're looking for a farting panda game this is the best one ever made and it's not even close. NOTE: I reviewed this PAL to NTSC conversion on my Harmony Cart. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 1316
1 player 

Party Mix
Grade: A
Publisher: Starpath (1983)
Posted: 2004/4/27

screenshotFive games in one, Party Mix was originally released as title #10 in Starpath's innovative line of tape-loading games. Putting the paddle controllers to good use, Party Mix lives up to its name with impressive graphics, decent music, and hilarious multiplayer mayhem. These split-screen games are designed for two-on-two action, but can also be played one-on-one. Needless to say, the four-player action is wilder and often comical.

The first game, Bop-A-Buggy, is a race between two large, oddly-shaped vehicles across several screens of obstacles, with a finish line at the end. The paddle controls are very sensitive but provide pinpoint steering. With four players, the other two competitors can fire missiles to slow their opponent's progress.

Tug-Of-War is just as you'd imagine, with players mashing their fire buttons continuously to maintain the upper hand. It'll absolutely kill your hand, but with four people going at once, you'll all be laughing your asses off. In the Wizard's Keep, wizards on the left side of the screen shoot fireballs at targets that move down the right side, and timing is crucial.

The fourth game, Down The Line, takes place in a factory. One player picks colored packages off a conveyor belt and hands it to his partner who must place them on the correct belt on the other side. The packages come pretty fast so there's no time to rest.

The final game, Handcar, puts each pair of players on one of those two-man railroad carts where one guy needs to push a handle down while the other pulls up. Both players must be well synchronized to gain momentum. Any one of these fine mini-games could stand on its own, so having all five in one package is a real bargain. Party Mix can be yours if you purchase the Stella Gets a New Brain CD. Check it out. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: All
2 or 4 players 

Pele's Championship Soccer
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Posted: 2006/8/3

screenshotI love sports video games, but this one is hard to stomach. Each team is composed of three blobs that move in a triangular formation over a vertically-scrolling field. Reading Pele's Soccer's 17-page instruction book might lead you to believe the gameplay is pretty sophisticated, but in reality it's pure tedium as you slowly bring the ball up the field using a series of short kicks. You can't kick it very far, and passing between players is an exercise in futility.

Inexplicably the goalie resides just inside of the goal, yet if he catches the ball it's considered a save. None of the 54 game variations offer a way to shorten the games, which tend to run so long that your hands will cramp up, bleed, and eventually just fall off. The highlight of the game is the cool fireworks display shown after each score. Rarely fun and usually agonizing, this marginal soccer game was originally named Championship Soccer before given the celebrity treatment. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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Game variations: 54
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Posted: 2021/2/12

screenshotWhen Pengo's instruction manual describes the game as an "arcade blockbuster", I think it's safe to assume it's referring to the gameplay. It wasn't exactly a runaway hit, but Pengo has more strategy than most maze games. It stars a little red (?) penguin and plays like a zero-gravity version of Dig Dug (Atari, 1983). You begin in the center of a screen strewn with ice blocks. Yellow "sno bees" materialize in the corners, methodically melting blocks as they close in on you.

Your penguin can pulverize blocks butted up against one another or slide ones that are unimpeded. Squishing sno-bees between blocks is great fun, especially if you can squash two or more at a time. Specially-marked "jewel" blocks are indestructible and if you line them up you'll net a sweet 5K bonus.

Pengo is a well-programmed game with crisp graphics, smooth animation, and no flicker. Just don't make the mistake of playing the default variation or you'll be bored to tears. And for goodness sake be sure to toggle off that God-forsaken "music" via the difficulty switch. It is horrible!

Promise me you'll play the game on variation 10 with the music off and you'll be good-to-go, provided you don't push all the blocks against the edges and get stuck. Pengo isn't the most exciting game but it's not a bad choice for some good-natured, sub-zero-temperature fun. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 10
Our high score: 24,140
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Ebivision (1999)
Posted: 2003/10/4

screenshotI admit it - I was much too hard on Pesco when I originally reviewed it. I guess I was expecting more than just another Pac-Man clone from a 1999 game. It's a bit slow, but Pesco's at least as good as Atari's Pac-Man game. You control a fish being pursued by three crabs in a maze of dots. The graphics are crisp and colorful, with solid, nicely defined crabs. Ocean-inspired bonus items like clams and starfish appear in the upper part of the screen, and the tunnel on the bottom makes for a handy escape route.

The worst aspect of Pesco is its lack of audio. The only sound effect is when you eat a dot (or dash, in this case). Eating a power pill or getting caught by a crab results in silence, which is pretty lame if you ask me. I do like how the difficulty ramps up in a hurry. Once you reach the third screen, you'll be swimming for your life. Pesco is nothing remarkable, but its challenge makes it worth playing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 13220
1 player 

Pete Rose Baseball
Grade: C-
Publisher: Absolute (1988)
Posted: 2010/5/14

screenshotI trashed Pete Rose Baseball for the Atari 7800, so I'd be a hypocritical bastard if I didn't downgrade this one as well. It's a shame, because technically this game offers a level of depth you rarely see in a 2600 title. You get a behind-the-pitcher view like a televised game, and there's even an umpire behind the catcher.

The motion is smooth as the pitcher winds up and throws the ball. Once the ball is put into play the screen shows the right or left half of the infield, and when the ball leaves the infield one of three outfield views is displayed. The outfield looks nifty with a warning track and a blue wall complete with distance markings. Fly balls are smooth and easy to follow, and they can even carom off of the walls.

As for the fielding controls, this game suffers from the same "limited infield movement issue" that plagued the 7800 version. Still, it seems less of a factor because of fewer dinky grounders. Otherwise the controls are very good. The real problem with this game is the preponderance of home runs, elevating final scores into the teens and beyond.

It seems like every other hit is a line drive over the fence, and it gets boring to watch runners trot slowly around the bases. There are also too many foul balls, and why are both teams wearing the same white uniforms? Pete Rose's has what it takes in the eye candy department, but its gameplay could use a serious tune-up. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Peter Penguin (Europe)
Grade: C-
Publisher: ITT (1983)
Posted: 2021/2/12

screenshotThis obscure import may be a blatant Pengo (Atari, 1983) rip-off but there's something about it. Peter Penguin offers similar block-sliding gameplay except without the sharp visuals and high production values. The graphics are actually quite bad, with indistinct characters, loud color, and irritating flicker. The collision detection is wonky and the difficulty erratic.

I may not be doing a very good job of selling this game, but I actually like Peter Penguin. It's got a mysterious quality to it - perhaps the lack of an instruction manual has something to do with that. Figuring the game out is a game in and of itself. Unlike Pengo you begin with a screen fully engulfed in ice cubes and have to clear them away just to create room to maneuver.

There are also randomly-placed "power pill" blocks which let you absorb enemies for big points. These pills don't stay active for long so hunting down foes is risky business. Do you know what I really like about this game? The music. It plays a looping classical-sounding tune that's actually very pleasant, enough to make up for some of the more grating sound effects.

The controls aren't bad and there's a fair amount of challenge... for a while. The problem is, once I got "over the hump" I felt as if I could play pretty much indefinitely. The maze never even resets. Would I recommend Peter Penguin over the polished, stylish, and infinitely more original Pengo? No, but the thought did cross my mind at some point. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 8
Our high score: 1620
1 player 

Phaser Patrol
Grade: A
Publisher: Arcadia/Starpath (1982)
Posted: 2003/8/24

screenshotPhaser Patrol takes top honors as the Atari 2600's finest first-person space shooter, overtaking Star Raiders (Atari), Star Master (Activision), and Star Voyager (Imagic). Not only is Phaser Patrol's gameplay more advanced, but its sharp visuals put those other titles to shame. The high resolution control panel is chock-full of useful indicators and incoming messages displayed in large, easy-to-read text. Gameplay is similar to other games of its ilk, where you scour the galaxy for aliens and return to your star bases to refuel and repair.

But Phaser Patrol has a few tricks of its own. Your "range finder" (aiming cursor) turns red when an enemy is under it, and firing a shot precisely at this time will cause your torpedo to be guided into its target - very satisfying! Shots that miss still detonate, and these explosions can also take out nearby enemies. Aliens tend to appear two at a time and fire aggressively.

A separate map screen indicates locations of friendly star bases and known enemies, but initially most sectors are marked as "unknown". The left difficulty switch is used to access the map screen, and the color switch shuts down your shields (not recommended). There are two difficulty levels, and at the end of each game you're awarded a rank and level. Phaser Patrol is a rare game, and that's too bad because it's a real gem. Originally available only on cassette, you can also now find it on the excellent "Stella Gets A New Brain" CD compilation. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: RB
Our high score: pilot-B
1 player 

Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2011/4/21

screenshotIn the early 80's Phoenix drew crowds at my local bowling alley. This innovative shooter featured five unique waves culminating with a dramatic showdown with a colossal mother ship. Keep in mind that this was before bosses were so common (and overused). I broke my piggybank to get the Atari 2600 version, bugging my mother to drive me to Toys R Us so I could buy it. The game cost me $36, and adjusted for inflation, that's over $4,800 in today's currency. And worth every penny I might add.

Phoenix boasts some of the sharpest graphics and varied shooting action you'll find on the 2600. The first wave consists of eight small birds in formation which are fairly easy to pick off. The second wave is similar, but it's actually easier because it supports rapid-fire shooting (just hold down the button). These waves feature high-pitched, oscillating background audio effects which sound exactly like what a flock of birds would sound like in space.

The third and fourth waves feature larger birds swooping across the screen. You can shoot off their wings, but only a direct shot is fatal. When both wings are shot off, new ones sprout, which is a pretty impressive visual effect. I wish Atari had put some beaks on those birds. The fifth screen reveals the imposing mother ship. Although it doesn't have the small birds flying around it (as in the arcade), it's still quite satisfying to wear down its hull and blow up that freaky alien in its interior.

From there the waves recycle and the birds become slightly more aggressive. Don't forget you can pull back on the joystick to engage your shield. The game's single skill level is its main liability, and you get too many lives (five plus one at 5K). Experienced players will need to defeat the mother ship a few times before the real challenge kicks in. Phoenix deserves extra credit for its incredible artwork, of which I had a poster of in my bedroom for many years. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 56,750
1 player 

Pick Up
Grade: C
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1983)
Posted: 2002/10/30

screenshotThis unreleased Fox game was made available for the first time at the 2002 Classic Gaming Expo. While its storyline is fairly original, I suspect its subject matter was considered somewhat risque by early-1980's standards. You play a typical guy out to win over a girl by collecting the following gifts for her: a car, a flower, money, perfume, a wine glass, and a heart. As these objects move overhead, you shoot them with guided missiles in order to collect each one. Shooting the same item twice however will cost you a life (or "chance", as this game calls it).

Objects collected are displayed on the bottom on the screen, so at least you know what not to aim for. Collecting the items looks deceptively easy, but often you'll need to "thread the needle" to reach objects at the very top. While interesting in concept it's not terribly fun. Once you've gathered all six items, you grab your lady by the hand and take her to a tiny hotel with two windows. This is where you really score! After going through the front door, you hear some footsteps and see the shades get pulled down. Five seconds later your guy emerges, revitalized and ready to take on the next level! What a total stud! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 23100
1 player 

Grade: F
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Posted: 2006/11/24

screenshotSwatting flies at a picnic seems like a reasonable video game premise, but Picnic is too sloppy and abstract to pull it off. The screen features two "cheeseburgers" sitting on a checkered tablecloth on the bottom. Who in the hell brings cheeseburgers to a picnic anyway? The big solid box between the burgers is supposed to be a "bug trap". C'mon US Games, is that the best you could do?

Using the paddle controllers, you move a "swatter" (small curved line) across the screen to protect the burgers from waves of bugs. As the flies descend, the lowest one will suck up the food with his long, needle-like tongue. By timing your "swat", you transform the fly into a messed-up square that bounces around the screen. If I didn't read the instructions, I would have absolutely no idea what the hell was going on.

Every few waves an oversized "super bug" emerges, but he's defeated in the same exact way. The controls are fine, but there's no strategy! All you do is hover under the lowest insect and keep hitting the button. The advanced difficulty is so easy and repetitive that I couldn't wait for it to end. The audio consists of an endless droning that's supposed to be the "buzz" of the flies. Picnic is one of those worthless, by-the-numbers games that companies were shoveling out by the dozens in 1982. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3B
Our high score: 5440
1 or 2 players 

Piece O' Cake
Grade: C
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Posted: 2003/6/14

screenshotPiece O' Cake has its issues, but impressive graphics and imaginative gameplay make it worth a look. Using the paddle controllers, you move a huge baker across the top of the screen, dropping cake layers onto platters riding over a moving conveyor belt below. Cake layers come in three sizes, and to build a cake correctly, you'll need to stack the small layers on top of the larger ones.

A perfect cake consists of three layers, and you'll want to top it off with a cherry to complete your creation before it falls off the conveyor belt. The paddles provide pinpoint control, and initially the game is pretty sweet. Once the conveyor starts speeding up however, things become unmanageable in a hurry. Piece O' Cake's graphics are surprisingly well done. The baker is huge with a well-defined face, and the cakes actually look somewhat appetizing. The sound effects on the other hand are relentlessly annoying. This one never really lives up to its potential. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5
Our high score: 10,900
1 player 

Pigs In Space
Grade: D-

screenshotSome of you may recall Pigs in Space from the old Muppets television program. This cartridge is actually three games in one: "Chickenvaders", "Pastaroids", and "Escape from the Planet of the Gonzoids". It sounds like you're in some madcap intergalactic mayhem but don't get too excited. The first game is a shameless Space Invaders clone except there are no barriers and you shoot at rows of chickens instead of mutants.

You take aim with Captain Link at the bottom of the screen, and he's a large target for falling bombs. The graphics are nicely detailed and I especially like that rotating Gonzo head that periodically crosses the top of the screen. That thing looks amazing, but it's all downhill from there.

The second game stars Miss Piggy in a cringe-worthy Frogger rip-off. The idea is weave your way around floating spaghetti and meatballs to reach the space cruiser at the top of the screen. Touching pasta pushes you downward, and you usually end up back at the bottom of the screen. Ugh.

The third game is more aggravating still. It involves guiding a milk bottle-shaped ship upward through caverns while shooting at pigs camped out on ledges. Your shots curl around, making it possible for you to shoot yourself! How could that possibly be a good idea? This game drags on and on and it's almost unbearable. As a marginal collection of uninspired mini-games, I'm afraid that Pigs In Space is just one rotating Gonzo head away from complete failure. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 3
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 16270
1 player 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Posted: 2022/8/14

screenshotIn 1982 most games followed familiar themes of space shooting, car racing, or maze crawling. Pitfall on the other hand offers screen after screen of tropical jungle mayhem as you leap over cobras, scorpions, and rolling logs. You'll need to avoid quicksand and swing over crocodile-infested swamps while belting out a Tarzan yell. You can move above ground or explore subterranean passages.

Like all classic Activision titles, the controls are crisp, the graphics well-defined, and sound effects satisfying. You earn points by snatching up gold bars, diamond rings, or bags of cash. The jungle layout is exactly the same each time you play, but the true challenge lies in exploring all the 256 screens within the 20-minute time limit. Casual players will deplete their three lives long before time expires, but expert players can see how far they can get.

You can travel towards the left or right, but the left is a lot easier. When judging where the edge of the quicksand is, don't make the mistake of using the trees in the background as a point of reference, because their spacing changes. The biggest and most tedious challenge is hopping across crocodile heads while avoiding their snapping jaws.

Pitfall's action is a little repetitive but I love how the vines are timed so you can really get into a rhythm. In fact you might find yourself taking a lot of chances just to avoid disrupting the flow. The underground element is a little weak. With no treasure and frequent dead-ends, those are for experts only. Pitfall still holds up today, and if you have any doubt just try to beat my high score. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 87,597
1 player 

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns
Grade: A+

screenshotDavid Crane pulled out all the stops when he created this remarkable sequel. Pitfall II takes original's "thrill of discovery" to new heights - or should I say depths? No longer just running left or right, you'll climb deep into mines, swim underground rivers, float on balloons, and plunge over waterfalls. You'll save people and encounter all sorts of exotic creatures.

The first thing you notice about Pitfall II is its harmonized music. This was the first cartridge with hardware-assisted technology, employing an extra chip used to facilitate the heroic musical score. Thank goodness it's catchy as hell, as it plays incessantly throughout the entire game.

Pitfall II expands greatly on the original yet retains its distinctive style. This time you'll encounter bats, buzzards, electric eels, poisonous frogs, and albino scorpions reprised from the first game. There's no timer and no concept of lives. There are periodic checkpoints however, and points are docked for mistakes. Grab gold bars to rack up your score. My boy's gettin' paaaaid!

If the first game was horizontal, this one is very, very vertical. Expect a lot of climbing and falling. One frustration with Pitfall II is Harry's inability to duck. Low-flying bats and buzzards are constant hazards, and they require perfect timing to run under without catching a wing. I had to explain to my young nephews that in 1984 we didn't know how to duck and were banging our heads constantly.

At one point you need to dodge about ten flying creatures in a row, but hey - that's all part of the challenge. The other part is trying to locate every hidden area and treasure in this expansive underground network. Pitfall II pushes the limits of the system. I only wish a Pitfall III had been produced in the same style. Hey - wait a minute - isn't David Crane still making games? Are you thinking what I'm thinking?? © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 145,000
1 player 

Planet Patrol
Grade: D-
Publisher: Spectravideo (1983)
Posted: 2003/6/14

screenshotPlanet Patrol aspires to be more than a typical side-scrolling shooter, but its programmer wasn't quite up to the task. Large and small missiles approach from the left side of the screen, and while your plane can shoot down the large ones, you're forced to dodge the smaller ones. After a while, you'll reach a "stranded pilot" who can be docked with for bonus points. Next there's an enemy base where you're required to destroy three large green structures. Finally, you'll navigate a maze of "debris" in order to escape.

Before proceeding to the next level, you have the option to land on a strip to refuel. There's even the concept of "night stages", where you can only see enemies when you fire a shot. It all sounds pretty ambitious for a 2600 game, but sloppy graphics, awful collision control, and herky-jerky animation expose Planet Patrol as the bargain-bin title it is. The refueling truck, which literally jumps across the screen, looks pathetic. Without a solid engine running the show, the sophisticated gameplay is largely wasted. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: 4960
1 or 2 players 

Plaque Attack
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2005/2/25

screenshotPlaque Attack is a non-violent game with a positive underlying message, but I'll try not to hold that against it. The action takes place in a person's mouth, where waves of floating junk food attack teeth lining the top and bottom of the screen. Manning a tube of toothpaste, you move freely around the screen. You can shoot either up or down at these evil but surprisingly delicious villains. It's a lot of fun to strafe the teeth when several molars are under attack at once.

My one issue with the control is that you can't easily reverse direction if you're near the top or bottom of the screen. Plaque Attack's graphics are better than average, with colorful and easily discernible burgers, hot dogs, French fries, candy canes, strawberries, and donuts. It takes a while for the challenge to kick in, so you'll probably cruise through the first few waves with no problem.

The game ends when all the teeth are gone, but an extra tooth is generously awarded at every 2000 points. Like Missile Command, you'll want to concentrate on protecting that last tooth when it's all you have left. Despite its good intentions, Plaque Attack is one of the more forgettable Activision titles for the 2600. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 31880
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C+
Publisher: UA Limited (1983)
Posted: 2003/11/12

screenshotNow available for the first time thanks to the good people at AtariAge, Pleiades is one of those games programmed "back in the day" but never released. According to its instruction manual, Pleiades is the unofficial sequel to Phoenix. If I had to hazard a guess as to why Pleiades never saw the light of day, I'm guessing it's because no one could pronounce its freakin' name. Anyway, this fun but uneven shooter features three completely unique stages.

In the first you control a cannon on a planet surface shooting aliens flying in various formations. The aliens move fast and drop a ton of bombs, but their movements are annoyingly choppy. Occasionally one will crawl across the bottom, leaving a wall that you can poke holes in. There's some scenery on the planet's surface, but nothing particularly impressive. The off-key "music" that plays during this stage is simply awful.

The second screen resembles the mother ship sequence in Phoenix. This particular mothership is large but chunky, with three trap doors that randomly open and close on its underbelly. Timing your shots, you must nail a little star that moves left to right across the center of the ship. Meanwhile, large birds swoop down, drop bombs, and block your shots. Like the first stage, it's moderately fun but over too quickly.

The third screen is easily the most difficult and time-consuming. Your job here is to guide a slowly moving, triangular ship up a pyramid-shaped course while avoiding scattered obstacles. This is where you'll lose 90 percent of your ships. Especially near the top of the pyramid, the airplane-shaped obstacles are too densely packed to avoid, and it grows frustrating.

Pleiades is still worthwhile to play, thanks to its fast action and sheer variety. I also appreciate the fact that it keeps the high score displayed on the screen at all times. Note: Despite what the manual says, set the left difficulty switch to B for a normal game, and A to practice. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 4330
1 player 

Poker Plus
Grade: B
Publisher: Sears (1979)
Posted: 2017/3/2

screenshotThis is the same game as Casino (Atari 2600, 1979), except published by Sears under an inferior name. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

Grade: B
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
Posted: 2008/2/15

screenshotThis obscure shooter is considered by many to be a hidden gem in the Atari 2600 library. Polaris places you in command of a nuclear submarine in two distinct alternating stages. The first is viewed from the side as you blast enemy planes flying overhead while avoiding subs below. The degree of detail in the high-resolution planes is really pretty astounding. I love how their bombs appear to rotate end-over-end as they fall! Nice touch!

And if you think the planes look nice, check out the occasional destroyer that zips across the surface. That thing looks freakin' amazing - no kidding! Once you knock out the bombers, you'll then have to contend with a very dangerous dive-bomber. Not only does this son of a [expletive] fly in quick, unpredictable patterns, but he's armed with heat-seeking missiles! If you make it past him, the second stage offers a vertically-scrolling, overhead view of the sea floor, where you have to navigate around walls and mines.

The walls look pretty chunky, reminiscent of the "lost valley" in Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari, 1982). But as bad as it looks, the stage provides a nice change of pace as you skillfully blast or maneuver around mines. The audio in Polaris is dominated by really annoying (and constant) sonar pings. Even so, the game offers a nice variety of visuals and gameplay, and the challenge is formidable as you progress through sixteen distinct levels. I really like this one. Play Polaris on your Atari 2600 and all of your wildest dreams will come true. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 15100
1 or 2 players 

Pole Position
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2024/7/1

screenshotPole Position is the granddaddy of all racers, but the graphics in this scaled-down version won't win any awards. The road is a dark gray and so is the ground off to the side of the road. I guess you're driving through a rocky desert or something. Striped road boundaries convey the illusion of speed. No roadside scenery means you can freely drive off the road, but it will slow you down. Despite its graphical limitations however Pole Position is an absolute pleasure to play.

Your car is blocky but multi-colored, and you can even see its little wheels spinning. The other cars don't look as good. They first appear as yellow blocks on the horizon and appear to morph into castles as they approach. At least the transition is smooth so if you ram into one you can't blame the game.

You begin each contest with an easy qualifying lap. It might seem tedious, but hey - it's called Pole Position for a reason! During the actual race opponents appear on the horizon one at a time, switching lanes unpredictably. Ever get behind a car in real life who doesn't seem to know where he's going? These cars will even change lanes during turns, so don't hesitate to apply the brakes!

One thing Pole Position has going for it is outstanding control. Unlike most racing games your car accelerates on its own; the button is used to brake. I can't emphasize enough how much easier this makes driving. Pushing up and down on the joystick allows you to shift gears between high and low.

You begin the race with a 59 second time limit but your time is extended as you complete laps. The sounds of engines and squealing tires are realistic, but the uncanny sound of passing cars will knock your socks off.

I would have preferred a bit more pomp and circumstance, but at least you get that exuberant musical refrain kicking off each race. There's only a single game variation but it manages to hit the sweet spot. Pole Position is easy to pick-up-and-play, but completing four laps proves to be a considerable challenge. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 1
Our high score: 57260
1 player 

Pong Sports
Grade: C
Publisher: Sears (1977)
Posted: 2017/3/2

screenshotSee review of Video Olympics (Atari, 1977). This is the Sears version of the game with a far less appealing title. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 

Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (1982)
Posted: 2022/8/6

screenshotThis does not compare favorably to the 8-bit rendition of Pooyan (Atari XE, 1983), a beautiful game known for its woodland creatures, charming animation, and harmonized music. This 2600 version is like Pooyan by name alone. The action begins with a set of wolves gleefully marching onto the screen to a tuneful jingle. Don't be fooled; these guys are out for bacon - your bacon!

You control a pig on a rope attempting to thwart their invasion. The first stage has the wolves parachuting down on balloons. By moving up and down along the side, you must shoot them down while avoiding their projectiles. The rapid-fire action is okay but the wolves have shields that block about half your shots. Adding some much-needed spice is the element of "bait", a slab of meat you can throw at the wolves. It travels in an arc, allowing you to wipe out several in one fell swoop.

In the second stage the wolves are floating upward, this time with the intention of dropping a boulder on your head. Very little of the personality of the original game comes across in this translation. The main problem is the poor animation. Instead of gently floating on their balloons they shift in unison an entire body length at a time, and it looks cheap.

The choppy animation really undermines the sharp-shooting element that marked the original. The big-headed wolves look okay on the ground, but when hanging on balloons they look like stick figures! The sound effects are limited to sporadic beeps and unwanted fart noises (as opposed to...?) Pooyan does offer four skill levels and two-player modes but it's like putting lipstick on a... well, a pig. I've played far worse on my 2600, but Konami should have put more effort into this one. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 1785
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B+
Publisher: Parker Bros (1982)
Posted: 2003/10/4

screenshotThis is a highly playable version of the popular arcade game. A cross between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, Popeye's gameplay has an addictive quality. The graphics could use some work, but at least the gameplay elements are intact. Playing as Popeye, you scurry around platforms while collecting hearts tossed by Olive Oyl which float down from the top of the screen. Bluto is constantly on your tail, and he can jump up or reach down to grab you from another platform.

Once per stage you can seize a can of spinach and turn the tables on Bluto - sending him flying across the screen with one punch. One thing Popeye has that few other Atari 2600 games can boast is high quality music that plays throughout the game. The characters are single-colored but nicely detailed. One animation that doesn't look so hot is Popeye's punch - it looks more like he's passing gas (which I suppose could be equally effective).

Three screens are included, each with its own unique layout. While the screens roughly capture the flavor of their arcade counterparts, even I have to admit that the third stage (the pirate ship) looks like crap. Those blocky, diagonal lines don't look like something you'd expect to see in a finished game. Oh well, at least Parker Brothers gave it a shot, instead of omitting the third screen altogether (as Coleco did with Donkey Kong). Although there's only one skill level, the level of difficulty is just right (a little on the hard side). If you haven't been spoiled by the Colecovision version yet, you'll have a great time with this one. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 19150
1 player 

Grade: D-
Publisher: 20th Century Fox (1983)
Posted: 2004/9/2

screenshotFans of the original teen exploitation movie may find nostalgic value in this game, but for the rest of us, Porky's is just one long, arduous ordeal. Controlling a guy named Pee Wee, your ultimate goal is to blow up Porky's bar. The first screen plays like a third-rate Frogger, but it contains unlikely obstacles in the form of motorboats, bouncers, and dancers.

The second screen features a set of platforms and ladders with a hefty woman chasing you around. In the center of this particular screen there's a figure of a naked woman taking a shower, but the graphics are so rudimentary that it didn't even raise an eyebrow in 1983. Getting caught by the woman sends you falling into a pit, which for many will conjure nightmarish flashbacks of ET. For some reason beyond my comprehension, you must "pole vault" your way out of the pit. You never actually lose a life in Porky's, so the game just goes on and on and on.

The final screen requires climbing a scaffolding while avoiding the sheriff, and it's far more confusing than it should be. The bittersweet ending sequence shows Pee Wee finally blowing up Porky's. It's nothing to write home about, but at least there is an ending. Your final score is calculated by time completed and difficulty.

Porky's graphics aren't the worst I've seen, but its gameplay is marred by awkward, unresponsive controls. Climbing requires you to position yourself next to a ladder instead of underneath it, which takes a while to get used to. Like the movie, Porky's is only good for a cheap thrill. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: BB Color
Our high score: 622
1 player 

Power Lords
Grade: C+
Publisher: Probe 2000 (1983)
Posted: 2021/4/7

screenshotThis unreleased prototype impressed the hell out of me. Power Lords is one good-looking, highly-playable shooter with two completely different action scenes. Apparently this game was designed to promote a new line of action toys. You begin by flying a small ship around an alien landscape with an ominous volcano in the center. Out of this crater emerges this huge snake monster, craning its neck to fire missiles or snag you in its jaws.

It's a pretty remarkable creation, especially the way it slithers around to follow your position. There are also enemy ships patrolling overhead and if they don't shoot you they'll ram into you. Shoot the snake enough times in the neck and he'll retreat into his hole. You can then descend into the crater to enter the second screen.

Next you find yourself in a pseudo-3D stage looking down a hallway as monsters approach from the distance. The scaling is impressive, and each time you reach this stage there's a new set of creatures. Shoot 'em all and you'll find yourself back on the surface with the difficulty ratcheted up a bit. Power Lords is fun to play for a while but once you get the patterns down it becomes repetitive. That said, this is one of the more fascinating prototypes I've stumbled upon. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5a
Our high score: 1530
1 player 

Power Off!
Grade: C
Publisher: Ebivision (2002)
Posted: 2002/12/11

screenshotThe French company Ebivision has a checkered past when it comes to producing new video games for the 2600. Their titles tend to be either highly innovative (Marlin's Walls) or awfully derivative (Pesco). Power Off falls more into the latter category. The screen consists of eight red platforms connected by ladders and patrolled by robots. You control a tiny man trying to gather 16 blue blocks spread among the platforms. Please don't confuse this with the 50 other Atari 2600 games that share the same premise.

There's really nothing interesting about Power Off. Heck, the fire button doesn't even do anything! Once I started playing however, a funny thing happened - I couldn't stop. Just clearing the first screen required far more technique and strategy than I initially gave this game credit for. It's hard for several reasons. The robots tend to move side-to-side over the ladders, so your timing needs to be impeccable to scale one untouched.

It doesn't help that it's aggravatingly difficult to line up properly with each ladder (not unlike Ebivision's Alfred Challenge). Even more frustrating is the fact that no matter how many blocks you've collected, once you die the screen is completely repopulated! I can't tell you how many times I dropped the F-bomb playing this game, especially after getting snuffed out with just one block remaining. I do appreciate the innovative scoring system however, which rewards the player for picking up consecutive blocks (their values increase by increments).

When you finally clear a screen (quite the feat), you proceed to another level with a different ladder layout and new set of robots. Power Off's graphics are clean-looking, the robots are cool, and I like how your little guy scampers around. Except for the musical title screen, there's not much audio. Speaking of the title screen, I like how it scrolls the instructions, but I detected a loss in translation when it mentioned that robots were "haunting" the rooms. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 856
1 player 

Pressure Cooker
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2009/5/25

screenshotIf this game is any indication, working in a fast food restaurant is an absolute blast! Pressure Cooker lets you play the role of a short-order cook, a concept we didn't see again until Cooking Momma took the Wii by storm in 2007. Pressure Cooker lets you assemble burgers by piling tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, and onions onto beef paddies moving down a conveyor belt. The bottom of the screen shows a "checklist" of ingredients required to create the next three orders. It's possible to work on multiple burgers concurrently, but even trying to juggle two requires maximum concentration.

Once a burger is complete, you carry it to a lower screen and drop it into one of three colored chutes where it's packaged. I love this game's colorful, high-resolution graphics. At the top of the screen the burgers can be seen passing over a flame in an oven before being placed on a bun. It's then transported via a series of conveyor belt contraptions. The cook looks like an old man with a chef's hat, and he's nicely rendered in several colors. The visuals are remarkably clean and the ingredients are easy to differentiate.

The control scheme lets you "kick back" items you don't need by holding in the button, but sometimes you'll still get stuck with an unwanted ingredient. Sadly, the only way to get rid of it is to build a "bad" burger. A trash can would have been nice! Another minor complaint is how you have to sit through the intro tune before the action kicks in. But taken as a whole, Pressure Cooker is ingeniously designed and extremely well programmed. This is one of those quirky games that makes you glad you still have an Atari 2600. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3/4
Our high score: 10,310
1 or 2 players 

Private Eye
Grade: D+
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Posted: 1999/8/23

screenshotFrom its name, I anticipated Private Eye would be one of those slow, complicated games where you search high and low for obscure clues. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a fast-paced driving game requiring little in the way of thought. The object in all five missions is to drive around town, find three or more items, and transport them to the proper building within a certain period of time. A bizarre control mechanism allows your car to leap high in the air, letting you snatch clues in windows or avoid oncoming obstacles. The slick graphics have a cartoonish quality to them. There are many screens to explore, but it's too easy to get lost. In the final analysis,Private Eye requires too much trial and error, not to mention constant backtracking. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2B
Our high score: 15753

Pursuit of the Pink Panther
Grade: C+
Publisher: Probe 2000 (1983)
Posted: 2020/2/26

screenshotI'm not sure why this long lost prototype was never released because it's a perfectly playable game boasting three stages, well-animated cartoon characters, and of course that trademark Pink Panther music. Granted the music may be a little off-key but the Pink Panther looks awesome! In the opening screen the inspector scampers around dropping bricks in front of a colorful skyline.

Pink Panther must catch the bricks to fill in missing parts of a walkway leading to the right. You can jump the gaps by pressing diagonally but it's clumsy at best. I'm not sure why they didn't use the button for that. The first screen isn't very challenging if you just ignore falling bricks out of your reach.

The second screen offers something entirely new: a three story building with three doors on each floor. Enter the correct door and you're transported to the next floor up, but choose wrong and some kind of hazard appears that you need to avoid. I like how your face turns white after getting hit by a pie. The third and final screen looks like something from Indiana Jones. There's a diamond in the center surrounded by water and a rope swinging above.

The lousy jumping controls make this a lot harder than it needs to be, so you'll go through a lot of lives. If you can grab the rope and invert yourself you can snag the diamond for the win! Naturally the inspector immediately steals it back, ushering in the next round. Pink Panther is a colorful game with a lot of interesting ideas and there are even four skill levels. I reviewed this ROM on my Harmony Cart, and would recommend you give it a try if you get the opportunity. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 4100
1 player 

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