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

Atari 2600 Reviews Sf-Sm

Shark Attack
Grade: D+

screenshotI was inspired to revisit this after watching the movie Jaws five times this summer (I may have a problem). Shark Attack should have been a decent bargain bin title. You're a diver in an undersea coral maze collecting twinkling diamonds. A boat and island with trees adorn the top of the screen. A shark that is deadly to touch randomly crosses the screen, passing over the maze barriers as ominous tones play. The formula is fine but the execution is terrible. These controls are so aggravating!

While navigating the maze you get stuck on every nook and cranny, and have to finagle the joystick just to break free. Worse yet are passages that should be wide enough to pass through but you can't. That's a shame because gathering diamonds and watching your score rack up when you return them to the "shark cage" is kind of fun. When played for high score the game delivers tense moments and close calls. The shark is highly unpredictable and you're especially vulnerable near the edge of the screen. Four "portals" in each corner can transport you to another random corner, but what is the point exactly?

Occasionally the "Loch Ness Monster" appears and chases you around in the form of a pink octopus?! I've seen enough photos of Nessie to know he looks nothing like that! A game about sharks really should be marine-biologically correct. I tried to like Stuck Attack... I mean Shark Attack (Freudian slip) but its poor controls and lack of realism let me down. Note: This game was originally released by Apollo as "Lockjaw" in 1981. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 105
1 or 2 players 

Shootin' Gallery
Grade: C-
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Posted: 2001/7/1

screenshotSince the manual to this rare game is so hard to find, this review will also provide instructions so you'll know what the heck's going on the next time you play. Shootin' Gallery is an old-fashioned target-shooter that's very similar to Carnival. The object is to maximize your score using a fixed number of shots. The closest targets are snails, frogs, or ducks, and they are worth only 100 points.

The next target up is the choo-choo train. Aim for the boxcars, which are worth 1000 points each, compared to the 100-point engine. Above that, a monkey flips between bars. He's worth 500 points, and shooting him will summon a new train. The next row features animals like kangaroos, squirrels, and penguins. They are worth 2000 points each, and should be your main focus.

On top of it all, there's a clock that is constantly counting down, and if it counts all the way down, a cuckoo will eat into your bullet supply. To avoid this, just shoot the clock periodically to reset it. You receive bonus shots every 20,000 points. Shootin' Gallery's graphics are impressive. The screen is an array of color, and the animals are realistically animated. That circus music really got on my nerves though. This is one of those games that seems interesting at first but doesn't hold your attention for very long. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 106100
1 player 

Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Posted: 2022/5/15

screenshotI had never heard of Sinistar before picking up Arcade's Greatest Hits: Williams (Williams, 1996). I wore that disc out, playing Defender, Joust, and Robotron for hours on end. Sinistar was one of the oddball entries you tended to play just once or twice just to see what it was about.

Sinistar's gameplay might be described as an Asteroids-style space shooter that scrolls in all directions. Its most notable feature is its impressive voice synthesis. When the skull-shaped villain appears, he exclaims warnings such as "I live!" , "Run, run!" and "I hunger!" He also has this alarming, maniacal laugh. Sadly, you won't hear any of that in this Atari 2600 version.

But the real problem with Sinistar is its non-intuitive gameplay. You can't harm Sinistar with your normal cannon. No, you have to first blast asteroids that release crystals you gather up. These crystals can then be deployed as bombs against Sinistar. It's all the more confusing when the screen is scrolling all around with pesky aliens knocking you all over the place.

To say this 2600 prototype is a solid port of the arcade game feels like an underhanded compliment. It contains all of the vital elements, including the radar display on top. Sinistar himself looks a lot chunkier but still retains his sinister presence. Your triangle-shaped ship fires constantly, which was a good design decision since you'll need the button to deploy your bombs.

One serious issue with this version is that the scrollable area is smaller, so at any given time Sinistar is either off-screen or all over you. Perhaps that's why your bombs deploy from the rear of your ship. Whenever he's in the vicinity I'm just dropping bombs like crazy but it's hard to determine if any are harming Sinistar.

Sinistar for the Atari 2600 arrived late but even if it was early I can't see Atari releasing it. This game just didn't have many fans. The programmer did a fine job but I wish his talents had been assigned to a more worthwhile project. Had he been able to incorporate speech, this may have been a little more interesting. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 63,800
1 player 

Sir Lancelot
Grade: B-
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
Posted: 2022/7/17

screenshotIn this medieval romp Sir Lancelot (no relation to Sir Mix-a-Lot) takes flight on his Pegasus to rescue fair maidens from a fire-breathing dragon. Wait - what? Since when did Sir Lancelot ever ride a freaking Pegasus? I certainly don't remember that from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Apparently this game took a few liberties with British history. Since I'm American, I'll let it slide.

The game alternates between two screens. The first is a battle against creatures flying over a castle. You tap to flap your wings, skewering dragons, giant insects, and other winged creatures. It may be a complete rip-off of Joust (Atari, 1982) but it sure is fun. There's a nice sense of momentum and it's exciting to collide head-on with these colorful beasties. Wipe them out to enter the castle for a showdown with the dragon.

Once inside you'll find the dragon moving back and forth along the top of the screen, shooting fireballs downward while protected by a thin shield. A tiny maiden can be seen on the left edge of the screen, with lava creeping up from the pit below. You can slay the dragon by plunging your lance into its underbelly, but if you're off the mark you'll harmlessly bounce off the shield. His fireballs stun you, but it's often possible to frantically recover before plunging into the lava below.

Defeating the dragon earns you a load of bonus points. You then find yourself back on the air battle screen against a less-predictable set of flying monsters. Frustration does begin to creep in when you reach the blinking, sparking "invincible invisibles". How can I take aim at something that's barely visible?

I enjoy the thoughtful detail that went into Sir Lancelot. The air creatures vary not only in appearance but also in their attack patterns. You earn additional points for quickly dispatching multiple enemies in a row. The manual incorporates Elizabethan English prose like "Do not tarry" and "fare thee well!" It even tries to flesh out the story with lines like "The wily dragon will not fight you directly for it has seen your performance outside."

Sir Lancelot delivered more than I had expected. It's easy to play but hard to conquer. Smooth animation, tight controls, and an attention to detail add up to an irresistible challenge. Resistance is feudal! Note: This was available as a double-ender cartridge with Robin Hood. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 108,000
1 or 2 players 

Grade: D-
Publisher: Absolute (1987)
Posted: 2013/5/28

screenshotSkateboardin' manages to capture all the frustration of the sport and very little of the fun. The game is played on a maze-like "neighborhood" of contiguous screens. The idea is to guide a colorful little skateboarder over all the ramps and pipes within five minutes. There's not much in the way of scenery, but plenty of dead ends.

You'll see a road with some traffic, brick walls, and steps, but mostly sidewalks and grass. Riding over grass slows you down, and the only way to recover is to keep rolling over the turf until you come to a complete stop. At that point you'll automatically pick up your board and can resume at full speed.

Jumping ramps is no problem, but squeezing through the narrow pipes is a headache. You don't have much room to line yourself up, so you'll typically need to start on the next screen over, making slight adjustments as you approach. The controls are clumsy and it's hard to get into any kind of rhythm. The game is challenging but memorization helps.

Skateboardin's instruction manual tries to make the game sound hip by using words like "gnarly", "radical", and "totally intense". I guess those sounded better than "unexciting", "mundane", and "annoying". After a few minutes of Skateboardin' you will run - not walk - to grab your copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Playstation, 1998). © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Skeet Shoot
Grade: F
Publisher: Apollo (1981)
Posted: 2003/7/29

screenshotBack in the early 1980's, certain game publishers would release any piece of crap to make a buck, and Apollo's Skeet Shoot is a prime offender. With ludicrous graphics and reprehensible gameplay, this cartridge is borderline offensive. Your goal is to shoot as many "clay pigeons" (gray disks) as you can. It would be difficult to imagine worse graphics than those in Skeet Shoot. Those ugly shapes at the bottom of the screen are supposed to be a man with a gun.

You can shoot in five directions, but aiming diagonally is terribly difficult, even with a good joystick. The game offers two target speeds, with "slow" being far too easy, and "fast" being so quick you don't even have time to react. Skeet Shoot has 17 useless variations, and once you've played one, you've played them all. This game is so bad that I'd actually be embarrassed to be caught playing it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 9
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari Age/Eric Ball (2002)
Posted: 2003/9/24

screenshotHere's a fresh new title for your Atari 2600. Played from a first-person point-of-view, you navigate a blocky maze while hunting a wandering skeleton. Ominous tones of varying intensity indicate his proximity, and by setting the difficulty level to 'B' you receive visual cues as well. The action grows pretty intense as the tones grow louder, indicating he could be around any corner. Once he's in view, press the fire button one or more times to disintegrate his bony ass.

Any hesitation results in "GOT YOU" being displayed on the screen, abruptly ending your game. To complete the game, you need to dispose of 80 (!) skeletons in total. I'm normally not a big fan of maze games like this, but Skeleton's responsive controls and clean graphics won me over. The skeleton looks terrific, even a bit frightening, and it scales nicely when approaching. The mazes are easy to navigate as well.

The only things I can criticize about Skeleton is what it does not have (but should). First of all, a skill level select is badly needed. The game is entirely too hard, especially with only one life. Next, when the game ends it should display some kind of score so you can see how well you did. It would have been easy enough to just print out the number of skeletons killed. But despite these flaws, Skeleton is still playable and comes with an attractive instruction booklet. It's a good effort, but a little more polish could have gone a long way. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: BB
Our high score: 18
1 player 

Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari Age/Eric Ball (2003)
Posted: 2003/10/4

screenshotSkeleton Plus (+) is a much needed update to a game that held much potential but was somewhat undercooked. I imagine programmer Eric Ball caught plenty of flack about the original Skeleton's lack of options and steep difficulty. However, I'm happy to report that he has addressed those issues sufficiently in this latest version. As in the original game, you move through a first-person maze, trying to zap wandering skeletons one at a time.

The mazes are well rendered and can be navigated quickly and easily. The skeletons look terrific, and you can even follow them around (although they tend to turn on you). This "Plus" version displays the number of skeletons zapped on the bottom of the screen, along with your life points, which drain each time you're touched by a skeleton. Since some skeletons require multiple "zaps" to kill, there's a bit of a "cat and mouse" element. The game has four options: skeletons per level (five or ten), starting life meter (49 or 99), sound on/off, and skeleton speed.

Unfortunately, two options are assigned to each difficulty switch, so there are only four combinations in total. I would have preferred if all 16 possible combinations were accessible via the select switch. A "touch of death" mode is also accessible via the black/white switch, in case you preferred the unforgiving gameplay of the original. I couldn't really recommend the first Skeleton game, but Skeleton+ is the real deal. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Ski Hunt (Europe)
Grade: D-
Publisher: Home Vision (1983)
Posted: 2018/1/7

screenshotThis obscure European import pits man against snow-covered wilderness. Decked out in a fashionable pastel ski outfit (circa 1983), you begin on a breathtaking mountain peak. As you move downward ice-encrusted evergreen trees come into view. If you can reach the bottom of the screen without hitting a tree you rack up points and return to the top. The thing is, the trees appear randomly, so reaching the bottom requires more luck than skill. When your skier makes contact with a tree, both he and the tree are instantly vaporized.

After about 10 successful runs you advance to a shooting stage. Here you witness beautiful red stag galloping through the powdery snow with fluid grace. Your job is to blow them away with an automatic machine gun. There's some excellent blood splatter (spatter?) thrown in for good measure. As you might guess, this phase is pretty easy. Then it's back to the slopes, where you have new obstacles to avoid like red boulders or giant snowballs.

The second time I reached the shooting stage I was accosted by bears standing on their hind legs! A little more scary but no more difficult. Ski Hunt contains 16 game variations but I favor the first, as it's the most forgiving. Ski Hunt's gameplay is lukewarm at best, but my cat Clair found it fascinating. Note: I reviewed Ski Hunt (also known as Mountain Man) using a Harmony cart with a ROM converted from PAL to NTSC. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 6,515
1 player 

Ski Run (Europe)
Grade: D
Publisher: Suntek (1983)
Posted: 2018/1/7

screenshotWhen you turn on Ski Run you're bombarded by an obnoxious jumble of noise. Not the best first impression! Your goal is to ski down a rigidly-defined mountain course lined with orange trees, rocks, and snowmen. Your skier is colorfully rendered and even uses his poles to turn from side-to-side. I also like how the mountains in the distance slowly rise and fall. You can adjust your speed as you glide down the vertically-scrolling screen while avoiding trees, rocks, frolicing deer, bobcats, and dancing bears. Your score is constantly racking up depending on your velocity.

Adding challenge are jumps you need to perform over extended sections of gray muck. You'll know a jump is about to happen when you reach a large batch of yellow snow. I have to admit it feels satisfying when you nail a jump. But much like Ski Hunt (Home Vision, 1983), Ski Run relies too much on luck.

There's virtually no time to react to oncoming obstacles, even when you try to control your speed. Heck, just trying to stay within the confines of the course is a challenge. You get 25 (!) lives but you'll be surprised how fast you blow through them. Audio quality notwithstanding, Ski Run's pleasant visuals and non-stop action might be worth a try if you're looking for some winter-related fun. Note: Reviewed using a Harmony cart with a ROM converted from PAL to NTSC. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 17,896
1 player 

Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1980)
Posted: 2002/2/26

screenshotSkiing by Activision is fast, smooth, and slick. The straighter you head downhill, the faster you travel, but with speed comes danger. There are two modes of play: slalom and downhill. Slalom requires your skier to pass through a series of gates while avoiding the evergreen trees that litter the course. Downhill mode has no gates - you just try to reach the bottom of the hill as fast as you can.

In addition to trees, there are also little gray moguls you can jump over. The novice and intermediate tracks are slow, but the advanced levels are fast and exciting. You can even ski randomly generated courses. Skiing's graphics are plain but silky smooth. The sound effects try to capture the sound of whooshing snow, but they sound too metallic. With ten game variations in all, Skiing provides enough challenge to satisfy any gamer. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3AA
Our high score: 35.38
1 player 

Sky Diver
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Posted: 2005/7/6

screenshotWhen having to choose between real skydiving or playing this 2600 simulation, I always opt for the pixilated approach. That's because very few people have become a red spot on the ground by playing a video game. Despite being graphically challenged and labeled as a two-player only game, Sky Diver is surprisingly entertaining.

Its simple gameplay involves two players jumping from blocky planes moving across the top of the screen, adjusting to crosswinds in order to land on their respective pads. Pulling your ripcord at the last possible instant maximizes your score. You can guide your diver all the way down, but fluctuating wind makes it a challenge.

Unlike some 2600 games, the different variations really do have an impact on the gameplay. You can alter the size of the landing pads, and choose between wind or moving platforms. There's even a "chicken" match with a single landing pad both players can vie for. Obviously Sky Diver is designed for head-to-head match-ups, but single players can still play for score. Deceptively plain looking, it's easy to write off Sky Diver, but I recommend you give it a try. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 5
Recommended variation: 2A
Our high score: 45
1 or 2 players 

Sky Jinks
Grade: D-
Publisher: Activision (1982)
Posted: 2005/4/10

screenshotThis surprisingly weak Activision title plays like an overhead version of Barnstorming, and we already know how boring that game is! Believe it or not, Sky Jinks is even less interesting and more repetitive! Piloting a "P41 Racer" plane, you weave around red and white pylons while avoiding trees and hot air balloons. The fire button is used to accelerate, and your goal is to complete the course in the shortest time.

Even when you get a feel for weaving through the pylons, Sky Jinks is never remotely fun. What did Activision see in this? The first game variation features a 25-pylon course which can be completed in about a minute. The courses in the remaining four variations range from 50 to 99 pylons in length, and these seem to take an eternity to complete.

Sky Jink's high-resolution graphics are sparse but sharp, and all of the objects (including clouds) have shadows to convey depth. Your plane controls well, and the instructions even boast how it handles like "real flying". All I know is, if I get on a plane and see the pilot holding a cheap Atari joystick, I'm outta there! Sky Jinks is a rare dud released by Activision. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: 45.32
1 player 

Sky Skipper
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Posted: 2007/1/20

screenshotHere's an oddball little game where you fly an airplane through a maze that scrolls up and down. Sky Skipper's gameplay involves bombing gorillas, which somehow cause animals to be "released" from nearby cages. Scoop them all up, and you're off to the next stage. Your plane is smoothly animated, but I can't say the same for the tiny animals. When released, they simply blink in and out of their cages, and it looks pathetic. I can't tell you why it was programmed like that, but I suspect it was pretty easy to do it that way!

Later levels feature tougher mazes and faster planes, but Sky Skipper's methodical gameplay is painfully monotonous. In the early stages, your plane tends to move very slowly (boring), but later it moves too fast, causing you to crash into everything. Sure, it's a challenge to avoid the walls, but not the "fun" sort of challenge. Any game that predicates its difficulty on a lack of control has serious issues.

Sky Skipper is also the only video game where your airplane can actually crash into a cloud. Now that's just dumb. Sky Skipper is one of those brain-dead, tedious titles that will leave you asking, "What's the point?" Why a respectable company like Parker Bros. would put their name on a piece of junk like this is anybody's guess. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Slot Machine
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari (1979)
Posted: 2022/8/14

box Twenty years ago I would have written off Slot Machine as an easy F. Okay, I did. In the intervening decades however I've reviewed similar titles on classic systems like the Odyssey 2 or Fairchild Channel F. Atari's Slot Machine still relies entirely on luck, but I'll give it credit for being more sophisticated than most slot machine games. It incorporates the concept of "pay-lines", along with the option to compete against a second player or the CPU.

The minimal graphics feature three sets of monochromatic symbols rolling over three lanes. You'll see bells, cactus, cars, and TVs (with circa-1979 rabbit-ears, of course). Each player begins with 25 coins. By betting multiple coins you can put up to five "pay lines" into play. Think of the display as a tic-tac-toe board. There are five possibilities of symbols lining up - three across and two diagonal.

I like to bet five coins each time to maximize my chances of winning. You'll need to reference the manual to see what the winning symbol combinations are. They are so arbitrary! For example, three bells in a row earns you 18 coins. Two TVs and a stack of horizontal lines earns you 14. If the first two symbols are cactus, you automatically earn 5. Get three cars in the row and you'll hit the jackpot, netting 200 coins.

Winning should be a big deal but there's just a few extra beeps as your total ticks up. I find myself scrutinizing the screen after the fact to figure out what my winning pattern was exactly. The game should really highlight the winning payline in some way. Slot Machine is lacking in the pizzazz department, but it was one of David Crane's early efforts. If we had to suffer through this to get Pitfall (Activision, 1982), I'd say it was worth it. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 7
Our high score: 58
1 or 2 players 

Slot Racers
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Posted: 2013/4/1

screenshotYou won't have much fun playing this game, but you'll probably have a blast just dogging on the thing. As one of the few two-player-only titles for the 2600, Slot Racers is a shooting match between cars in a maze. The basic premise is similar to Twisted Metal, but the two games are not likely to be confused with each other. I asked my friends Chris and Scott to give Slot Racers a try, and their initial reaction was an incredulous "Oh my God - this is horrible".

Each car can fire only one missile at a time, and the missiles seem to have a life of their own as they navigate the maze on their own accord. The front of your car has some kind of weird appendage mounted on the hood, prompting Chris to remark, "I feel like I have an elephant trunk." I could insert a joke here, but it's just too easy!

Slot Racer's control scheme is counter-intuitive, and at any given time it's unclear whether you're guiding your car, your missile, or both. The default maze is uninspired, and the alternate mazes are so cluttered you can't possibly direct your shots. In some variations the missiles travel slower than the cars! Slot Racers is so offensive that Scott said the game made him glad to hear Atari "went out of business for the third time!" © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Game variations: 9
2 players 

Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle
Grade: B
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Posted: 2009/5/25

screenshotSmurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle looks amazing on the Colecovision, and while this Atari 2600 incarnation is a lot blockier, it still delivers a good-natured, side-scrolling romp. Your mission is to rescue the lovely Smurfette, who is being held "far, far to the right". Don't you wish real life were like video games? "You're looking for the nearest Starbucks? Just keep heading to the right! And oh yeah - if you see a bat, duck!"

Rescue in Gargamel's Castle challenges you to guide a brave Smurf through a series of contiguous screens as a well-orchestrated tune plays in the background. There's the fence-jumping screen with the hawk, a river-hopping screen with a snake, and a dark cave where you contend with a spider on a web. I like how the music changes to simulate the echo of the cave. Finally, you'll need to hop around some furniture in Gargamel's castle to reunite with Smurfette. And when your weary Smurf lays his eyes on that pixelated figure of hers, he'll be ready for some serious Smurfing action.

I enjoyed the variety in this game. Sure, the scenery tends to be blocky as hell, but there are a remarkable number of colors on the screen at a given time. The controls take some getting used to. The normal jump (initiated by pushing up on the joystick) is pretty worthless, but following it up with a second jump makes your Smurf execute a huge leap. Be careful not to touch anything, because even rubbing against a chair is fatal. The game contains four skill levels, and I prefer the third one because it really requires a serious effort to rescue Smurfette even once. Smurf may not look as flashy on the 2600, but in terms of fun, it's all here. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 14,300
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