At first glance, Tac-Scan looks really intense. You man a five-ship squadron at the bottom of the screen, using paddle controllers to aim their shots up, left, or right. But you can only aim at three lousy
angles! Doesn't that defeat the purpose of using a precise analog controller? Each "round" requires you to destroy 10 enemy ships that drop from the top of the screen. Although your firepower is considerable, your closely-packed formation makes you a large target, so it's hard to avoid incoming projectiles. Not to worry however, as ships are replenished at the end of each round in a short sequence where you guide bonus ships into formation. For the first few rounds, Tac-Scan is fun, if only because you have five freakin' ships
firing at once. You just don't see that in Atari 2600 games. But as the rounds progress and the action speeds up, the visuals become more and more choppy
. Eventually you're forced to just shoot like a madman and hope for the best. The instruction manual claims no one at Sega could survive the seventh round, but I suspect that's because Tac-Scan becomes unplayable
by that point. I also love how the manual boasts about how there are "no options to fool with". Yeah, thanks Sega for sparing us the ordeal of customizing the game to our tastes. I've seen the Tac-Scan arcade game, and its cool scaling vector graphics are a far cry from this insipid title. Tac-Scan for the 2600 is a mind-numbing experience at best. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
If the title of this game makes you want to run in the opposite direction, consider yourself a reasonable human being. Any game about the tax system has
to be atrocious. The object is to accumulate as much money as you can by the end of a year. Items like red tape serve as metaphors for the tax system, and as in real life, the IRS tries to make your life miserable
. Tax Avoiders alternates between two screens. The first is a simple set of platforms with blinking dollar signs and red tape. These items blink so rapidly that you end up picking up every damn thing whether it's good or bad. An elevator moves you between floors but it only appears intermittently, which is irritating. The second screen offers a different set of platforms connected by ladders, and the layout reminded me of Porky's (20th Century Fox, 1983). The instructions give the impression that three men pursue you, but in fact it's just one guy in a trench coat who alternates between three colors. Pretty cheesy!
If you touch the guy when he's green an investment icon appears like a sun (solar), derrick (oil), or flask (research). Unfortunately he has an annoying tendency of suddenly turning black (IRS Agent) and taking half of your money. A date on the bottom of the screen progresses from January 1 to December 31, at which time the game mercifully ends. Tax Avoiders is a novelty title with "bargain bin" written all over it. Repetitive, random, and sloppy as hell, this is what happens when a bunch of bad ideas come together. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
This bare-bones shooter "borrows" elements from so many other Atari 2600 games that I almost lost count. First of all, your ship looks like a tank from Worm War I. The shooting style is 100% Gorf, where you can move around freely and abort any shot by just firing again. The first wave of "aliens" is very bird-like. They might remind you of Phoenix or Demon Attack, if only they didn't look so BAD. These single-colored, chunky graphics are a mess! Subsequent rounds feature other uninteresting aliens, like circles that move in their own distinct patterns. That's when I finally realized this was just a really bad version of Megamania. If Threshold does one thing well, it makes you realize how much better these other games really are. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 11550
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Hozer (2000)
Thrust is a far cry from the simplistic shooters so common on the 2600, and it's actually a conversion of an old Commodore 64 game. In addition to providing some great arcade-style shooting action, Thrust also has surprising depth. Like Gravitar, you guide a triangle-shaped ship through winding underground caverns, destroying cannons and picking up fuel. Shooting nuclear reactors will temporarily disable the cannons, but too much damage can cause a meltdown. In later stages, there are switches on the walls that open new areas. Controlling your ship takes skill, because you must constantly thrust to counteract the effects of gravity. Pushing the joystick up thrusts, and pulling back activates a protective shield. Your ultimate goal is to pick up a pod at the bottom of each cavern and transport it out safely. When you finally locate it, the real challenge begins! It attaches to your ship via a cord, and swings precariously as you attempt to transport it through the narrow caverns without smashing it against a wall. It's a balancing act that requires excellent technique, and completing each mission is very satisfying. The crude graphics are large and blocky, but the animation is smooth and the control is flawless. The 24-level challenge is immense but rarely frustrating. There are even five levels of difficulty. Don't miss the best game to come along for the 2600 in a long time! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 19650
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Here's a marginal game with blocky graphics and dull colors. You control a tank on the bottom of the screen that eats away at dirt in a Dig-Dug-like fashion. Two tanks pursue you as you clear away the dirt between you and your targets. The main problem with Thunderground is that it takes too long before the challenge kicks in. The enemy tanks initially move like snails, and their shots aren't much faster. You can methodically shoot your way through the first few rounds with little resistance. Occasionally you uncover a pixilated object in the dirt that's worth extra points. It's not until around stage nine that things start to get interesting, and you might have to start taking some evasive maneuvers. But you shouldn't have to play through eight rounds to get to the fun! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 93090
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
This rendition of the popular arcade game is fair but lacks a few key elements from the original game. Time Pilot is a fly-anywhere shooter where you to shoot down aircraft from various historical periods. The stages begin with biplanes from World War I and progress all the way to flying saucers in the year 2001 (man, they were way
off!). The arcade version was known for its rapid-fire shooting action, but in this version you can only fire two slow shots at a time. The "boss" aircraft only requires one hit to destroy, and there are no bonus paratroopers to rescue. Still, the graphics aren't half bad (especially the helicopters in the 1970 stage), and the game is challenging enough. Fans of the arcade game will be understandably disappointed, but those who take the game for what it is might enjoy it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 7800
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (2016)
Titan Axe is a scaled-down version of an old favorite, Golden Axe (Genesis, 1989). I was really stoked to see how an Atari system would handle this hack-and-slash classic. Titan Axe begins with an arcade-style character selection screen, letting you choose between a stout dwarf or lithe babe. So far so good, right? The gameplay involves moving you character to the right, forging through contiguous screens, each offering new scenery and a fresh foe to slay. The characters are large and extremely chunky. I can live with that, but the controls are another story. When you press the attack button you expect a weapon to stick out, but instead your warrior just gyrates in place as the enemy passes right through you. What the hell is going on?!? While performing a "special move" your character morphs into an incomprehensible jumble of pixels, sliding up and under your target. Eventually the monster disappears, but it's never clear how or why that happened. Worse yet, you usually sustain heavy damage in the process. Occasionally a fairy flutters across the screen but I don't know what its significance is. All I know is, I can't kill it! After button-mash through several screens I find myself staring at a blood-soaked "GAME OVER" screen. There's no score in this game. I feel bad about my lack of progress because according to the glossy manual there are 64 screens (!) over eight sprawling stages (!!) and a slew of monsters to go with them. I suspect there's a decent game in this Titan Axe cartridge somewhere, but I can't find it, and it's not for a lack of effort. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Title Match Pro Wrestling
Publisher: Absolute (1987)
Title Match is a good looking wresting game, but its gameplay is badly outdated. With four distinct wrestlers to select from, you can play against the CPU or another player. Moreover, the matches can be tag team or one-on-one. The number of moves is impressive, and can be chained together to perform everything from elbow drops to body slams to airplane spins. Heck, you can even dive from the ropes! Unfortunately, once you start actually playing the game, the carefully-designed control scheme goes out the window. The computer opponent is impossible to defeat, and he'll have you pinned in a heartbeat. On the other hand, when playing against a friend it's extremely hard to pin him, and the bouts go on long after the wrestlers have exhausted their strength. Still, I did have a good laugh watching the stiff-looking fighters toss each other around the ring. Title Match is an ambitious game, but it's not very fun to play. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Tomarc The Barbarian
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
Here's a game so rare I couldn't even find any instructions on-line! Fortunately Tomarc wasn't very hard to figure out. The game has one unique feature, and that is the ability to switch between two characters by pulling back on the joystick. These characters include a barbarian and a caged woman; you'll need to maintain both their health level. Mainly, you control the barbarian, searching for a magic sword (or is it a key?) to free the girl. Jumping between contiguous screens, you must avoid rats that scamper over the floors. This brings up a host of issues. First off, the stiff jumping controls are dreadful
. Trying to jump through the narrow holes in the walls (and ceilings) is a royal pain, and your barbarian often pauses for no apparent reason (aside from poor programming of course). Why is a muscular barbarian afraid of a few puny rats anyway? Periodically a warning buzzer indicates that a bat is approaching the girl. Fortunately, she's armed (with what, I don't know) and switching to her screen lets you shoot down that nasty thing. Once Tomarc secures the sword (key, whatever) he just needs to reach her screen to automatically free her and rack up bonus points. I like the dual-character idea, but Tomarc the Barbarian's lack of polish prevents it from being anything special. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 17380
Tomcat F14 Fighter Simulator
Publisher: Absolute (1988)
Publisher: DSD Inc (1983)
Our high score: 64,500
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Although more playable than Imagic's Firefighter, Towering Inferno suffers from poor graphics. Each stage begins with a helicopter flying from the top of a building. Initially, the building is completely engulfed in flames, but the fire disappears as you gradually conquer each floor. Each level is a blocky maze full of flickering W's that you extinguish with your endless water supply. Your goal is to reach the white "door" at the top of the screen, and then escape out the bottom. That takes you back to the building screen, where the helicopter lands and "releases" the rescued people. Actually, it looks more like the helicopter is shooting blocks. In general, the graphics really suck. Your firefighter looks like a static blob and the blocky stages look like crap. The jumping, flickering flames look more like a graphical glitch, but at least they tend to be unpredictable. Your water cannon looks more like a trickle with three blue dots! Control is good, and dousing the flames is fairly satisfying. The best aspect of Towering Inferno is how it encourages you to take chances. Should you extinguish those last few flames, or just try to dart across the room? Aggressive play is rewarded with more points, but can also get you burned (pun intended). When you complete a whole building, all you're treated to is a simple flashing screen - weak! In terms of difficulty, Towering Inferno is on the easy side. It's a sloppy game but definitely unique. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: 1309
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (2006)
Our high score: 11980
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Our high score: 48,820
1 or 2 players
Treasure Island (Europe)
Publisher: Suntek (1983)
Here's another obscure PAL conversion from Europe I'm mainly reviewing for completion's sake. The screen offers turquoise waters, red sunsets, and mysterious shores on the horizon. Unfortunately the graphics look messy and the audio is even worse, calling to mind a toddler pounding on a toy piano. You guide a ship around the left side of the screen, adjusting your cannon's trajectory while unloading cannon balls on ships and sea creatures. Treasure Island has a few nice visual flourishes, like ships propelled through the water by tiny oars. That's a nifty effect, but why do these same oars appear alongside whales and sharks?!
Enemy ships resemble rubber duckies but there's a cool explosive flash when you hit one, sinking it into the depths. The ability to adjust your cannon would be a good idea if you could keep the [expletive] thing steady! It doesn't help that the water currents are pushing you around and you need to press the stick right while pressing the button to shoot. What am I seeing on the horizon? Is that a jet fighter in a pirate game?
Are those two moons?!
You get six ships but you'll go through them fast because it's hard to tell when you're losing them. I played Treasure Island longer than I expected because the instructions hint it's possible to actually reach the island. I never got there but I'm sure the ending is totally amazing. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3690
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
As the only pool game that I know of for the Atari 2600, this is actually very entertaining. The graphics are blocky but functional. A rack only has three balls, but the physics is surprisingly realistic. Not only can you control the power of the shot, but you can even add "English" (spin). To aim, you move a little dot around your ball. You only have a limited number of angles, but you can use the English to compensate. There are several modes of play including trick shot mode, pool, practice, and English billiards. The trick shot mode keeps score, so it's good for solo play. The pool mode is good for two-player competition, and the English billiards is a more complicated variation. Trick Shot is a winner all the way. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Tron Deadly Discs
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Obviously inspired by the movie Tron
, Deadly Discs puts you in a wide-open room pursued by three disc-hurling warriors. You can throw your own disc at these guys to kill them, but they constantly regenerate. Once you aim and throw, you can either "call" your disc back by pressing the fire button or wait for it to bounce off a wall. I was really digging the controls until I realized the disc is NOT harmful to enemies on its return trip! I have no idea what the developers had in mind, but I think they missed a golden opportunity. Your character can also enter openings on one side of the room and emerge on the other, but I never found this to be useful or necessary. You can sustain several hits before your game comes to an end. I find it odd how enemy discs are deadly to the touch, and yet you can run clear through
the enemies themselves and suffer no damage! Unlike the Intellivision version, this version of Tron Deadly Discs features smooth graphics and comfortable controls. Unfortunately, one major element - the large, menacing boss - has been completely omitted from this version. As a result, this edition feels second-rate. In addition, an astute reader noted that it takes far too long for the serious challenge to kick in. With no variety in the stages, Deadly Disc's gameplay quickly becomes monotonous. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 19560
Publisher: CBS (1983)
Although technically impressive, Tunnel Runner's simplistic gameplay won't win over many gamers. Older games that rely on fancy 3D effects don't tend to age well. Like a first-person Pac-man, Tunnel Runner's challenge is to escape from a maze while avoiding wandering heads with huge fangs. The illusion of movement is smooth and convincing, and navigating hallways is surprisingly quick and easy. The "heads" are impressively large and scale nicely. Sound cues indicate when they are approaching, which adds a bit of suspense. Unfortunately, having to constantly check your position on the map screen (by holding the button) is a real chore. The first few four stages are easy, but once you reach the "blind" mazes, the difficulty goes through the roof. Tunnel Runner may have gotten by on sheer novelty value in 1983, but in retrospect, its shallow gameplay is not very fun. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
Recommended variation: Enhanced
Our high score: SDZ 9,361
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Here's a game few people have heard about, but those who have will tell you it's one of the best games for the system. I would describe Turmoil as a 2D Tempest. Your ship moves up and down in the center of the screen between seven rows, and can shoot left or right. A variety of colorful aliens move across these rows, trying to ram your ship. Fortunately, you have rapid-fire capability, and you can flood the rows with missiles. Some enemies however, like tanks, are invincible and must be avoided altogether. One particular type of alien sits and waits at the end of a row, and if you nab it before it starts moving, you'll score big points. With nine skill levels, Turmoil is a well-designed game that requires quick thinking to keep up with its frantic action. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 7990
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 505