Atari 2600 Reviews U-Z

Up 'N Down
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (1984)
Reviewed: 2002/6/17

screenshotDespite the ho-hum name, this was one of my arcade favorites way back in "the day". The object is to navigate your "buggy" (which looks like a Volkswagen Bug) down some single-lane, zigzagging streets, collecting flags and avoiding collisions by jumping over (or onto) other cars. I was really looking forward to reliving the thrills of my youth through this 2600 cartridge. Imagine my dismay when I turned this thing on and saw some of the most horrific graphics I've ever seen.

The blocky, jagged roads look more like steps, and those cars are pixelated blobs! Vehicles and flags flicker badly and often disappear completely. This is one of the worst looking games I've ever seen on the Atari 2600, and that's saying something. After the initial shock, I started warming up to this game. The controls aren't bad; you can easily change speeds, and I soon remembered that jumping is not only for squashing cars, but also for leaping from one road to the next.

Once you collect all the flags, you're off to a totally different course. The roads are poorly rendered, but you start to learn where the bridges and hills are by the color scheme. The game is seriously challenging and undeniably fun. I really couldn't put it down once I started playing it. The background music is annoying, but at least it's faithful to the original game. When all is said and done, I like Up 'N Down. If you can stomach the graphics you're in for a good time. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: BA
Our high score: 34870
1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7

screenshotVanguard can be fun if you have a reliable arcade-style joystick. This shooter introduced several original concepts to the world of arcade games, including stages that scroll in different directions, the ability to shoot in four directions at once (!), and invincibility power-ups. But perhaps its most significant innovation was the "continue" feature, which let you pay another quarter and pick up where you left off. Like it or hate it, the continue feature caught on in a big way.

This Atari 2600 edition of Vanguard attempts to incorporate the same features but comes up a bit short. For one thing, it doesn't do a good job of simulating the dual joysticks of the arcade game. In this version, pushing the joystick in any direction not only fires in that direction but moves your ship slightly. Holding down the fire button lets you move quickly but halts your firing. Typically players will rotate the joystick rapidly to maximize their firepower but gradually meander around the screen. It really hurts your arm after prolonged play. Atari half-heartedly addressed this problem by supplying the option of automatic forward fire, but that makes the game entirely too easy.

Vanguard isn't much to look at, and even the rainbow colors can hide the horrid blockiness of backgrounds. Vanguard does have a nice variety of stages, each of which brings its own unique style of play. The zones scroll horizontally or vertically but not diagonally. The "stripe zone" is the most interesting, with two different paths and two sets of adversaries. The "bleak zone" features floating snakes that you can "dock" with for big points. The trick is to shoot the snakes just before docking, so you can collect the points for killing them (you can only do this three times).

Vanguard's most disappointing stage is the "gond" (remember the commercial? "Luther kills the gond!"). This blocky rainbow snowman is supposed to be the "boss", but all you do is shoot him in the face. It's hardly a challenge and definitely anti-climactic. The second level features the same set of stages, only harder and in a different order. Vanguard isn't a great shooter, but it's certainly original, and it'll give your arm one heck of a workout. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: BA
Our high score: 44,000
1 or 2 players 

Grade: D-
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/4/22

screenshotThis bare-bones adventure game involves entering rooms, shooting monsters, and grabbing treasure. I've enjoyed Venture on several other systems (notably the Intellivision), but this version waters down an already minimal game to practically nothing. The arcade version was simplistic enough, but this translation strips it down to an unacceptable level.

The blocky monsters are mere static images, and shooting them results in a pixelated mess. Your so-called "arrows" are single pixels! Your smiley-face character is easy to control, but he moves like a snail! This is a serious problem considering the impatient hall monsters tend to invade your room before you've even had a chance to snag the treasure.

When you do "conquer" a room, it doesn't even fill in on the map screen, so you have to remember which rooms you've finished (lame). Lastly, the game only offers two sets of rooms for a grand total of eight! And I thought the twelve rooms in the other versions were lame! Venture for the Atari 2600 is a weak effort, reflecting poorly on a very fun arcade title. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2AB
Our high score: 5,600
1 player 

Venture II The Abysmal Abyss
Grade: NA
Publisher: Hozer (2001)
Reviewed: 2001/11/19

screenshotTim Snider has brought new life to the venerable adventure game, creating new monsters, treasures, and more complex dungeons. The dungeon layouts are basically the same, but now the rooms have extra walls. This is a double-edged sword. Although the rooms are more interesting and allow for more strategy, they can also cause frustration as you easily get hung up on them. I found the new monsters to be pretty interesting and original. This time you'll encounter floating swords, swarms of bugs, and octopus among others. Venture II is a nice effort, but it still has the flaws of the original game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
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Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 5,500
1 player 

Video Checkers
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Reviewed: 2001/10/17

screenshotCheckers isn't the most exciting concept for a video game to begin with, and this particular version has other problems to boot. An awkward control scheme forces you to move the joystick diagonally, which is painful if you're using a standard 2600 joystick. In addition, although the computer response is fast during the easy levels, the wait can be unbearable (up to eight minutes!) in the advanced ones. You'll just have to stare at a black screen while the computer decides what to do next. There are 19 game variations, but it's overkill. Check out the artwork on this game - that looks like Luke Skywalker! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Video Chess
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Reviewed: 2009/9/8

screenshotI love the art on old Atari cartridges. The labels feature artistic illustrated collages that suggest the game is about ten times more sophisticated than it actually is. It's easy to visualize games like Asteroids and Football, but what about Video Chess? Atari found a way. The picture has chess pieces superimposed over checkerboards, along with some colorful circuits that suggest a mainframe computer (circa 1965). There's also a guy reaching for a chess piece, and you know he's smart because he's a balding middle-aged man with a beard (and he's wearing a white buttoned-down shirt for Pete's sake!).

A technical marvel in its time, Video Chess has not aged well. The chess board consumes about half of the screen, and the small pieces look awful. The orange pieces are a pixelated mess, and the white ones look like stacks of horizontal lines. The interface for moving pieces around is slow and awkward. While the CPU is calculating its turn, the screen flashes random colors, instantly sending epileptic players into violent seizures and convulsions. Depending on the skill level, the CPU can take anywhere from seconds to hours to calculate its next move!

On the hardest level (7) the CPU can take up to 10 hours between moves! Hell, you could be playing this God-forsaken game for months on end! Adding insult to injury, it's a proven fact that the CPU will actually cheat on occasion! How pissed off would you be if it pulled a stunt like that after three long months of intense gameplay? Is there anyone who could appreciate the bad graphics and glacial pace of Video Chess in 2009? I'm not sure, but it would help to be stranded on a desert island. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3
1 player 

Video Olympics
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1977)
Reviewed: 2015/5/27

screenshotI can't decide if passing off 50 variations of Pong as "Olympics" is more misleading or ingenious. Video Olympics was one of the earliest Atari 2600 cartridges, and it looks the part. Despite its action-packed label with a menagerie of athletes, the graphics are limited to moving blocks and beeping sound effects. Hey! Stop rolling your eyes! You'd be surprised how much fun Pong can be, especially when you apply a "whammy" to the ball. There's even a single-player "Robot Pong" variation with a CPU that homes in on the ball like a heat-seeking missile.

The variations become progressively more elaborate, allowing up to four players to participate and control multiple sets of paddles. The term "paddle" is confusing because it refers to both the analog knob controller and the rectangles you move on the screen. The variations are a mixed bag. Handball is confusing because players take turns hitting the ball. Foozpong has so many moving parts it's hard to follow the action. Soccer finds a nice middle ground and hockey isn't bad either.

Video Olympics got creative with its loose interpretations of basketball and volleyball, and the results are somewhat hilarious. After playing all the four-player variations with friends I think we could agree Video Olympics is moderately entertaining. Chris grew weary of the endless Pong action, but Brent was impressed that the cartridge packs such a comprehensive set of Pong games. Not all variations are winners, but when it's at its best, this is multiplayer fun at its purest. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Video Pinball
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Reviewed: 2011/3/1

screenshotThis is a perfect example of a game's sum being greater than its parts. At first glance, Video Pinball looks like a whole lot of nothing. Its blue "table" is sparse and those square bumpers are hard to get excited about. The two white flippers at the bottom of the screen are small and less responsive than I'd prefer. Two white "spinners" on each side tend to slow the ball down more than they speed it up. Still, Video Pinball proves addictive and fun.

The key is its excellent nudge controls which let you influence the ball's movement much more than you can in real pinball. Once you learn how to manipulate the ball without tilting, a lot of strategy unfolds. First, you'll want to focus on hitting the diamonds at the top which increase the bumper multipliers. Next, try to earn an extra ball by hitting the Atari-symbol rollover four times. Once you master the nudge control, you can get the ball to bounce through the rollovers almost indefinitely!

By working the rollover on the right side, you can earn some outrageous bonus points. This is the kind of game that you can play over and over again, and you'll do a little better each time. I remember playing Video Pinball with my childhood friend Billy, and he could keep one ball going forever (much to my chagrin). It bears little resemblance to actual pinball, but Video Pinball's unique style of play makes it an enjoyable experience all of its own. . © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3A
Our high score: 366,256
1 or 2 players 

Grade: D-
Publisher: Apollo (1982)
Reviewed: 2005/2/25

screenshotI found this colorful shooter surprisingly fun to play - for the first minute or so. After that, it's all downhill. Wabbit features a good-looking carrot patch with five rabbit holes along each side. Several white bunnies scurry out of the holes at a time, snatching carrots and hightailing it back to their holes. Controlling a woman on the bottom of the screen, you toss rotten eggs at the rabbits to protect your garden. The game ends when 100 carrots are stolen, although clearing each round reduces the "carrot count" by 25 as a reward.

Early levels are fun because the rabbits move at a reasonable speed and can be picked off with good timing. Unfortunately, although the rabbits appear to speed up exponentially as the rounds progress, your eggs remain dirt slow. Before long it's impossible to "aim", and you're reduced to tapping the button incessantly. It's a shame that the gameplay falls apart as it does, because Wabbit's bright visuals are refreshing. The cute white rabbits are nicely animated, and an attractive sunset can be seen beyond the white picket fence in the distance. Too bad the nice graphics can't hide the sorry gameplay. . © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5A
Our high score: 625
1 player 

Walker (Europe)
Grade: F
Publisher: Suntek (1983)
Reviewed: 2019/1/6

screenshotThe name "Walker" elicits some bad-ass images. Walker Texas Ranger. AT-AT Walkers from Empire Strike Back. JJ Walker (Dy-no-mite!). Okay, scratch that last one. But still you can imagine my disgust when I turn on this game to see a clown on the bottom of the screen. He looks so creepy with that blue hair and baggy red polka dot pants! Layers of cars pass above, suggesting perhaps a Frogger (Parker Bros., 1982) clone? Dream on! No, this freaky clown only needs to traverse the blank gray area on the bottom. Those colorful graphics are nothing but a facade!

Nothing stands in your way on the first screen, but subsequent screens feature one or more police officers. Big deal - you easily leap over them with the help of poor animation and bizarro physics. As is often the case in video games you'll move faster by jumping than running. The gameplay is pure garbage but the graphics might be the best I've seen in a bad Atari 2600 game. The first screen offers a skyline of buildings with trees, cars, and pick-up trucks cruising by.

Next is a bright pink prairie scene with birds in the sky and cattle from Stampede (Activision, 1981) running across the open plains. The third screen offers an appealing beach view with sailboats, balloons, and whales shooting water out of their spouts! That's followed by a desert with helicopters and scorpions from Pitfall (Activision, 1982). And it keeps going! Next is a mountain scene with galloping horses and smiling clouds.

The finale looks pretty dazzling as a red curtain raises and a flashing film strip runs across the top. It's a shame Walker's gameplay is a complete afterthought. The only challenge is how the time limit for reaching the right side gradually reduces, until eventually it's physically impossible to cross the screen. Walker barely qualifies as a game but its eye candy was enough to make me sit up and take notice. Note: I'm told the strange colors are a byproduct of the ROM conversion from PAL to NTSC format. . © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 453
1 player 

Grade: A+
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Reviewed: 2019/10/6

screenshotAs the preeminent four-player game of all time, Warlords is easily the "most requested" title on my game nights. The graphics won't win any awards. Heck, even back in 1981 it was hard to tell what those symbols were supposed to be. Yet Warlords transcends graphics and sound. Each corner of the screen holds a knight protected by a blocky wall. Using a paddle you move a shield around the perimeter of your fortress.

To this day I've yet to find a controller that can match the speed or precision of an analog paddle controller. A fireball caroms around the screen which you can either catch or deflect. When you hurl that thing it moves lightning fast! And when it hits a wall the ensuing crash takes out chunks of bricks, leaving gaping holes which cause good reason for alarm. The final surviving player wins the round, and the first to five wins is the victor.

The dynamics of this game is uncanny, with new alliances constantly being forged and disbanded. It just makes sense to gang up on whoever is in the lead. Even when a player is eliminated from a round he can still affect the outcome. By carefully positioning his "ghost" shield he can deflect the ball just enough to facilitate new angles for the remaining players. It could be a bug for all I know but it really does add a new dimension.

Warlords offers 23 variations but the CPU opponents aren't much of a challenge so the four-player variation is pretty much all you really need. Often imitated but never matched, Warlords is the standard by which all other multiplayer games will be judged against in perpetuity. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
1 to 4 players 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Reviewed: 2001/1/21

screenshotThis space shooter has sloppy graphics, unimaginative gameplay, and irritating sound effects. It's amazing that I actually enjoyed playing it! Using the paddle controllers, you move a cannon across the screen, shooting blocky invaders that bounce around and occasionally drop bombs. The graphics are minimal, and the constant beeping is annoying as hell. The control is good however, and Warplock does provides a decent challenge. Unlike most games, you only have one life. You score one point per each hit, and it's actually tough to score above 25. For some reason, shooting one invader in a group automatically kills the rest. It's a weak effort, but Warplock manages to be fun in spite of itself. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 81
1 or 2 players 

Winter Games
Grade: A
Publisher: Epyx (1987)
Reviewed: 2001/4/1

screenshotI showed this game to a friend recently, and he gasped "THIS is the ATARI 2600??" It looks that good! The graphics are smooth and colorful, and the characters are detailed and nicely animated. Winter Games begins with a nice rendition of the Olympic theme, and up to eight players (!) can choose countries to represent. Each of the seven events requires its own technique, and all provide challenge without requiring you to abuse your controller (*cough*Summer Games*cough*).

The action gets underway with a nice-looking but difficult Slalom event. The second event, Bobsled, provides an overhead view of a smoothly twisting track. The Ski Jump is yet another tough event that features a picture-in-picture close-up of your skier, whose body position needs to be carefully maintained. The Biathlon looks like the Slalom, but you need to synchronize your joystick with a heartbeat in order to make good time. This event also presents periodic "shooting range" screens that test your reflexes.

Speed-skating requires rhythmically moving the joystick, and it's the only event that lets two people compete head-to-head. Hot Dog is a ski acrobatics event where you perform combinations of ten different tricks. The final event, the Luge, is similar to the Bobsled, but allows the player to control his speed by braking. At the end of the game, the top three players are listed, but there's little fanfare. Overall, Winter Games is fun, challenging, and a fine showcase of 2600 graphics. I've seen this game on many systems, but this may be the most impressive. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Biathlon
Our high score: SDZ 1:22.9
1 to 8 players 

Wizard of Wor
Grade: A-
Publisher: CBS (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/4/29

screenshotOh yeah - this is THE GAME right here! Say what you want about the flickering graphics and the blocky, goofy-looking monsters - Wizard of Wor delivers some serious maze-shooting action. You can even play simultaneously with a friend! The object is to exterminate all the monsters in each dungeon.

The maze changes in terms of layout and color as you progress, and a scanner on the bottom of the screen helps you track invisible monsters! There can be up to six creatures crawling around the dungeon at a time and some can even shoot at you! There are two escape doors on either side of the screen, like Pac-Man.

After clearing out the normal monsters, a winged beast called a "Worluk" flies towards an escape door, and you can blast him for bonus points. Next you engage the Wizard of Wor himself. This guy teleports all over the place, usually vanishing before you get a chance to pump lead into him. Sometimes it takes a lucky shot to nail him, so keep shooting. Wizard of Wor plays much better than it looks. For best results, set the difficulty to A, and don't forget to use the right joystick for the single-player game. . © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 28000
1 or 2 players 

Wolfenstein VCS: The Next Mission
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari Age (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/12/3

screenshotAlthough technically a "hack" of Venture, Wolfenstein incorporates enough new elements to make it feel like a completely new game. This only vaguely resembles the original Castle Wolfenstein (Atari XE, 1983), where you would stealthily move from room to room while collecting items and shooting Nazi guards. You begin the game as a dot in a maze, attempting to avoid wandering guards.

These "guards" are decidedly abstract, taking the form of circles with gun symbols on them. Upon entering one of the four rooms in each level, the screen changes to a close-up view. Guiding a circular face (who doesn't look very happy) around the room, you must retrieve an item while avoiding (or killing) three deadly creatures. Your nicely-rendered adversaries include rats, spiders, dogs, scorpions, guards, or robots.

Initially you're armed with a knife, which functions like a gun with extremely short range. Upon locating the gun, you'll be able to shoot the length of the screen, but your ammo is limited. Fallen enemies transform into skull and crossbones, which in turn can be shot, effectively killing the thing twice (sorry, you only score once). Unlike Venture, creature remains are not deadly to touch (thankfully).

If you find the game too easy, try the "A" difficulty, which is substantially faster and more challenging. It will make you think twice about trying to "clear out" every room. There's an impressive title screen depicting a lighted castle, and the nicely-illustrated, glossy instruction manual will get you really psyched up about playing the game. Wolfenstein VCS deserves more credit than your typical hack, leveraging a mediocre game into something fun and exciting. . © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: B
Our high score: 745
1 player 

Word Zapper
Grade: F
Publisher: Vidtec (1982)
Reviewed: 2005/2/25

screenshotDespite a name that would suggest a lame educational title (ugh!), Word Zapper could have amounted to something more than the piece of crap it is. You control a free-moving cannon, blasting letters that rapidly scroll across the top of the screen. Before each round, you're presented with a word or random letters you must "spell" by correctly shooting the letters in order. The scrolling letters can be set at three speeds, and on "fast" it's downright dizzying!

Complicating matters are meteors that knock you around and throw off your aim. I found Word Zapper's basic gameplay respectable, but for the life of me I could NOT find ONE satisfying skill level among the 24 variations! Memorizing random letters is too much work, so that eliminates half of the variations right off the bat. The hardest "word" variation is no pushover, but it abruptly ends after just three rounds. What's up with that? Word Zapper was well programmed but very poorly designed. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 20
Our high score: Ace
1 or 2 players 

Worm War I
Grade: B+
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/10/2

screenshotI remember back in 1982 when my friend Nicky brought Worm War I over to my house. I was not impressed at all with its blocky graphics and simplistic gameplay. Even back then, those "pagoda gas stations" looked like total crap. In retrospect however, I didn't give the game a fair chance. Underneath the ugly graphics lies some challenging gameplay, rapid-fire shooting controls, and excellent two-player simultaneous modes.

You move a little tank across the bottom of the screen, adjusting your speed as worms, blocks, and gas stations scroll into view. The worms quickly slink back and forth across the screen and splatter nicely when shot. The game ends when you run out of fuel, so keep an eye out for gas stations to replenish your supply. Worm War I's graphics are simple but colorful, and the sound effects are surprisingly high quality. You can hold down the fire button to shoot rapidly, but that makes it easy to accidentally blow up those precious gas stations. I like Worm War I. It's a low budget shooter that works. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1AA
Our high score: 7650
1 or 2 players 

X'Mission (Europe)
Grade: C
Publisher: Homevision (1984)
Reviewed: 2020/5/31

screenshotSome time ago a reader kindly provided me with a collection of NTSC-converted European PAL ROMs. My grading hasn't been kind to most of these, as they tend to be rough, half-finished titles dumped on the market around the glut of 1983. X'Mission however is a little different. It's a very original space shooter with big, chunky graphics. Despite a complete lack of instructions I was able to figure it out, much to the credit of the game.

You control a large flying saucer that reminds me of Space Jockey (Atari 2600, 1982). You begin on the right side of the screen but can freely move around. On the left is a sideways rocket moving up and down. After a while I put two and two together and realized my saucer would fit perfectly in the back of that thing! In your way is a wild pixel pattern running down the middle of the screen which is deadly to touch. You can shoot it to remove chunks, but your shots carom straight back at you so stay alert. You also need to beware of large pixelated aliens crossing the screen. It's a good idea to shoot them because they are too large to dodge.

All of these elements combine to produce an unpredictable dynamic. Clear out enough pixels and you can make your way over to your ship to dock with it. It then blasts off through space as your bonus points are tabulated. The next screen offers a whole new configuration. Some have blind spots and others feature moving pixel patterns. I did get a little weary of the screens with solid walls that require a lot of repetitive shoot-and-dodge movements. X'Mission isn't a great game but it brings something new to the table and you have to respect that. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 53,560
1 player 

Grade: D+
Publisher: Atari (1990)
Reviewed: 2016/2/16

screenshotI never really saw the attraction of this slow, Aliens-inspired arcade shooter. It's claim to fame seemed to be its unimpressive split-screen design. Still, it's always interesting to see how any game translates to the Atari 2600, and Xenophobe doesn't look too bad. Each stage begins with a cut-scene of a shuttle flying between two extremely chunky spacecraft.

In single-player mode you're playing on the top half of the screen, moving from room to room. Your character is rendered in three colors (not bad) but his movements are stiff. You can duck to shoot low and jump to hit tentacles hanging from the ceiling. In the center of each room you'll find a weapon or a bonus item like a floppy disk. Weapons tend to have limited range and most creatures require multiple shots.

The aliens are blocky monstrosities, some of which like to latch onto your leg. Others will "clam up" into a bowling ball shape, making them impervious to anything but grenades. Grenades are in short supply however and you need to hit an alien dead-on to kill it. When out of ammo you can still punch with your fist, which looks like a tiny blinking pixel. It seems super lame but if an alien is in your face, you can rapid-punch the crap out of it like Bruce Lee!

Each room has distinctive scenery like maps, torpedos, and mainframe computers. There are multiple floors to clear out, requiring you to take an elevator. The elevator looks cool with its lighted shutters but it can take forever to show up! And you thought the elevator in Keystone Kapers (Activision, 1983) was bad! Once you've eliminated the aliens (or the ship is overrun) you're automatically transported off the ship.

A lot of times the game said "ship clear" even though I'm pretty sure I left a few bowling balls lying around. Xenophobe seemed respectable until I tried the two-player mode and wondered why only one player was on the screen. Consulting the manual, I discovered Xenophobe has the most ass-backward concept of split-screen ever - one in which players alternate turns!

The manual has the nerve to claims "Xenophobe's split-screen lets two players move independently." How is the split-screen facilitating that exactly? It only serves to limit the action to half the screen! The box claims "You can even work on different levels at the same time" which is patently false. Xenophobe is passable as a one-player game but the two-player mode is a complete and total sham. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 39700
1 or 2 players 

Xevious (Prototype)
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Reviewed: 2015/11/5

screenshotI first reviewed a rough Xevious prototype back in 2002, but recently a nearly-finished version was uncovered. Better yet, some kind soul took the time to fix a few of its minor bugs, resulting in a pretty kick-ass shooter! The gameplay is classic Xevious all the way, enhanced with gloriously blocky graphics only the Atari 2600 can get away with. As one of the first vertical shooters ever, Xevious lets you blast enemies in the air while bombing targets on land.

The scrolling landscape is constantly changing and there are interesting "crop patterns" on the ground. One distinguishing feature of the series are the cool square slab obstacles that rotate end over end. The sound effects are also faithful to the arcade. Your ship resembles an upside-down V. Holding in the button lets you fire rapidly and pressing it deploys a bomb. Enemies in the air are typically rotating discs that can ram you if you don't shoot them first.

On the ground you'll target pyramid-shaped fortifications and it's fun to reduce them into pixelated rubble. The game gets extremely tough when the roving tanks appear on the battlefield and unleash streams of missiles. Your bombsight and bombs are represented by yellow dashes, and rough animation makes it hard to aim them with precision.

Xevious can be a little overwhelming when the screen gets chaotic. I felt like this game was going to cause my system to overheat. There's even a flying saucer boss for Pete's sake (which I can't figure out how to beat). Like the arcade version, Xevious is just plain hard. Fortunately after your game is over you can continue right where you left off. Xevious is a genuine classic and I'm glad to see this 2600 version managed to retain the spirit of the original. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 45700
1 player 

Yars' Revenge
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/4/6

screenshotFor Atari 2600 fans, this is a perennial favorite. Named after Atari CEO Ray Kassar and programmed by the man who brought you E.T., Yars' Revenge is a real gem. Controlling an intergalactic flying insect, you battle a deadly machine (the "Qotile") protected by a shield on the right side of the screen. Periodically the Qotile will lash out at you in the form of a fiery swirl.

The Quotile can only be destroyed by your Zorlon Cannon, which you arm and aim from the left side of the screen. You can also shoot and nibble away at the Qotile's shield, but a pesky "destroyer missile" chases you around, constantly keeping you on the run. Your only sanctuary is the colorful "neutral zone" near the center of the screen.

Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw employed a number of nifty visual effects including rotating shields, a semi-translucent neutral zone, and screen-sized explosions. The ominous pulsating background "music" is simply brilliant. But what gamers truly appreciate about Yars' Revenge is its high level of difficulty.

It seems easy enough at first, but soon you're dealing with a speedy destroyer missile and a swirl that behaves like a heat-seeking missile. Thank goodness you can fly off the top or bottom of the screen to escape to the other side, or else you'd have no chance at all. Yars' Revenge provides a level of strategy and challenge you don't see in many Atari 2600 games. It should be noted that a sequel appeared on the Gameboy many years later. . © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 6B
Our high score: 103,000
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/5/4

screenshotI've changed my mind about this Atari 2600 version of Zaxxon. Formerly I considered it an ill-advised attempt to shoehorn a complex 3D shooter into the 2600, but it deserves more credit than that. Despite its many problems, the game does retain the same general gameplay of the original arcade hit. The main problem lies in the graphics.

Instead of a "gee-whiz" 3D isometric view, you get a top-down view with jagged walls. It's not pretty, but if you use your imagination, you can distinguish walls of different heights. It helps if you've already played the real Zaxxon as a point of reference. Unfortunately, the scaling objects also look rough, and their heights are hard to judge.

As a result, a lot of trial and error is required to blast them. Still, I'm pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of the force field elements and boss stage. Zaxxon was never meant to be played on the 2600, but Coleco did the best with what they had. Flawed but playable, there's really not another game like this on the 2600. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 14000
1 player 

Zippy the Porcupine
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari Age (2016)
Reviewed: 2016/5/8

screenshotThe first time I laid eyes on Zippy I had flashbacks to a character I saw walking the Ocean City boardwalk last year. Some guy was dressed up like Olaf (the snowman from Frozen) in a really cheap and shabby-looking costume. He was a sad sight to be sure, but you couldn't help but laugh. Zippy is like that. He is a third-rate knock-off of Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis, 1991). Brent and Scott described Zippy as "barely playable" and they're not wrong. The controls are erratic and sometimes unresponsive.

The stage designs aren't conducive to high speed thrills. Platforms tend to be too short to gain enough momentum to make the next jump, and Zippy's tendency to skid before stopping usually sends him plunging into the abyss. The fluctuating speed of the game makes it really difficult to perform basic jumps and nearly impossible to perform precise jumps. You can call it buggy and frustrating, but there's one thing you can't deny: this is Sonic the Hedgehog for the Atari 2600.

Let that sink in for a minute. The game contains four "zones" from the original game, each with the correct harmonized music. The stages incorporate all the key elements of each zone, including collapsing bridges, bumpers, switches, breakable walls, power-ups, and yes, even loops! Red springboards catapult you to the upper reaches of each zone, where you later "fall back" into the lower area. There's a brief audio/visual pause when moving between the two planes, but still!

Each zone features its own set of distinctive robotic enemies, most of which Sonic fans will instantly recognize. The action is relatively fast and certainly retains that Sonic flavor. There are bonus stages, boss encounters, gems to collect, and a big bold title screen. Wow, just wow. The words "tour de force" come to mind. Despite its obvious flaw this Sonic translation far surpassed my expectations.

If only the controls were better. I was able to make substantial progress in the game but only if I took it slow and played it safe. Once you learn how to compensate for the controls Zippy is challenging and rewarding. The music is remarkable but disjointed, stopping and starting is an erratic manner. Zippy the Porcupine may not live up to its lofty ambitions, but it stands tall as a fascinating homage to one of the greatest video games ever made. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 10 stages
1 player 

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