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

Atari 2600 Reviews W-Z

Grade: D-
Publisher: Apollo (1982)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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+

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.

Game variations: 23
Recommended variation: 1
1 to 4 players 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Posted: 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 provide 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)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 2021/9/28

screenshotIn the early days of the system, the Atari 2600's entire library was made by Atari. Then a renegade company called Activision appeared out of nowhere, manufacturing games of superior quality. Soon other upstarts like Imagic and Parker Bros. had the "cool" games (and unique cartridge designs) every kid wanted. One day my friend Nick upped the ante by bringing over a cartridge called Worm War I. It was produced by Fox which seemed to carry an aura of mystique.

On the surface, Worm War I is a poor man's Centipede. Moving a small tank across the bottom, the screen slowly scrolls downward, revealing slinking worms, blocky obstacles, and the occasional pagoda-shaped "gas station". The rudimentary graphics are a bit of a turn-off but the rainbow colors look nice. The industrial audio effects are good, particularly the "splat" sound of shooting a worm.

The rapid-fire action is non-stop, so even when your cannon takes a hit the game doesn't miss a beat. Instead of lives you have a fuel supply indicated by a number on top of the screen just under your score. You maintain your supply by touching gas stations, but it's really easy to accidentally blow them up, so look before you shoot! Touching a worm or block drains your fuel, and it's easy to get cornered. The constantly-decreasing fuel supply means you can't dawdle.

The action becomes increasingly exciting as the screen becomes progressively more cluttered and gas more scarce. But as fun as the single-player mode is, it's the excellent two-player modes that are Worm War I's biggest asset. Not only can two play cooperatively (a rarity for the 2600) but there's a competitive mode as well. Don't be fooled by its primitive graphics; Worm War I packs far more entertainment value than your typical low-budget shooter. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 9260
1 or 2 players 

X'Mission (Europe)
Grade: C
Publisher: Homevision (1984)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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 claim "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)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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.

Game variations: 8
Recommended variation: 6B
Our high score: 103,000
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C-
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
Posted: 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)
Posted: 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 flaws 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 in 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 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Champ Games (2020)
Posted: 2021/11/27

screenshotZookeeper was an obscure Taito arcade game released in 1982. To say that was a hectic time in video game history would be an understatement; groundbreaking new titles were appearing at the local arcade every other week! This unique game got lost in the shuffle but I'm glad it's finally getting its due.

On the surface Zookeeper looks like a reverse version Breakout (Atari 2600, 1977), which is a pretty compelling concept in of itself! You run your little zookeeper man around the outside edge of a rectangle, causing the wall under your feet to fill in with bricks. It's a neat effect.

Elephants, camels, rhinos, lions, and moose bounce around the interior, knocking out the bricks. The animals are small, cute, and beautifully-rendered. Upon making a hole they can escape to the perimeter. Touching one is deadly, but you can execute long, floaty jumps to clear them.

Completing a wave requires surviving until the time meter across the top expires. Embedded in the timeline are bonus icons which appear periodically, allowing you to rack up big points. Sometimes there's a little "net" icon that appears instead, allowing you to scoop up loose animals and funnel them into the little cage in the center of the screen.

I was particularly impressed by Zookeeper's controls which feel instantly comfortable and intuitive - even when jumping around corners! After a couple rounds of "zoo" stages you'll find yourself in a Donkey Kong-style screen that requires you to traverse moving platforms to save your girlfriend at the top from a coconut-tossing monkey. This stage really separates the men from the boys, as the floaty controls can be hard to grasp.

In addition to charming arcade graphics there are high score screens that work with savekey peripherals like the AtariVox. Zookeeper's packaging is positively world-class with a sturdy box and glossy, colorful illustrated manual. It's the kind of game you'll be proud to display on the shelf.

I never considered Zookeeper a premium title but this first-class treatment catapults it into the upper echelons of the 2600 library. Though simple on the surface, the game is chock full of hidden features and subtle strategies. Chances are you probably don't have anything else like this in your collection. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 76,450
1 or 2 player 

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