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

Atari 5200 Reviews C-D

Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2008/5/3

screenshotThis frantic, rapid-fire shooter is one of my all-time favorites, and probably one of the most addictive games of all time. This Atari 5200 conversion captures the challenge and fun of the arcade hit, and is surprisingly hard! Your cannon can move freely around the lower part of the screen, blasting mushrooms, bugs, and centipedes that slither down from the top (and break into parts when shot).

Unlike the vertical screen of the arcade game, this translation features a horizontal playing field so the action is flattened out a bit. The centipede makes its way down the screen quickly and the spider tends to move in sideways patterns - often striking at you like a heat-seeking missile! Since he's large and can move at blinding speeds, it's hard to avoid him, much less get below him for a shot.

Equally hazardous are the falling fleas, which usually ram your cannon when you attempt to shoot them. If you have the track-ball controller, you'll want to use it for the full arcade experience, but the normal controller works surprisingly well. Centipede for the 5200 is a tough game, but it's that relentless challenge that keeps you coming back for more. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: standard
Our high score: 14388
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Posted: 2012/3/6

screenshotIn Choplifter you fly a helicopter behind enemy lines and perform surgical strikes to save hostages. It's an exciting premise backed up with solid gameplay that requires a careful approach and good technique. You can pilot your helicopter with precision and a sense of momentum adds realism. One button is used to fire and the other rotates your copter, and the scheme works remarkably well.

Blowing up strongholds, collecting hostages, and shuttling them back to your base is satisfying. You need to be on the lookout for roving tanks and a red jet that approaches ominously from the background. The tiny hostages look like they were taken straight out of Lode Runner, which happened to be another popular title by the same publisher (Broderbund). Choplifter is very cool but it's hampered by technical issues.

The frame-rate takes a serious hit when things get hectic, slowing the action to a crawl. The Atari 5200 controller can introduce some "drift" if it's not properly calibrated, so make sure the joystick is "straight" when you plug it in. Once all of the hostages are accounted for, the game abruptly ends, so the fun is fleeting. This Atari 5200 version is the same one as the one released in 1982 for the Atari 8-bit computers. I wish Atari had spruced it up a little for the 5200, because this feels like a lazy port. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 32
1 player 

Congo Bongo
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Posted: 2002/10/26

screenshotUgh! This is the worst version of Congo Bongo I've ever seen! The original was a fun arcade game that played like a 3D Donkey Kong. Decent translations appeared on the Colecovision and Atari 2600, but this one is utterly revolting. Let's start with the fact that there are only two screens, unlike the Colecovision version which has three (the arcade has four).

The first screen is rendered in a putrid yellow and brown color scheme, and the animation is hellacious! There's NO WAY you can possibly tell where those blinking coconuts are heading. The blocky monkeys also look dreadful, and seem to be oblivious to what you're doing. Controlling your little man is a chore. Your view is from an angled perspective, so pulling down on the joystick should move your man diagonally right? But instead he moves straight down so you constantly have to re-adjust.

At least Congo the ape looks respectable. The second screen is a Frogger-like river stage, but it's not much better. Everything in the water is an ugly shade of brown, and the choppy animation makes leaping between hippos an exercise in frustration. No question about it - this game is a total piece of crap. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 5240
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2001/2/21

screenshotCountermeasure a terrific tank game, one of the few original titles for the Atari 5200. Your main goal is to move up the screen and destroy a bunch of missile silos within a certain period of time. On the way you'll encounter cannons, tanks, jeeps, and cruise missiles. You can refuel at supply depots, which also provide letters to a "fail-safe" code. The terrain consists of trees, ponds, and small towns. Touching any of these will slow your progress to a crawl.

The graphics aren't anything special but they do the job. At least the background colors rotate as you progress through the levels, adding a little bit of variety. The well-designed controls let you aim your turret independently of your tank's movement. This isn't a strategy game, but you'll need to use your head before barging into the crossfire. It's a shame Atari didn't include a two-player simultaneous mode - that would have been awesome.

When the game's timer runs out you are prompted to enter a three-letter code to avert a nuclear strike. This adds an element of suspense, since you may only know one or two of the letters of the code. With only 27 possible combinations, it's always possible to guess the code correctly. If you don't, you'll be treated to a flashing skull and crossbones which fills the screen. I remember admiring this graphic in an Atari Age magazine twenty years ago, and I'm happy to say it still looks pretty cool. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 18850
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Posted: 2011/6/18

screenshotFinally I have discovered a game well suited to those wobbly Atari 5200 joysticks! Decathlon requires you to shake the joystick continuously, and it's especially easy with a controller that's designed to be loose. This Olympic-style contest includes ten events: 100M dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400M, hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the grueling 1500M run. Up to four players are supported, but only two compete at any given time.

Decathlon's controls are so easy that you won't need a manual. Running involves twiddling the joystick and jumping is done by pressing a button (or holding it in, as in the case of the pole vault). Your performance in each event awards points toward your overall tally, and it's fun trying to edge out your buddies down the stretch.

Most events are brief, and the throwing events are the best for that very reason. Longer events like the 400M dash will wear on your wrist, and my advice for the 1500M is to skip it altogether. It requires about 7 minutes of constant joystick wiggling, and no game is worth inflicting such repetitive stress on your wrist.

The athletes are nicely detailed and fluidly animated, but it looks funny how their upper bodies remain perfectly still while running. Decathlon's audio is so quiet that my friend Scott likened this game to "performing athletic feats in a funeral home". Activision could have probably done more with it, but Decathlon provides some much-needed multiplayer action for the system. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: All but 1500M
Our high score: SDZ 7005
1 to 4 players 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2023/1/28

screenshotAs an owner of an original Defender coin-op, I feel uniquely qualified to review this. Most console ports of arcade hits feel simplified and scaled-down, but this Defender in some ways feels superior!

Defender is the original side-scrolling space shooter where you fly over a planet while destroying aliens attempting to abduct humans from the surface. Should one be carried to the top of the screen it will fuse with its captor, becoming a dangerous mutant. There are so many cool elements in the game like a radar display, smart bombs, and even hyperspace.

I can barely crack 30K in the arcade version, but my scores here exceed 100K. Why? Well for one thing you can fire at a faster rate, effectively wiping the screen with your streaming lasers. You can even obliterate swarms of small pods pretty easily. And there are far more enemies to shoot. Your penetrating lasers might take out three or four enemies in a single blast! It helps that enemies and their projectiles move much slower.

The controls feel remarkably comfortable for the Atari 5200. The joystick lets you maneuver in any direction with no problem. Tapping the lower button works well for rapid-fire, and the top button for smart bombs is always in easy reach. Hitting any button on the keypad to trigger hyperspace is less intuitive but rarely needed.

One downside of more enemies and enhanced firepower is that it throws off the balance of the game. Your score grows by leaps and bounds as you stockpile ships and bombs earned for every 10K. It seems like every well-timed smart bomb nets you a free guy! Picking off landers and catching the falling humans is difficult, especially when two or three are being abducted at a time. From a scoring point of view you're better off just concentrating your firepower on dense groups of aliens.

This 5200 Defender provides a completely unique experience and that's part of what makes classic gaming so interesting. I love how each round begins with an ominous droning sound. Newbies will find this a heck of a lot more accessible than the brutal arcade game, but veteran gamers will want to play on "hard" for a challenge worthy of the Defender name. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: hard
Our high score: 124,025
1 or 2 players 

Dig Dug
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2023/5/2

screenshotDig Dug has to be one of the most ingenious video games ever conceived. The better you get, the harder it gets. That's because Dig Dug relentlessly goads you into taking unnecessary risks for the sake of big points. Dig Dug players thrive on living dangerously. It's in their blood.

You control a little miner tunneling through layers of soil while attempted to erraticate round red "pookas" and fire-breathing "fygars". They can be defeated by dropping boulders on their heads or pumping them with air until they explode. Damn it's kind of violent when you think about it! With a little planning and perfect timing you can squash several baddies with a single, well-timed boulder.

Dig Dug's graphics are very good, with multicolored layers of soil that look properly granular. Note that there are dense columns of dirt on the far left and far right that are "undiggable". The characters tend to be slightly smaller than their arcade counterparts but the gameplay is beyond reproach. The fact that the Atari 5200 joystick is not an impediment is about the highest compliment an Atari 5200 game can get!

Atari 5200 Dig Dug is more difficult than other home versions of the game. When your enemies travel through the soil as ghosts, they don't just head for the nearest opening. Instead they follow your exact movements like a heat-seeking missile! It's a serious challenge but serious Dig Dug fans wouldn't have it any other way. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SDZ 48,460
1 or 2 players 

Dreadnaught Factor
Grade: D-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Posted: 2002/12/15

screenshotDespite its snazzy graphics and innovative gameplay, nobody likes this game. There's a reason for that. Dreadnaught Factor is too awkward to control and its gameplay too tedious to be fun. Apparently "dreadnaught" is codeword for "big-ass spaceship". Unlike typical shooters where you fire at waves of small aliens, in this game you battle one humongous "dreadnaught" at a time. These things span several screens in size, and the viewing areas scroll downward as you fly over them.

Some dreadnaughts bear an uncanny resemblance to the Star Destroyers from the original Star Wars trilogy. Despite manning a tiny ship, you can destroy these freighters by bombing all of their "energy vents". Far from defenseless, the dreadnaughts shoot cannons and send guided missiles your way. It takes several passes to finish off each of these beasts, and you'll have to finish the job before the thing reaches your space station.

It sounds like fun, but the lousy control scheme forces you to press the fire and bomb buttons continuously, which is very demanding on your hands. The shooting action gets repetitive, and having to shoot every last friggin' vent is a pain. Worst of all, there's no payoff - the screen just goes white as the dreadnaught appears. Dreadnaught Factor introduced some cool concepts, but really couldn't capitalize on any of them. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 5708
1 player 

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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, Moby Games