Atari 5200 Reviews E-G

Frisky Tom
Grade: NA
Publisher: Nichibutsu (1983)
Reviewed: 2016/10/6

screenshotbox Its sparse title screen simply reads "Frisky Tom" (with no copyright), so I was surprised to discover this is actually a fully functional game! The game screen is an elaborate maze of blue pipes crawling with rats. These rats chew off elbow joints which inexplicably cause the pipes to back up. Shouldn't it cause the pipes to burst? Anyway your job is to collect the parts that fall to the bottom of the screen and climb the pipes to reinsert them. Upon restoring a joint it's neat to watch the water resume cascading through the pipes. You can knock off roving brown rats for points, but steer clear of red rats which are deadly to touch.

The idea of climbing a maze of pipes is a unique concept but the controls are suspect. Tom can only move in four directions and it's remarkably slippery when moving side-to-side. Upon completing a round you're rewarded with a brief image of a woman taking a bath in a red bikini! Maybe this game should have been Peeping Tom? In later rounds the red rats drop on you like heat-seeking missiles and the collision detection is brutal. The game eventually locked up on me. Frisky Tom is a marginal title but it's actually one of the more playable prototypes for the 5200. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 8,300
1 player 

Frogger
Grade: C+
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/4/17

screenshotHere's a perfect example of a great arcade game nearly ruined by those bizarre Atari 5200 controllers. As everybody knows, the object of the game is to navigate a traffic-filled street and then cross a stream of logs and crocodiles. The graphics here are very close to the arcade, although your frog looks more like a spider when he faces sideways. Although some music plays before and after each game, the catchy in-game melody is conspicuous in its absence. There are two speed settings.

The gameplay seems less forgiving than most Frogger games, and the turtles don't give much notice before diving. Although at first this appears to be a respectable version of the arcade hit, the control is problematic to say the least. Since the joysticks do not auto-center, you have to press the button in conjunction with pushing the joystick in order to hop. This is to prevent extra, inadvertent hops, but it makes it awfully hard to change directions quickly. Frogger of the 5200 is playable, but it's far more enjoyable on other systems. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: fast
Our high score: 7975
1 or 2 players 

Frogger II: Threeedeep!
Grade: A
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/12/31

screenshotIn the first Frogger, your frog simply wanted to cross the street and pond. This time his journey will take him from the bottom of the sea all the way up into the frickin' clouds in the sky! Yes, this is one ambitious amphibian. I'm happy to report that the nasty control issues I experienced with the first 5200 Frogger are much less severe in this edition. I think that's because Frogger II is a less frantic game, relying more on deliberate leaps instead of quick hops.

The action takes place over three screens: underwater, the water's surface, and up in the sky. Underwater you'll encounter an array of colorful fish along with dangerous crocodiles and barracudas. You'll have to deal with the water current, though a friendly sea turtle will give you a ride on his back. Once you make it to the surface, you'll encounter rows of whales, hippos, ducks, and shark fins.

This stage plays like the original Frogger, as you hop your way towards inner tubes at the top of the screen. The mother duck is your ticket to the sky screen, where you can bounce off clouds and hop between birds. This screen also features some fantastic creatures like pterodactyls and fire-breathing dragons! There's plenty of eye candy in Frogger II - every animal is finely detailed and nicely animated. Frogger II is a real winner for the 5200. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 12232
1 or 2 players 

Galaxian
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/5/3

screenshotWhenever one of my friends tries this, the first words out of their mouths is always "Dave, I can't play this - the controller's broken". We should be so lucky. In the arcade, Galaxian was an excellent Space Invaders-style shooter, but this Atari 5200 conversion is positively half-assed. The graphics look pretty nice with a multi-colored cannon at the bottom of the screen, and crisp, colorful aliens on top. Too bad the yellow "boss" ships look like the rest, instead of assuming the "Y" shape they have in the arcade.

The explosions are meager, but keep an eye out for the mysterious "Atari" symbol that sometimes appears. The controls are fairly horrible. Your cannon slides continuously from side-to-side, so you end up spraying missiles in a desperate attempt to hit something. Thank God you can hold down the fire button to shoot continuously. As if to compensate for the lousy controls, aliens often fly sideways across the screen or even pause momentarily, making them sitting ducks.

Galaxian also has its share of technical issues including rampant slow-down and fishy collision detection, although these often work to your advantage. The crude audio effects are another black eye. The rhythmic "cadence" sounds like a constipated robot, and the explosions sound like rubber bands and trash can lids. Once you get on a roll, it sounds like you're beating up the black guy from the Police Academy movies!

After my original disparaging review of this game, a thoughtful reader informed me that I should play this using the track-ball controller. I'm glad I did, because the track-ball provides a fine degree of precision that even surpasses the arcade game! In fact, if you own one of these massive controllers, you can safely bump up the grade by not one but two whole letter grades! On a side note, my friend Mike taught me an alternate way of playing Galaxian - by not shooting at all! That's right, this "boogie style" of play is done by touching the missile on the tip of your cannon to oncoming aliens. Now there's a challenge! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: KJP 15160
1 or 2 players 

Gorf
Grade: F
Publisher: CBS (1983)
Reviewed: 2011/6/18

screenshotWhen the sun gets hot and the days grow long, a man's mind turns to thoughts of Gorf. This classic arcade hit features four stages of space-shooting mayhem. The first two are variations of Space Invaders and Galaxian, followed by a third "black hole" stage, and culminating with a boss encounter featuring a mother ship moving side-to-side as you blast its hull. There's plenty of games here, so stick the cartridge into your console, hit the power button, and prepare to have all of your hopes and dreams shattered.

Playing Gorf on the 5200 is like trying to play basketball in a hockey rink. I'm not sure who to blame for this abomination: Atari or CBS. On one hand, the wishy-washy Atari 5200 joystick is poorly suited to a shooter like this (or most other video games for that matter). On the other hand, CBS seemed to buy into the controller's weaknesses by giving the game the weirdest sort of analog control. When the stick is centered, your cannon sits in the center of the screen (more or less). Moving it slightly lets you meander around the center, and pushing the stick hard to either side moves it against the edge of the screen.

Your movements tend to be fast and jittery, making it difficult to aim. Lacking any sort of precision, I often found myself slamming into enemy missiles or hugging the edge of the screen. Worst of all, this just doesn't feel like Gorf. The graphics aren't particularly impressive, and I noticed glitches related to both the visuals and collision detection.

In the first stage, the shield disappears when you hold down the fire button, which is totally wrong. In the arcade, you poked holes in the shield. A lot of liberties were taken, and none for the better. And what happened to the trademark "My Name Is Gorf" voice synthesis? Where is that distinctive sound effect between the stages? By the time I was done with Gorf I don't know what hurt worse: my twisted, contorted hands or my broken heart. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 8970
1 or 2 players 

Gremlins
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Reviewed: 2000/12/28

screenshotUnlike the horrible Atari 2600 version, this Gremlins game is not only fun to play, but it conveys the spirit of the movie. The first thing I noticed was the ominous musical theme, which embodies the dark (yet playful) spirit of the film. At the start of each level, the screen is populated with Mogwai, Gremlins, food, and water puddles. If a Mogwai touches food or water, it transforms into a Gremlin. When a Gremlin touches water, it splits in two!

The idea is to grab all of the Mogwai and place them in a pen in the corner of the screen. Meanwhile you'll need to destroy the multiplying Gremlins using a sword. The gameplay is frantic and fun, with each level growing more intense. Walls and furniture begin to appear in the advanced levels, adding structure to the screen. The graphics are outstanding, featuring detailed, well-animated characters. Check out the gremlin tossing food out of the fridge! You can even select your starting level. Gremlins for the 5200 is a real gem, and one of the few original titles for the system. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Gyruss
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Reviewed: 2013/1/21

screenshotGyruss fans are always asking me to give this Atari 5200 translation another chance, but whenever I do I just find more things to complain about. In the arcades this was a truly original space shooter. Instead of aliens approaching from the top or sides of the screen, they emerge from the center with the help of some nifty scaling effects. Your ship moves in a circular pattern, shooting into the distance.

Gyruss borrows several elements from Galaga, including the "double-shot" power-up and the "chance" bonus stages. Realizing the 5200 controller offered 360 degrees of circular movement, the developers incorporated it into the control scheme. Well, just because you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea! Moving your ship around is not the intuitive experience the developers envisioned. It tends to move in fits, stopping and starting unpredictably as you struggle with the joystick.

And bad controls aren't the only problem. Thanks to the super low resolution graphics, the aliens look like shapeless blobs. Their missiles blend in with them, making it almost impossible to see them coming. Unlike the arcade game, aggressive play is punished, not rewarded. The up-tempo musical score is terrific, but music by Bach is too good to be wasted on this sloppy effort. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 37,800
1 or 2 players 


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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, Moby Games