Atari 5200 Reviews S

Space Dungeon
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 2012/3/6

screenshotPart Robotron and part Venture, this obscure Taito arcade title kicks ass on the 5200. Just make sure you have two good joysticks before you undertake this frantic shooter. Space Dungeon was originally packaged with a "joystick coupler" which provides a dual-joystick, Berzerk-style control scheme. These couplers can be hard to find but they are nice to have. The object of the game is to sweep rooms of treasure while blasting the hell out of converging aliens.

The top of the screen displays a map of the rooms arranged in a grid. Space Dungeon's graphics are a little abstract. The "treasures" are simple shapes and most enemies look like your garden variety Space Invaders. One exception is the star-shaped "piker" which requires you to first shoot off its spires in order to expose its core. A clearly defined exit lets you cash in on your current loot and advance to the next level.

Space Dungeon is appealing on many levels. The controls allow you to move and shoot independently, and it is awesome. You can play co-op by letting one player move as the other shoots. The grid layout is always the same but the contents of the room are randomized. Only fools rush in, so approach each new area with extreme caution. The risk-reward element of the game tempts you to collect every last treasure, but it's usually wiser to make an early exit, cash in, and collect your bonus lives.

The game dishes out a generous helping of destruction, as blasted aliens scatter shrapnel all over the place. This must push the hardware to the limit because slow-down tends to rear its ugly head, disrupting the collision detection. It's easy to overlook however because the game is so challenging and addictive. Space Dungeon is a terrific 5200 exclusive that will make you glad to own the system. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 21,190
1 or 2 players 

Space Invaders
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2004/7/16

screenshotSpace Invaders had become old news in 1982, so Atari needed to make the 5200 version extra special -- and they did. This version takes the classic shooter to the next level, and it's nearly flawless. The freaky-looking aliens are large, multi-colored, and change appearance every few rounds. The shields look a bit ugly (with their glowing rainbow color scheme) but they're quite effective when taking cover.

Even if you're a Space Invaders expert, you'll find plenty of challenge here, including "fast bomb" and even "homing bomb" variations. The audio is understated, but it's great how the marching sound effects increase in volume as the invaders descend. The control is dead-on, and since your missiles move rapidly, you won't have to wait long for missed shots to clear the screen.

For a real treat, try using the Atari 5200 trackball controller. Not only does it provide quick, responsive movement, but your scores are likely to double as you whiz across the bottom of the screen with Centipede-like velocity. With plenty of options and playing modes available, this Space Invaders is tops on my list. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5
Our high score: SDZ 478
1 or 2 players 

Space Shuttle
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Posted: 2004/3/19

screenshotThis "space simulation" came packaged in an Atari 2600 Space Shuttle box (with the system name crossed out), and a manual that was obviously written for a system with a keyboard. That's a problem, because as far as I know, there's never been a keyboard released for the 5200. This put me in an awkward position. I had been mystified by the Atari 2600 version of Space Shuttle, so how in God's name was I supposed to figure this out?

I proceeded to hit a few buttons randomly, and low and behold, things started happening on the screen. Apparently I inadvertently launched myself into space! I knew this because there was a lot of noise and the screen changed from blue to black. I was caught up in some kind of semi-interactive training mode. Anyway, after arriving in space there was nothing to see but a floating satellite. Talk about boring - you'd think they could have thrown in an asteroid, a space invader, or at least a Yar.

I was supposed to rendezvous with the satellite, but I turned the wrong way and it was lost forever, leaving millions without their HBO and Skinemax. Sensing my dismal failure, the shuttle automatically headed back to earth. During the landing I was able to line up my approach to the runway, but it was a hollow victory. I found Space Shuttle to be extremely unsatisfying, and I didn't even get a chance to do any of those crazy ant experiments. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Star Raiders
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2002/12/31

screenshotI was overly harsh in my initial review of Star Raiders, and readers let me know. Since then, I've learned the finer points of the game and gained a new appreciation for it. I still think Star Raiders has many flaws, but gamers with enough patience to enjoy a sophisticated space simulator will gain much satisfaction from it. The object of this first-person shooter is to wipe out all the enemy fighters and protect your space stations.

Star Raiders has a serious learning curve and grasping the controls requires a long attention span. You can access a galactic map, fore and aft views, short-range scanner, shields, attack computer, hyperspace, and choose from ten different ship speeds. You probably won't need all of these controls for the novice mission, but in order to attain the higher ranks in the advanced missions, you'll need to carefully manage your resources.

For quick transportation and repairs, you can hyperspace between sectors and dock with your space stations, but it takes some skill to "steer" effectively while moving at high speeds. I often wound up far from my desired location, which was very frustrating. While the dogfighting aspect of Star Raiders is fun enough, graphically the game is a real underachiever.

The enemies and torpedoes look identical to those in the Atari 2600 version. Only two enemies appear on the screen at a time, and severe slowdown occurs when they explode. Likewise, the sound effects are not very impressive. Still, Star Raiders has a loyal following, and die-hards who get caught up in its sophisticated gameplay will probably overlook these graphical flaws. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Star Wars: Death Star Battle
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Posted: 2005/5/13

screenshotDeath Star Battle for the 5200 is almost a carbon copy of the lousy 2600 version -- minus the control. You guide a tiny Millennium Falcon, restricted to a small area on the bottom of the screen. The Death Star is visible up top, separated from you by a rainbow-colored shield (what the?). The first stage consists of shooting (or avoiding) passing imperial vessels. It's hard to do in such a limited space, and the imprecise Atari 5200 controller doesn't help matters.

Holes periodically appear in the shield, and flying through one transports you to the second stage. This stage looks very similar, except the Death Star is larger and has a blinking "core". As you blast away from below, you knock out individual "bricks" until you reach its core. Considering all the ideas inspired by the Star Wars movies, you have to wonder why Parker Bros went with such an unimaginative concept.

The only real difference between this and the 2600 version is an unspectacular "hyperspace" sequence which occurs as you fly through the rainbow shield. Death Star Battle is a poor concept, exacerbated by uninspired graphics and awful control. I doubt that George Lucas would have approved of this steaming pile of dung. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 3101
1 player 

Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
Posted: 2005/5/13

screenshotDespite impressive graphics (on par with the arcade version) Star Wars: The Arcade Game is not particularly enjoyable. In the first stage, you aim crosshairs and shoot down Tie fighters flying in and out of view. As large as they are, they should be easy to hit, but the awful collision detection makes this stage a frustrating experience.

Destroyed Ties are rendered as small red fireballs - far less impressive than the shattering explosions of the Colecovision edition. Even worse is the second stage, where you shoot towers on the surface of the Death Star. Like the first stage, many perfectly good shots simply fail to register. Making matters worse, this stage tends to run far too long.

The one decent stage is the climactic trench scene, which requires little in the way of precision to dodge barriers and incoming missiles. After blasting the vent, brace yourself for the sight of the Death Star getting blown into - hold onto your hat -- six pieces! It looks like a broken egg, and it's pathetic. Old Ben must be rolling over in his grave. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 116456
1 player 

Super Breakout
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2002/4/17

screenshotSuper Breakout is the most unimpressive-looking game you'll ever see on the 5200. The blocks disintegrate when hit, but otherwise this looks and plays just like the plain-Jane 2600 version. You get the same variations: normal, double, cavity and progressive. Yes, they're fun enough, but you'd think they could have been more imaginative for this version. I was surprised by the control - I never realized those Atari 5200 joysticks were analog! That means you can actually control the speed of the paddle, and it works very well.

There's a four-player mode, but Atari missed the boat on this one, since only ONE person can play at a time. Can you imagine how fun it would be to have four players controlling paddles on the screen at once? That would have been easy to do, but Atari was just lazy. It's easy to be critical of this game, but as my friend Scott pointed out, "You really can't blame Breakout for being Breakout". Truer words have never been spoken. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: cavity
Our high score: 484
1 to 4 players 

Super Cobra
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Posted: 2000/11/20

screenshotThis side-scrolling helicopter shooter allows you to shoot forward and drop bombs at the same time. The original Super Cobra in the arcade was difficult enough, but this version is far too frustrating to recommend. Much of that sentiment has to do with the Atari 5200 joystick, which doesn't provide the precise control necessary to navigate narrow caverns while dodging ground-to-air missiles. In addition, you can only drop two bombs at a time. This limited firepower is no match against the well-fortified defenses you're trying to penetrate. In the stages with narrow tunnels, I couldn't avoid running into walls. Super Cobra's graphics are decent and the animation is fairly smooth, but that can't atone for the frustrating gameplay. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Super Pac-Man
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Posted: 2003/5/26

screenshotHow can you screw up a Pac-Man game? By tinkering with the formula too much, resulting in an ugly-looking game with confusing gameplay - that's how! This is one Pac-Man incarnation that no one loved, and few even liked. Why? Because the gameplay is unnecessarily complicated. Instead of eating dots, there are objects like fruit and hamburgers housed in areas of the screen that are enclosed by gates. By eating the scattered keys you can open these gates and access the items.

In addition to the standard power-pills, there are also "super" pills that transform you into Super Pac-Man, who is twice the size of the normal Pac-Man. Super Pac-Man can eat right through gates and is not harmed by the ghosts (they get "skinny" to show their fear). Unfortunately, Super Pac-Man isn't a good fit for the narrow maze corridors, and controlling him is like driving a car around your kitchen. Another problem is that when you eat a power-pill the ghosts flash blue and yellow. Not only does this look awful, but it's hard to distinguish from the normal ghost colors which include blue and purple.

Each level is the same boring maze layout. There are some timed bonus stages thrown in where you can run free in a ghost-less maze, but these are not particularly fun. To be fair, this is a very close port of the arcade game, so if you're one of the five people who liked that, you won't be disappointed. Otherwise, I'd only recommend this to people who don't want to have fun with their video games - namely collectors. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 20360
1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age, Moby Games