Bally Astrocade Reviews A-B

Amazing Maze
Grade: C+
Publisher: Bally (1978)
Reviewed: 2009/6/13

screenshotThis nicely fills the role of the obligatory "race to the end of the maze" cartridge, not unlike Maze Craze for the Atari 2600 (1978). Amazing Maze adds a few new wrinkles but doesn't quite live up to its name. Prior to each race the CPU has to generate a random maze, and the process can take up to 30 seconds on the hard level. This prompted my friend Steve to immediately declare the game to be "beer friendly".

The mazes are rendered with fine green lines, and each player begins on opposite ends of the maze, often passing each other on their brief journey. Excellent controls let you swiftly navigate your square around corners without getting stuck on the edges. I did get a bit annoyed with that warbling noise that plays throughout the race.

Three levels of difficulty are available, with easier mazes having wider corridors. Surprisingly, I found the harder mazes less fun because you pretty much have to guess a route and go with it. At least with the easier mazes you can usually spot the correct path, making it feel more like a race to the finish. Afterwards the winner's route is shown with a dotted line - a nice touch.

It's hard to get excited about Amazing Maze in 2009, but my friends seemed to enjoy it enough. I will give the game credit for one thing - it provides a CPU opponent when nobody else is around! I've never seen that in a game like this before! Also included is the game of Tic Tac Toe - a throw-away title if I've ever seen one. Yes, we're talking about the original Tic Tac Toe - not some space-aged 5D edition. I got so irritated watching my friends play it that I nearly knocked the grade down another letter. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Artillery Duel
Grade: B+
Publisher: Bally (1982)
Reviewed: 2019/9/28

screenshotI've played many versions of Artillery Duel over the years. I think I may have even typed in a similar game from a computer magazine during the early 1980's. That said, this Astrocade edition is the most impressive. It's a two-player contest that begins by prompting each player for their skill level.

A random mountain landscape is then generated, complete with trees and rocky outcroppings. Three soldiers from each army march onto the screen to the sound of drum music, setting up a cannon on each side. Players then take turns firing mortars at each other after first setting the angle and power of each shot.

The control panel at the top of the screen is great. Not only does it contain all the various switches needed to make your adjustments, but there's a wind indicator and even a monitor showing your target. I know that's just eye candy but the intermittent static adds realism. Once you press fire you just sit back and watch your shell slowly arc across the screen, taking note if you came up short or overshot.

Unlike other versions you can partially damage your opponent, with the percentage of damage displayed on the screen. Artillery Duel takes a simple concept and turns it into a full-fledged head-to-head battle! One flaw I noticed is how trees tend to provide an inordinate amount of shielding, sometimes rendering one side nearly invincible. Still, Artillery Duel is superb title that really pulls out all the stops. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Astro Battle
Grade: B-
Publisher: Bally (1978)
Reviewed: 2009/2/18

screenshotThis Space Invaders look-alike is nothing short of spectacular especially considering its 1977 release date. The gameplay never wavers from the formula as you aim a cannon at an alien armada that gradually descends upon you and your four red shields. The multicolored aliens are impressively large, and each row is distinctive in design.

Your cannon moves swiftly from side-to-side, and its small size makes it easier to dodge the torrent of bombs. Your shots travel fast, which really keeps the pace brisk and the action non-stop. Whenever an alien is shot, a static red "explosion" briefly appears, but it almost looks like a glitch. This also appears when your missiles collide with alien bombs - something that happens with alarming frequency! During later stages it seems like half of your shots are canceled out!

The sound of your cannon firing is an extremely weird effect, like a bird in a pipe or something. One major problem with Astro Battle is its difficulty progression, which really hits a wall around the fourth wave. When the aliens are relentlessly dropping bombs about a millimeter above your cannon, there's not much you can do. Even so, Astro Battle is sure to "wow" Space Invaders fans. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Intermediate
Our high score: 3580
1 or 2 players 

Bally Pin
Grade: B+
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Reviewed: 2009/2/18

screenshotThis pinball game might not look like much, but there's more to this than meets the eye. First and foremost, Bally Pin's excellent controls feel more natural than any other video pinball game I've played. You hold one controller in each hand, using the triggers to activate the left and right flippers. Not only is it extremely comfortable, but the small flippers let you wield a fine degree of control.

The sparse playfield doesn't offer much variety, populated with a few assorted bumpers, drop-targets, and a single spinner. Still, the round bumpers kick the ball around nicely, and it's always a challenge to knock out all of the drop-targets (causing scoring to double). You'll go through your five balls fairly quickly, so don't worry - this game doesn't drag on like so many other pinball titles.

The physics is a little off, but considering this was released in 1981, I'd feel like a real [expletive] complaining about something like that! Hell, I have new games that can't get the physics right! Bally Pin includes two tables, but except for the color schemes, their layouts are very similar. It's not much to look at, but Bally Pin has it where it counts. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 15840
1 to 4 players 

Biorhythm
Grade: F-
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
Reviewed: 2014/4/6

screenshotIt's difficult to fathom this was once considered legitimate software that living, breathing people actually exchanged official currency for. Biorhythm is a pseudoscience based on the premise that our physical, mental, and emotional states fluctuate in mathematical cycles. The cartridge initially prompts you to enter your name, birthday, and current date. I bet the programmer never envisioned someone would ever enter March 15, 2014, but that's what I did!

The screen then presented me with a graphical chart spanning a few weeks with colored waves indicating the highs and lows for my physical, mental, and emotional states. Note that half the screen is completely blank. You can slide the timeline, triggering the same sound effect one would expect to hear while traveling through time. I like how my name remains displayed on top of the screen, in case I forget.

According to the manual, the graphs help you understand past moods and "avoid potentially critical situations." Unfortunately, the vague instructions leave the graphs open to wild interpretations. If Biorhythm says your mental state is low on exam day, you should cut class! If your wedding happens to be scheduled on an emotional low, just call the whole damn thing off. Just this past weekend I told my friend Jon I couldn't play tennis because this piece of [expletive] cartridge (circa 1981) said I wasn't physically strong enough!

According to the manual, Biorhythm will "help you work with (and around) mood changes towards a more harmonious existence." I don't know what that means! My buddy Brent noted that the bulk of this program consists of the interface that lets you enter your name and date. He proceeded to declare Biorhythm as "the worst thing I've ever seen." Biorhythm is the video game equivalent of snake oil, only far less useful. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Blackjack, Poker, and Acey Deucey
Grade: D-
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Reviewed: 2010/3/7

screenshotThe first time I played Blackjack, Poker, and Acey Deucey I thought it was pretty decent. The screen displays a green table with well-defined cards and intuitive prompts. Betting is performed by turning the knob on your controller to select the desired dollar amount, which would be fine if the controls weren't so damned touchy! I really wish you could "lock in" a value instead of having to "dial up" the same amount (usually the maximum) every turn.

The Blackjack variation lets you "hit", "double", or "stand" by moving the joystick and pressing the fire button. It's fairly effortless with one player, so I figured four players would be four times the fun. I was badly mistaken! For some odd reason, only a single player can do anything at a time. So instead of having all four players place their bets at once, you have to go around the horn in a very time-consuming manner.

The Poker variation is especially tedious as each player is prompted whether to keep each one of their five cards. It's like the game goes out of its way to be as slow as possible! The audio seems missing in action, as the games are played in almost complete silence. If not for the solo Blackjack mode, this card game would be a total bust. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 2155
1 to 4 players 

Blast Droids
Grade: C
Publisher: Esoterica (1983)
Reviewed: 2014/4/6

screenshotI love the concept behind Blast Droids, and with more polish it could have qualified for a hidden gem icon. Looking a lot like Omega Race (Colecovision, 1983), you control a tiny ship on the fringe of a rectangle with several openings. You can fire rapidly at alien ships (some of which resemble hamburgers) bouncing around the interior. I like the Asteroids-inspired controls with the animated thrusters. Enemies don't fire back, but they move in dangerously erratic patterns. Adding to the challenge is the fact that you cannot touch the walls! Your ship is so fragile that even shrapnel from a nearby explosion will destroy it.

Each stage is unique but the progression is weird. A stage will end abruptly before you clear the enemies; I guess there's a quota or something. Each stage offers a new layout, and occasionally you're challenged to navigate a maze a la Gravitar (Atari 2600, 1988) with a razor-thin margin for error. I enjoy the back-to-the basics gameplay of Blast Droids, but its list of flaws is longer than Lindsay Lohan's rap sheet.

Enemies spawn without warning - often on top of your ship! The collision detection is questionable, so it's hard to tell if enemies can withstand multiple hits, or if your shots are just not registering. I dig the old-school electronic sound effects, but the volume goes in and out. The two-player simultaneous mode is ruined by the fact that players can shoot each other. Finally, I really wish there was an easy way to restart the game without exiting out completely.

Still, Blast Droids is fun if you follow my strategies. First, you can pretty much coast through the first two stages by remaining on the left edge and firing away where they can't get you. It may be cheating, but when the fate of the galaxy is at stake, you do whatever is necessary. Also, never stop shooting! Your missiles wrap around the screen and errant shots have a way of taking out newly-spawned aliens. Blast Droids is definitely undercooked, but I found myself playing it a lot, so it can't be all that bad. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 7,770
1 or 2 players 

Bowling
Grade: C
Publisher: New Images (1985)
Reviewed: 2018/2/24

screenshotApparently this is an unreleased prototype, but was able to play it on my Astrocade multicart. The unexciting screen layout consists of a blocky lane with pins on the right. The controls seem inordinately complicated at first, so bear with me. You line up your ball to throw by pushing up or down. A black block serves as an "aiming cursor" just to the right of your ball.

Moving the joystick side-to-side moves this up and down, which is counter-intuitive. Last but not least there's a green "spin" block you slide across the bottom of the screen using the knob. The further right it is, the more spin you apply. Your ball always spins to the left which does simplify things a bit.

Once you wrap your head around the controls Bowling is kind of fun. I noticed that throwing the ball straight with no spin results in a lot more splits, which makes sense. I like how pins fly around but since they only move diagonally you'll never pick up a 7-10 split.

The action moves at a brisk pace and it's fun to shoot for the high score. Just be sure to avoid the "professional" skill level which causes the ball to inexplicably stop dead when it strikes the head pin. What the heck is that all about? This game may not be fully cooked, but Bowling was shaping up to be a pretty fair rendition of the sport. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: advanced
Our high score: 121
1 to 4 players 


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Screen shots courtesy of Bally Alley, Video Game Museum, GameFAQs.com, Digital Press, YouTube, Atari Age