Publisher: Bally (1978)
This 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 pompted my friend Steve to immediately declare the game as "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.
Publisher: Bally (1982)
I'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.
Publisher: Bally (1978)
This 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! In 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
Publisher: Bally (1981)
This 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 dick
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
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
It'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 interpretions. 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.
Blackjack, Poker, and Acey Deucey
Publisher: Bally (1977)
The 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.
Our high score: 2155
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Esoterica (1983)
I 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
Publisher: New Images (1985)
Apparently 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
Publisher: L&M Software (1982)
Not to be confused with the 1992 slasher flick of the same name, Candy Man looks like it was programmed in somebody's basement. With monochromatic graphics, beeping sound effects, and derivative gameplay, this is something I might have programmed in the early 80's. These suspicions were confirmed when I ran across this this old advertisement
. I love how it says "ANIMATED" across the screenshot. As opposed to what?
Before each round you can practically watch the pixels being painted to the screen. Candy Man is a little chunky guy who hops around a grid while avoiding two gremlins. You collect black squares between the spaces like some perverse Pac-Man incarnation. As it turns out, hopping around a grid is a lot
less interesting that navigating a maze. Go figure! The manner in which the characters jump between squares just barely
qualifies as animation. At first the black and purple color scheme seems easy on the eyes, but after a while everything start to look the same and it becomes hard to focus. Your score is displayed along the right edge above some caged critter. No instructions were available to reveal the backstory, but I'm sure it's an epic tale. Candy Man's gameplay is hampered by so-so gameplay and less-than-responsive controls. New enemies emerge in later stages - usually lurking in the corners. Bonus stages let you nab the gremlins for points, but its too easy and unsatisfying. When the game is over the screen continuously flashes and plays random beeps incessantly. As if you needed another excuse to shut this damn thing off! © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 6,940
Castle of Horror
Publisher: Wavemakers (1981)
Castle of Horror is clearly one of those programmed-in-the-basement numbers with non-existent production values. It places your character (who bears a striking resemblance to E.T.) in a series of square rooms with a handful of converging monsters. The visual highlight is the arcade-style intro which lays out all the creature types along with their point values. There are some cool designs including a robot and a thing with pincers, but blocky graphics tend to understate the horror. Each screen is rendered in only two colors. The characters and dungeon walls are black but a variety of colorful pastels are used as backdrops. Dramatic music plays as you flee for your life while placing blocks between you and the advancing creatures. In theory you're some kind of wizard constructing magic barriers. You score when monsters either collide with each other or run into the blocks (causing the word "ZORK" to briefly appear). To place a block you press the button while moving in the desired location. The problem is, this means you're pushing towards
encroaching monsters. Maintaining a safe distance is key, and you can cover more ground by moving diagonally. Once you lay down a wall you can pretty much sit back and watch the creeps self destruct. I like the concept but the execution is sloppy. You move one character width at a time and it's easy to stumble into a wall. Graphical glitches abound, ensuring the screen is a complete mess by the end of each round. It's no Venture
(Colecovision, 1982) but Castle of Horror deserves credit for trying. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 1800
Publisher: Bally (1977)
This is one of four programs built into the Astrocade system, the others being Calculator (yay), Scribbling (whoopee), and Gunfight
(Bally, 1977). You might expect a game named Checkmate to be related to Chess in some way, but that would make too much sense. Instead it's one of those draw-a-line-until-you-hit-a-wall games. The same basic idea could be found on other classic systems under names like Surround
(Atari 2600, 1977) or Snafu
(Intellivision, 1981). Those don't support four players however, and I suspect Checkmate was mainly included to highlight the system's four controllers. If you can't scrounge up four players a really dumb CPU will fill in. The good news is the controls are great and each player has a distinctive "tail" to set them apart. The bad news is there's no audio or variations to spice things up. As a result, each contest tends to play out the same with players cordoning off their own area and then moving in concentric squares hoping the other guys will run out of real estate first (or screw up). I was not impressed but my friends were quick to come to the game's defense, calling Checkmate a fun multiplayer romp. So take that for what it's worth. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bit Fiddlers (1982)
So, who wants to play Frogger in slow motion? Show of hands? I didn't think so. Chicken lets you guide slow-moving poultry
across congested lanes of moving traffic. Man these flapping birds are slow. My friend Scott compared them to slugs crawling over dry ice. Incidentally, Scott owns real chickens and can attest they move much faster than this game would have you believe. Similar to Road Toad
(Esoterica, 1986), the action is limited to the upper part of the screen. The red, white, and blue vehicles look more like boats than cars. The background noise consists of a water faucet and discordant beeps serving as car horns. The sluggish pace forces you to plot your path very carefully. You need to plan several lanes ahead and occasionally squeeze through narrow, rapidly-shrinking spaces. Each stage is identified by a day of the week, giving the game a sense of progression. You'd expect the two-player simultaneous player to be interesting, but when two chickens collide, one dies! Chicken applies a first twists to the Frogger formula, most of which are unwelcome. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 98
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1979)
What is it about clowns that creeps me out? Is it their beady eyes, pale white skin, or the fact that they like to hide under your bed with a knife?
It's the knife thing. Most classic gamers will write off Clowns/Brickyard as a blatant knock-off of Circus Atari and Breakout (Atari 2600). They'd be right, but this is a surprisingly entertaining
knock-off! The graphics in Clowns far exceed those of Circus. The large characters assume goofy poses and the balloons are actually round
). They're spaced out far enough that sometimes your bouncing clown will pass right through them. You can't "flip" the teeter-totter as you can in Circus, and this necessitates large trampolines on each side of the screen. The game loses momentum when you bounce off these, but Clowns is still fun to play for a few rounds. Brickyard looks absolutely heinous with its minimal graphics and ugly mauve/orange color scheme, but don't write this one off just yet. On its advanced settings your paddle is small and the ball is extremely unpredictable. It changes speed at random and a weird gravitational effect causes it to fall at strange angles. Sometimes you'll knock out a single brick and sometimes you'll get lucky and knock out a big chunk. Normally I prefer classic games on their hardest difficulties, but try that with Brickyard and you'll get your ass
handed to you. I respect that! The audio is limited to beeps, and the game mocks you with a nany-nany-boo-boo tune when you mess up. The only real negative with this cartridge is its lack of a restart option, which is aggravating. Still, this is a heck of a lot better than you would expect. It almost has
to be! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3 Lives/5 Lives Adv
Our high score: 302/631
1 to 4 players
Conan the Barbarian
Publisher: Dave Carson Software (1985)
A limited-release title, Conan the Barbarian is dripping with classic goodness. It's medieval battle action with glorious pixelated graphics. You guide a multicolored Conan around a square area, fighting waves of random creatures. Your attributes (stamina, strength, defense, and level) are listed along the right edge. Conan himself looks pretty amazing. Turning the knob lets you control his independently-articulating sword, and I love how he shakes his fist in the air while walking around. Pressing the button toggles which side Conan is facing, giving you precision control uncommon on a classic system. And there's bevy of cool monsters including scorpions, cobras, minotaurs, blobs, and things with all sorts of tentacles. Some of them make wild shrieking sounds. Usually you face off against one at a time, but sometimes you'll fight several. After clearing a stage the shape of the room changes, implying you might be forging through a series of monster-infested rooms. The gameplay is hack, slash, and repeat, but creatures appear to be vulnerable in different spots. They also tend to jump around the screen which makes fighting a little chaotic. I'm not sure what role all the attributes play, but your level serves as your score and your stamina is your life bar. Conan may not be the deepest adventure, but for classic gamers it's a sight for sore eyes. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12
Publisher: Astrocade (1982)
I've played some slick Defender clones over the years but Cosmic Raiders really rocked my world. The screen is set up with a panel across the bottom showing your score, a radar screen, and some extraneous information that tries to make the game look more sophisticated than it really is. Brown hills scroll across the bottom as you thrust across the screen in either direction. The crackling sound of your engine kicking in is outstanding
. You can fire rapidly but can't cross into the top quarter of the screen for some reason. Your goal is to destroy bombs falling across the landscape, and each one doubles in point value. Enemy fighters are large and assume a variety of colorful shapes. They tend to approach in groups which can seem overwhelming until you realize you have an ace up your sleeve. By snagging an "energy star" your ship is enveloped in a dotted shield that makes you invincible. With this enabled you effectively become a battering ram!
You can deal a lot of damage and the colorful explosions and thunderous sounds make the destruction all the more satisfying. The audio in this game really is tremendous. The animation could be smoother but the collision detection is forgiving. Fast-paced and fun, Cosmic Raiders is yet another gem in the Astrocade library. I just wish there was a quick way to restart instead of having to plow through all those set-up prompts. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 6
Our high score: 17,230
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Riff Raff Games (2011)
I feel lucky to own one of these limited edition cartridges considering homebrews for the Astrocade are pretty rare. The premise of Crazy Climber is to scale a series of colorful buildings while dodging hazards like shutting windows and falling objects. These objects include flowerpots, bottles, dumbbells, and "condor excrement" that looks a lot like cat hairballs. I don't know who the hell is throwing dumbbells out of windows, but they need to cut that [expletive] out because it's dangerous!
Compared to the Atari 2600 Crazy Climber this one looks very good. The characters are blockier but larger, and the colors are more vibrant. The doors at the base of the building are a nice touch, and I like the glare on the windows. The controls are a major source of contention. Climbing involves methodical and well-timed up and down movements. Moving the joystick slightly lets you make fine adjustments to your hand positions, and I like how you can straddle two windows. The downside of this precision is the controls are hard to grasp. Isn't that ironic? Frankly, my friends hated
the controls, and Chris went so far as to claim they hurt his self esteem!
I fared much better, but hey, I'm the freakin' VGC right? Still, I can see why they might struggle. Grabbing a ledge is accompanied by a beep, but this audio cue plays a fraction of a second too soon. This can cause novice players to reverse direction prematurely, causing your man to inexplicably drop down
a floor. The controls are also overly sensitive to diagonals, causing your guy to inadvertently slide sideways. Two elements lacking in this version are the falling-when-hit animation and the helicopter that picks you up at the top. But this version has something that 2600 does not. A handy map is displayed on the right side of the screen which indicates your progress, and it's a terrific feature. The game also supports a dual-joystick configuration, but it's useless due to ergonomic factors. I enjoyed Crazy Climber's challenging arcade-style, and despite their incessant whining my friends played it over and over again. It's great to see an obscure title like this one get new life on an obscure classic console. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 35,400
Publisher: Bally (1977)
This is one of those oddball titles that collectors should not overlook. Dog Patch is a simple can-shooting game with two riflemen positioned on each side of the screen. A square "can" is tossed up the middle, and both players try to shoot it off the opposite side of the screen. Thanks to the analog knob on the Astrocade controller, you can finely adjust your aim. What's cool is that these shotguns actually spray
bullets, as if they were sawed-off
shotguns. That means you don't have to be perfectly on target to hit the can. Both players will often knock the can around in mid-air, turning it into a volleyball game of sorts. The more hits the can absorbs, the more points it's worth. Dog Patch is surprisingly fun and requires good reflexes. There's not much to see, but the large, multi-colored characters are nicely detailed. You can play solo for score, but the real satisfaction comes from going head-to-head. My friends absolutely fell in love with this game. The only blemish is the high-pitched, cringe-worthy sound effects, which will make you turn down the volume immediately. Still, Dog Patch is one of the simple pleasures of classic gaming. I suspect Dick Cheney would love
this game, despite the fact that you can't shoot your opponent in the face. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 25 cans
Our high score: 212
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1977)
This is a surprisingly sophisticated football game, and if not for its tedious play-calling system, it would be classic material. Designed for head-to-head play, Football also supports two-on-two
action (four players), which is pretty remarkable! The action on the field is fluid and lively. After hiking the ball, you move the quarterback and can adjust his arm to throw at any angle (by turning the knob). When the ball is in flight, you control two receivers while the defense controls two cornerbacks. It's fun to fight for the ball, although it can be hard to tell who came down with the thing! Still, with a little practice I found myself consistently picking up first downs. Each contest is played with four-minute quarters, and it's a shame you can't adjust that because it's way too long! But Football's real Achilles heel is it's play-calling mechanism. Only the offense selects a play, which involves watching a cursor move slowly
down a list of five formations. You move the joystick to when the cursor is next to your desired play, but get this - you always
have to sit through the entire sequence - even when you pick the first play! I suspect this time-consuming process was meant to provide a mechanism for disguising your selection, but it's not
worth the aggravation! Even if the player on defense diverts his eyes from the other player, he can usually hear the joystick move! When playing my friend George, it was hilarious how he resorted to various coughs and unnatural body movements in order to hide his selection. I was also amused by the two play-calling sheets provided. While one is clearly designated "for YELLOW TEAM
" and the other is labeled "for BLUE TEAM
", they are in fact exactly the same
. There's a lot to like about Football, but the unweildy play-calling system compromises the fun. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Not only is this a well constructed Galaxian clone, but it actually eclipses
the original in terms of frantic action. This may be the fastest, most relentless shooter I've ever played on a classic system! You move a cannon back and forth across the bottom of the screen while firing at a colorful alien armada. There are fewer aliens on the screen than in Galaxian, but they are larger and multi-colored. Blue drones line the bottom row, red ones fill in the middle, and two yellow, triangular "bosses" are perched on top. When bosses descend they are usually escorted by two red ships, and taking out all three nets you big points. The action is fast and furious as the aliens typically peel off in groups of 4 or 5 at a time! And these guys are fast!
The orange-and-yellow explosions look sweet, and when you destroy a boss the point amount is briefly displayed (nice). When you clear an armada - don't blink
- because a new one immediately appears in its place. Likewise, when one player dies in the two-player mode, the second player immediately
picks up where the other left off! The fact that the action never lets up prompted by buddy Steve to declare, "This is not
a beer-friendly game!" But even the breakneck pace can't hide a few flaws. First, when the aliens drop bombs, their bombs materialize about 10 pixels below the alien, giving you less time to react. And while there are nine skill levels to choose from, the difficulty seems to remain constant as you play. It's not that big of a deal though, since even the lower difficulties are formidable. In retrospect, I'm glad Galactic Invasion wasn't a faithful translation of Galaxian, because this game offers a unique shooting experience all of its own. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4-3
Our high score: SLN 10416
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Looking a lot like Indy 500
(Atari 2600, 1977), Grand Prix offers basic racing action with three tracks, along with a bonus demolition derby mode. Four players can compete at once, and each car looks slightly different to eliminate any confusion. Two driving modes are available, with "pro" incorporating some drifting action. You can configure each race for up to 99 laps, and if you're playing solo, racing against the clock is also an option. It sounds like a surefire winner, but Grand Prix is actually pretty boring! The first track is a basic oval, and the third is a pointless circle, so only track #2 is the least bit interesting. You steer by pushing the joystick left or right, but why wasn't the knob used for that function? The cars are very wide, leaving little room to pass. You're constantly hitting another player or scraping the edge of the track, slowing the action to a crawl. In terms of audio, the droning of engines and screeching of tires aren't anything to write home about. My friends were pretty pumped up about the demolition derby mode, but it turned out to be an unplayable mess. I appreciate Grand Prix's four player support, but I can't shake the nagging feeling that this should have been much better. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1/5 laps
Our high score: 30 sec
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Built right into the Astrocade console, Gunfight is pretty freakin' awesome. This one-on-one cowboy showdown is not unlike Outlaw on the Atari 2600, but Gunfight looks much
better and is far
more sophisticated. The multi-colored gunfighters are large and their bullets really zip across the screen. The knob on your controller adjusts the angle of your gun, and being able to adjust your aim independently of your movement really enriches the gameplay. You can shoot away at the scenery or ricochet bullets off the top and bottom of the screen. Both sides are limited to six shots, and should you run out of ammo, you'll be a sitting duck until the round timer runs out (so start dancing!). There's no single-player option, but the game is ideal for a quick shootout with a friend. Gunfight doesn't have any variations, but it feels
like it does. That's because the scenery changes between rounds, gradually incorporating cactus plants, evergreen trees, and moving covered wagons. The game is not glitch-free however, and in some instances stray pixels appear which can interfere with the gameplay. Oh well, you don't throw away a Cadillac just because it has a dent in it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Spectre Systems (1982)
This super rare cartridge was packaged with a special analog joystick. Without that controller ICBM Attack is a good-looking but nearly-impossible-to-play Missile Command
(Atari 2600, 1981) clone. ICBM stands for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, often used to reference the imminent (or not) nuclear threat of the 1980's. Cities line the bottom on the screen as a flying saucer makes passes overhead and drops bombs. The invader makes an ominous noise while slowly crossing the screen, but by aiming a reticule and firing you can neutralize him and his bombs. It is possible to play ICBM Attack with the normal controllers; just not very well. You need to use controller one and two at the same time, as their rotary knobs adjust the X and Y axis independently. The first controller lets you fire from your left and right bases, and the second controller fires from the center. I tried my best to grapple with the controls, keeping the cursor near the center and moving it up and down to catch the alien in transit. Fortunately the invader is a really bad shot with most of his bombs landing nowhere close to the remaining cities. Even if you keep him at bay however the game inexplicably ends after ten waves. I wish I could play ICBM Attack with its original controller. It's not really playable in its current form, although it might be an interesting coop experiment. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3382
1 to 4 players
Incredible Wizard, The
Publisher: Bally (1981)
If you want to see what the Astrocade system is truly capable of, give Incredible Wizard a shot. It's basically the definitive home version of the classic maze shooter Wizard of Wor
(Atari 2600, 1982). Wizards, dungeons, and monsters are usually associated with medieval times, since that's when they were most common. Yet the instructions here present the game as a futuristic shooter, with your warrior armed with some kind of laser rifle. The first thing that grabs your attention is the musical interlude that plays between stages. This ominous, otherworldly theme has a resonating quality that will positively knock your socks off. I've never heard anything like it. Wizard's exciting gameplay is characterized by frantic shooting, crisp control, and ever-changing gameplay. Your gun actually has a kick-back when you fire, and creatures blow up in a satisfying manner. The fact that you can't shoot through
their explosions slightly limits your destructive capabilities, but it is
possible to shoot two creatures at once
if they're overlapping. Monsters crawl around each level to begin, but gradually speed up, eventually going buck-wild and putting you on the defensive. Many creatures can turn invisible, so you'll want to consult the radar display at the bottom of the screen. Upon clearing a level you'll face the wizard's pet Worluck. He's not hard to hit, but the Wizard is another story, furiously dashing around with guns-a-blazing. The game also supports two-player simultaneous play. The Incredible Wizard absolutely rocks the Bally Astrocade, but honestly this would be considered top-notch entertainment on any
console. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SLN 7,379
1 or 2 players
Letter Match/Spell 'N Score/Crosswords
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Most gamers would dismiss this semi-educational title off-hand, but my friends Chris and Steve take their non-jobs as game critics very seriously. They had a heck of a good time with this! As you can surmise from the cumbersome name, this cartridge is three games in one, and that's usually not a good sign. Letter Match is like the Memory game you played as a kid. There are rows of squares and each player takes turns selecting two. Each square reveals a letter, and if you can match a pair you earn a point and your turn continues. So what's so special about this Astrocade version? Well, the "medium" variation offers the perfect number of cards (4 x 8) for quick yet competitive games. Up to four players can participate at once - each with their own controller no less! Last but not least, certain squares have hidden bonuses attached to them. This makes each contest less predictable and even allows for dramatic comebacks. If only a timed mode had been included for solo play. The other two games feel hopelessly outdated. Spell 'N Score challenges players to spell as many words as they can with a group of letters, but trying to play it is a headache. The lack of a spell checker is understandable (it was 1977 for Pete's sake!) but having to use the keypad on the console is just awkward. The Crosswords variation has similar issues so you can skip that one as well. There's not much to see here, but give Letter Match a try for some timeless head-to-head fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Look Out For The Bull
Publisher: Mike Peace (1981)
While perusing the remaining unreviewed games of my Astrocade multicart I stumbled upon a little something called Look Out For The Bull. It's hardly fair to lump this homemade BASIC program in with my official Astrocade reviews, but hey - life is not fair people
. Still, you have to appreciate any game with a title that doubles as instructions. It's as if Midway had called Pac-Man "Stay Away From Those Ghosts". Look Out For The Bull features a little stick figure running around the screen collecting plus signs. Granted, he's not so much "running" as blinking from one space to the next. A bull's head roams freely and aimlessly, although occasionally he'll pick up a head of steam. If you know what's good for you, you'll look out for him. Clear the screen and begin anew with a slightly madder bull. It takes a while for the challenge to kick in, but once the blue color scheme appears you'll definitely
need to - hear me out - look out for that damn bull!
Are we on the same page yet? I swear
you people are dense!
Spicing things up are bonus symbols that appear randomly. They only last a second or two but are worth a lot of points. Their appearance is punctuated by an ear-piercing tone that sounds like a phone ringing. It's horrible. The game supports up to four players alternating turns. Look Out For The Bull looks to have been programmed by a hobbyist over a long weekend so from that perspective it's not bad. If only he had the foresight to squeeze an expletive into the title this would be regarded as a classic today. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1 life
Our high score: 2887
1 to 4 players