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 than 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 it's 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.
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.
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.
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 few twists to the Frogger formula, most of which are unwelcome. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
The graphics in Clowns far exceed those of Circus. The large characters assume goofy poses and the balloons are actually round (whoa). 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.
The next game 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.
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.
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.
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 is that 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.
Screen shots courtesy of Bally Alley, Video Game Museum, GameFAQs.com, Digital Press, YouTube, Atari Age