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Bally Astrocade Reviews L-R

Letter Match/Spell 'N Score/Crosswords
Grade: C
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Posted: 2012/5/9

screenshotMost 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The other two games feel hopelessly outdated.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.

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2 to 4 players 

Look Out For The Bull
Grade: D
Publisher: Mike Peace (1981)
Posted: 2020/10/23

screenshotWhile 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.

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Recommended variation: 1 life
Our high score: 2887
1 to 4 players 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Self Published (1984)
Posted: 2020/6/16

screenshotMazeman is a prototype which closely resembles Pac-Man (Atari 2600, 1982). The titular character looks exactly the same and the maze layout is similar. The graphics here are actually sharper, the maze more sophisticated, and the ghosts exhibit very little flicker. Actually two of the ghosts look more like robots.

The controls are somewhat slippery, causing the occasional wrong turn. That's usually not fatal however because the ghosts aren't very smart. They move slowly and tend to bunch up, making them easy-pickings once you grab a power pill. There are plenty of power pills lying around, with some mazes having as many as eight! While chomping on ghosts the game pauses momentarily as the ghost eyes frantically try to find their way home.

The difficulty is very low so I'd recommend cranking up the skill level to 9. The graphics aren't too flashy but I like how the color scheme changes between rounds. Mazeman could have been a really good Pac-Man clone if it had audio. Playing in total silence tends to undermine the arcade experience. Still, I can't deny this is a lot of fun to play. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 9
Our high score: 22489
1 or 2 players 

Ms. Candy Man
Grade: D-
Publisher: L&M Software (1983)
Posted: 2015/3/11

screenshotThe original Candy Man didn't exactly demand a sequel, but we got one anyway! Ms. Candy Man opens by presenting a flashing title screen while blaring nauseating carnival music. I don't know whether to cover my eyes or ears! I need more hands!!

The original Candy Man was lacking in color so Ms. Candy Man overcompensates to the max. She assumes the form of a face with a bow that hops between spaces in a grid, collecting blacks squares while avoiding littles elves with hats. There's a little dude jumping around in a cage at the bottom, and I assume that's Candy Man.

The control feels less sluggish than the first game, but the AI is pretty weak. As long as you don't jump directly on the elves you're pretty safe. It's tougher in advanced stages because the action gets more frantic and the controls become touchy.

When you die, you fall to the bottom of the screen, accompanied by an obnoxious sound effect. Your remains are then hauled away by a tow truck or ambulance. When the game ends that ear-splitting music returns. With three skill levels Ms. Candy Man would appear to be a superior sequel, but it's impossible to enjoy with the volume on. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: normal
Our high score: 51,084
1 to 2 players 

Grade: A
Publisher: Esoterica (1982)
Posted: 2009/2/8

screenshotThis perfectly-executed Pac-Man knock-off impressed the hell out of me. If you take the original Pac-Man arcade game, lower its resolution and cut out the intermissions, you're left with Muncher. The vibrant graphics are flicker-free, and the blockiness only adds character. The layout of the maze is faithful to the original game, complete with the various fruit bonuses.

The "waba waba" sound effects are nicely done, although you can't hear the looping background "siren" as you're eating (apparently the game can only play one sound at a time). Your little "Muncher" doesn't continue moving when you release the joystick (as he does in real Pac-Man), but otherwise the controls are flawless.

When you eat the ghosts, they turn into red eyes, and your point bonus is displayed on the left side of the maze. There's only one difficulty level, but the pace increases rapidly, and kicks into overdrive upon reaching the fourth round. I find it ironic that Muncher lacks an official Pac-Man license, because it is by far the most faithful adaptation I've played on a classic system. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 23580
1 or 2 players 

Pirate's Chase
Grade: D
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Posted: 2020/6/19

boxIt's hard not to get psyched over a game called Pirate's Chase, and when you fire it up you're greeted with a spirited seafaring refrain. But the graphics? A red screen with rows of black dots is a far cry from the colorful, exotic image depicted on the cover. According to the instruction manual those dots are meant to be doubloons (coins) scattered over a beach! I'm not buying it. How many beaches are blood red?

The object of the game is to move a target-shaped cursor around the screen, gathering coins while avoiding "the spirit of Long John Silver". He resembles a little skull and crossbones randomly wandering around the screen. A treasure item frequently appears near the center, but it's often hard to discern what it's supposed to be (an ice cream sundae? No wait - eggs benedict!) To its credit, the game displays a new bonus item each round of increasing value.

The action is fast but the controls are touchy. After a few rounds I felt like I was playing an overclocked version of the game! Your symbol hops around so quickly that trying to pick up that last dubloon is about as easy as picking up a watermelon seed. If you play long enough the color scheme changes to green, which looks a lot better. The two-player mode supports simultaneous treasure hunting, letting you compete for score. Pirate's Chase is certainly frantic, but the link between this game and pirate lore seems tenuous at best. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: level 1/3 lives
Our high score: 41,323
1 or 2 players 

Pseudo-ku 2008
Grade: A
Publisher: Degler (2008)
Posted: 2019/9/28

screenshotAnd what do we have here?! My friend Brent stumbled upon this inconspicuous homebrew on my Astrocade multicart, and it's freaking amazing! This is about as good a computerized Sudoku as you're going to find on any system. In case you've never tried this newspaper puzzler, the idea is to fill in a partially filled-in grid with numbers by following several simple rules. It's thought-provoking and addictive.

The screen is set up with a neat 9x9 grid rendered in various shades of gray. You move a red cursor around to place numbers on the screen, turning the dial to select the correct digit. There are even options to undo and "display hint"! The user interface is superb, but there's more.

Each square has a set of dots that can help you narrow down the possibilities. I love how they change whenever you place a new number. There's no way to select a skill level but it generates a new random puzzle each time. Pseudo-ku 2008 is a crown jewel in the Astrocade library and a real testament to the system. What an innovative use for a classic console! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Red Baron/Panzer Attack
Grade: C-
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
Posted: 2009/6/19

screenshotThis two-in-one cartridge offers the same brand of tank/airplane action as Combat (Atari 2600, 1977), but it's less fun. The dogfighting action (Red Baron) isn't so bad, bearing a striking resemblance to Triple Action (Intellivision, 1981). You view your plane from the side, and can adjust both your direction and speed as you try to shoot down your opponent. Random clouds cover parts of the screen, and a red barn is centered on the ground below. You can't fly off the top of the screen, but the sides "wrap" around.

The planes look terrific and vary slightly in shape. It's a shame they both happen to be the exact same color (red), because that makes it too easy to confuse the two. The action moves at a nice pace and I like how planes go into a tailspin when shot down. The Panzer Attack tank variations are far less interesting, despite supporting up to four players!

The sparse maze is lifted straight out of Combat, and I wish I could say the same about the gameplay. Your inability to curve or ricochet your shots severely limits the strategy, and most contests degenerate into defensive stalemates. Tanks don't even relocate when shot, making them sitting ducks for follow-up attacks. Both Red Baron and Panzer Attack let you set a time limit, but there are no options to customize the game. Wow, Combat is looking better all the time! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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2 to 4 players 

Road Toad
Grade: D-
Publisher: Esoterica (1986)
Posted: 2015/6/12

screenshotI was going to call Road Toad a Frogger knock-off, but then I remembered toads are different from frogs. I think. Anyway, like many Astrocade titles Road Toad only consumes the upper part of the screen. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks cross the street in opposite directions. The vehicles are multicolored but tend to overlap, causing some of the trucks to resemble centipedes. Your score is the number of times you cross the street, but it's not displayed until you die.

The controls are pretty good. I like how your frog (um - I mean toad) takes half-hops instead of moving from lane to lane. I also like how race cars occasionally appear and drag race up certain lanes. Seeing one lined up on the edge adds a little excitement because you never know when he'll take off.

The graphics are very sloppy with random glitches littering the playfield. Thankfully the cars tend to clean them up as they ride over them. Road Toad is fun for a while, but the difficulty plateaus early, and the game becomes boring. It's playable, but there are much better Frogger-style games to choose from. Like Frogger, for example. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SDZ 30
1 player 

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