Bally Astrocade Reviews M-Z

Mazeman
Grade: C+
Publisher: Self Published (1984)
Reviewed: 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)
Reviewed: 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 

Muncher
Grade: A
Publisher: Esoterica (1982)
Reviewed: 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)
Reviewed: 2020/6/19

screenshotboxIt'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

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 generate 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.

1 player 

Red Baron/Panzer Attack
Grade: C-
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
Reviewed: 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 inabilitiy 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.

2 to 4 players 

Road Toad
Grade: D-
Publisher: Esoterica (1986)
Reviewed: 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 centipede. 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 

Sea Devil
Grade: F
Publisher: L&M Software (1983)
Reviewed: 2018/2/24

screenshotAt a glance Sea Devil is clearly a Defender (Atari 5200, 1982) knock-off, with its side-scrolling screen, mountainous terrain, and radar screen along the top. You know you're underwater because the screen is blue and you hear the sound of sonar pings. So why does my ship have fire coming out of its exhaust? The first enemies I encountered were octopus-like creatures, and then I blew away some divers. Whoops - was I supposed to kill those guys? It earns me points so the answer is yes. Sea Devil is mildly enjoyable for a little while. Your gun fires straight lasers that obliterate multiple enemies at a time, and the explosions are pretty cool. Some shots seem to have no effect, but I think that's just because certain enemies require multiple hits. I find it super lame how their blocky, slow-moving missiles can block your laser beam. The animation is choppy to-the-max but the scrolling is smooth enough. There are objects lining the floor but you can't destroy them and your enemies don't seem to be taking an interest in them. Advanced waves introduce new some enemies but the game never gets any harder - only choppier! If you just take your time there's no challenge as all. As a result you'll end up shutting off Sea Devil before your game ends out of sheer boredom. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 86,150
1 player 

Sea Wolf/Missile
Grade: C
Publisher: Bally (1981)
Reviewed: 2014/4/6

screenshotAtari fans will recognize this two-in-one cartridge as the Astrocade equivalent of Air-Sea Battle (Atari 2600, 1978). In the Sea Wolf variation two players move submarines along the bottom of the screen, firing torpedoes at ships patrolling above. The huge tankers are sitting ducks, but those little speed boats are tough to hit. The ships are painted pink and yellow, which ruins the otherwise perfect illusion of a realistic simulation. At first I thought I was supposed to shoot the "other" color, but apparently color doesn't make a difference. Sea Wolf has a few cool features to spice up the derivative action. You can fire two shots at a time, and after depleting your ammo your shooting is briefly suspended during a reload phase. In addition, a layer of mines lines the center of the screen which can block your shots. The Missile variation is a bit more exciting. In this one you fire at airplanes flying overhead, but you can only move your cannon across your half of the screen. This seems limiting until you realize you can guide your missiles. The head-to-head action is pretty competitive, especially when you and a friend are both zeroing in on the same small plane. Before each game you enter the duration in seconds, and I'd recommend 111 because it's easy to type and keeps the matches short. There's nothing spectacular about Sea Wolf/Missile, but it has just enough bells and whistles to keep things interesting. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Missile 111sec
Our high score: 660
1 or 2 players 

Sneaky Snake
Grade: C
Publisher: New Image (1983)
Reviewed: 2020/6/16

screenshotI was expecting Sneaky Snake to be some kind of lame version of Surround (Atari 2600, 1977), but it turned out to be a full-fledged Centipede (Atari 2600, 1982) clone! That's pretty ambitious for a home brew. You move your little joystick-shaped cannon around the bottom of the screen, rapidly firing through a field of mushrooms at a "snake" that divides and slithers its way to the bottom. The animation is smooth and the controls feel responsive. The screen does become littered with pixelated artifacts as you clear away mushrooms, and like the mushrooms themselves these fragments are deadly to touch. The spider which was such a menace in the arcade is pretty tame here, moving slowly and always emerging from the same spot. The points you score for hitting him are displayed in the lower left of the screen, which is a nice touch. Eliminating the snake causes the game to freeze for a second or two as it "resets" for the next wave. Each wave has a new color scheme, adding a sense of progression. At first Sneaky Snake runs disappointingly slow, but the pace picks up quickly. Unfortunately the difficulty does not, and it feels like the faster snakes are actually easier to clear. It's hard to live up to a legendary game like Centipede, but Sneaky Snake gets credit for trying. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 16,693

Soccer
Grade: A

screenshotJust when I thought I had reviewed all the best Astrocade games I stumble upon the modestly-titled Soccer on my multicart. Wowowow. This is one stunning game with no less than fourteen tiny multicolored players scurrying around a well-manicured green field. The game is fast and easy to play. Each team moves in unison but the players gradually disperse as the action unfolds. I just love how you can turn the knob on the controller to "aim" your passes and shots. It's a feature no other console, classic or otherwise, could provide. The ball changes possession whenever a player passes over it, so it can be hard to tell who has it at times. Still, with enough practice you can methodically pass it down the field. Score a goal and some truly raucous crowd noise kicks in, albeit briefly. Soccer is also jam-packed with features. You can customize the controls, disable out-of-bounds (yes please), and select between four CPU skill levels. There's even a shootout mode. I played this game with my buddy Brent and we had a blast. Soccer has a level of sophistication you don't expect from a vintage title, with the excellent gameplay to back it up. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Solar Conqueror
Grade: B-
Publisher: Astrocade (1981)
Reviewed: 2012/5/9

screenshotRare games have a propensity to suck, but Solar Conqueror is a surprisingly satisfying space shooter. The action takes place on a single screen, and I don't think I'd be out of line comparing this to Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600, 1982). The screen is arranged with a planet surface on the right side that launches missiles from its center. In addition to shooting these down, you'll contend with kamikaze ships, asteroids, and satellites that deploy deadly electrical fields. The electrical field effect looks pretty awesome. Your ship controls like the one in Asteroids, allowing you to thrust and drift while unleashing a rapid-fire stream of shots. The instructions refer to this maneuver as "the SLIPPER". You can fire in eight directions but your ship doesn't seem to want to remain in the diagonal position for some reason. What's most appealing about Solar Conqueror is the fast, non-stop action. As the waves progress more and more missiles are unleashed, some of which fire their own missiles! Since you can't fly off the screen you may find yourself in some cramped quarters, but that just adds to the challenge. Four people can play, but only by taking turns. I find it amusing how the game adds a lot of unnecessary stuff to make itself seem more sophisticated. After every few waves a "hyperspace" effect is used to simulate travel to the next star system. This hokey display of giant pixels and grating sound effects can thankfully be skipped with the push of a button. The game displays a long string of numbers and symbols across the top of the screen, which are needlessly confusing. Most of them are totally inconsequential, but in a way they just add to the game's charm. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3 ships
Our high score: 3,030
1 to 4 players 

Space Fortress
Grade: D-
Publisher: Astrovision (1981)
Reviewed: 2011/4/7

screenshotSpace Fortress is similar to Cosmic Ark (Atari 2600, 1982), but much less refined. And when you're making a lackluster shooter like Cosmic Ark look good, you've really missed the mark! Space Fortress puts you in control of an oriental rug jettisoned into deep space by the human race because it was so [expletive] ugly. You defend yourself from attack using four cannons and fortunately for you, the aliens always approach in your direct line of fire! Dumb-asses. I just hope these guys never wise up and learn to attack diagonally, or we're toast! There's not a lot of variety in Space Fortress, and as far as I can tell, zero strategy. The game is really only playable at its highest difficulty, which I will admit does pose a serious challenge. You fire a single shot by simply pushing the joystick in whatever direction, which works fine - until the pace picks up. Then the game becomes a major wrist-buster, prompting my friend Scott to proclaim it "even worse than Summer Games!" When your fortress is finally destroyed, you're subjected to one of the most gratuitous explosion sequences ever witnessed in a video game. Pixelated lines spring forth from your rug for a good 15 seconds, transforming the screen into an ugly mess. It's like the bastard son of that mother ship explosion in Gorf. Scott speculated that this elaborate effect was actually programmed first, leaving about 37 bytes for the remainder of the game. If nothing else, Space Fortress is one of the more mock-worthy titles in my collection. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 1 base level 9
Our high score: 3,300
1 player 

Star Battle
Grade: F-
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Reviewed: 2009/6/13

screenshotI've seen a lot of games try to recreate the dramatic Death Star trench battle from the first Star Wars film, but this has got to be the sorriest of the bunch. Programming the illusion of moving through a trench is surprisingly easy - you just render a static trench with several sections, and then cycle the section colors. But no matter how effective the illusion, it's pretty pointless without some solid gameplay to back it up. Star Battle is sorely lacking in this regard! You control (and I use the term loosely) an X positioned near the bottom of the screen. At first I thought it was a cross-hair, but it eventually dawned on me that it's supposed to represent an X-Wing fighter! Pressing the fire button lets you fire at the Tie Fighter meandering near the top of the trench. Your X-Wing bounces around on its own accord, so you really need to wrestle with it and it's impossible to shoot with any precision. The Tie Fighter returns fire, and the winner is the first side to reach a pre-determined score. A two-player mode allows a second human to control the tie fighter, but why drag someone else into this mess? Star Battle is so astoundingly bad, you may find yourself looking around and asking, "Is this supposed to be a joke? Okay guys, you can come out now!" © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Tornado Baseball, Tennis, Hockey, and Handball
Grade: C-
Publisher: Bally (1977)
Reviewed: 2009/2/18

screenshotThis collection of simplistic, two-player Pong-style games uses "paddle" controls, and thankfully the excellent Astrocade joysticks double as paddles! Typically Pong games have you moving rectangular sticks up and down, but in this game you move stick figures! But there's more to it than that. Tornado takes Pong to the next level by adding the ability to move your player sideways (using the joystick), in addition to up and down. In Tennis (grade: B-) this effectively gives you the ability to "play the net", adding a new dimension to its otherwise standard gameplay. In Handball (F), players take turns hitting the ball against the same wall, but that's just confusing and pointless. In Hockey (C-) you move two characters at once, and can move your forward player sideways. This has loads of potential, but that crazy "puck" just bounces randomly all over the place, and more often than not your forward deflects the puck away from the goal! You just end up playing defense and hoping the puck will accidentally ricochet into your opponent's goal. And playing to 21 points is a hardship. Baseball (C-) is the real oddball here. At first glance, it looks like a throwaway title. You basically just pitch and swing, with the CPU automatically handling the fielding duties. Despite its shallow nature, you have to love how this game moves lighting-fast! Heck, you can play an entire 9-inning game in under five minutes! If only Bud Selig would incorporate "Astrocade rules" into Major League Baseball, I might start watching again! Tornado's audio is sparse, its options are limited, and you'll need a friend to play it. As my friend Scott put it: "It's not bad, but it's certainly not good!" © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

2 players 

Treasure Cove
Grade: B
Publisher: Esoterica (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/6/19

screenshotThe third-party title boasts one of the best title screens you'll see in a classic game (granted, there's not much competition). It features a huge sunken pirate ship surrounded by fish, a shark, and an octopus. Treasure is scattered over the sea floor, and a submarine lurks in the background. A series of harmonized tunes play over and over, and most have a nice swashbuckling vibe. The game itself isn't bad either! Treasure Cove puts you in control of a diver who must fetch coins from the sea floor and return them to a boat on the surface. In the process you must avoid touching the multi-colored fish, turtles, octopus, crabs, and sea horses that swim across the screen. Each stage introduces a new form of aquatic life, and there are over 20 in all! It's fun to see what each new round has in store, but I find it odd how even the tiniest fish are fatal to touch. Beware of the deadly sea guppy! There's also a funny looking blue fish with a long nose that my friends affectionately refer to as a sea elephant. Your diver moves slowly and has limited oxygen, but you can pick up the pace by holding in the fire button. Treasure Cove's gameplay is simplistic but encourages a degree of risk-taking. Be sure to stay near the middle of the screen, because new fish will suddenly appear a good inch or two away from the edge of the screen. Treasure Cove's colorful graphics features a blue sky and a green sea, with objects so detailed you can even make out your diver's scuba gear! The game moves along at a leisurely pace, but it's not a bad way to cool off during the summer. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3 lives
Our high score: 3,919
1 to 4 players 

War
Grade: A
Publisher: Riff Raff Games (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/6/12

screenshotThis limited edition, second-run Warlords clone is pretty remarkable. Lacking only in the originality department, this is actually superior to Warlords (Atari 2600, 1977) in a number of ways. The Astrocade controllers have built-in analog control, and the fact that the system supports four controllers makes it ideal for medieval destruction. War is designed for four players, but the CPU will happily fill in for missing players. Each player assumes the form of the crown (or mask) in each corner surrounded by a wall. A nicely-rendered red dragon kicks off each round by unleashing a fireball from the center of the screen. You can either deflect the fireball or hold in the button to catch it. While it's in your possession you temporarily acquire some sort of STD that burns away at your castle wall. You can't hurl fireballs at other players as fast as you can in Warlords, which makes it a little harder to pick on your neighbor. That becomes less of a factor however as additional fireballs gradually enter the fray. Chaos reigns supreme and seeing all those balls bouncing around is downright mesmerizing! War is a tough game, but it's fun as hell. Heck, I even enjoyed playing it solo. One thing I would change is that the number next to each castle reflects the player number (1-4) instead of his current win total (only shown between rounds). It's easy to nit-pick, but it's hard to argue that War is one of those amazing homebrews that far exceeds anything originally produced for the system. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Zzzap and Dodgem
Grade: F
Publisher: Bally (1978)
Reviewed: 2009/6/13

screenshotSloppy, boring, and with a ridiculous name to boot, Zzzap and Dodgem represents some of the worst of what the Astrocade has to offer. These two driving games look more like half-finished projects than legitimate games. The object in both is to travel the furthest distance within a time limit (configurable up to 99 seconds). Zzzap is a first-person driving game that plays like Night Driver (Atari 2600, 1980) but without the challenge and fun. You steer a huge box between a narrow set of moving posts. Steering is no problem using the controller knob, and if you have any driving skill whatsoever you'll complete each run at full speed without incident. Should you hit a post the words "BANG!" or "ZORK!" inexplicably display across the screen. Why is this even called Zzzap?? Dodgem is the second game, and it's a lame overhead driving game along the lines of Street Racer (Atari 2600, 1978). You steer your small car up a roadway while avoiding red cars that bounce off the guardrails. The steering is not particularly responsive and the collision detection stinks. This cartridge was obviously an early entry in the Astrocade's short lifecycle, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 99 sec
Our high score: 571
1 player 


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