Bally Astrocade Reviews T-Z

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.

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