Another unusual element is how you can run out of bullets, and must replenish your supply by picking up gun icons that appear periodically. The spiders will paralyze you and the blobs steal your ammo, so it's a good idea to blast everything in sight. Dark Cavern's graphics are plain but smoothly animated and relatively flicker-free. The game's one fault is that it's too generous with extra lives. You start with five and earn additional lives on a regular basis. That reduces the challenge, but Dark Cavern is still well worth playing. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
The action unfolds in slow-motion and there's only one or two enemies on the screen at a time. The fact that every room looks the same makes it very easy to go in circles. Monsters include skeletons, wizards, and doctors wearing scrubs. Oh, those are zombies. When shot, each creature transforms into a lower form, so multiple shots are required to kill anything.
Since you can only fire one shot at a time it takes forever to kill something from a distance. Move in close however and you unleash some kind of rapid-fire action to wear them down quickly. The animation is smooth and I like how you can fire diagonally. Unfortunately Dark Chambers never generates suspense or excitement. Weapon upgrades are never lost once acquired, so the difficulty actually drops as you progress. There are smart bombs, but what fun is that when you can only kill two creatures at most?
The challenge is low even on the hardest difficulty. The monsters move like snails so the only danger lies when you enter a room and there's one standing next to you. I got so tired of dragging that elf's schlumpy ass from one side of the screen to the next, I couldn't stand it! And if you thought the single-player mode was a dull affair, the two-player simultaneous mode is nothing less than excruciating. I'm starting to think Dark Chambers was never meant to be the title of this game, but perhaps a storage suggestion. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Dark Mage is primitive but certainly playable. The text is large, minimal, and easy-to-read despite its ugly yellow-on-red color scheme. Well-designed controls allow you to move in four directions, talk, take, give items, use items, and check your inventory. Once you get a feel for it, you can quickly move from one area to another. Like all text adventures, the main idea is to collect items and use them to unlock new areas.
There's plenty of trial and error involved, so expect to see this message a lot: "You can't do that here". It doesn't help that some of the puzzles don't make much sense (using a small dog to subdue an ogre? huh?) You'll also soon realize that it's necessary to map your progress on paper to keep from getting lost. Despite its obvious flaws, I found myself mysteriously drawn into this little adventure. Just the fact that it runs on the 2600 has got to be worth something. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
The generators have "health" meters so you can see how much damage you've inflicted. When you hit a generator a white block is created that moves across the screen and can absorb your shots. As more criss-crossing blocks are created, it becomes difficult for your slow-moving torpedos to get through. But there's a twist. By holding in the fire button you steer your missiles. Not only can you skillfully snake your way through the moving blocks, but you can speed up your missiles as well. Sadly, this mechanic is undermined by some seriously mediocre collision detection. You might be able to weave through wide gaps in the early going, but once the blocks become dense a fire-and-forget strategy seems to work best.
Once you think you have the upper hand a shield slowly moves up from the bottom of the screen, seriously cramping your style. At this point the game gets intense and the color-cycling is mesmerizing. Will you be able to take out that last generator before getting crushed? If you do, there's a cool power-down sound effect and your final score is displayed. Three skill levels are available, but anything other than easy is impossible. Deathtrap isn't a standout title but it's at least good enough to make you want to beat it. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
The events include the 100m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m race, 110m hurdle, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m race. Your smoothly-animated athlete is rendered in four colors, but for some reason the coliseum is only packing about 18 spectators. Only one player competes in each event at a time. Each requires a good bit of joystick jiggling, and the action can get pretty intense. Unfortunately, there's too much emphasis on running, and these events nearly ruin the game.
The 100-meter dash is tolerable, but the 400-meter race will have you jerking your wrist back and forth for a full minute! The final event is a 1500-meter race, and it is sheer torture! Another problem is that in most events each player gets far too many "tries", which is aggravating for the other players. One nice feature is how you can pick and choose individual events to customize your tournament. Overall, Decathlon is a fine choice for some spirited multiplayer action. It's the only Atari 2600 game that's ever made me break into a sweat! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
At a glance the game itself doesn't look bad either, with blue buildings lining the planet which arguably look better than the angular red hills of the original. All the elements of the arcade were retained including alien landers who abduct tiny squares - I mean humans - from the surface. If they carry a square/human to the top of the screen that poor bastard is transformed into a mindless mutant. However if you can shoot the lander on the way up and catch the blinking square - umm... human - you can rack up big points.
What's remarkable about this game is how the developer managed to shoehorn one of the most complicated control panels in history into a one-button joystick! Granted, a few liberties had to be taken. To use a smart bomb (which incinerates all on-screen enemies) you have to duck below the city skyline and press the fire button. To initiate hyperspace you move above the upper boundary and hit the button. I think that's pretty clever.
The graphics however are another story. Apparently the programmer couldn't figure out how to display your ship and its streaming shots at the same time, so when you fire your ship disappears! Maybe he should have taken some tips from the programmer of Chopper Command (Activision, 1982)? Tap fast enough and you're practically invincible! It may not be enough to save you from a swarm of aliens, but it's quite common to witness an enemy missile pass harmlessly through the area where your ship should have been. The graphics also suffer from a major case of flicker-itis, rough scrolling, and erratic alien movement.
Defender is the game everybody had but nobody loved. When you consider how Atari's Pac-Man (Atari, 1982) was lambasted by critics, it's remarkable this cartridge emerged unscathed. Far better ports of the game are available for the Colecovision and Atari 5200. Defender is sloppy but all things considered, not terrible. Atari did eventually rectify the situation with a sequel called Stargate (Atari, 1984), but by then it was a little late. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
While your adversaries are fast and relentless, you can eliminate them by ramming them from behind. This is easier to accomplish by pressing the "overdrive" button, which consumes more fuel but makes you an instant speed demon. Eliminating the other vehicles early in each stage will make your life easier, but they don't go without a fight.
Their movements are wild and unpredictable, and they can abruptly change direction at each intersection. When you do nail one from behind, the vehicle will bounce around the screen for a while, sometimes causing chain reactions (nice). Herby is undeniably challenging and even the first stage is no cakewalk. The graphics and sound are mediocre at best, but Demolition Herby encourages you to be reckless and take chances, and I like that. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Demon Attack's controls are responsive and your shots travel fast. Some interesting game variations include guided "tracer" shots and a two-player simultaneous mode. With two players, control of a single cannon is periodically alternated between both players - an original feature whose time never came. While Demon Attack's graphics and sound aren't overly impressive, each wave sports a different set of aliens, and I like how they gyrate in a freaky manner. On a final note, Demon Attack's label has a picture of a spray-painted rubber dinosaur which I remember owning as a kid. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
The skulls are meant to provide a strategic element, since creating one closer to your opponent places him in more danger. The shooting controls are unique in that the longer you hold down the button, the further your laser beam travels. It sounds promising, but Demons to Diamond's gameplay is surprisingly lame and its graphics are blocky and unimpressive. Even with two-players, the game was never the fast and furious shootout I was hoping for. When all is said and done, this is one of those games you'll forget about five minutes after playing it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Your pixelated bird flaps smoothly but never gains much altitude. Enemies are pixelated blobs and it's so hard to gauge their position that when you shoot one it feels like an accident. Desert Falcon is just poorly designed from the ground up. Random missiles are constantly being fired from off-screen. Landing to pick up symbols brings the action to a screeching halt, and touching any pyramid makes you keel over dead.
Only specific combinations of symbols will grant you powers, which is confusing. Sometimes you'll respawn directly on an obelisk, costing you another life. The sphinx boss looks impressive but the game places you in an awkward spot where you can't properly line up to shoot it! Desert Falcon's exotic musical score isn't bad, but it comes with a video game, and that is quite bad. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Dig Dug stars a little dude in a white outfit tunneling through the ground to rid each stage of round orange creatures with goggles and cute fire-breathing dragons. You eliminate enemies by pumping them with air until they pop or by dropping rocks on their heads. It's good strategy to pump them up a little to delay their progress and time it so several can be crushed by the same rock. Come to think about it, this game is brutally violent.
As you might expect the graphics are less detailed than the arcade. The dirt is lacking the granular quality and the perfectly square boulders look cheesy. That said, the game retains all the distinctive monster behaviors and exciting risk-versus-reward strategy. Even the music is faithful to the arcade! Whoever programmed this really knew what they were doing.
Here are some helpful hints for new players. When the veggie like a carrot or eggplant appears in the center of the screen, immediately go after it! Those are worth crazy points. Next, if you're not going to catch that last monster fleeing the screen try to dig some extra dirt because every chunk nets you 10 points. Finally, when you start each stage look for "easy kills" in the form of obvious boulder drops. Take what they give you! Dig Dug is greater than the sum of its parts and knowledgeable players will devise all sorts of fun techniques. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Dishaster is an exercise in multitasking. The plates slow at different rates, and you need to move quickly to prevent them from crashing down. After four plates drop the game is over. The first two variations are endless, but the third offers just enough challenge. I noticed you can hold in the button the entire time, adding a little spin to each pole you pass by. I'm pretty sure there are other strategies you can employ to maximize your score. For example, letting plates on some poles drop so you can focus on others. Repetitive circus music plays throughout the game. This game may be Dishaster but I wouldn't call it a complete disaster. Note: Also released under the name Dancing Plate. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
You drive a little car around a screen consisting of four concentric circles with four intersections. The object is to clear the lanes of dots while avoiding "crash cars" driving in the opposite direction. You hold the fire button to accelerate and use the joystick to change one or two lanes (depending on your speed). Those relentless crash cars never miss an opportunity to ram you, forcing you to think ahead and anticipate their movements.
Expect a lot of sudden lane changes and near-misses (or should that be near-hits?). It's a good thing you can pause between rounds to catch your breath! Dodge 'Em is surprisingly challenging and addictive, and you'll find yourself hitting reset again and again. A two-player mode lets a friend control the crash car. Dodge 'Em is more than the sum of its parts. It has to be, right? © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
As the screen scrolls, approaching sea horses form walls that serve as obstacles. Each wall has a gap however, and by using the game's sound cues you can position your dolphin to swim right through the gaps without slowing down. This is the only 2600 game I'm aware of where the audio plays such a critical role.
Occasionally "currents" (which look like arrows) cross the screen to slow you down or give you a boost. In addition, if you leap out of the water and catch the magic seagull, your dolphin can turn the tables and chase down that rotten squid. Once you catch that ugly S.O.B., you'll rack up some real points. I can certainly appreciate Dolphin's fine graphics and original concepts, but the game does tend to wear thin after a few plays. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Each screen offers a new set of dangers like rocks, bogs, whirlpools, and flying fish. One even features Donald's three nephews floating in the water. Your boat moves slowly but holding in the button provides a boost, allowing you to rack up points. There's not much to see except green mountains in the distance reflected off the water.
After reaching the finish your nephews march onto the screen with a gold, silver, or bronze trophy based on your score. With a sharp title screen and multiple endings, Donald Duck's Speedboat is pretty much a complete game. It's repetitive and shallow however, especially with the longer courses repeating the same sections over and over. This would have been a questionable release, but there's a certain appeal to the game's innocent charm. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Kong looks awfully blocky, but I like how he pounds his chest when you change directions. The best looking thing in this entire game is that blonde-haired chick in the blue dress. Despite its meager graphics, the game is still fun thanks to responsive controls and clean, flicker-free graphics.
The sound effects are sparse, and since there's no music when you grab the hammer, it's hard to predict when it will disappear. Since you can only smash one fireball on the second screen, it's hardly worth the effort. The game only has one skill level, which is pretty lame. Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 is competently programmed and enjoyable to play but I wish its programmer had been a little more ambitious. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
In addition, the jumping controls royally suck and the butt-ugly orange color scheme is unattractive. The second screen features three keys (compared to eight in the arcade version) that must be pushed to the top of the screen in order to open Donkey Kong's cage. In addition to wandering teeth, you must also contend with a yellow bird that flies sideways across the screen. This screen's fairly easy, but it ends with a sorry sight. The released Donkey Kong looks pathetic! His head is perfectly square!
The final screen is reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, challenging you to traverse a tall steel structure. It's hard, but not in a good way. Frustration will set in almost immediately as your limited movements make you easy prey for the wandering teeth. There are few audio effects to speak of, but the "climbing" sound has a screeching quality that's irritating. Despite having three screens, Donkey Kong Jr. is a lukewarm effort that fails to live up to the arcade classic. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
The opening scene doesn't look so bad with its colorful garage backdrop and multicolored characters. The controls are reasonable considering you only have a single button to work with. You can punch, kick, throw an elbow, or perform a jump kick without the benefit of a running start. But the fighting action is a joke. These tiny sprites have no range! Your punch extends your arm by one pixel and the kick isn't much better.
The collision detection is so horrendous you need to look at your score to tell if a punch landed. The jump kick is the only effective move, mainly because it keeps you at a safe distance. Linger anywhere near a thug and you'll sustain multiple hits as you struggle to escape. The opening screen says "Mission 1", suggesting there are multiple levels, but getting past the second screen requires extraordinary perseverance.
The two-player simultaneous mode limits each player to the upper or lower plane, so there's no teaming up. The looping "music" that plays throughout is just mind-numbing. Double Dragon is a throwaway title. It comes off as the kind of game somebody would program on a dare, yet Activision shipped it anyway! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Speaking of shots, you press the button once to go up for a shot, and a second time to release the ball. Forget that second press and you'll be called for a travel. When playing against the CPU the pace is pretty hectic. There are a lot of steals and it's hard to tell who has the ball. The "dunks" are pretty modest and it's easy to accidentally go flying out of bounds when trying to perform one.
With enough patience Double Dunk can be surprisingly competitive. You get a full set of customization options including uniforms. From the color schemes it appears you can be the Pistons, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Trailblazers, or the all-yellow Lakers. The colorful players are different heights and smoothly animated. It's fun to fight for rebounds but don't forget to clear the ball before taking a shot. When playing the CPU I found myself getting a little better each time, gradually narrowing his margin of victory.
After each game you're presented with a statistical breakout of points, rebounds, blocks, and dunks. You might even find yourself on the receiving end of some trash talk displayed on the screen like "in yo face!" It may not seem so great at first but stick with it and you'll find Double Dunk to be a pretty tight little basketball game. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
Once inside the castle you're tucked away in a protective little box in the lower right. Dazzling treasure is strewn about the screen. Rendered in high-resolution, items include pots, chalices, candelabras, genie lamps, helmets, harps, crowns, and sparkling diamonds. The graphics look so amazing my friend Brent had to be reassured he was in fact playing an Atari 2600 game. The idea is to snag all the treasure, causing an escape door to appear on the right. A dragon prowls across the bottom and can unleash fireballs in a rapid-fire manner. The fact that smoke is emanating from his snout shows the programmer went far beyond the call of duty.
You won't find another version of the game as fast as this as you zig-zag across each room, occasionally ducking for cover. You'd expect a game like Dragonfire to get repetitive but it doesn't. Each castle offers a gorgeous new color scheme, each dragon is a different color as well. The difficulty ramps quickly. Don't make the mistake of holding the joystick left after entering the castle or you'll immediately dash into danger. A few of my newbie friends got burned doing that. With its vibrant colors, eye candy, and frantic action, Dragonfire is one for the history books. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
After a brief tape load the second stage kicks in. Here your goal is to purchase items and recruit help for slaying the dragon. The final stage places you in the dragon's lair for the big showdown. Dragonstomper's graphics are high resolution and meticulously drawn. To be honest, I've never seen the actual dragon, but I'm sure he looks impressive. This is a respectable RPG game, and that's no small feat for the 2600. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
After an initial countdown you quickly shift and accelerate your way through about six to nine seconds of racing hysteria. Your vehicle's motor growls, sputters, and grinds gears as it slowly moves to the right while popping the occasional wheelie. Dragster is habit-performing if only because it's so damn hard. Accelerate too fast and you'll blow the engine.
Beginners will see the word "BLOWN" over and over, requiring them to keep hitting reset. You could argue the reset switch is the primary button for this game! Once you get a feel for it, playing Dragster feels like playing a musical instrument. And if you manage to post a time under seven seconds, you can die a happy man. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Each stage has a different layout, but your goal is always to collect colored eggs and use them to open like-colored doors. Your main adversaries are giant rampaging ducks, and these are clearly a nod to the dragons in Adventure (who looked like ducks). You'll also need to avoid bees, tanks, arrows, and snakes. Duck Attack has considerable depth, but its ubiquitous objects and arbitrary rules are a little mind-boggling!
There's a shield, a magnet, a flashlight, and a "zapper" used to subdue the ducks. There are six types of balloons (not to be confused with eggs), which provide bonus points or special powers. There are warps that let you skip levels and "recharging stations" that I never fully understood. The designer threw everything in but the kitchen sink, but more isn't always better. The maze layouts are confusing, and more often than not I felt as if I had completed a level by accident. The huge objects crowd the screen and make things hard to manipulate.
A little restraint would have been nice, but I will credit Duck Attack for the sense of discovery it conveys. There are surprises at every turn, especially when you find yourself walking through screens lifted directly from Video Pinball, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dodge-Em, Berzerk, and yes, Adventure. It's like having an out-of-cartridge experience!
The programmer's appreciation for the classics shines through, and I appreciate how he went the extra mile to support the AtariVox attachment (to record high scores). The game's cover art is amazing and the manual is first-rate. Duck Attack takes a while to warm up to, and to be frank, the game is a little obnoxious. But if you're looking for a fresh new adventure that's chock full of surprises, you'll relish the crazy world of Duck Attack. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Some balloons carry bombs that you'll want to shoot before they reach the top. Periodically a clown rises on a balloon, and shooting the balloon and catching the clown is worth big points. If the clown makes it to the top, he'll appear on a unicycle and drop junk on you. What's up with that? The "roof" gradually lowers as the game progresses, making things tighter and allowing less room for error. Dumbo is not especially fun.
Catching and shooting balloons is difficult but rescuing clowns is easy and repetitive. I do like how the clowns change in appearance from wave to wave. Dumbo has some advanced features like a bonus round where you try to catch a cute, bouncing mouse. There are also intermissions, but these appear to be unfinished. As it is, I'd probably give Dumbo's Flying Circus a C-. It's a fascinating prototype, but it could have used a lot more fine tuning. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
The animation is minimal, but the modest graphics do a fair job of getting their point across. The monsters are pixelated as hell, but it's fun to see how well they can be rendered with so few pixels. Pretty well, as it turns out! The skeletons, phantoms, zombies, and the black knight all look very colorful and distinctive.
During combat you have the option of casting heal, lightning, and "stop time" spells which add some strategy. Normal attacks are based on probabilities, and you'll see graphics like "miss" or "-3" to indicate incurred damage. The bottom of the screen displays your spell points, hit points, and current dungeon level.
Dungeon also offers fun things to discover like chests with combination locks, a sword stuck in a stone, a lost princess, a hidden cave, and even the Holy Grail. Atari 2600 fans with an eye for Easter Eggs will enjoy uncovering the game's mysteries. There's no score, but just trying to reach the end is enough of a challenge. When I bought this game from AtariAge, I also ordered the map/poster, and I'm glad I did. You may have to moderate your expectations, but taken for what it is, Dungeon is a very captivating little adventure. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age