system Index D-E
Dark Cavern
Grade: C+
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Reviewed: 2005/1/26

screenshotLike a futuristic Wizard of Wor, Dark Cavern places you in a maze crawling with spiders, blobs, and shooting robots. In fact there are two types of robots: "normal" robots you can sneak up behind, and "two-headed" robots that can always see you coming. Dark Cavern boasts a level of intensity rarely seen in a 2600 maze game. The robots can shoot even after they're shot, forcing you to take a "shoot and duck around the corner" strategy.

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.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 58,000
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Wizard of Wor (Atari 2600)
Wizard of Wor (Atari 5200)
Deadly Duck (Atari 2600)
Night Stalker (Intellivision)
Incredible Wizard, The (Bally Astrocade)

Dark Chambers
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Reviewed: 2020/7/7

screenshotI guess Atari wanted to get in on some Gauntlet (NES, 1987) action on the 2600 and this was the best they could do. Dark Chambers is a "dungeon crawler" in the truest sense of the word. A dorky red elf slowly trudges through mazes while collecting loot, shooting monsters, and looking for the exit. The levels are labeled A-Z, and they are boring as hell.

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.

Recommended variation: Hard
Our high score: 44,680
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Dark Chambers (Atari 7800)
Swords and Serpents (Intellivision)
Mr. Do! (Atari 2600)
Skeleton+ (Atari 2600)
Berzerk (Atari 2600)

Dark Mage
Grade: C+
Publisher: Greg Troutman (1997)
Reviewed: 2002/2/26

screenshotWhat's this? A text adventure for the 2600?! Okay, now we're talking some hardcore old-school gaming!! It's been quite a while since I've played anything like this, so Dark Mage brought back a lot of fond memories. Text adventures were originally made famous by a little company called Infocom in the early 80's, with their classic home computer titles like Zork, Enchanter, and Hitchhiker's Guides to the Galaxy.

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.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)
Boulderdash (NES)
Questprobe featuring The Hulk (Atari XEGS)
Transylvania (Atari XEGS)
Dragonstomper (Atari 2600)

Deadly Duck
Grade: D
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Reviewed: 2000/2/29

screenshotDeadly Duck is not as bad as its name would indicate, but it's close. You move a duck across the bottom of the screen while shooting at bomb-dropping crabs. Now there's something you don't see everyday! Adding to the challenge is a barricade of dragonflies that block your shots and drop bombs of their own. As you're probably coming to realize, this is just a generic shooter with wacky graphics. The weird, colorful visuals are entertaining, but the sound is even better. When you fire a shot, your duck actually makes a "quack" sound! But despite all of the novelty, Deadly Duck's gameplay is mediocre at best. Half of your shots are absorbed by those annoying dragonflies, and it's hard to really aim at anything. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 1150
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Vaboom (Vectrex)
Nova Blast (Colecovision)
Astro Battle (Bally Astrocade)
Cross Force (Atari 2600)
Bomb Jack (Sega SG-1000)

Death Trap
Grade: C-
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1983)
Reviewed: 2015/5/27

screenshotDeath Trap reminds me of modern shooters like Chaos Field (GameCube, 2006) that consist solely of boss battles. In retrospect that concept can be traced all the way back to Yars' Revenge (Atari, 1982). There are plenty of similarities between these two games. It seems slow and tedious at first, but Death Trap ultimately manages to generate some excitement and suspense. You move your ship around the lower half of the screen, firing at two generators on top. The generators launch heating-seek missiles to keep you on your toes, but they'll sail right by if you just hold right or left.

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.

Recommended variation: square
Our high score: 32,381
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Sneaky Snake (Bally Astrocade)
Chaos Field (GameCube)
Meteos (Nintendo DS)
Star Castle (Vectrex)
Victory (Colecovision)

Grade: B-
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/2/7

screenshotMy initial review of Decathlon was fairly scathing, probably because I broke a joystick just trying to review the [expletive] thing! But eventually it dawned on me that Decathlon is really the precursor to all of those button-tapping track and field games we all have grown to love (or hate) so much. Moreover, the fact that it packs in ten events and supports up to four players is also noteworthy.

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.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Decathlon (Atari 5200)
International Track and Field (Playstation)
Track and Field (NES)
Virtua Athlete (Dreamcast)
Track & Field (Atari 2600)

Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/7/14

screenshotThis is the game everybody had but nobody loved. In the arcade, Defender was a huge hit, distinguished by its horizontal scrolling, complicated control scheme, and ultra-high difficulty level. This sloppy Atari 2600 adaptation retains the same basic features, but its graphics and gameplay aren't even in the same ballpark as the original. Considering how Atari's Pac-Man was lambasted by critics, it's amazing how this cartridge emerged relatively unscathed.

Defender has a lot of issues, but my main beef is how your ship disappears (blinks) whenever you fire. If you fire fast enough on the trigger, you're practically invincible! Apparently the programmer couldn't figure out how to display both the ship and its laser fire on the screen at the same time! Maybe he should have gotten some tips from Chopper Command's programmer.

Defender's collision detection is poor and the alien movements are erratic to say the least. They flicker horribly, and often appear from out of nowhere - sometimes on top of your ship! The smart bomb and hyperspace controls are initiated by pressing the fire button after moving your ship above or below the visible field of view.

Not only is this clumsy, but your ship pauses momentarily before disappearing off the screen, making you briefly susceptible to enemy fire. Atari should have used the second joystick for these functions (which they later did for Defender II - a much better game). Defender is also too easy. In the relentless arcade game, you are lucky to last for one minute, but this version offers little challenge even on the hardest setting. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 8B
Our high score: 143,750
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Defender (Atari XEGS)
Defender II (NES)
Stargate (Atari 2600)
Chopper Command (Atari 2600)
Victory (Colecovision)

Defender II
Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 1999/6/17

screenshotSee Stargate review. It's the same game. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Stargate (Atari 2600)
Defender II (NES)
Punch-Out!! (NES)
Decathlon (Atari 2600)
Dam Busters (Colecovision)

Demolition Herby
Grade: C+
Publisher: Telesys (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/2/9

screenshotObscure, hard-to-find games for the 2600 are usually lousy, but Demolition Herby proves an exception to the rule. At first glance, Herby looks like a dull Amidar clone, with its large grid and small vehicles moving along the edges. Controlling a green Volkswagen pursued by three tractors and trucks, the screen scrolls up and down as you attempt to cordon off all the squares and clear the level. You also need to maintain your fuel supply, which is slightly replenished whenever you complete a square.

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.

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Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 3810
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Boing! (Atari 2600)
Amidar (Atari 2600)
Trip'd (3DO)
Demon Attack (Atari 2600)
Strategy X (Atari 2600)

Demon Attack
Grade: B
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/3/22

screenshotThis straight-forward shooter may lack innovation but it still delivers a good time. Demon Attack is clearly a Phoenix clone, and if you want more evidence, check out the Intellivision version which even includes the mothership stage! Demon Attack's gameplay simply involves shooting waves of alien birds that fly around overhead. The winged aliens are large, and in later waves they split into two smaller "birds" when hit. When one of the small birds is shot, its partner will then attempt to ram your cannon.

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.

Recommended variation: 7A
Our high score: 9,240
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Demon Attack (Intellivision)
Demon Attack (Odyssey 2)
Condor Attack (Atari 2600)
Space Vultures (Arcadia 2001)
Astro Battle (Bally Astrocade)

Demons To Diamonds
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/7/7

screenshotThis unconventional shooter falls flat despite some interesting features. Using the paddle controllers, you move your cannon sideways across the bottom of the screen, and in a two-player game a second cannon moves across the top. Big-mouthed "demons" slowly wander across the screen, and you score by shooting the demons that match the color of your cannon. Scoring a hit produces a white diamond that you can shoot for additional points. Hitting demons of the wrong color creates skulls that shoot rapidly in both directions.

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.

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Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 3057
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Kaboom! (Atari XEGS)
Warplock (Atari 2600)
Beamrider (Colecovision)
Piece O' Cake (Atari 2600)
Steeplechase (Atari 2600)

Desert Falcon
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2020/5/20

screenshotDesert Falcon was a playable Zaxxon (Colecovision, 1982) clone for the Atari 7800 but porting it to the 2600 version was ill-advised! This Egyptian shooter employs a 3D isometric viewpoint as you guide a giant falcon over pyramids while firing arrows and occasionally landing to collect power-ups. Did some Atari executive really think the system was up to the task? The scenery here is so abstract you need to play the Atari 7800 version just to know what you're supposed to be looking at!

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.

Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 2852
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Desert Falcon (Atari 7800)
Zaxxon (Atari 2600)
Viewpoint (Genesis)
Zaxxon Motherbase 2000 (Sega 32X)
Zaxxon (Colecovision)

Dig Dug
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2017/5/2

screenshotI knew my buddy Scott was a huge Dig Dug fan so when we started hanging out in the late 90's I'd always pop in this cartridge whenever he stopped by. Then a few months later I loaded up the arcade-perfect Dig Dug from my Namco Museum Volume 3 (PS1, 1997) and he was like "Wait, you've had this version the whole time?!" He never let me live that down. It may look a little plain, but this Atari version preserves all the moving parts and strategic complexity of the arcade. And the fact that it runs on the 2600 makes it all the more impressive.

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.

Our high score: 234,140
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Dig Dug (Atari 5200)
Dig Dug (Intellivision)
Dig Dug (Atari 7800)
Namco Museum 64 (Nintendo 64)
Dig Dug: Digging Strike (Nintendo DS)

Grade: D-
Publisher: Zimag (1983)
Reviewed: 2019/3/10

screenshotIn this vaguely circus-themed bargain bin title you attempt to keep plates spinning on ten poles (not five as pictured) for as long as you can. The cheesy name is an awkward mishmash of "dish" and "disaster", in case you haven't figured it out by now. The graphics are sparse but serviceable. I have to admit the dishes look pretty good spinning atop the poles, wobbling convincingly as they begin to slow down. You move a girl across the bottom, holding the button under each pole to spin it up.

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.

Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 10,680
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Tetris Attack (Super Nintendo)
Canyon Bomber (Atari 2600)
Sea Hawk (Atari 2600)
Deadly Duck (Atari 2600)
Frogger (Genesis)

Dodge 'Em
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1980)
Reviewed: 2013/4/28

screenshotIn the early 80's my friend Andy and I would head over to Billy's house after school for some Atari and MTV. Billy had dozens of games but Andy just wanted to play Dodge 'Em all the time. In retrospect it's quite understandable. This unassuming little maze racer demands split-second decisions and cat-like reflexes. It's perfect for people with short attention spans, since a game rarely lasts more than a minute or two.

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.

Recommended variation: 1BB
Our high score: SLN 339
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Cat Trax (Arcadia 2001)
Freeway (Atari 2600)
Route 16 (Arcadia 2001)
Speedway/Spin-Out/Crypto-Logic (Odyssey 2)
Oil's Well (Colecovision)

Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2001/6/16

screenshotIt may resemble Seaquest, but Dolphin's gameplay is much different. This is an underwater "chase" game with sharp graphics and originality to spare. You control a dolphin swimming towards the right of the screen while being chased by a giant squid. The squid has one of those big nasty eyes, and he appears to be wearing shoes for some reason.

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.

Recommended variation: 5B
Our high score: 20,700
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Off The Wall (Atari 2600)
Marine Fox (Vectrex)
Fathom (Atari 2600)
Frogger II: Threedeep! (Atari XEGS)
H.E.R.O. (Atari 2600)

Donald Duck's Speedboat
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2020/7/7

screenshotThis unreleased Disney prototype offers light aquatic fun for the whole family. It begins with Donald sitting in his boat on the left side of the screen between two buoys. Pressing the joystick right lets you move between contiguous screens while navigating perilous obstacles on your way to the finish line.

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.

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Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 93,170
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Supercross 3D (Jaguar)
Funky Fish (Atari 2600)
Deep Duck Trouble Starring Donald Duck (Game Gear)
Go Fish! (Atari 2600)
Frogger 2 (Colecovision)

Donkey Kong
Grade: B
Publisher: Coleco (1982)
Reviewed: 2008/11/18

screenshotThe Atari 2600 Donkey Kong was the object of much ridicule in its day, and I guess it was partially deserved. Compared to the fantastic Colecovision Donkey Kong, this one looks extremely modest. There are only two screens (out of four), and their designs have been simplified. The object of the first "red screen" is to climb to the top of the structure to rescue the girl. In the second "blue screen" you try to walk over eight rivets while avoiding wandering genie lamps (which are supposed to be fireballs).

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.

Our high score: SLN 79,900
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Donkey Kong Junior (Atari 2600)
Donkey Kong (Intellivision)
D2K Arcade (Intellivision)
Donkey Kong Jr. (NES)
Donkey Kong Junior (Colecovision)

Donkey Kong Junior
Grade: D+
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
Reviewed: 2005/1/26

screenshotIn a clever twist on the original game, Donkey Kong Junior reverses roles and makes Mario the bad guy while Donkey Kong plays the ape in distress. Unfortunately, this Atari 2600 version is lacking some key features. The first screen features a set of hanging vines that Junior must navigate both horizontally and vertically as chattering teeth try to knock him down. If you think this screen looks sparse compared to the arcade, it's probably because it lacks fruit. Being unable to drop fruit on enemies really takes a lot of the bite out of the fun factor.

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.

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Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 27,300
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Donkey Kong Jr. (NES)
Donkey Kong Junior (Colecovision)
Donkey Kong Junior (Intellivision)
D2K Arcade (Intellivision)
Donkey Kong 3 (NES)

Double Dragon
Grade: F-
Publisher: Activision (1989)
Reviewed: 2019/8/25

screenshotThe Atari 2600 console proved to be an exceptionally versatile machine but every console has limits. Double Dragon was a wildly popular side-scroller of the late 80's starring a pair of brothers beating up gangs of thugs on the mean streets. The game was successfully ported to most systems including the NES, but in this case I think the developers bit off more than they could chew.

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.

Our high score: 12,400
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Return of Double Dragon (Super Nintendo)
Double Dragon (NES)
Target Renegade (NES)
Double Dragon (CD) (Neo Geo)
Double Dragon (Genesis)

new Double Dunk
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atari (1989)
Reviewed: 2021/4/7

screenshotSo... the name Double Dunk. I'm pretty sure that's not a thing. Anyway this two-on-two, half-court basketball game is better than it has any right to be. On paper it looks like a lost cause. Prior to each possession the offensive player uses the joystick to enter a play such as a pick-and-roll or outside shot. Better keep that manual on hand! As each play unfolds, pressing the button might initiate a pass or shot, depending on the play.

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.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ultimate Basketball (NES)
NBA Showdown (Super Nintendo)
Jordan vs. Bird: One on One (NES)
Pat Riley Basketball (Genesis)
Tecmo Super NBA Basketball (Super Nintendo)

Grade: A
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
Reviewed: 2019/12/31

screenshotBoy do I wish I had lived during medieval times. Dragons, castles, treasure, fair maidens... what's not to like? Dragonfire captures the exuberant spirit of that carefree period of history. The game alternates between two screens. First your little squire needs to reach the castle entrance, and that's not easy because fireballs are shooting sideways out of it. In addition to jumping and ducking, the innovative controls let you hop while kneeling. I don't know how that's even possible but I do it a lot.

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.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 8,480
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Dragonfire (Colecovision)
Dragonfire (Intellivision)
Dragon Spirit: The New Legend (NES)
Crossbow (Atari 7800)
Ms. Candy Man (Bally Astrocade)

Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/12/12

screenshotYet another ambitious Starpath cassette-loading game, Dragonstomper is an RPG (!) featuring three distinct stages. In the first, you wander around a countryside fighting monsters and collecting treasure. Your character is a small white dot moving over a scrolling map, and all actions are initiated through easy-to-navigate text menus. With each encounter, you can attack, run, or use an item, but you don't participate in any live combat.

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.

Our high score: 501
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Escape From The Mindmaster (Atari 2600)
Space Ace (CD) (Jaguar)
King of Fighters 98 (CD) (Neo Geo)
Venture (Intellivision)
NBA Live 96 (Super Nintendo)

Grade: C-
Publisher: Activision (1980)
Reviewed: 2019/7/24

screenshotThis was an early effort from programmer David Crane who would go on to do great things like the ground-breaking hit Pitfall (Atari 2600, 1982). Dragster may be the shortest game you'll ever play, clocking in under 10 seconds - if that! There's not much to it. The split-screen view presents two large race cars lined up on the left.

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.

Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: BSC 6.34
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Super Pitfall (NES)
Drag Strip (Fairchild Channel F)
Fishing Derby (Atari 2600)
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (Atari 2600)
Great American Cross Country Road Race, The (Atari XEGS)

Duck Attack
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/1/9

screenshotWhen you start playing Duck Attack it doesn't take long to realize that this is really an homage to Adventure - a really weird homage to Adventure. The programmer took the Adventure formula and extrapolated it to the N-th degree, incorporating huge chunky sprites and tons of objects in a bizarre, expansive world. Instead of a square, you control a goofy-looking robot that consumes an alarming amount of real estate.

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.

Our high score: 17,800
Save mechanism: AtariVox
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Adventure Plus (Atari 2600)
D2K Arcade (Intellivision)
Killer Bees (Odyssey 2)
Roc N Rope (Colecovision)
Pac-Man Collection (Atari 7800)

Dumbo's Flying Circus (Prototype)
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/9/8

screenshotUnlike many unreleased prototypes, Dumbo's Flying Circus was discovered nearly complete. The game opens with an impressive intro screen featuring Dumbo the flying elephant illustrated in high resolution. Flying Circus combines elements of Kaboom, Joust, and Defender. You guide your pixelated elephant around the screen while collecting (or shooting) balloons that rise from the ground.

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.

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Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 3,249
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Buster Bros (CD) (Turbografx-16)
Kaboom! (Atari 2600)
Balloon Fight (NES)
P.T. Barnum's Acrobats (Odyssey 2)
Vaboom (Vectrex)

Grade: B
Publisher: AtariAge (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/1/3

screenshotMy friends hate this game, but Dungeon struck a chord with me. I really like it! It plays like a simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons as you explore narrow caves and participate in turn-based combat. Your view is limited to a square in the center of the screen showing a small portion of your current dungeon level. The levels are small, so finding your way around isn't a major issue.

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.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin (Intellivision)
Sword of Fargoal (Commodore 64)
Venture II The Abysmal Abyss (Atari 2600)
Gateway to Apshai (Colecovision)
Amityville (Odyssey 2)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2014/4/30

screenshotMy earliest memory of this game was at a mall during the 1982 holiday season. An electronics store had E.T. on display at the front of the store. Some guy was playing it, and I noticed he was getting increasingly pissed off about falling into pits. Still, when I received E.T. as an unexpected Christmas gift I was totally freaking out! The high-resolution title screen was captivating, and my sister helped convince me it was a good game ("This is a good game Dave, don't you think?") Denial can be an ugly thing.

Still, E.T. is not the complete dud people make it out to be. It incorporates many elements from the film and it's challenging. Elliott is rendered in about five colors and E.T.'s side profile looks sharp. The six screens (arranged like a cube) are far less impressive. The Washington DC screen consists of a few blocky structures and the forest screen is a green pattern. The remaining screens are dominated by gigantic pits that are hard to avoid falling into! I don't recall E.T. falling into one pit in the film, much less 20!

Your goal is to collect three phone parts, phone home, and meet your ship in the forest. Each screen is divided into zones and a symbol at the top indicates the action you can perform (teleport, call Elliott, eat candy, locate piece, scratch butt, etc.). Navigating the screens is disconcerting. When moving off the top of one, you'd expect to appear on the bottom of the next, but you'll often appear at the top instead. Or you'll walk off the side of a screen only to appear on the bottom of the next.

This makes it all the more aggravating when you enter a screen and immediately fall into a pit. When you're not languishing at the bottom of some God-forsaken hole, you're on the run from an FBI agent who wants to steal your junk and a scientist who wants to haul your wrinkly ass to some institute. A lot of times you'll see these guys just walking in place on the edge of a screen for no apparent reason. I hate how they can suddenly appear on any part of the screen, making them hard to elude. Holding in the fire button lets E.T. scurry away but inevitably you'll run directly into a pit. You can levitate out, but it's very easy to fall right back in.

The game does offer a surprise or two, like the dead flower that springs to life when you touch it. And it is satisfying to get E.T. safely home because there's a special ending screen. In the "bad" ending, Elliott has apparently buried ET alive in his backyard! So sad! E.T. is not as much bad as it is disappointing, and to say it tarnished Atari's reputation would be an understatement. Atari actually included an extra piece of paper offering hints, but it might as well have been a written apology! © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1B
Our high score: 9738
1 player 

If you like this game, try: E.T. Phone Home (Atari XEGS)
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Game Boy Advance)
Atari Video Cube (Atari 2600)
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Fixed) (Atari 2600)
Home Alone (NES)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Fixed)
Grade: D
Publisher: Recompile (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/4/30

screenshotLong the target of scorn and derision, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari, 1982) is regarded as one of the more colossal failures in video game history. For decades rumors persisted that Atari had secretly dumped tons of unsold E.T. cartridges into a New Mexico landfill, and this urban legend seems to have been substantiated during a recent excavation. Despite the game's soiled reputation (sorry), E.T. does have its defenders. I have a soft spot in my heart for those who appreciate classic games, especially games as marginal as this! One such kind-hearted soul recently took the time to "fix" the game by addressing some of its glitches and touching up the visuals.

This fascinating web page describes the project in lurid detail. It's a heck of a lot of fun to read, and actually documents the specific code changes. The author tightened up the collision detection, fixed some colors, and adjusted the difficulty. Would this effort finally earn the old game some respect? I love the passion (and programming prowess) but I'm afraid these fixes do not enhance the gameplay. In fact, they seem to make the real problems all the more glaring!

Collision detection around the pits is better, but levitating out of them is still a pain in the ass! If you're a novice player, the process can be downright exasperating! Navigating the screens is another headache. You never end up where you would logically expect when entering a new screen. Would this be so hard to fix? And I really hate the relentless frequency in which the agent and scientist pursue you. Changing E.T. from green to yellow isn't much of an improvement since he's brown in the movie. The project was a noble effort, but most people wouldn't notice the changes had they not read the web page first. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)
M.U.L.E. (NES)
Christmas Carol Vs. the Ghost of Christmas Presents (Intellivision)
Rescue Bira Bira (Atari 2600)
Bill Walsh College Football (Sega CD)

Earth Dies Screaming
Grade: D+
Publisher: Fox (1983)
Reviewed: 2000/7/3

screenshotOkay, I'll give this one extra credit for the imaginative title, but it's still marginal. Earth Dies Screaming is a first-person shooter with decent graphics but really shallow gameplay. From your cockpit, you view the earth rotating underneath you when accelerating or turning, and this makes for some excellent eye candy. Likewise, your photon torpedoes and the approaching aliens look sharp and colorful. But alas, there's not much substance to this game. You just track aliens on your radar and destroy as many as you can. It's playable, but not nearly as exciting as its title would imply. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
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Recommended variation: AA
Our high score: 23,200
1 player 

If you like this game, try: River Raid (Atari 5200)
Beamrider (Colecovision)
World Championship Soccer (Genesis)
Ms. Candy Man (Bally Astrocade)
Demon Attack (Odyssey 2)

Grade: D-
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/11/24

screenshotDespite its colorful graphics, fluid animation, tight controls, and harmonized music, Eggomania still manages to suck. It's kind of embarrassing to play, and really should be docked a letter grade for the name alone. Eggomania features rainbow-colored "bird" dropping green eggs from the top of the screen. The bird's blue head makes him look like a turkey that's been held underwater for too long! And why are the eggs green?? How hard would it have been to program white eggs?

You move a blue bear across the bottom of the screen, trying to catch the eggs in a hat. The bear looks more like a frog to me, and when you think about it, a blue frog would have made a lot more sense (blue frogs love to catch eggs in their hats!) While the game is clearly a Kaboom! (Activision, 1981) knock-off, Eggomania ups the ante with special stages that let you shoot the bird with the eggs you've collected.

The paddle controls are responsive enough, but I hate how you the game immediately halts whenever an egg passes by the rim of your hat. Any self-respecting egg-catching game deserves a decent "splatter" animation. Adding insult to injury, you're then forced to watch that damn chicken perform some hokey musical number.

You can exact your revenge in the shooting stages, but they aren't very satisfying at all. I would have preferred to execute a Mortal Kombat-style fatality on that oxygen-deprived bastard (I call this my "McChicken Filet"). It's too well programmed to merit a failing grade, but Eggomania is far too cute for its own good. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 4,728
1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Vaboom (Vectrex)
Kaboom! (Atari XEGS)
Little Bear (Atari 2600)
Ultimate Mortal Kombat (Nintendo DS)
Crack'ed (Atari 7800)

Elevator Action (Prototype)
Grade: NA
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2014/2/26

screenshotThis unreleased prototype was originally revealed at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo. A fun and original platform shooter, Elevator Action has so much potential it almost breaks your heart to play it in this unfinished state. You control a multicolored bloke with a flat-top haircut standing on the top of a building. Eventually an elevator arrives, and once you get in you can freely move it up or down between floors.

Each floor is lined with doors and bad guys in black will randomly step out from behind them and try to shoot you. You can fire two shots at a time, and I love how the baddies do a little flip when they take a shot to the gut. You can avoid the bullets by ducking or suspending yourself in the air in an unnatural manner. Eventually you'll reach the lower basement floors, which have stairwells in addition to elevators.

The game is playable but clearly unfinished. For one thing, you play in complete silence. Graphical glitches abound, and many gameplay elements need tweaking. For example, it can take forever for the elevator to show up, and the crooks never get any harder. You shouldn't be able to keep yourself suspended in the air indefinitely. Even so, the fact that Elevator Action is still fun to play in its current, rough form is a testament to how great it could have been. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Spider-Man (Atari 2600)
Towering Inferno (Atari 2600)
Turtles Turpin (Arcadia 2001)
Alligator People (Atari 2600)
Pursuit of the Pink Panther (Atari 2600)

Elk Attack
Grade: NA
Publisher: M. Hahn (1987)
Reviewed: 2014/2/26

screenshotThis unreleased prototype feels like an experiment that never panned out. The premise of Elk Attack has nothing to do with elk or any other kind of hooved animal. The wacky title seems completely random, so it might as well have been called Chipmunk Riot or Shrimp Apocalypse. I'm told this is actually a port of an obscure arcade game called Electric Yo-Yo. You guide an orb around a rectangular playing field trying to consume colored tiles arranged in various patterns.

Three adversaries which look like stacks of pancakes wander around aimlessly. When you roll toward a wafer, a line appears and automatically pulls you to it. This seems like an interesting dynamic at first, but it actually has very little bearing on the gameplay. I suppose on rare occasions the line can pull you into a pancake monster, but in general you can move around freely. Some wafers contain power pill squares that trigger ringing sound effects that let you touch monsters for points. What's interesting is that the pancake monsters don't disappear or go anywhere when you catch them. Therefore you can snag them over and over again to rack big points.

Elk Attack is well programmed with tight controls, clean graphics, and smooth animation. Unfortunately it suffers from a severe lack of difficulty. If you begin on level one the sheer monotony becomes almost too much to bear. There are too many power pills, too many free lives, and the enemy AI is non-existent. Begin on level 10 if you want any semblance of a challenge. I suspect the developer was just testing out a concept and he abandoned the project when he realized it wasn't going anywhere. Even if Elk Attack had been completed, I don't think it would have attracted much attention. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 10
Our high score: 147,690
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Motorodeo (Atari 2600)
Threshold (Atari 2600)
Power Lords (Atari 2600)
Alfred Challenge (Atari 2600)
Sorcerer (Atari 2600)

Encounter at L5
Grade: C-
Publisher: Data Age (1982)
Reviewed: 2004/9/22

screenshotI really like Encounter at L5's brand of non-stop, rapid-fire, shoot-like-a-madman gameplay. The paddle control scheme is unlike anything I've ever seen. By holding down the fire button and aiming a cursor that moves across the top of the screen, you unleash a constant stream of missiles from your cannon at the bottom.

You'll need that kind of firepower because blue fighter ships rain down on you relentlessly. You can reposition your cannon by releasing the fire button, and this is necessary to zero in on lethal, low-flying, red "death ships". Encounter's collision detection could be better, as the bulk of your shots seem to pass right through their intended targets.

The games tend to be hectic and short. The action doesn't pause when you lose a ship and it's not obvious when it happens, so you may not even know you've been hit until the game ends! Another thing I hate about Encounter at L5 is its irritating, repetitive sound effects, which forced me to turn down the audio. There are 13 game variations. Encounter at L5 is far from great, but shooter fans looking for something different might find it interesting. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 15AB
Our high score: 569
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Astro Battle (Bally Astrocade)
Super Pitfall (NES)
Canyon Bomber (Atari 2600)
Darius Plus (Japan) (Turbografx-16)
Warplock (Atari 2600)

Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2019/2/13

screenshotThis unique racer conveys a brisk sensation of speed as you weave past car after car at high speed. Enduro gets a heck of a lot of mileage out of its simple graphics, mostly consisting of simple scaling cars and a pair of wavy lines converging in the horizon. There's minimal scenery but the changing color schemes and varying weather conditions keep things interesting. You race non-stop over several "days", and need to pass several hundred cars per day to keep it going.

It sounds like a big number but they tend to whiz by in groups so the counter on your dashboard will quickly count down. It's fun to see how long you can go without hitting something. The simple controls consist of an accelerate button and pulling back to brake. Early each day the ground is green and oncoming cars are easy to see. Later snow moves in, resulting in bright white visuals and less responsive steering.

As the sun sets the screen dims until all you see are tail lights. This visual effect is actually pretty amazing. The challenge really kicks in as fog rolls in and cuts your visibility in half! Suspense builds as the sun begins to rise as you desperately try to pass the last few remaining cars. It's quite a relief to get in just under the wire. Sound effects include excellent engine sounds and whooshing of snow. This game can be time-consuming to play, but hey - they call it Enduro for a reason. This is an innovative, likeable racer that delivers a surprising amount of excitement. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 577.8 miles
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Ridge Racer V (Playstation 2)
Dragster (Atari 2600)
Ridge Racer Type 4 (Playstation)
Victory Run (Turbografx-16)
Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One)

Grade: C
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Reviewed: 2011/1/9

screenshotThis is an obscure title where you move down a maze as it scrolls up the screen. You can descend into one of several randomly-generated passages at any given time, some of which converge and some that lead to dead-ends. Your little man can move freely, but staying positioned near the center of the screen gives you the best vantage point. Just don't stop moving, because getting pushed to the top will cost you a life. You'll also need to keep an eye out for roving zombies that can pass through walls.

When you're stuck at a dead-end, pressing the fire button will use one of your "make-breaks" to create an opening. These things are limited in supply so use them wisely and stock up in the early going. You begin with only one but earn three whenever you touch moving blocks (which are easily mistaken for dangerous barriers). The difficulty curve is steep, with each successful maze scrolling more quickly. One player can try to see how long he can last, or two-players can compete simultaneously in a "last man standing" contest.

Entombed is interesting in concept but sloppy in terms of execution. For a video game, this is about as minimal as you can get. The solid, blocky maze is unimpressive and the sparse sound effects are terrible. Your character is poorly animated and wandering "zombies" look more like spiders. It's very easy to get hung up on corners, and by the time you reach the third stage, this flaw accounts for most of your deaths. It's nothing spectacular, but Entombed will still have you hitting reset a few times just to see if you can get a little bit further. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 34
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Cross Force (Atari 2600)
Shark Attack (Atari 2600)
Scooby Doo's Maze Chase (Intellivision)
Oil's Well (Colecovision)
Cat Trax (Atari 2600)

Epic Adventure
Grade: B+
Publisher: Red Knight Games (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/8/10

screenshotOne great thing about the homebrew scene is the way it breathes new life into classic titles. Epic Adventure is the latest in a long line of loving tributes to Adventure (Atari, 1980). It thoughtfully expands on the original formula while incorporating new elements to create a whole new dynamic. The idea is to move your warrior (in the form of a square block) between contiguous screens to unlock castles, battle dragons, and ultimately capture a golden chalice.

The original Adventure is hard to top in terms of pure gameplay, but let's face it - the game was graphically challenged. Epic boasts high-resolution items, majestic castles, and oversized, multicolored monsters. You can "aim" your sword from side to side, and the Staff of Fire even gives you a shooting capability. The maze layouts are totally original but constructed in the same spirit as Adventure.

The blocky rooms include a skull-shaped cave entrance and a duck-shaped room that pays homage to the original game. Unfortunately there are several flashing rooms that are really hard on the eyes. There's no "bridge" object, but a Ring of Attraction lets you reach tucked-away objects. The Amulet of Invisibility adds a stealth element as you can sneak around undetected. Instead of a bat, a hawk now freely flies between screens redistributing the items, and sometimes he'll even carry you off!

Occasionally he will save your life, but one time he embedded me in a wall. I dislike how you can't "slide" around walls as you could in the original game, and sometimes monsters will appear on the screen and eat you before you can even react. There are three difficulty levels. Epic Adventure is addictive and very exciting at times. It's different from Adventure but not too different. Give this game a try, and let it bring out the little square in you. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Missadventure (Atari 2600)
Adventure (Atari 2600)
Venture II The Abysmal Abyss (Atari 2600)
Adventure II (Atari 5200)
Adventure Plus (Atari 2600)

Escape From The Mindmaster
Grade: A-
Publisher: Starpath/Arcadia (1982)
Reviewed: 1999/12/21

screenshotThis is quite an ambitious title from Starpath. Fully utilizing their cassette-loading technology, Mindmaster loads four times during the course of a full game. Its first-person viewpoint features a smoothly-scrolling maze of hallways and doors. Responsive controls and a helpful on-screen map make it fairly easy to navigate. Each maze presents a puzzle to solve, usually requiring the arrangement of geometric shapes scattered throughout. As you roam the maze, you are stalked by an alien, and you can detect its proximity by the pitch of the annoying music. You'll also periodically stumble across simple mini-games that challenge your reflexes. Those looking for a serious test of both mind and motor skills should appreciate this. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
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Our high score: 97
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Ladybug (Atari 2600)
Dragonstomper (Atari 2600)
Suicide Mission (Atari 2600)
Jurassic Park Interactive (3DO)
Space Hulk (Saturn)

Grade: C-
Publisher: Tigervision (1984)
Reviewed: 2013/10/24

screenshotThis vertical shooter really caught my eye with its vibrant, colorful stages. Espial's instruction manual offers up a typical space station attack scenario, but with a little imagination you can see a lot more. In stage one you appear to be flying over buildings rendered to appear 3D. In stage two you fly over crop patterns of animals like birds and butterflies etched in the ground. The third stage looks like a set of war-torn apartment complexes.

You can move your ship freely around the screen as you're approached by planes, helicopters, and various geometric shapes (including the ever-popular rhombus). Beware of ground installations that open and close to discharge bombs. The word Espial means "catch sight of" and that's appropriate because the enemies are hard to see. In fact, they're transparent! You can fire rapidly, but even your fat missiles have a hard time connecting with those ghostly, zigzagging targets.

A set of crosshairs hovers a fixed distance in front of your ship, allowing you to target ground installations (ala Xevious). One knock against the game is the musical intermissions, which sound more like off-key nursery rhymes. I suspect these were leftovers from a scrapped game featuring a chain-smoking rabbit and an effeminate dancing frog in a sailor outfit. Espial is a playable little shooter, but its bad parts tend to overshadow its good parts. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 12,090
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Mission X (Intellivision)
Xevious 3D/G+ (Playstation)
Xevious (Prototype) (Atari 2600)
Surgical Strike (Sega CD)
Parashooter (Arcadia 2001)

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