The blocky maze design (which looks nothing like the arcade) is unimaginative and redundant. With so many turns, it's hard to navigate, too. The "escape" corridor (which transports you to the opposite side of the screen) is so poorly positioned that it's practically useless.
The ghosts are pale and flicker so much that you can barely tell they're supposed to be different colors! Pac-Man now has eyes, and his mouth chomps continuously whether he's eating or not. Worst of all, he faces sideways when moving up and down, and that's just wrong! And are those square pancakes supposed to be an acceptable substitute for bonus fruit?
This is Pac-Man by name alone, and it has "rush job" written all over it. Even so, the game is playable, and if you select a tough difficulty level you'll have your hands full. Atari would later release fantastic renditions of Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man, but the damage had already been done. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Touching a house takes you to an underground tunnel where you must jump up the sides while avoiding scurrying rats. Touching a green patch sends you to a screen dominated by a massive tree, but it's purely eye candy. You simply run right to exit, hopping over any rats in your path.
A third screen places you at the bottom of a rocky ravine. This time you must carefully hop between narrow ledges to reach the top. In addition to rats there appears to be an Afghan dog patrolling the upper part.
The controls are responsive but the game is unforgiving as hell. When jumping you need to land perfectly on top of the next ledge. Rub against the side and your Panda will make a farting noise as he's sucked down to the bottom of the screen. So aggravating!
Normally you begin at the bottom of each screen, but due to some glitch you'll sometimes start at the top, giving you a pretty cheap way to score 100 points! Panda Chase is an alluring title and I like its sense of discovery. Unfortunately there's no sense of progression; it's just the same thing over and over. Still, if you're looking for a farting panda game this is the best one ever made and it's not even close. NOTE: I reviewed this PAL to NTSC conversion on my Harmony Cart. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The first game, Bop-A-Buggy, is a race between two large, oddly-shaped vehicles across several screens of obstacles, with a finish line at the end. The paddle controls are very sensitive but provide pinpoint steering. With four players, the other two competitors can fire missiles to slow their opponent's progress.
Tug-Of-War is just as you'd imagine, with players mashing their fire buttons continuously to maintain the upper hand. It'll absolutely kill your hand, but with four people going at once, you'll all be laughing your asses off. In the Wizard's Keep, wizards on the left side of the screen shoot fireballs at targets that move down the right side, and timing is crucial.
The fourth game, Down The Line, takes place in a factory. One player picks colored packages off a conveyor belt and hands it to his partner who must place them on the correct belt on the other side. The packages come pretty fast so there's no time to rest.
The final game, Handcar, puts each pair of players on one of those two-man railroad carts where one guy needs to push a handle down while the other pulls up. Both players must be well synchronized to gain momentum. Any one of these fine mini-games could stand on its own, so having all five in one package is a real bargain. Party Mix can be yours if you purchase the Stella Gets a New Brain CD. Check it out. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Inexplicably the goalie resides just inside of the goal, yet if he catches the ball it's considered a save. None of the 54 game variations offer a way to shorten the games, which tend to run so long that your hands will cramp up, bleed, and eventually just fall off. The highlight of the game is the cool fireworks display shown after each score. Rarely fun and usually agonizing, this marginal soccer game was originally named Championship Soccer before given the celebrity treatment. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Your penguin can pulverize blocks butted up against one another or slide ones that are unimpeded. Squishing sno-bees between blocks is great fun, especially if you can squash two or more at a time. Specially-marked "jewel" blocks are indestructible and if you line them up you'll net a sweet 5K bonus.
Pengo is a well-programmed game with crisp graphics, smooth animation, and no flicker. Just don't make the mistake of playing the default variation or you'll be bored to tears. And for goodness sake be sure to toggle off that God-forsaken "music" via the difficulty switch. It is horrible!
Promise me you'll play the game on variation 10 with the music off and you'll be good-to-go, provided you don't push all the blocks against the edges and get stuck. Pengo isn't the most exciting game but it's not a bad choice for some good-natured, sub-zero-temperature fun. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
The worst aspect of Pesco is its lack of audio. The only sound effect is when you eat a dot (or dash, in this case). Eating a power pill or getting caught by a crab results in silence, which is pretty lame if you ask me. I do like how the difficulty ramps up in a hurry. Once you reach the third screen, you'll be swimming for your life. Pesco is nothing remarkable, but its challenge makes it worth playing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
The motion is smooth as the pitcher winds up and throws the ball. Once the ball is put into play the screen shows the right or left half of the infield, and when the ball leaves the infield one of three outfield views is displayed. The outfield looks nifty with a warning track and a blue wall complete with distance markings. Fly balls are smooth and easy to follow, and they can even carom off of the walls.
As for the fielding controls, this game suffers from the same "limited infield movement issue" that plagued the 7800 version. Still, it seems less of a factor because of fewer dinky grounders. Otherwise the controls are very good. The real problem with this game is the preponderance of home runs, elevating final scores into the teens and beyond.
It seems like every other hit is a line drive over the fence, and it gets boring to watch runners trot slowly around the bases. There are also too many foul balls, and why are both teams wearing the same white uniforms? Pete Rose's has what it takes in the eye candy department, but its gameplay could use a serious tune-up. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
I may not be doing a very good job of selling this game, but I actually like Peter Penguin. It's got a mysterious quality to it - perhaps the lack of an instruction manual has something to do with that. Figuring the game out is a game in and of itself. Unlike Pengo you begin with a screen fully engulfed in ice cubes and have to clear them away just to create room to maneuver.
There are also randomly-placed "power pill" blocks which let you absorb enemies for big points. These pills don't stay active for long so hunting down foes is risky business. Do you know what I really like about this game? The music. It plays a looping classical-sounding tune that's actually very pleasant, enough to make up for some of the more grating sound effects.
The controls aren't bad and there's a fair amount of challenge... for a while. The problem is, once I got "over the hump" I felt as if I could play pretty much indefinitely. The maze never even resets. Would I recommend Peter Penguin over the polished, stylish, and infinitely more original Pengo? No, but the thought did cross my mind at some point. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
But Phaser Patrol has a few tricks of its own. Your "range finder" (aiming cursor) turns red when an enemy is under it, and firing a shot precisely at this time will cause your torpedo to be guided into its target - very satisfying! Shots that miss still detonate, and these explosions can also take out nearby enemies. Aliens tend to appear two at a time and fire aggressively.
A separate map screen indicates locations of friendly star bases and known enemies, but initially most sectors are marked as "unknown". The left difficulty switch is used to access the map screen, and the color switch shuts down your shields (not recommended). There are two difficulty levels, and at the end of each game you're awarded a rank and level. Phaser Patrol is a rare game, and that's too bad because it's a real gem. Originally available only on cassette, you can also now find it on the excellent "Stella Gets A New Brain" CD compilation. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Phoenix boasts some of the sharpest graphics and varied shooting action you'll find on the 2600. The first wave consists of eight small birds in formation which are fairly easy to pick off. The second wave is similar, but it's actually easier because it supports rapid-fire shooting (just hold down the button). These waves feature high-pitched, oscillating background audio effects which sound exactly like what a flock of birds would sound like in space.
The third and fourth waves feature larger birds swooping across the screen. You can shoot off their wings, but only a direct shot is fatal. When both wings are shot off, new ones sprout, which is a pretty impressive visual effect. I wish Atari had put some beaks on those birds. The fifth screen reveals the imposing mother ship. Although it doesn't have the small birds flying around it (as in the arcade), it's still quite satisfying to wear down its hull and blow up that freaky alien in its interior.
From there the waves recycle and the birds become slightly more aggressive. Don't forget you can pull back on the joystick to engage your shield. The game's single skill level is its main liability, and you get too many lives (five plus one at 5K). Experienced players will need to defeat the mother ship a few times before the real challenge kicks in. Phoenix deserves extra credit for its incredible artwork, of which I had a poster of in my bedroom for many years. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Objects collected are displayed on the bottom on the screen, so at least you know what not to aim for. Collecting the items looks deceptively easy, but often you'll need to "thread the needle" to reach objects at the very top. While interesting in concept it's not terribly fun. Once you've gathered all six items, you grab your lady by the hand and take her to a tiny hotel with two windows. This is where you really score! After going through the front door, you hear some footsteps and see the shades get pulled down. Five seconds later your guy emerges, revitalized and ready to take on the next level! What a total stud! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Using the paddle controllers, you move a "swatter" (small curved line) across the screen to protect the burgers from waves of bugs. As the flies descend, the lowest one will suck up the food with his long, needle-like tongue. By timing your "swat", you transform the fly into a messed-up square that bounces around the screen. If I didn't read the instructions, I would have absolutely no idea what the hell was going on.
Every few waves an oversized "super bug" emerges, but he's defeated in the same exact way. The controls are fine, but there's no strategy! All you do is hover under the lowest insect and keep hitting the button. The advanced difficulty is so easy and repetitive that I couldn't wait for it to end. The audio consists of an endless droning that's supposed to be the "buzz" of the flies. Picnic is one of those worthless, by-the-numbers games that companies were shoveling out by the dozens in 1982. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
A perfect cake consists of three layers, and you'll want to top it off with a cherry to complete your creation before it falls off the conveyor belt. The paddles provide pinpoint control, and initially the game is pretty sweet. Once the conveyor starts speeding up however, things become unmanageable in a hurry. Piece O' Cake's graphics are surprisingly well done. The baker is huge with a well-defined face, and the cakes actually look somewhat appetizing. The sound effects on the other hand are relentlessly annoying. This one never really lives up to its potential. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
You take aim with Captain Link at the bottom of the screen, and he's a large target for falling bombs. The graphics are nicely detailed and I especially like that rotating Gonzo head that periodically crosses the top of the screen. That thing looks amazing, but it's all downhill from there.
The second game stars Miss Piggy in a cringe-worthy Frogger rip-off. The idea is weave your way around floating spaghetti and meatballs to reach the space cruiser at the top of the screen. Touching pasta pushes you downward, and you usually end up back at the bottom of the screen. Ugh.
The third game is more aggravating still. It involves guiding a milk bottle-shaped ship upward through caverns while shooting at pigs camped out on ledges. Your shots curl around, making it possible for you to shoot yourself! How could that possibly be a good idea? This game drags on and on and it's almost unbearable. As a marginal collection of uninspired mini-games, I'm afraid that Pigs In Space is just one rotating Gonzo head away from complete failure. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Like most Activision titles, the visuals look crisp and well defined. You earn points by snatching up treasure, and it's always satisfying to snag a gold bar or diamond ring. The jungle layout is exactly the same each time you play, but that's okay because the real challenge lies in exploring all the screens within the 20-minute time limit. Casual players will deplete their three lives long before time expires, but experts love to see how far they can get.
You can travel towards the left or right, but the left is a lot easier. In fact, you may want to keep separate high scores for heading in each direction. Just don't make the mistake I did and try to use the trees in the background as a point of reference, because their spacing changes with each screen. In addition to providing exotic fun, Pitfall also teaches some valuable lessons in outdoor safety. For example, you can jump on a crocodile without fear of harm - but only if its mouth is closed.
Pitfall is challenging at first, but eventually the action becomes monotonous - even mind-numbing. It seems like you're doing the same three things over and over again. Also, I've never been sold on the idea of those scorpion-infested underground routes. They're supposed to provide strategic shortcuts through the game, but there's no treasure down there and some lead to dead ends. Unless you map out the screens or have an excellent memory, you're better off staying the hell out of there. Pitfall is not as great as some of my friends remember it to be, but its classic status was never in doubt. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Unlike the first game, this one takes Pitfall Harry deep into the bowels of the earth. The rich visuals feature multi-tiered caverns, underwater rivers, and even waterfalls. The game feels expansive but retains that distinctive Pitfall look and feel. You'll encounter bats, condors, electric eels, poisonous frogs, and familiar albino scorpions (reprised from the first game). Pitfall 2 has no timer and there's no concept of lives. There are periodic checkpoints, and you have a score that's frequently docked for mistakes.
If the first game was horizontal in nature, this one is very, very vertical. Expect a lot of climbing and falling. In one particular shaft you even travel on a hot air balloon to reach high ledges. My only frustration with Pitfall 2 stems from Harry's inability to duck. Low-flying bats and birds are constant hazards, and it requires perfect timing (and luck) to run under them without catching a wing.
At one point you need to dodge about 12 of these in a row, and it's frustrating. Then again, the game would probably be entirely too easy if you could duck. As it is, Pitfall 2 is addictive and satisfying, making me wish a Pitfall 3 had been produced in the same exact style. Developer David Crane clearly pulled out all the stops with this one, and the result is an exciting adventure that really pushes the limits of the system. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Before proceeding to the next level, you have the option to land on a strip to refuel. There's even the concept of "night stages", where you can only see enemies when you fire a shot. It all sounds pretty ambitious for a 2600 game, but sloppy graphics, awful collision control, and herky-jerky animation expose Planet Patrol as the bargain-bin title it is. The refueling truck, which literally jumps across the screen, looks pathetic. Without a solid engine running the show, the sophisticated gameplay is largely wasted. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
My one issue with the control is that you can't easily reverse direction if you're near the top or bottom of the screen. Plaque Attack's graphics are better than average, with colorful and easily discernible burgers, hot dogs, French fries, candy canes, strawberries, and donuts. It takes a while for the challenge to kick in, so you'll probably cruise through the first few waves with no problem.
The game ends when all the teeth are gone, but an extra tooth is generously awarded at every 2000 points. Like Missile Command, you'll want to concentrate on protecting that last tooth when it's all you have left. Despite its good intentions, Plaque Attack is one of the more forgettable Activision titles for the 2600. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
In the first you control a cannon on a planet surface shooting aliens flying in various formations. The aliens move fast and drop a ton of bombs, but their movements are annoyingly choppy. Occasionally one will crawl across the bottom, leaving a wall that you can poke holes in. There's some scenery on the planet's surface, but nothing particularly impressive. The off-key "music" that plays during this stage is simply awful.
The second screen resembles the mother ship sequence in Phoenix. This particular mothership is large but chunky, with three trap doors that randomly open and close on its underbelly. Timing your shots, you must nail a little star that moves left to right across the center of the ship. Meanwhile, large birds swoop down, drop bombs, and block your shots. Like the first stage, it's moderately fun but over too quickly.
The third screen is easily the most difficult and time-consuming. Your job here is to guide a slowly moving, triangular ship up a pyramid-shaped course while avoiding scattered obstacles. This is where you'll lose 90 percent of your ships. Especially near the top of the pyramid, the airplane-shaped obstacles are too densely packed to avoid, and it grows frustrating.
Pleiades is still worthwhile to play, thanks to its fast action and sheer variety. I also appreciate the fact that it keeps the high score displayed on the screen at all times. Note: Despite what the manual says, set the left difficulty switch to B for a normal game, and A to practice. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
And if you think the planes look nice, check out the occasional destroyer that zips across the surface. That thing looks freakin' amazing - no kidding! Once you knock out the bombers, you'll then have to contend with a very dangerous dive-bomber. Not only does this son of a [expletive] fly in quick, unpredictable patterns, but he's armed with heat-seeking missiles! If you make it past him, the second stage offers a vertically-scrolling, overhead view of the sea floor, where you have to navigate around walls and mines.
The walls look pretty chunky, reminiscent of the "lost valley" in Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari, 1982). But as bad as it looks, the stage provides a nice change of pace as you skillfully blast or maneuver around mines. The audio in Polaris is dominated by really annoying (and constant) sonar pings. Even so, the game offers a nice variety of visuals and gameplay, and the challenge is formidable as you progress through sixteen distinct levels. I really like this one. Play Polaris on your Atari 2600 and all of your wildest dreams will come true. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Pole Position's solid gameplay makes up for its shabby graphics, thank goodness. You begin each contest with an easy qualifying lap, which becomes tedious after a while. Once the real race gets underway, your car accelerates automatically, and the fire button functions as the brake. Pushing up and down on the joystick allows you to shift gears between high and low.
The game really keeps you on your toes. Although oncoming cars only appear one at a time, they change lanes unpredictably, so keep your thumb near the brake and approach cautiously. No roadside scenery means you can always drive off the road, but it will slow you down. You begin the race with a 59 second time limit, but your time is extended as you complete laps.
Realistic sound effects include passing car engines and squealing tires. I like how the game keeps a running score at the top of the screen. This version of Pole Position is tougher than it looks. Try to reach 50,000 points and you'll see what I'm talking about. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
You control a blob (allegedly a pig), attempting to thwart a pack of wolves trying to invade your mountain hideaway. On the first screen, wolves float down on balloons, and by moving up and down along the side of a cliff, you must shoot them down and avoid their projectiles. Occasionally you can knock down several wolves at a time by tossing a rectangular slab of meat (meatloaf?)
On the second screen, the wolves are floating up, this time with the intention of dropping a boulder on your head. The original game was brimming with personality, but none of that is reflected in this half-assed translation. The main problem is the horrendously choppy animation.
Not only is it hard on the eyes, but it eliminates the sharp-shooting element that marked the original game. The big headed wolves look okay on the ground, but when hanging on balloons, they look more like stick figures! The sound effects are limited to sporadic beeps. Pooyan does offer four skill levels and two-player modes, but it's like trying to put lipstick on a pig. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Once per stage you can seize a can of spinach and turn the tables on Bluto - sending him flying across the screen with one punch. One thing Popeye has that few other Atari 2600 games can boast is high quality music that plays throughout the game. The characters are single-colored but nicely detailed. One animation that doesn't look so hot is Popeye's punch - it looks more like he's passing gas (which I suppose could be equally effective).
Three screens are included, each with its own unique layout. While the screens roughly capture the flavor of their arcade counterparts, even I have to admit that the third stage (the pirate ship) looks like crap. Those blocky, diagonal lines don't look like something you'd expect to see in a finished game. Oh well, at least Parker Brothers gave it a shot, instead of omitting the third screen altogether (as Coleco did with Donkey Kong). Although there's only one skill level, the level of difficulty is just right (a little on the hard side). If you haven't been spoiled by the Colecovision version yet, you'll have a great time with this one. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
The second screen features a set of platforms and ladders with a hefty woman chasing you around. In the center of this particular screen there's a figure of a naked woman taking a shower, but the graphics are so rudimentary that it didn't even raise an eyebrow in 1983. Getting caught by the woman sends you falling into a pit, which for many will conjure nightmarish flashbacks of ET. For some reason beyond my comprehension, you must "pole vault" your way out of the pit. You never actually lose a life in Porky's, so the game just goes on and on and on.
The final screen requires climbing a scaffolding while avoiding the sheriff, and it's far more confusing than it should be. The bittersweet ending sequence shows Pee Wee finally blowing up Porky's. It's nothing to write home about, but at least there is an ending. Your final score is calculated by time completed and difficulty.
Porky's graphics aren't the worst I've seen, but its gameplay is marred by awkward, unresponsive controls. Climbing requires you to position yourself next to a ladder instead of underneath it, which takes a while to get used to. Like the movie, Porky's is only good for a cheap thrill. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
It's a pretty remarkable creation, especially the way it slithers around to follow your position. There are also enemy ships patrolling overhead and if they don't shoot you they'll ram into you. Shoot the snake enough times in the neck and he'll retreat into his hole. You can then descend into the crater to enter the second screen.
Next you find yourself in a pseudo-3D stage looking down a hallway as monsters approach from the distance. The scaling is impressive, and each time you reach this stage there's a new set of creatures. Shoot 'em all and you'll find yourself back on the surface with the difficulty ratcheted up a bit. Power Lords is fun to play for a while but once you get the patterns down it becomes repetitive. That said, this is one of the more fascinating prototypes I've stumbled upon. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
There's really nothing interesting about Power Off. Heck, the fire button doesn't even do anything! Once I started playing however, a funny thing happened - I couldn't stop. Just clearing the first screen required far more technique and strategy than I initially gave this game credit for. It's hard for several reasons. The robots tend to move side-to-side over the ladders, so your timing needs to be impeccable to scale one untouched.
It doesn't help that it's aggravatingly difficult to line up properly with each ladder (not unlike Ebivision's Alfred Challenge). Even more frustrating is the fact that no matter how many blocks you've collected, once you die the screen is completely repopulated! I can't tell you how many times I dropped the F-bomb playing this game, especially after getting snuffed out with just one block remaining. I do appreciate the innovative scoring system however, which rewards the player for picking up consecutive blocks (their values increase by increments).
When you finally clear a screen (quite the feat), you proceed to another level with a different ladder layout and new set of robots. Power Off's graphics are clean-looking, the robots are cool, and I like how your little guy scampers around. Except for the musical title screen, there's not much audio. Speaking of the title screen, I like how it scrolls the instructions, but I detected a loss in translation when it mentioned that robots were "haunting" the rooms. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Once a burger is complete, you carry it to a lower screen and drop it into one of three colored chutes where it's packaged. I love this game's colorful, high-resolution graphics. At the top of the screen the burgers can be seen passing over a flame in an oven before being placed on a bun. It's then transported via a series of conveyor belt contraptions. The cook looks like an old man with a chef's hat, and he's nicely rendered in several colors. The visuals are remarkably clean and the ingredients are easy to differentiate.
The control scheme lets you "kick back" items you don't need by holding in the button, but sometimes you'll still get stuck with an unwanted ingredient. Sadly, the only way to get rid of it is to build a "bad" burger. A trash can would have been nice! Another minor complaint is how you have to sit through the intro tune before the action kicks in. But taken as a whole, Pressure Cooker is ingeniously designed and extremely well programmed. This is one of those quirky games that makes you glad you still have an Atari 2600. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Pink Panther must catch the bricks to fill in missing parts of a walkway leading to the right. You can jump the gaps by pressing diagonally but it's clumsy at best. I'm not sure why they didn't use the button for that. The first screen isn't very challenging if you just ignore falling bricks out of your reach.
The second screen offers something entirely new: a three story building with three doors on each floor. Enter the correct door and you're transported to the next floor up, but choose wrong and some kind of hazard appears that you need to avoid. I like how your face turns white after getting hit by a pie. The third and final screen looks like something from Indiana Jones. There's a diamond in the center surrounded by water and a rope swinging above.
The lousy jumping controls make this a lot harder than it needs to be, so you'll go through a lot of lives. If you can grab the rope and invert yourself you can snag the diamond for the win! Naturally the inspector immediately steals it back, ushering in the next round. Pink Panther is a colorful game with a lot of interesting ideas and there are even four skill levels. I reviewed this ROM on my Harmony Cart, and would recommend you give it a try if you get the opportunity. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Screen shots courtesy of Atari Age