Excavated from the land of lost ROMs (where is
that?), The Hobbit was an unfinished and long-forgetten project (circa 1983) finally unearthed and revealed at a recent classic gaming convention. The timing seemed awfully suspicious considering the recent Hobbit movie trilogy, and I had to see the game for myself to believe it. I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for The Hobbit's elaborate title screen. This high-resolution image manages to incorporate Bilbo, 13 dwarves (give or take), a spell-casting Gandalf, and even a fire-breathing dragon!
Clever use of color-cycling was used to create the whirling spell and flame effects. I was totally pumped when I saw it, but my high hopes would soon come crashing to the ground. Calling The Hobbit's visual style "abstract" would be an understatement. The main character (Bilbo I presume) is rendered as a blue square. This is not so objectionable considering that Adventure
(Atari 2600, 1980) also featured a square as its main character. Unfortunately, thanks to a poor design decision, the dwarves are also
rendered as blue squares. Gandalf is a gray square... I think
. The ring is a yellow circle... or don't I wish! Nope, it's a God-damned yellow square!
The dungeons are remarkably blocky. What resolution was this game programmed in, 12x10?! And what's with all the flashing rooms? I swear this game gave me epilepsy. Some may claim The Hobbit is 95% complete, but I find that hard to swallow. I was constantly hounded by orcs in the form of flickering brown squares. After you grab the ring you turn invisible, but the fact that you can't see yourself
makes the game pretty much unplayable. After stumbling around blindly for a several minutes you start to wish the developer had not expended quite so much effort on that fancy title screen, which undoubtedly consumes 95% of the game's memory. I'm also starting to think that gray square isn't even Gandalf, because that bastard just killed
me and that did not
look like an accident!
It seems like everything in the game makes the same beep sound. I wish the programmer would have at least mixed in a few "boops" to spice things up a little! Apologists will make endless excuses for The Hobbit, but the game is a cautionary tale
. This is one lost treasure that should have been cast into the fires of Mount Doom 30 years ago. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tigervision (1982)
This bare-bones shooter "borrows" elements from so many other Atari 2600 games that I almost lost count. First of all, your ship looks like a tank from Worm War I. The shooting style is 100% Gorf, where you can move around freely and abort any shot by just firing again. The first wave of "aliens" is very bird-like. They might remind you of Phoenix or Demon Attack, if only they didn't look so BAD. These single-colored, chunky graphics are a mess! Subsequent rounds feature other uninteresting aliens, like circles that move in their own distinct patterns. That's when I finally realized this was just a really bad version of Megamania. If Threshold does one thing well, it makes you realize how much better these other games really are. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 11550
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Hozer (2000)
Thrust is a far cry from the simplistic shooters so common on the 2600, and it's actually a conversion of an old Commodore 64 game. In addition to providing some great arcade-style shooting action, Thrust also has surprising depth. Like Gravitar, you guide a triangle-shaped ship through winding underground caverns, destroying cannons and picking up fuel. Shooting nuclear reactors will temporarily disable the cannons, but too much damage can cause a meltdown. In later stages, there are switches on the walls that open new areas. Controlling your ship takes skill, because you must constantly thrust to counteract the effects of gravity. Pushing the joystick up thrusts, and pulling back activates a protective shield. Your ultimate goal is to pick up a pod at the bottom of each cavern and transport it out safely. When you finally locate it, the real challenge begins! It attaches to your ship via a cord, and swings precariously as you attempt to transport it through the narrow caverns without smashing it against a wall. It's a balancing act that requires excellent technique, and completing each mission is very satisfying. The crude graphics are large and blocky, but the animation is smooth and the control is flawless. The 24-level challenge is immense but rarely frustrating. There are even five levels of difficulty. Don't miss the best game to come along for the 2600 in a long time! © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 19650
Publisher: Sega (1983)
Here's a marginal game with blocky graphics and dull colors. You control a tank on the bottom of the screen that eats away at dirt in a Dig-Dug-like fashion. Two tanks pursue you as you clear away the dirt between you and your targets. The main problem with Thunderground is that it takes too long before the challenge kicks in. The enemy tanks initially move like snails, and their shots aren't much faster. You can methodically shoot your way through the first few rounds with little resistance. Occasionally you uncover a pixilated object in the dirt that's worth extra points. It's not until around stage nine that things start to get interesting, and you might have to start taking some evasive maneuvers. But you shouldn't have to play through eight rounds to get to the fun! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 93090
Publisher: Coleco (1983)
This rendition of the popular arcade game is fair but lacks a few key elements from the original game. Time Pilot is a fly-anywhere shooter where you to shoot down aircraft from various historical periods. The stages begin with biplanes from World War I and progress all the way to flying saucers in the year 2001 (man, they were way
off!). The arcade version was known for its rapid-fire shooting action, but in this version you can only fire two slow shots at a time. The "boss" aircraft only requires one hit to destroy, and there are no bonus paratroopers to rescue. Still, the graphics aren't half bad (especially the helicopters in the 1970 stage), and the game is challenging enough. Fans of the arcade game will be understandably disappointed, but those who take the game for what it is might enjoy it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 7800
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (2016)
Titan Axe is a scaled-down version of an old favorite, Golden Axe
(Genesis, 1989). I was really stoked to see how an Atari system would handle this hack-and-slash classic. Titan Axe begins with an arcade-style character selection screen, letting you choose between a stout dwarf or lithe babe. So far so good, right? The gameplay involves moving you character to the right, forging through contiguous screens, each offering new scenery and a fresh foe to slay. The characters are large and extremely chunky. I can live with that, but the controls are another story. When you press the attack button you expect a weapon to stick out, but instead your warrior just gyrates in place as the enemy passes right through you. What the hell is going on?!? While performing a "special move" your character morphs into an incomprehensible jumble of pixels, sliding up and under your target. Eventually the monster disappears, but it's never clear how or why that happened. Worse yet, you usually sustain heavy damage in the process. Occasionally a fairy flutters across the screen but I don't know what its significance is. All I know is, I can't kill it! After button-mash through several screens I find myself staring at a blood-soaked "GAME OVER" screen. There's no score in this game. I feel bad about my lack of progress because according to the glossy manual there are 64 screens (!) over eight sprawling stages (!!) and a slew of monsters to go with them. I suspect there's a decent game in this Titan Axe cartridge somewhere, but I can't find it, and it's not for a lack of effort. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Title Match Pro Wrestling
Publisher: Absolute (1987)
Title Match is a good looking wresting game, but its gameplay is badly outdated. With four distinct wrestlers to select from, you can play against the CPU or another player. Moreover, the matches can be tag team or one-on-one. The number of moves is impressive, and can be chained together to perform everything from elbow drops to body slams to airplane spins. Heck, you can even dive from the ropes! Unfortunately, once you start actually playing the game, the carefully-designed control scheme goes out the window. The computer opponent is impossible to defeat, and he'll have you pinned in a heartbeat. On the other hand, when playing against a friend it's extremely hard to pin him, and the bouts go on long after the wrestlers have exhausted their strength. Still, I did have a good laugh watching the stiff-looking fighters toss each other around the ring. Title Match is an ambitious game, but it's not very fun to play. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Tomarc The Barbarian
Publisher: Xonox (1983)
Here's a game so rare I couldn't even find any instructions on-line! Fortunately Tomarc wasn't very hard to figure out. The game has one unique feature, and that is the ability to switch between two characters by pulling back on the joystick. These characters include a barbarian and a caged woman; you'll need to maintain both their health level. Mainly, you control the barbarian, searching for a magic sword (or is it a key?) to free the girl. Jumping between contiguous screens, you must avoid rats that scamper over the floors. This brings up a host of issues. First off, the stiff jumping controls are dreadful
. Trying to jump through the narrow holes in the walls (and ceilings) is a royal pain, and your barbarian often pauses for no apparent reason (aside from poor programming of course). Why is a muscular barbarian afraid of a few puny rats anyway? Periodically a warning buzzer indicates that a bat is approaching the girl. Fortunately, she's armed (with what, I don't know) and switching to her screen lets you shoot down that nasty thing. Once Tomarc secures the sword (key, whatever) he just needs to reach her screen to automatically free her and rack up bonus points. I like the dual-character idea, but Tomarc the Barbarian's lack of polish prevents it from being anything special. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 17380
Tomcat F14 Fighter Simulator
Publisher: Absolute (1988)
For 2600 fans looking for something more substantial, I'd recommend this incredibly realistic jet fighter simulator. With its sophisticated gameplay and intense air combat action, Tomcat is a very unusual but impressive effort. Technically, Tomcat gets the most out of the system. You begin on an aircraft carrier platform, with a deck officer prompting you to throttle your engine. After launch, you immediately need to pull up on the joystick to avoid crashing into the water. Once you attain an altitude of 5000 feet, the combat portion of the game begins. Your plane is equipped with machine guns and three types of missiles. You'll not only need to jockey for position with the bogeys, but also shake off guided missiles. Your cockpit is loaded with indicators and displays to monitor enemy fighters, weapons, fuel, wing position, and flight paths. The visuals are superb. Enemy bogeys scale nicely into view, you can see ripples in the water below, and the sky color cycles from blue to red to black as day turns to night. If you run low on fuel or supplies, you can execute a landing sequence back on the carrier. I have to warn you - there's a serious learning curve required to play, but Tomcat is undoubtedly the most realistic game I've ever played on my 2600. My only complaint is the clumsy control scheme, which uses one joystick, the select switch, and reset switch to cycle through displays and options. I think Absolute could have simplified things by utilizing the difficulty and black/white switches, and maybe a second joystick. Still, Tomcat F14 is too good to be ruined by clumsy controls. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: DSD Inc (1983)
This game was produced by Johnson and Johnson, so you know it's fun!
Their logo even appears on the title screen. Some may consider Tooth Protectors an educational title designed to teach kids good oral hygiene, but it's really just a promotional item. The manual contains ads for Johnson and Johnson dental floss, Reach toothbrush, and Act dental rinse. A brief opening sequence depicts a set of big square teeth on the bottom of the screen being treated with a toothbrush, dental floss, and mouthwash. The graphical depiction of the cleaning isn't bad, but that nursery rhyme-style song has got to go. When the action begins you move your "tooth protector" side-to-side over the teeth. He's got a big creepy smile and looks a heck of a lot like the Kool-Aid guy. Moving along the top of the screen is a baddy who drops "snack" cubes, and your protector can deflect these back. Hitting the baddie will kill him and earn you points, but he's quickly replaced. What's interesting about this game is how you can angle your deflections by moving your protector as you hit a cube. If you're moving fast you can carom it at a pretty sharp angle. The instructions suggest using a trak-ball, but that just makes things harder since it takes longer to move across the screen. Sorry, the paddles are not supported. With each wave the baddie unloads more squares and the challenge ramps in a hurry. Periodically you'll hear a warning buzzer signaling that the baddie is about to swoop down and grab you. It's a terrifying situation so be sure to quickly move to the far side of the screen to avoid his clutches! Tooth Protectors isn't a bad little game, but it may lead people to believe that Kool-Aid prevents cavities, which is probably not the case. Collectors will want this game for its novelty value alone. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 64,500
Publisher: US Games (1982)
Although more playable than Imagic's Firefighter, Towering Inferno suffers from poor graphics. Each stage begins with a helicopter flying from the top of a building. Initially, the building is completely engulfed in flames, but the fire disappears as you gradually conquer each floor. Each level is a blocky maze full of flickering W's that you extinguish with your endless water supply. Your goal is to reach the white "door" at the top of the screen, and then escape out the bottom. That takes you back to the building screen, where the helicopter lands and "releases" the rescued people. Actually, it looks more like the helicopter is shooting blocks. In general, the graphics really suck. Your firefighter looks like a static blob and the blocky stages look like crap. The jumping, flickering flames look more like a graphical glitch, but at least they tend to be unpredictable. Your water cannon looks more like a trickle with three blue dots! Control is good, and dousing the flames is fairly satisfying. The best aspect of Towering Inferno is how it encourages you to take chances. Should you extinguish those last few flames, or just try to dart across the room? Aggressive play is rewarded with more points, but can also get you burned (pun intended). When you complete a whole building, all you're treated to is a simple flashing screen - weak! In terms of difficulty, Towering Inferno is on the easy side. It's a sloppy game but definitely unique. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 1A
Our high score: 1309
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari Age (2006)
It's amazing what programmers can do with the Atari 2600 nowadays. Toyshop Trouble is not only a technical marvel, but it exudes holiday cheer! The originality and creativity of this game is remarkable. I play hundreds of video games every year, yet I can't recall ever
having played anything quite like this! Toyshop's main screen consists of five conveyer belts of moving toys with pots of paint lining both sides of the screen. The idea is to paint all the toys their proper color before a timer expires. Each day in December offers a new "wave", often adding a new variety of toy into the mix. A nice intermission screen explains how newly introduced toys are to be painted. Some can be painted a solid color, but most require multiple colors, and sometimes the order in which you apply the colors makes a difference! Quick thinking and good technique is required to paint the toys in the most efficient manner. The controls are excellent, and the fire button allows you to dash - a move that's often handy but sometimes risky. Toyshop Trouble is outrageously fun to play, but it's the toys themselves that steal the show. Not only are there the obligatory fire trucks, trumpets, and trains, but also more modern toys like Tonka Trucks, Godzilla figures, Lincoln Logs, and even AT-AT Walkers
from Star Wars! And when I saw those beautiful Atari 2600 joysticks, I couldn't believe my eyes. The multi-colored toys are artistically rendered in a high resolution, and Toyshop's audio features authentic choo-choo whistles and melodic holiday music. Completing the entire month of December poses a serious challenge, and as icing on the cake, there's even an Easter Egg buried in the game. The only thing missing is a two-player co-op mode! With so few holiday-themed games available, Toyshop Trouble is like a Christmas miracle! © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11980
Publisher: Atari (1984)
This is one of the most competitive games you'll ever play on your Atari 2600. Released to coincide with the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Track & Field provides frantic action similar to Decathlon
(Activision, 1983) and Summer Games
(Atari XE, 1984). The sharp graphics feature multi-colored and fluidly-animated athletes. There are six events including sprint, long jump, javelin, hurdles, hammer, and high jump. If you've ever played the 1500m race in Decathlon, you'll appreciate the fact that all of these events are very short. Custom controllers were created specifically for this game. You alternately tap the two white buttons to build speed, and press the red button to perform an action (like throwing a javelin). The controllers are cool, but when push comes to shove, joysticks are the way to go. If nothing else, you'll get better scores. Another thing that distinguishes Track and Field is its sheer difficulty. A minimum event score is displayed at the bottom of the screen, and if you don't qualify, the whole game abruptly ends. Even when playing on the novice setting, reaching the sixth event is a major achievement. In the two-player game, when one player gets knocked out early, the other must play out the remaining events against the CPU. Track & Field is highly entertaining and even thrilling at times. Difficulty notwithstanding, modern Olympic video games could learn a thing or two from this. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 48,820
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Imagic (1982)
As the only pool game that I know of for the Atari 2600, this is actually very entertaining. The graphics are blocky but functional. A rack only has three balls, but the physics is surprisingly realistic. Not only can you control the power of the shot, but you can even add "English" (spin). To aim, you move a little dot around your ball. You only have a limited number of angles, but you can use the English to compensate. There are several modes of play including trick shot mode, pool, practice, and English billiards. The trick shot mode keeps score, so it's good for solo play. The pool mode is good for two-player competition, and the English billiards is a more complicated variation. Trick Shot is a winner all the way. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Tron Deadly Discs
Publisher: M-Network (1982)
Obviously inspired by the movie Tron
, Deadly Discs puts you in a wide-open room pursued by three disc-hurling warriors. You can throw your own disc at these guys to kill them, but they constantly regenerate. Once you aim and throw, you can either "call" your disc back by pressing the fire button or wait for it to bounce off a wall. I was really digging the controls until I realized the disc is NOT harmful to enemies on its return trip! I have no idea what the developers had in mind, but I think they missed a golden opportunity. Your character can also enter openings on one side of the room and emerge on the other, but I never found this to be useful or necessary. You can sustain several hits before your game comes to an end. I find it odd how enemy discs are deadly to the touch, and yet you can run clear through
the enemies themselves and suffer no damage! Unlike the Intellivision version, this version of Tron Deadly Discs features smooth graphics and comfortable controls. Unfortunately, one major element - the large, menacing boss - has been completely omitted from this version. As a result, this edition feels second-rate. In addition, an astute reader noted that it takes far too long for the serious challenge to kick in. With no variety in the stages, Deadly Disc's gameplay quickly becomes monotonous. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: A
Our high score: 19560
Publisher: CBS (1983)
Although technically impressive, Tunnel Runner's simplistic gameplay won't win over many gamers. Older games that rely on fancy 3D effects don't tend to age well. Like a first-person Pac-man, Tunnel Runner's challenge is to escape from a maze while avoiding wandering heads with huge fangs. The illusion of movement is smooth and convincing, and navigating hallways is surprisingly quick and easy. The "heads" are impressively large and scale nicely. Sound cues indicate when they are approaching, which adds a bit of suspense. Unfortunately, having to constantly check your position on the map screen (by holding the button) is a real chore. The first few four stages are easy, but once you reach the "blind" mazes, the difficulty goes through the roof. Tunnel Runner may have gotten by on sheer novelty value in 1983, but in retrospect, its shallow gameplay is not very fun. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 2
Publisher: Atari Age (2010)
On the Colecovision Turbo showcased remarkable scaling scenery and was packaged with a steering wheel controller that really put you in the driver's seat. A Turbo prototype was created for the Atari 2600, but it never saw the light of day - until now! This intriguing new cartridge from Atari Age includes both the original prototype and a new enhanced version. To be frank, the prototype could easily pass for a complete game. It's a lot like Enduro
(Activision, 1982) as you dodge cars that approach one by one. When you accelerate the road remains static as blocky cars rapidly scale into view. They're hard to avoid at top speed, so you'll want to tap the button to regulate your speed. The game demands twitch reflexes, so why aren't paddles used to steer? You'll need to pass 30 cars to extend the 90-second time limit, and that's not easy. Sometimes you'll be tempted to "hide out" in a corner and let cars whiz by, but the CPU quickly catches on to this strategy and sets you up for a head-on collision. At first glance Turbo's graphics look pretty shoddy. The city skyline in the distance doesn't look bad, but that static gray road looks pretty blah.
Sparse scenery scales by including white buildings that look like Legos
. The light posts look pretty cool though, and the evergreen trees look nice in the snow stages. As you progress the scenery changes abruptly and frequently, and you'll even pass through a dark tunnel. The enhanced Turbo is more polished and forgiving. It irons out the glitches of the original and incorporates realistic physics. There's a definite sense of momentum and I like how your car slows as you roll over the shoulder of the road. Turbo for the 2600 is fast and furious fun, proving once again that good gameplay will overcome mediocre graphics every time. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Enhanced
Our high score: SDZ 9,361
Publisher: Fox (1982)
Here's a game few people have heard about, but those who have will tell you it's one of the best games for the system. I would describe Turmoil as a 2D Tempest. Your ship moves up and down in the center of the screen between seven rows, and can shoot left or right. A variety of colorful aliens move across these rows, trying to ram your ship. Fortunately, you have rapid-fire capability, and you can flood the rows with missiles. Some enemies however, like tanks, are invincible and must be avoided altogether. One particular type of alien sits and waits at the end of a row, and if you nab it before it starts moving, you'll score big points. With nine skill levels, Turmoil is a well-designed game that requires quick thinking to keep up with its frantic action. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 7990
Publisher: Parker Bros (1983)
When you consider how great Tutankham is on the Colecovision, this sloppy translation can only be described as wretched.
The goal is to survive four dungeon mazes while gathering treasures and exterminating spawning monsters. Tutankham is undeniably challenging, but for all the wrong reasons. Judging from its graphics, it appears that Parker Bros put its junior programmer to work on this project. I guess their best programmers were too busy working on that cool James Bond "train shootout" game that was never released but looked freakin' awesome
in their catalog! Tutankham's mazes feature dozens of monsters and treasures, but they're so puny that it's hard to discern what they're supposed to be! The snakes and scorpions look okay, but that triangle is supposed to be a Jackal?
Uh-huh. Your explorer is a static stick figure, and he's a nightmare to control. Your movements are jerky, you can't move diagonally, and you're constantly getting caught up on the ill-defined passageways. If it makes you feel any better, the creatures
tend to get stuck as well! Unlike other versions of Tutankham, this game scrolls vertically. That doesn't sound like a big deal until you realize you can only fire sideways!
When shot, creatures briefly transform into an asterisk, and that looks pitiful. Poor collision detection runs rampant, so be sure to apply those smart bombs liberally! I find it amusing how the first dungeon's "treasure" is the word
"MAP". The sparse sound effects mainly consist of alternating beeps. Tutankham for the 2600 is an embarrassment, and King Tut would be spinning in his sarcophagus
if he ever found out his name had been slapped onto this choppy mess! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 505
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