system Index A-B
Archon
Grade: A
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/1/12

screenshotWith the recent success of the Lord of the Rings movies, gamers would be wise to revisit this classic fantasy title. Originally released by EA on a floppy disk in 1983, Atari wisely re-released Archon years later on cartridge format for their new XE game system. A potent combination of strategy and action, you position your characters carefully on a checkered board, and when one encroaches on an opponent's space, a "battlefield" screen appears and lets the two characters have it out.

The Light side, led by a wizard, includes unicorns, archers, rock golems, valkyries, knights, a djinni, and the flaming bird Phoenix. The Dark side, led by an evil sorceress, features basilisks, manticores, trolls, goblins, banshees, a dragon, and a shapeshifter that takes the form of any character it faces. Despite the limited resolution, the characters are thoughtfully drawn and superbly animated.

Weaker characters like knights and goblins swing swords and clubs, but more powerful creatures can fire projectiles clear across the battlefield. Every now and then a weak creature will triumph over a more powerful one, which is very extremely satisfying if you're on the winning end. It's possible for both creatures to die simultaneously in battle.

The wizards have the ability to cast spells like teleport, heal, imprison, revive, shift time, and summon elemental. Another strategic element is a dynamic game board with spaces that slowly alternate between light and dark shades, giving the respective side an advantage for short periods of time.

Archon is won by wiping out the other army or by occupying five strategic "power point" squares. The game is designed for two players, but the computer is a worthy opponent, boasting some remarkable AI for 1983. Just when you think you have the upper hand, he'll cast a strategic spell and knock you back on your heels. Archon is a genuine classic - one of the greatest video games ever conceived. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Archon (NES)
Dynasty (Odyssey 2)
Sea Battle (Intellivision)
Backgammon (Atari 2600)
Othello (Atari 2600)

Asteroids
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Reviewed: 2019/10/16

screenshotI have reviewed so many versions of Asteroids I can't keep them straight! It just recently dawned on me I had never played the Atari 800 computer original. So I ordered a brand new copy (!?) from Best Electronics and it came in the biggest box I've ever seen, measuring 11" x 8" x 1.5". That's pretty ridiculous considering the cartridge itself is a small brown 2" x 3" brick. As if to justify the size, it comes with an expansive 20-page manual with plenty of blank space on the pages.

Big boxes mean big expectations but Asteroids let me down. I was instantly turned off by its use of color. Your ship and score are rendered in a deep green that doesn't exactly stand out against the black background. The asteroids are light blue and there's a lot of them. During advanced waves it's alarming as a wall of rocks encroaches on your little ship. Fear not, because these asteroids are slow and your cannon can unleash five shots at a time!

The collision detection is heavily tilted in your favor so you can pulverize even a huge rock bearing down on you. I normally expect the computer edition of a game to be the definitive version, but this Asteroids is surprisingly clunky! The animation is kind of choppy and my shots don't always seem to go straight. Various options let you toggle between several "defense" mechanisms triggered by pulling back on the joystick. Your choices are shield, hyperspace, flip, or none.

The shield default is odd considering the arcade featured hyperspace. Even more bizarre is how this shield lasts indefinitely! Heck, even on the Atari 2600 you were limited to three seconds! The game seemed a little boring until I discovered "fast mode". This is more like it!

Perhaps most remarkable are the four-player simultaneous variations. Sadly, unless you own an Atari 400 or 800 you only have two ports to work with. Still, the two-player coop mode is a lot of fun. Being an older title Asteroids isn't as tight as it could be, but I do appreciate its wide range of variations. Now I just need to figure out where to shove this huge box. Please keep your suggestions to yourself. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Space Invaders (Super Nintendo)
Space Rocks (Atari 2600)
Video Checkers (Atari 2600)
Meteorites (Atari 5200)
Rockaroids Deluxe (Vectrex)

Atari Tennis
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2007/9/17

screenshotAtari Tennis really caught me off-guard with its tight controls and intuitive gameplay. It's like playing Virtua Tennis (Dreamcast, 2000) with early-80's graphics! The visuals may be blocky, but the square ball bounces smoothly and a shadow makes it easy to judge its height. Players swing their rackets automatically, but holding down the fire button lets you angle your shot. The controls are responsive, but it's hard to put any "mustard" on the ball. As a result, contests tend to degenerate into endless, boring volleys.

Even when playing the net, your returns are awfully weak. The only way you can "smash" the ball is by standing far back and letting it bounce very high before hitting it. It's possible to execute lobs, but those aren't very effective either. Despite its flaws however, Tennis offers some interesting features. You can display your full name on top of the screen, which was pretty nifty in 1983 (not so much now). There's a doubles mode, but sadly, two human players can't team up against the CPU. Atari seemed to be on the right track with Tennis, but just came up a little short. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Super Tennis (Sega Master System)
Wimbledon Championship Tennis (Genesis)
Mario Tennis (Nintendo 64)
Tennis (Atari 2600)
World Court Tennis (Turbografx-16)

Atlantis
Grade: B-
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Reviewed: 2008/5/16

screenshotTo be honest, I'm somewhat disappointed with this Atari XE version of Atlantis. It's not bad, but considering the power of the system, I was expecting more than a slightly modified version of the Atari 2600 game. I was looking for something more on par with the sophisticated Intellivision edition. Oh well, Atlantis is a fun but shallow shooter where you fire three cannons to protect an undersea kingdom. As alien ships cruise side-to-side overhead, you'll need to blast them before they get low enough to vaporize the structures of the city. It's pretty easy to take care of business with the center cannon in place, but once you lose that, your life becomes more complicated.

The left cannon fires right and vice versa, which takes some getting used to. Once all is lost, a little saucer whisks the survivors to safety and the game ends. The graphics are only slightly enhanced from the 2600 game, with more detailed structures (cannons sit atop platforms), and more detailed enemy ships. There are actually fewer game variations however, and the lack of a co-op mode is glaring. Atlantis is fun enough for a quick shoot-out, but it doesn't pack much replay value. Imagic was definitely "mailing it in" with this tepid effort. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: hard
Our high score: 53300
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ocean City Defender (Atari 2600)
Atlantis (Atari 2600)
Atlantis (Intellivision)
Terra Attack (Colecovision)
Classic Games from the Intellivision (Playstation)

Aztec Challenge
Grade: B-
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/12/2

screenshotI am so fed up with this game! Aztec Challenge looks deceptively simple as you jump your way through a side-scrolling obstacle course. My friends and I spent a good chunk of the summer trying to beat this! Your warrior runs at a steady pace as you press the fire button in conjunction with the joystick to leap high, low, or medium. Height is critical, because banging your head on a stalactite or high platform costs you a life.

Each stage has a unique set of colorful platforms, and it's always fun to see what the next level has in store. The layout of each stage is randomly generated, which was probably pretty mind-blowing in 1983! Also innovative for its time (but somewhat annoying today) is the instant replay feature that kicks in every so often.

It's great how two players can play this game at the same time - one running right behind the other! That's probably worth a letter grade in and of itself! The scoring system awards points for each jump, so it's possible to rack up hundreds of extra points by jumping like crazy when you don't really need to.

My only real issue with Aztec Challenge is its difficulty. Even after my friend Brendan discovered the unlimited continue feature, we could never reach the grand finale, which is a mythical pyramid stage. According to legend, this pseudo-3D stage has your warrior running towards a looming pyramid while avoiding spears thrown from both sides! We never got there, but Aztec Challenge certainly lived up to its name. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: BM 19,120
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Miner 2049er (Atari 5200)
Steeplechase (Atari 2600)
Alfred Challenge (Atari 2600)
A-VCS-Tec Challenge (Atari 2600)
Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers (NES)

Ballblazer
Grade: A-
Publisher: LucasFilm (1987)
Reviewed: 2006/11/4

screenshotIf you weren't video gaming in the early 1980's, it's probably hard to grasp just how mind-blowing Ballblazer was in its time. In those days, 3D graphics, split screens, and "first person" viewpoints were new concepts. Not only did LucasFilm deliver these technologies in spades, but this futuristic sports contest has style to burn. Ballblazer's ultra-funky synthesized theme song ranks as one of the greatest of all time.

The action takes place on an expansive green checkerboard field as two hovercraft-like vehicles vie for control of a floating ball. To score, you must gain control of the ball and fire it through goalposts moving along opposite sides of the field. While in your possession, the ball floats side-to-side in your field of vision, making it possible to angle your shots.

Objects are rendered with graceful scaling sprites, and the framerate never stutters. Since you turn in 90 degrees increments and automatically face the direction of the ball, the constant reorientation can be confusing - especially to novice players. Ballblazer offers nine skill levels and adjustable game lengths. New players may have a hard time getting a feel for this, but when two Ballblazer veterans face each other, it can get pretty intense. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ballblazer (Atari 7800)
Ballblazer (Atari 5200)
Resident Evil Survivor (Playstation)
Hi-Octane (Saturn)
Sports Jam (Dreamcast)

Battlezone
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2007/9/23

screenshotWhen the original Battlezone arcade game hit the scene in 1980, it wowed gamers with its first-person viewpoint and innovative 3D vector graphics. Although its objects were rendered in wire frames, the fact that you were freely moving around a real three-dimensional space was pretty amazing for the time. It was even possible to take cover behind barriers!

This ill-advised Atari XEGS edition tries to emulate Battlezone's groundbreaking visuals with standard raster graphics, but it's a mess. Instead of razor-sharp objects that fluidly scale in and out, everything looks pixelated and moves in a jerky manner. It's even worse when objects overlap, creating shapeless blobs on the horizon. The animation is choppy as well, so when your tank turns everything shifts in an abrupt, unsightly manner.

Firing a missile causes a small circle to appear in the center of the screen, but it's hard to tell if that missile is outgoing or incoming! The gameplay is far too easy in early stages, but nearly impossible in advanced stages as enemy tanks begin to outpace the poor frame-rate. There are a few good versions of Battlezone out there, but this is not one of them. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 14000
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Arcade's Greatest Hits: Atari Collection 1 (Playstation)
Battlezone (Atari 2600)
Missile War (Arcadia 2001)
Tanks But No Tanks (Atari 2600)
Battlezone (Atari 5200)

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
Grade: C+
Publisher: Muse Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2021/5/5

screenshotPlaying this game with my buddy Sudz recently proved a memorable experience. I've owned this 5.25 floppy disk for over 20 years, but after reviewing the original Castle Wolfenstein (Muse, 1982) I guess I forgot about this sequel. So I inserted the nearly-40-year-old disk into my Atari 1050 drive and low and behold it worked. As the sequel to the original stealth adventure, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein lets you infiltrate the Fuehrer's headquarters in an attempt to blow him up!

You begin in an empty room to help get acquainted with the controls. Upon leaving you're interrogated by guards who want to see your papers, and get this - they actually speak! That's right - this game has voice synthesis and it's quite effective. The graphics and gameplay are nearly identical to the original game, but now you can bribe guards, drag bodies, and use bombs. I think the voices sound a bit better.

The stealth action is challenging but if you can locate a uniform you can try to blend in. You can fire your gun in eight directions, and as in real life you don't actually see the bullets. It's satisfying to hear a Nazi scream when shot. If you can't open a door you can even try to shoot off the lock! It's a risky proposition however because bullets are in short supply. In addition, there may be explosives behind that door!

The antiquated user interface lets you use a joystick in conjunction with a computer keyboard. The key mapping could be better. Some of the basic actions are mapped to function keys, so be careful not to accidentally hit reset! Why do you have to press control-k to use a key instead of just k? Like the first game, unlocking a chest still requires you to wait in real time, but the waits tend to be far more reasonable - typically 22 seconds or less. Like the first game you can save at any time but only resume once.

We had a blast playing this. Manning the joystick, Sudz would carefully creep around and only aim his gun when necessary. You don't want to attract attention to yourself! Manning the keyboard I opened doors, searched bodies, and fired the gun with perfect timing. Bump up the grade by a letter if you're playing Beyond Castle Wolfenstein co-op; it's the best way to play. NOTE: While paging through the manual we noticed Muse Software had a local Baltimore address and phone number. Sudz actually called the number and some lady answered but she was not familiar with the company. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Disk
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Castle Wolfenstein (Atari XEGS)
Wolfenstein VCS: The Next Mission (Atari 2600)
K.C.'s Krazy Chase (Odyssey 2)
Berzerk Voice Enhanced (Atari 2600)
Video Checkers (Atari 2600)

Blue Max
Grade: A
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/6/28

screenshotBlue Max is a veritable institution when it comes to Atari 8-bit gaming. Everybody who had an Atari computer in the early 80's has fond memories of this rapid-fire airplane game. In it, you're a WWI flying ace in a war-torn Europe, shooting down planes and bombing ground targets. The isometric view is similar to Zaxxon, but unlike that game, Blue Max is more wide open with less obstacles.

You can easily gauge your height using your plane's shadow, and you know you're lined up with enemy planes when the bottom of the screen turns blue. In addition to shooting and bombing, you can even fly low to perform air-to-ground strafing, and the destruction you unleash is quite satisfying. Your plane will take damage during its mission, but there are periodic runways where you can easily land, repair, and reload. You only have one life so there's little room for error.

At the end of the game you're awarded a score and rank. The planes and tanks in Blue Max are small but super sharp and high in resolution. The scenery, most of which surrounds a river, is rather sparse but attractive. Blue Max is deeper than most arcade titles, but just as addicting and fun as hell. It's a must-have for Atari 8-bit fans. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 1850
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Mission X (Intellivision)
Blue Max (Commodore 64)
River Raid (Atari XEGS)
B-17 Bomber (Intellivision)
Tanks But No Tanks (Atari 2600)

Boulder Dash
Grade: A-
Publisher: First Star Software (1984)
Reviewed: 2014/7/26

screenshotHere's an oldie that never got the credit it deserved. Boulder Dash is an old favorite of mine, and seeing its mesmerizing title screen instantly transports my state of mind back to 1984. That catchy title screen music loops and interweaves melodies in the most infectious way. If attractive graphics are eye candy, this tune is pure ear candy.

Gameplay is similar to Dig Dug (Atari 5200, 1983) in that you burrow through dirt to collect gems and drop rocks on baddies. Boulder Dash however has a very unique look and feel. Your character resembles a little alien who quickly scoots around the screen in search of gems. The expansive stages scroll in all directions, and there are so many boulders that it's hard to move without knocking a few loose. And it's best to keep moving as explosive chain reactions occur in your wake. Sometimes you'll need to purposely trigger an avalanche to access buried gems or destroy pursuing enemies.

The animation is a little choppy, but that contributes to the frenzied pace. As the stages progress they tend to get a little less arcade-like and a little more puzzle-oriented. It is possible to become "stuck" between rocks, at which time you'll need to hit the escape key on the keyboard. A level select is available via the main menu. This is a game more people need to discover. Far more than the sum of its parts, Boulder Dash is a rare combination of strategy and frantic arcade fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 2,567
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Boulderdash (NES)
Dig Dug (Atari 5200)
Dig Dug: Digging Strike (Nintendo DS)
Dig Dug (Atari 2600)
Mr. Do! (Atari 2600)

Bruce Lee
Grade: A-
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
Reviewed: 2006/8/23

screenshotGroundbreaking for its time, Bruce Lee kicks as much ass today as it did in 1984. Upon booting up the game you're immediately presented with an excellent illustration of the legendary martial artist himself, accompanied by a nice Asian theme song. Bruce Lee is an ideal combination of fighting action and platform jumping.

Our hero is relentlessly pursued by two foes, which are rendered with chunky but nicely animated sprites. The "black ninja" wields a sword, and the "Green Yamo" is an aggressive sumo wrestler. Bruce can jump, climb, punch, duck, and perform devastating jump kicks. The first few screens feature attractive traditional Chinese architecture with scenic mountains in the background.

Once the action moves underground, you're faced with perilous traps and moving vines. It's always satisfying to lure your unsuspecting enemies into the traps. Should you reach the final screen, you'll face off against a mysterious wizard in an epic battle. Bruce Lee's attention to detail is exceptional and often surprisingly so. The scenery is remarkably rich, with elaborate structures and statues that appear to have depth.

You might expect that jumping onto a ladder would allow for an easy escape from foes, but those crazy SOB's will try to kick you off of it! I also love how dropping down on enemies knocks them on their butts. The game has no serious flaws, although the controls can be tricky when navigating moving vines. Long appreciated by 8-bit computer users but virtually unknown to console gamers, Bruce Lee is fun to play even after you've mastered it. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 20725
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Bruce Lee (Commodore 64)
Kung Fu (NES)
Tarzan (Colecovision)
Ninja (Atari XEGS)
Shinobi (Sega Master System)

Bug Hunt
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2002/12/28

screenshotBug Hunt is a very minor game that's only mildly amusing. It was included with the Atari XE game system just so people would have a use for the included light gun. Taking the metaphor of "computer bug" literally, the screen consists of a 2x4 "circuit board" grid. Your job is to shoot the insects that appear and crawl around each square. For a pack-in game, Bug Hunt hardly shows off the capabilities of the XE system.

In addition to blocky graphics, everything is rendered in putrid shades of green. Man, this may be the ugliest video game ever made! The gameplay is good enough to keep you coming back for a few rounds. To advance to the next wave (6 in all), you need to maintain a certain accuracy percentage. Unfortunately, I'd rate the accuracy of the XE light gun as fair at best. Overall Bug Hunt is a pretty lame effort by Atari. Duck Hunt for the NES was more compelling. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 73835
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Safari Hunt (Sega Master System)
Backgammon (Atari 2600)
Duck Hunt (NES)
Missile Defense 3D (Sega Master System)
Crossbow (Atari 7800)


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