system Index A-C
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)
Missile Command (Atari XEGS)

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)

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)
Puzzled (Neo Geo)

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)

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)
Battlezone (Atari 5200)
Tanks But No Tanks (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)

Castle Crisis
Grade: A
Publisher: Bryan Edewaard (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/5/27

screenshotIf you're a classic gamer that revels in cutthroat multiplayer action, this is the game you've been waiting for all your life (whether you knew it or not). Castle Crisis takes the time-honored gameplay of Warlords and ratchets up the graphics, speed, and overall excitement level. Gamers around the globe owe a debt of gratitude to Bryan Edewaard for programming this gem - from scratch no less! Castle Crisis looks just like the Warlords arcade game, with a walled castle in each corner and a single shield defending it.

A real dragon kicks off each contest by flying to the center of the screen and unleashing the first fireball. In addition to deflecting it, you can also catch a fireball with your shield and throw it in a new direction. I love how holding a fireball gradually burns away your own wall, discouraging players from holding it for too long. As each match progresses, additional fireballs are added to the mix, and by the time only two castles remain, the action is crazy.

The graphics are colorful, well defined, and show no hint of slowdown. But the best part of all is the fact that Castle Crisis uses paddle controllers. Have you even tried to play Warlords with a control pad or joystick? It doesn't work very well. For games like this, nothing but a good paddle will do. Castle Crisis supports one to four players, and you can also select the number of rounds.

If there's a flaw with this game, it may be the funky rules that apply to CPU-controlled players in the two and three-player modes. In the two-player mode, when the CPU wins a round, the whole game ends. In the three-player mode, CPU wins simply don't count. I would have preferred the CPU players to be treated like normal players. Of course, these issues don't apply to the enjoyable one-player mode or the outstanding four-player mode. Castle Crisis is a must-have title. If you don't have an Atari XEGS or Atari 8-bit computer, get one. If you do, pick up a copy of Castle Crisis at © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 2675
1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: War (Bally Astrocade)
Medieval Mayhem (Atari 2600)
Warlords (Atari 2600)
Vaboom (Vectrex)
Robo Squash (Lynx)

Castle Wolfenstein
Grade: B+
Publisher: Muse (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/3/8

screenshotMost video game players are familiar with Wolfenstein 3D - the precursor to Doom. But how many can say they've played the original Wolfenstein? This 8-bit computer classic is admittedly weak in the graphics department, but excels in terms of pure gameplay. You assume the role of an Allied soldier trying to infiltrate a Nazi fortress. At first glance, the game looks terribly sloppy. The rooms are simple mazes, and the soldiers are poorly rendered in only 4 colors. Some of them actually look like clowns! The animation is choppy and when you run into a wall, it appears as if you're getting electrocuted.

But the gameplay however is no joke. You can stick up guards and take their belongings. You can search chests for ammunition and supplies, and you'll often stumble upon German food and drink. Just don't drink the alcohol because it will screw up your aim. One thing I hate is how it takes real time to open a chest, although shooting the lock expedites the process. In addition to bullets, you can also find grenades and bulletproof vests. And once you find a Nazi uniform, the dynamics of the game change completely, as you can now walk around freely.

Castle Wolfenstein requires a great deal of stealth and technique. German soldiers "shout" when they see something suspicious. Despite the 1983 technology, the game makes an admirable attempt at voice synthesis. The control scheme uses both a joystick and keyboard, which is awkward to say the least. You're better off with a second player manning the keyboard.

Despite its primitive nature, Wolfenstein's attention to detail is commendable. For example, if you steal a guard's bullets, he can chase you - but can't shoot. And I appreciate how when you kill guards, they remain dead even when you re-enter the same room. But what really impressed me was the ability to save my place. Even using the 20-year-old 5 ΒΌ inch floppy, my game saved without a hitch. Castle Wolfenstein is a landmark video game, and if you can stomach the minimal graphics and awkward control, you're in for a good time. . © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Wolfenstein VCS: The Next Mission (Atari 2600)
Wolfenstein 3D (Jaguar)
Berzerk Voice Enhanced (Atari 2600)
Commando (Atari 2600)
Video Checkers (Atari 2600)

Caverns of Khafka
Grade: B+
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/12/2

screenshotI used to play computer games with a friend named Eric F. back in the early 80's, and in his mind no platformer could ever live up to the lofty standards established by Caverns of Khafka. "Just look at those graphics!" he would exclaim. In retrospect, Eric was young, naive, and 100% correct! Khafka is a feast for the eyes and offers a unique style of play you won't find anywhere else.

You guide a tiny explorer through a scrolling network of twisting tunnels with ladders, bubbling lava pits, moving floors, and timed traps. The green walls look properly granular, and the network of tunnels is intricately designed. Your goal is to collect all of the golden treasures scattered throughout, and a number at the top of the screen counts down how many remain. Your character is a nimble guy who can quickly scamper over the narrow cracks and scuddle up ladders. It's hilarious how he turns into a small box when he ducks!

Clearing a stage results in a flashy display of colors, followed by a slightly harder version of the maze with more obstacles like flying bats and spears. Khafka is crazy fun despite some very sloppy collision detection. Sometimes you'll jump through a wall unexpectedly, and it shows a certain lack of polish. It's not perfect, but I still regard Caverns of Khafka as a hidden gem in the Atari XEGS library. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: SLN 243,854
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Ladybug (Atari 2600)
Super Bee (Europe) (Odyssey 2)
NBA Live 96 (Super Nintendo)
Tetris (Fairchild Channel F)
Escape From The Mindmaster (Atari 2600)

Caverns of Mars
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Reviewed: 2003/1/28

screenshotThis early Atari game is an oddity in that it only appeared for the Atari 8-bit computers. I'm not crazy about Caverns of Mars. The large objects and tight control gave me some false hope initially, but the repetitive gameplay soon got on my nerves. You control a large blue ship in this multi-stage, vertically scrolling shooter. You shoot double-shots, and can hold down the button for continuous fire.

Some stages resemble a vertical Scramble, where you blast fuel and rockets as you navigate caverns. The real challenges here are the disappearing "laser gates", which are frustratingly hard to avoid. Other stages are wide open, and you have to blast or dodge ships and rockets approaching from the bottom of the screen. This particular stage goes on for far too long, and I couldn't wait for it to end.

Eventually you reach a large orange ball which is apparently supposed to be some sort of bomb that you detonate. Then you have to navigate caverns to escape as a timer ticks away. It all sounds a lot more exciting than it really is. The blocky graphics, like the static mess that appears when your ship explodes, aren't very inspired, and the sound effects are practically non-existent. With four difficulty settings, there's plenty of challenge, but it's just not much fun. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: pilot
Our high score: 39410
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Conquest of Mars (Atari 2600)
Scramble (Atari 7800)
Strategy X (Atari 2600)
Space Invaders (Atari 5200)
Gradius Galaxies (Game Boy Advance)

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2002/12/28

screenshotUsually the 8-bit versions of Atari's games are fairly comparable to their arcade counterparts, but this one really falls short. Perhaps because it was programmed earlier than other versions, it really doesn't compare to the Atari 5200 or Colecovision editions. The graphics are plain, with solid-colored mushrooms. The centipede moves in a somewhat choppy manner, and the sad-looking spider isn't nearly as aggressive as he should be. In general, the game seems too slow and easy. I was able to rack up scores that far exceeded anything I could do in the arcade (over 37K!). Using the Atari 2600 trackball makes the game feel more arcade-like, but it's also more work on your arm. There's only one skill level. Despite the problems, this is still Centipede, one of the best video games of all time. But there are better, more challenging versions out there. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 37907
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Centipede (Colecovision)
Centipede (Atari 2600)
Pitfall (Atari 5200)
Pitfall 2 (Atari 5200)
Centipede (Atari 5200)

Chop Suey
Grade: C
Publisher: English Software (1985)
Reviewed: 2019/2/7

screenshotDuring the 1970's everybody was kung fu fighting. During the 1980's everybody was kung fu fighting in video games, which proved to be much safer. When my friends and I first discovered Chop Suey in 1985 we were amazed. This was a dream come true: a one-on-one fighter with large, fluidly animated martial artists!

The fighters in Chop Suey even assume cool combat poses. The controls seem a bit non-intuitive until you remember that the controller only has one button. In that light they are remarkably well designed. Pressing the button while pressing the joystick lets you perform a jab, jump, low kick, body kick, and flying kick. Pressing the button alone makes you change directions. You don't automatically face your opponent and that's confusing - especially since both fighters look exactly the same!

The game is playable once you grasp the controls, and it's cool when you kick your opponent in the chest and watch him double over in defeat. Sometimes you can take him down with a single flying kick! Adding intrigue is an "oriental scorpion" that occasionally scampers across the floor, forcing both players to jump. You can battle a CPU or a human opponent, and there are two speeds. The CPU is a challenge and having a score adds replay value.

Until Street Fighter II (SNES, 1991) came along Chop Suey was one of the better fighters out there. It's particularly impressive coming from a tiny publisher. The instructions actually inquire if you can write good machine code and provide contact information to get a job. I'm thinking about giving them a call! Not really. . © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 28,590
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Kung Fu (NES)
Kung Fu Master (Atari 7800)
Street Fighter III Third Strike (Dreamcast)
Double Dragon (CD) (Neo Geo)
Shaq Fu (Super Nintendo)

Grade: C+
Publisher: Broderbund (1982)
Reviewed: 2019/7/19

screenshotIn the early 80's Choplifter made quite an impression on me. The country had just gone through a harrowing Iran hostage ordeal, so the idea of flying a helicopter into enemy territory to rescue hostages was a heroic challenge. Choplifter delivered realism with high resolution graphics, lifelike animation, and a sense of physics. Your chopper is not easy to pilot because it has heft and is subject to momentum. I like how it bounces slightly when you set it down. You begin on a miniature army base with a waving American flag.

Stars twinkle in the sky to indicate your mission takes place under the cover of night. Once you lift off and fly over enemy lines you're greeted by tanks. It's easy to stay out of their range, but fast movement will attract the attention of deadly green fighter jets. You see these planes approach from the background, and you'll need to be ready because they unleash a pair of missiles. When hit, your copter goes down in a flaming heap. To avoid the planes I sometimes use a stop-and-go strategy to avoid detection. Some hostages are kept in houses you must blow open. I like how they run out and wave for you to pick them up. Your chopper has a fixed capacity and you can only set it down briefly before enemies converge.

Unfortunately when there's a lot of activity the action slows to a crawl. This hinders your ability to maneuver, as the controls become terribly laggy. Even if you manage to load up with hostages the flight back is perilous and you only score for those you safely return. Once all the hostages are accounted for the game comes to an abrupt end. There's only one variation so the replay value is limited. Choplifter shows its age but it's still fascinating to look back on this highly influential title. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Choplifter (Atari 7800)
Choplifter (Atari 5200)
Choplifter (Sega Master System)
Choplifter II (Game Boy)
Mission X (Intellivision)

Grade: B-
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
Reviewed: 2005/4/2

screenshotA gamer's dream in 1983, Conan delivers a multi-screen platform adventure with beautiful, high-resolution graphics. It's still strangely compelling today, thanks mainly to its well-designed screens. Although rendered in a mere four colors, the visuals look more aesthetically pleasing than many modern games.

It's the attention to detail that makes all the difference - the developers obviously put a lot of TLC into each screen. The castle interiors feature flickering candles, each tree is meticulously detailed down to individual leaves. Even the cave screens contain all sorts of subtle nooks and crannies. Although adversaries like bats, scorpions, and dragons tend to be small, they are nicely animated and easy to discern.

In addition to its terrific graphics, Conan features an absolutely killer soundtrack. The upbeat, harmonized tunes are catchy as hell, and I never got tired of hearing them. The main character is chunky but agile, able to perform jump-flips and fling swords at enemies. The control lags slightly and collision detection could be tighter, but overall the game plays very well. The screens are progressively more difficult and most require some degree of strategy.

Conan does possess one major flaw however, and that would be the heinous slowdown that occurs in later screens (notable screen five). When too many objects are moving at once, the action becomes painfully slow, and even old school junkies will find it hard to tolerate. Other than that, Conan is a good-looking and thoroughly engaging adventure. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 47250
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Gargoyles (Genesis)
Adventure (Atari 2600)
California Games (Atari 2600)
Another Adventure (Atari 2600)
Road Rash 2 (Genesis)

Crime Buster
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Reviewed: 2013/5/5

screenshotI enjoy light gun games because they usually provide a more immediate sense of control. And then there's Crime Buster, one of the most bizarre light gun titles ever conceived. The game alternates between overhead car driving and first-person shooting stages. In the car stages the driving is automatic as gangsters pull up alongside and start shooting at your police cruiser. You can fire back, but not in a way you would expect. You fire at arrow symbols on the bottom of the screen which determine the trajectory of your bullets. There's another pair of arrows that cause your car to abruptly scoot (not shoot) forward or backward.

These indirect controls are just plain weird. The only saving grace is the way shot-up mobster cars roll and explode in spectacular fashion. The first-person stages are more conventional as you shoot thugs that appear in uninteresting scenery, like a building or boat. I like how you can shoot the hats off their heads. Just make sure you don't hit the occasional babe who wanders into view. Sometimes you'll whiz a bullet past her head and breathe a sigh of relief.

I'm really impressed by the accuracy of the gun in this game. In many light gun titles I need to crank up the TV brightness for my shots to register, but I didn't have to do anything for this game. Crime Buster is mildly fun but when you die it's usually a mystery why. And while the "death" screen may look cool, classic gamers will instantly recognize that skull as being lifted directly from Final Legacy (Atari XEGS, 1987). Crime Buster tried to add a little twist to the light gun genre, but for the most part I think it missed the mark. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 14,175
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Die Hard Trilogy (Playstation)
Point Blank (Playstation)
Rogue Trip (Playstation)
Gangster Town (Sega Master System)
Operation Blood: Light Gun Version (Atari XEGS)

Crystal Castles
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Reviewed: 2018/3/26

screenshotWhy would a guy who owns a Crystal Castles arcade cabinet care a lick about an 8-bit computer version? Well, every version tends to be a little different. At a glance, this has the look of a faithful port. The tiered castle mazes look as sharp as the arcade, and as far as I can tell they're all included. Likewise the excellent harmonized music is dead on.

The trak-ball controller is supported for those who want to simulate playing in an arcade. Unfortunately it doesn't provide the same sense of momentum as the arcade, so a joystick works just as well. The idea is to collect gems while avoiding a hodgepodge of monsters. It can be difficult to tiptoe around a skeleton or leap over a walking tree, partly because the characters are so blocky. It's especially confusing when several are crowded together in the same area.

A few minor elements have been altered for this home version. The honeypot that the bees descend upon is now a fishbowl. It makes no sense, but the blue water looks great with the orange goldfish. The wizard hat is now shaped like a red top hat, and it hops around the screen in a choppy manner. The difficulty is a little lower than the arcade, perhaps to compensate for the less-precise controls. Overall I'd have to say Crystal Castles this Atari XE is a pretty fair rendition. It's a step down in graphics and control, but still retains the whimsical spirit of the arcade. . © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 66,523
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Crystal Castles (Atari 2600)
Bug Hunt (Atari XEGS)
Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 2 (Playstation)
Mystic Castle (Intellivision)
Bentley Bear's Crystal Quest (Atari 7800)

Cycle Knight
Grade: C
Publisher: Artworx (1986)
Reviewed: 2020/5/23

screenshotCycle Knight is one impressive piece of work. You're a dude on a motorcycle stuck in a hellish volcanic world crawling with zombies, ghosts, snakes, and dragons. The action is presented isometrically, a la Realm of Impossibility (Electronic Arts, 1984) and the graphics look stunning. Though tiny, the characters are quite colorful and detailed. I love that cool dashboard! I was psyched to play but Cycle Knight turned out different than I expected.

The first chamber places you on a small elevated platform crawling with creeps. Instead of racing all over you're perpetually facing northeast so that's the only direction you can drive. In order to clear out enemies I found myself awkwardly walking my bike backwards and shuffling sideways. The zombies die instantly when I touch them. Is this really the game?! You can fire shots in any direction, lobbing them up into the air. It's easy to kill flying creatures but really hard to hit what's right in front of you.

Upon clearing the initial area I didn't know what to do. It turns out that holding in the fire button brings up a "talk" interface. You need to have a conversation with a face on the wall (who looks like a Lego guy) to proceed. Not only that, but you need to piece together some very specific sequences of words for him to allow passage! Was this part really necessary? I have to do this every time I play? Even when the face lets you pass, getting through the exit gate is tricky because it continuously moves up and down. Why does everything need to be so complicated?!

In stage two I was pleased to see a big ramp in front of me. I immediately took off it, crashed into a wall, and burst into flames. Game over. Eventually I would progress several screens into the game but each stage is claustrophobic and you never know what you can safely touch. You need to talk to that face to exit every chamber, and say the wrong thing and he might kill you. You rarely gain much momentum on your bike without crashing or plunging to your death.

In chamber four I made a pretty massive jump over a pool of lava, only to be eviscerated in a sea of enemies. This game is brutal! Still, there's a rich, immersive quality as you scratch and claw to survive this captivating hellish world. Cycle Knight pushed my patience to the brink, but I don't think I've ever played anything quite like it and that's saying something. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 8495
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Super Bee (Europe) (Odyssey 2)
Tricky Kick (Turbografx-16)
BMX Airmaster (Atari 2600)
Spelunker (NES)
The Last Ninja (Commodore 64)

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