Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
With 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.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Atari 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.
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
To 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
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
I 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 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
Publisher: LucasFilm (1987)
If 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.
Publisher: Atari (1987)
When 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
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
Blue 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 of 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
Publisher: First Star Software (1984)
Here'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. The 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. Sometime 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
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
Groundbreaking 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
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Bug 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. Even Duck Hunt for the NES was more compelling. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 73835
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Bryan Edewaard (2003)
If 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 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 www.atariage.com. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 2675
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Muse (1983)
Most 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 is no joke. You can stick up guards a 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 ¼ 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.
Caverns of Khafka
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
I 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.
Our high score: SLN 243,854
Publisher: Atari (1981)
This 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.
Recommended variation: pilot
Our high score: 39410
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Usually 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 track ball 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
Publisher: English Software (1985)
During 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 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 provides 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
Publisher: Broderbund (1982)
In 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.
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
A gamer's dream in 1983, Conan delivers 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
Publisher: Atari (1988)
I 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 sign 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
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Why 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
David's Midnight Magic
Publisher: Broderbund (1982)
When Atari was assembling a library of carts for its new XE game system, it decided to recycle this old Broderbund pinball relic. But although Midnight Magic may have turned some heads in 1982 with its high-resolution graphics, it was hardly anything to get excited about in 1987. The table is rendered in green and pink - a hideous combination. Most of your targets are the "drop target" or "rollover" variety, in the form of tiny dashes and squares. To be frank, there's not much to see or do. The table never changes, and apparently your only goal is to run up your bonus multiplier. There are four flippers, two on the top and two on the bottom, triggered by moving the joystick left or right. You can move all of them at once by pressing up, but too much of this could cause a tilt to occur. The physics isn't so hot. The ball seems to "stick" to the sides instead of caroming around, and the game has little sense of momentum or flow. Midnight Magic is a dull affair that really pales in comparison to so many other great Atari 8-bit titles out there. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 115420
Publisher: Atari (1982)
In most space games of the early 80s, the playing field was a single screen in size, so when the side-scrolling Defender appeared in the arcades, it was completely original. And the number of buttons on the arcade cabinet was daunting. There was a lever to move up and down and buttons for thrust, reverse, shoot, hyperspace, and smart bomb. The home versions use a normal joystick, which simplifies the control scheme quite a bit. This Atari 8-bit version is excellent, maintaining the same graphics, cool explosions, and frantic pace of the original game. It's great to trigger a smart bomb with a screen full of aliens, and watch everything be obliterated. There is some slow-down when the screen gets too busy, but nothing major. Although this version of Defender looks identical to the 5200 one, here you have the advantage of using a normal joystick and keyboard. The spacebar sets off a smart bomb, and any other key initiates hyperspace. I'd have to say that this is the best home version of Defender I've played. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 7025
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Synapse (1984)
In the early 80's I remember drooling
over a picture of this game in an Atari computer Magazine called Analog. Dimension X is a shooter that lets you glide over a 3D checkerbox surface - a visual treat that was absolutely stunning
for its time. I'm sure that effect alone sold a ton of copies. Well after 30+ years I've finally secured my own copy of Dimension X. So what's the verdict? Well, the 3D effect is still terrific. The animation is silky smooth. You can effortlessly glide around and build up a head of steam. The thing is, when pushing the joystick to the side you appear to be strafing, even though you're actually turning
. That's confusing. A map on top of the screen indicates the number of enemies in surrounding sectors, and the flashing sector is the one you're headed towards. Why is there not a compass in this game? Before entering the next sector you're forced to travel through a passageway, and this is the worst part. Maneuvering these passages is like navigating the trenches in Star Wars: The Arcade Game
(Atari 5200, 1983), only without the fun!
You need to keep a cursor situated between two converging lines (why?!) while flying over and under approaching barriers. The 3D illusion is so dirt poor so you really can't tell if the barriers are high or low until the last second. Once you arrive in an occupied sector, enemies resemble flickering flying saucers hopping around the screen. The shooting action is shallow and imprecise. And once your ship is damaged, you might as well shut the game off because it becomes impossible to maneuver and/or locate enemies. In the final analysis it's clear that Dimension X is a marginal game constructed around a single programming trick - albeit a good one. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: novice
Our high score: SDZ warrior-class-3
Publisher: Atari (1983)
As the VGC, one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "What's the best home version of Donkey Kong?" The answer is not so obvious considering decent versions have appeared on a number of classic systems. For my money though, this Atari 8-bit version takes the cake. Its sharp graphics, smooth animation, and arcade-perfect audio make the game an absolute joy to play. Even the intro sequence is included with Kong jumping on the girders. But the number one reason
for its superiority is the fact that it contains all four of the screens
. Yes, you heard me right. All the other home versions only have three, omitting the stage with pies on moving conveyer belts. Granted, it's not the best stage in the world, but if you're a fan of the game, it's a real treat. Oh, and did I mention this game is hard as a bastard
? But it's not due to "usual suspects" of poor control, bad collision detection, or cheap hits. No, the difficulty level is just plain tough, but it's that relentless challenge that made the arcade game so great to begin with. In other versions you're practically invincible while holding the hammer, but that's definitely not
the case here. If you have the option, I'd advise you to pick up this fantastic translation of Donkey Kong. Cheap and readily available, it's the definitive home version. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 18600
1 or 2 players
Publisher: APX (1981)
Downhill doesn't look luck much. Viewed from directly overhead, your skier looks like a red letter H and the trees are ugly green splotches. The gates resemble barbells and they are spaced extremely close, making this feel more like slalom than downhill. What makes this game playable is its amazing paddle controls. The analog knob lets you turn on a dime, navigating the narrow paths with pinpoint precision. Each run is about 20 gates which a skilled player can complete in well under a minute. What holds Downhill back is its brutal collision detection. In real life skiers bang into the gate poles all the time, but in this game it will bring you to a screeching halt! Worse yet, it takes forever
to get back up to speed. Scraping against a tree has the same effect. Finding an ideal game variation can be a challenge. You can enter in any slope value, with 30 degrees being the default. Personally I found 45 to offer the right balance of maneuverability and danger. You select between novice, intermediate, expert, and random courses. The game slowly
previews each hill before you begin, but you can hit the start button to expedite the process. The random option sounds appealing but its courses tend to be too easy. If you want a real challenge you'll need to stick with the expert trail and its densely-packed trees. Downhill's controls makes it a worth a go but its all-or-nothing collision detection drags down the fun factor. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: expert
Our high score: 5081
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It will always exist in the shadow of its infamous Atari 2600 cousin, but this overlooked Atari computer edition of E.T. is far
more playable. If you're the type of guy who can appreciate vintage 8-bit graphics (in all their blocky goodness), you'll find Phone Home very appealing. Playing the role of a pixelated Elliott, you roam freely around a scrolling suburban neighborhood with houses and cars that look great despite their low resolution and limited color palette. On the fringes of the neighborhood you'll find swamps with storm drains and forests comprised of scenic evergreen trees. The object of the game is to collect a series of phone parts, and as you wander around audio clues indicate if you're "warm". You can only return one piece at a time to your house, and that's tricky because the area is crawling with scientists and agents that scurry around like bugs. You can run by holding in the fire button, but that causes you to drop your piece, so forget that. Instead you'll want to take a stealth approach, waiting for agents to clear out before making your move. They'll be some close calls, but that's what makes the game exciting. Even so, gathering pieces gets monotonous after a while, particularly in advanced levels where you have to collect ten
of the freakin' things. Once gathered up, you're treated to a close-up of E.T. who actually speaks
to you. Granted, his voice sounds more like a chain-smoking demon speaking to you on a really bad cell phone from underwater. You'll complete the game if you can guide E.T. to his ship in the woods. I always thought E.T. was slow, but he scurries around like a little brown monkey in this game. At the landing pad you're treated to a nifty landing sequence before your final score is revealed. E.T. Phone Home is only moderately fun, but as a fan of classic gaming, I found this to be absolutely fascinating. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 136879
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Back in 1983 this first-person shooter was nothing short of amazing
. The whole first-person concept was still pretty new at the time and Encounter was slick
. It felt like a turbocharged version of Battlezone
(Atari 2600, 1983). The controls are really tight and the objects scale so smoothly! You freely maneuver your tank around a flat landscape with scattered pylons, trading shots a flying saucer. You can fire several shots at a time, so feel free to spray them around. Shots fired in this game look like giant ping pong balls. Since the Atari joystick only has one button (to shoot) there's no strafe control. The game's physics engine works well however, so if you turn quickly and hit reverse you can watch approaching balls pass harmlessly in front on you. In theory you can hide behind the pylons for cover, but they just get in the way. You only face one enemy at a time, but sometimes it takes the form of a drone that will home in on you in an alarming manner. They tend to zig-zag so it pays to hold your fire until the last possible moment. When you get hit the screen goes into a state of chaos that's pretty remarkable. Clearing a level reveals a square portal which takes you to the bonus stage where you're forced to dodge a extended barrage of ping pong balls. It becomes more nerve-racking as you near the end, because you know you're on the verge of earning a sweet bonus. Subsequent stages feature alternate color schemes and faster action, but your adversaries remain the same. That's the problem: the repetitive game of cat and mouse game gets old. Encounter may a glorified tech demo, but it's definitely fun for a while. NOTE: This would not work load on my Atari XEGS, and I reviewed it on an Atari 800XL. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: novice
Our high score: 46,400
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