Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
As one of the initial offerings from Electronic Arts, M.U.L.E. was an early software masterpiece. It's apparent the programmer knew the Atari architecture inside and out because this four-person strategy title squeezes every bit of juice out of the system. M.U.L.E. is based on economics but don't let that scare you off. The only other comparable game of the time would probably be Utopia
(Intellivision, 1981). M.U.L.E.'s premise is that four extraterrestrial beings are dropped onto a barren planet to form a colony. Each alien type is distinctively designed and animated with charm and personality. The game is played in turns, beginning with each player selecting a plot of land on a screen-sized map. You then equip a mule-like robot to harvest food, energy, or mine "smithore" from your plot. After everyone has taken their turn you sit back and watch the land produce. Natural disasters and other chance events make the outcome unpredictable. That's followed by an auction phase where players can sell their surpluses to each other. One criticism is how these auctions tend to drag on longer than necessary, with no way to quit out. Each round concludes with the current ranking of players rendered in suspenseful fashion. The game ends after a selectable number of rounds (typically 12). If you don't have four people it's no problem because the CPU will gladly fill in those missing players. Then again, unless you own one of the original four-port Atari 400/800 computers you'll be limited to two humans anyway (two ports). M.U.L.E. proves a memorable experience thanks to its style, humor, and catchy soundtrack. Original and fun, this should really go down as one of the all-time greats. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Mail Order Monsters
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1985)
In the mid-80's my tastes had shifted from consoles to sophisticated computer games, but part of me yearned for arcade-style action. Mail Order Monsters seemed just what the doctor ordered. As a kid who grew up on a steady diet of Japanese monster movies, the concept of giant titans bashing each other was intriguing. The enticing cover featured Godzilla loaded to the hilt with weapons! You begin by navigating a series of elaborate setup screens, moving a tiny guy between assembly areas reminiscent of M.U.L.E.
(Electronic Arts, 1983). A variety of monster types are available like a dinosaur, giant squid, spider, crab, and some kind of plant monster. You adjust their attributes and outfit them with a laundry list of weapons and items. Grenades, swords, protective armor... you name it. As the battle screen loaded I braced myself for screen-sized titans thrashing each other while inflicting massive destruction to the landscape. Well, you won't believe what happened next. I find myself looking at a barren landscape with two slow-moving, monochromatic blobs crawling around. I assumed this might be a map screen, but no - this is the actual game
. One blob might discharge a little pellet. The other might overlap with it, flashing white to indicate a "melee" attack. Is this a joke? Oh yes - yes it is!
The only indicator of damage are "life numbers" slowly ticking down in the corners. Battles drag on for an eternity because it takes forever to "recharge". Features in the scenery like trees or rocks only serve to slow things down... err... more so
. The constant beeping sound effects are ear-splitting. Even my floppy drive was upset, grinding away as if it were attempting to eject the disc like a rejected organ! Apparently one of the designers was involved with Archon
(Electronic Arts, 1993), so perhaps Mail Order Monsters was meant to be a customizable version of that game. But when the core gameplay is this pathetic
, it really is a lost cause. Return to sender, ASAP!
© Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Considering how the Atari XEGS and Atari 5200 are so similar under the hood, it's surprising how they ended up with totally different versions of Mario Bros. Both look and play very well, but each offers a unique look and feel. Mario Bros. is known for its two-player simultaneous action, as Mario and Luigi attempt to knock crawling creatures on their backs and then kick them off the screen for points. A special "POW" button allows you to bump all the platforms at the same time. Mario Bros. is simple in concept, but offers ample room for strategy. This version plays extremely well with tight controls and sharp graphics. There are even introductory screens for each stage. Still, I'd give a slight
edge to the 5200 version because of its more elaborate animations and richer sound effects. Also, in that version you could send the creatures flying in different directions when you bumped them, but in this version they always just flip over in place. Still, it's hard to find much to fault with this fun, arcade-style title. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 36200
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Tigervision (1984)
Is that supposed to be yodeling
I hear playing over Matterhorn's title screen? It sounds positively awful
, but then again I guess it's supposed
to. The action begins as you control a dude running across a green, side-scrolling meadow strewn with trees and rocks. Birds fly overhead, firing lightning bolts down at you with deadly accuracy. Fortunately you can take cover under tree canopies and rock formations. Take cover?!
That's a pretty innovative feature for a 1984 game! Moving between safe spots leaves you exposed, but every now and then you'll find a diamond-shaped invincibility power-up that lets you sprint through several screens unscathed. There are also arrows you can collect to fire at the birds above. It's hard to aim while running but if you fire off enough a few shots are bound to hit their mark. I was excited to finally reach a hill, as it meant I was actually gaining altitude!
The gameplay remains more or less the same except now you're moving diagonally. Eventually the hill becomes considerably rocky and steep, with dangerous bouncing boulders a la Jungle Hunt
(Atari 2600, 1982). Like real mountain climbing, playing Matterhorn is an exercise in survival. I progressed a little bit further each time I played. Unfortunately my cartridge is glitchy and even freezes up on occasion. That's a shame because Matterhorn is a captivating little game. I really wanted to reach the top! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 6495
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1985)
I wanted to like Maxwell Manor so bad. The box cover depicts a bold hero holding a cross in one hand and a gun in the other. He's like Bruce Campbell from Evil Dead! The game opens with an elaborate title screen, dripping with blood, and some appropriately spooky music. You begin on a dark road and the surrounding brush is rendered with grainy textures. You'll discover items lying around like a gun, shield, and candle. Cycling through items is clumsy, but I appreciate how the programmer designed the game so all actions are performed with a single joystick. Head northward to reach the manor. If the gate is locked, head around back to find a secret backdoor. Once inside the gate you'll find yourself navigating garden mazes crawling with deadly insects. The problem is, the maze openings are roughly the same height as you, so it's really easy to get caught on the edge of them. There's nothing more frustrating getting killed because your head was stuck on a wall. It's even possible to get stuck on items you're trying to pick up! Sometimes when you arrive in a new area a bug will crawl out of a wall and kill you before you even get a chance to move. Once inside the manor the game becomes more interesting but no less frustrating. Each room is unique but most seem to incorporate some sort of Indiana Jones-style spear trap. You never really get a chance to enjoy the scenery and many times I keeled over for no apparent reason. I actually believe there are invisible spots on the floor that are deadly if you step on them! Some rooms assume a side-view perspective instead of overhead, but the jumping controls are the worst. The instructions actually state "we've made jumping a little tricky". Gee - thanks a lot for that! For the determined gamer there seem to be endless surprises and secrets to uncover at Maxwell Manor. Playing the game is a pretty quiet experience, with only the occasional beep or screech. At its best, Maxwell Manor is like an expanded version of Haunted House
(Atari 2600, 1982). Not only is there a lot to discover but the game randomizes its layout. Unfortunately its "let the player figure stuff out" mentality can leave you in a lurch, wondering if it's really worth the effort. During October, it probably is. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3749
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Megamania was the winner of the "1983 Award for Most Humorous Home/Arcade Game". I'm guessing there wasn't much competition that year? It may be quirky, but I always considered Megamania to be a bit of a cop-out. Instead of coming up with intriguing new alien invaders to destroy, they just rendered waves of random household items. Much easier to program in my estimation. Through eight waves of shooting you'll take aim at hamburgers, ice cream sandwiches, bug-shaped refrigerator magnets, tires, rings, bow ties, steam irons, and space dice (inspired by the Millenium Falcon, no doubt). The action is as simple as can be, moving a cannon side-to-side while firing one shot after the next. A "straight shot" option is available but guided shots are a lot more fun. The first round offers minimal resistance, but the second set of waves gets pretty intense, with groups of objects flying herky-jerky across the screen. You have an energy meter at the bottom, but its main purpose seems to be to calculate your bonus for clearing the wave. Megamania was somewhat original back in the day, but now it seems simplistic and monotonous. Then again, sometimes that's just what you want. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: guided
Our high score: 79440
1 or 2 players
Micro League Baseball
Publisher: Micro League Sports (1984)
Boasting ultra-realistic gameplay and actual historical teams, Micro League Baseball was state of the art... in 1984.
It was the first baseball game to reflect actual player statistics. As a kid playing this on my Atari computer I was mesmerized by the TV-style presentation with live play-by-play
in the form of scrolling text on the scoreboard. The commentary is brief but colorful ("A booming fly ball to the alley in left! Will he get it? Yes! Combs hauls it in.") The field is displayed using an unusual rendering technique, and if you look close you'll notice the pixels are arranged in a checkerboard pattern. It didn't take long for my buddy Scott to wisecrack about how "somebody's grandmother knitted the field" and "if you unfocus your eyes you might see a 3D image!" The players have black outlines and teams are limited to red or white uniforms. Still, the action unfolds smoothly and fly balls move on realistic arcs. The thing about Micro League is that you're just managing
the team, with options entered via keyboard. You control the lineup and strategy, but after selecting a play you simply kick back and watch. It may sound lame but it's surprisingly suspenseful. On defense you choose the type of pitch, and typically there is only one pitch per batter, resulting in a hit ball, strikeout, or walk. It's an ingenious scheme that keeps things moving. You can also position fielders, pitch out, issue intentional walks, warm up the bullpen, and even visit the mound. On offense your choices are severely limited when there's no one on base. Normally you choose "swing away", but it would have been nice to have the option of making contact or swinging for the fences. With runners on base your options expand to include stealing, hit-and-runs, and safe (or aggressive) baserunning. It's fun to watch the action play out, especially with such a wide variety of outcomes including caroms off the wall, errant throws, balks, tag ups, and even head-first slides. I like how players throw the ball "around the horn" after a strikeout. Between innings it's boring to watch the players change sides, but you can press the R key to disable that. Micro League even lets you save a game in process!
The 24 included teams span from the '27 Yankees to the '83 Orioles, with additional teams available via expansion disks. When I was young I enjoyed watching the computer play both sides, and when I recently tried it again, I was still
riveted to the screen! One glaring flaw is a lack of crowd noise, resulting in a game played in mostly silence. The two manuals are fun to read and include biographies of all the teams. Micro League Baseball is a thinking-man's baseball game that's perfect for baseball fans who aren't necessarily video game fans. Technical note: This game was reviewed on an Atari 800XL because it displays the wrong colors on the Atari XEGS. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Floppy
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Ugh! And I thought Centipede for the XE had issues! This is exactly the same as the lame Atari 5200 Millipede, only without the trak-ball support. In the arcade, Millipede featured all the thrills of Centipede but threw in multiple spiders, a wider variety of insects, occasional "swarm" attacks, and DDT bombs that produced poisonous clouds. In other words, utter mayhem. Perhaps it was too much for the XE to handle, because the animation of the millipedes and spiders is awfully choppy! How can you be expected to dodge three spiders when they're all over the place? Incidentally, the secondary
insects move perfectly smoothly! Another issue is the idiotic scoring system. You can select an initial score to start with - up to 60,000 points! Okay, I see where they're going with this - they want to let experts skip the early stages (which I can attest are far too easy) without having their score suffer. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I think you should have to earn
your points. Sure, Centipede was tough, but that's what made it so relentlessly addictive. Millipede for the Atari XE is a major disappointment. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 98612
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1981)
This game was built into
the Atari XE Game System, and I don't think it was a wise choice. Sure, Missile Command was an excellent arcade game, but it was five
years old by the time the XE game system came out, so it couldn't be expected to generate much excitement. Perhaps the most defensive
video game ever created, the object is to shoot down incoming missiles and protect your six cities through progressively difficult waves. This version is an exact copy of the Atari 5200 edition, which was not
the best version they could have used for the Atari XEGS. The main flaw is the fact that you only have one missile base, compared to three in the arcade. Considering the XE includes a keyboard, this oversight is not easy to forgive. The graphics barely do the job, although the gameplay is rock solid. I think including Missile Command with the XE game system was largely a cop-out from a company running low on innovative new titles. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 67715
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1983)
As far as I can tell this is a carbon copy of the Atari 5200 version. What's the point, you ask? Well first of all, I don't think I like your attitude! The point
is I get to use my favorite Atari 2600 joystick instead of that mushy Atari 5200 controller! So it's kind
of a big deal! Moon Patrol is a multi-tasking shooter that requires precision timing. You're driving a buggy which looks like a purple anteater over the surface of the moon, destroying rocks in your path while jumping over craters. As if that's not enough, bomb-dropping alien spacecraft hover overhead. Fortunately your vehicle fires both forward and upward
whenever you press the first button. I love how you can tap the button to fire rapidly. During advanced waves the bomb-dropping aliens actually create
new craters, and at this point you're operating on pure instinct. I really dig that lunar city backdrop with those weird, bulbous buildings. You can control your buggy speed by moving forward on the screen and if you're fast enough you'll earn a bonus. The game plots your progress with checkpoints labeled A-Z, and this was one of the first arcade games to let you continue where you left off. I reached R and was surprised to find myself driving up an inclined plane! And if you want a real challenge try the champion mode. Holy cow. This time you're in a red buggy and you'll have to deal with missiles approaching from behind and oncoming tanks. Moon Patrol looks simple but requires tremendous skill and dexterity. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,900
1 or 2 players
Publisher: TDC (1989)
Mouse Quest comes packaged in a cheap box apparently illustrated by a third grader. It's quite endearing actually. The game offers a series of platform challenges in the tradition of Jumpman
(Commodore 64, 1983). Your mouse is a dead ringer for Itchy of Simpsons fame. There are dozens of stages featuring amazing adversaries like a flying witch, crawling hands, and even a fire-breathing dragon! Hazards include floating donuts, eggs (sunny side up), tea cups, and flying rolls of toilet tissue! Though only rendered in four colors, the stages are bright and inviting. Your goal is to navigate the platforms, grab potions, and escape through the open doorway. There are trampolines, floating platforms, and vines to swing on. The controls really aren't that bad, but they feel
bad because you can't fall one centimeter without dying. You really need to think twice before jumping! If the next platform is close enough, it's far safer to just step off the edge. And when you do jump, be careful not to hit your head on something. The unforgiving stage designs don't help, with collapsing platforms and platforms so narrow you can't get a running start. Worst of all is how you can find yourself stuck, necessitating the need for a "suicide key" (Q)! The playful audio sounds like a toy piano. Mouse Quest is a likeable little game which makes it especially frustrating when you can't get past the second screen. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 440
Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory
Publisher: Datamost (1983)
If you've never heard of Mr. Robot, you're not alone. Similar to Miner 2049er, the object is to traverse a series of platforms embedded with white dots. You control a large, well-animated robot, walking over the dots and causing them to disappear. Depending on the screen, platforms are connected by ladders, escalators, or trampolines. Large fireballs with eyes (a la Donkey Kong) patrol the platforms, but these can be neutralized when Mr. Robot grabs an "energizer token" (a la Pac-Man). Yes, it's all very derivative, but still fun. One original element consists of platforms composed of dynamite. Walking over these causes their fuses to light and momentarily explode. It adds some urgency to an otherwise leisurely game. But what really sets Mr. Robot apart is its expert programming. The sprites are large and high-resolution, the platforms are rainbow-striped, the collision detection is crisp, and the control is outstanding. Unfortunately, one flaw practically ruins the whole game, and that is how your robot can only withstand very
small drops. With platforms arranged at so many heights on each screen, it's a fine line between a safe jump and a lethal one, and too much trial and error is required to determine this. That's a shame, because otherwise Mr. Robot is an impressive effort. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 44610
Publisher: Atari (1983)
While many sequels fail to match the quality of their predecessors, Ms. Pac-Man well surpassed the original Pac-Man. This game is absolutely timeless - kids will be playing Ms. Pac-Man 100 years from now. And except for the arcade original, you're not going to find a better version than this Atari 8-bit edition. The graphics, music, sound effects, and intermissions are all faithful to the arcade, and the high score is displayed on top of the screen. I especially like the sound effects of the fruit bouncing around the maze. The difficulty is perfect, although Blinky (the red ghost) seems particularly aggressive. In a way this version is even better
than the arcade game, because you can choose between eight skill levels. The control is perfect. I had a lot of fun with this one, and you will too. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: cherry
Our high score: 21130
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Synapse (1982)
I can appreciate what Necromancer is trying to do, but its crisp controls and arcade graphics are betrayed by some seriously non-intuitive gameplay. At first glance, you might mistake Necromancer for some kind of Robotron clone, as your wizard is situated in the center of the screen with ogres approaching from the sides. Guiding your magic "wisp" around the screen, you methodically wipe them out. It seems simple enough, but there's more to this game than meets the eye. You also need to plant trees using the fire button, and as they grow, they must be protected from the marauding ogres and poisonous spiders. The action gets pretty frantic but it's not what I'd call fun. The second stage offers a series of blue platforms. As you guide your wizard across pits and down ladders, you'll need to magically animate trees to help clear your path. Like the first stage, it takes a few plays to figure out what the hell's going on. There's a lot of "grabbing hands" which seem to be appear at random, but closer inspection reveals their patterns. The final stage is similar to the first, only with gravestones, swarming spiders, and an enemy wizard. Although its graphics are terrific and its soundtrack haunting, Necromancer is one of those games whose whole is less than the sum of its parts. It takes a while to figure it out, and once you do, you may be sorry you even bothered. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11653
Publisher: Mastertronic (1986)
Ninja isn't a great game, but I find it fascinating for a number of personal reasons. First off, I like how it takes the Karateka formula and expands upon it with projectile-throwing and multi-level environments. You move your ninja in black between contiguous screens, each of which presents a new martial artist to fight. The scenery is loaded with eye candy, including ornate temples, colorful markets, and tranquil sea views. Harmonized oriental music plays in the background, and while it sounds bizarre at first, it eventually grows on you. All of your moves are performed via the joystick, including throw, jump, duck, punch, kick, and jump-kick. You can throw stars and knives to wear down adversaries from a distance, but ultimately the jump-kick is your most effective move. Unfortunately, the controls are erratic, lending themselves to frantic joystick waggling and button tapping. Likewise, picking up items is a lot more aggravating than it should be. Upon clearing a set of screens you'll want to look for a hole you can jump through to access a new set. It's tough to make much progress in Ninja because the game is extremely unforgiving. Your health meter is tiny and one unlucky hit can instantly end your game. Believe it or not, I actually programmed a very similar game in the early 80's - with more modest graphics of course. Ninja's erratic gameplay won't knock your socks off, but the game is a worthy challenge if you're up for it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 2,500
Publisher: Zeppelin (1989)
Ninja Commando looks a lot better than it plays. You control a small man running and leaping his way through a series of side-scrolling caverns. I have to admit that the high-resolution scenery is impressive with its textured surfaces and pseudo-lighting effects. Your character is well animated but it looks like he's wearing a helmet
instead of a mask. As you leap between platforms, generic thugs emerge from caves, and these guys are deadly to the touch!
All you have to do is rub up against one and you go up in a puff of smoke! So much for realism! Enemies can
be defeated by pouncing on them (Mario style), but your slow, floaty jumps are terribly imprecise. Typically you'll land right next to an enemy and be instantly killed. If you do manage to take out a few baddies, you're rewarded with a supply of throwing stars or bombs. Unfortunately, these are not very effective due to the game's questionable collision detection. Even if they were, enemies you kill regenerate almost immediately. Upon losing a life you pick up immediately where you left off, but you'll lose any weapons you've acquired. Ninja Commando looks good from a distance, but if you're looking to hone your ninja skills there are far better alternatives. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 250
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