system Index P
Pac-Man
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2003/1/28


screenshotThis version of Pac-Man is a step down from the arcade in terms of graphics, but the gameplay is just terrific. It looks just like the Atari 5200 version, but this Pac-Man moves slower, which makes it harder to nab ghosts. You can choose from 9 skill levels, and the control is dead-on. The graphics are fair overall, but could have been better. The dots and power pills are blocky, and the ghosts have black eye sockets instead of moving eyes. I was also a bit disappointed that the intermissions are not included. Oh well, at least the Pac-Man "death" animation is faithful to the arcade. The fruit looks good, but always seems to disappear just as I'm about to pass over it (rats!). This is a challenging version of Pac-Man, and it's fun to play too. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 20120
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 5200)
Ms. Pac-Man (Atari XEGS)
Better Pac-Man, A (Atari 2600)
Pac-Man (NES)
Jr. Pac-Man (Atari 5200)

Pacific Coast Highway
Grade: D+
Publisher: Datasoft (1982)
Reviewed: 2014/7/26

screenshotI don't want to call Pacific Coast Highway a blatant rip-off, but it plays a heck of a lot like a game that rhymes with Schmogger. Both challenge you to navigate a highway and body of water with an amphibian. In this game however the action is presented on two alternating screens instead of one. Also, you control a hopping turtle instead of a frog. Wait - what?! When has a turtle ever hopped?! Is that even physically possible!? Contributing to this masquerade are the same "hop" sounds Frogger uses. *Sigh*

Pacific Coast Highway opens with a jaunty piano tune that sets the tone for some lighthearted fun. There seems to be some sort of tortoise-and-the-hare theme, as your lives are represented by bunnies and you always need to land on a green rabbit on the other side. Pacific Coast Highway looks inviting with its colorful graphics and nicely-rendered police cars. Under closer scrutiny however the animation looks a little jerky. The first few stages are pleasant enough, but laggy controls take their toll in advanced stages.

When you die, a cute animated sequence shows your turtle being taken away in an ambulance. You have to respect California's progressive health coverage which apparently extends to amphibians (in video games no less). One thing I hate is how you can't start hopping in a new stage until after the musical interlude is complete. Equally annoying is how the median strips move and sometimes even change directions! Pacific Coast Highway may serve its purpose (whatever the hell that is) but once you start counting the ways it's inferior to Frogger, it starts to lose its appeal. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: SDZ 32,680
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Frogger II (Atari 2600)
Frogger II: Threeedeep! (Atari 5200)
Rabbit Transit (Atari 2600)
Frogger (Genesis)
Frogger (Atari 2600)

Pharaoh's Curse
Grade: B-
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/5/27

screenshotHere's an attractive platform game that comes up a bit short in the gameplay department. Pharaoh's Curse reminds me of Montezuma's Revenge, only with smaller characters. Your pyramid-exploring adventurer is multicolored and easy to control, and his diminutive size allows for some very elaborate screen configurations. Responsive controls allow you to run, climb, jump, and shoot a gun. You ascend platforms via ropes and elevators, and descend by simply dropping down. Part of the game's appeal is how fast you can move - it's great how you can shimmy up ropes in a flash.

There are three stages, each containing 16 treasures that are conveniently represented by icons across the top of the screen. Each stage is composed of a set of contiguous screens with their own distinct layouts and hazards. The graphics are clean and colorful, with walls adorned with interesting Egyptian hieroglyphics. In addition to collecting treasures, you'll also want to avoid a wandering pharaoh, mummy, and a "winged avenger" that transports you to random spots (a la Adventure).

Pharaoh's Curse is generally fun, but two flaws frustrated me to no end. One is the whole "trap" system. Traps are visible and triggered momentarily after they are touched. In general they are easy to avoid, but many are dangerously situated at the end of elevators, leading to many undeserved deaths. I do find it entertaining that the mummy and pharaoh also fall victim to these traps - you'd think they'd know better. The second annoyance is the fact that the pharaoh and mummy can actually shoot at you! Huh?! What could they possibly be using, a slingshot?! That's bogus! Pharaoh's Curse is hard, probably too hard for novices, but determined gamers may find this little adventure hard to quit. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 3185
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Montezuma's Return (Game Boy Color)
Miner 2049er (Atari 5200)
Venture II The Abysmal Abyss (Atari 2600)
Montezuma's Revenge (Colecovision)
Spelunker (NES)

Pirates of the Barbary Coast
Grade: B+
Publisher: Starsoft (1986)
Reviewed: 2005/8/22

screenshotThis is my kind of pirate game - a little strategy, a whole lot of action, and plenty of eye candy. Upon starting a game, you're instantly thrust into a one-on-one sea battle. You see the action from a first person viewpoint, looking across the bow of your ship. As a hostile ship sails across the screen, you must ready your cannons, set their trajectories, and time your fire just right. Control is done via an arrow cursor controlled by the joystick.

Loading the cannons seems tedious at first; you must click on the powder, push rod, cannonballs, and brush in a specific order. But once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Enemy ships make several passes at different distances, making precise trajectory targeting a challenge. Once a ship is disabled, you have the option of reading the captain's log (which provides clues about trading and buried treasure) or claiming the ship's bounty.

Although primarily a sea battle game, you also strategically move between ports along the North African coast. You can trade goods and make repairs, but your ultimate goal is to defeat the evil "Bloodthroat", who has kidnapped your daughter. Pirates of the Barbary Coast looks terrific. Although most of its screens are static images, these are nicely illustrated.

The cursor control could use some work (click on the edge of a button and it won't register), but at least the arrow moves at a reasonable speed. I'm not crazy about having to flip the floppy disk between plays, but otherwise there's little to complain about. With good graphics and a nice mix of strategy and action, Pirates of the Barbary Coast is everything a pirate game should be. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Sea Battle (Intellivision)
Pirates (NES)
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (Xbox)
Rip Off (Vectrex)
Sid Meier's Pirates (Xbox)

Pitfall
Grade: B-
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2019/7/4

screenshotCould it be that I'm finally getting tired of Pitfall after so many years of playing it on every single classic system? It's possible. In this version Pitfall Harry is decked out in new duds - namely blue jeans and a sensible green turtleneck sweater. The screen layouts look the same except the jungle foliage is more detailed and the underground areas are lined with bricks. Wait what? Being lined with stones that would make sense, but these are perfectly-positioned masonry bricks! Not very exotic.

The action is solid but familiar as you swing on vines, skip across crocodile heads, and scramble over tar pits that expand and contract. Swinging on the vines was a thrill back in the day and it's still a lot of fun. You can play the game by running to the left or right, and going left is much easier. Not only do you run "with" the rolling logs, but when you die you're dumped on the left side of the screen, bypassing any hazards. Sometimes I opt to go to the right to show people what a tough guy I am. The action is a little repetitive but it's all worthwhile when Harry snags a shiny gold bar, bag of cash, or diamond ring.

I never go the underground route because there's no loot down there, and you know a brother's gotta get paid! You begin with 2000 points, unlike other versions where you start with zero (you can lose points by running into a log or falling into a pit). The game demands precision controls, and I'd personally recommend the Wico bat handle joystick. Pitfall is the same fun adventure we've always loved, but I can't shake the feeling Activision could have spiced this version up a little more. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 58,725
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Pitfall (Intellivision)
Super Pitfall (NES)
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (Colecovision)
Pitfall 2 (Atari 5200)
Pitfall (Atari 2600)

Pitfall II
Grade: A+
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2011/12/11


screenshotTo be honest, my first impression of Pitfall 2 for the Atari XE wasn't so hot. Screenshots gave the impression that this had substantially better graphics than the 2600 version, but that wasn't really the case. The trees have branches, the cliffs look craggier, and the water sparkles a bit, but the rest of the game looks exactly the same. The upbeat soundtrack and stage layouts are identical as well.

I was a little bummed until an astute reader pointed out that this "Adventurer's Edition" includes a second level! It took me a while to uncover it, because you need to finish the game after collecting four key items: Rhonda, the ring, the rat, and Quickclaw. Once you do, a portal appears to a whole new world! This second level is far more expansive and challenging, mixing elements from the first level in some very imaginative (and tricky) ways.

Oh and did I mention all the animals have gone buck-wild? Oh yeah, the bats swoop erratically, giant ants scurry back and forth, and the frogs are hopping around freely. If you ever wondered what Pitfall 3 would have been like, this will probably give you a pretty good idea. There's a lot of shiny gold bars to be uncovered in Pitfall 2, but this cartridge is the real treasure. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 140,755
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Pitfall (Atari 5200)
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (Atari 2600)
Super Pitfall (NES)
Pitfall 2 (Atari 5200)
Keystone Kapers (Atari 5200)

Pitstop
Grade: D-
Publisher: Epyx (1985)
Reviewed: 2011/5/22

screenshotPitstop was moderately fun on the Colecovision, but this Atari home computer version is just plain shoddy. The title screen looks nice enough, and there are options to configure the number of players, laps, and circuit format. Once a race begins you're staring at a gray road that stretches to the top of the screen with little guard posts running along each side. The only scenery is the occasional tree or Epyx sign that appears on the side of the road.

The gameplay is repetitive-to-the-max as the same two cars approach again and again. You adjust your speed by moving up and down in the lower area. Collisions just weaken your tires, which turn colors to reflect their damage. The one thing Pitstop really has going for it is, well, its pitstops. Pulling into these areas takes you to a separate screen where you control a four-man crew (one at a time). It's fun to change the tires and fill up on gas in the pit, but it's not even necessary unless you're driving at least six laps.

Six laps is pretty long, especially considering the monotony of this game. And you're not even really racing anyone - the game is just an extended time trial. I wasn't having much fun with this, and my opinion took a nosedive when I noticed that the guard rails on some of the tracks didn't even line up with the road. Ugly! I usually enjoy Pitstop games but this is the weakest version I've played by far. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 3 laps
Our high score: 2:20
1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Pitstop (Colecovision)
Pitstop 2 (Commodore 64)
Road Trip (Playstation 2)
Motorodeo (Atari 2600)
Sprint Master (Atari 2600)

Pole Position
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2018/3/26

screenshotWhen I first played Pole Position over a friend's house in '83, all I could think was "Wow, this looks like an arcade game!" Starting with the opening blimp sequence ("Prepare to Qualify"), the game captivates with vibrant graphics, catchy music, and white-knuckle gameplay.

The fluffy clouds look nice against the blue sky, but I wish all three tracks didn't have the same purple mountain backdrop. The road twists and turns in a smooth manner and there's a nice sensation of speed. I can forgive the blockiness of the race cars, but couldn't Atari have put something on those road signs? They are totally blank!

The control feels great. Instead of holding in the button to accelerate as you would expect, your car automatically accelerates, saving the button for your brake. This lets you easily regulate your speed while saving wear and tear on your thumb. Your car is narrow enough that you can jockey for position even in crowded turns.

I never cared for having to run a qualifying lap, but I guess it lets you get acquainted with the track. It's cool how you need to beat the timer during every lap to keep the action going. This adds tension, especially when you roll over the line just as time expires. Pole Position is racing at its purest and a fine way to kick off the Spring season. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: Malibu 3 laps
Our high score: 42,250
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Final Lap Twin (Turbografx-16)
Pole Position (Atari 5200)
Fatal Run (Atari 7800)
Pole Position (Vectrex)
Pole Position (Atari 2600)

Pooyan
Grade: A-
Publisher: Konami (1983)
Reviewed: 2004/1/12

screenshotWho can resist a good game of Pooyan? This cute arcade title is irresistibly fun and original. You control a piglet being raised and lowered in a basket on the right side of the screen, defending your siblings from a gang of hungry wolves. In the first stage, wolves float down off a cliff on balloons, and you need to shoot them down with arrows before they reach the bottom.

I love how the wolves hit the ground with a satisfying thud. There's also a "chunk of meat" that periodically appears that can be used to knock down several wolves at once. Actually, the meat looks more like a white bone, but that's beside the point. You also need to dodge stones the wolves toss at you.

In the second stage, the wolves float up from the ground on balloons, and if enough wolves reach the cliff above, they'll drop a boulder on your head, which is not cool. There are also two bonus screens as well. The gameplay requires ample skill and technique, but it's the graphics that really make the game so appealing.

The bright, sharp scenery is bursting with color and detail. You can see piglets on the top of the screen hoisting your basket or bobbing their heads to the harmonized music. The cheerful melody and whimsical graphics are impossible not to like. Is there anything wrong with this game? Well, with five lives, it is a bit on the easy side, but this is still the best version of Pooyan you'll find outside of the arcade. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 97650
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Pooyan (Atari 2600)
Pachinko (Odyssey 2)
Buster Bros (CD) (Turbografx-16)
Dumbo's Flying Circus (Prototype) (Atari 2600)
Wabbit (Atari 2600)

Protector
Grade: F-
Publisher: Synapse (1981)
Reviewed: 2016/4/29

screenshotThis game is so ridiculously awful I can hardly believe it's even a thing! At first glance Protector looks like a bad Defender clone, but this game can only dream of being a bad Defender clone! You fly through side-scrolling caverns in a sleek ship that can easily squeeze through narrow passages.

The controls are awful. You need to press against the right edge of the screen to scroll, but then you can't see what's coming! Worst yet, your ship has a tendency to lurch forward and slam into a nearby wall. Early on you encounter a few laser gates that are easily destroyed with your rapid-fire cannon. Your weapon is the best part of the game but it's wasted. After flying over some pyramids you see tiny people standing around buildings.

An invincible alien craft moves in from the right, methodically abducting the poor slobs and depositing them into a nearby volcano. Your job is to transport the people to safety, and perhaps catch a few falling to their deaths (fat chance because that's pretty [expletive] hard). The tedious process of transporting one person after the next feels like busywork. If you're still playing beyond that point, you'll find yourself repeatedly knocked out of the sky by cheap laser beams.

After your ship tumbles to the ground a little ambulance zooms across the bottom of the screen to haul you off. That's cute but not cute enough to change my opinion of this trainwreck of a game. Synapse produced some quality software for the Atari, but I guess Protector was released before they knew what they were doing. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 9,800
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Nova Blast (Colecovision)
Looping (Colecovision)
Space Ranger (Philips CD-i)
Commando Raid (Atari 2600)
Killer Satellites (Atari 2600)


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