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Atari XEGS Reviews A-B

Grade: A
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
Posted: 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 

Archon II: Adept
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1984)
Posted: 2022/11/9

screenshotArchon (Electronic Arts, 1983) was a superb action-strategy title, kind of like Chess with animated characters. Archon II: Adept changes things up by introducing new creatures, along with the concepts of magic energy and elemental planes. Its "board" features concentric rectangles representing air, water, earth, and fire. Each side begins with four magic users. In addition to casting basic spells like heal and imprison, they summon mythical creatures to do their bidding. To win, your side must occupy six "power points".

Much of the fun lies in experimenting with the various monsters, which include a behemoth, siren, firebird, kraken, chimera, and gorgon. When two enemies collide on a space, the action moves to a battle screen. Each creature has their own imaginative attacks. The wraith can disappear and reappear. Mages can fire guided magic missiles. The siren inflicts damage by singing, while the juggernaut attempts to steamroll his opponent. Battlefields contain random hazards that can slow, stop, or injure.

Archon II is so sophisticated I can't really explain it. It constrains player actions through magic energy, but this adds complexity and sucks some of the fun out of the game. Every move you take, as well as your current positions on the battlefield, affect your energy level. It's kind of opaque.

Another controversial feature is the "apocalypse" spell which effectively destroys the entire board and reduces the game to an epic one-on-one confrontation. According to the manual it can put a struggling opponent out of his misery, or be used out of sheer desperation. Seems a little cheap to me!

Adept is perfect for those who conquered Archon because this is hard as baaaaaalls. The packaging even includes a little slip of paper advising how to set the difficulty to beginner. I don't think I've ever been able to beat anybody in this - computer or human. Archon II is a potent combination of skill and strategy, but be advised it's one of those "expert only" kind of games. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 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 

Atari Tennis
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Posted: 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 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Imagic (1983)
Posted: 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 

Aztec Challenge
Grade: B-
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Posted: 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 

Grade: A-
Publisher: LucasFilm (1987)
Posted: 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 

Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Posted: 2023/3/26

screenshotThe arcade version of Battlezone (1980) was cutting-edge stuff, letting you to peer through a military scope at a green wireframe battlefield. Its first-person vantage point and smooth vector graphics were immersive, and the fact that you could move freely around a 3D space was unlike anything else of the time.

If you've ever experienced real vector graphics, you can appreciate just how razor-sharp and silky-smooth this technology is, especially with regards to scaling. Unfortunately those highly-specialized graphics don't translate well to a normal television screen.

This ill-advised Atari XEGS edition tried to emulate Battlezone's groundbreaking visuals with standard raster graphics. Instead of crisp objects fluidly scaling in and out, everything looks pixelated and jerky. It's even worse when objects overlap, creating shapeless blobs on the horizon.

The controls are barely satisfactory as you struggle to get each new enemy in your sights. That said, it's satisfying to watch an enemy tank explode into triangle shards. I always use the same strategy: aim, fire, and then quickly hit reverse while turning. This causes any return-fire to pass harmlessly in front of your view. The homing drones however are another story. If you miss your shot at them, you're a sitting duck.

This Battlezone is easy in early stages yet becomes insurmountable as enemy tanks begin to outpace the frame-rate. You only have one real opponent at a given time, and I hate how they can spawn right beside you! Atari seemed determined to bring the arcade experience home, but it's like shoving a square peg into a round hole. © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 14,000
1 player 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Save mechanism: Disk
1 or 2 players 

Blue Max
Grade: A
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
Posted: 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 

Boulder Dash
Grade: A-
Publisher: First Star Software (1984)
Posted: 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 

Bruce Lee
Grade: A-
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
Posted: 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 

Bug Hunt
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Posted: 2022/4/21

screenshotBug Hunt was a Atari XEGS pack-in cartridge to give players something to do with the included light gun. You'd expect the game to show off the system's capabilities but this is Atari we're talking about. Bug Hunt comes off more like a light gun demo.

The first thing you'll notice is the lack of color. It's astounding really. The entire game including the title screen is rendered in shades of green. For a new Atari XEGS owner this had to be a dismal introduction.

Taking the metaphor of "computer bug" literally, the screen consists of a 2x4 "circuit board" grid. Various types of bugs appear in the squares for you to shoot before they disappear. Finish the round with a high enough accuracy percentage and you'll advance to the next one. Unfortunately while the light gun is okay, it's not nearly precise enough to reliably pick off the smaller bugs.

Bug Hunt's graphics are unexciting, although I do like how flies nervously rub their hands together as they tend to do in real life. But why are there frogs appearing in the squares too? I'm supposed to shoot Frogger now?! I did not sign up for this!

The two player mode is alternating-only. Bug Hunt is hard to enjoy. After each stage the accuracy threshold goes up 10%, and it's really hard to maintain a 50% accuracy level. Fat chance you'll ever see stage five but rest assured it's just more of the same. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 73835
1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Mania, Video Game Museum, Retroist, Giant Bomb, YouTube, Moby Games