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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
In addition to blocky graphics, everything is rendered in putrid shades of green. Man, this may be the ugliest video game ever made! The gameplay is good enough to keep you coming back for a few rounds. To advance to the next wave (6 in all), you need to maintain a certain accuracy percentage. Unfortunately, I'd rate the accuracy of the XE light gun as fair at best. Overall Bug Hunt is a pretty lame effort by Atari. Duck Hunt for the NES was more compelling.
. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
A real dragon kicks off each contest by flying to the center of the screen and unleashing the first fireball. In addition to deflecting it, you can also catch a fireball with your shield and throw it in a new direction. I love how holding a fireball gradually burns away your own wall, discouraging players from holding it for too long. As each match progresses, additional fireballs are added to the mix, and by the time only two castles remain, the action is crazy.
The graphics are colorful, well defined, and show no hint of slowdown. But the best part of all is the fact that Castle Crisis uses paddle controllers. Have you even tried to play Warlords with a control pad or joystick? It doesn't work very well. For games like this, nothing but a good paddle will do. Castle Crisis supports one to four players, and you can also select the number of rounds.
If there's a flaw with this game, it may be the funky rules that apply to CPU-controlled players in the two and three-player modes. In the two-player mode, when the CPU wins a round, the whole game ends. In the three-player mode, CPU wins simply don't count. I would have preferred the CPU players to be treated like normal players. Of course, these issues don't apply to the enjoyable one-player mode or the outstanding four-player mode. Castle Crisis is a must-have title. If you don't have an Atari XEGS or Atari 8-bit computer, get one. If you do, pick up a copy of Castle Crisis at www.atariage.com. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
But the gameplay however is no joke. You can stick up guards and take their belongings. You can search chests for ammunition and supplies, and you'll often stumble upon German food and drink. Just don't drink the alcohol because it will screw up your aim. One thing I hate is how it takes real time to open a chest, although shooting the lock expedites the process. In addition to bullets, you can also find grenades and bulletproof vests. And once you find a Nazi uniform, the dynamics of the game change completely, as you can now walk around freely.
Castle Wolfenstein requires a great deal of stealth and technique. German soldiers "shout" when they see something suspicious. Despite the 1983 technology, the game makes an admirable attempt at voice synthesis. The control scheme uses both a joystick and keyboard, which is awkward to say the least. You're better off with a second player manning the keyboard.
Despite its primitive nature, Wolfenstein's attention to detail is commendable. For example, if you steal a guard's bullets, he can chase you - but can't shoot. And I appreciate how when you kill guards, they remain dead even when you re-enter the same room. But what really impressed me was the ability to save my place. Even using the 20-year-old 5 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.
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.
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.
The fighters in Chop Suey even assume cool combat poses. The controls seem a bit non-intuitive until you remember that the controller only has one button. In that light they are remarkably well designed. Pressing the button while pressing the joystick lets you perform a jab, jump, low kick, body kick, and flying kick. Pressing the button alone makes you change directions. You don't automatically face your opponent and that's confusing - especially since both fighters look exactly the same!
The game is playable once you grasp the controls, and it's cool when you kick your opponent in the chest and watch him double over in defeat. Sometimes you can take him down with a single flying kick! Adding intrigue is an "oriental scorpion" that occasionally scampers across the floor, forcing both players to jump. You can battle a CPU or a human opponent, and there are two speeds. The CPU is a challenge and having a score adds replay value.
Until Street Fighter II (SNES, 1991) came along Chop Suey was one of the better fighters out there. It's particularly impressive coming from a tiny publisher. The instructions actually inquire if you can write good machine code and provide contact information to get a job. I'm thinking about giving them a call! Not really.
. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
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.
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.
These indirect controls are just plain weird. The only saving grace is the way shot-up mobster cars roll and explode in spectacular fashion. The first-person stages are more conventional as you shoot thugs that appear in uninteresting scenery, like a building or boat. I like how you can shoot the hats off their heads. Just make sure you don't hit the occasional babe who wanders into view. Sometimes you'll whiz a bullet past her head and breathe a sigh of relief.
I'm really impressed by the accuracy of the gun in this game. In many light gun titles I need to crank up the TV brightness for my shots to register, but I didn't have to do anything for this game. Crime Buster is mildly fun but when you die it's usually a mystery why. And while the "death" screen may look cool, classic gamers will instantly recognize that skull as being lifted directly from Final Legacy (Atari XEGS, 1987). Crime Buster tried to add a little twist to the light gun genre, but for the most part I think it missed the mark. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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.
The first chamber places you on a small elevated platform crawling with creeps. Instead of racing all over you're perpetually facing northeast so that's the only direction you can drive. In order to clear out enemies I found myself awkwardly walking my bike backwards and shuffling sideways. The zombies die instantly when I touch them. Is this really the game?! You can fire shots in any direction, lobbing them up into the air. It's easy to kill flying creatures but really hard to hit what's right in front of you.
Upon clearing the initial area I didn't know what to do. It turns out that holding in the fire button brings up a "talk" interface. You need to have a conversation with a face on the wall (who looks like a Lego guy) to proceed. Not only that, but you need to piece together some very specific sequences of words for him to allow passage! Was this part really necessary? I have to do this every time I play? Even when the face lets you pass, getting through the exit gate is tricky because it continuously moves up and down. Why does everything need to be so complicated?!
In stage two I was pleased to see a big ramp in front of me. I immediately took off it, crashed into a wall, and burst into flames. Game over. Eventually I would progress several screens into the game but each stage is claustrophobic and you never know what you can safely touch. You need to talk to that face to exit every chamber, and say the wrong thing and he might kill you. You rarely gain much momentum on your bike without crashing or plunging to your death.
In chamber four I made a pretty massive jump over a pool of lava, only to be eviscerated in a sea of enemies. This game is brutal! Still, there's a rich, immersive quality as you scratch and claw to survive this captivating hellish world. Cycle Knight pushed my patience to the brink, but I don't think I've ever played anything quite like it and that's saying something. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.