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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Atari XEGS Reviews C

Castle Crisis
Grade: A
Publisher: Bryan Edewaard (2003)
Posted: 2004/5/27

screenshotIf 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 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.

Our high score: 2675
1 to 4 players 

Castle Wolfenstein
Grade: D+

screenshotMost classic gamers remember Wolfenstein 3D (Jaguar, 1994) but how many can say they've played the original Castle Wolfenstein? This 8-bit computer classic may look like a relic, and trust me - it is! It's a white-knuckle WWII adventure that was revolutionary for its time. You play the role of an Allied soldier trying to escape a Nazi fortress with secret war plans - pretty heavy subject matter for 1983 (or any year really)!

Wolfenstein's plain graphics are largely a function of being ported between so many platforms including the Apple II and even IBM! Rendered in a mere four colors, the rooms are simple mazes with soldiers that could pass for clowns. The animation is choppy and running into a wall triggers an annoying ringing noise as the entire screen freaks out.

The stealth-oriented gameplay is remarkably sophisticated. When a guard asks for a key card you can try to guess the correct one or just shoot the bastard! You'll search chests and bodies for ammunition and supplies. Once you obtain a Nazi uniform the dynamics of the game change, as you can now roam freely. One element that has not aged well is how real time is required to open a chest or door. While meant to build suspense (a guard could walk in at any moment) there's nothing worse than waiting 220 seconds to open a chest that turns out to be empty!

Castle Wolfenstein boasts a number of innovations. Its rooms are randomly generated. Soldiers shout at you using voice synthesis, although the quality is admittedly rough. You can shoot locks off doors and drink any Schnapps you find (although it may mess with your aim). When you kill guards and re-enter a room, their bodies remain. You can save your progress at any time, but this terminates your current game and you can only resume once.

The controls have aged poorly. The keyboard-only option is a joke. Press one key to start walking and another to stop? Ugh. Why did they map "shoot" to the start button? Using the joystick helps immensely, although the constant switching between that and the keyboard is clumsy and error-prone. Playing co-op is the way to go, with one person moving and aiming while the other initiates basic actions.

Castle Wolfenstein was a landmark game but I can't get over just how hard it is to play. Still, if you really hunker down it's possible to get lost in this epic like a good spy novel. Bump up the grade by a letter if you have a patient friend willing to play as if lives were hanging in the balance! NOTE: Due to its Nazi symbolism this game was banned in Germany up until 2018. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: disk
1 or 2 players 

Caverns of Khafka
Grade: B+
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Posted: 2009/12/2

screenshotI 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.

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Our high score: SLN 243,854
1 player 

Caverns of Mars
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 2003/1/28

screenshotThis 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.

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Recommended variation: pilot
Our high score: 39410
1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Posted: 2002/12/28

screenshotUsually 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 trackball 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
1 player 

Chop Suey
Grade: C
Publisher: English Software (1985)
Posted: 2019/2/7

screenshotDuring 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 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.

Our high score: 28,590
1 or 2 players 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Broderbund (1982)
Posted: 2019/7/19

screenshotIn 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.

1 player 

Grade: B-
Publisher: Datasoft (1984)
Posted: 2005/4/2

screenshotA gamer's dream in 1983, Conan delivers a 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
1 player 

Crime Buster
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1988)
Posted: 2013/5/5

screenshotI 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 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.

Our high score: 14,175
1 or 2 players 

Crystal Castles
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1984)
Posted: 2018/3/26

screenshotWhy 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 

Cycle Knight
Grade: C
Publisher: Artworx (1986)
Posted: 2020/5/23

screenshotCycle Knight is one impressive piece of work. You're a dude on a motorcycle stuck in a hellish volcanic world crawling with zombies, ghosts, snakes, and dragons. The action is presented isometrically, a la Realm of Impossibility (Electronic Arts, 1984) and the graphics look stunning. Though tiny, the characters are quite colorful and detailed. I love that cool dashboard! I was psyched to play but Cycle Knight turned out different than I expected.

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.

Our high score: 8495
1 player 

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