David's Midnight Magic
Publisher: Broderbund (1982)
When Atari was assembling a library of carts for its new XE game system, it decided to recycle this old Broderbund pinball relic. But although Midnight Magic may have turned some heads in 1982 with its high-resolution graphics, it was hardly anything to get excited about in 1987. The table is rendered in green and pink - a hideous combination. Most of your targets are the "drop target" or "rollover" variety, in the form of tiny dashes and squares. To be frank, there's not much to see or do. The table never changes, and apparently your only goal is to run up your bonus multiplier. There are four flippers, two on the top and two on the bottom, triggered by moving the joystick left or right. You can move all of them at once by pressing up, but too much of this could cause a tilt to occur. The physics isn't so hot. The ball seems to "stick" to the sides instead of caroming around, and the game has little sense of momentum or flow. Midnight Magic is a dull affair that really pales in comparison to so many other great Atari 8-bit titles out there. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 115420
Publisher: Atari (1982)
In most space games of the early 80s, the playing field was a single screen in size, so when the side-scrolling Defender appeared in the arcades, it was completely original. And the number of buttons on the arcade cabinet was daunting. There was a lever to move up and down and buttons for thrust, reverse, shoot, hyperspace, and smart bomb. The home versions use a normal joystick, which simplifies the control scheme quite a bit. This Atari 8-bit version is excellent, maintaining the same graphics, cool explosions, and frantic pace of the original game. It's great to trigger a smart bomb with a screen full of aliens, and watch everything be obliterated. There is some slow-down when the screen gets too busy, but nothing major. Although this version of Defender looks identical to the 5200 one, here you have the advantage of using a normal joystick and keyboard. The spacebar sets off a smart bomb, and any other key initiates hyperspace. I'd have to say that this is the best home version of Defender I've played. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 7025
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Synapse (1984)
In the early 80's I remember drooling
over a picture of this game in an Atari computer Magazine called Analog. Dimension X is a shooter that lets you glide over a 3D checkerbox surface - a visual treat that was absolutely stunning
for its time. I'm sure that effect alone sold a ton of copies. Well after 30+ years I've finally secured my own copy of Dimension X. So what's the verdict? Well, the 3D effect is still terrific. The animation is silky smooth. You can effortlessly glide around and build up a head of steam. The thing is, when pushing the joystick to the side you appear to be strafing, even though you're actually turning
. That's confusing. A map on top of the screen indicates the number of enemies in surrounding sectors, and the flashing sector is the one you're headed towards. Why is there not a compass in this game? Before entering the next sector you're forced to travel through a passageway, and this is the worst part. Maneuvering these passages is like navigating the trenches in Star Wars: The Arcade Game
(Atari 5200, 1983), only without the fun!
You need to keep a cursor situated between two converging lines (why?!) while flying over and under approaching barriers. The 3D illusion is so dirt poor so you really can't tell if the barriers are high or low until the last second. Once you arrive in an occupied sector, enemies resemble flickering flying saucers hopping around the screen. The shooting action is shallow and imprecise. And once your ship is damaged, you might as well shut the game off because it becomes impossible to maneuver and/or locate enemies. In the final analysis it's clear that Dimension X is a marginal game constructed around a single programming trick - albeit a good one. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: novice
Our high score: SDZ warrior-class-3
Publisher: Atari (1983)
As the VGC, one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "What's the best home version of Donkey Kong?" The answer is not so obvious considering decent versions have appeared on a number of classic systems. For my money though, this Atari 8-bit version takes the cake. Its sharp graphics, smooth animation, and arcade-perfect audio make the game an absolute joy to play. Even the intro sequence is included with Kong jumping on the girders. But the number one reason
for its superiority is the fact that it contains all four of the screens
. Yes, you heard me right. All the other home versions only have three, omitting the stage with pies on moving conveyer belts. Granted, it's not the best stage in the world, but if you're a fan of the game, it's a real treat. Oh, and did I mention this game is hard as a bastard
? But it's not due to "usual suspects" of poor control, bad collision detection, or cheap hits. No, the difficulty level is just plain tough, but it's that relentless challenge that made the arcade game so great to begin with. In other versions you're practically invincible while holding the hammer, but that's definitely not
the case here. If you have the option, I'd advise you to pick up this fantastic translation of Donkey Kong. Cheap and readily available, it's the definitive home version. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 18600
1 or 2 players
Publisher: APX (1981)
Downhill doesn't look luck much. Viewed from directly overhead, your skier looks like a red letter H and the trees are ugly green splotches. The gates resemble barbells and they are spaced extremely close, making this feel more like slalom than downhill. What makes this game playable is its amazing paddle controls. The analog knob lets you turn on a dime, navigating the narrow paths with pinpoint precision. Each run is about 20 gates which a skilled player can complete in well under a minute. What holds Downhill back is its brutal collision detection. In real life skiers bang into the gate poles all the time, but in this game it will bring you to a screeching halt! Worse yet, it takes forever
to get back up to speed. Scraping against a tree has the same effect. Finding an ideal game variation can be a challenge. You can enter in any slope value, with 30 degrees being the default. Personally I found 45 to offer the right balance of maneuverability and danger. You select between novice, intermediate, expert, and random courses. The game slowly
previews each hill before you begin, but you can hit the start button to expedite the process. The random option sounds appealing but its courses tend to be too easy. If you want a real challenge you'll need to stick with the expert trail and its densely-packed trees. Downhill's controls makes it a worth a go but its all-or-nothing collision detection drags down the fun factor. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: expert
Our high score: 5081
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It will always exist in the shadow of its infamous Atari 2600 cousin, but this overlooked Atari computer edition of E.T. is far
more playable. If you're the type of guy who can appreciate vintage 8-bit graphics (in all their blocky goodness), you'll find Phone Home very appealing. Playing the role of a pixelated Elliott, you roam freely around a scrolling suburban neighborhood with houses and cars that look great despite their low resolution and limited color palette. On the fringes of the neighborhood you'll find swamps with storm drains and forests comprised of scenic evergreen trees. The object of the game is to collect a series of phone parts, and as you wander around audio clues indicate if you're "warm". You can only return one piece at a time to your house, and that's tricky because the area is crawling with scientists and agents that scurry around like bugs. You can run by holding in the fire button, but that causes you to drop your piece, so forget that. Instead you'll want to take a stealth approach, waiting for agents to clear out before making your move. They'll be some close calls, but that's what makes the game exciting. Even so, gathering pieces gets monotonous after a while, particularly in advanced levels where you have to collect ten
of the freakin' things. Once gathered up, you're treated to a close-up of E.T. who actually speaks
to you. Granted, his voice sounds more like a chain-smoking demon speaking to you on a really bad cell phone from underwater. You'll complete the game if you can guide E.T. to his ship in the woods. I always thought E.T. was slow, but he scurries around like a little brown monkey in this game. At the landing pad you're treated to a nifty landing sequence before your final score is revealed. E.T. Phone Home is only moderately fun, but as a fan of classic gaming, I found this to be absolutely fascinating. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 4
Our high score: 136879
Publisher: LucasArts (1985)
During the early 80's LucasArts was cranking out groundbreaking computer games on a yearly basis, pushing the limits of the 64K hardware. To understand the appeal of The Eidolon you need to realize that a real-time first-person maze adventure had never really been done before. This game let you freely navigate an underground labyrinth with realistic granular archways. Not only is the framerate and scaling relatively smooth, the creatures you encounter are large and nicely detailed. The goal of each level is to defeat the dragon, and these creatures look both majestic and ominous. Each level offers a unique dragon which come in some imaginative designs. While wandering the caves you'll collect fireballs and jewels by approaching them and pressing the spacebar. Sorry - you'll need the keyboard for this one. There are four different fireballs: red (destructive), blue (freeze), gold (power), and green which can turn one creature into another. You'll need to strategically juggle these to defeat each dragon. The problem is, you expend energy whenever you use a fireball, and you'll need to battle lesser creatures along the way like wasps, goblins, and one-eyed aliens. I feel bad about killing those cute baby dragons. Defeating monsters provides color jewels required to gain access to the dragon. One obvious issue with The Eidolon is how the gray passageways all look the same. I really got tired of craning my wrist while wandering in circles and stumbling upon dead ends. Shooting fireballs at enemies is not particularly satisfying. Monsters simply disappear when defeated, and if you accidentally fire an extra fireball it will bounce right back at you! That's a problem because the trick to beating each level is to conserve as much energy as possible so you're at full strength when facing the dragon. Between levels there's some good time-travel music but in general the audio is pretty quiet, save for the electromagnetic buzzing that gets louder as you approach the dragon. The manual is an old-looking piece of parchment with diary entries that provide a background story and clues. After beating the first few stages my attention began to wane. There's no password or stage select. The Eidolon was an impressive technical achievement but less of a game. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Back in 1983 this first-person shooter was nothing short of amazing
. The whole first-person concept was still pretty new at the time and Encounter was slick
. It felt like a turbocharged version of Battlezone
(Atari 2600, 1983). The controls are really tight and the objects scale so smoothly! You freely maneuver your tank around a flat landscape with scattered pylons, trading shots a flying saucer. You can fire several shots at a time, so feel free to spray them around. Shots fired in this game look like giant ping pong balls. Since the Atari joystick only has one button (to shoot) there's no strafe control. The game's physics engine works well however, so if you turn quickly and hit reverse you can watch approaching balls pass harmlessly in front on you. In theory you can hide behind the pylons for cover, but they just get in the way. You only face one enemy at a time, but sometimes it takes the form of a drone that will home in on you in an alarming manner. They tend to zig-zag so it pays to hold your fire until the last possible moment. When you get hit the screen goes into a state of chaos that's pretty remarkable. Clearing a level reveals a square portal which takes you to the bonus stage where you're forced to dodge a extended barrage of ping pong balls. It becomes more nerve-racking as you near the end, because you know you're on the verge of earning a sweet bonus. Subsequent stages feature alternate color schemes and faster action, but your adversaries remain the same. That's the problem: the repetitive game of cat and mouse game gets old. Encounter may a glorified tech demo, but it's definitely fun for a while. NOTE: This would not work load on my Atari XEGS, and I reviewed it on an Atari 800XL. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: novice
Our high score: 46,400
F-15 Strike Eagle
Publisher: Microprose (1985)
one brings back some memories. I was very much into the Atari computer scene of the mid-80's, and F-15 Strike Eagle was a critically acclaimed jet fighter simulator. I generally steered away from realistic military games, but Strike Eagle had a certain arcade flair that won me over. Most simulations of the time featured abstract visuals, but F-15 renders everything on the screen with brilliant colors and bold black lines. The bottom of the screen displays a map of targets, a radar screen, and a diagram of your plane and its missile supply. A more realistic game would force you to painstakingly hunt down your first target, but in Strike Eagle, a wire-frame enemy plane appears right in front of you from the start! Shooting it down causes a chaotic pattern of blacks lines to appear. Bombing triangle-shaped ground installations is also straightforward, with a hit resulting in a bright flash and a satisfying "boom!
" The joystick makes it easy to maneuver your plane and fire weapons, but the game has a sophisticated side as well. The entire keyboard is used for a myriad of functions, like adjusting your speed, arming missiles, and discharging chaff to neutralize incoming missiles. The game has remarkable depth and is far more satisfying than most games of its kind. The manual contains a series of diagrams illustrating how your plane will react to the laws of physics. There are seven challenging missions to choose from, and a score is displayed after each game. The cockpit view was impressive in its time, but now its wire-frame terrain and triangular planes look pretty rough. The ultra low frame-rate doesn't help matters, resulting in choppy animation and less-than-crisp controls. It may not be the prize it once was, but for gamers with some patience and imagination, F-15 Strike Eagle still has the "right stuff". © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 1500
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Final Legacy tries to be a sophisticated war epic with strategic implications, but under the surface it's just a series of mediocre shooting mini-games. You begin by viewing a map with a series of disjointed land masses. You move a circular cursor freely over the water, but it stops when it hits land for some odd reason. Your objective is to destroy all enemy bases while protecting your own. Moving your cursor near an enemy base causes a screen with an inset window to appear. In this small window you navigate a pseudo-3D green grid, blasting pink UFOs you position in your sights. Once they're wiped them out, you'll need to deal with one or more launched missiles. After you track them down on the map screen, you play another mini-game where you move a crosshair over scaling missiles on a black screen. Your third option is to engage warships at sea by firing torpedoes at skittish pixelated boats on the horizon. But since that seems to have no bearing on events, what's the point? Final Legacy wants to be more than the sum of its parts, but unfortunately, it's exactly
the sum of its parts. And those parts don't add up to much. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: ensign
Our high score: 234,200
Flight Simulator II
Publisher: Atari/SubLogic (1987)
Originally released for the Atari 8-bit computers by SubLogic in 1984, this was one of the three pack-in games for the Atari XE game system. It's understandable why Flight Simulator II (FS2) was selected; it utilized the keyboard and made the package look more sophisticated as a whole. When first released in 1984, this program was certainly impressive. The physics and aircraft control are extremely realistic, and you can fly over four real areas of the United States. Taking off is easier than one would expect. You basically just set your flaps and apply throttle, and the plane takes off automatically. But once you reach the proper altitude, you begin to notice just how incredibly boring this whole affair is. There's really not much to see besides a few lines on the ground. If you're lucky
, you'll fly over some wireframe buildings, but there aren't many of these. There's not a whole lot to do
either. While there's an impressive array of gauges and controls, you won't even need most of them. Besides using most of the keyboard, FS2 uses the joystick which is terribly unresponsive. The plane's movements lag far beyond your joystick commands, making you prone to oversteering. FS2 comes with two 90-page highly technical manuals. The Operations Manual contains plenty of good information but is poorly organized. The second book contains all kinds of crazy flight physics information and diagrams which you'll never need to know. Certain games do not age well, and I think flight simulators fall into that category. I bet few people who bought the XE game system ever completed an entire flight. Even the WWI flying ace variation is sleep inducing. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1982)
Avalon Hill is an old gaming company originally based in Baltimore. It still remains an enduring - and endearing
- name in board game circles. I was thrilled to obtain a brand new copy of an Avalon Hill video game, even if it's just a so-so title like Flying Ace. Just look at that gorgeous box art
for crying out loud! You control a blocky biplane flying over a side-scrolling screen with generic trees and perfectly-rounded mountains. On the road below is a procession of trucks, jeeps, and artillery units. Blasting these requires good timing, because once you begin your dive (to aim your guns) there's little room between you and the ground. After hitting your target (or missing) you need to pull up immediately
. Complicating matters is a black biplane hot on your tail. Eventually the road ends and you need to land on a short runway. The directions for landing are unintentionally hilarious [view here]
. Flying Ace isn't bad but it's not good either. I like the fact that you can evade the black plane and sometimes shoot him down. The thing is, once you get into a rhythm each stage is just the same thing over and over. Though hardly a paragon of programming prowess, my friends seem to have a soft spot for Flying Ace. In my school days, my buddy Eric F. would have a ball playing this. And recently my friends were quick to defend it, telling me not to be so harsh. There's not much to Flying Ace, but I guess there's a certain charm in its innocent graphics and simple premise. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3400
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Electronic Gaming magazine once declared Forbidden Forest be "one of the top 50 games of all time". I can only assume they were referring to the Commodore 64 version, because this Atari edition is a mess
. You are an archer centered at the bottom of a screen, and as you move through a side-scrolling forest, giant spiders, bees, and frogs converge upon you. There's one bizarre creature that looks like a flying lobster claw!
After loading up an arrow (push forward and backward), you simply aim and shoot. It's fun for a while, and between stages your guy performs a little dance routine. The graphics are not bad! Some enemies scale in and out, and eventually you face larger foes like spear-chucking skeletons and creepy floating phantoms. Forbidden Forest has a few things going for it, but playability is not one of them. Too many monsters approach directly from the side, and since you can't shoot below a 45-degree angle, you're forced to flee like a total wuss!
Another major problem is the super-low difficulty. Most gamers will be able to play this thing indefinitely!
The headache-inducing looping background music doesn't help matters. Forbidden Forest is a prime example of what happens when a game is hastily ported between systems. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 47000
Publisher: Synapse (1982)
It's time to bring the old-school back!
Destiny (Playstation 4, 2014) has nothing
on an old-school powerhouse like Fort Apocalypse! The title screen emanates a siren that just keeps escalating in intensity. Alarmed? You should
be, because this intense rapid-fire shooter delivers non-stop, white-knuckle thrills. You control a wireframe helicopter on a screen that scrolls in all directions. You're almost immediately thrust into a chaotic warzone with floating mines, mobile cannons, heat-seeking missiles, and attack helicopters. Explosions light up the sky and aircraft disintegrate under heavy fire. It's freakin' awesome, but the controls take some getting used to. As in Choplifter
(Atari 5200, 1984), you fire shots at a downward angle allowing you to strafe the surface. If you stop and rotate 90 degrees you can fire straight downward. Your challenge is to infiltrate a multi-level fortress, rescue prisoners, blow up the core, and escape. Its caverns are narrow so expect a lot of combat in tight spaces while blasting away at walls and dodging laser beams. Certain sections have rotating blocks which you need to follow closely. The problem is, the blocks are so large it's hard to tell which direction they are cycling. Another tricky element is the laser beams. Some teleport you to a different area (good) but some incinerate you (less good). Is it unfair? Probably, but this is an apocalypse
for crying out loud! Hey - you have ten lives so stop crying! The blue helicopter is your constant nemesis, often appearing unexpectedly (and scaring the hell out of you) - like Jason from Friday the 13th. Mobile missile launchers unleash heat-seeking missiles that get a "second wind" just when you think you've eluded them. Sometimes the missile will drop on its own launcher, which is awesome. The main flaw of the game is its brevity. After two gangbuster stages the game is over, prompting my friend Scott to ask, "that's it?" It brings the grade down, but the fact that Fort Apocalypse leaves you pining for more says a lot. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ 67,140
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Given the fact that this is basically the same game as the Atari 5200 version, why did this one score so much higher? Because you can actually control your friggin' frog, that's why! I still have painful flashbacks of trying to play Frogger with a Atari 5200 controller, despite trying to block it out of my mind. Fortunately on an Atari 8-bit system you can just grab your favorite Atari 2600 joystick and have a grand old time. The arcade-style graphics won me over in a big way, especially those big, crazy looking cars. Too bad the in-game melody of the original game is missing or this would have been the ultimate Frogger. There are two difficulty settings, and the fast one is a worthy challenge that kept me coming back for continual punishment. The turtles dive quickly, and the game is rather unforgiving when you try to jump onto the very edge of the a log. But thanks to its simple yet engrossing gameplay, Frogger remains a timeless classic. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: slow
Our high score: 9495
1 or 2 players
Frogger II: Threedeep!
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
The original Frogger
(Atari 2600, 1982) was marvelously simple. Controlling a car-sized frog you had to cross a busy freeway before navigating a river. For the sequel it would have been easy for Parker Bros. to slightly tweak the formula, but they were more ambitious. Frogger II contains three distinctive stages. You begin underwater where you'll find a menagerie of colorful sea life. While swimming up toward logs you'll battle the currents while swimming past deadly crocodiles and barracudas. On the water surface the game reverts to its original style as you hop between turtles, ducks, whales, and lily pads. A mother duck will transport you to the sky stage where you'll bounce off clouds and hop between birds. The graphics deliver exquisitely-detailed creatures, smooth animation, and colors that really pop. Frogger II is a clever game, but it's not quite as intuitive or fun as the original. It takes a while to figure out what creatures will harm you. That, combined with its late arrival, may explain why this game didn't make a bigger splash. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 21,657
1 or 2 players