Atari XEGS Reviews F-G

F-15 Strike Eagle
Grade: C
Publisher: Microprose (1985)
Reviewed: 2008/1/25

screenshotNow this 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.

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Our high score: 1500
1 player 

Final Legacy
Grade: D
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2007/9/23

screenshotFinal 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 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
1 player 

Flight Simulator II
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari/SubLogic (1987)
Reviewed: 2002/12/28

screenshotOriginally 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.

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1 player 

Flying Ace
Grade: D
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1982)
Reviewed: 2014/9/30

screenshotboxAvalon Hill is an old gaming company originally based in good ole' 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
1 player 

Food Fight
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2021/4/21

screenshotFood Fight is one of those manic free-for-alls that lets chaos unfold on a wide-open screen. You control a kid with an oversized head on the right trying to reach an ice cream cone on the left. Standing in your way are four chefs that emerge from manholes, hurling food while converging on your position. I don't know about you, but where I'm from four chefs constitutes a gang!

You can grab your own food to throw by passing over piles of pickles, tomatoes, and bananas. Hitting a chef will knock him back against a wall, often clearing a path. The layout of food and manholes is random each time so you need to be quick on your feet.

Frankly the best course of action is usually to make a bee-line for the cone and snag it as soon as possible. The longer a stage goes on, the more likely you'll get caught in a violent crossfire of fruit, vegetables, and cupcakes. Upon reaching the ice cream your boy opens his mouth super wide like a snake unhinging his jaw to consume it in one big bite.

Food Fight for the Atari XE is just okay. It looks exactly like the Atari 7800 version but doesn't play nearly as well. Why? Because this version is faster and that proves detrimental. You can't really load up on food items and toss them in a rapid-fire manner. You only throw one at a time and if you miss you're a sitting duck. The animation is so choppy you'll often be nailed by food you never saw coming. What's odd is that both Food Fight games were released around the same time. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 45,400
1 or 2 players 

Forbidden Forest
Grade: F
Publisher: Cosmi (1983)
Reviewed: 2009/12/2

screenshotElectronic Gaming magazine once declared Forbidden Forest to 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
1 player 

Fort Apocalypse
Grade: B+
Publisher: Synapse (1982)
Reviewed: 2014/9/30

screenshotIt'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
1 player 

Frogger
Grade: A-
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/3/8

screenshotGiven 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 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!
Grade: B-
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Reviewed: 2019/7/4

screenshotThe 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.

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Our high score: 21,657
1 or 2 players 

Gato
Grade: F
Publisher: Spectrum Holobyte (1985)
Reviewed: 2008/1/25

screenshotThere's a reason why I shy away from realistic military simulations, and that's because they are so freakin' tedious. Back in high school there was always a certain type of nerd who would savor the subtle details of a submarine simulation like Gato. Is it pronounced "gat-o" or "gate-o"? Either way, the game is 99% boring. In fairness, I'm sure that life aboard an actual submarine is pretty dull most of the time too.

The game has a nice tutorial, followed by a series of lengthy missions, most of which involve sinking enemy ships with torpedoes. It doesn't take long to figure out how to navigate, and the keyboard is used to view charts, radar, damage reports, captain's logs, and various periscope views. The problem is, your targets are usually halfway across the Pacific Ocean, and it takes forever to reach them. It's particularly painful when you need to navigate around islands.

The developers clearly put realism ahead of fun. Not only are ships named after actual WWII vessels, but your mission instructions are transmitted via Morse code! Unfortunately, Gato's sub-par graphics provide minimal pay-off. Once a wire-frame boat appears in view, it's only rendered from the side, even when it's speeding away from you.

When your torpedoes hit their mark you'll see a splash and bright flash, followed by a pathetic sinking animation (the ship goes down horizontally). Considering all the work involved to hunt down a single ship, that's pretty lame! Repairing damage requires you to rendezvous with another friendly ship, but that just prolongs the agony, and Gato is one game experience you'll prefer to end sooner than later. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.


Gauntlet
Grade: F
Publisher: Mindscape (1985)
Reviewed: 2005/4/2

screenshotRegurgitated from the depths of hell, this disgraceful arcade adaptation is not worthy of the Gauntlet name. I expected the fast-paced overhead dungeon shooter to translate well to the XE, as most arcade titles of the time did. Upon loading it up, my anticipation grew as an attractive title screen appeared, followed by several instructional screens. I was hardly prepared for the horror that would be inflicted upon my soul. When the actual game screen appeared, I sat in disbelief. This is supposed to be Gauntlet?! Are you [expletive] kidding me?

The characters and monsters look like chunky blobs, the scrolling is jerky, and the animation is practically non-existent. The monsters essentially "hop" from one spot to the next, and your projectiles never even touch their targets. Enemy herds simply "thin out" as you shoot them, and it's unsatisfying to say the least. This couldn't hold a candle to the frenetic dungeon-shooting action of the original game. Your projectiles move remarkably slowly, making it impossible to keep the hordes of pixelated demons at bay.

And then you have the putrid audio track. Calling the sound effects sparse would be an understatement. If not for some mono-tones and static, you'd be playing in complete silence. The arcade version of Gauntlet may have been a demanding game, but I find it hard to believe that this was the best the XE could do with it. Mindscape had a lot of balls to release this garbage. I'm sure it completely disgusted many gamers back in the day. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 3015
1 player 

Getaway!
Grade: A
Publisher: APX (1982)
Reviewed: 2019/10/16

screenshotI've received many requests to review this game over the years but could never find a copy on Ebay. It turns out Getaway was a homebrew published by something called the Atari Program Exchange (APX). The game itself is quite a revelation. Programmer Mark Reid first made his mark with Downhill (Atari XE, 1981) but this was his tour-de-force. Ambitious in scope, Getaway might be considered the 1982 version of Grand Theft Auto (Playstation, 1997). It incorporates so many advanced concepts I can only assume Mark traveled forward in time to gather ideas before returning to 1982.

The fact that you play as a bad guy on the run was a radical idea in and of itself. You drive a car freely around an expansive, scrolling, maze-like town with all sorts of neighborhoods and distinctive landmarks. There's a school, church, factory, airport, and even a golf course. There are telephone poles, different types of trees, and sailboats on the water. As if that's not enough, the time of day changes! As you cruise around you'll need to avoid the police while collecting dollar signs, diamonds, and other loot. Adversaries are marked by a "radar" cursor that slides around the edge of the screen. Keep an eye on your fuel because you'll need to stop at a gas station when it gets low.

Knocking off a white armored van will advance you to the next stage where you'll face more aggressive cops. The boys in blue tend to stick to your tail but you can take temporary shelter at your hideout location. Your score is the amount of loot you stash. Getaway won the $25,000 Atari Star Award and deserved every penny. This was decades ahead of its time. Note: This disc would not work on my Atari 800XL but it did run on my Atari XEGS. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Ghostbusters
Grade: D
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Reviewed: 2009/8/6

screenshotGhostbusters was released on a number of platforms, but this home computer version (for the Atari XE and Commodore 64) was the original. The game is pleasing on an audio/visual level, but its inherent flaws are pretty obvious after a play or two. Upon booting up the floppy, you're greeted with a karaoke-style sing-along, complete with a bouncing ball and lyrics. This harmonized rendition of the Ghostbusters theme is easily the best I've heard, and I never get tired of listening to it. Likewise, the game's crisp graphics feature detailed building fronts and an exceptionally large hearse.

Ghostbusters tries to mix skill and strategy while incorporating elements of the film. It looks great on paper, but playing the game is a repetitive exercise that usually ends in frustration. You spend most of the time staring at your hearse driving down a featureless road. Even wrangling ghosts becomes monotonous since there's minimal strategy involved.

After about a half-hour the giant marshmallow man finally appears to unleash his destruction. You'll need to quickly hit the "B" button on the keyboard to "bait" him. That's inconvenient, considering you've been just using the joystick up to that point. Next thing you know, you're staring at the "better luck next time" screen. By that time, you may be wondering if there will be a next time. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Password
1 player 

Goonies, The
Grade: B+

screenshotThis arcade/puzzle hybrid perfectly captures the excitement, mystery, and suspense of the classic film. Each stage puts you in control of a pair of kids from the movie attempting to overcome hazards in treacherous, trap-laden caverns. Hey - I don't remember a black kid being in the movie! Anyway, working as a team is crucial as one kid must activate switches to allow safe passage for the second. One player can toggle between kids with the press of a button, but the game is easier, faster, and more satisfying when played cooperatively with a friend.

Considering the limitations of the system, the graphics are drop-dead gorgeous. The first stage takes place in a decrepit house with cobwebs, a rickety roof, and moonlit reflections. Someone illustrated this pixel-by-pixel and it shows. The craggy passages, sparkling water, and elaborate contraptions make each screen fun to explore.

The controls are a little touchy considering the degree of precision required, and you have to press diagonally to execute precarious leaps. There is definitely a lot of trial and error involved, but once you beat a screen you feel a true sense of accomplishment. The music, a melodic rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "Goonies R Good Enough", is icing on the cake. It's a shame so few people have played Goonies, because this game is a treasure. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SDZandVGC 3800
1 or 2 players 

Great American Cross Country Road Race, The
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (1985)
Reviewed: 2020/5/23

screenshotThere was a time when the name Activision was synonymous with quality, but I guess that luster had begun to fade by 1985. The fact that the first part of the load process is dedicated to loading a sparkly Activision logo speaks volumes. The Great American Cross Country Road Race attempts to be a long distance Enduro (Atari 2600, 1982) but it's probably the worst racer I've ever played. The setup screens are ridiculously counter-intuitive. "Do you want to load another field from disk?" What the [expletive] does that even mean? Apparently the N key (remember to hold shift) changes the current selection and Y selects it. Wow.

Things don't improve much when you hit the road. I instantly blew out my engine and was forced to push my car to the nearest gas station. How? By incessantly tapping the button. And here I thought video games were supposed to be fun! The poorly-written manual (which tries to cover three systems) explains how I needed to quickly push up and down to shift or blow out my engine. The problem is there's no gear indicator! After much teeth gnashing I figured out how to drive the damn car, but it was far from great.

The sparse scenery is limited to mountains and phone lines, and the cars look like colored blobs whizzing by. Police are out in force, and when you see your radar light blink you're as good as pulled over. The audio seems to be limited to buzzes and rubberband noises. In addition to blowing out your engine you're constantly running low of gas. It's really easy to overshoot the gas station even when pushing your car! Once I pushed my out-of-gas car over the finish line, only to begin the next race with - you guessed it - no gas! Seriously? I feel like the designers of Great American Cross Country Road Race took a decent racing game and did everything in their power to deconstruct the fun. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 


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