F-15 Strike Eagle
Publisher: Microprose (1985)
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)
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1982)
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)
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
Publisher: Spectrum Holobyte (1985)
Publisher: Mindscape (1985)
Regurgitated 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 a 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 pixilated 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 being 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
Publisher: APX (1982)
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Ghostbusters 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
Publisher: Datasoft (1985)
This 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
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
The three-color look of this game (red, green, white) harkens back to the early days of computers with their limited CGA palettes. I suspect the developers of Hard Hat Mack were willing to sacrifice color in favor of crisp, higher resolution graphics. The game does look pretty sharp. Its premise is clearly derived from Donkey Kong, with each level offering a new girder configuration and fresh objectives. The first level is surprisingly tough as your little construction worker must fill in missing girders and then rivet them into place. You can't pick up a girder while holding a jackhammer, so you'll need to hit the spacebar on the keyboard to release it (it took me a long time to figure that out). Wrenches, drills, and other tools scattered throughout the levels serve as bonus objects. On the second screen you collect toolboxes, and some of the precision jumps you're asked to make are pretty outrageous. Good luck making it to the third screen! This game is fraught
. Wandering vandals and a raving witch doctor are fatal to the touch. Some objects that look totally harmless (like a box) prove to be deadly. Hazards abound like flying rivets and squashing machines, but gravity is your most deadly foe by far, as you can't withstand a fall from any height. Apart from the substantial challenge, Hard Hat Mack fails to distinguish itself. The game has no music, and the sound effects are limited to beeps. The variety of stage objectives is neat, but the excessive difficulty crushes the fun factor. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 4,600
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It hasn't aged as well as certain other "classic" baseball games (Atari 5200 Baseball comes to mind), but Hardball isn't all that bad. Lacking a MLB license, the team selection is limited to the "Champs" and "All Stars". A sweet pitcher/batter screen offers a behind-the-pitcher view - just like a real telecast. This viewing angle was later adopted by the wildly successful Bases Loaded series for the NES. Your pitcher can select from a wide range of pitches and locations, and the catcher's glove follows the ball, occasionally floating away from his body! When a ball is put into play, only half of the field is displayed at a time - a truly ill-advised design decision. Throwing from one side of the diamond to the other causes the view to "flip" between sides. While this scheme allows the fielders to be larger and better animated, it's detrimental to the overall gameplay. Making matters worse, the outfielders are tiny and move slowly. This was apparently done to convey distance, but balls tossed in from the outfield take an eternity
to arrive. On the bright side, Hardball's controls make it easy to toss the ball around the bases, steal, and substitute players. The audio is weak, and that creepy carnival music that plays during the title screen has got to go. Taken an a whole, Hardball does manage to provide a competitive baseball experience, but its experimental camera angles keep it firmly entrenched in the minor leagues. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Journey To The Planets
Publisher: Roklan Software (1983)
Publisher: Atari (1983)
As a huge fan of the original arcade game, it's hard to find fault with this 8-bit version. Knights with lances on flying ostriches - what's not to like about that? Joust may not look too exciting at first glance, but once you play, you experience a unique test of skill that's brutally addictive. I can play this game all day! The graphics would have been better if the lancers were multi-colored, and that three-fingered lava troll doesn't look so hot, but otherwise this version is identical to the arcade. The two-player simultaneous action is especially fun. The sound effects are superb, and there are several difficulty levels to choose from. I've never really seen anybody "master" this game. And by the way, the Pterodactyl can
be defeated. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: skilled
Our high score: 98950
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Originally known as Jungle King
, Jungle Hunt was my go-to game in the early days of the arcades. The fact that the game had four separate stages
to me. This XE version delivers the same bright arcade graphics but with less-forgiving controls. In the first stage you need to be very patient while leaping between the swinging vines. If you try to whiz through this part you'll exhaust your three lives in a hurry. I like how you dive off the last vine into water - a slick transition into the crocodile-infested river stage. While swimming you stab (or avoid) approaching crocs while maintaining your air supply. You'll want to be either very aggressive or totally evasive. When you're going in for the kill you'll want to stab like a madman. The third stage puts you back on land where you jump over small boulders and duck under larger ones. It's pretty easy until they start coming two at a time, which really throws off your timing. The climactic final stage shows your girlfriend being lowered into a huge pot. To rescue her, you'll need to leap over two natives and bury your head in her crotch. The second time around a monkey hangs out on the vines and tries to knock you off. He's a real bastard. Fortunately if he knocks you off the last vine you'll land safely in the water. Jungle Hunt for the XE is not quite as tight as the arcade original but it's close enough. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: normal
Our high score: 18670
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Kaboom is surprisingly fun, considering just how simple it is. All you do is move a set of "buckets" across the bottom of the screen, catching bombs dropped by the "Mad Bomber". Personally, I was never on board with the fact that those flats things are supposed to be "buckets", but I digress. The game starts out easy but gradually reaches the frantic pace of thirteen bombs per second! This particular edition of Kaboom is identical to the 5200 version, with one big exception. You can use Atari 2600 paddle controllers - and thank God - this game begs
for a good paddle. The only difference between this and the original 2600 version are some blocky gray buildings in the background and musical notes that play whenever you catch a bomb. The gameplay is exactly the same, which is a very, very good thing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (1982)
This is pretty much an exact copy of Kangaroo
(Atari 5200, 1983), but the ability to use a standard Atari 2600 joystick makes a world of difference. While technically classified as a prototype, Kangaroo was somehow picked up by the APX (Atari Program Exchange), an organization normally in the business of publishing consumer-created games. Kangaroo is a fun and somewhat underrated platformer. Controlling a momma kangaroo you hop between branches and climb ladders while trying to rescue your baby at the top of the screen. You'll have to contend with apple-throwing monkeys but with a little skill you can jump over and duck under their projectiles. Better yet you can punch those [expletive] monkeys in the face
with your boxing gloves if you can get close enough. Low hanging fruit rewards you with bonus points, and ringing a bell replenishes the fruit with higher value items. After a while I figured out that lingering on a screen and focusing on collecting fruit can really inflate your score. The music is a little whiny but the controls feel responsive. Beginning with stage two there's very little margin for error so make sure your toes are hanging off the very edge of a platform before commiting to your jump. Even falling one millimeter
will send your kangaroo into a death spiral, which makes no sense at all. Why was this Kangaroo for the Atari XE never released? Probably so it wouldn't upstage the Atari 5200 version, which it most certainly would have. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11,000
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Broderbund (1985)
Publisher: Antic (1988)
have been the game of my dreams. I always loved Tutankham
(Colecovision, 1983) but most home editions are missing that certain something. King Tut's Tomb leaves no stone unturned with its arcade-style visuals, customizable controls, and dazzling array of options. Each stage is a side-scrolling network of granular tunnels rendered in high resolution. As you collect jewels and unlock doors you're attacked by snakes, jackals, flies, and ducks. Unlike Tutankham, you have a "shield meter" which lets you absorb several hits per life. It's confusing at first when you see monsters pass right through you! You can fire left or right to fend them off. The default control scheme is fair but the dual-joystick and "backfire" options disappoint. Manning two joysticks is awkward and the backfire only seems to work when it wants to. Pressing the space key (or button on a second joystick) detonates a smart bomb, but I always forget to use them! You typically need to unlock several doors to reach the treasure at the end, but you can only hold one at a time. When it comes to stage design I think the developers got a little too cute. Too often the game places that first key at the very end of the stage, forcing you to backtrack extensively. Worse yet, they went crazy with the portals, turning each stage into a complicated maze. It's hard to figure out where to go! Kings Tut's Tomb is fast and challenging but it should have been a lot less aggravating. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8,511
Leader Board Dual Pack
Publisher: Access (1987)
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
Our high score: 31475