Atari XEGS Reviews H-L

Hard Hat Mack
Grade: D+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1983)
Reviewed: 2013/5/5

screenshotThe 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 with peril. 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
1 player 

Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2006/11/4

screenshotIt 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 as 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.

1 or 2 players 

James Bond 007
Grade: D
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Reviewed: 2021/2/9

screenshotI think it's safe to say this lazy effort is unworthy of the 007 franchise. Its intro screen features a fair rendition of the classic musical theme, but the visuals? They are embarrassing! Bond appears in the center of the screen, waving. Is he supposed to be a secret agent or a tourist for crying out loud?!

A small yellow car materializes in front of him, wheels blinking on and off for no apparent reason. Somehow James manages to squeeze his huge body into the tiny car, which in turn transforms into an even smaller vehicle. Train tracks then roll out under the car. Can somebody please tell me what the [expletive] is going on here?!

The four stages are supposedly inspired by the films Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only. Each mission has you navigating this sorry-ass "all-terrain vehicle" across a side-scrolling landscape, jumping over craters and shooting aircraft in the sky like a poor man's Moon Patrol (Atari 5200, 1983). Is it possible for stages to be both inspired and uninspired at the same time? In Diamonds you shoot frogmen underwater before landing on an oil rig. Next you're pitted against a bomb-dropping helicopter that can't be destroyed even if you hit it dead on!

The Moonraker stage requires you duck underwater to avoid exploding satellites overhead. The explosions are pretty much non-stop with enough obnoxious flashing to trigger an epileptic seizure. Normally I'd wish for a stage select, but I don't think I'd want to select any of these stages! What ever happened to that tantalizing train shootout screenshot from the Parker Bros catalog? Now that's something I'd like to play! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 20,100
1 player 

Journey To The Planets
Grade: D+
Publisher: Roklan Software (1983)
Reviewed: 2008/1/25

screenshotTime has not been kind to homegrown, garage-programmed games like Journey to the Planets. It's been a long time since I've programmed an Atari 8-bit computer, yet I can still recognize the rudimentary techniques used to create the game's simple visual effects. You move a funny-looking character with wiggly legs across a sparse landscape with a few colorful buildings and signs. Although the ground appears to drop off on the left and right sides of the screen, there are actually other contiguous screens you can move to. Anticipating the confusion, the manual assures you that "you can't fall off the edge of the world".

After locating your gun (which can be aimed at several angles), you climb into your space ship (which is half as big as you are) and take off. While flying around non-scrolling screens of black "space", a handy intergalactic map indicates your position and the location of planets. Your goal is to collect a "prize" from the planet. After entering the atmosphere of a new planet, you'll navigate around barriers in order to reach the landing pad, a la Gravitar (Atari 2600, 1988). On the planet surface, your character will manipulate abstract objects in not-so-obvious ways to obtain inexplicable prizes like a "snake plant" or "magical fountain".

In the early 80's, this game had a lot going for it. Not only could you freely explore outer space, but each planet was like its own mini game! Unfortunately, the puzzles are really, really abstract, requiring a lot of trial and error to solve. Journey to the Planet's brain-teasing gameplay is still mildly interesting, but attention spans aren't as long as they used to be. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Grade: A
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2002/12/28

screenshotAs 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 

Jungle Hunt
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (1983)
Reviewed: 2015/8/25

screenshotOriginally 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 was astounding 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
1 player 

Grade: A
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Reviewed: 2003/1/28

screenshotKaboom 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 flat 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.
1 or 2 players 

Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1982)
Reviewed: 2020/2/23

screenshotThis 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 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Broderbund (1985)
Reviewed: 2003/3/8

screenshotBefore the NES unleashed a deluge of ninja games on us, there was Karateka, a stylish title that treated martial arts with the reverence it deserves. I remember watching the kids in high school play this on the Apple II in the computer lab and not letting me have a chance (may those heartless bastards burn in hell!). With mind-blowing graphics and a cinematic flair, Karateka was far ahead of its time. There's an opening text crawl, an elaborate introduction, and several cut-scenes intertwined with the action.

In the epic story, you must rescue princess Mariko who is being held in the palace of the evil Akuma. In order to infiltrate the palace, you'll have to defeat a series of guards, one by one, before eventually facing Akuma himself. The fighters are large and fluidly animated, although admittedly slow by today's standards. Each guard has his own unique headgear and fighting style, and in general they get tougher as you progress. The keyboard controls let you punch or kick high, medium, and low. You can run but be sure to stop before you reach a guard or he'll knock you out with one punch.

The keyboard control could be more responsive - your fighter lags behind your commands somewhat. The fights require patience and skill, and can be lengthy because fighters recover health as time passes. While Karateka is basically just a series of one-on-one battles, there are a few surprises thrown in, such as Akuma's attacking hawk. And the ending(s) are truly classic. All in all, Karateka is a stellar achievement that stands as a showcase game for the Atari 8-bit system. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

King Tut's Tomb
Grade: B-
Publisher: Antic (1988)
Reviewed: 2018/3/6

screenshotThis should 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
1 player 

Koronis Rift
Grade: C+
Publisher: LucasArts (1985)
Reviewed: 2020/5/6

screenshotLucasArts was once a software powerhouse, banging out forward-leaning hits like the futuristic sport Ballblazer (LucasArts, 1984) and the interstellar Rescue on Fractalus (LucasArts, 1984). One year later they returned with another pair of heavy hitters: The Eidolon and Koronis Rift. The Eidolon had a first-person cavern theme with high-resolution dragons. Koronis Rift was a sci-fi adventure that put you in a moon-rover type of vehicle.

Fractalus had previously showcased flying over uneven terrain, but driving over it in Koronis was even more of a technical challenge, as your vehicle had to realistically tilt with each bump and dip. It's still a cool sensation to drive across the green jagged landscape, with mountain peaks slowly appearing through the distant haze. Your goal is to raid old abandoned space ships called "hulks", looting them for points or upgrades.

Standing in your way are guardian saucers that hover around the wreckage attempting to zap you. Taking them out is tricky because you can't move your crosshairs and fire at the same time. In addition, these saucers have an annoying tendency to linger offscreen. The control scheme is cleverly designed to be driven entirely via a joystick controller. Pushing the crosshair against the edge of the display makes you move in the direction. Holding in the button transfers control to the lower screen.

When you return to your ship to inspect your loot, the analysis screen incorporates a robot rendered in mind-blowing color and detail. Seriously, that was top shelf for 1985. You can disassemble the parts you collected to earn points or use them as upgrades. This is where things get hazy. I can't tell what all those symbols on the parts mean and the manual isn't much help. I can appreciate Koronis Rift as a sophisticated space adventure but I think they went a little off the deep end. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Leader Board Dual Pack
Grade: B+
Publisher: Access (1987)
Reviewed: 2019/7/19

screenshotI learned to program on an Atari 1200XL, so watching the 8-bit line of Atari computers die a slow death during the late 80's was painful to endure. The magazines kept getting thinner and new software reduced to a trickle. One late release of note was the critically-acclaimed golf title Leader Board. From a technical perspective the game is fascinating. Before each shot the course is rendered with brown wireframes and then filled in with green "grass". The process takes about five or six seconds which might be annoying if it weren't so mesmerizing.

The game is certainly challenging due to holes that consist of islands in water! With one behind-the-back viewing angle it's hard to tell where the land ends and the water begins! The manual offers hole diagrams but I prefer to wing it. Fortunately the game doesn't charge a penalty stroke when you hit it in the drink. There's no concept of fairways, roughs, or even greens. The game just puts you in putting mode when you're close enough to the hole.

The swing meter is ingenious but unforgiving, divided into two halves: power and snap. For power you just hold the button down until the meter is full - no problem. Then the snap meter kicks in, which lets you set your accuracy with a very small margin of error. A little late on the trigger you'll watch your ball veer way, way out of bounds. You can consult the manual to see how far each club hits, but after a round or two you'll get a feel for it.

I finished my first nine holes 24 over. During the second nine however I was only five over. That said, I still don't fully understand the slope indicator, which looks like a line with a shadow. And I definitely don't get that wind indicator, which is a single pixelated line! The putting could be more forgiving, as the ball tends to "pop out" of the cup if you hit it a bit too hard. Still, I love the raw simplicity and steady pacing of this game. You can play 18 holes in 30 minutes!

The swing and ball animation are silky smooth, and it's so satisfying to watch you shot land softly next to the pin in the far distance. Everytime I play Leader Board I want to bump up the grade by another letter. It's easy to dismiss an archaic sports title like this, but you may be surprised just how fun it can be. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Lode Runner
Grade: B-
Publisher: Broderbund (1983)
Reviewed: 2007/9/17

screenshotI have some fond memories of Lode Runner from my 8-bit computer days. Platform games were abundant in the early 80's, but most only offered a handful of screens. Lode Runner on the other hand boasts 151 (!) levels of strategic, thought-provoking gameplay. Each level is a maze-like construction of ladders, brick platforms, and hand-over-hand bars.

The object is to collect a number of "chests" while avoiding pursuing guards. You can drop down from any distance without sustaining injury, but this also applies to your adversaries. It's easy to become surrounded, but you have one special ability that can bail you out of almost any situation: the ability to drill holes. Guards will blindly fall into these, allowing you to run right over them. You can also drill holes to create escape routes.

A typical game of Lode Runner has a lot of close calls that require quick thinking. It's pretty exhilarating to scurry up a ladder or drop through a hole just as guards are converging from all sides. Some stages will have you scratching your head trying to figure out how to reach buried chests. In terms of graphics, the characters are very small, but their animation is remarkably lifelike. I also like the game's unusual color scheme.

Lode Runner is a quality title, but it tends to drag on for too long. Not only do you begin with five lives, but you receive extra lives on a regular basis. This is also one of the quietest games I've ever played, with no music and sparse sound effects. There are no passwords, but there is a level select. It may not look like much, if you're looking for a thinking man's platform game, Lode Runner will deliver the goods. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 31475
1 player 

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