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M.U.L.E.'s premise is that four extraterrestrial beings are dropped onto a barren planet to form a colony. Each alien type is distinctively designed and animated with charm and personality. The game is played in turns, beginning with each player selecting a plot of land on a screen-sized map. You then equip a mule-like robot to harvest food, energy, or mine "smithore" from your plot. After everyone has taken their turn you sit back and watch the land produce.
Natural disasters and other chance events make the outcome unpredictable. That's followed by an auction phase where players can sell their surpluses to each other. One criticism is how these auctions tend to drag on longer than necessary, with no way to quit out. Each round concludes with the current ranking of players rendered in suspenseful fashion.
The game ends after a selectable number of rounds (typically 12). If you don't have four people it's no problem because the CPU will gladly fill in those missing players. Then again, unless you own one of the original four-port Atari 400/800 computers you'll be limited to two humans anyway (two ports). M.U.L.E. proves a memorable experience thanks to its style, humor, and catchy soundtrack. Original and fun, this should really go down as one of the all-time greats. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
You begin by navigating a series of elaborate setup screens, moving a tiny guy between assembly areas reminiscent of M.U.L.E. (Electronic Arts, 1983). A variety of monster types are available like a dinosaur, giant squid, spider, crab, and some kind of plant monster. You adjust their attributes and outfit them with a laundry list of weapons and items. Grenades, swords, protective armor... you name it.
As the battle screen loaded I braced myself for screen-sized titans thrashing each other while inflicting massive destruction to the landscape. Well, you won't believe what happened next. I find myself looking at a barren landscape with two slow-moving, monochromatic blobs crawling around. I assumed this might be a map screen, but no - this is the actual game. One blob might discharge a little pellet. The other might overlap with it, flashing white to indicate a "melee" attack. Is this a joke? Oh yes - yes it is!
The only indicator of damage are "life numbers" slowly ticking down in the corners. Battles drag on for an eternity because it takes forever to "recharge". Features in the scenery like trees or rocks only serve to slow things down... err... more so. The constant beeping sound effects are ear-splitting.
Even my floppy drive was upset, grinding away as if it were attempting to eject the disc like a rejected organ! Apparently one of the designers was involved with Archon (Electronic Arts, 1993), so perhaps Mail Order Monsters was meant to be a customizable version of that game. But when the core gameplay is this pathetic, it really is a lost cause. Return to sender, ASAP! © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Bros. is simple in concept, but offers ample room for strategy. This version plays extremely well with tight controls and sharp graphics. There are even introductory screens for each stage. Still, I'd give a slight edge to the 5200 version because of its more elaborate animations and richer sound effects. Also, in that version you could send the creatures flying in different directions when you bumped them, but in this version they always just flip over in place. Still, it's hard to find much to fault with this fun, arcade-style title. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Moving between safe spots leaves you exposed, but every now and then you'll find a diamond-shaped invincibility power-up that lets you sprint through several screens unscathed. There are also arrows you can collect to fire at the birds above. It's hard to aim while running but if you fire off enough a few shots are bound to hit their mark. I was excited to finally reach a hill, as it meant I was actually gaining altitude! The gameplay remains more or less the same except now you're moving diagonally.
Eventually the hill becomes considerably rocky and steep, with dangerous bouncing boulders a la Jungle Hunt (Atari 2600, 1982). Like real mountain climbing, playing Matterhorn is an exercise in survival. I progressed a little bit further each time I played. Unfortunately my cartridge is glitchy and even freezes up on occasion. That's a shame because Matterhorn is a captivating little game. I really wanted to reach the top! © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
Head northward to reach the manor. If the gate is locked, head around back to find a secret backdoor. Once inside the gate you'll find yourself navigating garden mazes crawling with deadly insects. The problem is, the maze openings are roughly the same height as you, so it's really easy to get caught on the edge of them. There's nothing more frustrating getting killed because your head was stuck on a wall. It's even possible to get stuck on items you're trying to pick up! Sometimes when you arrive in a new area a bug will crawl out of a wall and kill you before you even get a chance to move.
Once inside the manor the game becomes more interesting but no less frustrating. Each room is unique but most seem to incorporate some sort of Indiana Jones-style spear trap. You never really get a chance to enjoy the scenery and many times I keeled over for no apparent reason. I actually believe there are invisible spots on the floor that are deadly if you step on them! Some rooms assume a side-view perspective instead of overhead, but the jumping controls are the worst. The instructions actually state "we've made jumping a little tricky". Gee - thanks a lot for that!
For the determined gamer there seem to be endless surprises and secrets to uncover at Maxwell Manor. Playing the game is a pretty quiet experience, with only the occasional beep or screech. At its best, Maxwell Manor is like an expanded version of Haunted House (Atari 2600, 1982). Not only is there a lot to discover but the game randomizes its layout. Unfortunately its "let the player figure stuff out" mentality can leave you in a lurch, wondering if it's really worth the effort. During October, it probably is. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Through eight waves of shooting you'll take aim at hamburgers, ice cream sandwiches, bug-shaped refrigerator magnets, tires, rings, bow ties, steam irons, and space dice (inspired by the Millenium Falcon, no doubt). The action is as simple as can be, moving a cannon side-to-side while firing one shot after the next. A "straight shot" option is available but guided shots are a lot more fun.
The first round offers minimal resistance, but the second set of waves gets pretty intense, with groups of objects flying herky-jerky across the screen. You have an energy meter at the bottom, but its main purpose seems to be to calculate your bonus for clearing the wave. Megamania was somewhat original back in the day, but now it seems simplistic and monotonous. Then again, sometimes that's just what you want. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
The players have black outlines and teams are limited to red or white uniforms. Still, the action unfolds smoothly and fly balls move on realistic arcs. The thing about Micro League is that you're just managing the team, with options entered via keyboard. You control the lineup and strategy, but after selecting a play you simply kick back and watch. It may sound lame but it's surprisingly suspenseful. On defense you choose the type of pitch, and typically there is only one pitch per batter, resulting in a hit ball, strikeout, or walk. It's an ingenious scheme that keeps things moving. You can also position fielders, pitch out, issue intentional walks, warm up the bullpen, and even visit the mound.
On offense your choices are severely limited when there's no one on base. Normally you choose "swing away", but it would have been nice to have the option of making contact or swinging for the fences. With runners on base your options expand to include stealing, hit-and-runs, and safe (or aggressive) baserunning. It's fun to watch the action play out, especially with such a wide variety of outcomes including caroms off the wall, errant throws, balks, tag ups, and even head-first slides. I like how players throw the ball "around the horn" after a strikeout.
Between innings it's boring to watch the players change sides, but you can press the R key to disable that. Micro League even lets you save a game in process! The 24 included teams span from the '27 Yankees to the '83 Orioles, with additional teams available via expansion disks. When I was young I enjoyed watching the computer play both sides, and when I recently tried it again, I was still riveted to the screen!
One glaring flaw is a lack of crowd noise, resulting in a game played in mostly silence. The two manuals are fun to read and include biographies of all the teams. Micro League Baseball is a thinking-man's baseball game that's perfect for baseball fans who aren't necessarily video game fans. Technical note: This game was reviewed on an Atari 800XL because it displays the wrong colors on the Atari XEGS. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Perhaps it was too much for the XE to handle, because the animation of the millipedes and spiders is awfully choppy! How can you be expected to dodge three spiders when they're all over the place? Incidentally, the secondary insects move perfectly smoothly!
Another issue is the idiotic scoring system. You can select an initial score to start with - up to 60,000 points! Okay, I see where they're going with this - they want to let experts skip the early stages (which I can attest are far too easy) without having their score suffer. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I think you should have to earn your points. Sure, Centipede was tough, but that's what made it so relentlessly addictive. Millipede for the Atari XE is a major disappointment. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
This version is an exact copy of the Atari 5200 edition, which was not the best version they could have used for the Atari XEGS. The main flaw is the fact that you only have one missile base, compared to three in the arcade. Considering the XE includes a keyboard, this oversight is not easy to forgive. The graphics barely do the job, although the gameplay is rock solid. I think including Missile Command with the XE game system was largely a cop-out from a company running low on innovative new titles. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
You're driving a buggy which looks like a purple anteater over the surface of the moon, destroying rocks in your path while jumping over craters. As if that's not enough, bomb-dropping alien spacecraft hover overhead. Fortunately your vehicle fires both forward and upward whenever you press the first button. I love how you can tap the button to fire rapidly. During advanced waves the bomb-dropping aliens actually create new craters, and at this point you're operating on pure instinct.
I really dig that lunar city backdrop with those weird, bulbous buildings. You can control your buggy speed by moving forward on the screen and if you're fast enough you'll earn a bonus. The game plots your progress with checkpoints labeled A-Z, and this was one of the first arcade games to let you continue where you left off. I reached R and was surprised to find myself driving up an inclined plane! If you want a real challenge try the champion mode. Holy cow. This time you're in a red buggy and you'll have to deal with missiles approaching from behind and oncoming tanks. Moon Patrol looks simple but requires tremendous skill and dexterity. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Though only rendered in four colors, the stages are bright and inviting. Your goal is to navigate the platforms, grab potions, and escape through the open doorway. There are trampolines, floating platforms, and vines to swing on. The controls really aren't that bad, but they feel bad because you can't fall one centimeter without dying. You really need to think twice before jumping! If the next platform is close enough, it's far safer to just step off the edge.
And when you do jump, be careful not to hit your head on something. The unforgiving stage designs don't help, with collapsing platforms and platforms so narrow you can't get a running start. Worst of all is how you can find yourself stuck, necessitating the need for a "suicide key" (Q)! The playful audio sounds like a toy piano. Mouse Quest is a likeable little game which makes it especially frustrating when you can't get past the second screen. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
One original element consists of platforms composed of dynamite. Walking over these causes their fuses to light and momentarily explode. It adds some urgency to an otherwise leisurely game. But what really sets Mr. Robot apart is its expert programming. The sprites are large and high-resolution, the platforms are rainbow-striped, the collision detection is crisp, and the control is outstanding.
Unfortunately, one flaw practically ruins the whole game, and that is how your robot can only withstand very small drops. With platforms arranged at so many heights on each screen, it's a fine line between a safe jump and a lethal one, and too much trial and error is required to determine this. That's a shame, because otherwise Mr. Robot is an impressive effort. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Mania, Video Game Museum, Retroist, Giant Bomb, YouTube, Moby Games