Atari XEGS Reviews N-O

Necromancer
Grade: D+
Publisher: Synapse (1982)
Reviewed: 2006/8/23

screenshotI can appreciate what Necromancer is trying to do, but its crisp controls and arcade graphics are betrayed by some seriously non-intuitive gameplay. At first glance, you might mistake Necromancer for some kind of Robotron clone, as your wizard is situated in the center of the screen with ogres approaching from the sides. Guiding your magic "wisp" around the screen, you methodically wipe them out.

It seems simple enough, but there's more to this game than meets the eye. You also need to plant trees using the fire button, and as they grow, they must be protected from the marauding ogres and poisonous spiders. The action gets pretty frantic but it's not what I'd call fun. The second stage offers a series of blue platforms.

As you guide your wizard across pits and down ladders, you'll need to magically animate trees to help clear your path. Like the first stage, it takes a few plays to figure out what the hell's going on. There's a lot of "grabbing hands" which seem to appear at random, but closer inspection reveals their patterns.

The final stage is similar to the first, only with gravestones, swarming spiders, and an enemy wizard. Although its graphics are terrific and its soundtrack haunting, Necromancer is one of those games whose whole is less than the sum of its parts. It takes a while to figure it out, and once you do, you may be sorry you even bothered. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 11653
1 player 

Ninja
Grade: C
Publisher: Mastertronic (1986)
Reviewed: 2009/8/6

screenshotNinja isn't a great game, but I find it fascinating for a number of personal reasons. First off, I like how it takes the Karateka formula and expands upon it with projectile-throwing and multi-level environments. You move your ninja in black between contiguous screens, each of which presents a new martial artist to fight. The scenery is loaded with eye candy, including ornate temples, colorful markets, and tranquil sea views. Harmonized oriental music plays in the background, and while it sounds bizarre at first, it eventually grows on you.

All of your moves are performed via the joystick, including throw, jump, duck, punch, kick, and jump-kick. You can throw stars and knives to wear down adversaries from a distance, but ultimately the jump-kick is your most effective move. Unfortunately, the controls are erratic, lending themselves to frantic joystick waggling and button tapping. Likewise, picking up items is a lot more aggravating than it should be.

Upon clearing a set of screens you'll want to look for a hole you can jump through to access a new set. It's tough to make much progress in Ninja because the game is extremely unforgiving. Your health meter is tiny and one unlucky hit can instantly end your game. Believe it or not, I actually programmed a very similar game in the early 80's - with more modest graphics of course. Ninja's erratic gameplay won't knock your socks off, but the game is a worthy challenge if you're up for it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 2,500
1 player 

Ninja Commando
Grade: D-
Publisher: Zeppelin (1989)
Reviewed: 2009/8/6

screenshotNinja Commando looks a lot better than it plays. You control a small man running and leaping his way through a series of side-scrolling caverns. I have to admit that the high-resolution scenery is impressive with its textured surfaces and pseudo-lighting effects. Your character is well animated but it looks like he's wearing a helmet instead of a mask. As you leap between platforms, generic thugs emerge from caves, and these guys are deadly to the touch! All you have to do is rub up against one and you go up in a puff of smoke! So much for realism!

Enemies can be defeated by pouncing on them (Mario style), but your slow, floaty jumps are terribly imprecise. Typically you'll land right next to an enemy and be instantly killed. If you do manage to take out a few baddies, you're rewarded with a supply of throwing stars or bombs.

Unfortunately, these are not very effective due to the game's questionable collision detection. Even if they were, enemies you kill regenerate almost immediately. Upon losing a life you pick up immediately where you left off, but you'll lose any weapons you've acquired. Ninja Commando looks good from a distance, but if you're looking to hone your ninja skills there are far better alternatives. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 250
1 player 

One on One Basketball
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (1987)
Reviewed: 2003/1/28


screenshotIt's been a long time since I've played this one, and I'm happy to say One On One has held up quite well over the years. The characters are a little slow by today's standards, but since you're only playing on half a court, it's not a big deal. You can be Dr. J or Larry Bird, and each player has his own strengths and weaknesses.

The graphics are great. The players have large heads but are nicely animated. It's surprising how well the game controls with only one button, considering the latest basketball games use about ten. Tapping the button lets you spin 180 degrees, keeping the ball away from your opponent. Holding the button shoots, and releasing it at the right time is key to nailing shots (a convention used in most basketball games ever since).

You can perform some nice turn-around jumpers, fade-aways, or 360 degree jams. Not too many basketball games let you dunk when this game was originally released by Electronic Arts in 1983! The defensive player can steal the ball and block shots. It's great fun and very competitive, especially with two players. A referee who looks like Mario calls penalties like traveling, charging, hacking, and "reaching in" (a little outdated there).

Extra features include automatic instant replays and the ability to shatter the backboard. That's right, and when the backboard is broken, a robot with a broom shows up and screams profanity at the players (I'm exaggerating a bit). Another thing I love about One on One is its extensive options menu. You can select between four skill levels and set various rules. This game was, and is still, all that! © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Operation Blood: Light Gun Version
Grade: F
Publisher: MD Software (1992)
Reviewed: 2019/4/17

screenshotOperation Blood is a first-person light gun shooter where the camera slowly pans left as enemy soldiers appear and take aim at you. The soldiers look great in their pixelated glory, being quite detailed in the foreground and tiny in the distance. A few even roll onto the screen before assuming a combat position. The death animations are very satisfying although the lack of blood is glaring. You have unlimited ammo but try not to shoot the medics or the occasional jogging civilian. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Tanks and helicopters only seem vulnerable to grenades thrown via the spacebar. Yeah, you need to keep that God-forsaken keyboard closeby, which sucks considering the cord is less than two feet long! But what really hurts this game is its light gun accuracy (or lack of). I had to crank up the brightness on my TV to the max just to get it to respond at all! The cursor is extremely jumpy and often gets stuck. You can't shoot the edges of the screen and that's a serious problem because power-ups appear on the bottom and helicopters linger on top.

I feel bad trashing Operation Blood but the poor controls render it nearly unplayable. Couldn't they have included a joystick option? I was amused by the disclaimer in the manual about war. "By publishing this game we don't want to advertise war as being fun; we just acknowledge its existence". It goes on to explain how war is never a real solution. This is like Pac-Man having an obesity disclaimer. Give me a break. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 9400
1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of Atari Mania, Video Game Museum, Retroist, Giant Bomb, YouTube