One on One Basketball
Publisher: Atari (1987)
It'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 A referee who looks like Mario calls penalties like traveling, charging, hacking, and "reaching in" (a little outdated there).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.
Operation Blood: Light Gun Version
Publisher: MD Software (1992)
Operation 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.
Our high score: 9400
Publisher: Atari (1982)
This version of Pac-Man is a step down from the arcade in terms of graphics, but the gameplay is just terrific. It looks just like the Atari 5200 version, but this Pac-Man moves slower, which makes it harder to nab ghosts. You can choose from 9 skill levels, and the control is dead-on. The graphics are fair overall, but could have been better. The dots and power pills are blocky, and the ghosts have black eye sockets instead of moving eyes. I was also a bit disappointed that the intermissions are not included. Oh well, at least the Pac-Man "death" animation is faithful to the arcade. The fruit looks good, but always seems to disappear just as I'm about to pass over it (rats!). This is a challenging version of Pac-Man, and it's fun to play too. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 20120
1 or 2 players
Pacific Coast Highway
Publisher: Datasoft (1982)
I don't want to call Pacific Coast Highway a blatant rip-off, but it plays a heck of a lot like a game that rhymes with Schmogger
. Both challenge you to navigate a highway and body of water with an amphibian. In this
game however the action is presented on two alternating screens instead of one. Also, you control a hopping turtle instead of a frog. Wait - what?!
When has a turtle ever
hopped?! Is that even physically possible!?
Contributing to this masquerade are the same "hop" sounds Frogger uses. *Sigh* Pacific Coast Highway opens with a jaunty piano tune that sets the tone for some lighthearted fun. There seems to be some sort of tortoise-and-the-hare theme, as your lives are represented by bunnies and you always need to land on a green rabbit on the other side. Pacific Coast Highway looks inviting with its colorful graphics and nicely-rendered police cars. Under closer scrutiny however the animation looks a little jerky. The first few stages are pleasant enough, but laggy controls take their toll in advanced stages. When you die, a cute animated sequence shows your turtle being taken away in an ambulance. You have to respect California's progressive health coverage which apparently extends to animals (in video games no less). One thing I hate is how you can't start hopping in a new stage until after
the musical interlude is complete. Equally annoying is how the median strips move
and sometimes even change directions! Pacific Coast Highway may serve its purpose (whatever the hell that is) but once you start counting the ways it's inferior to Frogger, it starts to lose its appeal. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SDZ 32,680
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Synapse (1983)
Here's an attractive platform game that comes up a bit short in the gameplay department. Pharaoh's Curse reminds me of Montezuma's Revenge, only with smaller characters. Your pyramid-exploring adventurer is multicolored and easy to control, and his diminutive size allows for some very elaborate screen configurations. Responsive controls allow you to run, climb, jump, and shoot a gun. You ascend platforms via ropes and elevators, and descend by simply dropping down. Part of the game's appeal is how fast you can move - it's great how you can shimmy up ropes in a flash. There are three stages, each containing 16 treasures that are conveniently represented by icons across the top of the screen. Each stage is composed of a set of contiguous screens with their own distinct layouts and hazards. The graphics are clean and colorful, with walls adorned with interesting Egyptian hieroglyphics. In addition to collecting treasures, you'll also want to avoid a wandering pharaoh, mummy, and a "winged avenger" that transports you to random spots (a la Adventure). Pharaoh's Curse is generally fun, but two flaws frustrated me to no end. One is the whole "trap" system. Traps are visible and triggered momentarily after they are touched. In general they are easy to avoid, but many are dangerously situated at the end of elevators, leading to many undeserved deaths. I do
find it entertaining that the mummy and pharaoh also fall victim to these traps - you'd think they'd know better. The second annoyance is the fact that the pharaoh and mummy can actually shoot
at you! Huh?! What could they possibly be using, a slingshot?! That's bogus! Pharoah's Curse is hard, probably too hard for novices, but determined gamers may find this little adventure hard to quit. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3185
Pirates of the Barbary Coast
Publisher: Starsoft (1986)
This is my kind of pirate game - a little strategy, a whole lot of action, and plenty of eye candy. Upon starting a game, you're instantly thrust into a one-on-one sea battle. You see the action from a first person viewpoint, looking across the bow of your ship. As a hostile ship sails across the screen, you must ready your cannons, set their trajectories, and time your fire just right. Control is done via an arrow cursor controlled by the joystick. Loading the cannons seems tedious at first; you must click on the powder, push rod, cannonballs, and brush in a specific order. But once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Enemy ships make several passes at different distances, making precise trajectory targeting a challenge. Once a ship is disabled, you have the option of reading the captains log (which provides clues about trading and buried treasure) or claiming the ship's bounty. Although primarily a sea battle game, you also strategically move between ports along the North African coast. You can trade goods and make repairs, but your ultimate goal is to defeat the evil "Bloodthroat", who has kidnapped your daughter. Pirates of the Barbary Coast looks terrific. Although most of its screens are static images, these are nicely illustrated. The cursor control could use some work (click on the edge of a button and it won't register), but at least the arrow moves at a reasonable speed. I'm not crazy about having to flip the floppy disk between plays, but otherwise there's little to complain about. With good graphics and a nice mix of strategy and action, Pirates of the Barbary Coast is everything a pirate game should be. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1984)
Could it be that I'm finally getting tired of Pitfall after so many years of playing it on every single
classic system? It's possible. In this version Pitfall Harry is decked out in new duds - namely blue jeans and a sensible green turtleneck sweater. The screen layouts look the same except the jungle foliage is more detailed and the underground areas are lined with bricks. Wait what?
Being lined with stones that would make sense, but these are perfectly-positioned masonry bricks! Not very exotic. The action is solid but familiar as you swing on vines, skip across crocodile heads, and scramble over tar pits that expand and contract. Swinging on the vines was a thrill back in the day and it's still a lot of fun. You can play the game by running to the left or right, and going left is much easier. Not only do you run "with" the rolling logs, but when you die you're dumped on the left side of the screen, bypassing any hazards. Sometimes I opt to go to the right to show people what a tough guy I am. The action is a little repetitive but it's all worthwhile when Harry snags a shiny gold bar, bag of cash, or diamond ring. I never go the underground route because there's no loot down there, and you know I gotta get paid!
You begin with 2000 points, unlike other versions where you start with zero (you can lose points by running into a log or falling into a pit). The game demands precision controls, and I'd personally recommend the Wico bat handle joystick. Pitfall is the same fun adventure we've always loved, but I can't shake the feeling Activision could have spiced this version up a little more. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 58,725
Publisher: Activision (1984)
To be honest, my first impression of Pitfall 2 for the Atari XE wasn't so hot. Screenshots gave the impression that this had substantially better graphics than the 2600 version, but that wasn't really the case. The trees have branches, the cliffs look craggier, and the water sparkles a bit, but the rest of the game looks exactly
the same. The upbeat soundtrack and stage layouts are identical as well. I was a little bummed until an astute reader pointed out that this "Adventurer's Edition" includes a second level!
It took me a while to uncover it, because you need to finish the game after collecting four key items: Rhonda, the ring, the rat, and Quickclaw. Once you do, a portal appears to a whole new world! This second level is far more expansive and challenging, mixing elements from the first level in some very imaginative (and tricky) ways. Oh and did I mention all the animals have gone buck-wild?
Oh yeah, the bats swoop erratically, giant ants scurry back and forth, and the frogs are hopping around freely. If you ever wondered what Pitfall 3 would have been like, this will probably give you a pretty good idea. There's a lot of shiny gold bars to be uncovered in Pitfall 2, but this cartridge is the real
treasure. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 140,755
Publisher: Epyx (1985)
Pitstop was moderately fun on the Colecovision, but this Atari home computer version is just plain shoddy
. The title screen looks nice enough, and there are options to configure the number of players, laps, and circuit format. Once a race begins you're staring at a gray road that stretches to the top of the screen with little guard posts running along each side. The only scenery is the occasional tree or Epyx sign that appears on the side of the road. The gameplay is repetitive-to-the-max as the same two cars approach again and again. You adjust your speed by moving up and down in the lower area. Collisions just weaken your tires, which turn colors to reflect their damage. The one thing Pitstop really has going for it is, well, its pitstops
. Pulling into these areas takes you to a separate screen where you control a four-man crew (one at a time). It's fun to change the tires and fill up on gas in the pit, but it's not even necessary unless you're driving at least six laps. Six laps is pretty long, especially considering the monotony of this game. And you're not even really racing
anyone - the game is just an extended time trial. I wasn't having much fun with this, and my opinion took a nosedive when I noticed that the guard rails on some of the tracks didn't even line up with the road. Ugly! I usually enjoy Pitstop games but this is the weakest version I've played by far. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3 laps
Our high score: 2:20
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Atari (1983)
When I first played Pole Position over a friend's house in '83, all I could think was "Wow, this looks like an arcade game!
" Starting with the opening blimp sequence ("Prepare to Qualify"), the game captivates with vibrant graphics, catchy music, and white-knuckle gameplay. The fluffy clouds look nice against the blue sky, but I wish all three tracks didn't have the same purple mountain backdrop. The road twists and turns in a smooth manner and there's a nice sensation of speed. I can forgive the blockiness of the race cars, but couldn't Atari have put something on those road signs? There are totally blank! The control feels great. Instead of holding in the button to accelerate as you would expect, your car automatically accelerates, saving the button for your brake. This lets you easily regulate your speed while saving wear and tear on your thumb. Your car is narrow enough that you can jockey for position even in crowded turns. I never cared for having to run a qualifying lap, but I guess it lets you acquainted with the track. It's cool how you need to beat the timer during every lap to keep the action going. This adds tension, especially when you roll over the line just as time expires. Pole Position is racing at its purest and a fine way to kick off the Spring season. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Malibu 3 laps
Our high score: 42,250
Publisher: Konami (1983)
Who can resist a good game of Pooyan? This cute arcade title is irresistibly fun and original. You control a piglet being raised and lowered in a basket on the right side of the screen, defending your siblings from a gang of hungry wolves. In the first stage, wolves float down off a cliff on balloons, and you need to shoot them down with arrows before they reach the bottom. I love how the wolves hit the ground with a satisfying thud. There's also a "chunk of meat" that periodically appears that can be used to knock down several wolves at once. Actually, the meat looks more like a white bone, but that's beside the point. You also need to dodge stones the wolves toss at you. In the second stage, the wolves float up from the ground on balloons, and if enough wolves reach the cliff above, they'll drop a boulder on your head, which is not cool. There are also two bonus screens as well. The gameplay requires ample skill and technique, but it's the graphics that really make the game so appealing. The bright, sharp scenery is bursting with color and detail. You can see piglets on the top of the screen hoisting your basket or bobbing their heads to the harmonized music. The cheerful melody and whimsical graphics are impossible not to like. Is there anything wrong with this game? Well, with five lives, it is a bit on the easy side, but this is still the best version of Pooyan you'll find outside of the arcade. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 97650
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Synapse (1981)
This game is so ridiculously awful
I can hardly believe it's even a thing!
At first glance Protector looks like a bad Defender clone, but this game can only dream
of being a bad Defender clone! You fly through side-scrolling caverns in a sleek ship that can easily squeeze through narrow passages. The controls are awful. You need to press against the right edge of the screen to scroll, but then you can't see what's coming! Worst yet, your ship has a tendency to lurch forward and slam into a nearby wall. Early on you encounter a few laser gates that are easily destroyed with your rapid-fire cannon. Your weapon is the best part of the game but it's wasted. After flying over some pyramids you see tiny people standing around buildings. An invincible alien craft moves in from the right, methodically abducting the poor slobs and depositing them into a nearby volcano. Your job is to transport the people to safety, and perhaps catch a few falling to their deaths (fat chance because that's pretty [expletive] hard). The tedious process of transporting one person after the next feels like busywork. If you're still playing beyond that point, you'll find yourself repeatedly knocked out of the sky by cheap laser beams. After your ship tumbles to the ground a little ambulance zooms across the bottom of the screen to haul you off. That's cute but not cute enough to change my opinion of this trainwreck of a game. Synapse produced some quality software for the Atari, but I guess Protector was released before they knew what they were doing. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 9,800
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Q*bert was an ingenious arcade hit with engaging gameplay and a loveable star with a tubular nose. Q*bert hops around blocks on a pyramid-shaped stack, trying to turn them all the same color. Complicating matters are bouncing enemies and hazards, including a purple snake named Coily. Unlike most home editions, this one incorporates all the elements of the arcade game, including Ugg, Wrong Way, Sam, and the green ball that lets Q*bert temporarily freeze his enemies. When Q*bert is caught, he "curses" via a little word bubble containing punctuation marks. The controls are a bit stiff, requiring you to hold the joystick at a 45-degree angle. The audio effects are faithful to the arcade, but the graphics are lacking. Q*bert is pixelated and has holes for eyes, making him look like a zombie! The "shaded" sides of the cubes are ugly pixilated patterns instead of solid colors - what's up with that? When Q*bert escapes from Coily via a flying disc, the animation is jerky, and worse yet there's an unnecessary pause before you resume play at the top of the pyramid. Clearly Parker Bros. didn't put a whole lot of effort into this project. Q*bert's timeless gameplay is hard to resist, but this home translation is a little weak. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 3
Our high score: 10425
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Atari (1982)
It's not the flashiest version the arcade classic, but this 8-bit Qix gets the job done. In case you're new to the game, Qix is played by moving a small diamond around an empty screen, drawing lines to cordon off territory while eluding wandering enemies. Your adversaries include "sparx" which patrol the perimeter, and the free-roaming "helix", which assumes the form of a rotating set of colored lines. Your goal is to enclose at least 75 percent of the board, and should you exceed that, you'll earn a cool grand for each additional percentage. Qix is brilliant by design, but this version is not the best. For one thing, the helix is only about half as big as it should be, and it's rendered in cycling colors instead of a rainbow pattern. When touched by an enemy your diamond doesn't instantly explode, but silently blinks as a slow
software routine clears out any lines you were in the progress of drawing before contact occurred. This ten-second pause is followed by a belated explosion sound effect. Pretty lame!
The collision detection is also fishy at times. On the bright side, the controls are comfortable, since you can use any Atari joystick. There are several skills levels and an alternating two-player mode. It could have been better, but a second-rate Qix is better than no Qix at all. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 41823
1 or 2 players
Questprobe featuring The Hulk
Publisher: Adventure International (1984)
I don't know what's more remarkable: the fact that somebody made an Incredible Hulk text adventure
, or the fact that my friends actually agreed to play the God-forsaken thing!
But we did indeed put this through its paces. Steve was hunched over the XEGS keyboard with its outstretched one-and-a-half foot long cord. Scott was tapping away on my laptop desperately searching for some kind of FAQ. I was kicking back with a beer, amused. For those too young to remember the early days of the home computers, a popular style of game in the early 80's were "text adventures". These allowed you to type in simple two-word commands (Ex. GET HAMMER, PRESS BUTTON), and then read
about what happened via text. More often than not, the computer would respond with "I don't know how to do that" or "You can't do that now". It was really easy to get stuck! At least this game presents you with colorful, comic-book style illustrations between commands. I was hoping to see Hulk kick some ass, but the object of the game is to collect gems. You begin as Bruce Banner tied to a chair in an empty room, which is a pretty helpless predicament (hint: shake). Once freed, you can explore two sparse rooms, and if the Internet is any indication, few people ever got further than that. I could forgive Hulk's trial and error gameplay if the game made any sense, but it does not. The first time you step outside you're instantly crushed by gravity. Come again?
Later, in order to obtain a hidden gem you need to dig a hole, and then dig again.
And who in their right mind would ever think of lifting
a huge dome
to uncover another gem? The Incredible Hulk is as bad as the movie - and I'm talking about that Ang Lee
version. It's that bad!
My friends decided to finally call it quits after Hulk got defeated by ants
. Yes, ants. By that point the only command we wanted to type was "FORMAT DISK". © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: floppy disk
Realm of Impossibility
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1984)
In my book, Realm is one of the most underrated video games of all time. Sequel to a game called "Zombies", Realm of Impossibility challenged one or two players to journey through of series of multi-screen mazes while avoiding monsters. Once you grabbed the key or crown at the end of the last screen, you had to high tail it back to the beginning. The psuedo-3D graphics are still attractive today. Each player controls a tiny but well animated person. Each screen contains wandering monsters like zombies, spiders, or spheres that drain your hit points when they touch you. The two-player mode is especially fun, because if one player dies he can be revived by the other. Along the way, you can collect spells the freeze, protect you from, or confuse the monsters (use the space bar to initiate). The bouncy music is unforgettable, and the levels are selectable. The gameplay is fun, frantic, and ultra-simple to play. My sister and I use to love this game in the early 80s, and after recently playing it with her, I'm happy to report that Realm has held up quite well. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: MKG 13,295
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Activision (1983)
Beautiful in its simplicity and endlessly playable, River Raid will never succumb to the ravages of time. Never!
This pristine vertical shooter was developed by pioneer female programmer Carol Shaw - an unsung hero of the "golden age" of video games. River Raid offers a harrowing mission as you guide a plane up a twisting river valley while blowing up ships, planes, helicopters, and bridges. You'll bank through narrow passages and fly over barges to replenish your fuel supply. Precise and responsive, these controls might just be the best I've ever experienced. This computer edition plays exactly like its Atari 2600 cousin but offers a few nifty bells and whistles like craggy valley walls and mountain scenery. New enemies include hot-air balloons, missile-firing helicopters, and tanks that lob mortars from the river bank. Blasting a tank as it creeps over a bridge and watching it plunge into the watery depths has to be one of the most satisfying moments in gaming. With all the eye candy of the Atari 5200 and the crisp controls of the Atari 2600 edition, River Raid is a slice of gaming nirvana. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 32,540
1 or 2 players