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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Atari XEGS Reviews S

Satan's Hollow
Grade: B+
Publisher: CBS (1983)
Posted: 2003/6/28

screenshotThe name may raise a few eyebrows, but Satan's Hollow is just a typical shooter, and it doesn't make a great first impression. The mediocre graphics and simple "beep" sound effects suggest a second-rate Phoenix (Atari 2600, 1983). The castle sitting on the hill in the background looks like crap, and it serves as a living example of why programmers don't do the artwork for video games anymore. Likewise the gorge on the left of the screen looks like some huge graphical glitch. The flying birds and demons are chunky and are poorly animated.

If you have the intestinal fortitude to stick with this game, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise. You can shoot two missiles at a time, and you have a rechargeable shield that actually moves with you (unlike Phoenix). Demonic creatures sometimes drop flaming balls that create little fires on the surface. But the real innovation of Satan's Hollow is the bridge that you can build on the right side of the screen. Bridge pieces periodically appear on the left, and you need to drag them to the right while shooting the targets above. Building a complete bridge takes you to a second screen featuring Lucifer himself!

Consistent with the rest of the game's graphics, he looks more like a stick figure than the prince of darkness, jumping around like a flea as he tosses pitchforks your way. He's really not hard to shoot, and you are rewarded handsomely for nailing him. Besides earning bonus points, you can now shoot FOUR missiles at a time, and this rapid-fire action makes for a great time. Too bad you lose this ability when your ship gets hit. There are nine skills levels, and I'd recommend number five. Satan's Hollow really had me hooked. And what other shooter lets you battle Satan from the comfort of your own family room? © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 5
Our high score: 19600
1 or 2 players 

Space Cowboy
Grade: F
Publisher: Avalon Hill (1984)
Posted: 2005/8/22

screenshotThis game was developed in my hometown of Baltimore by the now-defunct Avalon Hill Game Company. I recall seeing an impressive preview screenshot for Space Cowboy in Antic (a 1980's Atari computer magazine), but never heard anymore about it after that. I assumed it was canceled, until recently while shopping for old games on the Internet I stumbled upon it for sale. When I finally received this long-lost relic, I was surprised at its large box and elaborate artwork. The game comes on a floppy disk, and despite the conventional wisdom of the 80's (which claimed floppies wouldn't retain their data) these things pretty much last forever if you take care of them.

What really surprised me was that the game is programmed in BASIC! I used to program in Atari BASIC back in the 80's, so I can vouch that it's not easy to squeeze a game like Space Cowboy out of it. The game features some outstanding graphics and smooth scrolling. The main character is a jailed outlaw who must escape from a futuristic prison by traversing an elevated walkway lined with cannons. The game utilizes a very cool isometric viewpoint, and the scenery is quite detailed and colorful. You can adjust your cowboy's speed as he runs the walkway and use his "jet boots" to dash across holes.

Unfortunately, your cowboy isn't animated at all - he's just a static sprite you move around. The game is fun for a minute or so, but then you realize it's strictly a one-trick pony. All you do is dodge cannon fire, and the placement of the cannons is totally predictable. To say this game is repetitive is like saying fish enjoy water. I was hoping for unique stages, but subsequent levels only added some additional hazards. Despite bringing back some nice memories, Space Cowboy's gameplay is undeniably awful. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 7750
1 player 

Space Invaders
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari (1981)
Posted: 2021/4/21

screenshotGrowing up as an Atari computer kid I find it astounding how it's taken me 40 years to play the original computer version of Space Invaders. I guess I had assumed it was the same as the Atari 5200 edition? Both platforms have been known to share the same games, but this one is different. Atari took a few liberties with it, and in retrospect that was probably ill-advised.

Running down the left edge of the screen is a tall green "rocket" with six doors that slowly deploy rows of invaders. Real alien spacecraft don't look like that. Was Atari trying to be cute? I'm not sure what purpose it serves, but it doesn't improve the gameplay. If anything it hurts! Since you can pick off invaders as they enter the screen you never actually have to face the full armada. I also noticed a lack of barriers to take cover behind. It's a curious omission considering the Atari 2600 version has them.

This Space Invaders is still playable with clean graphics and smooth animation. Every row has a distinctive mutant design and periodically you'll hear a high pitched tone as the "mother ship" hovers across the top. It looks more like a boxy car from the 1970's, and where's the sound effect when you shoot it? Lame!!

Since your cannon is small and invaders are packed tight the game isn't very hard. To make things a little more challenging I tried the "homing" variations where aliens can fling bombs diagonally. During advanced stages however these shots come so fast and low you can't even move yourself into position to shoot anything! I'm beginning to understand why Atari went back to the drawing board for the Atari 5200 release of Space Invaders. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: 6
Our high score: 802
1 or 2 players 

Speed King
Grade: F
Publisher: Mastertronic (1986)
Posted: 2011/12/11

screenshotThis bargain-bin title wants to be Pole Position with motorcycles, but it lacks the horsepower. You get a wide selection of tracks in diverse locations (Sweden, Italy, Spain, Daytona), but as far as I could tell the only difference is the shape of the mountain backdrops. Wait a minute - since when are there mountains in Florida? I can't tell if my driver looks more like Princess Leia or a Japanese woman in a Kimono. Speed Queen would have been a more appropriate title, but I guess that sounds too much like a drug-addicted transvestite.

You accelerate and shift gears to build up speed, but 200 MPH seems more like 20. The sensation of speed is non-existent, and with no roadside scenery there's nothing keeping you from riding on the grass. Eventually you'll catch up with the rest of the pack who look like a gang of Asian motorcycle chicks. Not only are they pixelated beyond belief, but their scaling animation is jittery as hell. You'll wreck if you come within a pixel of them, and these are some pretty big pixels we're talking about. Speed King wouldn't be bad as a type-in game from Compute magazine (remember that one?), but nobody should be paying money for this. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Spy Vs. Spy
Grade: C+
Publisher: First Star (1984)
Posted: 2019/8/7

screenshotIn 1984 Spy Vs. Spy was a showcase title for the Atari computers, boasting cartoon-quality graphics, wacky animations, and an innovative split-screen. Who would have guessed a silly Mad Magazine cartoon strip could translate into such a sophisticated video game? The gameplay is surprisingly rich despite employing just a single button. Both spies - one black and one white - move around the same maze of rooms, searching furniture for objects and planting booby traps along the way.

Traps include bombs, springs, and electrified water buckets you set up over doorways. Certain objects you come across will disable traps like umbrellas and pliers, but since you can only carry one item at a time you never hold anything for long. The audio/visual prowess of Spy Vs. Spy is remarkable. Its colorful rooms are pure eye candy and once that looping music gets into your head, you can't get it out.

But while the gameplay is highly original it's also rather difficult and confusing. Although it's possible to keep an eye on your opponent, it's not really practical. Once your paths will cross a quick brawl ensues, usually sending the loser to heaven in angelic form. The spy who collects four special items in a suitcase can escape, triggering a neat ending sequence of him flying off in a rickety airplane.

Rooting through furniture and checking behind pictures is easy enough, but since there's only one button you're constantly dropping items by accident. It's also very easy to trigger your own traps. Although generally smooth there are frequent framerate drops - something I would have never even noticed in the old days. Worst of all, your opponent can wait for you at the exit door, beat you up, and win the game after you did most of the work! Spy Vs Spy remains technically impressive, but one might argue it was always more fun to watch than to play. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Spy Vs. Spy II: The Island Caper
Grade: D+
Publisher: First Star Software (1985)
Posted: 2019/8/7

screenshotThe original Spy Vs. Spy begged for a sequel and The Island Caper certainly looks good on paper. It takes the wacky espionage antics to a bright deserted island location while tweaking the formula a little but not too much. Instead of moving between rooms you now move around a sandy beach. The scenery scrolls as you move sideways, and squeezing through openings in the trees takes you to new areas. The tropical scenery is bright and colorful, but the granular sand gives the graphics a grainy look. The game has likeable bongo-drum music but nothing as catchy as the original game.

Instead of scouring furniture for items you're searching trees and mounds of sand for rocket parts. Traps you can set up include pits, napalm, snares, and gasoline bombs. When a player assembles the rocket, he can win by escaping in a submarine with his lady friend. The Island Caper is hard to play. Assembling the rocket is a pain in the ass. You'd think dropping pieces on top of each other would connect them but they don't seem to want to go together.

Another problem is that all the island scenery pretty much looks the same. Quicksand is all over the place and you need to wiggle the joystick like crazy to escape it. When you come face to face with your opponent you engage in a "swordfight", but it takes dozens of hits to defeat your opponent because now you both have long life bars. Though time consuming, killing my CPU opponent in this manner was the only way I could defeat him. Unlike the first game, you don't come back from the dead. The Island Caper asks a lot of the player. It's not likely to win over those who didn't like the first game, and unlikely to appeal to those who did. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Spy Vs. Spy III: Arctic Antics
Grade: D-

screenshotThe original Spy Vs. Spy (1984) was a showcase title that dazzled gamers with its cartoon graphics, wacky "death" animations, and innovative split-screen format. Arctic Antics is the third game in the series, pitting the black and white Mad Magazine spy characters against each other on a glacier. A well-designed set-up screen lets you easily customize your game (map size, lives, difficulty, etc) via the joystick. The premise remains the same as both players set traps for each other while trying to collect objects needed to escape.

Instead of rigging furniture with booby traps, you're burying dynamite, sawing holes in the ice, and setting icicle traps. And instead of smacking each other with clubs, the combat is limited to hurling snowballs. That's pretty lame, as the snowballs don't do much damage at all. One new element is the need to maintain your body temperature by taking refuge in an igloo. I have as much nostalgia as the next guy (I actually take medication for it) but Spy Vs. Spy games are not what they used to be. This game just isn't much fun.

The white-and-blue scenery looks attractive but it's not very interesting. When you pick up an object, you can't tell what it is, and the lousy manual isn't much help. The escape sequence depicts a rocket taking off, and it's a lot less impressive than the airplane in the original game. The looping "music" is just plain annoying. Frankly it's more enjoyable to watch the CPU play itself, and that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Star League Baseball
Grade: B
Publisher: Gamestar (1983)
Posted: 2014/4/27

screenshotThis is one of those easy games that's great for a quick contest against a friend. Star League's title screen plays a jaunty little tune, and each game begins with an abbreviated version of the national anthem. The stadium graphics look pretty sweet with a nicely-manicured field, well-defined fence, and even a 3D dugout (empty, but still). The players are small and single-colored, but highly detailed and smoothly animated.

Each player selects from two starting pitchers: "Curves" Cassidy and "Heat" Muldoon. You also need to choose between a "liners" and "sluggers" line-up, although I would prefer a "balanced" option. The intuitive, responsive controls give Star League an arcade flavor. Moving the joystick in the four directions lets you throw basic pitches, but things get interesting when you use diagonals to throw combinations of pitches!

You can swing with a press of a button, and I absolutely love the sound of the crack of the bat. Hitting the ball can be a challenge. It's hard to lay off the low pitch, and I can't hit Muldoon's fastball to save my life! When the ball is put into play, you control the nearest fielder, but the infielders often don't even flinch as ground balls roll through. The player on offense controls the lead runner, and once you get a feel for running the bases, you can really toy with (and piss off) your friend. Good luck tricking the CPU, which is remarkably adept at holding the runners on.

The game has a few shortcomings. You have the option of bringing in a knuckleball reliever, but only at the top of the eighth inning. Outfielders sometimes throw out runners headed to first base, which is not very realistic. It's hard to reach second base even after hitting the ball into a gap, and runners don't slide. The controls for getting situated on the mound require a lot of extraneous button tapping.

The game does have some nice bells and whistles, like a scoreboard shown between innings that displays paid attendance, an ad for a "Dutch Dougan" video game, and other scores from around the league. Star League Baseball isn't particularly deep but it hits the spot if you're looking for some simple fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Grade: F
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1983)
Posted: 2008/5/16

screenshotThis game was obviously conceived on the back of a cocktail napkin over a few beers during a happy hour, and programmed the next day! Rushed out the door with no regard for quality, Jedi is a prime example of "shovelware". As unexciting as it is unimaginative, you guide a pixelated Millenium Falcon around the bottom third of the screen as Imperial ships randomly appear out of nowhere and whiz around you.

A small Death Star is visible on top which periodically unleashes a green laser beam that's impossible to avoid. Stretching across the center of the screen is a rainbow-colored shield, which might be effective if not for those ship-sized holes that appear in it every ten seconds! Flying through a hole treats you to a mercifully brief "hyperspace" sequence. The second screen is much like the first, only uglier. Now the Death Star is large and blocky, and firing at it removes chunks at a time.

After striking its core, the Death Star's explodes, sending a barrage of meatballs your way. Wow, this really sucks. Did the designers even watch the movie?! Of all the great ideas contained in the original trilogy, just about anything else would have been better than this. A Star Wars license is a terrible thing to waste. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 1
Our high score: 4516
1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Grade: D
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1984)
Posted: 2015/8/25

screenshotThis is essentially the same as the Atari 5200 version of Star Wars: The Arcade Game, but this time I can't blame the controller. Even with your favorite joystick this is downright mediocre. The game doesn't look bad. The armaments of your X-Wing fighter look slick along the edge of the screen, calling to mind the crisp vector graphics of the arcade game. And when you hear that spirited Star Wars theme, your midichlorians will begin to percolate. Then tie fighters start fluttering around and the game starts to suck.

Despite the simplistic aim-and-shoot controls it's really hard to hit anything. You also need to shoot down incoming missiles which look like fuzzballs (and not the kind that laugh it up). Your cursor has such limited range you can't even reach some of the missiles. The second part is the dreaded "towers stage" which you probably won't recall from the film. The idea is to shoot their glowing tops while trying not to crash into them. This 3D effect might have been turned some heads in 1983, but now this stage is just plain aggravating.

The final scene is where Star Wars Arcade nearly redeems itself. While navigating the Death Star trench you'll weave around barriers that appear in your path. The 3D illusion and responsive steering controls make this the highlight of the game. It culminates with shooting the exhaust port, which is surprisingly easy! Watching the Death Star shatter into all of six pieces is kind of anticlimactic however. Those who enjoyed this game at the arcades may want to temper their expectations before trying this lackluster home version. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: 2
Our high score: 239,951
1 player 

Summer Games
Grade: B
Publisher: Epyx (1984)
Posted: 2008/10/13

screenshotSome may prefer Decathlon (Atari 2600, 1983), but for my money, this is the game that pioneered in the multi-event, Olympic-style games popular to this day. And Summer Games has held up incredibly well over the years, with intuitive controls and fast pacing that puts a lot of modern Olympic games to shame. The eight events cover a nice cross-section, and there's really not one dud in the bunch. Only the 100-meter dash relies on frantic joystick wiggling, with the others employing precise timing techniques.

Some of the athletes look a bit blocky, but you have to love the fluid animation. The diving event is the most spectacular graphically, with its deep blue sky and colorful stands of spectators. In the track events, it's neat how the crowd forms the pattern "USA" in the background. The gymnastics springboard event is surprisingly fun, and the skeet shooting is perfectly executed. The weakest event is the swimming freestyle relay which runs too long and is glitchy to boot.

The biggest problem with Summer Games is how you must constantly flip the floppy disk and sit through those blue load screens (beep beep beep...) It's especially obnoxious when it's just loading the worthless "medal ceremony" screens. I will give the game props for saving all world records (to disk) along with the player's initials. You can configure the game to use two joysticks, but when players are not going head-to-head, you still have to share a joystick, which makes no sense. Summer Games does show its age at times, but if you're looking for some back-to-basics Olympic action, you will love this. Note: An enhanced version of this game was later released for the Atari 7800. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Super Breakout
Grade: B
Publisher: Atari (1978)
Posted: 2020/4/20

screenshotYou may find it hard to get excited about hitting a ball against a wall of colored bricks but once you start playing Super Breakout something just clicks. I love games that use paddle controllers - so smooth and precise! The action takes a while to ramp up as the ball initially moves slowly and is hard to miss. You gradually chip away at one side but once that ball gets stuck in the top area it feels like you've hit the freaking jackpot. The game goes nuts and your points tally so fast the display can't even keep up.

Two things make Breakout a challenge. When the ball hits an upper layer of bricks it starts moving twice as fast, and when the ball hits the "ceiling" your paddle becomes a lot smaller. When both of these conditions occur you're basically hanging on for dear life.

The first variation is your standard breakout - one ball and one paddle. The second is progressive, where a series of walls gradually marches down the screen. This variation is the most unpredictable, as you might have as many as four walls bearing down on you. The third variation is called double, which provides you with two balls and two paddles. You'd be surprised how hard it is to keep them both in play.

The last mode is called cavity. This time you begin with two paddles and one ball but two additional balls are bouncing around inside the wall. Release those and in theory you could have three going at once. In reality it's nearly impossible to keep three balls in play for more than a few seconds.

After each game your score is displayed along with an evaluation like "fair" or "ace". I like this version of Super Breakout better than the Atari 2600 game. The controls feel smoother and the ball bounces at sharper angles. It may lack the futuristic sounds but a game like Super Breakout doesn't need any razzle dazzle to be fun. Note: Pressing shift + control + I reveals an Easter Egg. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: progressive
Our high score: 913
1 to 8 players 

Superman the Strategy Game
Grade: F
Publisher: First Star (1986)
Posted: 2011/5/22

screenshotAny sense of anticipation I had for Superman was dashed when I noticed the subtitle "The Strategy Game". Say whaaaaat? The only strategy Superman should be concerned with is what foot he's going to use to kick a super-villain's ass! The opening screen depicts a grid of city blocks, triggering nightmarish flashbacks of the original Ghostbusters game (gah!). You guide a flying superman between the buildings as the nefarious DarkSeid scurries around the streets.

Both can fire laser beams at each other, and these are deflected by strategically angled mirrors in the intersections. It's original in theory but in practice it's a confusing mess. And since both have huge health meters, the stage just goes on forever. Superman can carry people, but even after reading the instructions I have no idea where I'm supposed to take them.

After a few minutes the game mercifully switches to a vertical shooting mode. While trading shots with a cannon seems refreshing at first, it soon becomes repetitive and pointless. Eventually you find yourself in another mirror level, but this time in a cave. Superman doesn't make any sense and it's way too complicated. Heck, the instructions even include diagrams to illustrate how the various screens fit together. Some computer games are worth investing some time to figure out, but I think this is one mystery best left unsolved. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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