Category Archives: Atari Reviews

Disk 15, Side 2

Monster Smash!

monster smashAnyone expecting this game to represent someone working in their lab late one night when their eyes behold an eerie sight may be somewhat disappointed. However, this game is representative of something that a lot of pre-1983 arcade and home console games excelled at and were most remembered for: simple action that, for some reason, sucked you in for a long time trying to rack up the highest score that you can without ever seeming too repetitive. Your goal is to smash as many monsters as you can (the monsters in this case being either squat, pink garbage can-looking things with antennae and rotating eyes, collections of dots, or occasionally an egg that hatches into a lizard if not smashed). Said monsters run to the right and down through this, uh, graveyard, I suppose (it is a graveyard smash!) Your only controls are rotating one corner of the fence, creating paths that direct the monsters either down or across, and smashing all the gravestone/flipper/smashy things at the same time! You get points for every monster you smash, but if you let more than a certain amount escape, it’s game over! Each wave makes more monsters appear, and each level makes them go faster.

It’s a simple hand-eye coordination/reflex game, but it’s a lot of fun, too. If it had better graphics it’d be a top seller on iPhones, iPads, and Android devices today (though I hope the theme song would stay the same, as it’s pretty goofy on its own).

Rating: B

Obligatory not-remix

Stargate Courier

stargate courierHere’s some trivia for you: A Google search for “Stargate Courier” brings up three things in order: the Tok’ra couriers from a Stargate: SG-1 RPG supplemental book, the classified business ads from Abu Dhabi, and finally, this game. In other words, this game was obscure enough to be beaten by both a little-known entry in a supplemental RPG book and ads from halfway around the world (at least from where I’m writing this). So, this game, famous? Nope!

What it is is a weird mesh of several different games/sci-fi franchises. Your job is mainly to fly around space and shoot twelve enemy ships that look like giant 80’s hoop earrings that mostly just suck your fuel away if they get near you (although they may shoot at you too).  If you run low on fuel then you have to fly back to Earth (wait, this is taking place in the solar system? Why all the densely-packed stars, then?) where, in true shoot-em-up fashion, you’ve gotta shoot some fuel tanks to refill your supply. The Earth segments are hazardous, though, as not only are there turrets that take potshots at you, but also the occasional angry Sphinx (which I suppose is somehow tied to Stargate, but since this game came out at least a decade before the movie I suppose it’s a moot point). Also, for some reason, the Millennium Falcon is flying around and gives you 1000 points if you shoot it. So there’s that.

All this weirdness could be forgiven if the game was any good. Sadly, it’s a mess. The graphics are uninspiring, the sound is fairly stock, the controls are broken in the outer-space portion of the game (you move forward at a set speed and one push on the joystick sends you spinning at an insanely high rate), and, while the Earth segments have much better controls, they’re also pretty boring, as you’re stuck in an endless loop of fuel tanks, turrets, and Sphinxes, until you decide to lift off into space again. About the only thing it’s got going for it is a half-way decent heroic jingle that plays when you start the game, but it’s not worth much. There are better shoot-’em-ups out there, and if you want a good Stargate Courier experience, stick to playing the Stargate RPG or maybe starting your own business in the United Arab Emirates.

Rating: D-

Obligatory not-remix

That’s it for Side 2 of Disk 15. Coming up next: Pharoah’s PyramidMr. Robot and his Robot Factory, and Starion.


Disk 15, Side 1

Super Breakout

I don’t think anyone who has ever owned a cell phone in the last four years hasn’t played Breakout, or some version of it. Its most basic form is very simple: you control a paddle at the bottom of the screen, and a ball bounces around that you have to reflect back into bricks that cover the upper portion of the screen. Once the bricks are gone, you move to the next level, where the ball moves faster and sometimes the bricks have been rearranged. I imagine this game was invented when some lonely programmer was sick of playing Pong by himself and decided that, instead of becoming some sort of hand-eye coordination superman that could control a paddle in each hand simultaneously, he’d just close off one end, add some bricks, and call it a night. There, now he doesn’t have to make any friends to play video games! Problem solved!

In this version, Super Breakout, there are four versions of the game: classic (break eight lines of bricks, then move to the next faster level), double (where you control two parallel paddles and have two balls bouncing around, shown in the screenshot), progressive (which has six lines instead of eight which keep slowly creeping downward on the screen), and cavity (same as classic but two balls are trapped inside the bricks and can be freed). It’s a decent port, especially for the time, but these days you don’t need Atari emulation to play this game. If you own an electronic device, chances are you’ve already got a version of Breakout somewhere on it. Don’t, like, microwaves come with this game on them now?

Rating: C-

Star Raiders

OK, I’ll admit, as a kid I never really played this game. First of all, the disk it came on only worked sporadically. Secondly, without the instructions I just flew around in one quadrant of space with nothing to do but shoot into nothingness because I didn’t know the controls. It wasn’t until recently that I finally was able to look the controls up online and actually play this classic game correctly. So no nostalgia filter here for me!

With that said, it’s easy to see the influence this early space fighter had on numerous games that came after it, such as Space Battle for the Intellivision, numerous early Star Trek games, The Last Starfighter (which then got retconned into Star Raiders II), and even parts of Ultima I. You flew a Star Cruiser ship, trying to protect the galaxy from the evil Zylon empire (I said Zylon, not Cylon! It’s an original creation, like Ricky Rouse or Monald Muck!). You accomplish this by first looking at a map of the galaxy (an extremely small galaxy), divided into sectors, each showing an icon if there are friendly starbases or enemy ships in them. If all the sectors surrounding a base get filled with enemy fleets, then it’s KABOOM! to that starbase if you don’t save it within a minute! To do so, you must hyperwarp to whatever sector the enemy ships are in and blow ’em all up. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, but the beauty is in the execution (haha, little homicide humor there).

To begin with, warping to another sector is somewhat of a game in and of itself. Once you engage the warp drive, a little crosshair appears in the middle of your screen and starts moving about erratically (the farther away your destination the more erratically it moves). You’ve got to keep it in the middle of the screen once hyperspace finally kicks in (about five seconds or so after you engage the engine), lest you end up somewhere completely different in the galaxy. You know, in case you ever wanted to relive that moment from the Apollo 13 mission where they only had enough juice to fire the engines for a few seconds and had to keep the ship pointing at Earth lest they drift off into the cold, hard vacuum of space and freeze to death. You know, fun!

Once you make it to a sector with some baddies you basically just shoot at them until they explode. This is easier said than done, however, as you’ve got four different views to keep an eye on and switch between: the normal front view, an aft view, the computer targeting view in the corner of the screen, and a long-range third-person view. Also, make sure your shields are up or you’ll just die the instant you get hit by anything. In addition to losing energy every time you get shot at, each enemy shot can also damage one of your systems, rendering it either inoperable or only partially working (for example, the long-range scan suddenly starts showing ghost images). Also, if they damage your shields then you’d best get the hell outta Dodge before they get another shot in, or you’re toast. To replenish your energy and fix your systems, warp to a friendly starbase and dock for a few seconds, and you’re good to go.

Star Raiders surprised me. I had heard of its good reputation, but I’d never really sat down to play it until recently, and it was a lot better than I had expected, especially since it came out in 1979 and the graphics are pretty much crap. The controls are fairly intuitive, yet complicated enough to not just be a shoot ’em up. You’ve got to be strategic about how and when you engage the enemy, when to disengage if the battle is going poorly, and when to visit a starbase vs. engaging more enemy fighters. While some of the controls are a little redundant (I mean come on, did anyone ever turn off the targeting system?), the breakneck action is difficult to master, but a lot of fun, too. Definitely recommended.

Rating: A-


I don’t think anyone who has ever owned a cell phone in the last four years hasn’t played Asteroids, or some version of it. Its most basic form is very simple: you control a ship in the middle of the screen surrounded by asteroids, and must shoot them all. Each time you shoot one, it breaks up into smaller asteroids until shooting the smallest sized asteroid makes it disappear completely. I imagine this game was invented when some lonely programmer was sick of playing Spacewar! by himself and decided that, instead of becoming some sort of hand-eye coordination superman that could control a paddle in each hand simultaneously, he’d just get rid of one ship, add some rocks, and call it a night. There, now he doesn’t have to make any friends to play video games! Problem solved!

In this version, creatively titled Asteroids, you can play with up to four players, and either play co-op, competitively, or on teams. It’s a decent port, especially for the time, but these days you don’t need Atari emulation to play this game. If you own an electronic device, chances are you’ve already got a version of Asteroids somewhere on it. Don’t, like, refrigerators come with this game on them now?

Rating: C+ (mostly for multiplayer)

In any case, that does it for side 1 of disk 15. Comin’ up next: the second side, featuring Monster Smash and Stargate Courier. See you then!

Disk 14, Side 2

Bruce Lee

To start off, I’m woefully unequipped to compare this game to actual Bruce Lee movies, genre conventions, or tropes. I know very little other than that he was one of the greatest martial artist actors of all time and that since his passing tons of people have tried to build off his popularity to make a quick buck. Among those people trying to cash in were the creators of this platformer, in which you play as Bruce himself, kicking and punching his way into some sort of fortress, stealing lamps or jewels or something off the walls. Pursuing you through most of the rooms are two sinister enemies: a ninja wielding a katana or staff or something who is so stealthy that he doesn’t even have a face, and some sort of mooing green sumo dude (apparently named The Green Yamo) who, despite weighing probably over 300 pounds, is as accomplished a martial artist as Bruce himself. For a really fun twist, a multiplayer mode allows one player to control The Green Yamo, who can either fight against Bruce or work with him (by keeping the ninja off his back), making the game either much easier for beginners, or quite a challenge for veterans.

The fortress consists of twenty, vaguely Chinese-related screens, each with a completely different layout, and although you mainly must proceed through them in a linear fashion, they are laid out in such a way (and you have to backtrack enough) that it gives the game somewhat of a Metroidvania vibe to it (even if it’s not explicitly that sort of game). In many of these rooms there are moving obstacles that can be anything from a single white dot, to a giant collection of spears flying across the screen, to, uh, some sort of bush that erupts out of the ground, that immediately electrocute Bruce, causing him to freeze up with a noise that sends chills down the spine. These traps will also kill the ninja and the sumo dude, though in their case they will just respawn about three seconds later, and in screens where precise timing and/or jumping is required to navigate these obstacles the game is merciful enough to just remove the two enemies completely.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the art style in this game, which is probably the most unique part. Despite the limited hardware, every screen is vibrant with a definite Asian style. Everything, from the floors to the walls to the ladders to the deadly electrocuting bits, has some sort of intricate pattern to it, and there’s just enough representational artwork to keep you guessing about the more abstract bits. For example, the first few screens obviously take place in the courtyard of some Chinese mansion, with the mountains in the background and some statues of, cows, maybe(?), up on pedestals. As you descend deeper into the fortress it becomes less and less clear exactly where you are or what things are, for that matter. In the screenshot above, for instance, the column in the middle acts as a moving ladder, but I have no idea what it’s really supposed to represent. It gives the whole game a sort of mystical feel; like watching a Miyazaki film: all the weird stuff probably has some sort of significance, but heck if I know what it all means, it’s certainly pretty to look at and ponder about. At one point in the game you may be descending into hell (though it may just be a basement), and at another point a giant demon throws magic at you until you hit a dynamite plunger and blow him up, and at the end you finally find either treasure or a room that’s burning down.

I really like this game. Even though there’s not much to keep you playing after you’ve beaten it once, it’s still pretty fun and surreal. Plus, grabbing a friend to play as The Green Yamo can really transform the game into something unique and especially fun to play. It’s even got a PC remake, so you’ve got no excuse! Play it today!

Rating: A


First, a tiny bit of history: The Atari 800 was built to be a gaming machine, and had custom hardware designed specifically for that end. Sadly, it kept the price tag high, which is one reason it eventually lost most of its market share to its competitors such as the Apple ][ and especially the Commodore 64 (it was kind of like the PS3 of its day). Most of these computers had nearly identical libraries of games as the Atari (especially the Commodore), so most consumers opted to buy the cheaper machine, since many games played fairly similarly on both platforms. There were a few games, however, that really showed off what the Atari was capable of, especially compared to counterparts on other machines, and Encounter was certainly one of those games.

Encounter is basically an early first-person shooter, somewhat reminiscent of Battlezone, where you are shooting various aliens (I think, though they mainly take the form of colorful floating diamonds) that come out of warp holes dotted about a landscape. Most of the aliens just move around and occasionally take potshots at you, though on occasion a red one appears that tries to kamikaze right into you at high speed, dodging erratically while a tense, frustrating sound plays (see here at 0:50). Most of the time, this will cause you to go into panic mode, frantically backing away from the suicidal maniac trying to shoot it, and heaven help you if your back suddenly gets stuck on one of the many pillar-like obstacles dotting the playing field; you’re basically toast at that point.

After offing a certain amount of enemies, a black door of doom opens up and you must proceed into it, where you are suddenly flung at high speeds into a field of giant balls or bullets or something which you must dodge for about half a minute. Failure means you have to repeat the level you just finished, but if you make it past that stressful obstacle course, another door opens to a different-colored landscape, where you must now kill some more aliens. These aliens don’t just change color and move faster, however; in later levels they start shooting multiple rounds at a time, and some are even bombs that, if not killed quickly enough, explode into about a dozen or so projectiles that basically cover the landscape. Those red kamikaze guys, though; they’re always around, no matter how high up you climb in the levels. Seriously, screw those things.

Encounter is a game with great atmosphere. The aliens make some weird, sing-songy noises that get louder the closer you are to them, but other than that (and the sound of you moving), it’s absolutely still, making for a tense situation. The graphics actually aren’t all that hot (nearly comparable to the graphics on the 2600 really), but what separates the Atari port from the other computers of the time is the smooth scrolling and sounds which create the atmosphere. Compare that video I linked to earlier with this one from the Commodore and you’ll see what I mean: the Commodore version looks and sounds surprisingly generic, where the Atari one just oozes with tension and danger.

In any case, Encounter is a wonderful, if highly difficult, game. Even the novice setting can be quite a challenge, if only because of those red kamikaze guys and the between-level super-fast warping sections. Definitely recommended, but not for those with faint hearts.

Rating: A-

Pacific Coast Highway

And now we come to yet another Frogger clone! This one’s called Pacific Coast Highway, and this time you play as a bunny instead of a frog. The basic gameplay is the same as Frogger: cross the busy highway, then hop across boats/rafts/etc. to cross the water. The main difference are that the two sections of the game are actually split up into two screens, and if you get hit or drown, a little ambulance (or an, uh, ambulance boat, I guess?) rushes to the scene to pick up your bunny corpse. I assume this was added after the programmer’s 5-year-old daughter asked, “Daddy, what happened to the cute hopping bunny? Why isn’t it moving anymore?” and the dad, not wanting to explain death to his little princess, programmed in the ambulance so he could say, “Don’t worry, sweetie, the bunny just got a boo-boo. See, the little ambulance is just taking it to the bunny hospital, where the bunny doctor will make it aaallll better!” thus preserving the innocence of little girls everywhere. See, media watchdogs? Some programmers really do care!

You can also play in a multiplayer mode, where the other player controls a turtle (really just a palette swap of the bunny). Interestingly enough, you actually play at the same time, though it’s somewhat confusing as to why, as it’s not a race (or at least you don’t get extra points for beating the other person and the game waits for both of you to finish before moving on anyway) and you can’t affect the other player at all. But it’s still pretty fun, and certainly one of the better Frogger clones out there.

Rating: B

That takes care of Disk 14! Coming up next: side 1 of disk 15, featuring Super Breakout, Star Raiders, and Asteroids!

B.C.’s Quest for Tires – the video review!

Drelbs – the video review!

I turned my review for Drelbs into a video! Check it out!

Disk 14, Side 1

Caverns of Mars II

The original Caverns of Mars game starred a plucky space adventurer heading deep into the underground of Mars. On he plummeted downward, shooting tanks of fuel to get fuel (yet again) and generally trying to avoid the wall in an autoscroller. The sequel here is pretty much the same game. Except they switched it sideways. And you aren’t in a cavern anymore. Also, Mars suddenly got a lot browner. That’s, uh, pretty much the game. Autoscroll sideways, don’t run into anything, blow up rockets for points, and shoot “fuel” for fuel. Type “help” for help. Oh, and get a high score that gets reset when you turn off the machine. That’s always fun.

Also (and I am totally serious about this), after all my years playing this game as a kid, and even playing it again for this review, I did not realize that the markings on the front of the fuel containers actually said the word “Fuel” until as I’m literally writing this paragraph and looking at the screenshot. Really. Since it’s all smooshed together my brain always interpreted it as some sort of alien markings, or simply a kind of cool design or windows or something. Amazing the things you learn twenty-five or so years later.

Rating: C

Night Mission Pinball

I’ve always had a problem with pinball video games. Part of the fun of pinball is that it’s real; those flippers are actually there, the ball is an actual ball, and those buzzers and bells are there to be heard (unless you’re Tommy). More importantly, there are certain things you can do in real life that just don’t work in the virtual world, like bang on the cabinet to get the stupid ball to go the right way, taking extra care not to cause the dreaded “TILT” message to shut you down. Oh, sure, some pinball video games have a button you can press to simulate bumping the cabinet, but it’s completely uncontrolled and only works a few times. There’s just something satisfying about playing real pinball that’s never transferred over to the computer or console versions, even if they do have extra gimmicks.

This phenomenon gets worse the farther back in time you go and the worse the graphics get. Take a look at Night Mission Pinball here. There are no helpful messages that pop up and tell you what you’re hitting with the ball or what effect it has on the game. I can’t even tell what most of that stuff on the screen is. The flippers and bumpers are fairly easy to make out, but what’s that thing in the top left corner? An altimeter? Why is there an altimeter? ‘Cause this game has a plane theme? What do I do with it? Are those white lines with the brown under them supposed to be bumpers or flippers? How am I getting points? How did I activate that multiplier? Those chutes at the top sometimes have numbers? I think? Are we dropping bombs on Germany or something? How come the bombs aren’t moving? How do I get them to fall? What is this game?

You could take the time to observe every single hit the ball makes and figure out what it does on the screen to change things. Or you go play something like Sonic Spinball instead. Sure, that game sucks too, but at least you can tell what’s going on.

Rating: F

Obligatory not-remix

Atari Invaders

Anyone who doesn’t know what Space Invaders is probably a space invader in disguise. Aliens are descending in several rows and dropping things on you (bombs, I hope). You are in a ship/tank/something that fires upwards, destroying them. As each one dies the rest speed up until the last one is going about Mach 3 or so and you end up losing. Ha ha, sucks to be you, and not have superhuman reflexes!

In the rare event that you do destroy them all, then they come back moving even faster! Beat your high score! You know, the one that gets erased when you turn off the machine!

This particular version of Space Invaders, termed Atari Invaders, was created by some guy named Joe Hellesen. Joe apparently had a mild seizure when writing the word “joystick” on the main screen here, but fortunately the space invaders moonlight as spelling Nazis and they destroy the extra letter pretty quick. Presumably the reason they’re invading Earth in the first place is because they’ve been reading peoples’ texts, Facebook statuses, Twitter accounts, etc. and they just can’t stand it anymore! Its all you’re fault that their coming!

Rating: D+

Obligatory remix?


Yet another game from Synapse Software, Slime puts you into a boat that you don’t actually control, fighting off the evil forces of, um, acid rain, I guess? Your boat is floating in what I guess is slime, and you control a glowing blue cursor that moves all over the screen. Instead of firing projectiles, however, each time you hit the trigger a small, triangular wedge appears. Deadly rain falls out of the sky at an increasingly faster-paced rate, and the wedges serve to divert it to the left or right, depending on what side it hits. Your goal is mostly just to survive, but also to make as many drops as possible fall into the drains on either side of the screen. If too much rain falls into the, uh, slime ocean? I guess? Whatever it is, if too much rain falls into it instead of the drains, the water level rises, destroying any wedges that now fall under the water line and moving you boat closer to the death rain. If the boat gets hit, it sinks and you lose a life.

Slime is certainly a unique game, especially for the time. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s a good game. While it starts out fairly enjoyable, as time goes on it simply gets more and more frustrating. You’re never given any warning as to when the slime level rises; it just suddenly jumps up, completely messing up your structure, and forcing you to rebuild both sides as quickly as possible to divert the rain again. Often this turns out to be nearly impossible, as the previous structure was built at a certain angle that now causes a one-square gap at the end that is impossible to fill (like on the left side of the screenshot) without destroying the whole thing one piece at a time and rebuilding. Also, sometimes the game pulls awfully jerky moves like having lightning randomly strike and destroy your wedges (or your boat if the water’s high enough), or having a UFO suddenly fly onto the screen in an erratic pattern, destroying whatever wedges it hits. Even worse, on occasion, the UFO drops a drain plug into one of the drains that is impossible to remove, rendering it useless until a helicopter shows up (completely randomly) and removes it.

All in all, this is one of Synapse’s weaker entries into Atari 8-bit games. It’s creative, but ultimately the deck is so stacked against you that it’s impossible to get very far, especially later when ten bad things happen one right after another and there’s absolutely no time to react. It’s basically the Atari version of getting hit by a blue shell right before the finish line in Mario Kart. No matter how well you do, the game randomly screws you over anyway.

Rating: C+

That’s it for side 1 of disk 14. Coming up next: side 2, featuring Bruce Lee, Encounter, and Pacific Highway. Hopefully I’ll get the next review out in less than a year this time!

Disk 13

Lode Runner

Somewhere along the lines of early platform gaming, somebody stood up and said, “Why is everyone jumping? In the real world, do people jump over holes or up halfway-constructed buildings? No, they go around them, or up elevators, or whatever! Leave the jumping to the kangaroos; let’s get some realism in our new game!” And while Lode Runner doesn’t really qualify for the title of “realistic”, at least the guy isn’t bounding around like he’s got springs in his pants.

You play as (insert protagonist name here), whose job it is to run, climb up ladders, and clamber across bars to collect all the…gold, I guess, even though they look like square barrels… on a given level. Pursuing you relentlessly are a group of guards who will stop at nothing to zap you dead. No word as to the identity of these blue-chested guards or the location in which you are lode running. Perhaps they are robots. Perhaps they are mad monks, as the 1995 remake suggests. Perhaps they are hardcore UCLA fans and you are simply stealing from the school’s treasury to take it to USC, possibly to fund their basketball program. Whatever the case, they are after you, Mr. NoJumpMan. Your only defense is a zapper gun that can zap the brick floor to either side of you, making those hapless Bruins fall in and get stuck for a few seconds, at which point you can run across their heads to freedom. This zapper is also essential for getting all the gold on a given level, for in some levels the gold is buried or otherwise inaccessible without digging.

Which brings me to the next point: the levels. Specifically, the fact that there are 150 of them! That’s right, unlike about 90% of its contemporary games, Lode Runner does not force you to replay the same level or small collection of levels over and over while the colors changed and the enemies moved faster. Instead, there were 150 different levels, each with its own unique layout, which meant that unless a player cheated or was obsessive (since there was no way to save your progress back in the day), most players never actually got to see all the levels in this game. Add to this the fact that the game even included a level editor (possibly the first game to do so), and suddenly this game got what few other games of its time had: a replayability factor! And not just to improve your time or boost your score, but to experience new gameplay! Thus began the practice of customizing and/or modding games, which has extended the life of games waaay past the time when they may have died otherwise (I’m looking at you, everything based on Quake III or Half-Life) to this very day.

Lode Runner was a very popular and well-received game, and has spawned a lot of sequels and remakes, from the faithfully updated (e.g. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns and its “sequel” Lode Runner Online: Mad Monks’ Revenge) to the not-so-good 3D remakes (Lode Runner 2 and Lode Runner 3D) to the inexplicable (apparently Bomberman was based on the NES version of Lode Runner. Who knew?) Perhaps the best gauge of how well a person may play Lode Runner is his or her performance in Championship Lode Runner, a direct sequel with 50 more levels, each more impossible than the last. If somebody makes it past level–oh, let’s say, one–said person has already spent too much time playing Lode Runner and needs to go outside. Maybe catch a UCLA game.

In any case, if you haven’t already guessed, I heartily endorse Lode Runner. It’s fun, challenging, ever-changing and downright awesome.

Rating: A

Coming up next: side 1 of Disk 14, featuring Caverns of Mars II, Night Mission, Atari Invaders and Slime. See you then!

Disk 12, Side 2

Jumpman Junior

After Jumpman, there was Jumpman! And after Jumpman, there was Jumpman Junior! In the original Jumpman (to which Jumpman Junior is basically an extra level pack), you were the title character (not related to Mario) whose duty it was to collect bombs that some nefarious force had placed all over Jupiter. Nevermind that a person would be crushed to death by the atmospheric pressure and wouldn’t be able to breathe, let alone construct some sort of puzzle-filled base for terrorists to put bombs in; we’re on Jupiter, and that’s that. In any case, most levels consist of running, jumping, climbing ladders, etc. while bullets patrol the screen slowly, suddenly firing quickly at you if you’re lined up horizontally or vertically with them. In addition to this, most levels have some sort of puzzle-y gimmick to them, such as ledges that disappear, hailstones that drop from the top of the level, giant walls that push you off the edge of platforms, and even a hurricane that constantly pushes you to the right, along with a flock of birds. On Jupiter. You know, Jovian birds. Work with me here.

Like previously mentioned, Jumpman, Jr. is more of the same gameplay as Jumpman, just with different levels, but the game is a lot of fun. It’s fairly difficult, too, as you only start with three lives and can gain extra ones only by getting a certain score. The levels are varied and range the entire gamut from ridiculously easy (like the “Electrocution” one up above) to quite difficult (such as a level that reveals itself as you walk around it, meaning that you don’t know where the end of a ledge is until you walk off of it and die).

Rating: A-


Recent history has shown us that the dangers of mining are very real and hazardous. From cave-ins to hazardous atmospheric conditions, to radioactive burning walls and pools of pink acid filled with deadly octopi, modern miners face all sorts of difficult conditions while trying to mine the precious minera…

Wait a second, radioactive burning walls and pools of pink acid? Deadly octopi?

That’s what the game H.E.R.O. would have you believe, anyway. Nobody’s quite sure what H.E.R.O. stands for (Wikipedia offers up at least three guesses), only that it has something to do with helicopters, so I would like to say it stands for “Helicopters Eating Real Oranges.” Yeah, I know, it sucks, but I can’t think of anything better right now. In any case, you play our plucky H.E.R.O., flying into dangerous mine shafts to rescue trapped workers. Also, nobody’s quite sure why the powers that be gave him an implausible helicopter pack instead of, say, a jetpack, or an environmentally sound rope and tackle set or something. Maybe the game was designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Anyway, in addition to the red walls (which the manual calls “magma” but come on, magma’s a liquid! Do the research, people!) and octopi tentacles, there are other types of fauna that are deadly to the touch, including snakes, spiders, and some sort of frightening butterfly hybrid as shown in the screenshot. Even a recolor of the bat from Pitfall II makes an appearance. Most of the (later) levels consist of two parts: first he drops through a set of improbable caverns until he reaches the bottom which is flooded with either water, green acid, pink acid (I guess), or mud. Really liquidy mud. Then, he side-scrolls through a couple screens and rides platforms across the liquid until he reaches the trapped miner, after which the level instantly ends. No mention is made of how the H.E.R.O. actually evacuates the miner, so I assume that he is actually just a Catholic priest, flying into mines to perform last rites before perishing along with the miner in the gloom.

The H.E.R.O. is not defenseless. First of all, he has a few sticks of dynamite which he can use to blow open certain doors. I don’t know how safe it would be to blow open a wall with a stick of dynamite when one is already deep inside a claustrophobic mine shaft, but hey, I’m not an engineer. Secondly, he can also shoot laser beams from his eyes.

Which is cool.

H.E.R.O. is a pretty fun game that’s difficult to master. A lot of the gameplay is simply trial and error (going down the left mineshaft lets you progress, while going down the right leads to instant death, etc.). The controls are a little wonky (it takes a second after you press up on the joystick for the man to actually move), but that adds to the challenge. Also, in many rooms there is a lantern hanging on the wall and if you accidentally touch it then the room goes dark except for enemies (which turn gray), raising the difficulty level even more. Overall, sometimes frustrating, yet not enough to turn off most gamers. I recommend it.

Rating: A-

Java Jim

This is a weird game. You star as Java Jim, a digger with glasses who is digging up a, what, tropical island, I guess? Maybe it’s in Indonesia, given the title of the game? Anyway, you are seeking random treasures, like rings, keys, crowbars, dynamite plungers…ok, these are less treasures than they are random stuff you can dig up on the beach using a metal detector. However, the whole time a volcano is tossing lava shots at you. If a bit of lava hits a hole, it fills it back up again. If it hits solid ground, then a tree or a bush suddenly grows there. And occasionally, the lava will spawn either a spider that stuns you or a strange creature that looks like a cross between a frog and a hippo that will either kill you or get killed by you depending on its color. This is very fertile lava.

After you dig up your quota of random crap, then the volcano turns into stairs (?) and you climb up to the next level. You only have a certain number of times you can dig, after which you need to crawl into a hole and steal shovels from snakes.

Like I said, this game makes no sense. It doesn’t have to do with coffee, even. Still pretty fun, though.

Rating: B-


This is the third take-off on Frogger that I’ve reviewed on these disks, and out of the three (this one, Frogger 2, and Preppie), Froggie seems to be the most faithful to the original. Unfortunately in this case, that simply means that it’s basically the same as Frogger with worse graphics. The story is a tale as old as time: frog wants to cross street, frog avoids cars. Frog wants to cross stream, frog leaps across logs and turtles (that submerge sometimes). Frog leaves identical frogs across top of screen, and repeats the process five times. Frog goes to next level, where everything moves faster. Yeah, it’s a fun concept, but this is just a Frogger clone without anything distinctive to separate it from the original. If you’re going to play Frogger, go play Frogger; don’t bother with Froggie.

Rating: D

Oddly enough, I’ve reviewed at least three take-offs of Frogger, yet the actual Frogger is nowhere to be found on these disks. Strange.

Shooting Arcade

Yay! A shooting gallery! You’re a gun, and you shoot things going across the screen for various amounts of points! Most of the objects just disappear when shot, but some reverse the direction of everything, some give you more bullets, and some make other targets reappear! When you’ve shot them all, they all reappear moving faster! Also, circus music is playing! If you run out of bullets, then you just sit there, totally screwed! Whee!

Rating: C

Star Wars

What if the entire Death Star attack sequence from Star Wars: A New Hope was seen exclusively from the viewpoint of Luke’s targeting computer? My bet is that it would look very similar to this game. It consists of three stages: first, destroy some TIE fighters; second, blow the tops off some towers (which look like actual, literal towers instead of the turrent guns from the film), and finally, fly through the trench and fire into the exhaust port, blowing up the Death Star. Sadly, instead of a big ceremonial march, you instead then advance to the next stage, where the Empire has quickly built a whole fleet of new Death Stars right behind the first one, so you have to do it again and again and again! The only way to escape it is to use the Force Reset button, Luke!

Rating: B-

That finally does it for disk 12! Coming up next: disk 13, featuring apparently just Lode Runner. That review will probably be posted in a much more timely manner than this one. It’s one game. See you then!

Disk 12, Side 1

Ballblaster (Ballblazer)

Ball BlasterOne of the most well-loved game companies of the ’90’s was LucasArts. From Star Wars flight sims to hilarious pirate adventure games, the company was a wonderful purveyor of top-quality games. However, not many people know that before they were LucasArts, they were Lucasfilm games, and they even created two of the most impressive games to be found on the Atari 8-bit system, both of which are found on this disk.

Let’s start with Ballblazer. On the surface it seems simple enough: two triangles with bases are playing some sort of one-on-one soccer match where the goalposts move and get smaller every time a goal is scored through them, and the farther away you are from the goal when you shoot the ball, the more points you score. This premise could easily and quickly be accomplished using some sort of top-down static view. But these guys take it to the next level. Not only is it the only first-person-perspective scrolling game for the Atari (as far as I know, anyway), but it scrolls incredibly smoothly for the hardware, with no skips, jumps, lag time, etc. The graphics themselves are fairly basic by today’s standards (checkerboard, ball, posts), and even the two players are little more than a triangle on top of another triangle with a triangle in the middle, but just the fact that they scale according to perspective in 1983 ought to count for something. That’s almost ten years before Wolfenstein 3D came out! There’s no real rotation, however, and the perspective changes at 90-degree jumps, which can be disorienting for new players.

The sound also deserves mentioning. During the match itself there’s this sort of hi-hat sounding “rat-a-tat” pumping up the tension that gets a little more subdued whenever someone is in possession of the ball. Also, when the two players get too close to each other there’s a weird buzzing sound, like when a bee flies into your ear (except quite a bit lower, like when a mutant bee flies into your ear). But the most amazing part is the theme tune, which is possibly one of the most creative theme tunes I’ve seen anywhere, not just on the Atari. There’s a repeating bass and harmony pattern, and layered on top of it is an undulating, jazzy improvisatory solo. But wait! How in the world can a computer improv a solo? Well, it’s actually not a programmed-in sequence of notes; instead, it uses a fractal-based algorithm to simulate a solo that, according to one reporter quoted on Wikipedia, sounded like John Coltrane was playing it. (Incidentally, the same article includes a snippet of the C64 version of the theme. No disrespect to the C64, but its version of the theme sucked compared to the Atari 8-bit’s so I’m including how it should sound here.)

The game itself is also infectiously fun. While you can play against the computer at varying skill levels, the best is to go against a friend. Being a Lucasfilm games, it also received an unusual amount of backstory thanks to corporate synergy. Apparently in some future year in some future space, players mount their “rotofoils” (the triangles) to shoot the “plasmorb” (the ball) into the “goals” (the goals). They even made a sportscast video to advertise, featuring the most annoying sportscasters this side of Greg Proops in The Phantom Menace. If LucasArts ever makes a sports game, I sure hope they hire outside people to do the commenting (although, as a rule, sports game commentators are always annoying. How many times must Lee Corso tell me to keep the CLOCK running?!?!? Sorry, had to get something off my chest; I’ll be OK.)

Some may notice that I actually titled this “Ballblaster” not “Ballblazer” and I said it came out in 1983, where other sources state 1984. This is because the version I had was actually a pirated beta version that was missing several frills (although the gameplay is unchanged) such as flashing skies when a goal was scored, the loser spinning out at the end of a game, the entire AI system (you were forced to play against a friend), and, sadly, that awesome Coltrane-like line on top of the theme song. Even with those omissions, it was still an incredible game, and I give it extremely high marks! Get it now! Also, don’t get the Nintendo version! That one sucked!

Rating: A+

Obligatory remix (language warning!)

Rescue Mission (Rescue on Fractalus, or Behind Jaggi Lines)

Rescue MissionIn some future time, in some future space, some humans were waging a war against evil aliens called “Jaggis.” Some of the most brave, heroic pilots faced off against these evil foes on their inhospitable planet, Fractalus. You, however, apparently weren’t as awesome (or foolhardy, depending on your point of view) as any of these pilots, so you get to fly the rescue ship to pick up these poor saps. The atmosphere is toxic, and day lasts something like nine minutes or so, plus the Jaggis keep shooting at anything that emits energy, so you’ve got your work cut out for you. Once you’ve picked up enough pilots you signal the mothership to come pick you up and fly into its docking bay, which looks oddly like a football field, where you advance to the next level. Lucasfilm, however, doesn’t just speed up the enemies and change their color. Instead, every few levels they add a more intimidating obstacle, such as suicide saucers, that day/night change where you have to fly blind (use the altimeter!), and perhaps the reason I’m still scared to live sometimes (but I’ll get to that in a second).

Once again, Lucasfilm blew away the competition with this game. The graphics are quite innovative, with the landscape being generated fractally and therefore consisting of random jagged mountains. (I wonder if it’s the same fractal algorithm used in Ballblazer to make the theme tune. If you fed these mountains through a sound processor, would you get a solo worthy of Coltrane? Should the game be subtitled “Behind Jazzy Lines?”) When you spy a downed ship, you must land and turn off your engines so the pilot can approach and knock on the door. You must then open the airlock (if you don’t the knocking gets slower and eventually stops, showing that the pilot’s suit melted in the atmosphere and he is now dissolving into a gooey pile of flesh. Nice job, Hero.) and let the pilot in. Those Jaggis are a sly bunch, however, and sometimes they pull the most evil stunt in video game history (yes, even scarier than Doom 3):

You’re dead. The end. This actually happens a lot in later levels. The one memory I have of when this first happened to me led me to never play past about level three. Dude, you want to give a kid nightmares, this is the way to do it.

That aside, it really can be a fun game, although it’s actually kind of slower-paced, due to the flying being rather skippy thanks to hardware limitations. I recommend it for anyone without heart problems.

Again, you may notice that the title I gave this game was “Rescue Mission” and not “Rescue on Fractalus.” This is because, once again, we owned the pirated version, which didn’t have all the graphical frills done. That stupid alien was still in it, though.

Rating: A

Obligatory remix

That’s it for Disk 12, side 1! Coming up next: a whole slew of games, including Jumpman Junior, H.E.R.O., Java Jim, Froggie, Shooting Arcade,and Star Wars. See you then!

Disk 11, Side 2

Salmon Run

Salmon RunThere are games based in space. There are games based around adventurous heroes. There are games based on sports. There are games based on abstract concepts like yellow blobs eating dots and chasing ghosts. But nowhere was there a game based on fish in heat until the release of Salmon Run. (Wait, “fish in heat?” Is that the term? My sense of propriety forces me to keep from searching the Internet for an answer, lest I come across fetish sites too disturbing to contemplate.)

You are a rather intrepid fish who has just spent one to five years (depending on your species) hangin’ out in the ocean with your salmon buddies, eating a lot of plankton or whatever and generally having a good time. Suddenly, your instincts kick in, and you remember that hot salmon chick (salmon chick?) from the sac of eggs next door where you grew up somewhere in Alaska. It’s time to settle down, take out a salmon mortgage, and maybe search for some good salmon grad schools. But first you’ve got to get back to your old spawning grounds, so off you go. You race along the jaggedy stream, occasionally jumping over waterfalls and/or rapids. These waterfalls, if hit, will bounce you back and freeze you for a second, which doesn’t seem so bad, right? I mean, this thing isn’t timed, right? Well, be careful, because the streams are being patrolled by bears! These godless killing machines will stop at nothing to devour their next helpless salmon delight, which, sadly, happens to be you. They are also really fast! One of these bears will zoom across the screen, pursuing your fast-swimming tailfin at nearly the same speed (and even faster on later levels). Also, during later levels they turn pink. Sunburned? Embarrased? Some new form of salmon-fed Alaskan pink grizzly?

Once you jump enough waterfalls and avoid a sufficient amount of bears, you finally meet your sweetie and give her a nice fish kiss (complete with a nice, Atari-like kissing sound that is actually either really sweet or disturbing, considering the noise is coming out of a fish), where hearts float around you both and thankfully we are spared the ensuing biology lesson about salmon spawning. Then the level begins again, where everything goes faster!

Salmon Run is a reflex game, with the added challenge of those blasted bears, who charge at you from out of nowhere, move faster than you do, take up a big chunk of the screen, and are nearly impossible to avoid, thanks to the narrowing stream. It’s not my favorite, but it can be fun if you want to test your reflex skills. As for me, now I’m hungry for trout. Oddly enough, not for salmon.

Rating: C+

Pharaoh’s Curse

Pharoah's CurseMove over, Indiana Jones! Or in this case, turn blue, Indiana Jones! You play as a little cyan guy with a fedora, collecting the treasures of the ancient Pharaoh Whoever: treasures as beautiful and strange as a golden cat, a golden trophy, a golden cane, a golden, uh, fir tree, and other golden objects too crudely drawn to accurately make out. Also, there are gold keys, but they just open doors (not golden) and don’t count toward your treasure total. There are sixteen rooms in all, each containing one treasure, and when you have collected all sixteen you must make your way triumphantly back to…the title screen! Which is where you started, but for some reason is located in both the bottom and the top of the tomb! (The tomb, of course, wraps around, so you can fall out of the bottom of the tomb and arrive in a screen at the top.)

But this tomb raiding isn’t all gold-grabbing and door-opening. It is also filled with ancient and mystical traps! Sometimes a bird-like thing will appear and grab you, whisking you away a few screens. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. Sometimes a treasure seems to materialize out of thin air, and if you grab it you get an extra life (but it doesn’t count toward your total treasure count), but sometimes it turns into a deadly golden arrow! Death! Also, there are golden traps that look alternately like claws, forks, jumping grasshoppers, and blunted spikes that pop up out of little bumps. A large amount of the time, these bumps are found at the bottom of ancient and mystical elevators, so you must stand on them waiting for an elevator and get killed if you wait too long! Wait, elevators? This ancient pharaoh outfitted his tomb with elevators? Who is this, Pharaoh Otis? I gotta hand it to those ancient Egyptians: their tombs may have been filled with deathtraps, but at least they were handicapped-accessible.

Anyway, occasionally you will run into either Pharaoh Otis himself or his mummy, who appear on a given screen announced by an eeeeevil fanfare. These denizens of the underworld don’t have any otherworldy powers, however; but they do have guns. Which they shoot at you. Fortunately, you also have a gun. Unfortunately, if you shoot one, it just dematerializes for a short time and will later reappear. Fortunately, the pharaoh can’t seem to figure out how to use his own elevators. Unfortunately, the mummy can. Fortunately, you can kill the mummy by running over a booby-trap bump right before the mummy does and kill it that way. Unfortunately, if you grab a key and then get killed you lose the key, often having to backtrack several screens. Fortunately, the Frogurt comes with your choice of topping! Unfortunately, the toppings contain potassium benzoate.    That’s bad.

Pharaoh’s Curse is a lot of fun, but has some really strange physics quirks. Oftentimes you can walk right through walls and shimmy up them. Sometimes the bird will suddenly grab you, even though you were nowhere near it, and deposit you somewhere deadly. If you climb up a rope too fast a little remnant of your feet get left on the bottom of the screen, and if those pseudopods run into a wall then you can’t move in that direction, even if your way is clear. There are at least two or three doors that you are supposed to open with a key but can actually pass right through going one way (one of these actually gets you stuck until the bird-thing picks you up). If you jump while shooting you can make your jumps longer, sometimes, by…jumping off the bullets or something? You can even use this right when you press START to begin the game by shooting and jumping off to the left, eventually ending up in a part of the tomb you weren’t supposed to access yet. This makes it possible to collect the title screen treasure last instead of first, which is rather silly.

And hey, this is original: once you finished a level you started the game over, but everything went faster! It even gave you a password in case you wanted to start at higher levels. Interestingly enough, the password, which I won’t reveal here, is simply propaganda by Synapse software to train you into typing that their games are the best. It’s like the secret code from Miner 2049er actually being the phone number of the company that made the game: if you typed it enough into your Atari, maybe you’d accidentally punch it into your phone without thinking, and when you’re on the line with the company, heck, you might as well order a game or something, right? That’s marketing for you!

I really liked this game growing up. It was a fun, unpredictable platformer that was at a good difficulty level (not maddeningly hard, but not a cakewalk at higher levels either), and none of the weird quirks are gameplay killers. Give it a try, and see if you can avoid the evil pharaoh and his ominous elevator systems!

Rating: A-

Submarine Commander

Submarine CommanderA regular visitor to this site may wonder why there was a several-month delay between my last reviews and this disk’s review. Well, wonder no more, because it mostly has to do with this game! In it you play a submarine commander on maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea during WWII, sinking enemy ships. No word on which side you belonged to, Allied or Axis, so I would assume you were actually a semi-neutral Spanish submarine, sinking ships from both sides just for kicks. In any case, you had to creep along silently and avoid depth charges to get within 35 feet of the surface and close enough to a ship to torpedo it, which usually missed. Once you got too damaged you had to go hide along the bottom of the sea and nurse your wounds, sitting there waiting for the sound of more depth charges being unloaded above your head. Once you blew up all the ships then…no, wait, that never happens; the ships keep coming.

This game, much like Eastern Front 1941 and Jumbo Jet Pilot, suffers a lot from a lack of manual, but even with the manual the controls were hard to figure out. Nevertheless I really tried to get into this game, as several reviewers online found it fun and adrenaline-filled when you finally sank something, but this game requires patience that I just don’t have. Curse my upbringing and exposure to fast-paced cartoons and ADD-inducing trance-like commercials for sugary beverages! So if you can figure it out then have fun sinking those Nazis. Or Frenchies. Whoever.

Side note: why do these hard-to-figure-out games always have to do with Germans? First Eastern Front 1941, and now this game. Maybe Jumbo Jet Pilot was commissioned by Lufthansa.

Rating: C


PoolAll right, nothing too fancy here; it’s pool. Or more specifically, 8-ball. You point the cursor at where you want the cue ball to hit, watch the fluctuating power meter on the left, and hit the trigger when the meter is at the level you want to strike with. Instead of stripes and solids, the balls are red and blue (except the 8-ball and cue ball, of course). It’s two-player, with no computer opponent, and numbers on the top of the screen represent nothing important. I don’t have much else to say here: if you like pool, give it a shot, if not, don’t. Whatever.

Rating: C-


NautilusFor those for whom Submarine Commander was apparently too obtuse of a submarine game, we present Nautilus! You control a submarine, whose mission is to torpedo underwater skyscrapers and steal the inhabitants.

Wait, what?

It gets better. The computer opponent (or a second player if you wish) controls a destroyer of some sort, who speeds across the screen dropping depth charges on you in its mission to drop a white thing on the far left of the playing field, which goes down a tube and rebuilds all the skyscrapers. Magic! If the sub runs into anything it breaks in half and sinks to the bottom, where it lies for a few seconds before being miraculously resurrected to continue its underwater havoc-wreaking, where if the destroyer gets hit by anything (either from a torpedo by the surfacing sub or a malicious yet tiny helicoptor dropping bombs) part of it explodes and it races back to the far right of the screen, unable to drop that skyscraper-building whatever thing. I know that’s a vague term, but if there is a word in the English language for “device that travels through an underwater tube erecting skyscrapers in its wake” I’ve yet to find it.

Anyway, once the sub gets all the inhabitants from the skyscrapers, then they all immediately reappear and you can get them all again! Yay? This continues for the entire three-minute round, at which point the game abruptly ends and you can press START to begin it again.

I don’t know about Nautilus. While it certainly is a well-made game, there’s just something missing to make it truly enjoyable. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand anything that’s going on. Maybe it’s because there’s no real objective (collecting things from skyscrapers ad nauseum aside). Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t kill either the sub or the boat for more than a few seconds. Maybe it’s the fact that the board never changes and is pretty easy the first time anyway. Whatever the reason is, Nautilus is one of Synapse’s weaker entries, and, while not a bad game, fails to live up to the shine of its brothers.

Rating: C+

That finally does it for Disk 11! Stay tuned for Disk 12, which contains beta versions of Ball Blazer and Rescue on Fractalus, called Ball Blaster and Rescue Mission.