The OC&GS Alphabetized 2600 Game Discussion Forum

By Chris Federico

(Last Update May 16, 2002)

     Whether one agrees with the concept of a one-sided video game review or not, we all know how much fun it is to share feelings about certain titles. I always endeavor to write gamer's-eye (and, incidentally, programmer's-eye) mini-essays that are fun to read. I base this hope on the fact that they're certainly fun to write.

     Adam and I originally made our newsletter's review page a sort of "point/counterpoint" affair; one of us would select a game and explain how he felt about it, and then the other would critique the same title. Both reviews were blatantly personal diatribes or praises; it turned out to be a lot of fun to "collaborate" in this direct, honest manner, and it was often the most amusing part of the publication.

     Now that the website's our focus, I'm upgrading the idea to include our readers.

     It's true that I pursue a lust for the 3-D worlds of the PlayStation, but I continue to find that the most addictive challenges and most imaginative scenarios are found on the early systems (often because the relatively primitive ROMs forced programmers to cough up that addictiveness and imagination). The VCS had the biggest library; it therefore featured all the best and all the worst. Below, you'll find a lot of passionate opinions on a great many Atari 2600 games. I hope to eventually get all of them in there. Included will be a little historical info, just for fun. I'd love for anyone who has a game to add, disagrees with anything I've written, or agrees but has a different angle to e-mail me and write a short entry that I can include in this huge, multi-authored review column. I'd love to see comments below from dozens of classic gamers. Have some fun! -- CF

     Anyone familiar with the stuff I've written for OC&GS or any other newsletter will know how dear this game is to me. It's my favorite video game of all time; it continues to give me a palpable mystified feeling. The rooms are eerie and the challenge presented in the beautiful abstract kingdom never grows old. Sure, it's easy once you've figured it out; but it still seduces. For one thing, the absence here of music or extensive sound effects works better for the atmosphere than all the fancier systems' soundtracks put together. The bare cursor representing the hero does more to focus the player on the scenario at hand than the most intricate animation you'll find on any shinier console or computer. Game 3, which randomly selects from several set-ups dictating object and enemy placement, is the archetype for all subsequent graphic exploration contests.
     I'll leave it at this: When I croak, I don't want a funeral or any sort of commemoration; but if someone feels inclined to do something like that against my wishes, I want the victory theme at the end of Adventure played over loudspeakers before my memory's sealed.
     "You can't take it with you?" Whatever. My chalice and I will be quite comfy, thank you.
     KEY KIDS! CHRIS'S FUN FACTS(tm): Did you know that Warren Robinett named the dragons himself (Yorgle, Grundle and Rhindle) and, although it didn't appear in Steve Harding's manual for the game, Robinett named the bat Knubberrub? It's true! WOW!

BERMUDA (Suntek)
     Now, wait just a goddamn minute here. This is a blatant clone of River Raid with worse graphics, sparse landscaping and no bridges. Did they really get away with this? Wretched.
     Still, I wonder if I'd condemn it so quickly if I'd never heard of River Raid. Everything's relative.

     Waste-matter. Don't bother collecting imports, kiddos. They all suck. This one's especially revolting. Picture Coleco's Smurf with nearly imperceptible graphics, slow, bumbling movement and recurrent immobile obstacles. It's still worse than you're imagining.

     This is at least as annoying as the arcade original, thanks to the ongoing refusal of the control scheme to acknowledge diagonal movement. In most platform games, pushing diagonally will cause your character to run horizontally until a ladder's encountered, at which point he'll automatically ascend or descend, depending on which kind of diagonal it is. In Burgertime, however, pushing the joystick in any direction other than perfectly straight -- on purpose or accidentally -- will cause your little chef to halt altogether. If this is an attempt at "increasing the challenge," it's unsuccessful; it merely increases the reluctance of the player to keep trying. Bringing the game home provided a great opportunity for the introduction of diagonal detection, but it was missed. I'd rather deal with tougher bad guys than substandard mechanics.
     Speaking of the bad guys, the graphic charm of the arcade version has gone right into the grease fryer. You're being chased by a wiener with an apparent pituitary disorder, plus a couple of squares who've evidently gotten sick of their original home in Surround. And instead of hamburgers, you're constructing what appear to be giant cheese crackers. There's no attempt at all at rounding off the patty edges, or even differentiating the burgers from the platforms they're stuck in. Everything's square and orange. It's hard to tell where one item or character ends and another begins. And even if we remember that graphics don't really make or break a game, one has to admit that the controls seem especially cumbersome, and the new screen layouts make playing quite awkward. The sad thing is that with enough effort, this could've been terrific on the 2600. But it's just the opposite, so don't waste your time or your spices.

     There's nothing more frustrating than playing a game that could be addictive but which has been ruined by a bug or oversight. The graphics are excellent and the cannon-at-the-bottom concept's actually unique in this case; you don't have to worry about threats to the gun itself, since it's not harmed by paratroopers (which is a good thing, since you can't move anything except its aim). You just have to protect the cities to either side from men who want to land on them, because when enough reach one city, they can get underground and start tunneling toward your cannon. And they ain't a-comin' over to play records.
     This Missile Command-like defensive campaign could've been a lot of fun, especially with these graphics and this fluid movement; but it's not a good game. Not at all. The collision detection routine in the code fails at least half the time. You have to shoot a trooper two or three times before the game realizes that he's dead. You can almost hear the ol' 2600 saying, "Oh yeah. Sorry." The gun can't aim very low, which augments the bug; by the time you've managed to register a shot, edge-of-screen baddies have fallen below your gun's extreme shooting angle.

ADAM: Play-testing. Those are two words that U.S. Games didn't have in the company vocabulary. If a few minutes had been spent with this game by someone outside the company, or at least by someone honest, it would have been a lot better. Just a little time polishing up the details is all it would have taken.
     There is a special feature included to make the game more fun. You see, some of these guys, these horrible commandos, wear special suits that let your bullets pass right through them! I know this sounds like a bug of some sort, but it isn't! It adds an exciting element to the game. (Ahem.) Yet another powerful feature involves some stray plane from Air-Sea Battle flying by and dropping a bomb on you.
     But since I don't ever plan to play this game again, I don't care all that much about the features!

CONDOR ATTACK (Ultravision)
     Yet another overnight company tries to cash in on the popularity of the VCS. The invasion genre is already too full of titles contributing nothing fresh to be fattened by tripe like this. The characters move and shoot as if they're in a movie being played on a projector with chewing gum stuck in the gears. Lumbering and spiritless, this is just as dull as any version of Galaxian and even more redundant than Demon Attack. Its every factor is programmed badly. Unless this cannon thing can get rid of the condors in Pitfall II, I'm not interested.

     Swill. The opposite of addictive. The antithesis of innovation. The original was no good to begin with; it proffered one of many attempts to cash in on the climbing craze started by Donkey Kong. Embarrassingly askew from the concept of genre progression, the developers tried to combine the Mario and Zaxxon ideas and wound up building the whole game around a so-called 3-D perspective that, far from being an actual twist on the "get to the top" motif, merely made the mechanics cumbersome.
     It's especially bad on the 2600. What spare charm the visuals have in the coin-op version is missing in this apparent imitation of a graphics crash. Aside from that, it's repetitious and thoroughly uninteresting -- as always.
     As you might remember, I have a personal problem with the percussive two-note soundtrack present in every Congo Bongo rendition. It makes you want to bang your head against the wall over and over until you pass out. The fact that it would be much easier to just turn down the volume doesn't occur to you as quickly as such irrational means of getting the "music" to go away and let you live your life in peace. If I were a boxer or soldier and I had to get angry and worked up before going into action, I'd listen to the Congo Bongo theme for a few minutes. I'd emerge as a deadly weapon.

     The 2600 and 7800 incarnations are two different games, both tailored for their respective systems and exploiting their different capabilities well. All said and done, the 7800 cart's a Gauntlet clone and the VCS version's essentially Adventure II (or could be, anyway -- more in a second). There are, for instance, dozens of keys and doors, and you have to walk around blocky mazes full of little chambers, seeking the hidden exit from each level. One type of enemy even flickers like the old dragons.
     My main complaint is that your guy moves too slowly for the amount of exploration involved; but my greatest bone to pick is that once you've killed over an hour by reaching higher levels, you encounter a bit of cop-out obstacle addition. The programmer apparently realized that his baddies never became very hard to kill. He could have left well-enough alone and released the game as a long, pensive quest with enemies thrown in to break the silence a little (I'd have had no problem with this); but instead, he inserted strength-depleting objects (late in the alphabetized succession of levels) that the player can't avoid if he wants to reach the next respective exit. They're traps that are stuck right in the doorways. You're barely given enough energy to survive all of these traps, even though the doorways can't be circumvented. If you haven't been lucky enough to save up a lot of strength prior to reaching one of the thoroughly trapped areas, your long, slow exploration comes to a frustrating conclusion.
     What's somewhat comical about this is that the actual game play never gets all that difficult. It's fun to make it through maze after maze, especially if you like finding treasures and searching for exits, like I do. But there's literally no way through to Level Z if you haven't stayed true to foresight and saved up your energy meticulously. It's an incredible disappointment to fight and search your way nearly to the end, and then realize that your forced path brings you through unavoidable items that deplete all of your strength. A "reincarnation" feature should've been added, like in Adventure, or at least a "continue" option. But there's no such thing, which, tragically, makes this a pretty good game, rather than the great one it could've been.
     (Hey, some of us take pleasure seriously.)

DIG-DUG (Atari)
     They did a good job of leaving in all of the elements. This was always a feat on the 2600, especially before later programming techniques were developed. So I have no complaints there; if you wanna play Dig-Dug, this is definitely Dig-Dug. It's just always been sort of a dull game to me. Regardless of my own tastes, there's a major problem with the ground. It has petrified spots that can't be excavated. The whole reason that the free-form, create-your-own-maze mechanic of the original is fun is that you can turn on a dime and make a new tunnel anywhere you want. In this version, however, there are bigger non-diggable spots than in any other port; certain huge bits of ground act as permanent medians, often forcing you to move a little further and then start making a tunnel. This often results in death. Other than this annoying byproduct of low-resolution limitations, it's a good translation but not one of the best.

ADAM: This is very close to the arcade game -- for the 2600, anyway. Of course, I haven't played the arcade version in about sixteen years, so forgive me if I am being a bit lenient. The game is fun, if a bit too easy. It makes good use of color and the graphics are well-defined. Everything I remember about the arcade version is there. But can anyone explain why the earth has horizontal lines running across it? They look like the lines in Surround that appear when you move. You know -- how come it can't just look solid?

FAST EDDIE (Sirius/Fox)
     This moves like a flip-it book with every third page torn out. I have no desire to get the hang of something this clumsy. I could simulate the game just by smashing myself in the head a few times with a clothing iron and then playing Apollo's Infiltrate. The 8-bit version was nothing special to begin with, but at least it felt nice to jump around and grab prizes. The physics have been obliterated; Fast Eddie has evidently switched from amphetamines to beer. He can't run, can't jump and doesn't respond very quickly when you're trying to make him climb a ladder. An utter failure in the computer-to-console translation department.

     Is there a point in trying to do well at an action game that doesn't try to inhibit or kill you? I sure hope this was intended for kids (perhaps to familiarize them with controller-based video activities, since the player has to put out the flames, run to the truck, extend the ladder, etc.). If it was meant for young'uns, though, it should've been advertised as such. If it was aimed at the usual crowd, it failed miserably. I mean, it's easier than playing Outlaw without anyone manning the other joystick. There's no reason to rescue the trapped inhabitant in the first place; considering how long it takes for the flames to pose any danger, the victim could install fireproofing on the top floor.
     That's why you never read any articles in old magazines about high-score marathons for this title. "Local teen Mike Palisano's trying to set a world record by playing Fire Fighter as long as he can. He's been at it for 35 weeks, 4 days and 11 hours now. He's able to take lunch breaks, etc. without losing. 'I walked to the theater and saw a movie earlier today,' Mike commented. 'The game was still going when I got back. I might be playing for years. I hope our TV holds out.'"

FIRE FLY (and SORCERER) (Mythicon)
     These and other games were sold in 1983 at bargain prices (ten bucks apiece) by Mythicon, who might be, if the games offer any evidence, the only company in gaming history at which the founder, accountant, P.R. man and programmer were all the same guy.
     These are the only two I've played, but they are, quite literally, the same program with different graphics plugged in; I'm therefore pretty sure that the others are equally bad. It's more interesting to look at the illustrations on the cartridge labels than to play the games themselves. There's no substance to really attack. They almost don't even exist.
     Your character is supposed to fly across each screen from left to right, exiting into further screens until he gets back to the first one. On each playfield is a bad guy that you can either ignore (this is laughably easy) or shoot. Most bad guys render a treasure when shot. Grab the treasure for points! (Phewww...)
     If you opt to ignore your adversaries, the object of the game becomes primarily to move from left to right over and over again. It's like a primitive screen-saver that you have to operate manually.
     This is funny: When you die, your character assumes a horizontal dead-person guise and becomes overtaken by forced downward movement. In other words, you're supposed to fall to the bottom of the screen. However, you can control yourself while you're falling, and pushing up on the joystick stops your plummet and hovers your carcass indefinitely. You can still move left or right while you're doing this, if you're good with diagonals.
     So not only are these games badly conceived, but they're badly coded as a bonus. If you get really sick this winter and drug yourself up so much that you can barely move, plug in a Mythicon game to get your video fix until you're healthy again and can move on to something more engaging, such as Canyon Bomber.

FREEWAY (Activision)
     What happened in almost all instances of partial plagiarism from 1978 to '84 was that a VCS or 8-bit programmer would spot a coin-op idea that either sold well or caught his interest, then write a modified version for the home on the same theme, occasionally creating an altogether different and/or more intriguing contest via a lone plot-twist. Very rarely did ideas travel in the other direction.
     Freeway involved the first concept to originate on the home screen and then show up in the arcade. David Crane's somewhat primitive dodging game should therefore be taken for what it is. It's not really just the easier half of Sega's Frogger, which overtly "borrows" from it; it's a complete game that spawned a genre, and when played for its purity it emerges as a terrific cartridge, widely varying in difficulty options and elegantly executed with tasteful graphics and perfect controller response.
     It bugged me to no end (and continues to, for that matter) that every review or mention of Freeway started with the riddle, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Then the author always answered himself with some clever-clever turn of the original phrase that wound up being NOT FUNNY AT ALL. "In this case, he's crossing the road because you've turned on your Atari!" "Here, he's crossing because Activision has released a new game in which..." "Well, in this game, he's trying to get to the top of your TV set so he can fix the reception!" Hey, SHUT THE FUCK UP AND START WRITING, WILLYA? You're not funny. NOT FUNNY. ARRGGH. RRG. RG. (wince pant pant pant pant) Sorry.
     I don't play the game much because it's more fun as a two-at-once competition and I fight alone almost without exception. Solitaire games are my preference. As a one-player race it gets a bit dull after a few minutes and then, without warning, does a U-turn, making me increasingly vexed and revealing the real reason I don't pop it into my VCS too often: I'm afraid I might keep playing and playing and playing. I don't think I could stand the "you've been knocked back a lane" noise for very long. But this is a well-done, gorgeously raw early game for the first popular system.

     "Bad" is the wrong word. It doesn't try to be good, so its intent doesn't necessarily fail. It's more like...anti-fun. For starters, I prefer using at least half of the controller's available functions. This cart is what the Misfits meant by "Green Hell." I'd rather play something awful like Air-Sea Battle. By myself. Even trying to enjoy Combat alone allows for a modicum of success, because you can try to knock the other tank through the wall so it wraps around. But Frogs and Flies doesn't even merit use as a book-end to keep your other carts in place, since it has that irritating M-Network shape. This might well be my least favorite 2600 game. I can only imagine how wonderful the Intellivision original, Frog Pond, is with those "cutting edge" disk controllers. Assuming the disk is used at all.

FROSTBITE (Activision)
     One of my favorites. Its very slight similarity to Q-Bert is immaterial; this is yet another addictive, perfectly balanced Activision contest and it really gets fun once you've become confident enough to jump from floe to floe very quickly, turning ostensibly strategy-requisite screens into manic reflex rushes. What it also has in common with all other good Activision games is that it includes a brilliant little defensive twist: You can reverse the direction in which the current row of ice floats by subtracting one block from the igloo you're trying to build. Subtle enough not to indicate overuse but effective enough to occasionally save your chilled skin, this extra's typical of the software group and enhances a game that readily illustrates why their titles are considered among the best of the era. And just as you're getting into the groove, that damn bear shows up to keep things from getting too easy. Such gradual introductions of new elements remarkably affect theoretically simple games; the necessitated change in player approach is as clever yet initially underestimated as an intriguing chord-change in a song. No wonder Jim Levy promoted his team as if they were rock stars.
     This was a victorious farewell to the 2600 from Steve Cartwright, who rectified the disappointment of his preceding game, Plaque Attack, by delivering the sort of excellence he'd once been known for due to things like Seaquest. Most gamers assume that Frostbite wasn't as popular as others because it was released after the market crashed. This isn't the case. What actually happened was that nobody could talk about it, much less praise it, because of the name. The conversations were always too confusing: "Do you have Frostbite?" "No, I'm fine!" "What I meant was...oh, never mind. Let's play Pitfall! again."

GOPHER (U.S. Games)
     This gets redundant very quickly, so you have to stick in there and play until you get pretty good before you can really conclude on whether or not you find it enjoyable. Although it lacks the irresistibly addictive qualities of the best VCS games, it deserves more than the single chance you'll be inclined to give it at first. Once you figure out how to bop the gopher on the head as he emerges and threatens to grab one of your veggies, it gets a lot more fun; and after you've garnered the dexterity necessary for catching and planting seeds, it gains depth and becomes one of those games that you find yourself wanting to play once in a while.
     But what a waste of sky! They could've added airplanes spraying carrot-killer or something. The farmer could've knocked them out of commission by throwing his spade like a boomerang. Chasing the gopher gets annoying after a while; you eventually just want to let the scoundrel have the carrots. They probably taste yucky anyway. Even looking at it from the standpoint of the farmer's family, I find it hard to care about saving all the carrots; look at the size of those things! Just one could feed them all for a year!

     Foul. Someone tried to knock off an Asteroids clone without diagonal movement, challenging obstacles (as long as I could stand to play a few minutes ago, there were never two bad guys onscreen at a time) or accurate controls. There's a reason for the scarcity of carts made by these people. The name of the company almost sounds intentional, as if they knew what bad programmers they'd hired. Maybe Bomb was started on a dare. (I guess a bar-bet would be more likely.)

     I really want to like this game. I've wanted to like it since it came out. It has all of the elements that should make it an engaging adventure game: a big house with multiple floors, mazes of rooms constituted by the occasional locked door, treasure-pieces revealed only in the orange glow of a match...even the patter of footsteps as you scurry around the manor, trying to remember where the locked doors are in the particular variation you're playing. In fact, that's part of the problem.
     It's no Adventure sequel, as it was touted -- unless you only liked that game's catacomb screens -- but it's still a good idea. What keeps it from being much fun are choices in design -- how the game's aspects were ultimately implemented. There's no challenge in the exploration once you've memorized the layout of the locked doors; it's just a matter of searching every room without losing all nine of your lives (are we controlling a cat? Do we only see the eyes because the programmer didn't want the game looking like an even more primeval Radar Rat Race?). I only play game 6, because it's the only variation in which the pieces are placed at random and the bat doesn't steal any when he kills you. There's not much that can be done to prevent death by any of your nemeses, because there's no way to tell if a baddie's lurking behind the next door until you go through it. I often run right into them. Once the locked doors are committed to memory, the only reason to play is to try and beat my old "low score" of spent incarnations and matches; so I find myself hitting RESET over and over until I get as close as possible to an unobstructed run through the house. Kind of a shame, because if the game had been designed with longevity in mind, it would now be on Atari's roster of esteemed adventure titles instead of a mere curio.

     People used to play this. He he heee. They used to be really into it. They would actually try to do well. He he...hee.....he......ahem. All better. No problem. He....he....... YYAAAAAAAAAHH HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HARRRRRRRR.... cough cough. Hee...cough.
     See, I'm not pointing this out to be one of those people who say, "Oh, well, games back then were so terrible and it's just so amusing to remember what primitive piffle those poor early gamers had to get into." If I were like that, I wouldn't be writing any of this. No, what I'm doing is comparing bad simple, early titles to good simple, early titles to highlight how an addictive game kicks ass no matter how advanced the graphics or extensive the scenario. This game is bad; so is a modern martial arts head-to-head game on the Dreamcast. Reciprocally, Dodge 'Em, Superman, Adventure and many other first-wave efforts reveal a pioneering brilliance and a captivating, magical quality that keeps premium players like me and you glued to the 2600 (and writing about it).
     "Hey, Jimmy, I can hit the target more times than you!" He hee....ahem. Breathe. Breeeeathe. That's it. No prob...YYYAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HARRR.....wheeze...ahem.

JAWBREAKER (Tigervision)
     Even though it was the first good Pac-Man clone for 8-bits, John Harris's original for Sierra On-Line now seems a bit dull compared to this excellent, thoroughly redesigned VCS version. Tigervision quickly (and justly) established themselves as the next Activision, earning a reputation for standard-pushing titles like this one, Threshold and Polaris (not to mention their heralded pair of Miner 2049'er adaptations).
     The twist is that instead of navigating a maze per se, you maneuver the insatiable mouth through a series of horizontal corridors, accessible from each other via sliding gaps in the walls. The level of difficulty starts satisfyingly high and the most appealing two aspects are the unpredictable movements of the enemy sourballs and the strategy perceived upon keeping in mind that only one baddie can exist per corridor (and that they can't move vertically through the moving doors or borders like you can). Disappearing off the edge or reversing direction at the most maddening times, these rolling adversaries give the dismembered mouth a run for its money that might surprise a player distracted by the deceptively cute cosmetics (the 8-bit's end-of-board toothbrush animation survives in this version). Very, very good game.

JR. PAC-MAN (Atari)
     Aren't you sick of seeing every Pac-person being drawn on his or her box, book and label with a friendly, happy face? Just once I'd like to see a Pac-simile grimacing in demented anger, eyebrows lowered and jaws dripping colorful monster blood.
     Jr. Pac-Man is, after all, one mean mother-sequeller. He goes faster than any of his Pac-cestors, which makes this more fun than the other VCS Pacs. The faster the protagonist, as far as I'm concerned, the better. I play the hardest variation of any Pac-Man on any system for this very reason. Sure, the monsters go faster too; but it's not much harder if your synapses are firing just as fast that day. This makes any Jr. Pac-Man my favorite over the prequels, because he's always faster than his elders (have you played the "Turbo" variation of the C-64 version? WOW!).
     The mazes change like in Ms. Pac-Man, but they're more numerous -- not to mention more interesting, since they're so big that they scroll. This is done smoothly with no control compromises; I can't find a single flaw in this game. The monsters are actually smart (it's definitely the toughest Pac-daptation) and the animation absolutely superb.
     You can see the commercials, can't you? "Sorry about the first VCS Pac-Man. We're better now. Please? It's not too late, is it?"
     (Hmmm...Pac-yard? PacDonald's? Nope. I think I hit all the good ones.)

ADAM: Pac-Man must be the game with the most sequels. Although some modern games are closing in fast, few have as much variety from sequel to sequel. The first Pac-Man only has one maze. Can you imagine that? Jr. Pac-Man is almost the complete opposite -- the mazes scroll! Game-play-wise, that erases any relation to the original!
     Jr. Pac-Man is the best of the three available for the VCS. The scrolling screen makes spotting the ghosts difficult, but this element actually makes the game more fun. The only reason it seems hard at first is that the player is accustomed to knowing where all four ghosts are at all times. The change only takes a few plays to get used to. Careful watch of the movement of the ghosts while they are visible on the screen will allow the player to know the positions they are likely to be in when offscreen.
     Every version of Pac-Man has that special quality that makes the player want to get even with just one more ghost and reach just one more screen. The VCS version brings home the arcade experience better than any other Atari translation, including the unreleased 5200 version (which I played on an 8-bit) and the poor C-64 version (which doesn't scroll). This game makes the original Pac-Man look even more pathetic. Even if you don't like this type of game, you have to get this just so the first Pac-Man cartridge (which everyone owns -- admit it) is not the best one you have.

     Litter. It wasn't much of a game in the first place. Why'd they bother bringing it home? Maybe they wanted to cash in on the success of Pitfall!. Not even close, guys. The only thing they have in common is the jungle setting. I especially hate the anal way in which you have to knife the alligators without touching them too much. What the hell is that? There's nothing in this program that I enjoy. In the interest of balance, I should point out that I don't like it on ANY system, computer, etc., including the coin-op. I mean, all you have to do in the first part is press the button over and over! Whoops. Missed. Gee, darn. Time to play something else.

     Vile. It was somewhat intriguing in the arcade, since so many new elements were incorporated into the climbing scenario; but without the gloss -- and with the exciting new addition of poor character response and insufferable movement characteristics -- it's practically unplayable. I don't wanna save a baby kangaroo anyway. I'd gladly play a game in which I shot one, but I don't appreciate having to rescue one. Who gives a shit about baby kangaroos? Gimme a dame like in the old days.

KOOL-AID MAN (M-Network)
     Keeping in mind that this is probably aimed at a younger still sucks.
     You're a glass pitcher of everyone's favorite sickly sweet liquid (I've never read the manual, but I'd bet a six-switcher that it begins with the titillating statement, "YOU are the Kool-Aid Man!"). For some reason, this little glass container's amazingly supple; he bounces off the walls with the abandon of a Pagan Ping-Pong ball, all the while attempting to stop a flurry of animate circles from drinking away the contents of his demented chamber of refreshing beverage. I'm serious: The room's filled with Kool-Aid, as if Kafka's gone haywire in his designs for new fictional torture methods. And your Kool-Aid Man wants to stop the circles from stealing the good stuff, not bothering for a second to confront his own twisted compulsions (or wonder why he can fly).
     So you grab the evil balls who are draining your booty, as it were, and then it again. There's no game here; it's a graphics demo with bad graphics. But then, what can we expect from an overblown commercial? Shame on you, Mattel. Someone paid real money for this back in the '80s. Imagine how much Dr. Pepper they could've bought for the same price.

     I don't usually find enjoyment in forced scrollers, especially the horizontal updates on Scramble that filled the arcades and console catalogues in the early '80s. Super Cobra, Cosmic Avenger and Zaxxon: These are all overrated sit-and-waits that don't allow enough control over the action to sustain my interest. Laser Gates, however, is a striking exception.
     Developed for VentureVision as a sequel to their Rescue Terra I, this scrolling shooter was originally entitled Inner Space by its designer, Dan Oliver. Imagic bought the rights and released the game under its new name in 1983, which was too late for it to make the impact it surely would've enjoyed a year earlier. You don't so much wait for something to happen as try to quickly prepare for what's coming next. Bouncing, hard-to-hit monsters and bats, homing missiles, every conceivable limited-passage wall of light or rock, Death Star-reminiscent towers that explode into falling pieces, booby-trapped reactors and rapidly dwindling energy and shield supplies all work in well-planned tandem to continuously intensify the challenge of getting through the four-part flight. Thankfully, Atari 8-bit versions of the game exist as well, although I've never been lucky enough to engage a copy that doesn't crash right away.