Atari 50: The Games They Couldn’t Include – The Definitive Review (Part One)

I wanted to post a Christmas treat for everybody since my readers made 2022 my biggest year since 2013. What can I do?

Well, I wanted to do something really special. For the last month, I’ve been making my way through Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, and writing a review using my Definitive Review format (see my reviews of Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection). With over one-hundred games to play and review in the set, it’s been a monster undertaking, and I’m not close to done yet. I have to inspect the PC version of it and test different control schemes for it. I’ve also accepted an invite from Atari to do a feature for their blog on finding the most comfortable control settings on the console versions of Atari 50 for the games that have analog control, such as trackball games or dial games. It’s the first time I’ve ever accepted an invite from a developer or publisher to go onto THEIR turf and contribute something for them. It’s something I normally feel, as a critic, I should not be involved in. But, given the fact that Atari has been such good sports about what have been some brutally frank critiques, I feel like this is a project I can do without violating any ethical standard of separation of church and state, or rather, critic and game maker. Besides, it’s my way to contribute directly towards the discussion of improving and expanding these control options. I want EVERY set from here out to offer as much flexibility as Atari 50 offers, and also as simply as they offer it. All of this has been contributing to my Atari 50 project taking a little longer than I expected, so my plans to post this review on Christmas Day have been pushed back a week, and honestly, I wouldn’t be stunned if the review isn’t up until mid-January. So, Christmas is cancelled, right?

“Have you played your Atari today?” Yes. Yes I have. And the day before. And the day before that. And the day before the day before that..

But, with Atari 50, I’ve been doing a little more than people realize. Only a couple friends knew what I was up to. In secret, I’ve been working on this supplemental feature of the games Atari couldn’t include in their collection. Iconic games made by Atari that they simply can’t use because they don’t have the rights to them. The stuff you would expect: E.T., Star Wars, and Space Invaders, etc. I had intended to post this a couple days after the Atari 50 review, but, when I realized this feature was closer to being done than the Atari 50 review was properly, I decided “hell, why not post this Christmas day?” Except, even that feature wasn’t done. It’s basically doubling the games I’ve already reviewed. I sat down to start editing these reviews on on Friday, and then being absolute deranged, I wasn’t happy with most of them. So, I ended up just rewriting them. Which means the other ones, some of which were incomplete and some of which (like E.T.) I haven’t even started yet. So, I’m breaking this up into parts. This part will have the thirty reviews that are complete-complete. Meaning I’ve probably rewrote them a third or fourth time by now.

RULES: Most of the games featured here were made by Atari but for IPs they don’t own or can’t just re-release, many of which are unlikely to ever get ported anywhere ever again. I didn’t include Activision games. I didn’t include any games that Atari could just release without having to worry about doing any licensing. Most releases tied to Atari Games, the company created by the Warner Bros. sale of Atari, are not included. However, while I’m not including any Activision games, I am including some games that Atari didn’t develop themselves. Just for fun. It’s my feature! I will fully confess that I didn’t put as much time into all these as I did Atari 50. Well, so much for that. This had around fifty total gameplay hours for just the thirty games featured here. Well, thirty-one, depending on how you view what comes up in the Space Invaders review.

There’s three sites who I want to thank for all their contributions to gaming, for whom I owe a LOT of this project to, even if they have no clue who I am. Atari Age, AtariMania, and AtariProtos. Their hard work has provided me with lots of wonderful stories and anecdotes and made this such a blast for me to do. Without them, this wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it is.. or at least I hope it is. Thank you! Seriously, go browse their sites. Well, maybe not AtariProtos, which can be downright depressing. I mean, it’s not THEIR fault, but it’s like a graveyard for games, many of which were 100% completed but never released anyway. Some of which actually weren’t half-bad, especially for the Atari 5200. Spoiler: you’ll be reading about a few of them in a few minutes.

GAME REVIEWS

For those not familiar with my way of thinking of how retro games should be reviewed, I take NO historical context into account. I don’t care how important a game was to the industry, because that doesn’t make a game worth playing today. The test of time is the cruelest test of all, but every video game must face it. I might not be here if not for Pong’s success, but I wouldn’t want to play it today. Not when there’s better options. Therefore, when I review retro games, every game gets either a YES! or a NO!

YES! means the game is still fun and has actual gameplay value when played today and is worth seeking out.

NO! means the game didn’t age gracefully and is not worth seeking out, and certainly not worth spending money on.

Atari Video Cube
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1982
Designed by Josh Littlefield

The famous story with this game goes as such: Steven Race ran the international wing of Atari’s consumer division. He was the man who would later go on to drop the famous “$299” bombshell for PlayStation at the first E3. Someone asked him what he thought about distributing Atari Video Cube across Europe, which Atari avoided a lawsuit over by taking an official license from the Rubik’s people. “Absolutely not” he said without a hint of hesitation. He was asked how he could come to the decision so quickly, to which he offered the following curt response: “Well, you’re going to have to help me understand why a $40 electronic rendition of this product is better than the $3.98 rendition that is more portable and that I can take anywhere I want.” The man had a good point, but nobody listened. Video Cube was, of course, a major money loser for Atari and an unsung contributor to their role in the Great Video Game Crash. BUT, hand over heart, the game isn’t bad. It fact, it’s the best puzzle game I’ve played on any Atari platform. Swear to God. Cross my heart and hope to die! Stick a need in my eye.

A big misnomer about Atari Video Cube is that it’s just a straight port of a Rubik’s Cube. It’s not, and rather it’s a logic puzzler with a goal that’s the same as the popular novelty toy/puzzler: turn all the colors of a cube the same way on all sides. However, it’s impossible to play this as anything but a video game.. at least without an unscrupulous contractor and a generous amount of liability insurance. You don’t rotate different wedges of the Cube to solve it. Instead, you’re a dude who walks on the cube and you must pick up one color (or, more accurately, begin the process of swapping colors) until you finish the cube. There’s a rule to make this work as a puzzle: you can’t walk on top of the same color you’re currently carrying (which you become that color). That’s it. That’s the only real rule. And it works WONDERFULLY! This is actually a very clever take on a handheld toy that I frankly think is one of the most boring things to sit and fidget with.

I’m not sure why they made the character look that way. Just make a stick figure. It looks like a plump Robin Hood who lost a leg in a bear trap.

I can’t believe Atari caved-in and took a license. Which they did, re-releasing it as Rubik’s Cube in even more limited quantities than the original game got, which wasn’t a lot. According to Atari Age, both games are very, very rare, but the officially-licensed one that carries the Rubik’s name is the slightly rarer one. Also, apparently they were working on an actual translation of a Rubik’s Cube, presumably to smooth-over the angry owners who felt Atari was riding coattails. Those oh so valuable Rubik’s Cube coattails (while editing this, Angela discovered there was a Rubik’s Cube cartoon in the 80s. What? No.. that can’t possibly be true. Not even the 80s could be that shallow. Oh for F’s sake, it’s true!). Also, Cathy, it’s tangents like this that cause these things to take so long to write. Granted, I have a right to be POed. This should not be buried. They shouldn’t have to license this. It has almost nothing to do with the source material. The precedent set by the Data East/Epyx lawsuit should cover this, shouldn’t it?

First game in and the first shocking result: Atari Video Cube is actually a solidly good and original puzzler. Heck, even the rotation between sides is satisfying to watch.

History has maligned Atari Video Cube. In actuality, it ain’t a bad little game at all. Once I got the hang of the movement rule and realized there were actually 10 of the blue squares (like.. duh, Cathy! Of course there would be! The game would be unsolvable if one of the colors didn’t have an even number, you dumb ass!) I started to make progress and it actually felt good solving it. I enjoyed my time solving it too! I don’t think every mode is a winner. There’s one where you can’t see any of the squares without making a move, which allows you to briefly see the playfield. Like, what’s the point? High score chasing for one of the most stupid ideas? WHAT IS WITH Atari games and invisibility as a way to pad the mode count? Space Invaders. Breakout. Etc. Ugh. Anyway, yea, was Atari Video Cube a dumb idea? Probably. Is it a bad game? Not at all. Honestly, this is one of those games Atari should check and make sure they can’t just re-release. There’s no way the Rubik’s people can claim they were ripped off, even if Atari was riding the fad. This is an original concept that deserves to be compete in a free market. Or, in this case, be included in a set that celebrates the history of the company that was nearly killed by making dumb moves, like licensing $40 video games based on $4 toys and then barely manufacturing the damn thing when this brain-dead licensing idea somehow turns out a very good puzzle game. Man, we’re off to a good start. This was originally a one-paragraph review.
Verdict: YES!

Battlezone:
Platform: Arcade
Year: 1980
Designed by Ed Rotberg

I’ve made a ton of friends out of legendary game developers. As a little girl who grew up loving video games, it’s absolutely surreal for me to be friends with so many legends of gaming. One of my favorites is Ed Rotberg, who is an absolute sweetheart. It was a thrill just having him talk to me the first time, let alone when we started talking regularly. I’m such a huge Battlezone fan, and I don’t think people appreciate just what an achievement he pulled off with it.

While not all vector graphics games in Atari 50 are hits, most of the best arcade games in the set use vector graphics. Yet, one game is conspicuous by its absence. That would be Battlezone, the 1980 Ed Rotberg classic that absolutely blasts the test of time. This shouldn’t hold up at all. You’re placed in an abstract arena and must fight a continuous stream of spawning tanks. When you score a hit, holy smokes, is it ever satisfying. Also satisfying is seeing a torpedo coming straight at you and just BARELY managing to dodge out of the way. It’s not always a game that plays fairly. Sometimes the game will spawn a tank right in front of you that can get a shot off before you can react. Even more frustrating is when you die and respawn right in crosshairs of a tank. Dirty pool, Edward. Dirty pool. Of course, those frustrations are muffled by one of the most thrilling and immersive Golden Age games. The granddaddy of all 3D games, and a game that aged beautifully.

I would LOVE to actually get to play the Bradley Trainer. Wouldn’t that be something if they could release that publicly?

So, why isn’t it in Atari 50? Well, because Battlezone.. specifically Battlezone.. was purchased by a company called Rebellion Games when Atari went out of bankrupt in 2013. So, I want to make an appeal directly to Rebellion Games: license this to Atari (and let them include the Atari 2600 port AND the unreleased Atari 5200 prototype) for $1 and no royalties and let them just include it in Atari 50. It’s not too late. While I’m sure you’re proud that you own one of the all-time great games, it’s not worth anything without the historic clout. Atari 50 didn’t need Battlezone to still be Atari. But, YOU actually do need people to be nostalgic for Battlezone for it to be worth ANYTHING as a franchise, and not having your game in these sets is going to hurt its potential. BADLY! As much as I love it, from a historical perspective, Battlezone is a B-Lister. It’s not Pong. It’s not Space Invaders. It’s not Pac-Man. It’s not Donkey Kong. It’s a really great game that really isn’t anywhere near the forefront of arcade nostalgia. Nobody is going to buy Atari 50 just because it has Battlezone in it. It’s not happening. You make the deal, and you make it for $1, so that people of all generations can look at it and appreciate it. You can do a press release saying you made the deal on the cheap, out of respect to gaming history. THAT is fan service, and the best publicity $1 will ever buy you. Or, you can just sit on your dead franchise. It’s YOUR franchise now, after all, to do with as you see fit.
Verdict: YES!

Battlezone:
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1983
Designed by Michael Feinstein

For my money, Battlezone might be the best looking first-party game ever on the Atari 2600. For what they were limited to at the time, it’s gorgeous, plus it has smooth scrolling AND one of the most stylish and impressive death animations ever, for any era.

A lot of Atari 2600 games that are based on vector graphics titles are completely stripped of their charm. Battlezone 2600 designer Michael Feinstein wisely decided to not attempt an exact one-to-one translation from the coin-op and instead tried to capture the spirit of the arcade game. He succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation and made what might be the 2600’s best arcade translation. Pulling the camera back to a third-person perspective works wonderfully here. The thrills of near misses from enemy fire are retained, and very little satisfaction is lost from the combat itself. My biggest knock is that dodging bullets is a lot harder, to the point that if the enemy gets a shot off from mid-range, you’ll almost certainly die. There’s just not enough time to dodge out of the way. It’s relatively rare, but it happens.

Good draw distance too. This really is a remarkable achievement for the Atari 2600.

To counter that, Battlezone 2600 actually plays faster than the arcade game, which means the quick-draw aspect is more intense. Yea, dodging enemies who are within range is a little tough, so, just blow them away before then. When you get on a roll and start to tag one enemy after another as soon as they spawn, it’s a thrill. Thus, this becomes the rarest of the rare on the Atari 2600: a home port that, in some aspects, exceeds the arcade original. That I even had to think, even for a second, as to whether this was better than the arcade game speaks volumes. It’s not, but I did have to ask myself that. Despite the changed angle, this feels like an incredibly close approximation of the arcade game, so much so that it’s one of those games where I actually feel happy for kids who owned an Atari in the early 80s. Had Battlezone 2600 been included in Atari 50, it would have had a very good chance of being the #1 ranked Atari 2600 game.
Verdict: YES!

Battlezone
Platform: Atari 5200
Unreleased Prototype

This is the most nitpicky thing in this whole feature, but wow! That’s some extraordinarily ugly, unpleasant color scheming they went with for the menu.

If you want proof that Atari learned their lesson from Pac-Man 2600 and E.T., look no further than Battlezone 5200. When I found out a completed (or “complete enough” depending on the source) prototype existed, I was thrilled! I loves me some Battlezone. It was slated for release in December, 1983, but then Atari pulled the plug on it. Weird, right? Especially with the Atari 5200 hurting for software. It even looks like it has actual vector graphics, too, a first for Atari’s home games. But then I played it, and it took only seconds to realize why Atari put the kibosh on its release. It’s a TERRIBLE effort. Sluggish and unresponsive, with the smoothness of a high-grit sandpaper. The thrilling combat of the arcade is completely muffled behind a game engine that feels like it could collapse at any time. You’ll marvel at enemies getting stuck behind the various scattered debris on the field. I could see how people playing this could think this was incomplete, but no, apparently this was after polishing and buffing up the gameplay. Yipes! So, when people say Atari didn’t care about quality games, maybe that was true once, but by 1983, it clearly wasn’t anymore. Had Battlezone 5200 come out, it would barely be a step above Pac-Man 2600 in the all-time awful arcade ports pantheon.
Verdict: NO!

Berzerk
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1982
Designed by Dan Hitchens

A fun quirk of the Atari 2600 is that many games use flickering to have more moving characters than the console is capable of animating. So, for example, here both the player character and the infamous villain Evil Otto (which is, frankly, just an emoji.. albeit before those were actually a thing) aren’t on screen at the same time, and the frame simply switches really quick. It makes taking screenshots a pain in the ass. So, I cheated and spliced Evil Otto into this screen.

Berzerk in arcades is famous for being the first video game to kill one of its players. It didn’t. The person in question was 18 and had scarring on their heart and was fated to have a massive heart attack at any moment anyway. But hey, what else would it be famous for if not for being credited with a body count? The gameplay actually translated relatively well to the Atari 2600. In arcades, it talked. The Atari 2600 version doesn’t have that, so it has to survive on its endless robot-murder and the tension of Evil Otto. Oddly enough, he doesn’t show up in the first game mode. Even weirder: he can be killed in the second mode. This is a character known for being unkillable in arcades. I had to consult the instruction book to figure out which mode was the closest to the arcade version, which is very annoying. Doesn’t it make more sense for the first mode to be the closest to the arcade’s gameplay? Isn’t that why anyone would buy this in the first place?

Sometimes it spawns you practically right on top of the enemies. Sometimes Evil Otto spawns right on top of you. Why, it’s enough to give a person a heart attack! OH BOO YOURSELVES! What, too soon?

Regardless, Berzerk is a shocking shallow game. Weirdly, I have played it and I do remember it being better. But, actually putting it through the wringer, there’s just no stakes to it. The enemy robots are dumb as rocks and will walk right into walls, which kills them. Which sort of feels like balancing the cosmic scales to make up for the constant cheap spawns the game does to you. Meanwhile, there’s exits in the rooms, but it doesn’t matter which door you run to. You’re not trying to get anywhere. Berzerk just keeps going indefinitely, and that makes the door concept feel lame as hell. Why not just keep you in the room until you kill the last enemy? Berzerk doesn’t play badly by any means, but it’s just dull, repetitive, pointless, and lacks the sense of catharsis that would absolve it of those first three problems.
Verdict: NO!

Berzerk
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1984
Designed by Carlos Smith

I actually think the enemies are dumber in the 5200 version. I once saw four die from, I think, walking into each-other at the exact same moment.

I could take the lazy way out and say Berzerk for the Atari 5200 is the same game I just wrote about above, only with a few limited voice samples, but that’s not entirely accurate. Berzerk 5200 is slower, for one thing. A lot slower, in fact. Movement has a sluggishness that wasn’t part of the 2600 game. To make up for this, Evil Otto spawns more fairly. Multiple times on the 2600, he spawned literally on the space I was standing. Pack your bags in your penis-shaped luggage because that’s a DICK MOVE! Well, that doesn’t happen on the 5200. However, sometimes it does seem to spawn YOU in with enemies placed in a way where I’m not even sure the situation is survivable. Unless the enemies all just clear each-other out with their own bullets or walking into each-other. That happens. I do like how the enemies practically shatter when you shoot them in this version. It’s much more satisfying, but otherwise, Berzerk is still a very overrated game. The best thing I can say about it is that you can only shoot in the direction you’re walking. That’s not a good thing here, but it’s a great thing for gaming history. Eugene Jarvis found that system so unsatisfactory that he created the twin stick shooter with Robotron as a response. So, you’re overrated and kind of boring, but hey, thanks for inspiring one of the all-time greats, Berzerk!
Verdict: NO!

Bugs Bunny
Platform: Atari 2600
Unreleased Prototype
Designed by Bob Polaro and Alan Murphy

Who the hell are you winking at, Bub?

Game production at Atari was a haphazard process. A lot of games, even licensed games, started production and never actually came out despite being 100% finished. As the story goes, after Atari took a pasting at the end of 1982 and Warner Bros.’s stock cratered almost entirely because of Atari, they suddenly had to pay attention to the costs of manufacturing and distributing games, since their budget was being slashed. They had two action games aimed at a younger audience in development that were supposed to be staked in small part by the Sesame Street people and published under their new Children’s Computer Workshop label. The two games were Bugs Bunny and Snoopy and the Red Baron. Well, the Sesame Street money dried up, and now that Atari was bottoming out, it was decided they would only release one of the two games. They used focus testing to determine the winner, and Snoopy was the nearly unanimous choice among all demographics, and Bugs Bunny was never released. Never mind all the bad stuff I’m about to say about it: can you imagine working hard on a game, completing it, and then watching it get shelved FOREVER? It’s rare these days, but it was practically standard operating procedure at Atari at this point.

It’s a reverse gallery shooter where you’re the target. And it sucks.

Having said all that, it’s not at all hard to see why the focus tested children chose Snoopy and the Red Baron to such a degree that it probably caused hurt feelings. While Snoopy’s not exactly the deepest game, it’s, you know, alright and even fun. Meanwhile, Bugs Bunny is one of the dumbest ideas for a game I’ve ever played. It’s so stupid that I think even little kids who were huge Looney Tunes fans would be annoyed by it. You pick one of three channels, and a dog yanks you out of a hole and the object is to jump back into it. And it’s right there. I mean, like, RIGHT THERE! Not exactly next to you, but close enough that you shouldn’t need more than a second or two to jump back in. That’s it! That’s the whole game. I guess the challenge is supposed to come from the fact that you jump at an angle that you don’t actually aim yourself, but I grew up in the post-Mario era. It ain’t that hard to judge a jump. You can also jump through the edge of the screen and come out the other side to avoid Elmer’s gunfire, which does increase to absurd degrees as you go along. But, there’s really nothing to collect in the middle and bottom channels. In the top channel, you can grab Elmer’s ammo from under his house, which temporarily stops him from shooting at you. Otherwise, this is such a nothing game. You really can’t know if something will work until you try it, but this should have been killed early in production. If this had been a Mario Party mini-game it would STILL have been pitiful. There’s a lot of horror stories with focus testing in gaming, but this is one that got it absolutely right.
Verdict: NO!

Circus Atari
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1980
Designed by Mike Lorenzen

Circus Atari (Japan, USA)-221224-123204

WEEEEEEEEEEE OW OW OW THE PAIN! THE PAIN! OW! WEEEEEEE!

UPDATE: Circus Atari is on Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, but only on the Atari VCS as an unlockable. BOOOOOO!

One of the more interesting takes on the Breakout formula, and probably one of Atari’s better paddle games, you have to launch acrobats up to pop what are balloons in the arcade game. Oh and yes, there’s an arcade game, only it’s not by Atari. Exidy, who did games like Venture and Mouse Trap (both of which I’ll be looking at in part two despite being done by Coleco), made the arcade release. Exidy isn’t credited in any documentation on Circus Atari, which makes one wonder if this was authorized or not. I can’t get a clear answer on that, but Circus Atari hasn’t shown up in one of these collections in a long time, so maybe not. Shame, because it’s actually a really solid game. It’s not great. Sometimes it’s tough to build up the momentum for your character to actually launch high enough to hit the blocks. At one point, I did probably in the neighborhood of a dozen passes in a row with the character not so much as hitting the bottom row, which had me screaming and cussing. But, once you get the hang of Circus Atari, it’s actually really satisfying for your character to bounce around the blocks, clearing out multiple before they come back down. Honestly, this is probably the VCS’s best brick breaker. It’s also a game that makes me hope somebody puts together an Exidy collection.
Verdict: YES!

Choplifter!
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1984
Designed by Dan Gorlin

Do you know what I realized about the Atari 5200 during my run through Atari 50 and all these left-out games? While it’s not always true, it has some truly ugly use of color. Some games are fine looking, but they also lack the charm or personality the Atari 2600 had. The games for it just look drab and low-tech. I mean, look at this! That’s as sad looking as any game I’ve seen. It barely looks better than an Atari 2600 game.

I keep encountering Choplifter! in these retro runs. I always wince when it comes up. It’s probably the game with the least flaws that I just plain don’t like. You fly around, shoot tanks and jets, and then land and load over a dozen people into a tiny helicopter. Is it a TARDIS? For the Atari 5200 version, I mostly just cruised around with the helicopter facing the screen and rained bullets down on the tanks, turning only to shoot down the jets and satellites. As a game, Choplifter! doesn’t really do anything major wrong. It is fickle about where you have to land to drop off the people you rescue. If you park right next to the building, they won’t get off. Choplifter has been around forever. On the 5200, ugly as it, it’s a fine port of the game, I guess. I just never liked Choplifter. I appreciate the attempt to twist the Defender formula. But, Choplifter replaces the intensity of Defender’s skin-of-your-teeth rescues with the agony of stop-and-go gameplay as you watch humans with absolutely no survival instinct slowly load into the chopper. An act which apparently causes tanks suddenly gain super speed because they’ll always just zoom right into the frame while the morons load in, and that’s assuming the jets don’t fly in and blow clusters of them to smithereens. Choplifter isn’t crappy or anything, but I prefer my shooters to not grind to a halt as often as it does. Full disclosure: at around twenty minutes, this is the game I played the least in this feature, and also the one I wanted to write the least. Be honest: you can tell, can’t you?
Verdict: NO!

Defender
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1982
Designed by Bob Polaro

This is one of those games that relies on flicker to function so much that any one screenshot doesn’t really show anything. EVERYTHING is blinking, at all times. Your ship and all the enemies on screen and most of the enemies on the radar completely disappear whenever you fire. It’s that bad. It completely nullifies any potential satisfaction to the combat, because really you just aim, fire, and then reality itself ends and when it phases back into existence the thing you were shooting at doesn’t phase back in with you. Sigh.

Oh, my precious Defender. What have they done to you? Look, I appreciate the effort to bring my all-time favorite coin-op to the Atari 2600, but maybe in this one case they should have just said “we can’t possibly do it justice” and taken a mulligan. The combat lacks the satisfactory OOMPH that I adore so much about the coin-op. The enemy designs are now abstract and dull to battle. It’s almost to the point of being a deal breaker by itself. But, actually, where it really, really goes bad is the defending part. You know, that part of the game that entire goshdarned game is named after! The humans are replaced with tiny rainbow-flashy dots, and the 2600 version does manage to somewhat capture the thrill of shooting down a ship that has a human in its grasp before they can merge into a mutant. But, then you actually have to catch the humans on the way down, and the 2600 version of the game has too sluggish of controls, and especially too poor of an ability to make tight turns, to successfully make the save most of the time. Honestly, this was a truly admirable attempt. It really was. I mean, it failed as completely in every imaginable way, but hey, A for effort!

Ahem.

YOU BASTARDS! HOW COULD DO THIS TO ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREATS?! AAHHHHH!!

Sorry for that. I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine. I don’t take this too seriously. I swear!
Verdict: NO!

Defender
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1982
Designed by Steve A. Baker

Combat on the 5200 version of Defender looks like it takes place on an Etch-a-Sketch. Or possibly an old monitor with pixels bleeding-out.

Now this a decent port. I can’t possibly imagine trying to play it with an analog joystick that doesn’t self-center, but hey, I don’t have to deal with crap. I get to just enjoy the game that feels like the unsung star of the 5200 launch window. Sure, it’s a bit sluggish, but Defender is one of the most fast and intense coin-ops of its time and the Atari 5200 feels like a console that never got a hug. I wasn’t expecting a one-to-one translation over here. Which is really great because this sure as hell isn’t one. But, in some ways it’s kind of better. Like a person who buys a sports car because they have a tiny penis, Defender 5200 really goes overboard with the particle effects of your cannon fire. When you blow up enemies, YOU BLOW UP ENEMIES and make it rain pixels all over the screen. I LOVE THAT! That part is actually more satisfying than the combat in the arcade game because it just kind of lingers on the screen like you covered the world in your foe’s guts. Also I might be a high-functioning psychopath.

Like the 2600 version, the vertical movement isn’t well done and it makes rescuing a slight pain the butt, but it plays MUCH better here.

Defender 5200 was probably the best game early adopters could get, at least from what I could tell. It also served as a dire warning of what to expect from the console. One consistent theme from all the games I’ve played so far is that the 5200 doesn’t handle speed all that well. The best game I’ve played for the 5200 so far, Gremlins (coming right up), is also remarkable low-urgency. So, when you’re translating a game as white-knuckle as Defender, you’re going to take a hit. In fact, this feels like Defender if Defender was set underwater. Hey wait.. that actually happened, and it played fine! Okay so that wasn’t the insult I was aiming for, but hey, it’s Christmas Day and it’s the thought that counts! The biggest issue is movement really lacks the precision of the coin-op, which itself has a problem or two. In the arcade, you can overcome it with time. I don’t think you’ll be able to totally on the 5200 without completely changing your fight-or-flee strategy. See, while you’re moving sluggishly, the enemies don’t lack for their arcade attack patterns, which is naturally going to make for an unhappy union when you encounter a wall of enemies and tight squeezes. Defender on the Atari 5200 has so many problems that TMZ has its own hashtag for it. But, it’s still pretty dang fun. And I loves me those laser booms! Good laser booms this has.
Verdict: YES!

Gremlins
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1984
Designed by Scott Smith

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I promise a good Atari Gremlins game is coming up in just a paragraph when I look at the 5200 version. Comparatively, Atari 2600 owners got hosed (well, heh, actually 5200 owners certainly got hosed on Gremlins too for completely different reasons). They got a two-screen game that rips off Activision’s Kaboom! and bastardizes their own port of Space Invaders. In the first screen, Mogwais come flying off the roof of a building trying to dive onto food, which will turn them into Gremlins. You have to catch them to prevent this. They will turn into Gremlins regardless, because Billy Peltzer was an objectively careless pet owner. After just a couple stages, they come in faster than anyone would rationally expect. In the second screen, the cocoons hatch and you must pick off the Gremlins one at a time. It’s such a bore of a game. It controls far too loosely and just has no joy to it. I get the feeling Scott Smith must not have wanted this assignment. It’s one of the worst games Atari published to the Atari 2600 because I have nothing positive to say about it. There’s no way to spin it: Gremlins is a monster that should blown up in the microwave.
Verdict: Gizmo Gaga! (That would be NO!)

Gremlins
Platform: 5200
Year: 1986
Designed by John Seghers

If you were to make a game about the first Gremlins movie, where do you begin? In that sense, Gremlins the 5200 game might actually be the best movie-to-game adaption of its era because it takes a hard-to-adapt concept and setting and makes it work in a way that’s truly believable as a movie tie-in. There’s nothing cynical about this game, and it helps that it’s really fun too.

Gremlins 5200, a completely different type of game than its 2600 cousin, actually has quite the story to go with it. It’s the final release for the Atari 5200 and, like so many 100% fully-developed Atari 5200 games from this time frame, it almost never came out at all. Despite the fact that games like Super Pac-Man were completed before it, Gremlins was the only one of the late-stage 5200 games that was sent to manufacturing, on literally the day before Jack Tramiel took over Atari. By this point, Atari had already axed the 5200, and Tramiel ordered all production on cartridges for it cease immediately. But, it was too late to stop manufacturing Gremlins. It wasn’t even made in limited quantities, either. According to the experts at Atari Age, it’s fairly scarce, but by no means a rarity. So, they might as well have sold it right then, while the movie was still red-hot, right? Nope. It sat in a warehouse for two years, much to the dismay of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg loved both the Atari 5200 and the 5200 version of Gremlins and offered to personally purchase the inventory to release himself. Jack Tramiel, ever the savvy businessman, refused. After Nintendo created a resurgence in the video game market, Tramiel restarted production of Atari carts and ordered the distribution of all previously warehoused carts. Among them was Gremlins, making it the final new game for the Atari 5200 during its “natural lifecycle.” In this case, the definition of “natural lifecycle” has a bit of an asterisk.

It’s hard to think of a game that Gremlins 5200 is like, because really, I’ve never played anything like it. The closest to it is probably Robotron: 2084, especially as you make progress. After a relatively slow start (which you can bypass, as the game usually starts on Level 3, with levels 1 and 2 especially being a tutorial), levels will start with you stuck somewhere in the center of a very cramped screen with action all around you. I wish the intensity would remain, but as you clear levels out, sometimes the gameplay grinds to a screeching halt.

Gremlins’ role as the Atari 5200’s endling is tragic, because it might actually be the best game for the entire platform. Not only that, but it’s one of the most clever movie-to-game adaptions I’ve ever played. A one-off unlike any game I’ve played before. A single-screen action game where you have to collect the wandering Mogwais one at a time and place them in a pen in the corner of the screen. There’s puddles of water and food all over the screen. If one of the Mogwais touch the water, it will become two Mogwais. If they touch the food, they become Gremlins and you must kill them with your sword. If the Gremlins get to the pen, they’ll open the door and release all the Mogwai you’ve already rescued and you’ll have to round them up again. There’s various malfunctioning appliances that shoot food onto the playfield, like a popcorn machine. If one of its projectiles hits the Mogwai, they turn into a Gremlin. The level ends when you clear the screen of all Gremlins and/or round up all the Mogwai. Oh, and there’s a clock and you have to do all this before the sun comes up and fries everything. It’s a truly inspired idea that works wonderfully, so much so that I can’t believe they didn’t turn this into a full-fledged arcade game. It would have been so good as an arcade game.

Screens can be positively spammed with enemies, and the start of stages especially can be breathtaking. You know, part of me wonders if this game had guardian angels at Atari who realized Tramiel was going to shut down production of all 5200 games, and recognized that Gremlins was easily the best original game for the platform and pushed to save it at the literal eleventh hour by pushing it into manufacturing. God bless them if that’s the case, and I suspect it is.

It’s not perfect by any means. Some stages can have agonizingly slow ending sequences where you have to slowly make your way around barriers carrying the Mogwai. Movement is moderately slow, and after the initial opening mayhem of a packed stage, the pace becomes what I’ll generously call “deliberate.” Also, the game loads the dice against being able to rescue all the Mogwai in each stage, as some start the level practically on top of food or the water. Finally, I kind of wish the combat was more satisfying. You kill the Gremlins with a sword, but there’s no OOMPH to it, and the collision detection feels a bit spotty. On the other hand, you’re not just swinging a sword. Even if you’re carrying a Mogwai, you can pick-up the food to make the level safer. You can also freeze everything by using a flashbulb, and Mogwais who walk in front of a TV will stop wandering and watch the idiot box. If not for those (relatively rare) instances where gathering the final Mogwai requires you to walk the full circumference of the level and back (especially annoying when there’s an entire cluster of the damn things), I’d say Gremlins never gets boring. It’ll have to settle for being really fun and mostly not boring. I don’t know what’s the biggest tragedy: that Atari 5200 fans didn’t get this in 1984, or that it’s unlikely to ever get a wide release again.
Verdict: YES!

Jr. Pac-Man
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1986
Designed by Ava-Robin Cohen

This is one of those “follow the spirit of the original” ports that doesn’t try to accurately copy the original. I wish they had done more of those during this era.

Atari’s home ports of Jr. Pac-Man for both the Atari 2600 and 5200 were done and finished in 1984 and ready to ship. Then Jack Tramiel took over the company and put the screws to all new releases. Fast forward two years: Atari’s home computers aren’t profitable and Nintendo has helped video games to recover from the Great Video Game Crash. Although the 5200 port would never see the light of day since barely a million units of the Atari 5200 existed, there were still thirty million Atari 2600 owners, with over three-quarters of them not yet having upgraded to the NES. And, what do you know, there were a handful of completely finished games ready to ship to those hungry owners! Suddenly, Jack Tramiel loved video games, and Jr. Pac-Man was released to the masses. Well, at least the Atari 2600 version. It’s a stripped down port of the “lost” standard maze-based Pac-Man. Whereas the arcade version scrolled horizontally, Jr. Pac-Man 2600’s mazes scale vertically.  It’s also a much faster feeling game. The “mega dots” from the arcade version also carried over. I don’t think this is a great port by any means. The mazes just aren’t as intense or exciting as the incredible arcade game and its sublime 5200 version that never saw the light of day. But, I’m happy hungry VCS owners in 1986 got one last Pac-Man game, and one that carries over many aspects of the game, like the mega-dots. I think Ms. Pac-Man 2600 was the best Pac-Man on the 2600, but this wasn’t that bad at all.
Verdict: YES!

Jr. Pac-Man
Platform: Atari 5200
Unreleased Prototype
Designed by Mike Horowitz

I really wish whoever the hell owns the rights to this.. I think it’s AtGames these days.. would stop letting Jr. Pac-Man wallow in obscurity. How in the hell do we live in a world where Nintendo’s 1983 Baseball game has gotten over a dozen re-releases but Jr. Pac-Man hasn’t seen the light of day except, apparently, one Jakks Pacific plug and play that wasn’t even one of their more famous ones. God, it’s such a frustrating situation.

The Atari 5200 got two Pac-Man-based releases that were mediocre at best and two ports that were remarkably arcade accurate. Well, it’s the Atari 5200 we’re talking about, so guess which two games were the ones that never actually got released? While Super Pac-Man can feel free to eat poison, Jr. Pac-Man never coming out is an absolute gaming tragedy. It was completed 100%, and had it actually released, it almost certainly would have been the best game for the Atari 5200 that was based on an arcade game. Jr. Pac-Man is already a historically-underrated title that added multiple layers to the concept that actually worked wonderfully. This time around, the maze is bigger than the screen. The exits are gone, so you actually have to use the maze layouts to outwit the ghost monsters. It doesn’t seem like a massive change. Hell, if anything, it was the logical progression of the series when you really think about it. I mean, duh! Make the maze bigger than the screen! What else could they do? Add a terrible physical pinball machine to it and have the action jump from a terrible video game to a terrible pinball machine? Why would they do that? That’d be a stupid idea! Cough.

The seven mazes of Jr. Pac-Man are, frankly, the best in the series. Some of them are absolutely bonkers, like this one. Look at the area around the power pellets. That’s an intense squeeze right there. But, unlike the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, it works here because there’s other places to scratch-out enough distance to make a play for those sections. Plus, they always have power pellets in the more nail-biting, multiple-out areas.

Pac-Man’s formula only works if the chase is fun. For the chase to be fun, the mazes have to be oriented for close calls and nail-biting races. General Computer already proved they understood this a lot better than even Namco did with Ms. Pac-Man, but they absolutely crushed it with Jr. Pac-Man. The franchise has never had better playgrounds for zigging and zagging around the maze trying to just scratch-out enough clearance between you and the ghosts! And there’s SEVEN mazes this time! That by itself would have been enough, but then Jr. Pac-Man found yet another method of adding tension: the bonus fruit. It hops around the maze, like in Ms. Pac-Man, but with a twist: it converts any normal dot it passes over into a mega-dot that scores more points. BUT, it takes longer to eat the mega-dots, as you pause ever so slightly when you pass over them, which can lead to incredibly tense moments if you have ghosts right on you and all that’s left to eat are those type of dots.

Namco’s treatment of Pac-Man in the wake of the original reminds me of George Lucas with Star Wars, where he later showed that his understanding of why people loved the franchise was completely wrong. In Namco’s case, they really thought the eating and collecting aspect was the appeal. It wasn’t. It’s primarily the chase, with the turning the tables aspect with the power pellets being secondary to that. That’s why their official sequels in the early-to-mid 80s all sucked, while General Computer, who fundamentally understood the appeal, created two stellar sequels that hold up to repeat play even four decades later. It wasn’t until Pac-Mania that Namco finally figured out what makes Pac-Man tick.

Oh, and there’s one final twist: you can’t just let the bonus fruit (or toys in this game’s case) bounce around, converting dots. You HAVE to eat them, because they’re actually weaving their way towards the power pellets, which they destroy if they touch. It leads to situations where you end up rushing towards the toy, eyes wide open in terror, hoping it doesn’t make it to the pellet before you do, and it’s so good. It’s genuinely heartbreaking that nothing is being done with Jr. Pac-Man. It has not clout. It gets no re-releases. Why? Who knows. All I do know is that the 5200 port of Jr. Pac-Man is damn near perfect. It controls like a dream. The ghost AI is the best on the console. It got the timing of the mega-dots perfectly. It doesn’t even feel like they made any concessions at all. Really, as a port, the only knock I have is that the 5200 port doesn’t have the positively adorable cut-scenes of Junior becoming besties with a shy ghost monster toddler and the two crushing on each-other. Seriously, that shouldn’t have warmed my heart as much as it did, but they were just so damn cute! Not so cute is that this, probably the best arcade port on a console with a library comprised mostly of arcade ports, has not seen the light of day. Will someone fix this, please?
Verdict: YES!

Ms. Pac-Man
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1983
Designed by Mike Horowitz, Josh Littlefield

I wouldn’t even be born for another six years when this came out, and yet I feel retroactively happy for those huge fans of Pac-Man who only owned an Atari 2600. I sure hope they got their hands on this.

Ms. Pac-Man 2600 isn’t a direct port of the arcade game. The mazes aren’t arcade accurate at all. In comparing them, I realized what they don’t do that the arcade version does: cross sections to walls. So, there’s no barriers shaped like Ts, Hs, or +s. Bummer, right? Well, the thing is, they all still feel like a close cousin of their arcade counterparts, created in spirit of the original levels. They’re spiritually accurate. Of course, the difference maker is this port was done by the same people who did the actual Ms. Pac-Man coin-op. While it does have an unshakable feel of someone finally saying “eh, that’s close enough!” it’s still a game that makes feel all warm inside. Like, this was the best possible make-good that could have been made in the wake of the Atari 2600 Pac-Man. While this sold nowhere near as many copies as the original game, almost two-and-a-half million people bought this version, and it’s solid. Great play control. Good mazes. The thrill of the chase is present and awesome. There is something about this specific port that feels like it has a soul. That the people who made it played the Tod Frye Pac-Man and had a wrong to right. This port is a labor of love, and a game that feels worthy of wearing the title of Ms. Pac-Man, one of the all-time great arcaders.
Verdict: YES!

Ms. Pac-Man
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1983
Designed by Allen Wells and Steve Szymanski

It looks the part, right? Well, just read. This was notable in a way I’m honestly floored by.

I’ve been playing video games now for over a quarter of a century, and I’ve never experienced anything like what I’m about to describe to you. When I booted-up Ms. Pac-Man, I found it to be a visually accurate but quite slow and sluggish approximation of the Ms. Pac-Man arcade game. In fact, while playing the first maze, I found it SO skippy and laggy and badly animated that I shook my head and said “wow, the 2600 version plays better than this. And Pac-Man 5200 was certainly a better translation from a gameplay perspective.” I just wanted to be done with it and decided I would run through every maze and then just do a single-paragraph review noting that it feels like a rough, rushed port that feels like the 5200 can barely sustain without catching fire.

I’ll take this time to note that the ghosts are actually not slouches. I figure that’s worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning is the mazes aren’t a 100% accurate take, but they’re so close that it’s negligible.

AND THEN.. on the fifth maze.. it happened. I noticed the ghosts just dashed out of the starting gates at a reasonable speed. Then I realized I, too, was moving at a reasonable speed. What.. the.. fudge? Yea, the sluggishness, out of nowhere, just goes away and the game becomes a reasonable pace from there out. Well, except when one of the fruits starts dancing around the maze, at which point the performance takes a slight dip, though it’s still much faster than the first four levels, where the arrival of the fruit makes you fear that your Atari 5200 is going to pass away of natural causes. Now, to make sure that it wasn’t some PC-related performance, I started over. I rebooted the computer. I tried this on an entirely different emulator on a different computer. It happened every time. It’s not the emulator. This is a thing the game does. Did nobody at Atari notice this?

This was supposed to be one of the easy reviews. I need to stop assuming this. It always comes back to bite me in the ass. Like when I bought the unicorn coloring book game with the intent of doing a joke review and it ended up being so putrid I had to do a real, actual review of a goddanged children’s coloring book game. When I assume, I make an ass out of me, and u get to read the results. That’s not how that saying goes but screw it, it’s 9:23PM on Christmas and I’m still editing this damn thing.

Twenty-six years of gaming and this is a problem I’ve never before encountered. Those opening levels aren’t just a little teeny tiny bit sluggish. They’re sluggish to the point that its jarring. What’s especially weird is that this doesn’t end when you switch to a different maze. It’s the third (and final) level in the second maze that suddenly it pops the gear and actually becomes a decent version of Ms. Pac-Man. Before that? It’s not an enjoyable at all. So, how the hell do I evaluate this? It feels weird that you actually have to make an effort just for the game to run at its fullest potential. I don’t like the idea of that one bit. I initially suspected Ms. Pac-Man was rushed to the market to beat the 1983 holiday season, but that’s apparently not the case. Either way, yea, in my opinion, those first four stages were a deal breaker. A historically one-off problem I hope to never encounter again.
Verdict: NO!

Pac Man
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1982
Designed by Tod Frye

Let me preface this by saying that NO ONE GAME is responsible for the Great Video Game Crash. It was a long, drawn-out series of events culminating in Atari head Ray Kassar selling 5,000 shares of his Warner Bros. stock literally 23 minutes before Warner announced that Atari had a much less successful fiscal quarter than they had publicly projected. If any one thing crashed the game industry, it was that stunt which, frankly, should have landed him in prison. Of course, nobody wants to talk about that because it’s more fun to blame E.T. 2600. But, if I were to pretend one game crashed the game industry, well, the clear choice is Pac-Man 2600. It’s the best selling game on the VCS, and I think it shook consumer confidence. Imagine you saw your child play the arcade Pac-Man and then you got them this abomination and it’s awful and they don’t want to play it. Would you trust any other arcade port that came after? Or any game at all for that matter? Atari carts were expensive. Game rentals weren’t a big thing back then. There weren’t a lot of ways to try a game out. Pac-Man 2600, more than any other game, made each new game a risk. So, yea, blame Pac-Man. But, really, blame Kassar. Adjusted for inflation, Martha Stewart went to federal pokey and then had to wear a stylish ankle monitor for five months over less money. “Hmmm, what’s the difference between her and Kassar?” said Cathy as her gaze slowly stared to pan down to the space between her own legs. “Oh, right.”

One of gaming’s most oft-told urban legends is that Pac-Man 2600 was barely out of the alpha phase when Ray Kassar ordered it straight into manufacturing as-is. Even I’ve repeated it, even though it’s likely not true. Designer Tod Frye insists that nobody within the bullpen at Atari told him the game sucked, and Atari developers did have a reputation of telling each-other when something was crap or not (which works, by the way. That practice turned a boring Space Invaders knock-off played from a different camera angle into Tempest). Yet, the “Pac-Man 2600 was a prototype” legend is totally believable. This is a TERRIBLE port. The stuff of nightmares. How did this happen? Pac-Man 2600’s badness is so multi-faceted that I can’t believe it’s not studied in game design school. The most obvious flaw is the maze isn’t oriented for exciting chasing, which is what Pac-Man absolutely needs to work. In fact, I think it has the single worst maze of the entire franchise, and I can show why. First, what makes a good Pac-Man maze? You need straightaways, bends, and “elbows” with enough areas that are closed-off by walls to be able to scratch-out enough distance between you and the ghosts to either make progress on the side of the maze you’re on OR to lure the ghosts to one side of the maze, then go through the exit and safely work on the other side the screen.

None of that works in the 2600 version because of the shape, size, and rules of the exits. The walls are too small and have too many gaps, which creates shortcuts for the ghosts. Why can’t they be shortcuts for YOU, too? Because the ghosts outnumber you and you’re always within spitting distance of enough pathways to accommodate them. No matter where you go to clear the distance, they can always just cut you off at the pass because there’s not enough straightaways and the areas along the sides have too many gaps. In the above picture, count the amount of gaps in the two circles I’ve made, and then remember that there’s four ghosts, with two sets of behavior. You’re left without any room to dodge out of the way because you’re always dodging into an area that has multiple points of entrance that are right on top of you. Plus, the maze is just too small in general, so getting distance AT ALL is a chore.

Finally, the exit just doesn’t work because Frye didn’t seem to understand the point of it. The exit (or “warp tunnel”, whatever) is done vertically instead of horizontally and there’s seriously no walls between the two except one teeny-tiny corner “door” in front of each side that’s so small and so quick to get past that it doesn’t even qualify as an inconvenience. The only two straightaways are two full-screen ones laid out in the center of the maze? When the exits are vertical? What the ever loving hell? When I played and tried to use the exit, the ghosts didn’t bother following me. They just took the literal straight path with no resistance up to the other side. The size of the maze being too short is further made worse because there’s a large delay when using the exit. The time it takes you to pop out the other side means that, by time you do, the ghosts are basically as close to you now as they were on the other side. It takes so long to come out the other side it completely undoes any advantage of using it, especially when the ghosts never take it themselves (hell, I don’t even know if they CAN use it!). Why even bother having them? They’re functionally useless! Hell, they might as well have just stuck a cot there and let the poor guy take a nap.

And why the hell does Pac-Man have eyes? The original was a circle with a wedge removed from it. HOW HARD IS IT TO DO THAT? This is like Atari played the telephone game with Pac-Man. They formed a daisy-chain of twenty people. The first on the left side played Pac-Man for sixty seconds then described what it was like to the next person, who described it to the next person, who described it to the next person, and so forth, and so forth, until the worst video game ever made came out the other side. Because, having forced myself to play this for a lot longer than my previous five minute sessions, yea, this is the very worst video game ever made. It’s not just the gameplay but the cost to the industry.

Everything that made the arcade game work is gone here. This is Pac-Man that doesn’t understand Pac-Man at all. Plus, the charm is completely gone. The sound effects are my idea of what Hell must sound like. The infamous flicker makes it look like your monitor is going out. Hell, even the collision feels like it’s too loaded for ghosts, where they practically can get you despite being catty-corner from you. It’s a game that makes you want to believe prototype story. Because, if it’s not true, it means nobody gave a crap. I hear Tod Frye is a nice guy, but this is NOT the Pac-Man that people would have ever wanted. It’s not even in the ballpark, which makes me wonder if they bothered to buy a cabinet and place it near his office. Pac-Man 2600 feels like a bootleg! The exact kind of knock-off that Atari vigorously sued other game companies to stop from being made. And don’t say that it was the best they could do at the time. I get that Pac-Man was a very complicated game that used technology far ahead of the Atari 2600. I’m not blaming Frye. This should have been a company-wide project. Don’t put it on one guy to get it right. What the heck is that, even? Why did they do games that way? Oh sure, sometimes they’d have separate graphics and sound people. But really, a license this big, at this time, should have been a “drop what you’re doing and work on Pac-Man NOW” situation. Frye made over a million bucks from his royalties on this, and good for him on that because this wasn’t his fault. Nothing short of a morning-after pill would have helped with this one.
Verdict: NO!

Pac Man
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1982
Designed by James Andreasen

It looks like Pac-Man if Pac-Man, maze and all, was run over by a steamroller.

In 1982, the Atari 5200 cost about $600 in today’s dollars, and its marketing mostly centered around Pac-Man. If you owned the Atari 2600 version of that game and then saw THIS, which has the iconic blue-and-black maze that’s MOSTLY the right shape, the right-shape for character, a lack of flicker, the correct orientation of the exits, and distinct items, that would be the best advertising for the 5200 imaginable. Of course, $600 is a LOT of money to spend on a game that, frankly, gets old fast. Now, I played this with a PlayStation 5 controller (these days, it’s my default emulation controllers. Comfy controller is the PS5 pad), so I didn’t have to experience what is reported to be the misery of playing Pac-Man with a joystick that doesn’t self-center. I’ve heard from a lot of 5200 owners that Pac-Man was nearly unplayable because of that. But, I don’t think the issue was JUST the Atari 5200 controller. Playing this with a modern top-of-the-line controller that worked just fine in every other game, I still couldn’t take corners accurately. To make sure my timing wasn’t just way off, I tried the arcade Pac-Man. Worked fine. So, actually, The Atari 5200 version is problematic beyond the hardware. Also, it has some of the dumbest ghosts in the entire franchise. Pac-Man 5200 is a big improvement over the Atari 2600 version, but then again, that’s a game that’s improved by a firing barrel, a gasoline canister, and a match.
Verdict: NO!

Pigs in Space starring Miss Piggy
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1983
Designed by Michael Sierchio

Make sure to say it right: PIGSSSSS IN SPAAAAAAACEEEEE! Hell, I was born in 1989 and even I knew to say it that way. Anyway, this is the best Space Invaders game on the 2600. Yes, for real.

Pigs in Space is kind of like Gorf run through a Muppets filter. Actually, it’s genuinely the first mass-market video game satire. I think. 1983. Was the medium old enough for someone to release a winking tongue-in-cheek parody of games like this before? It’s three completely unrelated classic arcade tropes thrown into one cart. It doesn’t even feel like it’s optimized for children, either, like you’d expect it to be. It’s true to the satirical nature of the source material, the Muppet Show, making this one of the most accurate licensed games too. It’s also one of the strongest games based on a movie/TV property on the Atari 2600. Weirdly.. and seriously, I can’t stress enough how surprising this is.. it might have the smoothest and best take on Space Invaders in the entire VCS library. And it’s genuinely fun, controls great, and has a charming facade covering up the tired, old gameplay. After the first wave, things get pretty intense. The humor, by the way, is spot on. This might be the first home console game aiming for deliberate comedy, and it absolutely scores. You get turned into a chicken if one of the chickens successfully poops on you. Chickens are funny. It’s a default thing, mostly because we disassemble them, batter them, fry them, and eat them. And there’s nothing they can do about it.

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The other two games aren’t as strong. Especially Miss Piggy’s game, which is a send-up of crossing-the-road games like Frogger, only it’s completely toothless. Which.. yea, so are the Muppets, come to think of it, but I meant it’s not a hard game to win. In it, you don’t lose a life if you collide with any of the objects, and instead you only fail if you can’t reach the ship before it leaves the screen. Not that it’s bad or anything, but I had runs of it that only lasted a couple seconds before I won. The final segment features the Swinetrek and satirizes shmups, and it has a truly weird attack method. When you shoot, your bullet hooks to the left or right, depending on which direction you last pushed. Getting the hang for the physics of this was actually neat, and there’s another slapstick twist worthy of the source material: if you miss, your own bullet could come back down and could kill you. This part had the most potential, but it crawls along at a snail’s pace and only has one type of enemy (plus you die if you touch the walls, which you will). So, how do I rate a game like this? While it was intended as a joke, you know what? It ain’t boring, that’s for sure. There’s some good gameplay in here, especially the first segment. You can take the games in any order too, and if you only want to play one of the games, just don’t choose the others! Do you love Space Invaders? This is the best Space Invaders-like on the console. So yea, Pigs in Space ain’t bad at all. Who’d of thunk it?
Verdict: YES!

Red Baron
Platform: Arcade
Year: 1981

Red Baron: excellent video game, inedible frozen cardboard pizza.

Okay, okay, I’m cheating here. Atari absolutely COULD release Red Baron, but I wanted to include it in this feature anyway. For me, the most shocking missing game from Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration was Red Baron. It previously was in Atari Flashback Classics and was one of only six arcade games I gave a YES! to for that set. Using the same technology as Battlezone (which Atari has permanently lost the rights to), I actually think Red Baron is the stronger game. It has more variety and satisfying combat. I don’t know what it is about aviation dog fights that capture my imagination, but I really wish there were more games like this. I played a TON of Crimson Skies on Xbox Live in my teens. Maybe I was a fighter pilot in a past life? It’s remarkable how much this holds up. My one knock on it is that being able to tell what bullets are going to score a hit on you can sometimes be hard to judge. Plus, the enemy fire gets positively spammy after five minutes. But, Red Baron feels like it’s really ahead of its time and still manages to be a joy to play even forty years later. It’s a shame that it slipped through the pages of history to such a degree that even Atari left it out of its prestigious collection. Had to make room for Evolution Dino Dudes, I guess.
Verdict: YES!

Snoopy and the Red Baron
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1983
Designed by Nick Turner

For a game aimed at kids, Snoopy and the Red Baron is actually a little more intense with its main villain than you’d expect.

How in the heck are there not one.. not two.. but THREE games based on the running gag from the Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy imagines himself as a fighting the Red Baron in World War I? Do you know what’s even weirder? All three of them were actually somewhere between decent and genuinely very good. I liked Snoopy vs. The Red Baron for PlayStation and Snoopy’s Flying Aces on Xbox Live. This is the OG Snoopy flying game, and it’s simple and shallow but, actually, not a bad little game at all. As I stated in the Bugs Bunny section, Snoopy was the surviving child in Atari’s version of Sophie’s Choice. Actually, Snoopy and the Red Baron is so obviously better that I can’t believe they wasted the time and money with focus testing to decide its fate. You’re Snoopy flying on his dog house and you have to shoot down the infamous Red Baron in a never-ending series of dog fights. I mean the kind between airplanes, not the Michael Vick kind.

Occasionally, the Baron will fly up into the clouds and drop items for you to collect, which actually does work at breaking-up the repetitive gameplay.

Surprisingly, this actually does successfully feel like dog fighting. This is owed to the fact that the Red Baron isn’t just cannon fodder. He uses strategy and evasive moves as he tries to position himself to be able to fire onto you. He has advantages over Snoopy as well. You can’t fly up into the clouds, so he’ll spend a LOT of time just above your line of sight. I thought maybe it was too much time at first, but then I realized you have to be a little manipulative and not always just tail right behind him. Because the Baron actually feels like it has some intelligence, it’s pretty satisfying to shoot him down. This is a game that survives on charm too. Snoopy’s scarf vibrates in wind, and the Baron’s shots register as bullet holes in your dog house, straight out of the comics and cartoons. Hell, the game even gets teeth after you complete two waves of four Barons, with him becoming a lot faster and more aggressive. It’s not a deep game by any means. With the exception of the brief one-second sections where he drops points you have to catch, the entire game is fighting this one enemy over and over again. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with it for hours, but if it were to ever be part of a collection like Atari 50, it wouldn’t be an unwelcome addition at all.
Verdict: YES!

Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1983
Designed by Peter C. Niday

The mountain scene. You shoot the fireworks with magic and catch stars. And yes, a stripped-down, Atarified version of Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas plays during the game.

This was yet another in the series of licensed Atari 2600 games aimed at young children that isn’t that bad. Based on the famous Mickey Mouse scene from Fantasia, Sorcerer’s Apprentice is kind of like a spinning-plate game that’s divided into two screens. The first one is sort of like a retro demake of the PlayStation 2 launch title Fantavision. You use magic to shoot what looks like fireworks out of the sky while also catching falling stars. Any stars you don’t catch turn into brooms that contribute to the flood happening in the basement. Shooting the fireworks in the first screen creates empty buckets that helps bail out the water that’s flooding the basement in the second screen. Here, you only have to touch the brooms to stop them, and any buckets you’ve made will lower the water level. The game keeps going until the basement fully floods. It’s an incredibly simple and shallow game that’s clearly made for younger children. Well, yeah, obviously. Remember, this came out in 1983, back when Disney was DISNEY dagnabit!

The basement scene. You just touch the brooms to stop them. If you give this a shot, don’t bother with the first mode. Go to Game 2. I think Game 3 is comically fast and Game 1 is comically slow. Game 2 is just right. Oh and there’s a children’s mode in game 4. Seriously, how young is THAT mode aimed at? Fetuses? Because this isn’t the hardest game, except maybe on the third mode.

But, I actually did enjoy the unique concept. Which took me by surprise because I’m not the biggest spinning-plate fan in the world. It’s doubly surprising because Sorcerer’s Apprentice takes far too long to build up a sense of urgency that makes spinning-plate games work to begin with. Even on the higher difficulties (I found Game 3, the highest difficulty, shot the moon and was too fast) you don’t feel any pressure. Once the tension finally kicks-in, I started to be wooed by the unique concept, the charming graphics, and cathartic nature of the gameplay. I wish it had more going for it, and I wish the targets in the shooting gallery were more clear and less abstract, but as far as games made for small children go, this ain’t too shabby. It feels like the basis for a Game & Watch release that got stretched into a full-sized Atari cart.
Verdict: YES!

Space Invaders
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1980
Designed by Richard Maurer

I think the second one from the top is kind of adorable. And also, it looks like you’re shooting the invaders with a Douglas Fir.

This was it. This was the game that blew-up the Atari 2600. I hate when older people exaggerate tales of Space Invaders. No, the Japanese didn’t have to mint more 100-yen coins. Think of how stupid the logic of that myth is. So many coins in these machines.. the most profitable machines in the world.. that they had to make more coins. Do these people think the machine owners just held onto the coins? Because, like, isn’t that the only way that would possibly cause such a shortage? Another myth is that there’s never been a response to a game like Space Invaders, either in arcades or the 2600 version. Were that true.. and it’s not.. it’s like saying the last episode of M*A*S*H* will never be beaten in the ratings. Well.. yea. It had to compete against like three other channels, not hundreds of cable TV channels and the internet on top of that. Space Invaders was maybe the first big deal for a cart-based console, but.. like.. someone was going to be, right? Had it not been Space Invaders, it would have been Pac-Man, which outsold it by nearly two million units despite being terrible game.

While I was doing Space Invaders, I just had to give the legendary Pepsi Invaders a try. 125 copies of this were made for the workers of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Atlanta, GA. It’s Space Invaders, set on a three minute timer, where you shoot the the letters in PEPSI along with one of the aliens. It’s the holy of holies of Atari collectors. If you live in Atlanta, I’d be checking out garage sales. Oh, and when time runs out, the words COKE WINS appear on screen. Oh, I’m confident coke won when they came up with commissioning this idea.

No, do you know what I think is the REAL story with Space Invaders? Not that it was the first killer app, but rather the standard it set to what a killer app SHOULD be. Atari had a lot of arcade translations by this point, but Space Invaders came with a much higher degree of difficulty than any of those games had to get the home version right. With Pac-Man, we’ve seen how that could go disastrously wrong. In the case of Space Invaders 2600, they nailed it. It’s a very good translation of the most popular game in the world, at least at the time. Would I want to play it in the 2020s? Oh, god no. Hell, I wouldn’t have wanted to play it by time I started gaming in the 1990s. Gaming has come so far and this formula has been done better so many times. I don’t even like Galaga, but I’d hook an IV to my arm and mainline Galaga before I was forced to play Space Invaders.. or so I thought.

Not so good were the invisible modes, which I think are lame as hell. And I just found out these are actually kind of popular in retro circles. I don’t get it. Maybe because they’re all on the cusp of being senior citizens and can’t see anymore, anyway?

Being a prime-era Atari 2600 cart, they threw in some nice twists to Space Invaders 2600. I like the modes where the shields move back and forth. I like the modes where the Invaders’ bullets come at you from diagonal angles. I really like that there’s an option for doing both those things at the same time. Is it enough to save Space Invaders from the NO! Pile? Actually.. YES! I’m as surprised as you are, but it was just enough to keep my eyes glued to the screen. Like so many games during this run I’m on, I intended to play this for fifteen, twenty minutes and I ended up going an hour. But, of all the games I’ve done that with, none surprised me more than Space Invaders. I thought “there’s no way!” Oh, there was a way. That’s one thing I admire about the Atari 2600 during this period: they sure loaded the carts with every imaginable variation on the game to give people their money’s worth. These days, you’d get nickled-and-dimed for all those extra modes as paid DLC. Hey, I never said EVERY aspect of gaming is better today!
Verdict: YES!
And hell, throw in a YES! for Pepsi Invaders too because I like competitive modes set to a timer.

Space Invaders
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1982
Designed by Eric Manghise

The aliens actually change shape in this one every couple rounds. Well, at least it breaks up the monotony, I guess.

Oddly enough, Space Invaders for the 5200 is not a straight conversion of the arcade game. Same basic principle: aliens march at you and you shoot them. There are a couple twists this time. The most noticeable.. and it’s a weird decision.. is having the aliens march-in from outside the left side of the screen. So, when a round begins, you have wait for them to actually enter the screen. I don’t get why they did that. It certainly doesn’t make the game better. If anything, it detracts from the purity of the game by forcing the player to move left and start pinging them aliens. The other twist is having mutating invaders begin to show up in the forth wave. As far as I can tell, they don’t actually behave differently, but if you kill them when they’re in their in the middle of morphing, they score no points. Space Invaders 5200 uses a color-coated scoring system, and if you care about that stuff, the morphing enemies fails completely because, again, the way they march from out of the screen forces you to shoot and shoot quickly. You don’t have enough time to time it, because this version of Space Invaders has an emphasis on the automatic game over from the aliens reaching the bottom. This is because the aliens are physically too big while the playfield is too small.

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Trying to change the formula was nice, I guess, but this is not a good port of Space Invaders. The bizarre choice to have the enemies appear from outside the screen all but eliminates the ability for players to come up with their own strategies for playing. That’s one of the aspects of Golden Age games I put the highest premium on, because you need that flexibility to be immersed in the gameplay. It’s also not a well-balanced Space Invaders take, either. Right from the start, the faster-paced aliens and their low proximity to the ground means you have to shoot very accurately to assure they don’t reach the bottom. It’s too cramped. I was stunned at how fast things escalated in the first couple stages. My father’s theory is that they had the aliens start off-screen so that it would educate players to take out full columns instead of pinging them off row-by-row. It would be a sound theory, except that only makes sense for the first level. My theory is that they made the aliens too big and the playfield too small and the game over would have happened even faster if they hadn’t waddled in from the outside. What a disaster. Space Invaders was the Atari 2600’s killer app and I’m sure Atari figured everyone buying a 5200 probably owned it already, so they wanted to change things up. That’s not the worst idea, but how they went about the changes might have been.
Verdict: NO!

Star Wars
Platform: Arcade
Year: 1983
Designed by Mike Hally

Today I learned that the “TIE” in TIE Fighter stands for “twin ion engines.” I’m almost certain I heard this before, but for whatever reason, my brain has said “screw Star Wars” and started deleting all trivia for it. Now, I have no control over what completely useless crap sticks in my head cheese. I can tell you off the top of my head who was the leading scorer of the NBA during the 1972-73 season (it was Tiny Archibald at 34ppg for Kansas City-Omaha Kings. He also led the league in assists at 11apg that season, the only time that’s ever been done) or who invented Lucky Charms (John Holahan, who ripped a few Circus Peanut marshmallows into chunks and sprinkled them over a bowl of Cheerios) but my brain is opting-out of Star Wars trivia. I blame Disney. And drugs. It was probably the drugs.

If you were to only own one Arcade1Up cabinet, Star Wars would probably be the one to own. This is thanks to that being the only way to have the immersive yoke controller that, despite the wireframe vector graphics, still makes you feel like you’re genuinely piloting a X-Wing and fighting the Empire. A 1983 arcade game should not feel this immersive, nor should it be this accurate to the movie. Star Wars is a historically remarkable achievement. But, assuming Atari could work out a deal to bring this to Atari 50 as a DLC release, that ain’t going to be an option. You’ll be stuck using a normal game controller. Without the yoke, is Star Wars any good? The answer is still yes, only with significantly less immersion and a complete loss of charm.

Functionally, Star Wars is a sequel to Atari’s 1981 vector graphics sky fighter Red Baron. It is remarkable that not one but TWO Atari first-person vector graphics aerial dogfight games held-up to the test of time. Star Wars does manage to successfully recreate the look of the film to such a degree that you can tell yourself you’re actually looking at the targeting computer from the film. The TIE Fighters and the Death Star look great, and it’s so satisfying to shoot them down. The issue is that the gameplay basically only lasts maybe three minutes at most before everything starts looping over and over again. Shoot down a few TIEs, shoot the bullets they fire at you, then go in for the trench run, where you shoot all the projectiles coming at you and various wall targets. Hit the correct spot to blow up the Death Star, then start over with more difficulty. Oh and a new buffer sequence where you fly along the surface of the Dearth Star is added between the first and last phases where you have to take out turrets.

That’s no moon.

Your first run from the time you load your quarter until the moment you destroy the Death Star will barely take three minutes. In a way, I kind of admire that Atari didn’t make the game too difficult, so that every arcade-going child could experience being the hero of the Rebel Alliance. At the same time, despite the fun and energetic combat, there’s sure not a lot of meat on these bones. Does it get old fast? Oh yea. Star Wars is unique in that it’s both timeless, and yet, not something that holds up to repeat play. It relies heavily on the novelty factor. But, it’s still an unforgettable experience while it lasts. I’ve witnessed a twelve-year-old Star Wars fan positively lose his mind, overjoyed playing this nearly forty-year-old arcade game, and that’s something you don’t get a lot of with many Golden Age coin-ops. Would that happen without the full arcade experience? Probably not to that degree. Lots of games suffer from lack of authentic controllers, but none would suffer more while still getting a YES! than Star Wars.
Verdict: YES!

Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1984
Designed by Bradley G. Stewart, Bob Smith, and Neil McKenzie
Developed by Parker Bros

For the Atari 2600 version, you play all three scenes in sequential order. It’s still barely a three minute to see everything experience, and this time the controls are genuinely miserable.

I would LOVE to know the story on this one. Atari makes the arcade game, but Parker Bros. owns the rights to Star Wars on consoles and gets to create their own version of Atari’s arcade game AND place it on Colecovision in addition to Atari’s platforms. I can’t find anything on whether they owed Atari royalties on it or not, but I’m giggling sadistically at the thought of how awkward that phone call between Manny Gerard and Ray Kassar must have been. Gerard and Warner Bros. head Steve Ross blew a gasket on Kassar when they found out Atari didn’t take the home video license for Donkey Kong, so just imagine how peeved they must have been when they found out Atari didn’t own the rights to the single hottest film franchise in history up to that point. Of course, by this point, Atari had the vastly superior (not to mention more appropriate for home consoles) Star Raiders on their platforms. Star Wars, despite coming to the 2600 barely a year after the arcade port, feels old and fuddy duddy already. Some people think this port is a remarkable effort for the lowly 2600, but I think the controls are sluggish and miserable. You also have inverted controls, which is fine for an arcade game but don’t work at all here. I actually do believe this is probably the best they could do for the console, but the combat doesn’t satisfy anywhere near as much as the arcade, and the Death Star trench run lacks the spectacle. The Force was not with this port.
Verdict: NO!

Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Platform: Atari 5200
Year: 1984
Designed by Bradley G. Stewart, Bob Smith, and Neil McKenzie
Developed by Parker Bros

When you look at the graphics for the Atari 5200, it really makes you go “what were they thinking?” By this point, Colecovision wasn’t too far off, and it made the 5200 look so old already.

The Atari 5200’s disastrous run wasn’t on account of its game library. While I guess it sounds like owners did struggle to actually find places that sold games, if they could find them, they’d find plenty of quality arcade ports. For all the console’s weaknesses, the Atari 5200’s version of Star Wars: The Arcade Game is perfectly fine, I guess. While it could never hope to recreate the immersive charm of the coin-op, it does a lot better at recreating the gameplay than the 2600 port. The more accurate graphics make the combat somewhat satisfying, although the game does still manage to lose the pizazz of the trench run sequence. Again, the elephant in the room is that Star Wars is an experience best suited for arcades. The Atari 5200 had the excellent Star Raiders at launch. A similar premise, only optimized for home consoles and made deeper and more rewarding. If you were absolutely gaga for the Star Wars coin-op, I suppose this would have satisfied you. I would think a kid would get very bored, very quickly with this, but I also wasn’t even alive in 1984, so what do I know?
Verdict: YES!

Superman
Platform: Atari 2600
Year: 1983
Designed by John Dunn

Superman, seen here carrying Lois Lane by the throat. DA NUNUNUNU NA NA NA!

Being a game critic with a reputation for psychopathy, many of my Twitter followers are always floored to find out that I love Superman. Not the game. Oh no. No no no no. Superman the character. Actually, no.. Superman the concept. I’m totally fine with the big blue boy scout. There’s plenty of nuanced, deep comic characters with complex problems. Shouldn’t it be okay for just one of them to be the boring goody-good that rescues cats out of trees? A hero who will always make people aspire to their better angels? Let Superman be the one thing in pop culture that we agree is okay to be boring and predictable. Because, by God, the poor guy has earned it at this point. Especially with his video game legacy. Superman was actually one of the first Atari 2600 games, and the proud owner of many historic firsts. It’s the first licensed home console game not based on a game property and the world’s first superhero game. It actually uses the same engine that was built for Adventure, yet it beat Adventure to the market by several years. And, in my opinion, it’s the better game. All these years later and it’s arguably the best game starring the Man of Steel. Really!

Yes, that is supposed to be Lex Luthor wearing a helicopter belt. It was a different time.

This isn’t some lazy action game. There’s stuff to do. You start by seeing the Metropolis bridge destroyed as Clark Kent. You have to hop into a phone booth.. kids, ask your parents what those were.. and turn into Superman. You have to capture Lex Luthor and all his minions and take them to jail, and you also have to find the three parts of the damaged bridge and put them back. This is the part that took me the longest to figure out how to do and I actually had to watch a YouTube video to figure out what I was doing wrong. It turns out, they don’t “lock into place” like you’d expect. You just sort of pile them up next to the gap on the correct screen and they’ll turn into the bridge. Once I understood this, the biggest issue was navigating Metropolis. You can use super vision to see the screens around you (it’s supposed to be his X-Ray vision, but like.. what is he seeing through? This is almost entirely taking place outside!), but even with that, finding the actual screen with the bridge section was the biggest pain in the ass.

It’s really not much to look at, which is why this is yet another game I’d love to see remade. Like.. seriously, Warner Bros., just copy this formula. Or hell, hire Atari to remake it and expand it.

There’s some WEIRD rules for this one. Like, for example, if you take damage from the “Kryptonite satellites” you have to cop a feel on Lois Lane to get your flying powers back.. how does that even make sense?.. and if she gets in the way, you can drop her back off at the Daily Planet. Know your place, Ms. Lane! Also, whenever you take damage, Lois automatically appears on the screen. I suppose the idea is that it puts her back in danger, since you can’t win if she’s not secured (at least I don’t think so. The instruction book wasn’t very helpful). Finally, there’s visibility issues with the things that harm you. I often could barely see the little spark that grounds you. But, you know what? Once you understand the rules, this isn’t a bad little adventure game. I certainly appreciate the ambition for this era. They could have done a half-assed shooter using his heat ray or something. They didn’t do that. They set out to make a game where you feel like a Silver Age version of Supes and I honestly think they did the very best they were capable of in 1978. So, hey, Superman got off to a good start in gaming, but I can think of, oh, sixty-four reasons why he should have quit while he was ahead.
Verdict: YES!

Super Pac-Man
Platform: Atari 5200
Unreleased Prototype
Designed by Landon Dyer

This stinks of “we were plum out of ideas.” On the plus side, it’s not as bad as Pac & Pal.

I’m not a fan at all of Super Pac-Man, so playing this fully completed but never released prototype wasn’t going to be a highlight for me. Having said that, I’m genuinely shocked they never went forward with releasing this. I mean, this isn’t exactly a non-entity of a game and it seems like would be good for a quick infusion of cash. It’s pathetic that both this and Jr. Pac-Man are much more arcade-accurate than Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man but 5200 owners never got a chance to buy them. Of course, being arcade-accurate isn’t a positive thing when you’re an arcade-accurate port of a terrible game. I think the gate concept of Super Pac-Man could have worked, but not with this maze. Oh no. Yea, this is the worst maze in any Pac-Man game besides the 2600 version, though all the problems with that one are sort of present to a lesser degree here. For Super Pac-Man, not only is it a bad layout, but it’s the only level, and one that doesn’t remotely lend itself to the chase-aspect Pac-Man needs to work for the excitement. The gates are further compromised by the Super Pac concept itself, where you can just, you know, eat the gates. On one hand, I feel bad for 5200 owners that they never got a chance to decide for themselves, because this is a remarkable effort compared to most Atari 5200 games. On the other hand, it’s a remarkable effort for a game even Pac-Man’s creator has said is boring.
Verdict: NO!

I’m just getting started, folks! Head over to Part Two, where I look at Fifty-Two more games they couldn’t include in Atari 50!

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

5 Responses to Atari 50: The Games They Couldn’t Include – The Definitive Review (Part One)

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