Atari 2600 Game Reviews: Chase the Chuckwagon through Chuck Norris Superkicks

chase-the-chuckwagon-1983-spectravideoChase the Chuckwagon (Spectravision, Purina, 1983)

As a dog lover, I’m all for seeing more video games with dog protagonists. However, Chase the Chuckwagon is a poor example of this obscure (if not nonexistent) genre. The game is legendary among 2600 collectors for its rarity; it couldn’t be bought in stores, only redeemed with proof-of-purchase codes from Purina dog food products. The campaign was a flop (they literally couldn’t even give them away) with unawarded cartridges destroyed, making the game extremely rare. Like so many ultra-rare 2600 cartridges, the actual gameplay value of Chase the Chuckwagon doesn’t even come close to its value among collectors. The goal is to guide Chuckie the dog through a series of mazes to a chuckwagon while avoiding a dog catcher and objects such as bones and cats (?) that bounce wildly across the screen. Some of the mazes are challenging, but that doesn’t necessarily make them fun. Plus, Chuckie moves awfully slow. I love the fact that there’s a quote from the programmer on the game’s Wikipedia page apologizing for the game; apparently he was given all of a weekend to program it and it shows. F

More Info: Chase the Chuckwagon on Wikipedia.

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checkers_atari_video_game_activisionCheckers (Activision, 1980)

I spent way more time playing Activision Checkers in preparing for this review than I ever intended, and I guess that’s a good sign because I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game this much. Checkers and chess always make me feel like a complete moron; I’m hopeless at chess and can at best manage a stalemate at checkers. Despite my continuing incompetence, this version of checkers had me hooked. I think the whole early Activision presentation – from the packaging to the programmer tips (Alan Miller in this case) to the game itself – evokes a warm, encouraging play atmosphere that reels me in to this day. The graphics are simple (blue and black board, red and white pieces) but attractive. Unsurprisingly, this being one of Activision’s four launch titles, there aren’t a lot of perks (there are no graphic or sound indicators letting you know the game is over – like in real life, it just ends, although no one knocks the board over in frustration). But it’s a good, solid game of checkers that should provide for a variety of skill levels. B

More Info: Checkers on the Atari Age database.

For current listings of Checkers for sale on eBay, click here

chinasyndrome_atari_spectravisionChina Syndrome (Spectravision, 1982)

I’m not sure if this game is a direct licensed tie-in with the 1979 movie China Syndrome starring Michael Douglas and his beard, but like the movie it does take place in a nuclear reactor. China Syndrome works kind of like a reverse Reactor, except instead of bouncing the nuclear particles against the reactor your goal is to capture them with a robotic claw. Seeing as these particles are the size of single VCS pixels, this isn’t exactly easy to do. Making matters worse is the particles split in two when they hit the reactor and by a certain point it feels like you’re playing an insane game of pinball in multiball mode, only with far less control. This game will give you hell, but give it a chance and you may find it’s a lot of fun. A few things prevent it from getting a higher grade, however. The screen is divided into three red, blue and yellow reactor zones with same-colour particles. When you find your robot trying to catch a particle in between two of these zones (which is often), your claw doesn’t work. Also, when you lose, the game subjects you to an interminable meltdown sequence in which the screen slowly fades to red. You cannot simply restart the game unless you hit the select button and go back to your desired variation. Missile Command knew how to get its apocalypse over with quickly so you could try again. B-

More Info: China Syndrome on the Atari Age database.

For current listings of China Syndrome for sale on eBay, click here

choppercommandatarigameactivisionChopper Command (Activision, 1982)

Although it didn’t quite attain 2600 Pac-Man notoriety, gamers back in 1982 cried foul when Atari released its port of the popular Williams arcade title Defender. They complained that the controls were complicated and non-intuitive (a necessary evil considering the button-heavy design of the original, albeit one that would be fixed with Stargate aka Defender II). Most of all, though, they complained that the game was just too easy; players were easily able to exploit a glitch that made the ship invisible – and thus invincible – when firing. As a result, Chopper Command became something of a consolation prize. The Defender-style side-scroller’s controls were tailored to the Atari 2600, there was little to no flicker and – for better or for worse – it (over?) corrected Defender’s folly by becoming insanely hard in later levels and difficult variants. Trust me: these levels are no joke. Fighter jets gladly kamikaze right into you and those crazy splitter bombs become harder and harder to avoid. The best you can do is use your continuous fire and approach enemies as carefully as possible. Chopper Command will kick your ass six ways from Sunday but it’s a real hoot. A-

More Info: Chopper Command on Atari Age.

For current listings of Chopper Command for sale on eBay, click here

chucknorrissuperkicks_atari2600gameChuck Norris Superkicks aka Kung Fu Superkicks (Xonox, 1983)

Fans of 2005’s most popular Internet meme will be pleased to find out that martial arts master/action movie hero/right-wing lunatic Chuck Norris has his very own video game called Chuck Norris Superkicks. Or at least he did until the licence expired and the game became plain ol’ Kung Fu Superkicks. Well, the game by either name is an ambitious, if not necessarily very good, attempt at a martial arts fighting game on the Atari 2600 long before the likes of Street Fighter. The pros: there are a variety of seemingly simple moves that take some work to master. Each group of enemies has a weak point that can be exploited by a specific move, so best keep your manual handy so you know which moves to use on which group. The cons: The game is timed for really no good reason and accidentally walking into the forest areas on your way to a melee deducts that time. Also, you spend half of your time during melees chasing after your enemy, making it easy for him to get you with a throwing star. However, it is awfully satisfying when you do make a connection because you literally send the bad guy flying off the screen. Chuck Norris Superkicks was okay but I doubt I’ll be playing it again any time soon. C

More Info: Chuck Norris Superkicks on Atari Age.

For current listings of Chuck Norris Superkicks for sale on eBay, click here

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