Atari 2600 Game Reviews (plus a request): Gas Hog through Ghostbusters 2

gashog_atarigame

Gas Hog (Spectravision, 1983)

You like Moon Patrol, right? Sure – everyone does. While it’s disguised as an unconventional space shooter, it was really one of the first side-scrolling platformers (think about it – doesn’t the memorization involved in knowing when and where to jump your buggy remind you a little of Super Mario Bros?). Now, take away all of the strategy, level variety and visual charm of Moon Patrol (even in comparison to the 2600 version) and add the control of a sloppy wet fart and you have Gas Hog. If Spectravision was trying to imitate Moon Patrol (and it’s pretty clear they were) why, for example, are there satellites above you that shoot down on you but you can’t shoot back at? That’s a major problem right there, but the biggest issue with Gas Hog is that there’s no real endgame – no levels to complete, just shoot at stuff, collect points (yes, the game has actual numerical points that you touch, which would be fine if accidentally shooting them didn’t decrease your score) and grab fuel cells. The control is atrocious – jumping from the bottom to the top level (you can only get the fuel on the bottom) frequently causes you to collide with an enemy ship. Borderline unplayable. Little bit of trivia for the interested: apparently this is quite a rare game that was sold mainly in Canada. We got hosed, eh? D

More Info: Gas Hog on AtariAge. For current listings of Gas Hog for sale on eBay, click here

garfield_atarigameGarfield (Atari Prototype, 1983)

This isn’t a review – more a request. Does anyone know where I can get a working ROM of this game? The one I got off AtariAge only comes up with a blank screen. Apparently the only copy belongs to the programmer so buying it is out of the question.

gauntlet_atarigameGauntlet (Answer Software, 1983)

Wow – just wow. This review could literally read “Video game crash of 1983…shovelware…crappy cash-grab from a fly-by-night company” and it would entirely suffice. Let’s just say there’s a very tiny subgenre of 2600 games in which most of your job involves avoiding stationary objects (think the Texas Chainsaw Massacre game) but the games won’t even let you do that very well. That’s Gauntlet in a nutshell. Not surprisingly, it’s rated “unbelievably rare” on AtariAge (the very worst games tend to fall into that category) so only hardcore collectors need be bothered. I’m not even going to waste your time or mine providing a description of the gameplay. It’s just that bad. So bad, it’s half-tempting me to regrade previous “Fs” on a scale because even the worst games I’ve reviewed so far weren’t this lousy. Even Basic Math is more fun. F

More Info: Gauntlet on AtariAge. For current listings of Gauntlet for sale on eBay, click here

ghostmanor_atarigameGhost Manor (Xonox, 1983)

I’ve said before that I tend to have a bias towards games I owned as a kid, but that’s not to say all of my collection has held up over time. Case in point: Ghost Manor. Ghost Manor is unique among 2600 titles in that it features five unique stages, four of which each have a distinct objective. As the title implies, it’s a haunted house game in which you rescue your boy/girlfriend (your gender and your sig-fig’s can be changed with a flick of the color/b&w switch) from the bloody maws of Dracula. The first stage has you collecting spears with the help of a friendly ghost or skeleton, while the second (the most visually striking of the piece) requires you to shoot a variety of ghosts and ghouls with your spears while avoiding the axe of a homicidal mummy.

From there you proceed into the castle where there are two stages in which you search for crosses buried in coffins. These tend to be the most difficult levels as you are constantly avoiding a moving wall while traversing the complex mazes (the maze walls also slow you down if you touch them). Upon reaching Dracula’s lair, you use the crosses you collected to repel the master vampire and rescue your beloved.

And then – it just ends. The mission doesn’t start again at a higher difficulty setting – it’s over. Games with a beginning, middle and an end would become common in a few years hence, but the problem with Ghost Manor is it’s just too short. In fact, you have to finish the game in less than four minutes or else you lose. Sure, there are three other game difficulty settings to explore once you master the easiest one, but the abruptness at which the game ended took me aback – it wasn’t something I remembered from back in the day.

Other than that, it’s not a bad game. Like I mentioned, the second stage (set outside the castle) is particularly impressive; the mummy is exceptionally-animated and its axe makes a realistic sound as it hits the ground. Higher difficulty settings present quite a challenge with the coffin rooms rendered pitch-black with only the occasional flicker of light.

Ghost Manor is an acceptable title that was a little ahead of its time but not good enough to stand the test of it. C+

More Info: Ghost Manor on AtariAge. For current listings of Ghost Manor for sale on eBay, click here

ghostbusters_atarigameGhostbusters (Activision, 1985)

I’ve been dreading my review of Ghostbusters based on the Angry Video Game Nerd’s video featuring the NES version. Apparently, the 2600 version is a little better, but that still doesn’t mean it’s very good. Although graphically decent and technically and sonically impressive (the movie’s theme song is featured prominently), Ghostbusters’ gameplay leaves a lot to be desired.

It all gets a little convoluted, but your basic goal is to travel the city collecting slimers using your traps and streams (anyone who’s seen the movie – and who hasn’t? – will know what I’m talking about). This is a complicated maneuver where two ‘busters attempt to capture the floating slimer as it passes over a trap. Failing to capture the ghost after deploying the trap will cause the slimer to kill one of your men. Although the manual makes a big deal out of not crossing the streams (justified, considering the fact that doing so will kill both your ‘busters), I’m not sure if the streams even play a role in this process. Either way, waiting for the ghost to get in the desired position often requires a lot of patience and tends to become tedious.

The biggest problem with Ghostbusters is that it feels and plays more like a computer game (which makes sense as it debuted on the Commodore 64). The 2600’s control limitations render the game a frustrating experience – there’s a point in gameplay where you suddenly have to hit the difficulty switch in order to deal with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, for example. Employing the switch bank in gameplay has worked on some games (notably Starmaster) but here it’s just maddening because it comes right in the middle of the action. Basically, Ghostbusters is a fun game to watch and listen to but not necessarily to play. A rare misstep from programmer David Crane. D+

More Info: Ghostbusters on AtariAge. For current listings of Ghostbusters for sale on eBay, click here

ghostbusters2_atarigameGhostbusters II (Salu, 1992)

My biggest question about Ghostbusters II is why it even exists. Released in Europe three years past any potential marketing connection with the movie sequel of the same name and for a system about to be mothballed for good, Ghostbusters II doesn’t even seem to have anything to do with ghostbusting at all. Gameplay-wise, the best I could establish from the manual is that you’re spelunking for slime for some reason. There are various weapons that can be used against ghosts and the exasperating hand that picks away at your rope, but trying to learn how to use them made my eyes glaze over. The graphics are blocky and the entire playfield only takes up a small portion at the center of the screen. This is a terrible game, made all the more frustrating by the fact that it was actually programmed by Activision. Between their port of Double Dragon and this thing it’s clear that the company had abandoned quality control over their 2600 releases at some point. But if you’re going to put such little effort into them, why continue producing games for the dying console? At least the first Ghostbusters game, for all its faults, had a direct connection to the film. F

More Info: Ghostbusters II on AtariAge. For current listings of Ghostbusters II for sale on eBay, click here

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