Gingerbread Man (Homebrew, 2007)
Gingerbread Man is without a doubt the hardest Atari 2600 game I’ve ever played. Programmer Fred Quimby ignored the tried-and-tested strategy of easing the player into the gameplay, opting instead to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the player. And yet, despite that, the game is incredibly fun.
The first level of the multilevel platformer has your G-man taking out fireballs with cookies (no, it doesn’t make any sense). Jumping over the fireballs is extremely difficult and must be timed perfectly. Successfully tossing a cookie at a fireball is more a matter of luck than skill, and the game has a maddening tendency to make you double-jump when you only need a single, more often than not throwing you directly into danger. The level ends when you’ve destroyed all five fireballs.
After that I have little idea, as I’ve yet to earn the distinction of beating the first level. I do know from watching a YouTube video that each level has different objectives, and if nothing else that curiosity is going to keep me playing. And that’s the Catch-22 of Gingerbread Man – it requires the patience of a saint and may cause you to curse the obscure name of Fred Quimby, but after all the weeping and gnashing of teeth it’s a hell of an enjoyable game. While the graphics are rudimentary, the music is absolutely delightful. If you like NES-style platformers and are willing to invest some time, Gingerbread Man is the game for you. B-
As an aside, although I’ve included the eBay link to Gingerbread Man below, in this case I encourage you to visit the AtariAge store to purchase it directly. I’m assuming that way the content creator will benefit from the sale directly. I feel a little hypocritical considering I played Gingerbread Man via a free ROM (which is also available through AtariAge), but let’s face it: nothing beats playing Atari 2600 games on the actual hardware. I’m just hoping to get on my feet financially so I can eventually support the homebrew community to the extent I’d like.
(P.S.: Since I originally wrote this review, I’ve discovered a so-called “children’s variant” in the game that is much easier than the default. Regardless of any prejudice you might have towards “teddy bear variants” I highly recommend you start off with it – it’s still by no means easy but it is mercifully slower.)
Glacier Patrol (Telegames, 1989)
Programmed in the early ‘80s but only released in 1989, Glacier Patrol wasn’t worth the wait. Your job is to shoot down parachuting blocks of ice with your heat ray as a looming spaceship attempts to build an icy barrier around Earth. On the default variant, snowballs will occasionally roll towards you – you must make the completely non-intuitive move of pulling back on the joystick to jump over the snowball to avoid being temporarily incapacitated. I strongly suggest sticking to the default setting because without those snowballs keeping you on your toes Glacier Patrol gets very tedious very quickly. Although I will admit that the game tries to put a spin on the standard slide-and-shoot mechanic, there’s just not enough here to justify long-term gameplay. D+
Glib (Selchow & Righter, 1983)
I love word games. Give me a good game of Scrabble or the Words with Friends app and I’m a happy man. So in that respect I may be a little biased towards Glib. There are a number of game variations in Glib, but the basic goal is to form words from the row of tiles at the top, get points Scrabble-style, and then reshuffle the top tiles. Other variants won’t let you reshuffle the tiles you haven’t used while others constantly change the letters in the top row. Like Scrabble, there are double- and triple-score tiles to aim for. Glib is certainly not a perfect word game; for one thing, the blocky 2600 pixels causes “v’s” to look like “u’s” and “s” to look like the number five. Not surprisingly, it has no internal dictionary so you can easily cheat if playing by yourself and you’d best have a dictionary on hand if playing against a friend. Still, Glib is a primitive but surprisingly enjoyable game for word nerds like myself. C+
Go Fish! (Homebrew, 2005)
Another homebrew, but this time one with the opposite problem from Gingerbread Man above: Go Fish! is just too easy. Similar to the Intellivision classic Shark! Shark!, Go Fish! puts you in the persona of a small fish in a big ocean. Your goal is to eat same-size or smaller fish until you grow enough to eat bigger fish. There have certainly been better games with the same premise in recent years; the Xbox 360 included a de facto update of Shark! Shark! (I can’t remember its name offhand) that was quite fun. By comparison, Go Fish! seems very slow and linear. It’s by no means a total disaster; it’s fun in small doses and it’s nice to have at least a semi-port of Shark! Shark! for the 2600 (funny how M-Network seemed to port the Intellivision games few Atari owners asked for but failed to do so for the one we wanted). However, if you want to experience any kind of challenge at all, set your difficulty level to “A.” C-
Golf (Atari, 1980)
Coming at the very end of Atari’s 2K game era, there’s no getting around the fact that Golf looks like ass. Although it may look terrible, it’s a surprisingly playable interpretation of early video game golf. The oversize player may look like it’s threatening to engulf the whole screen, but it’s actually fairly flexible and can manage a wide variety of shots. I like the fact that you can practice swing to your heart’s content without costing you a stroke – if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to do this in order to wrap your head around shooting from the game’s awkward overhead vantage point. As to be expected, there are trees, water traps and sand traps to thwart you. The “B” difficulty causes the ball to stop just outside the rough and the cup to be bigger, while playing in the “A” position makes you fight your way out of the rough and the cup to be smaller. I think you’ll find the “B” difficulty will provide plenty of challenge for quite some time. Golf captures all of the patience-trying virtues of real-life golf. Although I enjoyed my fair share of the golf game in WiiSports, I’ve never been a huge fan of either virtual or real-life golf, so I doubt I’ll be playing this version often. Fans of video golf, however, may be pleased to know there is a playable – albeit primitive – version of the game for the 2600. C
More Info: Golf on AtariAge. For current listings of Golf for sale on eBay, click here