Atari 2600 Game Reviews: Maze Craze through Midnight Magic

MazeCraze_AtariGameMaze Craze: A Game of Cops ‘n Robbers (Atari, 1978)

Sometimes I think I should change the name of this blog to “The Lonely Atari Gamer” due to the difficulty I have reviewing two-player games, the result of having no opponent. The good news is I will soon have my Atari 2600 hardware repaired and will revisit some of these two-player games with the hopeful cooperation of my wife. But for right now I have to work with what I got.

Maze Craze is – as you may have already guessed – a two-player game in which you compete with a friend to see who can escape a maze first. But it’s much, much more than that. Although the packaging touts 16 game variations, in reality there are many more when you consider all the sub-variations and the infinite possibilities of the randomly-generated mazes. If nothing else, Maze Craze is never the same game twice, and that’s likely a big reason why it has become something of a fan favourite. You can play games where you capture robbers, avoid robbers, speed yourself up, slow yourself down and literally black out entire sections of the screen.

That’s all well and good, but the question is, is it any fun? Having only the one-player experience to vouch for, I can only say sort of. The capture variations are easily the most fun to play on your own, but Maze Craze is truly a two-player game and the only real metric for winning is beating your human opponent. I think this game has potential, but for the time being I’m going to have to give it a C – my standard grade for any game for which I lack crucial information.

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

MegaForce_AtariGameMega Force (20th Century Fox, 1982)

20th Century Fox video games had easy access to movie licenses and wasn’t afraid to use them, as we can see with the existence of Alien, Porky’s and Fantastic Voyage (surprised Parker Brothers beat them to the punch with the Star Wars license considering Fox released the first six films of that series). Mega Force is a tie-in to a sci-fi movie few people have heard of, although it was marketed heavily to kids back in 1982. Never saw the movie, but the video game is a lot better than I expected.

A side-scrolling shooter in the vein of Defender and Chopper Command, Mega Force has you defending a city on the left side of the playfield while travelling to an enemy base to destroy it. Similar to Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man, Mega Force features a double attack firing system in which you fire lasers or whatnot on the upper half of the screen and bombs on the bottom half. Strangely enough, you can destroy your own city for points but if you do so you won’t be able to score any more for the rest of the level. You have to keep track of your fuel storage, but shooting or bombing select enemies (as well as fuel cells) can help replenish your reserves.

Mega Force features a wide range of difficulty and is on par with its label’s generally high standards. It does bug me a little that the game lifts graphics directly from other games (in this case the escape pod from Atlantis and Cosmic Ark and the fuel cells from River Raid), but hey, Imagic hasn’t existed for decades and I highly doubt Activision cares anymore. Otherwise, Mega Force is an above-average side-scrolling shooter that is well worth checking out. B-

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

Megamania_AtariGameMegamania (Activision, 1982)

Megamania is a dark, gritty AAA reboot of the classic Mega Man series, in which our titular Man encounters a bout of existential ennui in a post-apocalyp

Megamania is a diamond in the rough among its lowly genre, that being Space Invaders-style slide-and-shooters. “What?” you may inquire. “Space Invaders is awesome – how dare you impugn the virtue of Space Invaders?” Well, son, you’re right – Space Invaders is an amazing game that changed video games for the better forever. Galaxian and Galaga were also great expansions on its basic gameplay.

All those games hold up today, but the genre got very old very fast, kind of like how first-person shooters have today for anyone over the age of nine. So by 1982, slide-and-shooters were fodder for parody, and that is essentially what Megamania is: a spoof of the standard aliens-drop-bombs-on-you video game. Yes, I would agree with others who say that the game is gimmicky what with its barely-identifiable hamburgers, tires, fuzzy dice and whatnot but the differentiating factor is truly the gameplay.

In fact, I would say Megamania is almost like an omnibus space shooter similar to Gorf (except unlike the 2600 port of that game, it doesn’t suck). In some levels your targets descend upon you slowly in a warped kind of Space Invaders way, while in others fuzzy dice rain down on you similar to Astroblast/smash. It’s a game that requires multiple strategies as you progress, which gives it an element of play depth not common to the genre.

Best of all, to me, is that Megamania offers a reasonable challenge. There’s no doubt it can get frustrating, especially with the awkward patterns of some of the objects. But the good news is there are patterns you can figure out – it’s not all just so much randomness. Megamania deserves its place in the pantheon of the best slide-and-shooter games of all time. A

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

Meltdown_AtariGameMeltdown (20th Century Fox Prototype, Developed 1983)

Wow – this game is a rush. Despite being a prototype, Meltdown is a fully-playable game that missed official release by a fraction (apparently there were advertisements mocked up and everything) and that’s a shame because had it been released it would have gone down in history as one of Fox’s best titles.

The Meltdown playfield is a four-by-four display of atoms. A “quark” goes around these atoms removing their electrons and destabilizing them. Using your stabilizer on the x-axis and your cadmium on the y-axis, you attempt to target these quarks by hitting them in the right place on the graph, but that’s not easy because those little buggers hop around really fast. By later levels the playfield turns into pure insanity and half the time you’re just firing blindly, but still strangely enough having a blast doing it.

For those who like their video game challenges to be blindingly fast, Meltdown is the game for you. A hidden gem that deserved an official release. B+

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

MidnightMagic_AtariGameMidnight Magic (Atari, 1988)

Some people consider Midnight Magic to be a corrective to Atari’s earlier Video Pinball. Personally, I enjoy Video Pinball more even if it only resembles pinball in the most abstract sense (I most appreciate its loosey-goosey approach to tilting). However, there’s no doubt that Midnight Magic better emulates pinball on the 2600. It has all the features you would expect from a real pinball machine of the era, including drop targets, bumpers, rollovers, a spinner as well as lane kickers and two sets of flippers. Things really get cooking when you send the ball through the spinner – which is very nicely animated, by the way – into the bank of bumpers. Hitting all five drop targets increases your multiplier with a change of table colour to match. The “B” difficulty sets up kickers in the draining lanes while the “A” setting causes you to earn the kickers by hitting a specific drop target.

The only real complaint I have about Midnight Magic is the soft control – you need to hit the ball at the very end of the flipper to make it do anything, which is unlike any real-life pinball game I’ve ever played. Another more minor quibble is the lack of tilting (although I swear sometimes it does work if you do a Video Pinball-style tilt move, but that could just be my imagination). Otherwise, this is the closest you’re going to get to real-life pinball on the 2600. Spectravision’s Bumper Bash comes close, but Midnight Magic is much easier to find. B

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

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