Millipede (Atari, 1984)
Video game sequels are generally not judged by the same standards as movie sequels. With movie sequels, it’s often the kiss of death to simply make a sequel more of the same except bigger, louder and faster. With video games, this is an entirely acceptable – and possibly preferable – approach to making a sequel. Millipede fills all these categories: it’s basically the same game as Centipede, except it moves far faster, there are more enemies and – yes – it is a noisy beast. And it’s awesome.
Millipede may well be the most faithful arcade-to-home translation in the entire VCS library. There are the expected graphical liberties but otherwise this cart plays exactly like the coin-op version. It is quite flickery, but considering all the stuff going on at the same time (remember – the 2600 only has two sprites) I’m frankly surprised it’s not a lot worse.
Millipede adds a whole lot of new play elements to the standard Centipede game field, with easily my favourite being the addition of DDT bombs that can take out a whole centipede with one well-placed shot. Swarms of bees periodically arrive between waves and can be worth big points if you’re careful. By higher levels you’re fighting off a dizzying array of spiders, mosquitos, beetles, dragonflies and earwigs – each of which have their own unique ways of making your life miserable.
I liked the addition of the inch worm which, when hit, slows the on-screen action down for four seconds and, trust me, in a game this frenetic that makes a huge difference. Just like in the arcade version, you’re allowed to decide which score you would like to start out with, although be warned that the difficulty ramps up to match. My only complaint pertains to the blue levels, in which your cannon tends to get lost in a sea of non-contrasting colour. Otherwise, Millipede is big, dumb fun for the whole family. A-
Mind Maze (Atari Prototype, Developed 1984)
Mind Maze represents the worst creative idea Atari ever came up with and it’s a good thing it was never released commercially. It is essentially a guessing game in which you use ESP (I’m not kidding) to guess which picture the VCS has chosen as the “correct” one. Even if you believe in ESP, I always thought it referred to interaction between human minds, not a 128-byte computer. The “game” was intended to be used with Atari’s ultimately-unreleased Mindlink controller, a headset unit which Atari purported would read players’ forehead movements and translate them into game action (it gave test participants headaches, apparently). The only reason to check out Mind Maze is for its startlingly detailed graphics. I suppose there’s a lot more room for graphics when a game has no real AI to speak of.
Mine Sweeper (Homebrew, Year Unknown)
Well, it’s Mine Sweeper, the perennial favourite of Windows-using office drones everywhere, except now for your Atari 2600! Same basic game but this time in a five-by-six grid. You can choose anywhere from one to eight bombs for the playfield. Soren Gust (I assume that is the developer – his name is on the ROM file) did a good enough job with the limited material on hand. Mine Sweeper appears to be sold out through the usual channels but you might be able to find a rare copy on eBay. Personally, I have a hard time getting worked up about it, but apparently a lot of people like this simple, unchallenging game. C
Miner 2049er (Tigervision, 1983)
It’s rare for me to point out an individual programmer as a failure, but Bill Hogue, your version of Miner 2049er SUCKS! You’ve turned a game that on other consoles was a fun, fast-action Donkey Kong-style romp with elements of Pac-Man and made it mercilessly SLOW. Bounty Bob just moves so excruciatingly slow in this version and his ability to jump over mutants is more a matter of luck than anything else. To be fair, you’re given more time to complete a level than in other versions of the game, but if anything that just seems to draw the boredom out even more. Worst of all, when you die (which you will thanks to Bob’s questionable jumping ability) you have to start the screen all over again. Rule number one for any object-collecting game: NEVER make players have to collect those things all over again, especially when the protagonist is as slow as Bounty Bob is here. I don’t remember if that was the case with other versions of Miner 2049er I’ve played, but the difference is those games played much faster. This adaptation is closer to I Want My Mommy, which is not a good sign. The irony is that Miner 2049er is getting a worse grade than that title due to the higher expectations I had for it. F
((Update March 7, 2018. It has come to my attention that Bill Hogue, who I heavily criticized in this review, actually designed the other versions of Miner 2049er which I raved about. I guess you can’t win them all. Sorry Bill.))
Miner 2049er Volume II (Tigervision, 1983)
Just to expand my discussion of video game sequels in the Millipede review, video game sequels in the particular era at hand were also used to atone for some particularly egregious errors. An obvious example would be Atari 2600 Pac-Man – who but the most hardened among us could not forgive Atari for that horrid effort once we got the far-superior Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man (unfortunately, neither were enough to save the industry from the damage the original helped create)? Those dissatisfied with VCS Defender could assuage themselves with Defender II aka Stargate, albeit several years later. Even prior to that Activision released Chopper Command which, while not technically or legally a sequel, was a pretty decent Defender near-simulation. Good companies and good competition tend to fill in gaps in consumer demand.
Suffice it to say that Tigervision did not apply such principles to Miner 2049er Volume II. Sure, there are new levels, but they’re unplayable in the same way as those of its predecessor’s. Programmed by the same guy, Miner 2049er Volume II is still abysmally slow. Any potentially compelling new features, such as the scissor lift on the first level, are completely scuttled by the same old poor controls and sub-turtlelike movement. It’s particularly frustrating because just looking at the level designs gives you an idea of what a good game this could have been given some competent programming. So don’t torture yourself – move on and find another system on which to scratch your Miner 2049er itch. F