Mr. Do! (Coleco, 1983)
(Disclaimer 04/08/2018: I’m not happy with this review in retrospect. In fact, I recently wrote a whole feature about it. I’m leaving the original review alone, however, because it was my first impression of Mr. Do! for the Atari 2600.)
Mr. Do! was a pleasant surprise for me. I had it figured for a Dig Dug ripoff, but it’s actually much more than that. It’s also an admirable adaptation of a very animated arcade game; Coleco wasn’t always on-point when it came to its arcade translations but with Mr. Do! they did quite well.
As Mr. Do you plow through soil – Dig Dug-style – in order to harvest cherries. For reasons that are never made clear, there are a host of transforming “Badguys” (that description is right from the manual) for you to crush with rocks or hit with your power ball. You have to be careful with the power ball because an errant shot can leave you defenceless until it catches back up with you. Also, the game only allows you to use the ball a couple of times in a row before it starts increasing the time between uses.
I liked the game’s approach to the enemies. The Badguys – who cannot mow through the soil – can without warning turn into Blue Chompers that can. In turn, the Chompers can transform into Alphamonsters that you can hit with your power ball to spell “EXTRA.” Being a huge pinball fan, I’m always a sucker for game mechanics that require you to spell something for a reward, in this case an extra life.
Mr. Do! is a highly challenging game (much more so than Dig Dug, in fact) of timing and strategy. Although it’s obviously impossible to capture the cartoony graphics of the original, Coleco did a pretty good job of including as many elements of the music and graphics as possible. A very underrated arcade port. B+
Mr. Do!’s Castle (Parker Brothers, 1984)
Although released by Parker Brothers, Mr. Do!’s Castle was actually designed by Coleco before it exited the industry. It also highlights what a frustratingly inconsistent game developing company Coleco could be, at least in terms of its adaptations for the 2600. As pointed out above, the original Mr. Do! for the 2600 – also developed by Coleco – was a very solid interpretation of the arcade original. Mr. Do!’s Castle is just a mess; key gameplay elements are either missing or hard to identify, the control is sluggish and it is all around just not very fun.
The goal of Mr. Do!’s Castle is to eliminate home-invading unicorns by digging holes and trapping them Space Panic-style. There are supposedly keys and cherries to collect but God knows I couldn’t find them. Maybe I just didn’t get far enough in the game, but quite frankly I just got plain bored. That’s a really bad sign considering I’ve sat through lots and lots of awful games in order to give them a thorough review, but sometimes I just get a feeling a game is not going to get better and I jump ship.
The controls are frustrating. You have to place your “lead foot” (manual description; what is this – dancing?) in between blocks in order to use your hammer. Similarly, it’s hard to know when and where to exit a ladder. Speaking of ladders, you’re supposed to be able to move them around, but I found this feature very inconsistent.
Mr. Do!’s Castle feels unfinished, almost like Coleco’s video game wing went out of business before it could finish it and Parker Brothers decided to pick it up and release it anyway. It’s a shame because it had plenty of potential to be a really fun game. As it is, the only thing it has in its favour is the music, which Coleco clearly put more effort into than anything else in the game. D-
Ms. Pac-Man (Atari, 1982)
Can we just come to a consensus that on virtually every platform, Ms. Pac-Man has always been the better game than Pac-Man? It’s virtually redundant to say that 2600 Ms. Pac-Man is miles and miles better than its 2600 predecessor – I’m sure every single reviewer of the game has said that same thing over the past 35 years. But we often forget that Ms. Pac-Man – even in its arcade incarnation – was already the perfect video game sequel even though its only new features were varying mazes, different intermissions, more colour and moving fruit. But it made all the difference. It’s the superior sequel to an already great game, it’s The Empire Strikes Back to Pac-Man’s Star Wars. Even in 1982 you were more likely to find a Ms. Pac-Man machine than a Pac-Man; that continued up until the very point arcades themselves ceased to exist (seriously, I’m hard-pressed to think of one that didn’t have a Ms. Pac-Man, even in the dying days of arcades).
I almost feel like I’m waffling on my actual review of Atari 2600 Ms. Pac-Man. The short version is I absolutely adore it and I want to give it an A+ so badly. At the same time I worry that I’m letting my long history with and admiration for the cart affect my objectivity. There is a lot to like about 2600 Ms. Pac-Man; it really does play much like the arcade original (albeit a trifle easier); the only thing of consequence that it lacks is the intermissions.
On the other hand, let’s face it: gamers have a lot of options out there if they want to play Ms. Pac-Man. Heck, it’s not unusual even today to find a Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine out in the wild. And 2600 Ms. Pac-Man does have its faults. For one, what’s up with the blue background? Unlike 2600 Pac-Man, it looks okay but why not just use the arcade game’s colour template? Secondly, and I realize that this comes down to hardware limitations, but the blinkiness of the monsters can still be awfully distracting.
So, I guess the only way to properly pass judgment on it is to consider it in its context as a 2600 game. If you’re planning on developing a well-rounded 2600 collection, Ms. Pac-Man is a must-have. If you just want to play Ms. Pac-Man, there are other readily-available options that are closer to the arcade version (the NES alone has two separate Ms. Pac-Man titles). A
My Golf (HES, Europe-only, 1990)
The Atari 2600 struggled with its sports titles throughout its existence. The first wave ranged from mildly enjoyable (the original Golf) to campily enjoyable (Basketball) to just this side of awful (Home Run, Football). The second wave in 1982 featured the one-two punch of Atari’s RealSports line and M-Network’s series of sports games. While a lot of these were of variable quality as well, these titles were generally a step ahead of what came out between 1977 and 1981. Still, the 2600 never thrived as a sports platform; there simply weren’t enough controls to adequately emulate complicated, strategy-heavy sports.
So it’s surprising to see a late-period cartridge successfully capture much of the complexity of the game of golf. My Golf is HES’ one-and-only release for the 2600 and probably offers as comprehensive of a game of golf as could be expected from the system. You have a full range of club choice, a well-rounded 18 holes with a full range of obstacles, selectable direction and distance, as well as wind and yards-to-go indicators. Atari’s original 1980 Golf had some of those things, but it was also big and blocky and ugly with a HUGE player taking up about an eighth of the screen. My Golf innovates by keeping the player off the screen completely until it’s his time to play, at which point he takes a position below the overhead course viewer. By this point you know which club you’re using and how far you are from the green with indicators on the course that can be adjusted to angle your shot – it’s not necessary to place the player avatar on the course itself.
I do not claim to enjoy golf very much either in real life or in the video realm, but I know enough about it to guess that serious video golf fans will likely prefer My Golf to Atari’s Golf, as enjoyable as the older game may be. B+
Name This Game (U.S. Games, 1982)
Name This Game is one of those titles (or in this case UNtitle – ha!) that has a backstory more interesting than the game itself. The title isn’t meant to be clever; U.S. Games actually tied a game-naming contest into its marketing, with the creator of the winning name promised a cool $10,000. As far as anyone knows, no one ever won the contest because U.S. Games folded not long after the game’s release. Considering the game has been pretty obscure ever since its publication, my guess is this gimmick didn’t help sales much.
Name This Game is an underwater shooter in which you protect treasure on the ocean floor by shooting, with an unlimited supply of spears, the tentacles of a massive octopus at the top of the screen and sharks that swim down at you from left to right. Your oxygen is limited, so you have to regularly touch an oxygen line that a guy in a speedboat drops down to you periodically. As you might expect, the sharks and tentacles move faster as the game progresses and your opportunities to grab the oxygen line diminish.
The good news is that Name This Game looks and sounds really good. The shark is particularly well-rendered and even seems to smile a little when he captures you in his mouth. There’s a nice little ditty that plays at the beginning of the game – something that is often welcome on the frequently sound-sparse 2600. The bad news is that the game is monotonous and does not offer much in the way of challenge even in the harder variations. For all of its attempts to be clever, Name This Game is little more than a bog-standard overhead shooter. Maybe THAT should have been the name of the game. D+