RealSports Tennis (Atari, 1983)
I usually do not start my reviews praising graphics, but with RealSports Tennis I feel I have to because this game is freakin’ gorgeous, whether we’re talking about Atari 2600 standards or not. The players move beautifully, the shadow underneath the ball is perfectly in sync, and the switching of sides between sets is a graphical treat. The musical cues and racket-and-ball sounds in general are pleasing to the ear. There’s a fun title screen in which the title realistically bounces, and – in a unique move for a 2600 game – you can even enter your name!
Gameplay-wise, the AI in the one-player mode is actually fairly decent, meaning you don’t have to find a partner in order for the cart to produce a reasonable simulation of tennis. All in all, it’s a step up from Activision’s 1981 Tennis (which is not an entirely fair comparison as that game was pretty advanced for its time). My only objective complaint against the game is that – at least in the one-player setting – it’s a little too easy on the “slow” variation when both you and the computer opponent are set to the “B” difficulty setting. For maximum challenge, I recommend playing a “fast” game with both sides set to “A”.
The only remaining negative comments are all me. I do not find tennis a particularly compelling game in real life or as a video game, so the long matches frankly bored me after a while. So, much the same as I have done with the 2600 boxing titles, I recommend giving RealSports Tennis a full letter grade above my own if you enjoy video tennis. B
RealSports Volleyball (Atari, 1982)
To hell with this game and to hell with RealSports – I’m glad this is the last one I have to deal with. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy this reviewing session introduced me to RealSports Soccer and RealSports Tennis, but for the most part this experience has been painful. And that describes RealSports Volleyball perfectly.
RealSports Volleyball is a two-on-two game of volleyball in which – at least in the one-player game – you move your two players in tandem. I really hate this; not only does it create a defensive hole in the middle of your side of the court, but I personally find it really hard to set and spike the ball with this system (actually, it’s pretty hard to spike the ball, period). The upside, I suppose, is that the other team moves in tandem as well, creating a defensive hole for you to exploit.
As with all the RealSports series, RealSports Volleyball features nice graphics, including a sun that actually sets and affects the shadow of the ball as it does. However, again like most of the series, the gameplay is weak and monotonous. D+
Reindeer Rescue (Homebrew, 2006)
This homebrew by Bob Montgomery and Nathan Strum is one of the most pleasant surprises for a self-published game that I’ve seen in a while. I’m not exactly sure what they call Reindeer Rescue’s style of scrolling platformer, but the playfield scrolls independently and you have to work to catch up. In any event, it’s surprisingly challenging.
Reindeer Rescue features you as Santa attempting to rescue all eight of your reindeer while jumping across all kinds of ice formations, many of which will force you off the screen if you find yourself on the wrong side of them. There are also all kinds of Christmas-y objects for you to collect for points or extra energy (Santa’s energy meter is represented by a string of Christmas lights, which is a nice touch). Santa’s jump mechanics are simply fantastic – you can move around in mid-air similar to Mario in raccoon mode. The graphics are simple but effective, with lots of Easter Egg-y things thrown into the background (no less than a Star Wars AT-AT in one case). And there’s a nice variety of Christmas songs to get you into the holiday spirit of the game.
Although the games are quite different in practice, Reindeer Rescue’s tone reminded me of Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle. And just like that game, it makes it just a touch too cutesy for a higher rating. However, I commend the effort the programmers put into this high-quality homebrew. B+ Reindeer Rescue can be purchased at the AtariAge Store.
Rescue Terra I (VentureVision, 1982)
Rescue Terra I had the potential to be an epic, Vanguard-style space shooter, and it is that to some extent. However, it’s hampered by poor collision detection and long, uninspiring levels that go nowhere in between brief moments of considerable challenge.
The game can be played two ways: as a mission or in variants that feature all of the mission enemies individually. Your enemies include meteors, space pirates, robot interceptors and “fish force fields.” You take on the first two with your ship facing down and the latter two from side-to-side (see what I mean about the Vanguard similarities?). The most tedious of these are the meteors; the most challenging the fish force fields which are so unique I’m at a loss as to how to even describe them.
The mission itself really does feel like a marathon and presents a substantial challenge to complete. However, there are such long periods of tedium that it takes away from the overall enjoyment of the game. There are long stretches in which you can just scroll over to the side of the screen and face little opposition.
The graphics are decent if nothing spectacular. I kept on seeing the meteors as the strawberries from Plaque Attack, albeit a little worse for the wear. The extremely rare Rescue Terra I was VentureVision’s sole release for the 2600, and as a singular effort it’s fairly impressive. As an overall gameplay experience, however, it’s a little bit wanting. C
Revenge of the Apes (Homebrew/Reproduction, 2003)
This review is possibly going to be my most egregious example ever of lavishing praise in one paragraph and then pulling the rug out from under everyone involved in the next. First the context: Revenge of the Apes has a particularly interesting history behind it. It’s a reproduction/update of original programmer John Marvin’s Planet of the Apes, an aborted 20th Century Fox project that for years was known in prototype trading circles as Alligator People. However, an investigation by Atari Protos’ Matt Reichert confirmed that the cart really was the long-whispered-about Planet of the Apes prototype based on the 1968 film.
So here’s the “I’d like to thank the Academy” paragraph for this collaborative effort. The game sports several gorgeous graphical flourishes such as a title screen, a level completion screen (a handsome rendering of the Statue of Liberty, natch) and a game over screen courtesy of Celal Kandemiroglu. Paul Slocum – “master of the Atari VCS sound chip” – contributed a kickass, explicitly John Carpenter-influenced new score. The game comes boxed with dazzling new artwork by Kandemiroglu, complete with 20th Century Fox Games of the Century iconography (minus the actual Fox logo, of course) and an era-accurate manual designed by Matt Reichart. Finally, Thomas Jentzch is responsible for amping up the gameplay with modified game variations and more complex maps.
Unfortunately, this segues into my “rug pulling” paragraph. Revenge of the Apes is still fundamentally the same largely-uninspiring run-and-gun map game as its predecessor. Despite completing several levels, I have yet to identify a pattern that gets you to the end screen – just like the original, it still feels more like a matter of chance than anything – perhaps even more so because the same screens are repeated even more. And Heaven help you if you get imprisoned (see my review of Planet for more details about gameplay). Because the repro moves so much faster, you can quickly find yourself using up a huge number of escapes in a row because the game tends to spawn you right in front of an enemy.
As the saying goes, I wouldn’t call the original proto a “turd” but it was something just about as hard to polish. It was a good effort, guys, but sorry; Apes – be it Planet of the or Revenge of the – is still a pretty crappy game. D+
Note: Revenge of the Apes no longer appears to be on sale in the AtariAge Store, although it has popped up on eBay occasionally. Keep track with the link below.