Atari 2600 Game Reviews: Road Runner through Rocky and Bullwinkle

RoadRunner_AtariGameRoad Runner (Atari, 1989)

Road Runner is a port of a head-scratchingly obscure 1985 arcade game by Atari, which in turn was based on the Warner Bros Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon shorts. Like Popeye, Road Runner was practically a video game cartoon, with lush graphics and the wacky antics of its source material intact. Although the 2600 version – one of the last titles Atari released for the system – plays a little bit differently from the arcade, it’s still a pretty good rendition.

Road Runner features eight stages of the smartass bird on the run from the hapless coyote, although as you might imagine he has quite a bit more luck here than in the cartoon world. Eating birdseed gives your bird an extra burst of energy to help put distance between you and Wile E., but watch out for oncoming trucks, boulders and other obstacles. What’s really fun is leading Wile E. into an obstacle, causing him to have a very familiar, cartoonish reaction.

The game becomes more randomized – and more difficult – with every consecutive level. There are times when it’s actually beneficial to keep Wile E. on the screen; if he disappears off the screen in the third level, for example, he’ll come back on a speeding rocket bike.

The NES version of Road Runner plays more like the arcade (I’ll probably do an entry on the game in my 2600 versus NES comparison series one of these days), but this is still a really fun, addictive and charming game. It’s a rare title but not so rare that you can’t find it for a reasonable price. Highly recommended. A-

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

RobinHood_AtariGameRobin Hood (Xonox, 1983)

I really need to stop reading the Video Game Critic before writing a review. I often (but far from always) agree with he/she/they but I also wonder if the points raised there become self-fulfilling prophecy. However, I have to agree with VGC’s assessment of Robin Hood and Xonox games in general: they look great, but their game design usually leaves something to be desired. That said, there is a germ of a good game in Robin Hood and once you work around its quirks it can be moderately enjoyable.

Armed with an often woefully-insufficient sixteen arrows, Robin’s adventure begins in Sherwood Forest where you must shoot at least eleven of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s goons. The henchmen spawn at random anywhere on the screen (including right on top of you) and Robin himself tends to move very slowly. If that wasn’t troublesome enough, your Merry Men materialize on the screen in the same way and if you’re not careful you can wind up shooting one of them as well, resulting in the loss of one of your own lives.

For whatever reason, you can only shoot left and right, which is frustrating at first but can be used to your advantage by kneecapping or head-shooting henchmen before they can get a bead on you. A neat feature is the way their arrows disappear in mid-flight if you hit them first, but don’t rely on it because their shots fly VERY fast. The following stage involves getting into the castle by first shooting six more of the sheriff’s men and entering via a drawbridge. And then, at least in my experience, you lose all of your arrows and attempt to rescue Maid Marian while being shot at.

Like most if not all of Xonox’s titles, Robin Hood was made available both as a single cartridge and paired with another game (in this case Sir Lancelot or Super Kung Fu) as a “double ender” – a term I’ve always found vaguely transgressive for some reason. I’ve often wondered if Xonox chose this method because they couldn’t move their titles as single games. Anyway, Robin Hood is an okay game once you get the hang of it, and it is certainly challenging, but it’s just too “blah” to warrant a very high recommendation. C

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

RobotTank_AtariGameRobot Tank (Activision, 1983)

Way back in my review of Battlezone I declared that Atari-produced port my favourite over Activision’s competitive Robot Tank, but recent plays of the latter have caused me to reconsider. Robot Tank is basically Battlezone with some crucial differences. For one, the time of day and weather changes, and not just cosmetically; battling tanks in the dark, for instance, creates some unique challenges Battlezone never had. The enemy tanks move super-fast, creating a real arcade-like experience. Getting hit doesn’t always necessarily mean the loss of a tank, but it can compromise your viewer, radar, treads and cannon. The ability to dodge enemy shots simply by swivelling out of the way takes away from the game’s realism a bit, but Robot Tank is hard enough that this feature can be really helpful. Robot Tank is a compelling and consistently exciting game with a surprising amount of gameplay depth. Although I still love Atari’s Battlezone, I’m willing to call it a tie between it and Robot Tank for first-person tank game supremacy on the Atari 2600. A

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

RocNRope_AtariGame

Roc ‘N Rope (Coleco, 1984)

Roc ‘N Rope, ported to the Atari 2600 by Coleco, is based on a semi-obscure arcade game by Konami. Coleco’s VCS ports were a mixed bag, being very rarely amazing but almost always at least decent (with the possible exception of their dire version of Donkey Kong Junior). However, their titles often had an unfinished quality that gave the player a sense they could have been done better with just a little more effort. Roc ‘N Rope is a perfect example of this.

The game is a cross between Donkey Kong and Pac Man with some nifty new features thrown in. You play an archeologist on a quest for the Golden Roc (a phoenix-like bird in the arcade version but more of a yellow turkey in the form at hand). To do this you must fire ropes to climb upwards between platforms filled with dangerous dragons and cavemen. There are magic eggs placed throughout the playfield that make you temporarily able to kill your enemies. Otherwise, you can momentarily stun them with your trusty flashlight. There are three unique levels in the game, but their differences are largely cosmetic.

From what I can tell from the YouTube video linked above (I’ve never actually played the arcade game), the port captures the basic gameplay of arcade Rock ‘N Rope, if not the level design. The music is also quite catchy and well-done for the 2600. That’s the good news. The bad news is the controls are simply maddening to get the hang of, the dragons and cavemen frequently spawn out of nowhere (not a problem I noticed with the arcade version) and the graphics – while understandably inferior to the arcade – have that unique half-assed, unfinished look of so many Coleco titles for the VCS.

Rock ‘N Rope is based on a neat concept but is undone by its frustrating controls. It can be enjoyable with enough practice, but I’m not sure the reward is equal to the effort. C-

More Info: Roc ‘N Rope on AtariAge. For current listings of Roc ‘N Rope for sale on eBay, click here

RockyAndBullwinkle_AtariGameRocky and Bullwinkle (M Network Prototype, Developed 1983)

Rocky and Bullwinkle is a game that had a lot of potential but also has a lot of faults. That is generally understandable for a prototype, but apparently the game was ready to go before Mattel cancelled it for whatever reason (given the year, probably something to do with the Crash). Based on the classic ‘60s cartoon, Rocky and Bullwinkle features the flying rodent catching valuables sent up in the air by Boris through the process of “upsidasium” and delivering them to Bullwinkle’s airplane.

Rocky can only carry one or two items depending on the variation; although he can bring any combination of items to Bullwinkle for points, only one combo will extend the timer. The timing system is very strange and frustrating; there are two timers: one that can be extended by delivering the right combination of items and another that gives you a minute no matter what you do. It doesn’t make any sense.

Visually the game is fine and features more moving objects than one is used to on the Atari 2600. Unfortunately, the programmers went a little crazy with this, creating a huge number of objects that make it hard for the player to match up the two Bullwinkle needs. There is also a variation that turns the objects into numbers that made little sense to me. Rocky and Bullwinkle is okay in small doses but lacks enough depth for long-term play. D+

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

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