Sentinel (Atari, 1990)
Full disclosure: this is not so much a review as a placeholder for a future review. You see, Sentinel is one of the Atari 2600’s few light gun games. I possess neither the light gun nor an emulator that supports it, so I really can’t play the game in order to review it. I can say it looks really great though, but I can’t tell you much more than that. Sorry.
Shark Attack aka Lochjaw (Apollo, 1982)
Experiencing insomnia? Don’t take potentially harmful and addictive sleep medication – just play Games by Apollo’s Shark Attack. At first glance Shark Attack (known as Lochjaw upon its 1981 release before legal action of some kind forced a title change) looks like a Pac-Man-style maze game with the promise of all the basic entertainment inherent in that genre. However, the controls are sooooo sluggish that they wind up being the main enemy of the game, the titular shark merely an annoyance by comparison. And yet Apollo, in all their infinite wisdom, decided to include an option to make your scuba-diving man move even more lethargically. What’s worse is that your man does not move in a fixed, rail-like fashion around the maze a la Pac-Man or Lock ‘N’ Chase; instead you have eight-direction control. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if those same controls didn’t cause you to get caught on the maze walls continually. The audio – much like the graphics – contribute to the overall blah feeling of the game. Shark Attack is playable in the most basic sense but the question is why you would want to. D-
Shootin’ Gallery (Imagic, 1983)
Shootin’ Gallery is an old-school carnival game (much like, well, Carnival) with sounds and graphics that really pop, score multipliers galore and a surprising amount of strategy. My initial thought when I first played the game was that it was not as engaging as Carnival – a port disregarded by some but one I quite enjoy. However, a few more plays and it revealed itself to be quite an addictive little shooting gallery game and one that could act as an alternative to the more readily-available Carnival.
Just like the old-fashioned carnival game, Shootin’ Gallery features three levels of targets (four if you count the clock), with each successive level’s targets offering higher scores. Hitting the caboose of the train before the other cars rallies up some sweet points (5,000 by my count) and hitting the monkeys drives some nice multipliers. Extra bullets are earned every 20,000 points. Higher variations require you to shoot the clock before it runs out or else the clock’s cuckoo will eat your bullets like the ducks in Carnival. Shootin’ Gallery is a pleasant surprise and some of the most fun you can have whilst playing your Atari 2600 fully-clothed. A-
Shuttle Orbiter (Avalon Hill, 1983)
On the one hand, I’m glad games like Shuttle Orbiter and Activision’s Space Shuttle exist, if for no other reason than to prove that the Atari 2600 was capable of more than just the likes of Combat and Breakout (as much as I love those games). On the other, many space simulators – including Shuttle Orbiter – are products of their time. Think about it: in 1983, the first moon mission had only occurred 14 years prior – plenty of time for a space- and technology-enamored ten-year-old to grow up, get an education, become a computer programmer and still have a massive jones for space exploration. The problem is these games are not a whole lot of fun for the rest of us.
The basic goal of Shuttle Orbiter is to collect pieces of a space station from a factory orbiting Earth and construct the station itself in a different location. It’s a long, laborious process – that is, unless you run out of fuel before you can even finish the job. The manual goes into such esoteric subject matter as relative orbital speed, which has something to do with the altimeter which indicates whether you’re in sync with the orbit of the various destinations (the factory, the depot and the space station). It’s one of those games in which one achieves a goal (for example, coming into orbit with one of the spacecrafts) having no idea how you did so. Once you achieve orbit with the factory, you go into astronaut mode and attempt to enter the factory to retrieve a piece of the space station.
Ultimately, I think I’m just too stupid for Shuttle Orbiter. More charitably, I just don’t have the time to learn such a complicated game and the time I’ve invested so far has held up my posting of this entry enough as it is. That doesn’t mean it’s not a quality title, but don’t go in expecting a pick-up-and-play experience. If you are interested in space exploration, you’ll probably like Shuttle Orbiter. If not, you probably won’t. C
Sinistar (Atari Prototype, Developed 1984)
What a shame the world gave up on video games in 1984. I mean, I didn’t, but so many of you did. What did you have that was better to do – school? Yeah right. Impress girls? What a waste of time and money. Now it’s 2018 and you’re old, your wife’s old and Sinistar remains awesome.
I jest, of course, but there’s no doubt that Atari and other companies were still stretching the boundaries of the 2600 well after the Crash. Case in point: Sinistar. Based on the 1982 Williams arcade machine, Sinistar is legendary among old, old-school classic gamers for its complexity, spectacular difficulty and status as one of the first video games to feature a boss battle. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never played the arcade version, but this unreleased prototype is no slacker in the challenge department itself. It’s also a blast.
Sinistar may look like an Asteroids clone but it’s far more than that. Your mission is to mine crystals out of planetoids. These crystals become sinibombs you use to destroy Sinistar, which is essentially a gigantic floating head. You’re going to have to mine a lot of these crystals because it takes eighteen hits to destroy the ugly mother. You have a short grace period to collect crystals before Sinistar is fully built, but once completed he pursues you relentlessly.
The one-button reality of the Atari 2600 forced a minor concession to gameplay, causing your ship to continuously fire your regular lasers – the fire button is used to shoot sinibombs. I had no problem with this, but mind you I’ve never played the arcade game. The proto is flickery in the same unavoidable way as Parker Brothers’ Gyruss – another port of an advanced-for-its-time arcade game. However, I did find it frustrating how hard it was to tell if you landed a hit upon the boss. All things considered, though, I enjoyed Sinistar and feel it would have been fully worthy of release in its existing form. B-
Sir Lancelot (Xonox, 1983)
Sir Lancelot is another one of those games that seem to have everything going for it but, for me at least, didn’t seem to quite “take.” An expansion upon basic Joust-style game mechanics, Sir Lancelot is colourful, challenging and features a variety of unique enemies but lacks that certain something that makes the proceedings pop.
The game is a two-screen affair repeated with higher levels of difficulty. The first screen is your basic Joust scenario with a battle against winged enemies, while the second involves slaying a dragon – a dead-easy proposition early in the game but one that becomes more precise as it goes on. The nicely-detailed and animated dragon drops fireballs down at you, slowing your momentum rather than killing you. However, getting hit by enough of them can send you to your lava-ravaged fate.
Sir Lancelot continues Xonox’s odd tradition of good graphics and innovative design combined with elusively lacklustre gameplay. Maybe I need to give it a few more plays, but as Joust knock-offs go I just don’t find Sir Lancelot an acceptable substitute. C