Slot Racers aka Maze (Atari, Sears, 1978)
This entry marks a new age in the history of Woodgrain Wonderland. For the first time since I started this blog I was able to convince my video game-averse wife to engage in a two-player game with me! Slot Racers isn’t the greatest game, but as a two-player endeavour it’s a reasonably entertaining ‘70s throwback.
Slot Racers is basically Combat with racing cars in a fixed-rail maze. You have one bullet over which you have limited control post-shot. Both your car and your shot circle around the maze until it either hits your opponent or you catch it. Control is a little awkward; you sometimes have to think upside-down to turn left or right depending on where you are in the maze. Luckily (or unluckily) your car points in the direction you’re about to go, creating an awkwardly limp phallic image that had to be a joke by developer Warren Robinett.
The game is as blocky and minimalist as you would expect from a ‘70s Atari effort, but it’s hardly the worst of the company’s early titles. My complaint is that it gets a little monotonous; rather than a timed game like Combat, it takes 25 hits to win the game and it can get a little tiresome. My better half and I played the slowest and fastest variations of the first maze (there are three in all) and that was more than enough. Slot Racers is an okay game but not engaging enough for long-term play. C-
Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle (Coleco, 1982)
Don’t let the kiddie look of the game fool you: Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle is no child’s play. Oh, sure – the first level is pretty breezy, but that’s just to get you acclimated to the layout of the game and its unique jumping mechanism (against all instincts, instead of pressing the action button you push the joystick up once for short jumps and twice for long jumps). After that, however, all bets are off as you find ways to dodge hawks, snakes, spiders and bats in your pursuit of every Smurf’s long-lost love, the Smurfette. In the process we see a template form for the Mario/Yoshi/Kirby games that Nintendo would later pick up and run with.
The most striking feature of this game is its graphics. While obviously not as finely-detailed as the Colecovision version, Smurfs still features a wonderful colour palette and finely-animated sprites. Your Smurf even shows a disgruntled facial expression when he falls or is attacked by an enemy. The game also includes an on-key rendition of the familiar Smurfs theme plus some clever variations.
The game has some quirks that will likely infuriate you at first; you’ll crash into the first fence over and over again just in the process of learning the jumping mechanic. And your Smurf will die even if it falls from only a pixel’s height. Once you get the hang of it though, Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle is a delight. Probably one of Coleco’s best games for the 2600. B
More Info: Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle on AtariAge. For current listings of Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle for sale on eBay, click here
Snail Against Squirrel (Bit Corp, Europe-only, 1983)
On first glance I thought Snail Against Squirrel (and here’s me not even knowing snails were natural enemies of squirrels) was a clone of I Want My Mommy. Thankfully Snail Against Squirrel is not quite that bad, but it’s still pretty bad. The best thing I can say about this ultra-obscure PAL title is that Bit Corp put a lot of effort into the graphics and sounds but almost forgot to put a game in the cartridge.
To the best I can tell, the goal of the two-screen platformer is to collect some kind of object (nuts?) at the bottom of the screen and bring them – one at a time – to the top in order to form some kind of ladder. The problem is that these objects slow you down; if you don’t get back down to the bottom of the screen to collect another object in time, it disappears and you lose one of your five lives – and you will ALWAYS struggle to get to the bottom on time. Despite the title, the snails don’t really do too much (the noise they make when they enter the screen is extremely annoying though), but because you can’t jump over them or have any recourse against them, getting around the snails tends to cost you valuable time.
I like certain cosmetic elements of Snail Against Squirrel, like how the music gets faster when your squirrel is running and slower when it’s loaded down with an object. However, the game itself is pretty stupid – a shame because if it wasn’t for a couple of poor design decisions, Snail Against Squirrel could have been an adequate bargain-basement title. D
Sneak ‘n Peek (U.S. Games, 1982)
I have long dreaded the moment I would have to review Sneak ‘n Peek. Let’s just say the game’s reputation precedes it; maybe I went in with a bad attitude because of that, but unfortunately it was entirely justified. Let’s face it – the game is a video game version of hide and seek, a premise which was flawed from the very beginning. With two players the potential for cheating is immense and the one-player game is extremely faulty. And let’s say it again: it’s a video game version of freaking HIDE AND SEEK – what were they thinking?
This review is based on the one-player variations, partly because I’m playing on emulator and partly because I’d be too embarrassed to ask anyone else to play Sneak ‘n Peek with me. As the hider, you’re supposed to go around the house looking for a hiding space which will automatically suck you in unless you hit the action button to let you go. This didn’t even seem to work on the first one-player variation (the one with the fixed hiding places). You would think a video game version of a game as basic as hide ‘n seek would be intuitive, but Sneak ‘n Peek is anything but.
I admit I could have given Sneak ‘n Peek more of a chance, but – much like Mr. Do!’s Castle a few months back – I could only take so much of this game. The game does have a handsome outside scene and some catchy music, but you can only polish a turd so much. I don’t think I’m being particularly controversial in calling Sneak ‘n Peek one of the worst Atari 2600 games of all time. F
Snoopy and the Red Baron (Atari, 1983)
Even though I never owned Snoopy and the Red Baron as a kid, I still have fond memories of the game. Seeing its graphics along with Pitfall II in a video game magazine of the day was the one-two punch that determined my decision to get an Atari 2600 instead of a Colecovision. Great graphics (when the will was there) plus a huge selection of games made the choice a no-brainer – and because the Atari 2600 was a relative bargain at that point, it was a great relief for my parents as well.
All these decades later and I could still look at Snoopy and the Red Baron all day. I love the little details: the wind blowing on Snoopy’s scarf, the bullet holes in his doghouse. It sounds great too, with a short snippet of Flight of the Valkyries (just like Apocalypse Now) kicking the proceedings off nicely. Luckily though, below the handsome exterior lies a pretty decent little game.
The concept of the game is pretty simple: engage in a dogfight with the Red Baron, collecting items such as root beer, pizza, hamburgers and other goodies for extra points. It takes eight shots to shoot down the Baron and eight shots for him to shoot you down. Every four times you shoot down the Baron a tally screen comes up and you are awarded extra points for every victory and every treat caught. If you manage to catch every treat in the level (not an easy feat) you are awarded an extra doghouse.
The dogfight action is surprisingly intense – especially in the more advanced variations – for a game marketed to children. The only drawback is that it gets a little monotonous as the difficulty doesn’t increase within its specific game variations. Still, a fun, good looking game. B