Atari 2600 Game Reviews: Star Strike to Star Wars: Jedi Arena

Wow – what a week. But the good news is I’m convalescing nicely and the kidney appears to be a hit. So let’s get on with this week’s proceedings.


Star Strike (M Network, 1982)

You’ve gotta give Mattel credit. It would have been so easy to create an Atari-style system with better graphics when they developed the Intellivision. Instead, for better or worse, they created an entirely-unique disc-and-keypad control system at a time when joysticks and paddles were arcade standards. They tended to buck arcade conventions with their games as well; some games – such as Astrosmash (Astroblast for the VCS) subtracted points when you messed up while Star Strike (for both the Intellivision and 2600) did not offer a point system at all – you either won or lost.

That all-or-nothing element – combined with the game’s absolutely brutal difficulty – may turn off some classic gamers, but Star Strike really is worth your time and effort. Not-so-subtly based on the Death Star attack sequence in Star Wars (your vessel is even kind of shaped like an X-Wing Fighter), the goal of Star Strike is to destroy an enemy space station by bombing its missile silos eight times before it reaches Earth. In the meantime you have to contend with enemy fighters and meteors on the game’s handsome pseudo-3D battlefield. You gain an advantage on your enemies by getting in front of them and firing; the only way to gauge this is by examining the position of the shadows below the spacecraft. This adds an extra dimension of gameplay not seen in many 2600 games.

Star Strike feels awfully realistic for a VCS game. A successful shot on a missile silo results in the screen shaking in a satisfying simulation of an explosion. Getting hit results in your ship’s controls going wacky for a few seconds, and it can be really hard to recover without crashing into the trench (oh, did I mention you only get ONE life per game?).

As much as I admire Mattel for defying arcade conventions at a time when the arcade was king, I still think Star Strike would have been a better game if they would have included standard scoring and some extra lives. As it is, however, it’s a pretty good crack at a Death Star battle-style game at a time when Lucasfilm was dragging its heels when it came to officially-sanctioned product. B-

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


Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (Sega, 1983)

Here’s a neat little first-person space shooter that I quite enjoyed. The biggest difference between Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator and most similar games is how much you have to pay attention to the radar screen versus the battlefield – in most cases you have to give them equal time.

The screen is divided up into thirds: one for your warp speed, shield and photon gauges, another for your radar and the third, bottom segment for the actual battlefield. The game features six rounds, including four Klingon encounters, an asteroid or meteor shower and a finishing duel with Nomad, after which the game resets for more intense play. Boarding with starbases (those are the green squares on your radar) can restore your shields, warp ability and photons – at least in part.

I’m not sure just how “strategic” Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator is, but I found it to be a pleasant-enough space FPS with fluid control and targeting systems. Graphics are nothing great but the Klingon ships are recognizable from the Star Trek TV shows and movies. A moderate recommendation. C+

More Info: Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator on AtariAge. For current listings of Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator for sale on eBay, click here


Star Voyager (Imagic, 1982)

Ever have one of those days where you just hate video games? Armed with a jaded attitude towards the entire medium, I attempted to play Star Voyager earlier today and HATED it. I have to admit it: I’m getting burned out on space FPS’s, particularly considering so many for the 2600 are in such close alphabetical proximity to each other. I’m glad my better critical faculties took over and I tried Star Voyager again, because it’s a perfectly fine game.

Star Voyager is not as strategically-oriented as many space FPS’s, but that doesn’t make it a walk in the park either. You can choose between phasers or photo torpedoes via the right difficulty switch; one or the other is supposed to be more energy-efficient than the other. I don’t remember which one, but what I can say is that you have to be judicious with your firepower regardless of your choice of weapon because either one will gobble up your crucial energy supplies very quickly. Waves are differentiated by travelling through space portals, by which you are treated to a sweet psychedelic light show as you’re transported to the next level.

Of the similar games I’ve played recently, I prefer the Star Fire port/homebrew with its Star Wars-style ships as opposed to Star Voyager’s nondescript targets. Still, Star Voyager benefits from nice, clean design (typical for Imagic) and solid if unspectacular gameplay. C

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


Star Wars: Ewok Adventure (Parker Brothers Prototype, Developed 1983)

Oh the perils of OCD. One week in hospital for a life-changing, life-giving procedure and a small part of me resented the fact that I was not able to complete this review of Star Wars: Ewok Adventure – a prototype Atari 2600 game from 1983 – in time to complete my weekly entry. What a waste of concern on my part; what a waste of time on the part of the developers.

General consensus seems to have it that Star Wars: Ewok Adventure is more or less complete. If that is the case, this is a very sad fact indeed. You “control” a titular intergalactic teddy bear on a glider. Your initial goal – aside from mindlessly pelting rocks at enemy fighters for points – is to take control of an Imperial AT-ST walker. One of three things happen on attempt: you capture the AT-ST, float right through it or crash into it – let me give you a couple of guesses as to which is easier to do. This is supposed to be accomplished by judging your altitude via your shadow, but this mechanic ain’t exactly Zaxxon-quality.

On the off chance you capture an AT-ST, the machine veers wildly out of control and you find yourself back in the glider half the time. Manage the AT-ST long enough, however, and you can theoretically use it to blow up the Imperial bunker. And then the process starts anew with a couple of extra features such as having to pick up your explosives from a fellow Ewok before you can explode the structure.

Star Wars: Ewok Adventure is a curio – nothing more, nothing less. Considering its connection to such an important franchise and its production at a time when Return of the Jedi (and in some cases the previous two episodes as well) were still in theaters, it’s entirely understandable why people would be curious about the game. In fact, its existence was merely a rumour until it turned up in 1997 courtesy of the kid of someone who worked at Parker Brothers. As a game, though, I’m going to be generous and declare it incomplete. Although it certainly looks good, it’s extremely choppy and the controls are akin to power steering in decline. But then again I could be wrong – I am highly medicated.

More Info: Star Wars: Ewok Adventure on AtariAge. Forgoing the eBay link this time – I’m pretty sure no hard copies of the game exist and if you have one, you may have a giant mouse coming to your door asking for his property back.


Star Wars: Jedi Arena (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Hey, remember that great scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader face off against each other using one of those floating balls Luke used to practice his lightsaber skills in Episode 4? No? Obviously someone at Parker Brothers must have parsed that scene in their own special way and the result – for better or worse – is Star Wars: Jedi Arena.

Geez, where to begin? Jedi Arena is a Star Wars game featuring lightsabers in which no lightsaber ever touches the other one. That alone is a strike against it. Instead, you have one saber at the bottom of the screen and another of the top and you use a “seeker” to break through your enemy’s defences. Although you do not have control of how the seeker moves, you can control the direction of the laser the seeker fires with your paddle control. The problem is the paddle also controls your lightsaber, meaning both your offensive and defensive tactics always follow the same trajectory, which is far from optimal. Every once in a while the seeker will go crazy and you play a defensive game against the orb for a few seconds before it goes back to normal.

I found the gameplay of Star Wars: Jedi Arena extremely tedious. Although it’s possible to break through the computer opponent’s defences, it is a long, difficult slog that’s not exactly fun. The game is plagued with collision detection issues and the control seems awkward and imprecise for a paddle game. Colourful graphics and the addition of the Star Wars theme at the start of the game are among the game’s few virtues. You might have more fun playing Star Wars: Jedi Arena with a friend, but the one-player variations are just terrible. D

More Info: Star Wars: Jedi Arena on AtariAge. For current listings of Star Wars: Jedi Arena for sale on eBay, click here

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