Atari 2600 game reviews: Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups through Sub Scan

StrawberryShortcake_AtariGameStrawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups (Parker Brothers, 1983)

I’m not too macho to admit I kinda liked the Strawberry Shortcake cartoon as a kid. Or at least I liked the Purple Pieman (I’m a sucker for a twirly-moustached villain). So it’s in that spirit I approached Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups and as a result actually had a mildly enjoyable time playing it. I’m not likely to ever play it again, but I have to give Parker Brothers a thumbs-up for doing right by their license.

As can be expected from a kids’ game, the goal of Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups is to put together specific characters from the heads, middles and legs (wow – it sounds kind of grisly when I put it that way) of the various Strawberry Shortcake characters, including Strawberry Shortcake, Huckleberry Pie, Blueberry Muffin, Purple Pieman and Lime Chiffon. When you successfully piece a character together, it does a little dance to its own individualized song. Get it wrong and it will still dance but to a “mixed-up” version (and extremely off-key in the Pieman’s case) of the same tune.

Having been so long since I saw the TV show, I was initially only successful at putting together Purple Pieman and Strawberry Shortcake, so I had a little bit of a learning curve especially when it came to the timed variations. The graphics and music are nothing short of wonderful – each character is colourful and looks distinctive.

For a kids’ game, Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups is pretty good. It’s a good game for testing the memories of youngsters, but I have no idea if the brand still holds any relevance in pop culture among today’s kids. If I was to venture a guess, I would say this cart probably holds more appeal as a collectable among adult Strawberry Shortcake fans (you know they gotta be out there) than Atari 2600 collectors. Other than that, as well-designed as the game may be, it’s another one of those VCS titles without an audience. C

More Info: Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups on AtariAge. For current listings of Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups for sale on eBay, click here

StreetRacer_AtariGameStreet Racer aka Speedway II (Atari, Sears, 1977)

For all their faults, I really like some of the Atari 2600 launch titles and the console’s other early games. It’s a matter of tempered expectations; to enjoy them, you just have to realize how innovative some of these games were at the time. However, this blog isn’t just about my perspective or my opinion. Well, it’s obviously that, but I try to place these old games in a context of whether they’re still fun today. I don’t know if most young kids used to photo-realistic graphics are ever going to find the 2600 in any way relevant (although I know there are a few out there), but at the very least I’d like to think this blog serves people like myself who grew up with Atari, would like to discover games they’ve never played or would just like to vehemently agree or disagree with my recommendations and condemnations.

So after that lengthy intro, let’s talk about Street Racer, in which you drive a souped-up jumping jack against other jumping jacks and try to avoid colliding with yet more jumping jacks. That may sound harsh, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Avoiding the collision cars can be quite fun, especially with the paddle controls needed to play the game.

Fortunately, the Street Racer variation is not the only thing the cart has to offer. The game also features Slalom (not a patch on Activision’s later, greater Skiing but enjoyable enough), Dodgem (not to be confused with the all-around great Dodge ‘Em from 1981), Jet Shooter (just like it sounds), Number Cruncher (ditto) and Scoop Ball (catch balls – actually addition signs – and deposit them in a “computer scooper”).

All of these variations offer reasonable entertainment, but if there’s any real fun to be had with Street Racer, you need one to three human competitors because the computer opponent is simply inept. Trust me – even if you’ve never played the game before you will handily beat the computer on every variation. To go back to my first paragraph rant, Street Racer can be fun in 2018 as much as it was in 1977 – you’ve just gotta play it like it was intended: with other people. C

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

Stronghold_AtariGameStronghold (CommaVid, 1983)

Stronghold has it all: innovative gameplay, Atari 2600-beautiful graphics, a status approaching or surpassing “hidden gem.” And I never want to play it ever, ever, ever again. For all of its strengths, Stronghold is ludicrously hard. Whether that is a feature or a flaw is up to you.

Stronghold starts out with a screen that sets you up against some Demon Attack-style space birds. Using your ship – which features a full range of motion around the playfield – you attempt (emphasis on “attempt”) to either shoot or dodge the birds, which appear to fly around the screen unpredictably even though in reality there are some distinct patterns. What makes Stronghold innovative and infuriating at the same time is your ship’s unique firing system. Instead of being able to fire left, right, up, down and diagonally, you’re limited to up, down and northern diagonal. And trust me, it makes the game very challenging.

Things do not get any easier on the second level, in which you shoot through a Breakout-style matrix in order to destroy the Command Crawler, although chances are it will destroy you as it can fire and aim faster than you could ever hope. And then there are even more baddies to deal with on the top two-thirds of the playfield. Stronghold blows Atari’s excuses for being unable to produce ports as difficult as their arcade counterparts right out of the water; it’s as hard or harder than any arcade game I’ve ever experienced.

CommaVid only released a handful of games, but just about every one attempted to do something new (see Mines of Minos, Cakewalk and Room of Doom). Stronghold is no exception, but it’s probably harder than all their other games put together. Playing it with a joystick might make a difference, but getting a cartridge copy may be a tall order as it rates a “9” (extremely rare) on AtariAge’s rarities guide. If you like games that start out hard as balls and continue to torture you with every new variation, then Stronghold is the game for you. B

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

StuntCycle_AtariGameStunt Cycle (Atari Prototype, Developed 1980)

By all indications, Stunt Cycle was complete and ready for release before it was cancelled – a fact that makes the end product even more disappointing. It’s another one of those games in which its history is far more interesting than the game itself. Stunt Cycle was released as an arcade game by Atari in 1976 and ported as the first non-Pong dedicated console that same year. A fully-colourized version was developed for the VCS in 1980. According to Atari Protos, someone at Atari had the idea to adapt the game to a Dukes of Hazzard theme. However, a glitch in the game was discovered in the playtesting process, so – much like what would eventually happen with Saboteur/A-Team – neither version was released.

Ultimately, Stunt Cycle was a lot of fuss over nothing. The joystick is a perfect implement for gear shifting, so why did the powers that be decide to make it a paddle game? Someone at AtariAge – God bless ‘em – whipped up an instruction manual making the game sound a lot more sophisticated than it really is (concepts like loose, strict and hybrid physics are invoked) but while playing the thing it seemed like I was able to make a pretty good jump no matter what I did. And no, I am hardly what you would call a naturally-gifted video game player.

The graphics and sound are pretty sophisticated for a VCS game from 1980 (if I didn’t know the development year, I would have pegged it for a potential 1983 release). Gameplay-wise, however, Activision’s Dragster covered similar ground far, far better. Stunt Cycle was probably considered pretty spectacular in 1976 but video games had already come so far by 1980 that gamers did not lose anything for its failure to launch. D

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


Sub Scan (Sega, 1983)

There seems to be a lot of submarine-sinking games on the 2600 and Sub Scan is, well, another one of them. Lord help me, though, I kind of enjoyed this humble little title in spite of some infuriating control decisions and overall just being . . . so . . . slow.

Like other games in a similar vein going all the way back to the “sea” portions of Air-Sea Battle, your goal is to launch depth charges into the sea in order to blow submarines to Kingdom Come. The difference between Sub Scan and most others in its genre is instead of dropping your charge from the bottom of your ship, you toss the charges from the side, which brings a whole new dimension to leading your shot. What I hated was the fact that the charges only fired in the direction you move your ship. This was initially frustrating and remained that way, but it can be overcome.

One thing I really liked was the bonus ship. With every regular ship you destroy, you collect 100 potential bonus points. These can add up fairly quickly. The bonus ship floats exclusively at the bottom level, making it especially hard to hit, but when you do you collect all of the bonus points in your queue. I think it’s the pinball fan in me that delights in getting a big bonus, but it certainly added to an otherwise run-of-the-mill game.

This might be a fault to some but a feature to others, but Sub Scan never seems to scale in terms of speed or difficulty. It could be argued that it’s already difficult enough, but back in its video game era it was expected that a game would get harder in order to justify the continuing interest of players. Personally, I’m more than willing to file Sub Scan under “relaxing entertainment” and leave it at that. C

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

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