D’oh! Such was my enthusiasm to get to Super Cobra and Superman (yes, I was excited to play Superman – don’t judge me) that Super Football got lost in the mix. Watch for it in the next game review entry.
Super Challenge Baseball and Super Challenge Football (M Network, 1982)
I’m disappointed. Super Challenge Baseball and Super Challenge Football are both two-player-only games so I’m unable to give them full reviews. I was really looking forward to playing Super Challenge Baseball as it’s based on the Intellivision’s Major League Baseball from 1979, a game I have particularly fond memories of. Even though I’ve only played the pitching game of Super Challenge Baseball, I can already tell it’s better than Atari’s RealSports or Super Baseball because the controls actually work. Super Challenge Football also seems like a superior football title compared to Atari’s. You program every offensive and defensive lineman, which is a nice touch. I programmed both teams for every play. Although I had a hard time remembering specific plays (you can’t consult the manual for info without closing Stella), the game appeared to be far more realistic than either of the Atari football games I’ve played so far (Football and RealSports Football). Otherwise, there’s not much else to say until I can revisit both games with a partner. Anyone up for it? Maybe there’s an online platform we could play it on (in addition to a number of other two-player games I’ve been forced to give half-assed reviews to because I’m the Lonely Video Game Critic). For now both games get a C, but that could change once I get two-player assessments.
Super Cobra (Parker Brothers, 1983)
The cavernous scrolling side-shooter Super Cobra arcade game (as well as its predecessor Scramble) enjoys something of a cult following among a certain generation of classic gamers (spoiler alert: old ones). The general consensus among this group is that the Atari 2600 version is a disappointment. For me, VCS Super Cobra has its own unique charms that work on their own terms. All I know is I can happily play it for hours even at times in my life when I’m less-than-enthused about video games in general.
As far as the challenge disparity goes, compared to the Konami original’s veritable orgy of destruction, Super Cobra is a sparse affair. While the arcade game throws everything at you right off the bat, 2600 Super Cobra’s difficulty scales slowly – possibly a technical necessity when translating the original’s frenetic sprite-heavy action. Players also tend to dislike the firing scheme; instead of using a button to fire bullets and another to launch bombs, each hit of the VCS’ single button alternates bullets and bombs. I actually don’t mind this at all – the trick is finding the right rhythm in order to hit targets on the ground and in the air.
Keep in mind that the tanks, rockets, mines and fireballs are not necessarily the biggest threats in Super Cobra; often, it’s the caverns and tunnels themselves. And this version demands your skills in traversing some pretty hairy territory. Chances are you will die more often hitting a cavern wall than you ever will by enemy fire.
Super Cobra maintains most if not all of the elements that made the original special, including the ability to continue your game on whichever level you ended at (the arcade game was one of the first to offer this soon-standard feature). It also includes the musical ditty that appears at the beginning of each wave, and the graphics – while simple – are colourful and distinctive. For all its perceived faults, Super Cobra is another in Parker Brothers’ long list of successful arcade-to-VCS translations. B+
Superman (Atari, 1979)
If I had the programming talent to hack one Atari 2600 game, it would have to be Superman. I can only imagine what a fine, fun adventure game this would be if it wasn’t programmed and released so early in the VCS’ history, before techniques such as venetian blinds and bank switching became common. As it is, it’s a blinking, flashing mess that completely breaks down graphically as soon as three moving objects occupy the same scanline. I played two hour-long sessions of the game today and came away with a mild migraine both times.
And what a shame, because this is probably the first 2600 game with an actual storyline and an objective beyond getting a better score than your head-to-head human opponent. There’s even a small cut scene at the beginning where Clark Kent sees the Metropolis bridge blow up. From there you head to the nearest phone booth to change to Superman and go about finding the pieces of the bridge and arresting Lex Luthor and his cronies. At the same time you must avoid Kryptonite shots that render you unable to fly until you literally run into Lois Lane (in the “B” difficulty Lois always appears when you get hit by Kryptonite while in “A” you have to find her on foot – I do NOT recommend this mode to beginner players).
Superman is essentially a timed map game, and it’s a fairly extensive map for an early VCS title. I’ve seen some players on YouTube finish the game in a matter of two or three minutes – the best I did was around nine minutes. Keep in mind the game’s not over once you fix the bridge and arrest all the villains – you need to change back to Clark Kent and walk several screens over to the Daily Planet before you can complete it.
I have mixed feelings about Superman. This is a game with a great concept and solid gameplay, but its graphical faults are jarring enough to make it borderline unplayable. Proceed, but be warned that Superman is not an easy ride. C-
Surf’s Up (Amiga Prototype, Developed 1983)
So here we go from a cart with great gameplay but lousy graphics to a prototype with brilliant graphics but hardly any game at all. Surf’s Up is easily one of the most beautiful games ever produced for the system, to the point where Atari should have bought it from
Amiga and used it as a demonstrator cartridge to show what the Atari VCS was capable of by that point. Unfortunately it would be a purely cosmetic demonstrator as the gameplay here is pretty thin. I realize this is just a prototype, but I certainly hope Amiga had more in mind for Surf’s Up than what’s on display here.
Surf’s Up – as the title implies – is a surfing game but there’s not a lot of apparent surfing in it. You move your oddly-shaped surfboard around and occasionally you can move it up to a red line in the middle of the water to score points. At what seems like random points in the game a graphically-impressive wall of water (representing a wave, I guess) envelops the screen, leaving the player to wonder whether they successfully rode the wave or not because the game gives you no actual indication of such.
Surf’s Up was designed to be played with Amiga’s much-touted foot-powered joyboard controller. Amiga designed a number of games to be played with the joyboard but only one – Mogul Maniac – was ever released. Maybe Surf’s Up is more enjoyable with the joyboard, but I’m not about to drop a hundred bucks (I checked on eBay) to play a possibly-unfinished prototype. Worth checking out for the visuals, but don’t expect even a rudimentary simulation of riding the waves.
Surfer’s Paradise aka But Danger Below! (Video Gems, PAL, 1983)
This game literally jumps the shark. Surfer’s Paradise (unlike Surf’s Up) contains actual surfing plus an original approach to gameplay overall. That still doesn’t make it very good, but some moderate pleasure can be derived from it.
The first level of the two-screen game finds you riding the peak of a giant wave while in constant mortal threat from a stalking shark. You must skillfully stay on top of the wave and jump when the shark suddenly attacks. Do anything wrong, however (sink too low, become suspended in mid-air like in real life *eyes roll here*), and the game sends you to the much more laborious second screen, in which it turns into a maze game.
Here you must swim through a sunken ship to retrieve your board on the top right side of the screen, avoiding poisonous jellyfish and navigating the ever-changing maze inside the ship. To top it off, you only have a limited amount of time in which to achieve your goal. The biggest bummer about this screen is you receive no points for finishing it in spite of being far harder than the surfing level.
I’m of two minds about Surfer’s Paradise. One moment I think the game could have been stronger if it stuck to the surfing/shark stuff and jettisoned the uninspired maze portion. On the other hand, there’s not enough substance in the surfing play to justify an entire cart. I’ll give Video Gems credit for putting some thought into Surfer’s Paradise – the game is colourful and the ocean sounds are realistic – but it’s ultimately nothing special. D+