Tetris 26 (Homebrew, Year Unknown)
Until now, I’ve never encountered a bad version of Tetris. Obviously, some ports are better than others, but the game is kind of like Pong; as long as you get the basic mechanics right, you’re golden. Tetris 26, however, feels unfinished – almost like a homebrew prototype. With all apologies to programmer Colin Hughes (this is apparently his only homebrew to date), Tetris 26 is just not very good. It lacks the smoothness of the best versions of the game; adjusting the puzzle piece to fit is particularly jarring as your piece flashes as it rotates. The colours of a Tetris game should be bright and vibrant but this version is dull and washed out. And sound? Unless there’s something wrong with my copy, there literally is no sound.
Tetris is available in multiple iterations on just about every platform you can think of, so there are few reasons to waste time or money (if that’s even possible at this point) on Tetris 26. D-
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Wizard, 1983)
The 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best grindhouse films of all time. The movie is notably free of explicit violence, with most of the grossest stuff implied rather than shown. However, what is implied is vomit-inducing, and its overall effect is feeling sick and wrong simply for having watched the thing.
In that sense, Texas Chainsaw Massacre the video game is successful in achieving that same effect of having contraband in your possession. But that’s where the appeal ends. There should be a misanthropic novelty in playing a 2600 game dedicated solely to killing innocent people, but the gameplay and graphics are so dreadfully undercooked that it’s not even enjoyable in the sick way it was meant to be.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre finds you in the role of Leatherface and his infamous chainsaw on their quest to kill as many teenagers as possible. As you chase down the hapless youth you are presented with a variety of movie iconography acting as obstacles (cow skulls, wheelchairs, fences and thickets). The difference between this and most side-scrolling games is that all the obstacles are stationery; they only slow you down when you run into them. It’s surprisingly effective, however, and you will spend most of your time trying to unstick yourself from one hurdle or another.
Actually killing one of your badly-pixelated victims is an exercise in frustration. You can run towards them and start up your chainsaw only for the would-be victim to teleport to your other side. Although Leatherface can’t be killed, he can lose a “life” by running out of gas for his chainsaw.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is poorly-executed (ha-ha), an offence to both the eye and the ear and worst of all just repetitive and boring. Although Wizard Video showed some promise with Halloween (its only other release), the poor quality of Massacre and the mild controversy around its existence ensured the developer wasn’t long for this world. Just as well. F
This Planet Sucks (Homebrew, 1998)
Laying my cards out on the table here: there’s going to be some bias in this review. This Planet Sucks is a Lunar Lander-style game, a genre I tend to dislike. For an arcade game that few people wanted to play even back in 1979 (or at least one everybody forgot about once Asteroids came around), the basic Lunar Lander mechanic has cast a long shadow, stinking up some otherwise good games (Cosmic Commuter comes to mind).
It doesn’t help that programmer Greg Troutman throws everything in the book at you without varying game difficulty – an issue I find in a lot of homebrews. Let’s count all the ways you can lose This Planet Sucks (I’ll probably miss a few): crashing into one of the abundant asteroids, landing too fast on a platform, crushing one of the people you’re trying to rescue (they run around like idiots almost like they WANT to be snuffed by your ship), approaching the top of the screen even slightly without the mother ship in direct vertical proximity, being shot at by an asteroid-turned-enemy ship as soon as you finally manage to rescue one of the humans – it just goes on and on.
One thing I can’t fault This Planet Sucks on is the graphics, which are simply astounding. Troutman makes some great use of the 2600 colour palette here and even amid all the frustration, the game is a joy to look at.
The game’s title could be low-hanging fruit for declaring “This game sucks” but that would be unfair. If you like this genre there’s plenty here to latch onto. I don’t give games bad reviews based on extreme difficulty, but in this case – for me – the time investment isn’t worth the effort involved in mastering the game. C- This Planet Sucks is available at the AtariAge Store.
Threshold (Tigervision, 1982)
This kinda-Galaxian, kinda-Phoenix space shooter didn’t quite put me to sleep, but I was starting to nod off. If this was 1982 I would declare it the best cartridge of the year for taking apart and putting a different ROM chip inside, but considering it’s a rare game I wouldn’t recommend that today.
There is little to nothing of note about Threshold. It’s as standard as an Atari 2600 space shooter can get. It’s of so little renown that even typing these words I struggle to remember the title of the game. So why are Galaxian and Phoenix so playable today and Threshold remains unwanted except by collectors and completists? I don’t know – why did a once-talented George Lucas (in corroboration with a lot of other talented and creative people) strike gold with a hokey space opera built on a first-draft style script when so many who have attempted the same thing failed? Sometimes you got it, sometimes you don’t.
Actually, now that we’ve come to the end of their catalog on these pages, that’s a pretty good assessment of Tigervision’s games for the VCS. They published one indisputably great game (Jawbreaker), some good games (Espial, Polaris, River Patrol, Marauder), an okay game (King Kong) and some utter dreck rounding out the rest (Threshold, Springer, Miner 2049er, Miner 2049er Volume II). I guess six out of ten ain’t bad for a third-party outfit of the era. In any regard, Threshold is a duffer. F
Thrust Series (XYPE Homebrew, 2000-2004)
What did I do to deserve this? Two thrust-and-land games in the space of a single entry? At least Thrust is based on Gravitar – a game I really like – but its conception is so muddied that I actually had to go back and play Gravitar to make sure I still liked that game (I do).
The main difference between Gravitar and Thrust (aside from the lack of a playable map screen) is the former game felt like it took place in a big universe. Thrust only offers bite-sized pieces of its universe at any one time, and to me it takes away from the experience. In Gravitar you were able to view an entire planet and plot a strategy around destroying cannons and collecting fuel cells. Thrust doesn’t even give you the benefit of a radar; fly too high and a sense of inertia sets in where you don’t know where you are or what you’re flying above.
Thomas Jentzsch (who has done some great work with games such as Star Fire and SWOOPS!) actually published three versions of Thrust between 2000 and 2004: Thrust (2000), Thrust+ DC Edition (2002) and Thrust+ Platinum (2004). There’s not a lot of difference between the three of them, although the latter two feature support for driving controllers(!), booster grip (of Omega Race fame) and foot pedals apparently designed by Jentzch and company, but don’t quote me on that. Also, Thrust+ Platinum features some brain-scramblingly unpleasant intro music. Otherwise, the variations amount to minor tweaks.
I’m not crazy about my latest update because I’ve had to give substandard grades to three homebrews – the last category to which I ever want to dole out negative reviews. But I have to be honest: Thrust is extremely difficult with little payoff and takes away some of the very things that made Gravitar so fun (yes, I know that Thrust is a remake of an old Commodore 64 game, which was heavily influenced by Gravitar). C- To the best of my knowledge, Thrust+ Platinum is the only Thrust still available in the AtariAge Store.
See AtariAge pages for the Thrust series in the links above. For current listings of Thrust for sale on eBay, click here