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  1. One is a puzzle game with colored blocks that you make disappear! And the other is a puzzle game with colored blocks that you make disappear! Chetiry (Chris Walton, Zach Matley, Fred Quimby) Full disclosure: I worked on this game, designing the title screen and cut-scene graphics, and creating the artwork for the label, manual and box. Chetiry is a 2600 version of the classic game Tetris. I probably don't need to explain it, but in Tetris there are falling shapes, each comprised of four blocks in different arrangements, that you must manipulate so that they build solid rows across the screen. When you complete a row, it disappears and any blocks above it move down. The more rows (up to four) you can complete at a time, the more points you get. If you leave gaps, those rows don't disappear but build up higher and higher. If the rows reach the top, the game ends. The longer you play, the faster the pieces fall, and the less time you have to react. Chetiy isn't the only 2600 attempt at Tetris. There's also Edtris, Tetris26 (which is an unfinished tech demo), Cubis, Z-Blocks, and 2600Tris. A key element of being able to play Tetris is knowing exactly the size and shape of a gap you have to drop a piece into. Of the other efforts, only Cubis and Tetris26 clearly define individual rows, and only Tetris26 shows both rows and columns. The rest all show the assembled blocks as single-colored masses, making it difficult to judge how wide or deep a particular gap is. Chetiry is unique in that it gives each different shape its own color and retains those colors after they're dropped, so you can easily gauge exactly what's needed to fill each gap. Besides all of the colors being visually impressive, this adds to the authenticity, and more importantly the playability, of Chetiry. If that were Chetiry's sole selling point, it would still be a significant one, but the game goes far beyond that. Chetiry also has incredible music, familiar to anyone who's played the Gameboy version of Tetris. The title screen has its own music, plus there are three other songs you can choose from during gameplay (or you can turn the music off and just listen to the sound effects). Chetiry also features the cut scenes of rockets launching from the Gameboy version, a lavishly detailed title screen, and high-score saving on the cart - no AtariVox or SaveKey is required. During gameplay, a single line of text shows your score, the number of rows cleared (depending on the game), the game variation you're playing, the current level you're at, and an optional preview of the next shape that will appear. It's a very dense but very useful display, and its inclusion speaks to the level of detail put into this game. As technically accomplished as Chetiry is, the important thing is how well it plays, and Chetiry is excellent. The controls are perfectly responsive, and the difficulty ramp feels just right. There are four game options: Marathon (which is the default classic Tetris mode), Sprint 25 and Sprint 40 (your goal is to remove 25 or 40 lines and get the highest score in doing so), and my favorite: Ultra! in which you race against the clock to score as many points as possible in 3 minutes. This is an absolute blast if you start at level 9 (and a great way to practice for Marathon). You can start any game at any level from 0-9, and choose from 6 starting depths where some of the rows are already partially filled with blocks. There's also a pause feature, and an option to "fast drop" pieces - but since that's controlled with "up" on the joystick it can be triggered accidentally if you're not careful. Chetiry is by far the most feature-packed version of Tetris for the 2600, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of minor (and they're very minor) shortcomings with it. Since the 2600 joystick only has one button, you can only rotate the pieces in one direction. An option to select clockwise or counter-clockwise would have been a nice option, or better still, support for Genesis gamepads so you could rotate either way using two buttons. The only other shortcoming is a lack of a two-player mode, but I didn't miss that at all. Chetiry is an outstanding, faithful, feature-packed port of one of the best and most iconic puzzle games of all time. Very highly recommended. Chetiry gets a 5/5. Chunkout 2600 (James Todd) Chunkout 2600 is a puzzle game that's based on SameGame (aka Chain Shot!). You start with a screen filled with patterns of colored blocks. Selecting a group of two or more adjacent blocks of the same color will make them disappear, causing any remaining blocks above them to fall down and fill the empty spaces, creating new patterns. The more blocks that you clear in a given turn, the more points you will score. To win, you must completely clear all of the blocks from the screen, but the game will also end if the only remaining blocks can't be paired up and removed. There are four difficulty settings in Chunkout 2600, which determine how many different colors of blocks there are (2, 3, 4 or 5). The more colors there are, the harder it is to clear out a screen since there is a higher likelihood of individual blocks becoming isolated. The settings are selected using the Difficulty switches, but pay careful attention to the manual because the easiest difficulty is with both switches set to A, which is opposite of how Difficulty switches are typically used. Speaking of the manual, the author went to great lengths to craft an elaborate science fiction backstory for Chunkout 2600 - much like Atari did with some of their games. Unfortunately, the manual never "breaks character" and the story is so convoluted it actually fails to clearly describe how to play the game. Fortunately, it's easy enough to figure out once you start playing it. Sound effects are very sparse, including a short fanfare that repeats over the title screen. Graphics couldn't be simpler - it's a field of colored blocks with a score beneath it. Chunkout 2600 has a very minimal presentation, but that's okay because at its heart is a solid, enjoyable puzzle game, and one that's appropriately challenging at its highest difficulty setting. It's a classic "minute to learn, lifetime to master" game, and the easiest difficulty settings give you a safe place to develop strategies and win some games before moving onto the tougher ones. Where Chunkout 2600 falls short though, is that there are no preset puzzles. The puzzles are always generated randomly, so you never have an opportunity to go back and replay one. A different but unreleased 2600 version of SameGame - Matchie (by John Payson) had 10,000 preset puzzles that you could choose from, letting you develop strategies, improve your scores, and work out solutions for specific puzzles. While 10,000 is a bit much, had Chunkout 2600 added some preset puzzles as an option, it would have greatly improved its replay value. As it is, it can be frustrating when you get within just a block or two of clearing a puzzle, and don't have the opportunity to go back and try it again. Even without preset puzzles, Chunkout 2600 is still a fun, challenging puzzle game that's right at home on the Atari 2600. With a good range of difficulty settings, players of all ages and skill levels can enjoy it. Chunkout 2600 gets a 4/5 (3.5 on a half-point scale) Up next: Paddle Battle < PreviousHomebreviews IndexNext >
  2. It's time to get out the contact cleaner and get those paddles working! Or is it... ? Brik (Atari 2600) Brik by Repixel8 features two paddle-based games on one cartridge. Or rather... one paddle-based game, and one that should have been. The main game, Brik, is an attempt at an Arkanoid clone. You move a paddle (called a "bat" in the manual) back and forth across the bottom of the screen, bouncing a ball off it to knock out patterns of blocks above you. If you let the ball get past you, you lose a life. There's an enemy that comes out and floats around, sending your ball off course if you hit it, and there are two bonus items that fall from some of the blocks: extra points and an extra life. However, there are no actual "power-ups" like catch, multi-ball, expand, and so forth. So even though the level layouts resemble Arkanoid, much of what made that game unique is missing - even the original Breakout had a "catch" feature. There are two display modes for Brik: flickering and non-flickering. Flickering is used to draw vertical lines between columns of blocks to divide them up to be more brick-like. Unfortunately, it not only causes flicker, but it actually makes the entire screen vibrate annoyingly. Fortunately, you can shut that off, which is what I would recommend. Once you do that, the graphics behave themselves and still look decent. Sound is minimal, but adequate. There are no continues, so you always have to start a new game back at the first level. Brik would be a decent enough game in the Breakout genre, except for one fatal shortcoming - you can only play it with a joystick. There is no paddle controller support. The whole point of a ball-and-paddle game is how it plays, and paddles are essential for the speed, control and precision needed for this type of game. I don't know what sort of compromises would have been needed to add paddle controller support, but it puzzles me why someone would develop a game like this without it. Brik is somewhat playable with a joystick, but even that is poorly implemented. Traditionally in Breakout (or Pong, for that matter), the ball will change its angle and direction based on where it hits the top of the paddle. But in Brik, the ball usually just bounces off continuing in the same direction and angle it was already traveling - regardless of how you hit it. To get the ball to bounce in the opposite direction actually requires hitting it with the very edge of your paddle, and the controls (and collision detection) in Brik are nowhere near precise enough to do that reliably. The second game on the cartridge, Brik 180, actually supports paddle controllers (making the lack of them in Brik all the more puzzling). Brik 180 appears to be a cross between Pong and Breakout. There are Pong-like paddles on both sides of the screen that move vertically, and between them, running down the center, are patterns of blocks that you knock out with the ball. So you have to clear out the blocks, and not let the ball get past you. Two great tastes that taste great together, right? Except Brik 180 has even more problems than Brik. First - despite its Pong-like layout, it's a one-player only game. You control both paddles simultaneously (they're linked together), so you're effectively playing Pong by yourself with some Breakout blocks in the middle. While this would be fine as a one-player variation, Brik 180 would have been far better as a two-player competitive game (or one player vs. AI). Second - if you're used to playing any of Atari's Pong variants (eg. Video Olympics on the 2600), you'll note that when you turn the paddle counter-clockwise (left), you move down. If you turn it clockwise (right), you move up. Always. Even on the original Pong console. But in Brik 180, it's backwards - you turn left, you move up. If you turn right, you move down. This may seem trivial, but it's not. The games were designed the way they were for a reason: it was intuitive. Plus, you don't just throw away 45 years' worth of peoples' muscle memory for the sake of a lack of research. Consequently, using a joystick to play Brik 180 actually works better. Finally is the collision detection. It's catastrophically bad. I can't count the number of times "something weird" happened, and the ball went through the corner of my paddle. After awhile, I had to adapt how I was playing just to finish reviewing the game. Brik 180 seems buggy and unfinished. Even the ball distorts as it moves across the screen, as if you were viewing it through a chainlink fence. Brik and Brik 180 are based on solid ideas, but the execution just isn't there. They seem only half-finished. Even the manual has issues, in that the pages (which aren't numbered) were out-of-sequence. It took some flipping back and forth to figure out which page belonged to which game. There's a real need for more good paddle games on the 2600. When well made, they offer a unique gaming experience you can't get anywhere else. Unfortunately, Brik just isn't one of them. Brik gets a 2/5. Crazy Brix (Atari 7800) Crazy Brix by Bob DeCrescenzo is a paddle-based game that's essentially a successor to Super Breakout. You move a paddle horizontally across the bottom of the screen to hit balls upward and knock out patterns of blocks. If you let the balls get past you, you lose a life. Clear all the blocks, and you move onto the next level and a different pattern. The level layouts resemble those in Arkanoid, but there are no power-ups in the game. You always start off each level with two balls in play, and you have to lose both of them before your turn is up. While this can make it easier to clear more blocks out, it also serves as a distraction if you focus too much on trying to keep both of them in play. On some levels you'll also be given two (stacked) paddles to use, adding another element to the game. The action gets very fast pretty quickly, even on Normal difficulty. So to get used to how the angles work and get a look at some of the later levels, you might try practicing on Easy. Crazy Brix is built to use paddle controllers, and the responsiveness is precise and silky-smooth. You can optionally use a joystick, but I wouldn't recommend it. Crazy Brix has crisp graphics and nice sound that makes good use of the 7800. The level designs are generally well done with a few nice tributes to Atari mixed in, although there are a few (such as a series of back-and-forth horizontal tunnels) that become more of a grind than a fun challenge. The game seems to help you out as you get near the end of a level, as if there's AI changing the path of the ball slightly to favor hitting those last few stray blocks (but I could be imagining that). One feature Crazy Brix desperately needs is a Continue option. There are 32 levels in this game, and being able to start your next game where (or near where) you left off would have been a welcomed addition. As it is, you have to work your way through every single level, every time you start over. If you have a good set of paddles, and enjoy Super Breakout, then you'll enjoy Crazy Brix. If you're looking for an Arkanoid clone, you might be disappointed. It's nice to see a dedicated paddle game developed for the 7800, and while the extra paddles and multi-balls are a good start, there's a lot of untapped potential here. Crazy Brix actually started out as a port of Namco's Bomb Bee - a cross between Super Breakout and Video Pinball. Had that been brought to fruition, it would have made for more interesting and varied gameplay, and given the 7800 a truly unique title (and possibly paved the way for a multi-cart featuring Gee Bee and Cutie Q). For what it is, Crazy Brix is very well done, but I would've liked to have seen it taken further. Crazy Brix gets a 4/5 (3.5 on a half-point scale) Up next: Arcade Assault, Vol. 1 < PreviousHomebreviews IndexNext >
  3. After nearly eight years, it's finally time for... RETURN OF THE HOMEBREVIEWS!! (Cue dramatic music sting.) There are so many games I have to catch up on, I'm grouping them into thematic chunks. You'll see what I mean once I get rolling. Actually, I suppose I could just do these one game at a time. But grouping them together sort-of forces me to play some games I wouldn't otherwise be that interested in reviewing. Case in point... Haunted Adventure Trilogy (Atari 2600) Haunted Adventure Trilogy is a collection of three hacks on one cart, and continues the story from the original Atari Haunted House. However, none of these are actually hacks of Haunted House itself. I didn't own Haunted House back-in-the-day, nor Adventure nor Superman - the games these hacks are based on. While I do understand the appeal of those games, I can't say I share the same affection for them that many people do. That said, I decided to dive into this properly and not only review these hacks, but first I learned to play Haunted House, Adventure and Superman, in order to gain a better understanding of what these hacks were intended to be. Haunted Adventure I: Boo! The first game in the trilogy is a hack of Adventure, titled Haunted Adventure I: Boo! Effectively, it's still mostly Adventure in how it's laid out. The enemies have been altered to be more ghost-like and less duck, er... dragon-like. There are items to collect, use and fight with, but everything has been re-themed to be more in keeping with Haunted House. The darkened mazes where you can only see a circle of light around you are reminiscent of the look of Haunted House, but unlike Haunted House, there's no option for practicing those areas with the room walls visible. Even though these areas are holdovers from Adventure's catacombs, I found them to be far more frustrating here. Effectively, I just ended up stumbling around in the dark until through sheer trial and error I sort-of figured out how to get through it. I'm not sure if it was due to the different layouts, or if it was because of the placement of objects and enemies, but this became just an agonizing grind after awhile. It wasn't exactly what I would call fun - more of a relief when I finally got through it and didn't have to do it again. As with Adventure, there is massive flicker, at times effectively becoming more like flashing, and in the darkened rooms it becomes genuinely annoying. However, the most frustrating aspect of the game were the relentless and often unfair enemies. At times, I would find myself getting killed and the ghost that killed me would just sit there literally on top of where I respawned, killing me over and over again. As with Adventure, you can kill the enemies once you have the scepter, but until you have it, or if you lose it, you're going to find yourself respawning. A lot. I found Haunted Adventure I to be more frustration than fun, which is too bad since clearly a lot of thought and effort was put into this hack. There are some clever, unique additions which make this a nice homage to Haunted House. Having some way to illuminate the maze walls would have helped ease the frustration factor immensely. Even if it was just in the form of brief lightning flashes (which would be in keeping with the theme). Even then, I've never been a fan of mazes that don't logically line up from one screen to the next. That seems less like clever gameplay, and more like poor design. But above all else, the aggressiveness of the ghosts really needed to be toned down. At times, this felt less like exploring a spooky haunted house, and more like a relentless slasher film. Haunted Adventure II: Redemption The second game in the trilogy is another hack of Adventure, titled Haunted Adventure II: Redemption. Haunted Adventure II has a smaller first variation (level 4 on the cartridge) where the map has been restructured so the layout feels much more like the the original Haunted House. Its other two variations are larger and more in keeping with Haunted Adventure I, except in those you start outside of the mansion and have to work your way through forests and other new environments. While this does add depth and variety to the game, the cursed darkened mazes are back in full force in those variations, and are just as maddening as Haunted Adventure I's. Haunted Adventure II's first variation was the most enjoyable of any of the hacks in this trilogy, because the frustration factor was effectively eliminated, and it became more of a fun, exploratory puzzle to solve. The enemies were manageable, the darkened maze was less punishing, and the game was far more satisfying to work my way through. The layout was much more reminiscent of Haunted House, and the whole game felt more like a true sequel, making it the better spiritual successor to the original (so to speak). Haunted Adventure III: Witch's Flight The final game in the trilogy is a hack of Superman, titled Haunted Adventure III: Witch's Flight. The gameplay is effectively identical to Superman, but all of the graphics have been altered to feature decidedly Halloween-themed characters, with Superman replaced by a sexy-looking witch. Consequently, there's not really much to review for this game. The graphics are well done. It plays like Superman. Story-wise, it's only very loosely tied to the other Haunted Adventure games. It almost seems as if it was added to the trilogy as an afterthought. It doesn't detract from the collection, but it adds very little to it. The verdict At one point while playing Haunted Adventure II: Redemption, I lost a critical object inside a wall in one of the darkened mazes. I knew it was somewhere because of the flicker, but couldn't even see where it was stuck. The game became unsolvable at that point, so I had no choice but to completely restart. This is an issue with Adventure as well (yes... I know about the bats), but it would've been nice if they'd taken the time to address that in the hack. The best hacks don't just change the appearance of the original games, but should improve them - fixing bugs, improving shortcomings, and are more transformative than derivative. Haunted Adventure I and II do a nice job of merging Haunted House and Adventure, but for the most part the frustration factor of slogging through pitch-black mazes overshadowed the exploratory fun of Adventure, and the spooky simplicity of Haunted House. If you're already a fan of Adventure, you'll probably like the first two hacks in this collection. If you're a fan of Haunted House, you'll enjoy the first level of Haunted Adventure II. If you want a Halloween-themed game to play for a few minutes in late October, then Haunted Adventure III may be the ticket. Taken as a whole, this collection has a lot of value, and despite the frustration I had with some of it, I was able to find something redeeming that I was able to enjoy. Again, a lot of work was put into this by author Anthony Wong (and others). Not just the hacks, but the whopping 52-page manual that accompanies it. A lot of time was spent creating the stories, and the included tips to get through some of the games are absolutely essential reading. There are a few typos here and there, which normally I wouldn't mention, but I got a pretty good laugh trying to imagine what a gravy colored floor plan was supposed to look like. (That should have read "gray", incidentally.) Haunted Adventure Trilogy isn't something I'm likely to revisit. I just don't have enough interest in it thematically to grind through it and solve it all. But there's a lot to offer. If you're a fan of Adventure, Haunted House or Superman in drag, check it out. Haunted Adventure Trilogy gets a 3/5. Defender Arcade (Atari 2600) Defender is one of my all-time favorite arcade games. To say that I was disappointed in the Atari 2600 version is a massive understatement. To me, it missed the mark even more than Atari's 2600 Pac-Man did (which I also thought was terrible). When Atari came out with the 2600 version of Stargate a few years later, I was absolutely stunned. Like their version of Ms. Pac-Man before it, it was complete redemption. Two thoughts immediately came to mind though: 1) Why didn't they do it this way the first time? and 2) Now that they know how to do it, why not go back and make a proper version of Defender? I was never a fan of the arcade version of Stargate. It was so ridiculously hard it seemed it had been designed just to punish really good Defender players. I wasn't one of those. I loved playing the game, but I didn't have it beaten by any stretch of the imagination. Stargate was too busy, too cluttered, and too convoluted. And yet, Atari still managed to bring that to the 2600, better than they'd done with Defender. Bob DeCrescenzo has taken the 2600 version of Stargate, and hacked it to play more like Defender. Gone are the extra enemies, the Stargate, Inviso, and so forth, and in their place are just the elements that made up the original Defender. And from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, the hack has succeeded admirably (although it would be nice if the player's ship was white... but that would make the terrain white as well). Unfortunately, where the hack falls short is in the most vital aspect of Defender: the controls. The actual arcade version of Defender had an oddball control layout to be certain, but once you adapted to it, it felt completely natural and fluid. The ship could dance at your command and lay down a barrage of fire in a heartbeat. But in Defender Arcade for the 2600, there are three major shortcomings still left over from Stargate: 1) You can't fire fast enough. The player's rate of fire needs to be at least double what it currently is. 2) The ship feels sluggish. When you try to move vertically or reverse direction, your ship responds like it's carrying an elephant on its back. 3) This one can't easily be overcome by a hack, but it could be somewhat alleviated by it: there just aren't enough buttons on a 2600 joystick to play Defender properly. Atari got around this in Stargate by having the player use the second joystick. But this is incredibly clunky, and requires something like the Spy Hunter dual-joystick holder to even have a hope of working. A partial workaround for the Defender Arcade hack would've been to add Genesis gamepad support. Yes, this only gives you one more button, but even one extra assignable button (Smart Bomb in particular) would make a huge difference. If you want to play Defender on the 2600, this hack is the best way to do it. Had this been the original Defender for the 2600, it would've been amazing. But as it is, Defender Arcade falls a bit short, by not going far enough to fix the inherent problems that affected Stargate. Defender Arcade gets a 3/5 Crazy Otto (Atari 7800) Crazy Otto holds a unique place in video game history, as the most successful arcade game never released. Crazy Otto was created by General Computer Corporation as a conversion kit for the original Pac-Man arcade game. Before taking it to market, GCC had to present it to Midway who had the U.S. distribution rights to Pac-Man. Midway liked it enough to turn it into a true sequel to Pac-Man: they tweaked the graphics, renamed it, and Ms. Pac-Man was born. Crazy Otto in its original form was shelved. Crazy Otto for the 7800 is a graphics hack by Bob DeCrescenzo that takes the 7800 version of Ms. Pac-Man and regresses it back to resemble the original Crazy Otto. And... that's it. While well done for what it is, Crazy Otto is best suited for completists who want a glimpse of the historical curiosity that was the never-released arcade game. Other than that, there's really no reason to pick this up. If you don't already own Atari's Ms. Pac-Man for the 7800, you'd be better off picking up Bob's excellent Pac-Man Collection which includes Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, and many other variants as well, and would have been the best place for Crazy Otto to reside. On its own, there's just not much to recommend about it. Crazy Otto gets a 2/5 Up next: Return of the Homebreviews continues with Mini-Game Madness < PreviousHomebreviews IndexNext >
  4. Yet more mini-arcade action! This time, it's all about racing games: Pole Position actually has a tiny little steering wheel... but it's actually just a steering wheel shaped joystick. No analog controls. Although for this version, analog isn't really needed. You also don't need to shift, the buttons just accelerate and brake, but really, adding shifting to something this small would be a little ridiculous. (Get it? A little ridiculous? ) It's hard to justify being picky on something so small and so cheap, but Pole Position is one of the less-successful Tiny Arcade games. The game plays okay, but there are a few issues such as enemy cars disappearing, spotty collision detection, and the fact that you really can't lose. Even if you run off the track or crash, you get so much bonus time per lap, you'll likely still win every race. Plus, the cars kind-of look like bathtubs. New Rally-X (not to be confused with Ye Olde Rally-X, I suppose) translates much better, and plays very well. The animation is surprisingly smooth, given the choppiness of some of the other titles. The one downside is that the dots on the radar screen are single pixels, and they're so tiny, it's nearly impossible to see where your car is. There just isn't enough contrast (at least for my tired, olde eyes). Still, you can't have an arcade without some racing games! And my arcade is getting so big, I may have start up a second shelf! It's also getting a lot harder (and noisier) to get a decent photograph of everything. So I just decided to be "artistic" and leave the ones in the distance out-of-focus. I'm tempted to make a little arcade diorama out of these, but that requires more creativity than I have the energy for at the moment. But maybe later... I'm thinking it would be fun to re-create arcades from some classic '80's movies: WarGames, Joysticks, Tron... I might need some more games though. Get to it, Super Impulse! Bosconian, Scramble, Joust, Berzerk... they're calling you!
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