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Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: If Atari’s 2600 version of the arcade wargame was a pleasant surprise, the unreleased 5200 edition of the same game is almost a revelation. Combining adaptations of the menacingly angular vector graphics of the arcade game with more realistic raster backgrounds, the 5200 prototype is not only fun, but rather pretty to look at. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestThe Game: As a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things which See the videospin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The above description barely fits this game because it only exists in an unfinished form, with just a few bare essential elements of the game in place. You can shoot stuff and score points, but there isn’t much “game” there – the collision routines don’t exist that would determine whether or not your on-screen flipper “dies” by touching an approaching enemy, or an enemy’s incoming fire for that matter. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Based on a Namco import distributed under Atari’s banner in the U.S., Xevious may be about as close as one could get to replicating the arcade game with the 5200’s hardware. Curiously, though the copyright on the main menu screen is a year later than that on the unfinished 5200 Tempest proto, Xevious is a more complete game, fleshed out to a fully playable state. Continue reading

Jr. Pac-Man

Jr. Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: As the offspring of a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a bigger maze than your parents ever had to deal with, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. Six large flashing dots in the maze enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted toys will begin hopping through the maze, turning every uneaten dot they touch into a larger dot which yields more points, but also forces little Pac to slow down to digest them. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Atari, 1984; released by AtariAge.com, 2003)

Memories: A victim of former Commodore executive Jack Tramiel’s takeover of Atari‘s home video game and computer division, Jr. Pac-Man was one of the many “orphaned” games that were finished and ready for mass-production, but despite the money that had been spent on acquiring the license and developing the actual software, Jr. Pac-Man stayed off the schedule, never to hit the stores. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1984)

Memories: Some of the games ported to the Atari 5200 are a bit perplexing when they’re hardly a step above the same title as released for the Atari 2600. Sega’s 5200 edition of its own arcade game doesn’t improve much on the graphics of the 2600 version, and doesn’t even take advantage of the 5200’s controller keypad to control things like shields and warp power (that’s actually a bit disappointing there). Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as many of the defenses as you can in the meantime. (Sega, 1984)

Memories: In 1984, Sega entered the home video game business for the first time, with their first Stateside products being games for the Atari 2600 and 5200. Some of the titles released – Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Zaxxon specifically – had already been licensed by Coleco for the ColecoVision, and Coleco had even released Zaxxon for other systems such as the 2600. But Sega wanted its own piece of the pie, and not just licensing percentages, when it came time to release more of their properties for home video game systems. Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Atari, 1984 – never released)

Memories: Super Pac-Man was one of many Pac-Man spinoffs that made only a minor splash when it hit the arcades in 1982. Nixed by the sudden cancellation of new releases caused by the video game industry crash, Atari’s 5200 edition of Super Pac-Man is actually very good. Continue reading

Haunted House II 3D

Haunted House II 3DThe Game: As with the original Atari 2600 game, you’re exploring a dark haunted house populated by ghosts, spiders, and even a few walking skeletons. Your task is to track down all the treasures hidden in the maze-like rooms of the house without allowing any of these creatures to touch you. If they get hold of you three times, game over. And if you find all the treasure before that happens? Well…you’ll just have to find out. (Mean Hamster Software, 2002; written by John Swiderski)

Memories: One of 2002’s bumper crop of homebrew Atari 5200 releases, Haunted House II 3D is a sequel to a favorite among many 2600 owners. But is it radically different from the original? No – and that’s a huge part of the game’s charm. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters, you are adventurer Winky, on a mission to snatch incredible treasures from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, serpents, and so on. Sometimes even the walls move, threatening to squish Winky or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters. The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters. (unreleased prototype, 2017)

Memories: There may be nothing quite as bittersweet as an unreleased prototype that turns out to be awesome, we gladly would’ve paid full retail for it back in the day had it ever gone to market. It’s not that it was hard to find a good port of Venture back in the day – there was an excellent port on Colecovision and a more than passable version for the Atari 2600. Continue reading

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