Yes, after a bit too long here it is, part two of my new, three-part Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries series. I’ve only got eight summaries this time, but some of them are fairly long so while this is shorter than the first update, it’s still a good-sized article. Next time, the last six games. Several of the part three games are among my favorite games made in the 1980s. None of these eight are quite on that level, but they’re all interesting in some way or another regardless.
Titles covered in this update:
Mario Bros. is a port of Nintendo’s arcade game of the same name. Coleco stole home console rights for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. away from Atari in the early ’80s, but Atari did manage to get the console rights to Popeye and Mario Bros. and they released those games on their consoles, the 2600 and 5200. This was the first American home console release of Mario Bros. Unfortunately for Atari, Mario Bros., while popular, was nowhere near the hit that Donkey Kong before it and Super Mario Bros. after it would be. This is a single-screen arcade game and while it is good, it has always been overshadowed by the games before and after it.
Despite that, Atari did a good job with this port. While it is not arcade perfect and doesn’t quite match up to the NES version, much like Popeye, which I covered previously, Mario Bros. is a great version of an early Nintendo classic. This game and its characters look a little funny, but I think the look works. The game plays well too. As in the arcade game, Mario Bros. takes place in a sewer. This is a single-screen platformer and you walk and jump around the four-level sewer. The game has digital controls and only one button, for jumping. Jumping is limited, in that you cannot control yourself in the air at all. What jump you do is determined before you leave the ground. That’s not like later Mario controls at all, but that is how this game plays. It certainly makes things tougher. Additionally, the digital controls make no use of the 5200 controller’s additional features. This game would surely be easier with a digital controller as you would get quicker response times, useful for avoiding the many enemies. I only have regular 5200 controllers and the Trak-Ball, though. The game plays okay, it just can take you a little longer to stop moving than you’d like.
In that sewer, your goal in each screen is to defeat all of the enemies. You need to beat all of them to proceed. Your enemies are Koopas, crabs, fireballs, and various other foes. They start at pipes on the top level of the screen and move towards the bottom. Once they reach pipes on the bottom, they warp back up to the top. Very much unlike almost every game in the series since, you CANNOT jump on your foes here! Instead, you need to hit the platform an enemy is walking on from underneath to stun them. Then you can defeat them with a touch. As in Joust though, wait too long after stunning a foe and it will get back up. Some enemies need to be hit from underneath more than once to knock them out so you can defeat them. There is also a POW block on the screen you can hit from below three times. It will stun enemies. Use this power wisely though, for once you use it up it’s gone. The game gets hard quickly as your foes pile up and faster and tougher to beat enemies get added into the mix. Things may be a bit easier in the two player co-op mode, though. That’s a great feature to have.
Mario Bros. is an addicting classic game. This game is challenging, but it’s easy to see why it was successful. Its sequel would be one of the greatest and most important games ever made. This game is not that, but it is a good game certainly worth playing. Is this version in specific a must-play, though? Probably not, considering how many versions of Mario Bros. are out there, many more arcade-perfect than this. But it is a good version well worth getting if you already have a 5200.
Arcade port. This version is also on Atari 8-bit computers. This game is on many formats, including the NES, Commodore 64 (two different versions), Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NEC PC88, Sinclair XZ Spectrum, Apple II, Amstrad CPC, Game Boy Advance, and in arcade-perfect form on the Nintendo Switch. The game has only one sequel of sorts, Mario Clash for Virtual Boy. That is a pretty good game.
Moon Patrol is another port of an arcade classic. Moon Patrol, one of the early Japanese scrolling shooting games, is a side-scrolling platform shooter where you drive to the right while jumping over obstacles and shooting enemies coming your way. The arcade game is simple, but plays well and was apparently one of the first with parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game has background music too, unlike many early arcade titles. This 5200 version is a lower resolution but very accurate port. Just like the arcade game, this version has parallax scrolling backgrounds and music in addition to the sound effects! The backgrounds are really nicely done. Your tank here is a somewhat funny-looking blob thing, but that’s alright. Having music is particularly great, this system can do music but often games don’t have it. The music is a simple loop but is catchy.
In the game you control a moon tank. This is kind of an early auto-runner or shmup-on-wheels game, as you can’t stop moving, only go a little faster or slower. This version both looks and plays great. It has nice graphics for the system with parallax scrolling, the controls are responsive, and it contains all the content from the arcade game. The controls are digital and not analog, but work well — forward and backward on the stick make you go a little faster or slower to move your tank forwards or back, while one button shoots and the other jumps. Yes, jump is on a button. Take note, James Bond 007… but anyway. When you shoot, one bullet goes upwards to the top of the screen, while the other goes only a short distance forwards. Jumping, meanwhile, gives you good control of your jump. Your tank’s hitbox is large though, so some later jumps are tricky. This is close to the arcade game and is worlds better than the extremely tricky, tight jumping of the Atari 2600 version. Nearly impossible jumps there are easy in this version. To make things even easier, this game has something very rare for an early ’80s console port of an arcade game: continues! And infinite ones, at that. That’s right, when you get game over you can start right off from close to where you died. Your score does reset when you continue, though. When you get a game over your time does NOT reset, however, and if you finish a level with a fast time you get a point bonus. The game rewards not dying.
This game has two difficulty options, Beginning and Championship. Beginning is a single, easier run through the game. After you beat it you move on to the Championship course. Championship is harder and endlessly loops, so each time you finish a Championship course you start again. Every loop is very similar, though. Each loop of the game is broken up into five areas. You start at letter A. After you get to letters E, J, O, T, and Z, you get a screen showing how you did for that part of the game. In the game, you go to the right through 26 sections, each noted with one letter from the alphabet. In some waves flying enemy ships attack you from the skies, and you’ve got to shoot them down or avoid them until you get through to the next letter point. Some drop bombs that can blow holes in the ground you will need to jump over. In other waves, your main obstacles are rocks and pits. You need to jump over the pits and shoot or jump over the rocks. Because of your short forward shot distance, you need to really watch out for those rocks on the ground. Enemies in the air can be deadly, but it’s the rocks and pits that often are the greater threat here. Eventually you will face more threats and some variation on the formula. The game starts out easy, and finishing Beginning mode won’t take long. Championship is more challenging, but with the continue system it’s beatable fairly quickly if you don’t care about your score. Of course the game loops infinitely so you can always play for more points, though each letter’s stage is always fairly similar.
This is a simple but fun game. It’s a game of quick reactions, as you try to avoid the obstacles coming at you while shooting down your enemies. It does not have the depth of a newer shooting game of course, but this is a very fun classic that is well worth playing. The game has very good graphics for the time, good music, and well designed and balanced enemies and obstacles to work your way past. Really my only issue with Moon Patrol is that it won’t last all that long unless you get into playing for score. The game has quite a bit of variety, but with the static stage structure, between the good controls and continue system, unless you want to play this game for score it probably won’t last all that long. Still, however long you play it for some version of Moon Patrol is a must-play for classic game fans and this is a great version of it. You can see how Irem would become one of the ’80s better arcade game developers.
Arcade port. This same version is also on the Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports are available on Atari 2600 (with very tough jumping controls), Apple II, Commodore 64, PC (DOS), Sord M5, Commodore VIC-20, TI99/4A, MSX, Atari ST, Game Boy / Game Boy Color (packed with a port of the NES version of Spy Hunter), and in perfect arcade port form on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. There are likely more versions of this game out there than that as well. There is also an improved homebrew hack / remake of this 5200 version of the game called Moon Patrol Redux. I haven’t played that one.
Pitfall II is a very ambitious game. A groundbreaking platformer when it released in 1984, Pitfall II has a huge interconnected world to explore and a very modern-feeling continue system with infinite lives that send you back to the last checkpoint. It also is very open-ended and, I would say, extremely frustrating. This game was first released on the Atari 2600 and this is a port of that version with moderately upgraded graphics. The 2600 version used an added chip in the cart to get more out of the system, but nothing like that is needed here. The graphics have more detail, but it is clearly the same game. Controls are identical, so this is a digital-control game with one jump button and that’s it. It would control much better with a digital controller than the standard analog pad I have, control in this game can be frustrating with the regular controller. As with the Atari 8-bit computer version of this game and only that version, though, Pitfall II for the 5200 has one major advantage over all other versions: it has a second quest! If you manage to get to what is the end of this game on any other platform, there is a whole second half of the game, full of more treasures to find and obstacles to avoid, that is just as big as the first half of the game, waiting for you. That is a very cool addition which makes this almost certainly the best console version of this game, if you have a good controller for this kind of game.
As for the game itself though, Pitfall II is a nonviolent exploration platformer. The world is a rectangular maze of connected screens, and you move around as Pitfall Harry, running, jumping, climbing, and swimming as you try to avoid all of the many enemies, save several people you need to rescue, and collect as much of the gold as you can find. Oddly, the game scrolls as you fall downwards, but flips from screen to screen when you go between screens horizontally. Huh. Your goal is to get all of the gold and then reach a specific point in the dungeon where the end of the maze is. At that point, you continue on to the second quest where you do this again in a new map. After that the game ends. As with the first Pitfall, this game is set in a jungle. The map is dramatically more complex than before, though; where before the game was made of something like 256 nearly identical screens, this time there are fewer screens but each is totally unique, and they are, again, in a rectangle instead of a line. The water areas you can swim in add some variety to the game as well. There are also many ladders to climb up and down. These are very frustrating to use though, as you need to walk up to them while holding UP and forward to grab on to the ladder; if you just press forward you will fall into the hole the ladder is in, falling straight down until you hit a floor, water, or, frequently, an enemy who of course kills you instantly. The ladder controls are finicky stuff.
The ambition is obvious here, and a lot is accomplished. However, I don’t like playing this game anywhere near as much as I was hoping. First, I mentioned the controls already. Those digital and one button-only controls are limiting and are not a great fit for the 5200 controller. I badly wish you could duck, also; that would make this game much better, I think. Also, this game is sometimes considered to be a proto-Metroidvania game. It does not have items which unlock areas, but it does have a lot of exploration. For me, though, that’s as much or more a negative than it is a positive. I want to know where to go in a game, not explore around randomly until I find all the stuff. To beat the main game and go to the second quest, you need to rescue two people and find the diamond in the final center area. There are also 28 gold bars and several other things to find if you want. There is no map or anything here, though, you’ve just got to explore around until you find everything. That will be challenging, as the game doesn’t even tell you how many treasures you have. Figure it out. It does have a score on screen, which increases each time you get a treasure, but this score will also go down so it’s not a great measure of progress unless you aren’t dying.
Yes, it will take a lot of practice to figure out the best routes through this games’ nonlinear, open-world design. I know a lot of people like open world games, but as I said I strongly prefer knowing where to go in a game. This game gives you no hints about that, and the route is not obvious. Still, the world isn’t so large that it feels overwhelming, and parts of it are linear. It is often fun to explore and try to find the gold. I wish that you could save your progress as well, but unfortunately no console games of this time support that so that was not to be. The only saving here is the infinite lives you have.
But even when I am starting to have fun exploring, the constant deaths get in the way. The first issue here is that the checkpoints are quite far apart and getting from one to the next will take a lot of practice. Going way back to the last checkpoint every time you get hit gets very frustrating. Trying to avoid the enemies and not die on the ladders or such can be really tough. All you can do is walk or jump, no ducking, no fighting back, and enemies are placed to run into you unless you do the exact right movements at just the right spots. Bats fly just at head level, edging just barely higher at certain points so if you stand at the right spots you won’t die, and such. Many enemies were placed in order to make getting past them frustratingly hard. And every time you get hit it’s all the way back to the last checkpoint for you. While you watch Pitfall Harry float back to the checkpoint, a sad song plays while your points reduce down until you get back. I often wish I could just fight them to get them out of my way to get to some of the gold, but you can’t. All you can do is just memorize where to jump that gets you over them. It can be very difficult and annoying. When you do finally work your way to a hard-to-get-to gold bar or person it is quite satisfying and may be worth the hassle, but this game has some definite drawbacks.
Overall, Pitfall II is a classic, but you will need a great deal of patience and memorization to get very far in this game. I recognize the games’ ambition and innovation, but find this game much more frustrating than fun most of the time. This is a game of exploration and avoidance, and is both simple and yet complex as you try to find out where to jump from and where to go in order to find all of the gold. So far I have not been dedicated enough to it to finish the game, but it is certainly well worth trying. Objectively, Pitfall II probably is a very good to borderline great classic. Subjectively, it’s a very frustrating game I don’t know that I want to play much of.
Expanded Atari 2600 port. Also on Atari 8-bit computers. Remember, only the 5200 and A8 versions of the game continue on with a second half after finishing the original game. Unexpanded ports of the 2600 version are also available on other platforms, including the Colecovision.
Ratcatcher is the first original 5200 game from Average Software’s Ryan Whitmer, and I think it could be said that his inexperience shows here. His newer title Magical Fairy Force, which I covered last time, is a mostly pretty good game. This game, however, I find much more, well, average. Ratcatcher is a single-screen arcade style game, though this game is far too complex to have made a good arcade game; until reading the manual I didn’t have a good sense of what was going on. Once you figure it out the game is alright, but has some design issues. First, though, I should mention that control here is entirely digital. Other than using two buttons this game does nothing with the 5200 controller. You could play the game with one button, but it would make an already hard game even harder. I should also say, perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is its three player simultaneous play. You will, of course, need a model 1 5200 to play with three players, but if you have one this is one of the few games to take advantage of those additional controller ports. As a solo game it definitely loses something, versus having other people on screen; this game feels better balanced for multiple people working together than for a solo player. You can play a single player game, though it will be harder.
Anyway, in this game you play as one of three ratcatchers in a sewer. The graphics are sevicably decent and audio is basic. This game is about gameplay, not flash, though it looks alright. You need to avoid deadly obstacles, most notably a massive plague of sewer alligators, while doing as the games’ name suggests and grabbing as many rats as you can. Each level has ten rats in it, and you get only one chance at each one. You must grab five rats before the level ends or you lose a life. Getting all ten sends you to a bonus stage full of points to collect before the next regular level returns to normal. You also lose a life if you touch a deadly obstacle such as a live alligator, a cloud of sewer gas, or electrified water. You get rats simply by touching them, unlike in reality they cannot hurt or attack you. They will run away from you when you walk towards them, though, so some strategy will be required.
Indeed, strategy is the name of the game here. Ratcatcher takes place on a five-floor screen. Enemies will fill the lower three levels, while the top level is generally safe, at least at first. You can move left and right, but cannot jump; your only interaction is to turn some switches. There are several sets of these, water-wave switches in the center and gate-selection ones along the sides. For those side switches, if you stand in front of the switch by the sewer gates on either side of the screen, the two buttons will move selection lights up and down. One button moves the indicator up, and the other down, for quick selection of any of the four floors. If you walk through that gate, you will come through onto the selected floor. Walking in again will only send you back out that same gate, though, so you’ll need to move the indicator again to go back to the floor you came from. You can have different floors selected on each side of the screen though, of course, and doing so is important. You can only change the selected floor at the correct side’s gate switches, though, so thinking ahead is important. This can be frustrating though, as enemies will ambush you right after you go through a gate and there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way you’ll be able to change floors and get through before that enemy gets to you.
You do have some defenses against the hordes of alligators and other threats, however. First, there also is a water meter which rises over time. Two switches on the center of the top level will, once the water meter is full enough, send a wall of water across the screen, one switch for each direction. This wall of water will go out of the floor you have selected with the gate switches on the side and push anything on that floor as far over as it can. If you let the water meter overflow, it will set off a wall of water in one of the directions even if you don’t hit a switch, also. The water will wash away all foes, though washed-away rats are lost and not captured so watch out for that. And last, there are six gates on the lower three levels that you can move up and down with switches on levels two and four. The gates are always there, you can only choose which floors they are on. For both the waves of water and the gates, your ratcatchers are affected; the water will wash you to the side of the screen, and you can’t walk through those gates any more than the enemies can. So you need to plan ahead, though with the random nature of the way enemies appear from the sides of the levels this is difficult. You start with “only” having to deal with rats and alligators, but once sewer gas, electrified rats, and more, are added in this game gets tough.
And really, that complexity is this games’ downfall, I think. This kind of game is best when it is easy to understand and play, but while somewhat interesting, this game is definitely not easy to understand or play. You need to consider which floors to block with gates, when to use the walls of water, and most importantly which floors to set each sides’ portals to, while trying to grab those rats and avoid everything else. And if you miss too many rats, you lose a life, and three lives lost and that’s Game Over. Ratcatcher is a decent game once you learn how to play it and it certainly presents a good challenge, but it is probably a bit overly complicated and frustrating. It is far too easy to die without feeling like you did anything wrong simply because of unfair enemy spawns in a game where you can’t always easily get away from foes. Due to its complexity and challenge Ratcatcher makes a poor first impression. You will lose, quickly, for some time. If you keep going and learn how to play it gets better, though, so if it sounds interesting it may be worth putting some time into, particularly if you have interested other players you can work with, so, say, one person can flip a gate switch while someone else gets the rat without being killed by an alligator right behind it as you would be in single player. As a single player game it is too hard and frustrating. Ratcatcher is, overall, an average game that may be worth a look if it sounds interesting.
Atari 5200 homebrew game. This was first made for the 5200. An Atari 8-bit computer version also exists, I believe. The developer also made a PC version.
In the early ’80s, Atari started up a new line of sports games and called it the RealSports series. These games try to be more realistic than the early Atari 2600 sports games. There are RealSports games on the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800, but of the games in the franchise this one, RealSports Baseball for the 5200, might have the overall best reputation. And after playing it, I get why! RealSports Baseball for 5200 is a great game, and is easily the best pre-crash sports game I own that isn’t a tennis/pong game. This game has some flaws, most notably in how hard it is to score runs, but it is very good and holds up great. Baseball is my favorite sport, and this is a good baseball game.
For reasons why, first, most early sports games were two player only. This game, however, has AI opposition to play against. The game has four difficulty levels too, to cover many skill levels. Even on the easiest setting beating the computer is difficult because of how hard scoring runs is, but there is still a nice skill gradient here. The game even allows an AI to play against an AI, if you want. Fun stuff. The game has a voiced umpire calling the balls, strikes, and outs, too, for a very nice touch. Voiced speech was rare in games at this point and it’s a fantastic inclusion here. Now, this title does only have single games and not a season mode or such, but for this era that is to be expected. There also aren’t named players or teams, just a red team and a blue team, and there is just one stadium. That’s fine, the game has what it needs. For the time, AI and voice make for a pretty good feature set.
As with most baseball games of the pre-crash era, RealSports Baseball for the 5200 is a single-screen game. Later on, baseball games would zoom in and have you basically field on a mini-map, while the zoomed in main screen showed just a part of the field. In this game, though, as with earlier titles, everything is on one screen. This means that the outfield is dramatically condensed down in size; outfielders look like they are standing right behind infielders. The game accounts for this by having the ball take a lot longer to be thrown from an outfielder to an infielder than from one infielder to another, so the real distance is taken into account even if visually it doesn’t look that way. There are plusses and minuses to this approach. On the positive side, I have never liked the zoomed-in-field style of baseball games; I want to be able to see on the main screen where the ball is going. My favorite baseball game is Hardball III, which uses a single screen to show the whole vertical distance of the field. That game is newer and higher resolution and has a much more accurately-scaled field than this one, though, so the distances appear correct on screen in a way they don’t here. So I kind of like this, but on the negative side, the small outfield makes getting balls to drop for hits much harder than it probably should be! Batting is one of the hardest things in sports, and this game makes successfully hitting the ball pretty hard since fielders almost always seem to be standing right where you hit the ball to. The small outfield here gets frustrating. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had.
For batting, there is not a separate batting screen. Instead, the pitcher simply throws the ball towards the batter, who tries to hit it. You pitch by hitting the upper button to throw the ball. You then can control its motion with the stick while the ball flies towards the plate, though only along the horizontal axis; there isn’t a vertical axis here for the ball. This makes things a little easier, but batting is still hard. The lower button throws the ball to a base, to try to pick off a runner. If the ball is hit the game automatically selects the closest player. You can change players with the lower button and throw with the upper one once you pick up the ball. The game automatically targets throws to the farthest base that a runner is running towards, which can be annoying at times when you want to go to a much closer base for the out, but you can change your target base with the lower button. Defense works well here and after a few games I wasn’t giving up many runs against the easiest AI.
When batting, you swing the bat by moving the stick on your controller horizontally from left to right. You need to have the stick start fully on the left side in order to properly swing, then move the stick at the right time to hit the ball. Your stick movement is fully analog, as you would expect on the 5200, for good control. This control scheme is kind of strange, but it works well once you get used to it. Atari would use this same control scheme in other RealSports baseball games, but it works much less well on a console with digital-only controls like the 7800 than it does here. Once you get the timing down for batting this game is fun, even if it is frustratingly hard to actually get enough hits to score many runs against the AI.
Overall, RealSports Baseball is a great game. Games against the AI do tend to be low-scoring and victory is difficult, but the effort is rewarding and the controls and gameplay very good and well thought through. With two button and analog both supported here, this game makes good use of the 5200’s controller. The voiced speech lines calling balls and strikes are also great and add a lot. This very much is an early title features-wise, but if you don’t mind that RealSports Baseball is definitely recommended. This is great for its time and still is a lot of fun today. It’s even better in multiplayer, of course.
Atari 5200 exclusive. There are games on the Atari 2600 and 7800 with the same name as this game, but they are different games, neither one as good as this one. I covered the 7800 game years ago and did not have good things to say about it. Reading that summary again, I notice that that game shares a lot with this one, they just did everything worse there.
RealSports Soccer works much less well than the baseball game above, unfortunately. I do not have nearly as much experience playing soccer games as I do baseball games, though I like the sport well enough, but this one… this is not very good. I haven’t played many other pre-crash soccer games to compare this one to so perhaps it is fine for the time, but still, after a match or two of this I didn’t want to go back. RealSports Soccer is just below average, not awful, but there is little reason to play it today.
As you might expect, features-wise this game has one or two player play with four AI difficulty levels. As in RealSports Baseball, player one is the blue team and player two the red one. It has only single matches and no seasons, as with all sports games of its day. The game scrolls on a three screens long field. It’s not large, but with how slow the characters move, that size is more than enough. The game does have isometric perspective for a more realistic field angle than most older games had and some nice player animation as they run around. The audio, however, is very simple and basic. You won’t find any of Baseball’s speech here! Each of the players, either human or AI, starts by controlling one of the two players at the kickoff. The two controlled players have different shirt colors from their teammates, to distinguish them. The ball and the two human or AI-controlled players are always on screen, along with three other AI-controlled players per team that you can switch to. Movement controls are analog, as you would hope for on the 5200, but I don’t think that’s enough to save this game.
For the controls, when you have the ball, one button attempts a pass, and the other other a shot on goal. You can also aim shots high, medium, or low with the 1, 2, or 3 keys on the keypad. When your team has the ball, you always control the player with the ball. When you don’t have the ball, you can switch between players with the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 keys on the keypad. Goalies are automatic and are always AI-controlled, you can only play as the other players. The thing is though, while visually this game is three on three, with, again, the ball and the two controlled players always on screen, as for the four AI-controlled players, when they go off screen they immediately come back on at some random location on the edge of the screen. This gives the sense that there are more team members here, but the game isn’t actually keeping track of their locations; it’s just randomly having people appear when one leaves. When one leaves on the right, the next one to enter will often be on the left. And of course the ball and the two controlled players never leave the screen. This results in a very stripped-down-feeling soccer game.
Worse, this game is slow. The pace of play here is very sluggish and cannot be sped up. This makes the game somewhat boring to play. The game is easy, too. If RealSports Baseball is hard, RealSports Soccer is easy. Scoring goals is easy, and stopping the AI’s team from scoring is maybe even easier. Beating the AI takes little effort on any difficulty. Maybe this is a bit better against a human opponent, but it’s not very fun against the AI. The game does play okay — you can run around, pass to your other players, and shoot on goal — and apart from the slow speed the game looks nice, but with gameplay this slow and easy I don’t really want to. Atari tried for some new things here, with the AI opponent, multiple shot angles ayou can shoot at, and such, throw-ins when the ball goes out of bounds, and more, so it may be a decent effort for the time, but the sluggish pace, lacking simulation, and very easy AI hold it back a lot. RealSports Soccer is a tedious, below average game not really worth playing.
Tennis was the first sport made into an electronic game. At first you had games like Odyssey Tennis and Pong, simple ball-and-paddle games inspired by tennis, but by the early ’80s things had progressed into a somewhat more realistic simulation of the sport. And that is where this game gets a definitely mixed reception. RealSports Tennis has somewhat bland graphics, with a decent but unexciting isometric court and nicely animated players. As usual in the series, one player is blue and the other red. Yes, this game is singles tennis only, not doubles. You can actually give human players three-letter initials if you want, like in an Odyssey 2 game. Nice. There are no courtside graphics, just the green court on a dark red background. It has challenging AI to play against and allows you to play a full, five-game match of tennis. That’s all okay, though visually and aurally average at best.
The controversy here is about the controls. Well, and also the AI. First, controls. In this game, you don’t just automatically hit the ball like you would in Pong Sports / Video Olympics on the 2600. Instead, you move around with full analog controls. You also need to hit buttons to hit the ball, and you need to time your hit well. Additionally this game uses the keypad heavily. You need to press the upper side button to serve, though. Serving here is easy and you’ll pretty much always hit it in bounds on the serve. This button will also hit the ball back the way it came on a similar angle. You can also hit a lob with the lower side button. However, if you press one of the buttons on the keypad instead during a volley, you will hit the ball towards that part of the opponent’s side of the court. Think of the nine numbers as aiming at the nine sections. With this you can control where the ball is going to a much greater extent than you can in older tennis games. That makes this game feel much more modern than its 1983 vintage. However, the way you do it is somewhat clumsy, with those keypad keys, and the controls take some definite getting used to thanks to how many buttons the game uses. I like having the ability to aim my shot, though. I think it adds to the game. The game was certainly designed around it, you will need to aim carefully to get the ball past the AI.
And on that note, the AI in this game is crushingly difficult! While winning games is possible, the AI gets to the ball almost all of the time. You really need to learn the game to be able to actually win sets. Just hitting the side buttons to hit the ball back the way it came won’t be good enough, aimed shots with the keypad are pretty much required. Some luck would help, as well. This is a somewhat slow-paced game, as the ball often feels like it’s moving slowly, but it does pick up at times. The game can get intense as volleys continue. I wish the AI was fairer but I’m sure that is very hard to do well on a machine from the early ’80s. On the whole I think this game is alright, but flawed. I like the greater control you get from being able to aim your shots, but beating the AI is frustrating and this isn’t the most exciting game. It’s a decent game maybe worth a look. The controls will take getting used to though.
Released on Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer. That version looks similar, minus the analog character movement of course. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s different.
River Raid – 1 player. Developed and published by Activision in 1983.
River Raid is a port of the very popular and successful Atari 2600 game of the same name. One of Activision’s biggest hits this side of Pitfall, River Raid was naturally ported to many formats and the 5200 is no exception. This port is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers port, largely identical to the original 2600 game except for improved graphical detail. The graphics are much sharper and clearer, this is a nice next-gen enhancement of the game. However, that’s not all. Activision did an interesting thing here — not only did they improve the graphics, they also made the controls fully analog. It’s a really nice change which has a very noticeable impact on the game. Or at least, movement left and right is now fully proportional and analog. Speed control feels more digital, as each press changes your speed one notch faster or slower.
Other than that, though, this is River Raid. River Raid is an early vertically-scrolling shmup. You fly a plane in narrow canyons over a river, shooting down enemy ships and tanks and destroying bridges at regular intervals. It was inspired by a famous bridge-attack raid from World War II. This is a simple game, with enemies that only sometimes attack you and relatively simple graphics and gameplay, but it is quite challenging and can be addictive. It is very easy to mess up and hit the walls, and that loses you a life just as fast as enemy bullets do. The game also has a fuel system. Your fuel meter steadily decreases as you go, and flying over fuel tanks refills it. Unlike Konami’s Scramble, you cannot refill fuel by shooting fuel tanks; you need to fly over them without shooting them, instead. Running out of fuel is initially rare, but the farther you get the easier it is to run low. You also will face some more aggressive foes as you get deeper into the game.
As mentioned previously, with many 5200 games, this game is a last-gen port, from the 2600. Everything looks better and higher resolution here, with jagged coastlines with cliff faces along the edges of them and more detailed enemies to shoot, but it does not push the hardware as much as an exclusive would. River Raid is no match for the best shmups of the later ’80s, since the game is simple and lacks the depth of a Gradius or R-Type. In this game you just fly up and shoot the somewhat randomly laid out enemies the game throws at you while avoiding the walls. Still, River Raid is an addictive classic that still holds up fairly well. This game is not as complex as a next-gen exclusive like The Dreadnaught Factor, but that’s fine, enhanced last-gen ports have a place as well. The shooting and dodging gameplay of River Raid is timeless fun.
Overall, River Raid is a good enhanced last-gen port. The game is simple, has held up well, and still is a lot of fun to play. I do find it a bit too simple to keep me going for longer play sessions, but it’s a good game to play here and there. I’m not sure if the analog controls make this game better than the 2600 version or not, but they do at least make it distinctly different and certainly are better than the game would feel with digital controls on this system’s analog control stick. I think the results are good and make this version of the game well worth a try, thanks to the controls it’s a bit different from other versions of River Raid. Other than that though this version plays the same as the original. I’m sure more could have been done than they do here. Some of Activision’s games on the 5200 are more impressive than others, and this one is in the middle on that. Oh well, it’s still a good version of a great game.
Atari 2600 port. Other ports were released on the Intellivision, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, PC, and, as far as I know always in its Atari 2600 form, on numerous Activision collections for newer consoles from the last 25 years.
These rankings are not absolute, but here’s what I am thinking at the moment.
RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > RealSports Soccer
Including the games from part one, The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Magical Fairy Force > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > Blaster > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > Decathlon > Frogger > Buck Rogers > James Bond 007
Of these, the game I ranked highest that I like playing the least is Pitfall II. I’m giving it a lot of benefit of the doubt for its ambition, clearly. Based purely on how fun I find it, Pitfall II would probably go below Ratcatcher.