Category Archives: Atari A to Z

Atari A to Z: Vanguard

This one was a new one on me until quite recently. I present to you Vanguard, an unusual shoot ’em up originally released by SNK in the arcades.

Vanguard is unusual because it’s not just being one thing, unlike a lot of shoot ’em ups at the time. Instead, it shifts between horizontal, vertical and diagonal scrolling at various points in the levels, and even has some rudimentary boss fights. It’s also quite unusual to find a game of this era with a proper “continue” system, particularly in its home incarnations.

While its visuals may not look like much these days, it’s a great shoot ’em up that is still worth revisiting today — and there’s an Atari 2600 version too, for those who prefer to console it up.

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Atari A to Z Flashback: Asteroids Deluxe

How do you make Asteroids better? Add the word “Deluxe” to its name, obviously.

Okay, 1980’s Asteroids Deluxe adds a bit more to the basic Asteroids formula than that, but it’s still very much recognisable. The whole experience is a bit smoother than the original, the presentation is sharper and cleaner (and blue!) and there are some additional enemies to deal with. But you’re still rotating and firing and dodging. And dying. Dying a lot.

I’m still no good at AsteroidsDeluxe or otherwise, but I actually enjoy it a lot more today than I did back when it was “current”. It’s a game that’s held up extremely well, and it’s a pleasure to revisit both of its most famous incarnations in the Atari Flashback Classics collection for Switch.

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Atari ST A to Z: Pac-Mania

There have been numerous attempts to improve on Pac-Man over the years by both Namco and third parties.

One such attempt by the former was Pac-Mania, a game which transplanted Pac-Man’s simple single-screen maze-based gameplay into a scrolling, oblique-perspective affair with jumping, power-ups and visually themed worlds.

Opinions vary as to whether it’s actually an improvement on Pac-Man or not, but one thing is certain: Grandslam’s port to Atari ST was very solid indeed, and one of the few Atari ST games I actually remember buying for myself back when I was a kid!

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Atari A to Z: Up Up and Away

Some days it just feels like everything is out to get you, when all you want to do is go for a nice peaceful ride in your beautiful hot air balloon.

Of course, in Ringblack Software’s Up Up and Away, everything literally is out to get you, whether it’s punks on the ground throwing rocks at you, birds who have apparently been eating nothing but razor blades for the last week or even Mother Nature herself.

This “avoid ’em up” goes well beyond “NES Hard” into a whole new territory of difficulty. If you even clear the “training” level you’re doing well… but I suspect you’ll be plummeting towards the ground long before that happens.

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Atari A to Z Flashback: Asteroids

Asteroids is a longstanding classic with good reason: it made a solid impact on the early video games industry, and it has influenced a great many subsequent games over the years ever since.

There’s a beautiful simplicity to the sparse black and white vector graphics of the original arcade game, and it’s still enjoyable and playable today… so long as you can get your head around the whole “turn and thrust” movement system, which is something I’ve always struggled a bit with over the years!

Still, if you want to play early era space games, it’s a mechanic you better get used to pretty quick… and there’s no better place to practice than the original never-ending field of space rocks.

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Atari ST A to Z: Operation Thunderbolt

It wasn’t unusual to see lightgun shooters adapted to the 16-bit computers of the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, you didn’t tend to see a lot in the way of lightgun peripherals.

You did, however, see a lot of these games making use of mouse control to simulate aiming a gun. Some of these made use of a clear, obvious mouse cursor, allowing for precise aiming, albeit at the expense of a certain feeling of “authenticity”. Meanwhile, some, like Ocean’s solid adaptation of Taito’s Operation Thunderbolt, provided the interesting twist of making where you were aiming invisible until you fired — much like a “real” lightgun would behave.

While the ST struggles to provide a completely authentic arcade experience — particularly in the sound department, as always — Operation Thunderbolt is actually a pretty solid port, and its unusual aiming mechanics make it surprisingly satisfying and addictive to play, even today.

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Atari A to Z: Track & Field

“Multi-discipline athletics” is a subgenre of sports gaming that seems to have mostly fallen by the wayside in recent years.

In the ’80s, however, it was all the rage — and games such as Konami’s Track & Field proved to be the bane of many a joystick throughout the decade.

This Atari 8-bit port of the arcade classic is a surprisingly solid adaptation, wonky scrolling and inadvertent hairpieces aside. If you’ve had a hankering for a wagglin’, well, you can do far worse than this!

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