John Lettice and Shirley Fawcett take the line of most resistance. Here's their front-line report.
Day by day the quest for original games concepts becomes more and more fraught and, as new titles are released, the problems for gibbering programmers ("Hey Mel, you dribbled on my disk") can only get worse. The Atari is probably one of the machines that is furthest down the road in these terms so, for those of you who pine for the rattle of gunfire and the throb of alien invasions, we present a review of how the software houses are coping.
This one is living proof that Atari games are often much happier playing themselves than boring old human beings. Two extremely classy-looking Microbots slog it out with 'Balls of Death' on either side of a wall of moving lights. Once the lights are knocked out, the objective is to attack the Microbot on the other side by disabling its plasma field, which consists of more moving lights.
The instructions explain the scenario in glowing Atari-speak: "You have been accidentally compuported into a glittering world where life, especially for humans, depends on plasma fields - the stuff of life. It is inhabited by fighting Microbots who spar constantly until aggressive humans take them over."
Got it? So when you run the game the Microbots are already at it, and you take over by pressing START and SELECT. When you do take over you find it isn't the most skilful of games, and knocking out the light before you get to the main business can be fairly tedious, but it's almost worth having the game just to watch the computer play itself. The graphics really are stunning.
Well, there I was, protecting the Earth's most advanced military equipment from destruction by the infamous galactic pirates, the Xenons - scout for a convoy driving through Death Valley, it looks like - when I noticed something really strange. I was obviously moving along the road, as the white line was going backwards, but the cacti on either side seemed to be following me...
But on reflection I decided leaving the cacti stationary and moving the road was just a programming shortcut. They certainly don't show any sign of leaping on you and spinning you to death.
Graphics aside, which are good, pace the peripatetic pricklers, this is a well-implemented version of "aliens dive out of the sun, you shoot them, you refuel, then more aliens dive out of the sun"... Good bang-a-microsecond stuff.
Which is more than you can say for Rear Guard. It took me a few minutes to find out how to get out of the attached commercial for the Stone of Sisyphus adventure game, and I'm still not sure how I got into it in the first place. Once you get going, it turns out to be a fairly standard implementation of Defender, where you must shoot down alien attackers who are overtaking you (why am I running away from them?) in order to protect your mothership.Besides shooting the blighters down - a selection of arrows, SS Enterprise clones and the line - you can also bang into them, but as this drains your shields, it isn't to be recommended.
There are advantages to playing a game before reading the instruction leaflet. There I was under the impression that I was trying to kill a conga line in a graveyard while being attacked by a malevolent wig, only to discover later that you're actually attacking a centipede (the title is a dead giveaway) in a mushroom patch while a giant spider jumps at you.
All inhuman life is here. The centipede marches down the screen banging into mushrooms - don't be too hard on it, it must be like trying to turn a supertanker - the jumping spider can make mushrooms disappear, the poisonous scorpion poisons mushrooms which then, if the centipede bumps into it, makes the beast go crazy and run straight at you... To cap this, the frenzied flea creates mushrooms whenever he lands.
You, by the way, are a blaster, and you tackle the local predators with what appears to be considerably heavier weaponry than your average aerosol. Atari fans, of course, won't settle for anything less than heavy weaponry.
This one features two games for the price of... well, at current disk software prices, the price of two. Still, each one is a respectable version of familiar arcade favourites, good enough to keep you trigger-happy into the wee small hours.
Game One is a Bomber/Blitz/Mindlessly Violent Game of your choice, where you pilot a bomber at the top of the screen, flattening the planet below you so you can land in the ruins. You get shot at by lasers and torpedoes and indestructible fireballs, and there's also a force field to wreck before you can land.
Don't bother with landing, though - the explosion sequences when you fail to do so is far better value. Worth losing quite a few lives for.
Game Two is a Berzerk lookalike, in which you have to race around the maze of an alien city, heavily guarded by robots taking pot-shots at you.
Your aim is to find the power source hidden somewhere in the maze and - what else? - blow it to smithereens. Before you can do so, you'll need to dispose of umpteen robots - but you can only spot them when they are in your direct line of vision. Since they tend to lurk in doorways, that can be tricky.
Both games feature plenty of skill levels, to cater for even the most ham-fisted as well as the shooting superstars.