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Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries - Unpopular or no, I like this system!

A Black Falcon

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Background & My Thoughts on Getting the System


The Atari 5200 is really interesting and kind of good. I grew up playing PC and Nintendo games, not Atari, so the 5200 isn't a console I knew much about as a kid. Once I did hear about it, it interested me because of its short lifespan, small library, and poor reputation; this made me want to try it to see if it was better than people said, as such things often are in this industry. So, in the '00s I played a lot of emulated games, and one thing I tried were the 5200 and 7800. I probably played 5200 games more than 7800 games, intrestingly enough. I liked the games, I just wasn't sure what I'd think of the very-unpopular controller. That's the big thing most people dislike about this system, after all. So, the first Atari system I got was a 7800, which I got in early 2013. At the time I kind of wanted the 5200, but that wasn't available locally then while the 7800 was, so I got one. It's a good system and playing 2600 and 7800 games was interesting and often fun, but sadly that console mostly stopped working in early to mid 2014 -- its power button died. I really, really need to get it fixed, but haven't.


Instead, in early August this year, I got a 5200... and I like it for sure. One thing I've noticed about the 5200 is that while the library is small, it's really high quality! Most of the 17 games I own are good, only a few are only average, and none are bad. All of the games are fun to play to some degree. Of course, almost all of the games I have are conversions of popular arcade games, so that does make sense -- they are working from quality source material. And that is one issue with this system, its library mostly consists of ports. There aren't many 5200-exclusive games, in fact there are very, very few. That is too bad, but at least the games it did get are mostly good, and often have some differences versus other versions of the games. The 5200 isn't powerful enough to do perfect ports of early '80s arcade games, so 5200 games are at least somewhat unique, and no 5200 game is available on any modern platform -- while Atari and Activision have done collections and re-releases of many of their 2600 and 7800 games, 5200 games have not been re-released, unfortunately. This is a pretty nice system which I love to have. I have played the 5200 at least some every day since I bought it in early August, and am still having a lot of fun with the system. Even though it has some flaws, overall I definitely like the 5200 and it's great I finally have one.




System History


The Atari 5200 released in November 1982. It was a part of a new wave of consoles that released that year, which I consider to be the beginning of the third generation though most disagree. See my article on that issue for more on my thoughts on the issue of the 'missing' console generation of 1982-1984. This new wave of systems came two and a half years after the Mattel Intellivision's release in late 1979. It is, essentially, consolized Atari 400 or 800-line 8-bit computer. Instead of designing an all-new console for their second home system, Atari decided to instead base it off of their already-existing computer line released in 1979. This meant that the hardware wasn't entirely up-to-date. Computers are more powerful than consoles, in general, so the system is competitive with other consoles of the day, but it could have been a lot more powerful than it is. This can really be highlighted by pointing out that the much more powerful NES released in Japan in June 1983, only eight months after the 5200 did in the US. While the 5200 is within the same generation as the NES power-wise, it's far behind it within that generation. The 5200's main competition was the Colecovision, released in August 1982. The Colecovision sold much better than the 5200 and has about twice as many games released officially in the '80s, 120-plus on Coleco versus only 60-something for the 5200. Nintendo took notice of the Colecovision, and supposedly designed the NES to be better than that console. This paid off when Sega decided to put the hardware behind the Colecovision in their first console, the Sega SG-1000; it released the same day as the Famicom (the NES's Japaense name), but is far less powerful because the Colecovision and 5200 were probably a bit dated by the time of their release. Versus the Colecovision, SG-1000, or NES, the 5200 has very different looking graphics. All three of those systems have sprite-based displays, with mostly tile-based screens with sprites on them. On the 5200, though, graphics are much more pixelated and blocky, in that signature Atari style you see on the 2600, 5200, and 7800. The 7800 does have better sprites than the 5200, but it still mostly lags behind the NES in such things. It's not a bad look, just different. You get used to it.


Design-wise, the Atari 5200 is a very large system. The system has a large space on the back that lets you store two controllers in the system itself, an unnecessary feature that makes the box larger than it needs to be. Atari was thinking of releasing a "5100" system which would have been smaller and removed the controller storage space, but it was not released. Design-wise, the 5200 is clearly the system that the Atari 2600 Jr. and the Atari 7800 both copied, because the 5200 and 7800 have nearly identical design stylings, apart from the 5200's somewhat larger size. There are two 5200 models. The first has four controller ports and an external box with both power and automatic RF-switch components; the second model, only two controller ports and standard power and manual-RF switch ports. I have a model two; they are more reliable, but I do wish I had four controller ports. There is also an Atari 2600 adapter for the 5200, which works on all 2-port models but only certain 4-port ones. I tried to get one of these, but sadly it doesn't work right -- it's got the CRAZIEST graphical glitching on screen. Too bad, I really would like to play 2600 games again. The cartridges are similarly a bit bigger, and like Western NES carts are mostly filled with air, with only a small circuit board in a larger case. They do look nice, though, so I don't mind the large size. As with all consoles before the NES, you cannot save in 5200 games, and instead will just have to film the screen or write down your high scores on paper, if you want any record of your accomplishments. As almost all games are score-based games, keeping a high-score book is a good idea for classic console gaming, and I do do that.


Of course, no discussion of the 5200 is complete without discussing the great videogame crash of 1983-1984. In spring 1983, not long after the 5200's release, videogame sales began to drop. There were many causes of this, but one major one was that the licensing model of console gaming did not exist yet, so third-party games made the first party absolutely nothing, and they had no control over them. In 1982 a huge number of third-party studios started up, and they flooded the market with mediocre and derivitive games. Many failed to sell. The first parties helped fill shelves too, by making games for their competition; if you can't make money off of third-party games for your system, at least make money off of people who bought the other machines, the thinking was. So, there are Coleco games on the 2600 and Intellivision, Atari games on the TI-99/4A, Intellivision, and Colecovision, and Mattel games on the 2600. Interestingly, few arcade developers made their own home ports at this point, so numerous arcade games by a wide variety of developers were converted over to consoles by Atari, Parker Bros., Coleco, and some others. Some arcade companies did eventually make their own games, Sega did start releasing their own 2600 and 5200 games after initially licensing some out to Coleco, but most were not done by the original developers. So, in the list below I always list the original developer of arcade games not made by their publisher. This hurt Atari later on though, as on the Jaguar for instance they couldn't just release new Pac-Man or Berzerk games -- those games were not originally Atari properties.


Another problem that helped cause the crash was that Warner Bros., Atari's corporate parent since the late '70s, didn't understand that new consoles would be needed, so even after the 5200 released, they continued to focus as much or more on the 2600 than they did their new system. The 5200 versions of games also on the 2600 are generally much better, but they didn't get nearly the attention they needed, and the system badly needed exclusives, which it has almost none of. These issues confused gamers and delayed a transition to new hardware that needed to happen. Also, the industry was still quite young, so stores were not as used to videogames as they would later become and many thought that they were a fad which was starting to pass, so they ditched them at bargain-basement prices; consumers either stuck with their old systems or moved over to computers as the console industry faded; and sales began to crash. As the panic spread, record profits quickly turned into record losses for many companies. A lot of those studios founded in 1982 didn't last two years before being shut down by their owners or corporate parents -- CBS Video Games, Fox Games of the Century, US Games (a division of Quaker Oats), Parker Bros., and more stopped making games for years after 1984. Activision, the first third-party studio, did survive, but they were one of the few. Parker Bros. and Activision were the Atari 5200's two strongest third-party supporters, I should add -- Activision released 13 5200 games, and Parker Bros. eight. Most are ports, but they include some pretty good games. Atari's first-party 5200 games are often pretty good too, as I have found out.


But just having good games wasn't enough, and as sales dropped, Atari's clueless owner, Warner Bros., decided to get out. After supporting the system well from release in Nov. '82 until the end of 1983, Atari drastically cut back on 5200 support the next year. Almost all 5200 games planned for 1984 were cancelled. Some have leaked to the fans and been released as free downloads for those with flash carts or homebrew cartridges of the games, but others just vanished. The only 5200 game released by Atari in 1984 was Choplifter. Third parties did rlease games that year, so the 1984 release list isn't too bad thanks mostly to Activision and Parker Bros., but the system was killed off far too early. Even worse, Atari bought up the rights to a new system designed by GCC (the designers of the massive hit game Ms. Pac-Man), which they dubbed the Atari 7800, and decided to release it in 1984, not even two years after they had just released a console! That's just insane stuff, as bad a move as the worst of '90s Sega mistakes. Killing a console that quickly and replacing it with a new one is NOT the way to get consumers to want to stick with your company, they will instead start to mistrust you! But after a test market of the system, it was put off because instead WB sold the console and computer side of Atari to Jack Tramiel. WB did keep the arcade side of Atari, though, which was dubbed Atari Games. Atari Games would become a semi-independent company partially or fully under WB's control until being bought by Midway in 1996. Most of Atari's game developers stayed with the arcade division, though, and Jack Tramiel didn't hire on many of Atari Consumer's employees, so when he finally did release the 7800 in 1986 it had an incredibly thin game library. In its four-year-plus lifespan, the 7800 only managed about as many game releases as there are on the 5200 even though its lifespan was, for the most part, twice as long.


There is one exception to that, though -- Jack Tramiel discovered that they had warehouses full of Atari 5200 games and software when he bought the company, including three completed and packaged but not-released titles. He decided to sell it off at a discount, and it sold fairly well. The three new games, Gremlins (1986) and two Lucasarts titles, Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer (1986 or 1987, it's not clear), were nice additions to the system's library. I definitely want Fractalus, that looks like a pretty interesting game. I think that the good sales the 5200 had at this point help show that Atari made a mistake by deciding to abandone the system so quickly in 1984. Yes, the games industry was collapsing, but giving up on their console only helped it go down even faster. It's really too bad. At least homebrew developers have helped fill in the gaps in the system's library by porting dozens of Atari 8-bit computer games over to the 5200, though! They have at least doubled the size of the 5200's library over the past decade-plus. I'll definitely need to get a flash cart at some point so I can play them all. That's the current state of the system -- mostly ignored, but occasionally a new Atari 8-bit port releases. There are also three original homebrew titles for the system that I know of that have been released on carts; this is far, far fewer homebrew games than other classic systems have, but at least there are all those 8-bit ports to give it a good volume of homebrew content even if almost none of it is new.



The Controller


So, yes, I do think that the controller is decent; once I put together a working controller I was pretty happy with it. It isn't the most comfortable controller, admittedly, but it works well. The controllers are fragile, I had to buy two of them to have the parts to put together one good one, but if you get a good controller they're fine. The 5200 controller is very innovative in some ways. It was the first controller with a pause button, as far as I know, and that's a FANTASTIC addition! None of the other classic consoles let you pause your game, so that you can on the 5200 is really great. The system also has an analog joystick, two buttons (doubled on each side, but that's just for left or right handed play, they aren't different buttons on each side), and a 12-key keypad. The Intellivision popularized keypads on console controllers, and the Colecovision and Atari 5200 both copied the concept of a vertically-oriented controller with the stick/pad on top, keypad below, and buttons on the sides. The problem is that this design is not comfortable or good for your hands over long play sessions. And that is an issue with the 5200, after an hour or two of play it does get uncomfortable. Still, 5200 games are short, so I don't mind this too much. The side buttons are often accused of being mushy, and this is true, but I think they're fine, so long as they work well as mine do. And as for the stick, it's analog and doesn't entirely auto-center. It's fantastic for analog games which make use of the analog nature of the stick, as some games do, but games which just use it as a big digital stick can have some response issues, I do admit.


Perhaps the biggest complaint about the controller, though, is that the stick doesn't auto-center. I didn't entirely understand what this means until I used the controller; I thought that maybe the stick would just stay where you left it, but that isn't entirely true. Really, the stick partially autocenters, but not entirely. So, the issue is that the only centering this stick has is a rubber thing around the stick. This moves the stick back towards the center, but won't spring it back to center when you let go of the stick as a good joystick should do. Atari really cheaped out with the stick design, and that's really unfortunate because it hurt the console. The 5200 would have done better with a better controller, I think; it has other problems of course, but this is one of them. Still, I do think that the criticism the controller receives is overdone. The controller isn't that bad, really! Games which do use analog really benefit from the stick, and some games play better with this controller than they would with any of the digital-only controllers which almost all consoles over the decade after this would use. I think that the 5200 controller was a good idea, and love the Start, Pause, and even Reset buttons that are right on the controller -- it really is a huge improvement over other systems which either don't have those buttons or, like the later Atari 7800 or Sega SG-1000 and Master System, put them on the system itself. The 5200 did it first and better. Even the NES doesn't have a reset button on the controller! It's quite handy, particularly for classic arcade games like these. I don't like the keypad nearly as much, but you don't need to use it much in games; most games use only the stick and side buttons. It works okay in the few games that do require you to use the keypad.



Favorite games


5. Popeye

4. Super Cobra

3. Pole Position

2. Galaxian

1. Defender


Honorable Mentions: Dig-Dug, Astro Chase, Centipede, Missile Command, Star Raiders



Notes for the List Below


-analog control required means that the game actually makes use of the Atari 5200's analog joystick, so you have proportional control in some way. I thought this was worth mentioning for anyone who hates the controller and wants to use some adapter instead; these games won't work well with non-5200 controllers.

-two buttons required mark games that actually use both of the side buttons on the 5200 controller. Most games only need one button, but some use two. Non-5200 controllers will only have one button on them that you can use.

-Keypad required means that the game actually uses the keypad ingame during play, and not only to select options. Almost all 5200 games use some keypad keys to switch game modes, select the number of players, and the like, but only a few actually have you using the keys during play.

-Trackball supported marks games that advertise support for the Atari 5200 trackball controller. I don't have one yet, but I'd really like to get a 5200 trackball, it sounds great.


-When I talk about the other platforms these games are available on, excepting the Atari 8-bit (400/800) computer line, the other versions of the games here are not the same as these versions. No Atari 5200 game is available for legal digital download on any modern system, so if you want to play real 5200 games you need to either emulate or buy the real system.


Game Opinion Summaries - 17 total



Astro Chase - 1 player. Astro Chase is a pretty interesting space shooter game. This game is interesting for several reasons -- it's one of only two computer conversions I have for 5200; the other 15 games I have are all arcade ports. Parker Brothers released this port of an Atari 8-bit game by First Star Software in 1983. Astro Chase has good presentation, with nice graphics, an actual musical soundtrack, and little cutscenes after every four waves or so. The gameplay is good, but could be a bit better, though. The main drawbacks are repetition, control issues, and a low difficulty level for too long. In the game, you play as a flying saucer protecting the earth from waves of missiles. If even one missile reaches the planet, it blows up, game over. You can't actually win, so Earth's demise is inevitable; very few games of this era have endings, unless the game is very short. That's too bad, but the gameplay is fun once you get used to it, even if it could be better. The play area has the earth in the center and a field of asteroids and planets around it. You have maybe a nine-screen area to fly around in, approximately; there are some barriers preventing you from flying any further into space. The play area doesn't expand as you get farther, what you see is what you get. The planet and asteroid obstacles are probably randomly are-located for every level, though, so there is variety to the level designs. The gameplay is just basic shooting, though. As you fly around there are two types of targets, missiles and enemy ships. Missiles can't hurt you, but you must shoot them all down before they hit the Earth. They are small, and can be hard to hit because of the controls -- you have only eight-direction movement and firing in this game, not full analog control, unfortunately. Full analog aiming and movement would have really helped this game. The second enemy type are various kinds of enemy ships which are trying to kill you; these can't hurt the Earth, but will shoot or ram you if they can. Each wave in the game works the same way. You start near the Earth, and fly around looking for missiles to shoot at while avoiding or shooting down the endless waves of enemy shops that attack you while you do so. It's fun for a while but gets repetitive. Still, I do like the game.


Visually, the game looks nice for the time, but as with a lot of games on this system there is only limited color variety. All planets, asteroids, and such are purple; your ship is one color; and each enemy type is a single color as well. I do like the soundtrack, it's one of the better ones in a 5200 game I have; few of Atari's 5200 games have full soundtracks. The controls are the thing that holds this game back, though. You move with the stick, in only eight directions, and while holding the lower button can fire. While holding the button you will autofire, and the stick will now aim your shots, while your ship continues moving in whichever direction it was moving before you hit the button. So, it's a limited sort of twinstick mode, but it doesn't work nearly as well as a real one because you can't actually control your movements while aiming, you just fly along in a straight line. It is amusing to see your ship bounce off of everything as it does, though. When you hit things you lose energy, but you have so much of it that it won't run out anytime soon. You won't be getting game over soon either, because Astro Chase gives you a lot of extra lives! If you're decent at the game a game can last a good while. The game does let you choose your starting wave at the beginning, though, which is a nice option. I would like to see all of the little cutscenes, I haven't gotten them all yet. Overall, Astro Chase is a good but not great game. It's perhaps not quite as good as I was hoping after seeing the nice visuals, but it is a decently fun game, if you luck into finding a cheap copy as I did. Still, it is great to see a 5200 game that clearly is "next-gen" compared to the system's numerous enhanced Atari 2600 ports, and isn't available on that older platform. The sound and graphics are good as well, and the gameplay decent. Analog aiming, a better difficulty curve, and an ending would be great features to add to this game, but it's fairly good as it is. Despite my criticisms, this is a pretty good game for sure. Atari 8-bit computer port not available on any other console.



Berzerk - 2 player alternating. Berzerk, from Atari, released in 1982 and is a port of an arcade top-down shooting action game by Stern, much better known now for its pinball tables. I covered the Atari 2600 version of this game previously, in my 2600/7800 thread, but now I have the 5200 version as well. Berzerk on the 5200 is a lot like the 2600 version, but with better graphics, some voice samples, and gameplay more accurate to the arcade game. As with the 2600 version, though, while I do like this game, I don't love it; in games like this the limitations of this kind of very basic design really stand out to me. Berzerk appears to be a maze game, but it really isn't. This game is made up of an infinite number of randomly-designed static screens. You play as the one human, trying futilely to escape from a robot army. You move with the stick, and fire by hitting the button while pointing the stick in the direction you want to shoot. 8-direction firing (with two sticks or something) would be awesome in this kind of game, as it is the controls feel a bit limiting. The controls are a bit slow thanks to the 5200's joystick, but do work. The walls are electrified and kill any human or robot who touches them, and enemies will all shoot at you as well, and move towards your position. The game has a top-down perspective, and each room has a different wall layout. The grid isn't too small, though, so you don't have any complex mazes to navigate, just a couple of walls here and there. There are also exits on all four sides of the screen, unless one has been locked as they sometimes are; then you need to use a different exit. Your goal is to get as many points as you can before you die, and you get points from killing robots (or luring them to their doom by getting them to bump into walls) and from point bonuses you get after leaving a screen. If you take too long on a screen, the killer smilie face Evil Otto will appear and start chasing you. He is pretty much invincible, so get off the screen when the voice sample announcing his presence plays. This game can't play voice samples during gameplay, so the game will always pause when one plays, or play them between stages. Still, this is the only 5200 game I have with voices, and it's great that it has them at all. I wish more 5200 games used voices, but I imagine it took up a lot of cart space for the tiny amounts they had for these games. And that latter issue is my other, main issue with this game -- it feels like there is no point to this game! You can't escape the robots; there is no real maze, only an endless number of always-new random rooms (so if you go back through a door you just go to a new random room, not the last place you were); and your only real goal is to play for points. I do enjoy score-attack play sometimes, it's fun enough in Galaxian for instance, but in Berzerk I'm left wanting more. At a minimum, actual mazes to work through that then loop endlessly once completed would have been a huge improvement over the endless succession of random rooms you have here. Still, Berzerk is a classic for a reason, and the game does play well. This version of the game is not was good as the arcade original thanks to not-quite-as-good graphics and slower controls, but it is still a solid game that's fun for a while and shows off the system's voice capabilities nicely. Arcade port also on the Atari 2600 and Vectrex. There is also a sequel, Frenzy, released exclusively on Colecovision and arcades.



Centipede - 2 player alternating, analog control required, Trackball supported. 1982's Centipede is a port of one of Atari's most popular arcade hits. It is yet another shooter, this time a static-screen shooter. You can move around a box on the bottom of the screen, and shoot up at centipedes, spiders, mushrooms, and more. Centipede has been released on innumerable platforms over the years, so there is no particular reason to get this version, but if you do it is a good version, particularly if you have the trackball; sadly, I don't have one yet, though I do want one. Comparing this version to the Atari 7800 version of Centipede, the main question is, do you want minutely better graphics and some neat simultaneous multiplayer modes (the 7800 version, since it has those while the 5200 is alternating only), or do you want better controls (the 5200 version, since the 7800 is digital only)? Or just get both as I have, and have both options available when you want them, that works too. :P For single player modes the two versions are the same -- both are Centipede, with four difficulty settings and graphics that aren't quite up to the arcade games' standard. Visually the two versions look very similar, but spiders look slightly better on the 7800, as they use two colors instead of one, so I guess it has a tiny visual edge. Your ship, the centipede segments, and the mushrooms look slightly different on each system, but are about equivalent artistically. The 5200 version stretches the game to fullscreen while the 7800 runs in a border to maintain a more arcadelike look I guess, but really they're about the same visually. In terms of sound, as usual the 5200 sounds better, thanks to its superior sound chip. This game doesn't have music, only sound effects and such, but they do sound nice.


Gameplay is fast and frenetic. The analog stick gives good analog control over your ship, and you have analog speed control as well -- you move at several speeds depending on how far you push the stick. The centipedes are your main target, but watch out for the spiders, they get tough to avoid very quickly! Some centipede segments drop new mushrooms when they die, filling up the screen. You need to keep shooting to clear out those mushrooms, they can't hurt you but will redirect the centipedes, hastening their trip down the screen. Each time you kill all parts of a centipede the screen's colors change. In addition to centipede parts and spiders, there are also a couple of other enemies that appear once in a while, including one type which drop down the screen and another that move across the upper part of the screen, giving you a point bonus if you can hit them. Centipede is a difficult game, and games are often short, but definitely has a strong "just one more game" factor that can keep you playing for a lot longer than you initially meant to. It's a great classic and I definitely like it, this version of Centipede is pretty good! Sure, Centipede is on dozens of platforms, but I think this one was worth getting. It's surely even better with the trackball. Arcade port, also available (in slightly different forms) on dozens of platforms.




Defender - 2 player alternating, two buttons plus keypad required, Trackball supported. Defender for the 5200 is Atari's version of the Williams arcade side-scrolling shmup of the same name. An absolute work of genius, the original arcade version of Defender released in 1980 and is one of the greatest games ever made. Eugene Jarvis's first game might be his best! Robotron 2084 and Smash T.V. are also fantastic, but I like Defender even more. And fortunately, Atari did a fantastic job with this port of the game. Light-years better and more accurate than the mediocre 2600 "Defender" game, Defender for the 5200 is fantastic and one of the best games on the system. The graphics and sound are very close to the arcade game, the controls are great, and gameplay is about as good as it gets. Really the only flaw with 5200 Defender is that it's easier than the arcade game. This game is challenging, but it's not quite the crushing challenge of the arcade game, particularly on lower difficulty settings. I have always loved Defender, with its simple but very stylish graphics, droning sound effects, and monumental challenge. So, it didn't take long to fall in love with this version! The game may be easier to control and play than the arcade game, but it's still amazing.


In Defender, you try to save humans from an alien armada. Of course, as in most games of this era the game is an endless game you can't win, and are instead just playing for score. I prefer being able to beat games, but good endless score games can be lots of fun too, and this is one of the best. This is a scrolling spaceship shooter, or shmup. Each level is a horizontal looping stage, so if you keep going in either direction you will go endlessly through the stage. There is a map of most of the level on the top of the screen, and the play window below. The map shows nearby enemy Lander and human locations, and where you are, so it's vital. You move up and down with the Y-axis on the stick, move with the X-axis (but remember that the ship will have to reverse directions before you can go the other way, so you can't just shoot at things on both sides of you without a delay), fire with the lower button, bomb with the upper one, and warp by hitting any keypad button. The arcade game had only buttons with no stick for movement, so control here is a bit easier I think. Gameplay is fast and furious, and at times the screen is filled with enemies. I have always liked the very cool white line graphic that Defender uses for your shots, and it looks great here. 5200 Defender is lower-resolution and blockier than the arcade game, but otherwise looks fantastic and is a great representation of the game. All of the enemies are here, from the landers trying to capture the humans, to the tougher enemies that home in on you if a lander captures a human, to the small UFOs, block things, and more that try to kill you. You do get extra lives, but between the many enemies and their bullets, you'll die eventually. If all humans are killed, the ground blows up and you have to fight some tough battles in space before continuing on a new land area, as in the arcade game. Defender is a frenetic game where you fly back and forth, blasting away at enemies as you try to save the humans from the landers. The engine, shot, and droning intro sounds are just like the arcade game, and gameplay is as close as you could get on hardware of this era. Overall, Atari 5200 Defender is one of the better versions I have played of one of the best space shooters of all time. It is easier than the arcade game even on the hardest setting, but it is still a hard game that will take a long time to master, and sometimes it's nice to play a slightly easier version of Defender. An arcade port, versions of Defender are available on many platforms old and new.




Galaxian - 2 player alternating, analog control required, Trackball supported. Galaxian, another 1982 release from Atari, is a port of Namco's arcade single-screen shmup that is probably more famous as the predecessor to the all-time classic Galaga. I have always liked Galaga a lot, as I said in my Atari 7800 list, but Galaxian is a game I have mostly overlooked in favor of its more famous sequel. Well, playing this version of the game now, Galaxian is a pretty great game too! And this 5200 version of the game is fantastic, as well. 5200 Galaxian has great graphics, very good controls, eleven difficulty levels to choose from, and great, classic static-screen-shooter gameplay. As in most games of this kind, gameplay is simple: you move left and right with the stick, and fire up with the lower button. Only one of your shots can be on the screen at a time, so try to get used to the aiming, it is important. You will autofire by holding the button down, but with only one shot at once on screen I find it often better to press the button to shoot, so you can aim better. In Galaxian there is a formation of enemies at the top of the screen, and some regularly dive down at you from their places above. The key to scoring points in Galaxian is that you get more points for hitting diving enemies than enemies in formation at the top. In this version, unlike the arcade game, there is actually a different sound effect for hitting diving enemies than ones in formation, which helps encourage you to try your best to shoot at the diving enemies, not just to wipe out the barely-moving formations. I really like this. The sound effects as enemies dive down at you are also great stuff and add to the game. Like most 5200 games this game doesn't have music, but it does have great sounds.


The other major addition to this 5200 version of Galaga is pretty nice: analog movement controls! Unlike the digital arcade game, here you have two movement speeds, so you will move faster if you press the stick harder, and slower if you don't move it as far. It's a great feature that helps you dodge through the forests of fire that can fill the screen in this game. Maybe digital controls would be better, but I think 5200 Galaxian controls pretty well, this game is great fun to play. Galaxian is a nice-looking game, with a great starfield background and enemies of several colors. The yellow enemies are the boss enemies, brown are their guards, and the others are the normal enemy ships. You get more points for killing yellow enemies if they dive down with guards and you take out the guards first and then the boss enemy -- you get only 150 points for a solo diving yellow boss, but a full 800 for if you kill two guards and then the boss enemy they dove at you with, all in one pass. Figuring out the timing to hit enemies is tricky, but this game rewards practice. The numerous difficulty levels are nice as well, as they scale up from tough to crazy-walls-of-bullets hard. On that one though, 5200 Galaxian does have one flaw: lots of slowdown! When a lot is going on on screen, Galaxian will slow down significantly. I don't know if the hardware really can't do better than this or if this is just a symptom of an early title for the system, but it is unfortunate. Otherwise though, this is a great static-screen shmup. I had never really played much Galaxian before getting this game, but I sure will be in the future! It's too bad that the 5200 didn't get a version of Galaga, to see what it could do compared to the great 7800 version of the game, but this is also a pretty good game. It's more traditional and Space Invaders-styled than Galaga is, but it's also a fantastic game. The 5200 version of the game looks, sounds, and plays great, and is one of the bigger surprises here for me. Arcade port; the arcade version is available on numerous platforms, but this version is 5200-only.



Joust - 2 player simultaneous. Joust, from Atari, is a conversion of the Williams arcade game. I have never loved Joust all that much, so I got this expecting to not like it that much, and unfortunately, that is accurate. Joust has an awesome story, but the gameplay is a bit frustrating. Joust is a side-view arcade action game. You are a jousting knight riding a flying ostrich, and have to defeat other jousting knights. So yeah, the story is awesome, but that gameplay... I don't know, it's a good game, but ever since I first played Joust as a kid I haven't liked it that much. Nintendo's Joust clone Balloon Fight might be slightly better. Still, Joust is at least an okay game, but that's about it. The stick moves you left and right, and the lower button flaps your bird's wings, making you 'jump' higher into the air. The 5200 version of this game is good, but not the best version of Joust; I don't mind the 5200 controller, but it's not ideal for this game. Flap control is essential in this game, and the fire button, while decent, isn't the best. A bigger issue than the controller is the game itself, though -- Joust is an INCREDIBLY floaty game. It's very hard to go where you want to in the air because you're floating all over. That's not just this version, that's Joust in general and it's always been one of my biggest problems with the game. Balloon Fight has tighter, better controls.


Joust is a combat game. You defeat an enemy by hitting them from a higher altitude, so the higher lance wins when two sprites collide. Good luck, you'll need it. This is a single-screen arcade game, so on each screen you need to defeat all the enemy knights. Defeated enemies turn into eggs, which then fall down to earth. If they land in lava they burn up, but if they land on the ground you'll need to walk over them to defeat them and get points or the enemy will respawn. There is only one basic stage, but as you progress sometimes some platforms will vanish, giving the game some variety. There are also several different enemy types. Still, Joust has little variety, every stage is similar. Of course that is how most games of this era work, but I don't have quite as much fun playing this game as I do many of the other 5200 games I have. Every attempt I make at playing Joust ends with me frustrated at the controls, and I never have been able to stick with it long enough to get good; I'd rather play a game I like more instead. Still, this is a fine port of the game and looks and plays well. The graphics look a lot like the arcade game, the sound is good, and it controls like Joust, for people who like how this game controls. Arcade port, also available on dozens of other consoles.



Kangaroo - 2 player alternating. Kangaroo is another arcade port by Atari, this time of a game they published themselves in the arcades, though Atari may not have developed the arcade version. Kangaroo is a Donkey Kong clone single-screen platformer. It's a decent game with badly flawed controls. You play as a mother kangaroo, and have to reach your joey (your kidnapped baby kangaroo) in order to beat each screen. As in Donkey Kong, there are four screens in the game, each harder than the last. Your enemies in this game are a legion of monkeys who are dead-set on stopping you. They climb up and down the sides of the screen and sometimes come onto the platforms, and throw things at the kangaroo that you'll have to duck under or jump over. You can attack them with your punch attack, used with the lower button. There are pickups along the way for points, and if you hit the bell more will appear that you can go back for if you wish for a higher score but some added risk. You need to be perfect with your jumps between platforms here too, because falling even a single pixel means immediate death, which is kind of annoying. Kangaroo is a hard game, and I haven't yet beaten all four screens though I have reached screen four. Kangaroo is also on the Atari 2600, and I have that version. I like that this version has four screens, that one only has three. Visually Kangaroo looks okay, but certainly doesn't push the 5200. This version is a step over the 2600 version and everything looks much clearer, but it's still only an average-looking game. As fopr sound, there is a song that plays before you start, but as with most 5200 games, there isn't ingame music most of the time. A little tune does play when you hit the bell, though. The audio is decent, but seriously, more 5200 games should have had soundtracks, the audio chip can handle it!


The biggest issue with this game, though, are the controls. The controls have not been improved over the 2600, and thanks to this joystick might be even worse here. On the 2600, up for jump was a sad necessity, you punch with the button and there is no second button to jump with on that controller. The 5200 does have two buttons, though... but you still must use up to jump! It's horrible, and kind of ruins the game. Getting used to the jumping in this game will take some serious practice. You need to push the stick in the direction you need to go in, then diagonal forward in that direction, then back down or you'll keep jumping and maybe jump into some hole up ahead. It's clumsy and doesn't work well. Why in the world couldn't they have let you use one of the buttons to jump with, the game would be pretty good if they had done that! As it is though, Kangaroo is an okay game with a big learning curve. Because you need to recenter this stick after each move, you really need to pay attention to every move in this game, and make sure to move the stick back to center after each jump or duck. It does work, but better controls, that is a jump button, would have helped a lot. I have started to get more used to the game with some practice, though, so it is playable. The stages have some nice variety; I like the stage with the tower of monkeys you can knock down if you wish, that's fun stuff. Still, overall, Kangaroo is only average thanks to average visuals and the awful jumping controls. Still, as one of the few officially-released platformers on the 5200, it's worth getting if you have the system. As flawed as it is, as a platformer fan I do like that I have this game, it can be a fun challenge. Arcade port, also on Atari 2600.



Missile Command - 2 player alternating, analog control required, Trackball supported. Missile Command was one of Atari's biggest arcade hits of the early '80s, so they made sure to port the game over to the 5200. This is an endless missile-defense game with a side-view single-screen view. You have six cities to protect from missiles, planes, little homing triangles of doom, and more. You move a cursor around the screen, and each press of the lower button fires off a missile from your centrally-located silo. The arcade version had three silos, each with a button, but this version has only one, like the 2600 version. It'd have been nice to see two, at least, one for each main button on the controller. Fired missiles explode once they hit the point you targeted, and your goal is to destroy the falling enemy warheads in those explosions. These missiles will also blow up in the air, maybe causing chain reactions. The missiles come in waves, and after each wave your score is tallied. You have a limited number of missiles per wave, and get a replacement city each 10,000 points, which the game will remember if you have all six intact. Missile Command is a simple game, but extremely difficult! This is one of those brilliant classics, perfectly designed to be fun for a minute but to take many hours to master.


This 5200 version of the game may have worse graphics and simpler gameplay than the arcade original, but thanks to the analog stick in the controller it does have pretty good controls. The 5200 joystick makes a pretty solid trackball or spinner replacement, as this game, Centipede, and Super Breakout all show. I imagine the controls are even better with the 5200 trackball, but they work pretty well with the standard controller too! This game controls great and is a lot of fun to play. Sure, the graphics definitely could be better; 5200 Missile Command looks better than the 2600 game, but this system can do a lot more than this. And while the sound is decent, it's nothing great. But with great controls and constant action, 5200 Missile Command is a very good game despite its simplified design and lacking presentation. Missile Command is one of Atari's great classics, and even without the trackball this is a fantastic version of the game. Missile Command does get very hard very quickly, but it's supposed to be that way. This is a game about a nuclear war. You are doomed and can't win, just like it would be in a real nuclear war, something which felt much more likely when this game was released during the Cold War than it does today. Each game ends with a pretty nice THE END screen, on a red background, which then starts blowing up. With gameplay this great, though, you'll want to try again right away for sure! Missile Command is great, one of the upper tier of 5200 games I have in terms of fun factor. Arcade conversion; the arcade version has been ported to innumerable consoles, though this specific version is 5200-exclusive.



Pac-Man - 2 player alternating. Another Atari port of a Namco classic, Pac-Man for the 5200 is a pretty good port of one of the most popular arcade games of all time. While I don't hate the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man as much as many people do, this version is worlds better as it actually looks and plays a lot like the real thing, something that cannot be said for that game. Pac-Man, the most popular maze game, is a pretty good game but has never been one of my favorite classic arcade games; it's a great game, but while I do like it and think it's a fun game, I've never gotten hooked by Pac-Man enough to want to get good at it; it's something I'll have some fun with for a few minutes here and there, but don't love enough to take too seriously. So, while this version of Pac-Man is great technically, and plays fairly well though it does have some control issues, it's not one of my most-played 5200 games because I don't love this game as much as some of the others I have for the system.


Still, I can't deny Pac-Man's greatness, or its importance. I guess I just prefer a bit more complexity in a game like this, either through more complex game systems and more variety, as you see in Turtles for the Odyssey 2 (and arcades); that game is very obscure, but fantastic. Pac-Man is a simpler game. You are a yellow circle with a mouth and eyeball, and have to eat all of the dots in each level's single-screen maze. Four enemies called ghosts chase you around the maze, trying to kill you. Near the four corners are power pills, time-limited super-dots which let you eat the ghosts instead. Everything works here just like it does in the arcade game. The stage is identical every time, but as you get farther the enemies get faster and bonus item types change. There are also several in-between-level skits to see. It's nice that they kept those in this version of the game. Visually, the game looks like a slightly downgraded version of the arcade game. Everything looks similar to the original, but as with most 5200 games, the resolution is lower, objects blockier, and colors duller than in the arcade game. Still, for a 1982 console game this looks fairly good. It doesn't quite match up to the NES version of Pac-Man visually, but it's close and plays just as well. Other than the screen resolution and detail, the biggest difference between the two is that the NES version attempts to replicate the arcade games' vertical monitor and has a sidebar, while the lower-rez 5200 version is full-screen. This makes the maze a bit different looking, but it's still clearly the Pac-Man maze, and the gameplay is the same. For sound, it's a decent approximation of arcade Pac-Man's sound effects.


There is one issue with 5200 Pac-Man, though, and that is the controls. Games with analog controls work great on this controller, but digital games are more hit-or-miss. Some control well, like Defender, but in Pac-Man, the stick definitely takes some getting used to. Because the stick is loose and has a lot of throw, you need to move the stick a good ways to make each move. You'll need to get used to moving the stick to the direction you want before the turn in order to make corners. I still sometimes miss a turn I wanted to do. Also be sure to move the stick back to center, to avoid unwanted extra turns. I may mostly like the 5200 controller, but it isn't as good for Pac-Man as it is for many other games. Still, the game is entirely playable, and once you get used to the stick the game plays fine. Overall, Pac-Man is a very good game, but probably isn't one of the best 5200 games. Still, this game probably should have been the original 5200 pack-in game, not Super Breakout -- it's a good port of one of the most popular games of the time. Arcade port; other ports of the arcade game are available on many, many platforms.




Pengo - 2 player alternating, Trackball supported. Pengo, a 1983 Atari release, is a port of the arcade game by Sega. Pengo is the game that Hopper on the TI-99/4A is a clone of, for anyone who read my TI list. Versus Hopper, 5200 Pengo has more variety but perhaps slightly worse graphics. Pengo is an okay top-down arcade action game with some strategic, or perhaps puzzle, elements. You are a penguin, and have to crush your enemies by shoving blocks at them. This is a tile-based game, so you move from space to space with each push of the stick. Each level has a random assortment of blocks scattered around the screen, and you can push them by walking into them. If the block runs into some enemies before hitting a wall, you'll kill the enemy. A level ends after a certain amount of time or if you kill all, or all but one, of the enemies. As in Dig-Dug, when only one enemy is left it'll try to run off. Catching them is harder here than in that game, though, because you have to rely on boxes being positioned in the right places in order to kill enemies, so they often escape on me. That's okay. You get a point bonus after each level based on how fast you finished the stage and how many enemies you took out. There are a few more gameplay elements, such as a bonus if you line up the three special-looking indestructible blocks in a row, but those are the essentials. It may sound simple, but Pengo is a decent game which requires more strategy than most arcade action games do. If you just randomly push blocks around you will quickly run out of usable blocks and the enemies will get you, so think carefully before pushing blocks! Enemies will destroy blocks as they run into them, so if both sides are wiping out blocks too soon you'll be left with nothing. Also some blocks will turn into enemies; these flash with an enemy at the start, so if you can remember which they are, you'[ll get a point bonus for destroying those blocks before the enemy comes out of it. While definitely not one of Sega's best early arcade games, Pengo has some nice strategy and is a fun game. I like games which make you think, and this game does do that.


Visually, Pengo looks okay. The game has decent graphics, though it's not great looking. Your penguin looks like a penguin, and the enemies like other creatures. As with most all 5200 games the game is low-rez and pixelated; 5200 graphics really look different from the sharp-sprites look of the Colecovision or NES. I don't mind, that's just how it is. The game could use more color, a common problem in 5200 games; most everything is monochromatic. Still, the blocks and enemies look different. The sounds are fairly basic stuff, just sound effects here with no ingame music, as usual on this system, or for arcade games of the day. The game does control well; I've never had an issue with the controls, the stick works fine here. As with many 5200 games, this game is light on options; there are some difficulty settings, and the usual two player alternating mode, and that's it. Still, Pengo is above average at least, for sure. This somewhat puzzley strategy of thinking about which blocks to push, and when, is fun, and it's always satisfying when you crush multiple enemies with a single shove. The playfield isn't too large, so even with only a few enemies danger is always nearby. Catching that last enemy when it runs is difficult, but you move on either way. I like the time bonus for finishing a stage fast, it rewards better play. However, Pengo does get repetitive and a bit boring after a while; as with most games of this era the game does only one thing, and it can get old eventually. Overall, Pengo is above average but not great. Because of somewhat more complex gameplay this is probably better than Hopper on the TI, but the game is a bit slow for an action game, and isn't as great as the great puzzle games, either. Still, Pengo's worth a play, at least. Arcade port, Pengo is also available on the Atari 2600, and, in Japan and Europe only, the Game Gear. I have the Japanese Game Gear version, it's the same basic game but has better graphics than on the 5200. There are also various old computer ports of the game. Pengo has few sequels, but there is a Japan-only Genesis game and a modern widescreen remake that only released in Japan (arcade/Xbox 360).




Pole Position - 1 player, analog control and two buttons required, Trackball supported. Pole Position for the 5200, from Atari, is a racing game, and a port of the Namco arcade game of the same name. This is a 'linescroll' style racing game that gives you a sense of motion by moving objects towards the screen. Pole Position for the 5200 has very blocky graphics, only one track, the game ends after a single race, and teh game is five minutes long, beginning to end, on the default setting. It's only maybe twice that long on the hardest mode, if you can beat it. However, despite the seriously lacking amount of content here, Pole Position for the 5200 is a great game! Sure, it badly needs more, but thanks to fantastic controls and smooth gameplay, 5200 Pole Position plays so well that the flaws are somewhat mitigated. Indeed, the key to 5200 Pole Position's greatness are those controls. This game shows off the 5200 controller better than almost any other I have! The analog joystick gives you extremely smooth control of your car; the not-entirely-autocentering stick works great in a driving game, you don't want the wheel to immediately spring back to center the moment you let go of it; and the two buttons give you independent controls for gas and brake. The controls work great, and with a little practice I was weaving between cars with only a few crashes. The analog controls here really show how unfortunate it is that there aren't any racing games with analog controls on the NES, SMS, TG16, SNES, Genesis, and such -- digital controls cannot match analog precision in a driving game! However, the great controls do help make this game even shorter, as they help you move through traffic more easily than you probably could with a digital stick. How much durability does a game that is this easy to finish really have? Sure it's really fun, and you can make it harder with the higher difficulties and longer races, but that only adds so much. Pole Position has four difficulty settings, but all that really affects is the number of cars that will be on the track and how much time you start with. You can also change the number of laps of the race from one to eight. An eight-lap race on the highest setting is a challenge, you'll need to never hit anyone to finish it. Still, the track itself is too easy; this game really needs more challenging courses! Also, you aren't racing against the other cars here, really; this is a score-based game. As fun as it is, in a racing game I want more than just to play for score.


Visually the game is smooth, but all objects are super blocky. Cars look like lumpy blocks of pixels, and roadside signs have no text, they are just rectangles on a pole. The actual car sprites of 7800 Pole Position II look better, but you do get used to this game, and the simple look has a certain charm to it for sure. I kind of like the look of these lumps of pixels. The sound is good, with a nice rendition of the opening theme first, and well-done engine sounds for your and the other cars during the race. It'd have been nice to have a full ingame soundtrack, but the engine sounds do give you a good idea of where the other cars are.


In Pole Position, you start out with a qualifying lap. You have plenty of time for this lap, so just try to finish fast enough to place in the top eight. If you don't finish in the top eight you will keep going, but the timer won't refill and you don't have time for a second lap, so just reset the game and try again. To reset, hit Pause, then hit Reset. Some 5200 games reset by just hitting Reset, while others require you to pause first; this is in the latter camp. If you finish in the top eight, it's on to the main race, a one to eight lap race lap race on the games' only track, Fuji. This is a somewhat easy circuit with only one tight turn. Apart from that one turn, the main challenge in this game are the other cars, not the course itself. Later linescroll racing games like this do a much better job of actually having challenging courses, but this game doesn't have it. The four difficulties each have a name, and oddly the default one, difficulty 2, is called the "Malibu Grand Prix" for some silly reason, though this is obviously in Japan thanks to the mountains in the background. The higher settings are the Namco and Atari Grand Prix, and the lower one Practice mode. In the main race, your time is quite limited. If you want to finish all four laps, even on the default difficulty you'll need to crash one time at most, maybe two if you otherwise race really well. On the top setting, anything more than a one-lap race really will require no crashes. Any more than that and it's over, you'll run out of time, game over. After each completed lap you get more time, just barely enough to get around the track again if you don't make any mistakes. So, skill is required to finish the game, but it's not too hard to do thanks to the smooth controls. At the end, whether you finished the race or not, your score is tallied. Remember, there are no real other racers in this game, they are just obstacles. You get points for how many cars you passed, how much time was left on the clock when you finished, and such. Overall, Pole Position is a pretty good game that is a lot of fun to play. This is the only racing game released for the 5200 during its active life, but at least it's a great one! I do find it quite unfortunate that the game has only one track, but at least there are a few difficulty settings to add a little more life to the game. Still, this is a very short game. Even so, Pole Position for the 5200 is one of the best 5200 games I've played yet! The TV ad for this 5200 version of the game, the one with the Pole Position song in it, is also absolutely incredible, one of the best videogame TV ads ever! Look it up. Pole Position is available on numerous consoles both old and new, on its own on older systems or in Namco collections on newer ones. This version is a bit different from the arcade game, though, and is only found on the 5200. The game also has a sequel, Pole Position II, which has four tracks instead of just one, a needed improvement. The Atari 7800 version of that game has better graphics than this game, and more content, but the superior controls of the 5200 version are a big point in its favor; the 7800, of course, has only a digital control stick, not analog. The 5200 game has better sound as well, of course.




Popeye - 1 player. Popeye, a 1983 Parker Bros. release, is a port of a Nintendo arcade game. Of Nintendo's arcade sidescrollers of the time, for some reason the 5200 got Popeye and Mario Bros., but not either Donkey Kong game. I haven't played Popeye much at all before, so I was interested to try this game. As with those other games, Popeye is a side-scrolling game, but in Popeye you cannot jump, which makes this game play quite differently from Donkey Kong or Mario Bros. I definitely prefer to be able to jump, so I don't think this game is quite as good as DK is, but it is a good game that has been mostly forgotten, and hasn't seen re-release since the NES version probably because of licensing, since this is a licensed game. The story is that Shigeru Miyamoto liked Popeye and wanted to make a Popeye game, but couldn't get the license so he made Donkey Kong. Well, after its success, they got the license, and this game is the result. Popeye is a classic cartoon, so it's interesting to see Nintendo make a game based on it.


So, considering that this is sort of a followup to Donkey Kong, why does it play so differently? I was hoping for a game that played like Donkey Kong, but this game isn't that. Instead, your goal is to pick up items which slowly fall down the screen. You play as Popeye, of course, and have to collect the various things Olive Oyl is dropping from the top, while avoiding Bluto, who runs around chasing you, and objects the Sea Hag throws from the sides of the screen. The lower button punches, and the stick moves. If you punch the things the Sea Hag throws they won't hurt you, but don't bother trying to punch Bluto, it won't work. There are flat horizontal platforms to walk on, and ladders and staircases that connect the platforms. There are some gaps in platforms in some stages which Bluto can get over but you can't, but you can walk around one edge of the screen to go to the other side (unless the Sea Hag is in the way) while Bluto can't do that. There's also a bounce pad in one stage (helped out by Wimpy) and a moving platform on the third stage, but the level designs are mostly fairly simple. For offense, if you get a rare spinach can you can knock out Bluto for a bit, and on the first screen if you punch the thing in the top level you can knock him out for a moment if the falling object hits him, but mostly you just have to avoid Bluto. The game has four single-screen stages, like DK and DK Jr., and loops endlessly after you finish all four screens. Levels in this game take quite a while to finish -- you need to collect between 18 and 24 items per stage, and they only slowly drop down the screen one to three at a time. The slow pace is one of this game's bigger problems, while Popeye is fun it can get boring because of how long the levels take. Bluto isn't too hard to stay away from, but sometime he'll get you, and avoiding him while also hitting the things the Sea Hag throws at you can be tricky. It's often easier to try to get to another floor, instead of timing punches to take out lines of thrown stuff.


Visually, Popeye looks decent. This version does not look as good as the arcade or NES versions of the game, but it does look better than some other ports, and most of the sprites are recognizable as who they are supposed to be, though they're a lot more pixelated than in the arcade or NES versions. All three screens from the arcade game are present, but the arcade version's little intro and ending sequences sadly have been removed. The NES version doesn't have the full intro or ending either, but does have a bit more than this version does. It would have been nice to see them, they add a bit to the game. The soundtrack did make it though, thankfully, and it's a good rendition of the soundtrack from the arcade game. Overall, I like Popeye. It's a classic Nintendo sidescroller that I hadn't played much before, and it's fun to play it now. This 5200 version of the game is pretty good and plays great, with solid controls and reasonably good graphics. The gameplay is a bit too slow-paced, and the absence of jumping is missed, so this game definitely isn't a classic on par with Donkey Kong, but still Popeye is a good game well worth playing. Arcade port, also on a bunch of classic platforms of the early '80s. There hasn't been a new release of the game since the NES version, though.



Qix - 1 player, two buttons required. Qix is another 1983 Atari port of a popular arcade game, this one originally by Taito. Qix was a very unique game at the time, but because it was quite popular the game inspired a genre of similar titles that have released over the years. That's really my issue with Qix; sort of like Tempest, as good as the original game is, I think that later games in the genre are better than the original. Still though, this is a pretty good game. So, in Qix you play as a little indicator mark, which moves around the edge of a square screen. If you hold down a button you will be able to move into the middle of the field, and if you then get back to the edge you will section off that part of the field, making your line into the new border of the screen. Your goal is to cover at least 65% of each screen in order to move on. Three enemies are trying to stop you: the Qix, a buzzing line which bounces around in the middle of the screen; little Sparx which move around the edge of the screen and will kill you if they touch you; and other sparx which start chasing you if you move out on a line into the screen and then stop moving -- this requires you to not just stop in the middle of the screen while on a line, though the Qix itself also encourages you to keep moving, because if the Qix crosses your line before it you have connected again to the side, you lose a life. One button moves you quickly, and the other button moves you slowly. You get more points for a box made moving slowly the whole time than a box where you moved faster at any point. You get five lives per game.


It's a great concept, and the game plays very well and is a lot of fun to play. However, the genre did improve after the original Qix. Later Qix-style games took the sectioning-off-the-screen concept to reveal a picture as you fill in boxes of the screen; this was particularly popular for '90s Japanese arcade games with scantily clad women in them, but other games have less risque images to reveal. In this one, though, you just color in boxes. This genre is a bit better with pictures, not just colored boxes and a flat black background. Qix's official followup Ultimate Qix (aka Volfied, for arcade, TG16, Genesis, and PS1) is better than this game, for example. Another issue with this game is that the screen resolution is pretty low, so the area you're filling in is smaller than the arcade game or many later similar titles. The Qix is also a super-pixelated line, or two lines, once you have to face two at once. This game looks fine for a 1983 console game, but definitely isn't one of the better-looking Qix-style games. The game also has few options, basically you just play the game. Still though, the core gameplay is good, so this is an above-average, high-quality game for sure. This isn't one of my favorite 5200 games, but it is a good one. Arcade port also available on lots of platforms, though this specific version is as always 5200-exclusive.



Space Invaders - 2 player alternating. Released some time after the very popular 2600 version of the popular Taito classic arcade static-screen shooter, Atari's 5200 version of Space Invaders is good, but not as good as the arcade or maybe even 2600 versions of the game. The main issue is, perhaps in order to make the game clearly distinct from the 2600 version, Atari made some significant changes to this version of Space Invaders which, overall, make it not quite as good as the original game. It does make it clearly a different game -- 5200 Space Invaders is an original game, not an arcade port -- but it's not a better game. Versus the 2600 version, the graphics are better, but there are far fewer gameplay modes and the game is not as well balanced, and compared to other 5200 shooters like Galaxians or Astro Chase, Space Invaders looks very dated in both graphics and gameplay. As with the arcade game, in Space Invaders for the 5200 you control a ship on the bottom of the screen and have to shoot all of the aliens in each wave before they reach the ground. This is an endless game, so you can't win, but instead play to see how high a score you can get. The game has 12 different modes, but it's just a difficulty setting with 12 options; unlike the 70+ varied modes of 2600 Space Invaders, there is only one basic game here, no crazier variations like the ones in 2600 Space Invaders with invisible aliens and such. That's really too bad, this game shouldn't have fewer features than its last-gen predecessor!


Visually, Space Invaders looks only okay. Enemies are the usual 5200 somewhat monochromatic two-similar-colors-each designs color-wise, but do animate nicely as they move. The initial waves make sounds as they descend down the screen, but starting from wave 7 or so the next enemy type makes no sound other than a noise when they descend to the next layer closer to you; this makes these levels very quiet, apart from your shots. More sound would have been good, so many silent levels is unfortunate. Particularly in these waves, which there are a lot of, this game is too quiet. I do like the animating enemies, and some of them are nice bright colors, but overall the game looks and sounds somewhat primitive. The huge sprites don't exactly show much of what the 5200 can do, and the background is just a flat black hue with nothing interesting going on, unlike, say, Galaxian. It's kind of amazing that both this game and that one released within months of eachother, because otherwise I'd guess that that one is a much newer game because of its better graphics. Space Invaders does have a lot less slowdown than Galaxian, but that doesn't nearly make up for the deficit.


Fortunately, the game is fun even if it's not the best looking game, but it is flawed. The basic concept of Space Invaders is the same as usual, shoot the waves of enemies which move back and forth in formation, trying to kill all of them before one reaches the ground. If enemy shots hit you you lose a life, or if an enemy reaches the ground it's an instant game over. Unlike other Space Invaders games, though, enemies in this game are huge, and take up much more of the screen than they would in other Space Invaders games. They also do not start in a screen-filling formation, but instead they fly in from the left side of the screen, one row at a time. They always enter from the left, never any other direction; that's a missed opportunity to add at least a little more variety to this game. Because of this design, every wave starts with you on the left side of the screen, shooting up at the entering enemies. This makes the game easier, but the large size of the sprites somewhat compensates -- enemies will move down the screen quite quickly once they are fully on screen because of how big those sprites are. Taking out the side columns of enemies is key. Also, the shields work differently from other Space Invaders games. This time bullets only do a one-pixel block of damage exactly where the shot it, and nothing more. This makes the shield last a lot longer than before. However, the shield doesn't get repaired between waves. Instead, only every seven waves or so will you get new shields. Again this is different from the original game, but not as good -- I much prefer the nicer-looking damage seen in the arcade games' shields. Still, the basic gameplay is great, and the game does control well. You move left and right with the stick, and fire with the button. Holding the button down will autofire, but only one shot can be on screen at once. The controls work very well, and the game is quite fun to play. But as a Space Invaders game, it's a bit disappointing. There definitely are worse Space Invaders games out there, but there are better as well, including the 2600 version. That version is more impressive for its system, and the huge selection of modes adds something to that game that this version doesn't have. Still, if you have a 5200, pick up Space Invaders because it's cheap and fun. Don't search out the console just for this game, though. 5200 exclusive, but other versions of Space Invaders are on many platforms, both arcade and console.



Star Raiders - 1 player, analog control plus keypad required. Atari's 1983 Star Raiders is a port of an Atari 8-bit computer game by Atari. Yes, a computer port from Atari, not an arcade port. And as you might expect from a computer game, Star Raiders is much more complex than most games on this system. This game is a 3d space flight combat game. You explore a section of the galaxy, destroying enemies, docking with starbases, and traveling around from place to place, until you have destroyed all the baddies and saved the day. If you play this game make sure to get the manual! You'll need it, there is a lot to learn. I like that you can actually beat this game and that it's not endless, it makes it feel a bit different from most 5200 games. This is a free-roaming game -- you can go to any point on the map at any time, it's not on a railed path. This game uses every keypad key, and has two functions on every key in fact, with the star and pound keys as modifiers to select speed mode or functions mode. In speed mode the 0 to 9 speeds change your speed. In the other mode, you have keypad keys to turn on and off the shields, targeting computer, and such; to look behind you; to use the map, which you must do before a warp or to see where the enemies are gathering; and to hyperwarp. Select a space on the map then warp to go there, or just warp randomly if you are in trouble. Ship control is nice and is analog, but the game only uses one of the side buttons, to fire your missiles. There are multiple difficulty levels available that add more and tougher enemies each time. In higher settings warping is tougher too, as you will have to keep on course with the stick while warping. You also have to pay much more attention to your ship's energy meter in higher difficulties. Combat controls are much simpler than the relatively complex flight controls, though.


Star Raiders is a pretty interesting game, but it does have some issues. First, the graphics aren't great and this game has the worst slowdown I have seen on the system. You have a first-person view in your cockpit, and never see your own ship. As usual on this system, the graphics are very pixelated, but do have a nice style to them. I like the starfield you fly through in this game, and it really is full 3d space even if everything is conveniently mostly in a 2d grid, but the enemy ships look very basic and simple, and your starbases don't look much better. And when you kill an enemy they explode into a cloud of pixels, and the framerate nearly stops! It's kind of crazy how slow the game gets during explosions. I really hope it's a misguided intentional effect, because the 5200 has to be able to manage better than that... it's kind of painful, and makes hitting other enemies during battle difficult at times. Aurally the game is fairly basic, with the usual engine and explosion noises. It sounds good enough, but a soundtrack would have been great; there are few of those in games from Atari on this system, I have noticed.


My other issues with the game are in the gameplay. Star Raiders is a good game for its time, but space combat in this game is a bit too simplistic. There seems to be no benefit to flying around during combat, it makes the most sense to just warp to a space with enemies in it, shoot at them while sitting there with your shield on, and then move on. Of course, things get harder in the higher settings where you can't just use the shield all the time, but I had some issues getting the keypad controls to respond during combat -- sometimes my ship wouldn't start moving while fighting, I don't know. I don't think it's the controller. Regardless, even if you are moving, you don't dogfight in this game. The enemies just fly around, you try to center the targeting reticule in the lower right-hand corner on the enemy, and then fire when it's lined up. For a game with as complex a universe to fly around as this game has, I was expecting a much better combat system, not something that's basically the same as 2600 games like Star Raiders or Solaris. Solaris has more graphical variety than this game, too. I know that is a newer game than this one, but it is running on the 2600. 2600 Star Raiders does at least have a better starfield, as Solaris just has static white does in the background while 5200 Star Raiders has moving 'stars' that give you a better sense of flying through space. I just wish that the combat had more to it than lining up a reticule and firing a few times.


Still, even if combat is too simple, the game is fun to play, and the difficulty curve from easier difficulties to harder goes up nicely. Flying around is fun, and I like that you have full control over your speed, where you're going, camera views, ship systems, and more. The map is great and very helpful. Overall Star Raiders is a good game and does a nice job of showing off some of the things the 5200 can do, but the horrible slowdown when enemies explode and the simplistic combat hold it back somewhat. I do like it though. Atari 8-bit computer port; there is also an Atari 2600 version, but it is much more simplistic and stripped-down. Solaris for the 2600 is the better 2600 game in this style.



Super Breakout - 1-4 player alternating, analog control required, Trackball supported. Super Breakout is a port of Atari's second version of Breakout, the classic bounce-the-ball-off-the-blocks game. Breakout is an incredibly influential game which helped great a popular genre that I like, but as I said in my 2600/7800 thread, the original Breakout has aged badly in several ways. Unfortunately, this game is basically the same as the 2600 game I discussed there, just with better graphics. Super Breakout was the original pack-in game with the Atari 5200, and while it does do a good job of showing off the advantages of an analog controller as the analog controls with the stick work great, in terms of graphics and gameplay this is very definitely last-gen. As for sound, there are sound effects when the ball hits something and that's about it; very basic audio here too. It's not exactly the great show of the new system's power that you would want from a pack-in game. This version does look a bit better than the 2600 version, but it's still a very basic-looking game, with just a wall of blocks, a paddle or two, and a ball or three. The game has about five modes, each slightly different but all the same in concept: destroy a wall of bricks. One has a normal classic wall, one has one that slowly moves towards you, one gives you two paddles and two balls, and the last has two balls inside the wall that you can break out and use once they escape.


The concept may be simple, but Super Breakout is a crushingly difficult game. I haven't yet finished one screen of Breakout in any of the modes, it's that hard. Two things make this game hard, but the worst one is the same major flaw that ruins the 2600 games -- you can only destroy one block each time the ball hits the wall of bricks. If the ball touches another brick after destroying the one it first hit, it'll just pass through it unaffected. This atrocious design decision makes the game nightmarishly hard and ruins the fun factor! I love later, better Breakout-style games like Warlords or the great Arkanoid, but this game is a pain due to the one-block-per-time rule. At least Blockout!/Brickdown! on the Odyssey 2 lets the ball destroy bricks it goes through on the way back down, even if it doesn't bounce off of them. This game needed to at least do that, but no, it doesn't. The other thing that makes Breakout so difficult is that while at first the game is quite playable and fun, once you get a ways into the wall the ball will speed up, and then once the ball hits the top of the screen the paddle size gets cut in half. Keeping up with the fast ball with a half-sized paddle is quite hard even with controls as good as this game has! You do get five balls per game, but I always lose them quickly once the wall gets broken down a bit. This game is fun to play despite the high frustration factor, and I do like the controls and gameplay before your paddle gets shrunken down and I'm sure I will continue trying to get through a screen of 5200 Super Breakout, but overall I'd rather play a later, better Breakout-style game. Oh -- the 3 or 4 player alternating mode requires a 4-port system. Only this game and some homebrew titles support more than two players, I believe. Breakout is too slow-paced and difficult to be one of the greats in the genre it created; it's a classic that later titles improved on. Arcade port, other ports of the arcade game are on lots of systems over the years.




Super Cobra - 1 player. Super Cobra is another 1983 Parker Bros. release, this time a port of a Konami arcade game. Super Cobra is effectively the sequel to Konami's first scrolling shmup, Scramble. Today Scramble is probably better known, but in the early '80s it was Super Cobra that was ported to many platforms, while for some reason Scramble's only '80s home port was to the sadly unpopular Vectrex. I hadn't really played Super Cobra before getting this game, but I was hoping it would be good because Konami's Gradius series is my favorite shmup series, I love those games! Super Cobra is very different from Gradius, but it is also a horizontal shmup, and a good one. Super Cobra looks fairly nice, with well-designed areas, plenty of content for a game of this time, and several different enemies to face. Your ship definitely looks like a helicopter, too. The game doesn't have a great variety of enemies or background art objects, but what it does have is well designed. I like the look of the game, it's simple but works. For sound there is no music, unlike the other two 5200 Parker Bros. games I have, but it does have nice sound effects for your weapons and helicopter.


In Super Cobra you fly a helicopter on a mission to destroy the enemies and pick up a crate at the end. When you fire you fire both bombs and bullets. only a few bullets, and only two bombs, can be on screen at once, so while the game has autofire you often don't want to use it. Learning the angle the bombs drop at, so you can hit ground targets, is tricky and takes some practice. The game is broken up into eleven levels per loop, each made up of two parts. When you die you start from the last beginning or midpoint of the level you're in. There are no difficulty settings in this game, but it is more than challenging enough to challenge just about anyone, particularly if you want to try to play well -- you get infinite continues in this game, so just finishing the game is only moderately challenging, but if you want a good score it'll be a SERIOUS challenge. This is a hard game loaded with lots of enemies, missiles, and very narrow tunnels to make your way through. Fortunately the controls are as responsive as you'll get from this controller -- when you die, it was your fault. Sure, the game is cheap and can be borderline unfair, but if you've learned the game, when you die you messed up somehow. For enemies, the missiles from Scramble return, and are a danger, but this time the enemy turrets are the toughest foes. They only fire at a single angle, but it is the same exact angle that your bombs drop at so they can be tough to kill without being killed yourself. There are also several types of flying enemies that you face on occasion. The game has no bosses, unfortunately, but what's here is good. As a sort of final boss replacement, there is that final, and super-difficult, challenge where you have to try to pick up that red box in order to beat the final stage, that took me many, MANY tries to succeed at. You need to be perfect to get it out of there without you, or it, dying. At least it lets you keep trying from the start of that section until you get it right.


On that note, there are several things that make Super Cobra's controls unique, and challenging. First, you can only move up to about halfway forwards on the screen, and second, you cannot move backwards on the screen, only move forwards or hold in place. Also, upwards or downwards movements are somewhat diagonally angled because of the screen scrolling, not straight up or down. This means that when you move forward you need to be sure that you should be moving forwards -- if you move forward in some places you will die if this doesn't leave you enough room to move up or down to avoid some obstacle just in front of you. Learning the stages is key -- when can you go up or down, when should you just hold the fire button and when should you carefully target certain enemies, etc. I had fun learning each level, even if I died a whole lot along the way. If you wanted to beat this game without using continues it would be a very difficult challenge! I don't know if I'll manage that, but I certainly will be playing this game more. Super Cobra is a great game and I like it a lot, it's one of my favorite 5200 games so far for sure. Arcade port, also available on the Odyssey 2 (Europe only), Colecovision, Atari 2600, Intellivision, Adventurevision, MSX, Atari 8-bit computer, and Sord M5. It's probably in some Konami collections as well.

Edited by A Black Falcon
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So glad you got to invest in the 5200 and really enjoy it a lot. I truly hate the poor rep that it receives. Your post was an outstanding read as well. I own a 2 port and a 4 port myself with a couple Best refurbished gold plated controllers along with the trak ball controller and the Atarimax SD cart. One of the best video game investments I have ever decided upon. Great direct arcade ported games and the POKEY chip. The scrolling is more fine tuned than say the Colecovision which is another system I truly enjoy. Anyways an excellent read and happy you invested and enjoy the 5200.

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I somehow forgot about Dig-Dug, so here's the missing summary below. I'd like to edit it in to the first post, but I guess it won't let me? Bah. Also can't fix the number of summaries then, it should be 18 now and not 17.

Dig-Dug - 2 player alternating. Dig-Dug is one of several Atari ports of popular Namco arcade games that Atari ported to the 5200; others I have include Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Pole Position. The game is a sort of top-down and sort of side-scrolling action game. The game is set underground, and you dig tunnels as you move. You play as a guy with a pump, and inflate monsters until they pop as a way of killing them. You have to kill all the monsters on each screen to progress, though when they're down to only one left it will try to run away. There are also rocks scattered around which you can try to get to fall on enemies. If you drop 3 rocks on a stage, a bonus item will appear for extra points, so get them. You can chase it down for more points, or let it go. It's a simple but well-made game. I don't have great memories of Dig-Dug, but I bought it anyway because it's a 5200 game and the price was reasonable. Previously I thought the game was okay, but not as good as its clone (of sorts) Mr. Do. Mr. Do is like Dig-Dug, but with improved gameplay variety; it's a pretty fun game. Dig-Dug, though, doesn't have anything to it beyond just doing the same thing over and over. You go around the screen, kill the monsters, and repeat. However, I found myself having fun this time! I'm sure the 7800 version that I also have is just as good, so I'm not sure why I like this more than when I last played that version a year or so ago, but I do. Dig-Dug was one of the bigger surprises here, I wasn't expecting too much but I actually find it pretty fun.

Visually, Dig-Dug looks a lot like the later 7800 version. The game has good graphics which look like the arcade game, though as always they are lower resolution and don't quite match the arcade games' sprite detail. Still, the game looks good, and is a bit more colorful than many 5200 games seem to be, which is nice. The sound is very accurate to the arcade machine, both in the little theme tune that plays at the start and in the ingame sound effects. The gameplay is as good as any version of this game, too. The game controls well, and you can move around and fire easily. I had no issues controlling Dig-Dug. This game requires a bit of strategy, because as you move around the screen digging those tunnels you have to think about where you want the tunnels to connect. Monsters can travel through the rock, but only can walk normally along their starter tunnel areas or in the tunnels you dig. You also move faster while in a dug tunnel than while digging, sort of like Pac-Man while he's eating dots versus when moving faster in a cleared corridor. Still, this is for the most part a fairly simple arcade shooter. The pump mechanic is weird, as few other videogame characters use such a weapon and you have to repeatedly tap the button in order to kill an enemy, but it does work. The gameplay is simple, repetitive, and fun, and I've played this game more than I thought I would as I try to get farther in the game. There are only two enemy types in this game, but there are at least some new dirt colors as you progress to mix things up a bit, that's nice. Overall, Dig-Dug is a pretty good game that I definitely like. I do still like Mr. Do and its added variety more, but Dig-Dug is a good, simple arcade shooter wit ha little bit of a thinking side, and it's good fun stuff. Arcade port, other versions of Dig-Dug are on probably dozens of platforms.

I also improved the last paragraph of the system-history article:

There is one exception to that short lifespan issue, though -- Jack Tramiel discovered that they had warehouses full of Atari 5200 games and software when he bought the company, including three completed and packaged but not-released titles. He decided to sell it off at a discount, and it sold fairly well. The three new games, Gremlins (1986) and two Lucasarts titles, Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer (1986 or 1987, it's not clear), were nice additions to the system's library. I definitely want Fractalus, that looks like a pretty interesting game. I think that the good sales the 5200 had at this point help show that Atari made a mistake by deciding to abandon the system so quickly in 1984. Yes, the games industry was collapsing, but giving up on their console only helped it go down even faster. I always say that game companies need to either not release a system at all, or support it for a full life. If Atari was going to release the 5200, they needed to stick with it. Release a better controller and smaller system model, for example, and actual exclusive games. It's really too bad it got dumped so fast; if it wasn't a good idea they should have released something better instead. The hardware is a bit dated so that might have been a good option, but it's not too bad and does allow for some pretty good games. At least homebrew developers have helped fill in the gaps in the system's library by porting dozens of Atari 8-bit computer games over to the 5200, though! They have at least doubled the size of the 5200's library over the past decade-plus. I'll definitely need to get a flash cart at some point so I can play them all. That's the current state of the system -- mostly ignored, but occasionally a new Atari 8-bit port releases. There are also three original homebrew titles for the system that I know of that have been released on carts; this is far, far fewer homebrew games than other classic systems have, but at least there are all those 8-bit ports to give it a good volume of homebrew content even if almost none of it is new.

Edited by A Black Falcon
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Two mistakes in the Dig-Dug summary -- the game has ingame music of course, and you only need to drop 2 rocks for the bonus, not 3. I watched a video of the 7800 version to compare, the 5200 version has way better sound and music, but slightly worse graphics -- the 7800 has multiple colors in each sprite, instead of only one. Still, I definitely prefer the 5200 version, the better audio really is a big plus.


So glad you got to invest in the 5200 and really enjoy it a lot. I truly hate the poor rep that it receives. Your post was an outstanding read as well. I own a 2 port and a 4 port myself with a couple Best refurbished gold plated controllers along with the trak ball controller and the Atarimax SD cart. One of the best video game investments I have ever decided upon. Great direct arcade ported games and the POKEY chip. The scrolling is more fine tuned than say the Colecovision which is another system I truly enjoy. Anyways an excellent read and happy you invested and enjoy the 5200.

Yeah, the sound is good, 7800 audio is so disappointing... and yeah, at some point I'll need a trackball and flash cart, there are a lot of unreleased games and Atari 8-bit ports I'd like to play on the actual system.

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I watched a video of the 7800 version to compare, the 5200 version has way better sound and music, but slightly worse graphics -- the 7800 has multiple colors in each sprite, instead of only one. Still, I definitely prefer the 5200 version, the better audio really is a big plus.


Yeah, the sound is good, 7800 audio is so disappointing...



That's how I felt when I first got my 7800 a few years back. Such nice visuals on 7800 , but the SOUND , well I just can't take the TIA sound in a lot of 7800 games, it simply ruins the experience for me after being spoiled by the 5200 pokey sound. Original 7800 Donkey Kong, I'm looking at you! I will never understand Atari's decision to not also include a Pokey on-board the 7800. Or the talked-about Gumby.


Still, this thread is about 5200 and I just wanted to say thanks for your posts, nice to read some new stuff on 5200 games. I used to be a bigger 5200 fan, but due to failing hardware and controllers, I really can't play it very often. My problem is I think my current 5200 system's internal pokey is a bit out of alignment with my analog sticks, so I have problems with control. It used to control so, so sweet! Of course, I fried a couple 5200's whilst homebrewing years back, and now I'm stuck with a 5200 that's in worse shape than my previous 2 systems. I will need to buy a new system or do an overhaul of system/sticks (again) some day... but with controllers that work, there is nothing more fun than a round of Space Dungeon, Missile Command, Berzerk, Moon Patrol, and the newer Tempest ! (among many other fine games).

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Good god, I remember when I was younger and had this system. Ah, memories. Had berserk, missile command, space dungeon, dreadnought- my early favorite. Attack giant, mile long capital ships with small fighter, destroying gun emplacements, and other equipment..Finally, destroying the star destroyer like ships...moon patrol, I think we had tempest...Unfortunately, the 5200 was was stolen by a scumbag. It would have made a good collectors piece...And maybe a bit of retro gaming.

Edited by aaron.walker.75470316
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Wow, that's thorough! Nice write-up!


I was browsing my collection the other day and realized, as much as I love the Atari 2600 and as great as systems like the NES and Genesis are, I think the two systems that came closest to that mythological "arcade at home" were the ColecoVision and the Atari 5200. The libraries of both were largely dedicated to contemporary arcade ports, and for the most part those ports are very good. Both contain hardware that actual arcade games of the day used. Both used marketing that emphasized the arcade experience, especially the ColecoVision. Both are rather large, especially the frikkin' huge 5200, which was kind of a cool thing all by itself. And both offered controllers that, while rather unwieldy and guilty of overkill, were able to match more closely the multi-button controls that were becoming the norm in arcades.


If I had to pick one over the other, I'd probably give the edge to the ColecoVision. Square pixels go a long way in making games look more arcade-like, stacked ColecoVision cartridges with their arcade logos look simply gorgeous, and the homebrew scene has served a lot more additional arcade ports to the ColecoVision than to the 5200 over the years. But the 5200 still comes in at a very close second, especially when you unlock the treasure trove of games Atari worked on but never published like Xevious, Super Pac-Man and Tempest (now fully playable thanks to homebrewers), and also when you throw in conversions of Atari 8-bit computer games like Donkey Kong, Battlezone and Crystal Castles. In short, despite its odd birth and crippled life, I agree the 5200 is a great system once you get to know it.

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Admittedly, Colecovision does have a few good titles, but it also had a lot of lousy ones. I have both systems, and prefer the 5200 because it has games I like and even a few oddball titles like Dreadnaught and Fractalus.


We can debate 'tilt he cows come home -- in fact we have, and the cows are still out in the pasture -- which is the better system overall, and actually I'm inclined to agree the 5200 takes that crown. But as for which system was better marketed as capturing the "arcade" experience and bringing it home, and which system was better equipped to do so, I think the ColecoVision wins. Barely. :)


Do any of the A8 conversions support analog controls? Because the joystick is great for games with analog, but more of a mixed bag for digital-control games, which I'd presume most of the A8 originals would be...


I don't think any of them do. I know the ones I've played, like Donkey Kong, don't. I imagine supporting analog control to the extent that ports like Galaxian and Pole Position do would require some significant reprogramming beyond the address shifts and such needed to make the games work at all.

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That's some OP.


In the 80's it was a mysterious (and very desirable) system to me because I remember seeing it in catalogs and seeing the pics of the games but the controllers looked absolutely WILD even though the criticisms of them started pouring out from the gaming community.


I've loved the system since I bought my first 5200 in the late '90's. The controllers, once repaired (and especially since Best Electronics offered the Gold contact fix) really are fun to use - they're just different than any other controller ever designed and you need to learn how to use them properly (starting with a gentle touch on the stick).


My favorite games are Space Dungeon, Robotron, Star Raiders, Pac Man, Defender, Qix, Choplifter, and Centipede.

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Great writeup - It might take me a few scans to read every word, but I like it.


This is an awesome version of Defender. While there are probably better games on the system, I really tend to find myself wanting to come back to it before some other 5200 games.


I've never really gotten a strong desire to improve at PacMan either despite being old enough to have been flooded by all the Pac-merchandise that was around in the early 80's. Something about it has never really clicked with me.


Regarding the Popeye writeup. "Popeye is a side-scrolling game" There is NO scrolling in Popeye, it is a single screen game for each individual level, so you may want to adjust your description there. Also, is that a screenshot from the 5200 version? That looks waaay worse than I remember, so I looked at some Youtube videos and there are definitely more colors in them. Also - Donkey Kong never came out for the 5200 because it was a killer app for the Coleco. I believe the 5200 was intentionally excluded from the list of systems to get the game once the exclusivity that Coleco had expired.


For Super Breakout, you can press a key (* I believe) on ball 4 to give you an additional 5 balls. If you do this before starting ball 5 it gives the the 5 extra chances. I find this to be a much more satisfying way to play the game, and I almost always play on the "Progressive" game mode. As simple as it is, SB seems to find its way into each of my sessions with the 5200.

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Great writeup - It might take me a few scans to read every word, but I like it.


Also - Donkey Kong never came out for the 5200 because it was a killer app for the Coleco. I believe the 5200 was intentionally excluded from the list of systems to get the game once the exclusivity that Coleco had expired.


The 5200 was no longer being marketed by the time Coleco's exclusivity expired. Also, their exclusivity applied only to game consoles. That's why Atari was able to license Donkey Kong for home computers, including its own. Coleco opted not to make games for the 5200, probably because it was the closest competitor to the ColecoVision. Nowadays we can play Donkey Kong on the 5200 thanks to a conversion of the Atari 8-bit computer port.

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Excellent write up - good to have a fresh perspective on the machine. Although I don't own one - maybe someone can brief the option of writing your own ROMs for it - so as to include the extra titles ported over from the Atari 400/800 etc.

The 16k games were the easier ones to port/convert over - but more and more titles over 16k have eventually appeared.


Everyone has their own personal choice of titles which stood out to them - I think most of these have been ported over?


Bristles, Encounter, Necromancer, Drelbs, Blue Max - Archon II?


Development is still continuing for this games console - because of it's ties with the Atari 400/800 etc computers.


Maybe as you experience the later titles that has become available - you will be even more impressed by the system.



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Great writeup - It might take me a few scans to read every word, but I like it.


This is an awesome version of Defender. While there are probably better games on the system, I really tend to find myself wanting to come back to it before some other 5200 games.


I've never really gotten a strong desire to improve at PacMan either despite being old enough to have been flooded by all the Pac-merchandise that was around in the early 80's. Something about it has never really clicked with me.

Pac-Man is a good game, and fun to play once in a while for a few minutes, but I just don't find it engaging enough to want to keep playing and playing it to get better. Sure, I'm not quite old enough to remember when it was new, but it's a super-popular game which never really went away, so that doesn't mean too much...


On the other hand, I've always loved Defender. Awesome game.


Regarding the Popeye writeup. "Popeye is a side-scrolling game" There is NO scrolling in Popeye, it is a single screen game for each individual level, so you may want to adjust your description there. Also, is that a screenshot from the 5200 version? That looks waaay worse than I remember, so I looked at some Youtube videos and there are definitely more colors in them.

For your first point, sure, it's technically a single-screen platformer, I guess, though I wasn't sure if I should use the word "platformer" because that to me implies jumping and you can't jump in Popeye. So it's a single-screen side-view game, or something? :P


As for colors, that looks like 5200 Popeye to me... what do you mean, missing colors?


Also - Donkey Kong never came out for the 5200 because it was a killer app for the Coleco. I believe the 5200 was intentionally excluded from the list of systems to get the game once the exclusivity that Coleco had expired.

Right, of course. It does make sense that Coleco wouldn't support their top competition, the 5200, and only the older 2600 and Intellivision instead.


For Super Breakout, you can press a key (* I believe) on ball 4 to give you an additional 5 balls. If you do this before starting ball 5 it gives the the 5 extra chances. I find this to be a much more satisfying way to play the game, and I almost always play on the "Progressive" game mode. As simple as it is, SB seems to find its way into each of my sessions with the 5200.

Huh, I didn't know that. Extra lives would definitely be helpful, though it doesn't fix the games' biggest problems. Arkanoid is the standard that I judge all games in this genre by, not Breakout, and Breakout is very archaic in comparison in game mechanics, particularly in the one-block-at-a-time thing. Edited by A Black Falcon
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Star Raiders was the first major game to be written for the Atari 400/800 hardware - so was written somewhere in 1979. You can't be too severe in criticism of it because there are so many things done right in it. There is a hack done for the explosions, can't remember if it included the 5200 version or not.

Likewise with Breakout - of course you'd expect Arkanoid to be so much better, because it is building upon what Breakout did - being written years later on. That people still play Breakout, gives testament to how well programmed it still is. Of course it is much simpler than Arkanoid.


Defender will be put on a shelf, when it's better cousin arrives. I personally never liked the Atari version on either machine (400/800 or 5200) because it could have been done much much smoother - it should have been done with sharp crisp graphics - instead of blurred, jerky ones.


Of course, I am being very picky here - but when you love the coin-op original so much - you'd like it to be present as much as possible in a home version - if that hardware is capable of it.



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  • 6 years later...

So, six years later, I started writing a new Game Opinion Summaries update for the 5200, covering all of the games I've gotten over the last six years for this pretty good console.  In this first part, I cover nine games and also the Trak-Ball controller.  I was conflicted, though -- should I bump this very old post, or make a new one?  I ended up deciding to bump the old one, because why not.  I don't know, what do you think, new thread or old?


Anyway, I finished this a few weeks ago, but was very conflicted on the last of these, covering Magical Fairy Force, so I put off posting it for a while.  On the one hand I absolutely love that the game exists and like the game, but on the other hand I have some criticism of elements of it.  I hope that is okay.


Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries 2021 Update, Part I, and the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

This is the first of what will probably be three parts of this Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries update, covering nine titles and also the 5200 Trak-Ball trackball controller.  I should say, this is all played with regular carts, I still don't have an Atarimax flashcart.


Series Table of Contents


In Update One, This Post



Table of Contents
The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller


Game Opinion Summaries:


Blaster [Modern Rerelease of Cancelled Game]
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
Castle Crisis [PD Homebrew]
Decathlon (aka The Activision Decathlon)
The Dreadnaught Factor
James Bond 007 [1983]
Magical Fairy Force [PD Homebrew]



In Future Updates


Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid
Space Dungeon
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]
Wizard of Wor
Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]

(And potentially more, if I buy any more games soon...)



In this article, I will cover the 23 Atari 5200 games I have bought between September 2015 and the present day in August of 2021. I quite like this system, so I have gotten a fair number of titles considering the small library. Some of these, as noted, are modern homebrew titles from AtariAge, while others are from the original 1982-1985 library. I have also gotten the system’s main controller accessories, the Trak-Ball controller and the joystick coupler. I got another 5200 as well; I now use a model one 5200, instead of the model 2 I used to use, because I like the auto switching RF box, it is very convenient. And yeah, as I said in my first article about the 5200 years ago, I still like the 5200 quite a bit; it is the pre-crash console I use the most. The controller isn’t nearly as bad as people say and has some pretty cool features, the graphics are good for the time, its game library makes up for with quality what it lacks in quantity, and I like the console’s design and style a lot as well.

Given the number of titles to cover, I will break this up into parts. These games are fairly simple so it won’t take long to get through all of them though. In this article I will cover the first 9. It’s a good mix of titles, covering both new homebrews and titles from the system’s original run.


The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller


The Atari 5200 had a short life, and most software was designed around its standard controller. Atari considered a paddle controller, but did not end up releasing it. No digital controller was offered either, though third-party options do exist, working well with games that are not analog. I like the 5200 controller, but it does not work equally well for all games. A controller perfect for digital games might have been nice, but instead, Atari released a trackball. A trackball is basically an upside-down analog mouse. Instead of moving a mouse around that rolls a ball to represent movement, you roll the ball itself to move something around the screen. Trackballs were popular in early arcade games for titles that needed analog control, and while the 5200 controller is analog, its analog stick is not nearly as good as a trackball is for games designed for this kind of controller. Atari realized this and answered with the 5200’s only first-party controller accessory, the Trak-Ball. It released early in the system’s life, so they are relatively common. I got one complete in box a couple of years ago.



This very large controller, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball, is perhaps best known for being big, but it’s also amazing. Indeed, of the classic trackballs I have, this one is easily my favorite! It works very well, has decent buttons, and makes the games that support it significantly better. The 5200 trackball may be as large or larger than your average console, but the ball rolls very well and it feels great to use. That heft helps the controller’s feel, I would say.


The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball works by basically emulating a joystick. As great as it is, this is its one fault — it’s not a “real” trackball, acting like a mouse. It’s really pretending to be a 5200 analog stick, which gives control a slightly floaty feel. See this Atari-Age thread for more. I don’t mind this at all, as there may be better trackballs out there for computers, but of the console trackballs of the ’70s or ’80s this is by a very wide margin the best one in my experience.


Despite the way it works, the 5200 trackball’s only other fault is that it only works with games designed to support it. It may be emulating a joystick inside, but the bounds the trackball uses are very different from those used by a stick, and games not designed around the trackball rarely work well, or at all, with it. Atari did not put in a mode that fully emulates the regular controller’s analog stick. The other console trackballs that I have for older consoles work not only with games designed for analog, but also can emulate a standard joystick if you wish to play any other game with a trackball instead of a regular controller. The Colecovision trackball even has indentations in it for you to put controllers in, so you can use the buttons on the trackball base and the stick on a controller, to make a pretty nice arcade stick. That’s really cool. The Sega Master System trackball similarly has both analog and digital-emulation modes. I wish that the 5200 trackball had had something similar, it’d have been nice considering how few games support this controller.


However, what’s not as good about those other trackballs i how well they work, or rather, don’t work. Having multiple modes and more support is all well and good, but that’s only helpful if you actually want to use the trackball as a trackball! And with those other old trackballs I have, I don’t. The SMS trackball is absolutely horrible, with extremely slow movement regardless of game or mode. The Colecovision one has slightly better movement than that, but it’s still not very good. It’s a nice arcade stick but not a good trackball. The 5200 one, however, is outstanding! I love using this controller, and absolutely have bought some games, and some homebrew games, because they support the Trak-Ball controller. I would highly recommend a Trak-Ball to anyone with a 5200, they are fantastic, well-made, great looking controllers well worth the price. Every supported game is made significantly better.


And on that note, from my previous article (at the top of this thread), Super Breakout, Space Invaders, Centipede, Defender, Missile Command, and Pole Position support the trackball. Of them, Centipede and Missile Command are exceptional. Both are great with the regular controller, but are better with the trackball. These are far better versions of these games than any version relying on a d-pad or analog joystick for controls! Centipede alone might make the trackball worth getting, and there is more. Super Breakout is also better with the trackball than the regular controller, though I still find the game slow and kind of boring. The others work less well, though. Space Invaders and Galaxian are playable, but not better, the loss of precision of knowing where your stick is, as compared to a rolling ball, makes the games harder overall. Pole Position and Defender struggle even more, as you have to constantly spin the ball in an uncomfortable way. Defender is not fun to play this way with how that game controls, and Pole Position is just somewhat odd to control this way, I couldn’t get used to it and kept crashing. I’m sure there are some out there who like it, though. I will cover more trackball games in this series, two in this update. Fortunately both go in the good category of trackball games.


Overall, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller is fantastic. Buy one. This is the best trackball for a classic console.



Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries 2021 Update, Part I


Please note: all games use the regular Atari 5200 controller unless otherwise noted.

Blaster [Modern Rerelease of Cancelled Game] – 1 player. Developed by Vid Kidz / Williams in about 1983. Was to be published by Atari, but was cancelled due to the crash. Released by AtariAge in the 2000s.


Blaster is a rail shooter from Williams. It was developed by their star programmer Eugene Jarvis at his short-lived Vidz company. After making Defender for Williams, Jarvis left in 1981 to make his own company, though all four Vid Kidz titles were published by Williams so he didn’t go far. This game was their last one, before being taken out by the video game crash of 1984. While an arcade version of the game was released in 1983, even though this Atari 5200 version was actually completed first, Williams’ arcade-first priority led to the home version eventually getting cancelled because of the crash. Fortunately completed prototype copies exist and are now available from AtariAge, complete with box if you want. Now, Jarvis is one of arcade gaming’s legends, but Blaster is by far the least well known and least popular of his four pre-crash arcade games. When your first three games are Defender, Defender II/Stargate, and Robotron 2084, though, that isn’t hard to understand; those three are some of the greatest classics ever. Blaster? It’s fun and I definitely like it, but it’s no Defender.


But what is Blaster? It is, again, a first-person rail shooter… on the Atari 5200. This game is a technical marvel and easily has some of the very best graphics this system has ever done! The graphical style may look like a strange mess at first glance, but play it a bit and everything is identifiable and looks great. Everything “scales” into and out of the screen extremely impressively. It’s probably very well done fake scaling of some kind, but regardless it looks amazing. However, the game has very simple gameplay, without the depth or challenge of Defender or Robotron. While fun, this game is more of a tech showcase than an amazing game. Even so, between its outstanding graphics and good gameplay I quite like Blaster overall.


The game has four stages, and after going through all four it loops back to the beginning but with slightly higher difficulty. After you complete each level, you go to the next one. The game shows your current stage on screen in a status bar along the to, along with your score, number of lives, and energy. Yes, you have a health bar in this game, you don’t die in one hit. It is essential considering how chaotic things get. The controls are good, sometimes slow framerate aside, and work well on the 5200 controller.


The first stage has you flying along a planet shooting enemies and avoiding walls, while flying through gates if you want. Everything on this level is made up of open rectangles. Enemies explode once you shoot them, which is a cool effect. It works once you get used to it and runs fairly well; there definitely is slowdown, but with how much this game is doing I don’t blame the game for it. It’s just impressive this system can pull off pretty good scaling at all! But it can, as Blaster proves. The second stage is essentially a bonus stage. There are no enemies here. It’s a warp zone with a cool ‘warp’ effect in the background where you try to pick up stranded astronauts in a warp tunnel for bonus points. I don’t understand why the bonus stage is the second segment of each level and not the last one, I think it would have been better at the end. Oh well. The third stage is a space battle. This returns to the enemies made of rectangles, except now you’rej ust fighting them in space, no land or gates. It’s a good level. The fourth and last stage in each level is an asteroid field. Shoot all of the asteroids coming at you before they hit you! This time the objects are rock sprites, not objects made up of those open rectangles. There are also some enemies who shoot at you here, and some stranded astronauts to try to pick up. It’s kind of like first person Asteroids.


On the whole, Blaster is a must-see title for its visuals. It really is amazing that the 5200 can do this, even if it slows down so much the screens full of what sure look like scaling sprites look incredible for the early ’80s! As for the gameplay, again, this is a simple game. You can move around a little, but only a little to avoid obstacles and such; you are mostly locked to your route, hopefully shooting anything that gets in your way as you go. The game starts out easy but does slowly get more difficult as you complete more levels, so there is a solid difficulty curve here, but some hits can feel unfair with how hard things are to make out sometimes. The health bar helps with this, though. Blaster is definitely worth playing, but is it worth buying considering the cost of buying a copy from AtariAge? For me, yes, no question. For others, though? Well, definitely play it, at least. While definitely not Eugene Jarvis’s best Atari 5200 game, Blaster is a solidly good game that is impressive to see.


Also released in arcades. This is the original version, though that one is enhanced over this release. This Atari 5200 version is exclusive, though the arcade version is available in Midway Presents Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (PC / PlayStation) and Midway Arcade Treasures [1] (GameCube / PlayStation 2 / Xbox / PC). Unfortunately it is not in the newer Midway Arcade Origins collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom – 1 player. Developed and published by Sega in 1983.


Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, or Zoom 909 as its original Japanese arcade game was titled before they added the Buck Rogers license to the Western release, was one of Sega’s first super-scaler style games. This game is a behind-the-ship rail shooter, and in arcades and on Colecovision it has many different stage types along the way through each loop of the game. It’s a good title and I like the various ways enemies come at you in the different ‘stages’, though determining 3d depth can be hard, you will often miss enemy ships you think you are lined up with. This flaw applies to all versions of the game except for one, the Atari 2600 version.


However, this is not the Colecovision version, or the 2600 version. It is the Atari 5200 version, and as with all versions other than the Colecovision, the game is dramatically reduced in stage count. As with most non-Colecovision ports, this version of Buck Rogers has “five” stages per level: first three parts on the planet, as you go through gates and fight enemies. The game calls this multiple rounds but it’s basically one, you just go through gates in the start then fight one type of enemy and then several before you leave the planet. Once you leave, first you fight a formation of enemies and then a boss before you move on to the next level. It’s a decent formula, but it is hard to forget that the Coleco version has something like twice as much stage variety, or to get over both versions’ common flaw, how hard hitting enemies can be with the 3d perspective. The audio is also extremely basic, with no music and only simple sound effects for your gun and engine noise. The analog controls help slightly, compared to other home versions of Buck Rogers, but not enough to make me want to play this.


Worse, I also can’t help but to compare this game to the outstanding Atari 2600 version of the game, which I covered in a summary years ago. I absolutely love that game, it’s one of my favorite 2600 games! While the key design is mostly the same as this 5200 version in terms of it stage layout, the 2600 makes one major change, probably due to lesser hardware power it makes the game play on a flat plane. Removing the ‘where is the enemy actually?’ problem is a huge help, and as a result the 2600 has easily my favorite version of Planet of Zoom. It has the best audio by far as well, with some really cool sounds that you won’t find in this 5200 game. Yes, the 2600 both plays and sounds better than the 5200 version of this game. This is probably the only time I will say that, but it’s true here. Overall, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom is an average game at best, and is deeply disappointing compared to the Atari 2600 version. Probably don’t buy this, get the 2600 version for the best version or the Colecovision one for the one that is the most faithful to the arcade game. I got this game knowing it wasn’t the best but wanting it anyway because I like this system, but it probably wasn’t really worth it.


Arcade port. Many versions of this game were released, most notably on the Colecovision, but also on Atari 2600, Sega SG-1000 (note, this is NOT the same as the Colecovision version despite near-identical hardware!), PC, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Commodore VIC-20, Atari 8-bit computer, Commodore 64, Apple II, MSX, and Coleco Adam. The arcade version is pretty good, but of what I have played I think I actually like the simple, 2d Atari 2600 version the best.

Castle Crisis [PD Homebrew] – 1 to 4 player simultaneous. You can use the regular controller, but the game also supports a paddle controller if you have a prototype or homebrew one. Homebrew title published by AtariAge in 2004.


This game is a Warlords clone for the 5200. If you know the Atari classic Warlords, you know this game; it is Warlords, with a few additions. Warlords is one of my favorite games on the 2600 and the 5200’s analog controller is a great fit for controlling a paddle, so it’s fantastic that a fan decided to do waht Atari didn’t and make a 5200 version of this classic. This game is based on the arcade version more so than the Atari 2600 game.


Warlords, on the 2600 or arcade, is a four player block-breaking game. Instead of just breaking a wall like Breakout, here there are four forts made of blocks in the corners of the screen, with a paddle protecting each one. The game starts with one ball, or fireball rather. You must protect the warlord inside your fort. One of the buttons holds the ball, so you can launch it off from the point you choose. You defend your fort while trying to bounce the ball around the enemy paddles and destroy the warlords in the three other forts. Each time one of the four players is knocked out, another fireball is added to the field. The game will also add a second fireball early on if nobody hits anything for a while. It’s a fantastic game with great controls, a paddle might be neat but the analog stick works extremely well here. This is a challenging, fast-paced, and frenetic game that can be incredibly fun. The game has absolutely no slowdown and gets the feel of the arcade game down exceptionally.


For game modes, there aren’t many. The single player has only a single difficulty level, and it’s tough. The game keeps a score in this mode if you want to write down best scores, and if you win a game you go right into a new one until you lose. One loss and it’s game over. The two player mode is like the single player, but with two people. It’s co-op basically, and you don’t get game over until both players lose in the same level. Three and four player games are single-round versus only matches which don’t have a score or progression. All of these modes are just like arcade Warlords. In any mode, all non-human players are filled with some pretty tough AIs. More options might be nice, but they aren’t really needed. Really, the only negative is that this is an extremely faithful unlicensed clone of an Atari game, but at least they changed the name, most homebrew conversions like this don’t even do that. AtariAge and Atari may have some kind of deal anyway, AtariAge uses Atari’s logo and such without issue.


There is one issue however. On the 2600 four player play is easy, since 2600 paddles come two to a cable. On the 5200 it is trickier however, as controllers are one to a cable and only the first model of the console has four controller ports, the second model dropped to two since Atari released basically nothing using more than two controllers, Super Breakout excepted, but it’s just an alternating mode there anyway. Had they released games like this back then perhaps the model two would have kept four controller ports, because this is a fantastic time! I wouldn’t call the controls better than the 2600, since paddles are a really good fit for this kind of game, but the analog joystick works just about as well.


Overall, Castle Crisis is great. This is a fantastic conversion of one of the best pre-crash games. Whether it’s worth the money or not is up to you, as it’s a full-price game on AtariAge and as great as the single player is the multiplayer is a huge part of the fun and you’ll need a 4-port system to get the most of it, but even just for single player play it’s a great, great game which I definitely recommend. That it isn’t an original idea, but a homebrew port, is really my only criticism here.


This game is only released on the Atari 8-bit computer and Atari 5200, but it is a very faithful port of the arcade game Warlords, which has been released on many formats, most notably the Atari 2600. Warlords has modern remakes as well.

Countermeasure – 1 or 2 player alternating. Released by Atari in 1982.


Countermeasure is an early 5200 game from Atari, and it is their only released 5200 game that is exclusive to this system, this game wasn’t released on arcades, 2600, or Atari 8-bit computer. Control here is not analog, but it does have eight-direction shooting and aiming. The game does make full use of both action buttons and has some complexity to it. Reading the manual is highly recommended before playing this game.


Countermeasure is a decent, but perhaps overly difficult, overhead tank action game with some complexity to it. The game scrolls upwards vertically, infinitely so I believe, though each level has a timer and you move slowly so you will usually only get a few screens up if you are playing well. Along the way you will find enemy turrets that rotate and shoot at you when you are in their line of fire, towers that contain clues to the code you need for this level, rocket silos to touch if you know the code and wish to end the level, and terrain obstacles which slow you down and block your fire. You slowly drive upwards in your tank, shooting enemies and trying to save the world.


For controls, you move with the stick. One button shoots, and the other, when held down, will rotate the turret to the direction you press. So, turning your turret is easy here, which is pretty nice. The very slow movement speed can make the game frustrating, though. The controls are responsive, but while this game is solid it often feels unfair, the enemies often seem to be able to shoot farther than you and hit you when you can’t hit them. Again, your slow movement speed also makes avoidance tricky. Staying alive in the main levels is hard, those towers are merciless! Still, the way that your movement speed and fire distance vary depending on terrain is pretty cool, and advanced for 1982. The graphics are alright, with solid sprite art and recognizable terrain. The sounds are good, though there is no music, a far too common issue on this console.


As I suggested in the previous paragraph, your main goal here isn’t just to get to the end of each level. Instead, as the game’s name suggests, you need to find the countermeasure code to stop an oncoming enemy nuclear attack. You need to find the three letters of the launch code that will save America from the enemy nukes! Each launch code is three letters long, and there are three letters that can go in each spot, O, L, or E. Letters can repeat in multiple spots though so you do want to find the clues and not just guess. Each clue tower will tell you one of the three letters of the code.

Once you get the code, or enough of it, or are running out of time and have no choice, go to a tower. The enemy helpfully waits to launch their nukes until you get into the tower to stop them. Once you touch a tower you CANNOT leave and must enter the code before the tower’s countdown ends. Note, this is a separate timer from the one in the level before. If you fail to input the code, it is Game Over and a skull appears over the world map on the screen. Ouch. If you succeed, it’s on to the next level, where the colors may change to give the game some variety. As with most games of the time the game never ends, every time you save the world you just start again on the next, slightly harder, stage until you eventually run out of lives. Each level is short, and the game starts out easy. There are ten difficulty levels available, which adds some replay value. The launch code on each stage also randomize so you can’t just memorize them.


Overall Countermeasure is okay. This game can be fun and definitely is a tense and challenging experience, but the frustrating difficulty and slow gameplay hold it back. I like overhead vehicular action games and was hoping for something great for one of Atari’s only 5200 exclusives, but this game is a slow and bland game that is above average, but not one of the system’s best. Atari’s best 5200 exclusives were never released, unfortunately. Still, with a low price and decent gameplay Countermeasure is probably worth picking up if it sounds interesting.


This game is officially a Atari 5200 exclusive, though I believe that a homebrew Atari 8-bit port exists.

Decathlon (aka The Activision Decathlon) – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.


Decathalon is a port of the Atari 2600 game of the same name. As with many of Activision’s 5200 ports of 2600 games, it is a graphically enhanced version of the game that changes almost nothing in terms of gameplay other than making the game harder to control. The audio isn’t much improved either, expect only very basic sound effects and minimal start and end music. So, there is very little reason to get this game on the 5200 specifically versus the 2600 version unless you really like this system. That said, Decathalon is a decently fun olympic sports game that can be fun, so for cheap enough it’s worth a thought despite how similar it is to the original version.


As with the original version, this game has only one mode, the decathlon, and you don’t really have AI opposition, only one or two humans. You do get points based on your performance, though. There is an AI racer running on screen with you in the track running events, but their times are not recorded anywhere after the races and they do not compete in the jumping or throwing events, so this really is just a score or multiplayer-only game. I wish it had more full AI opposition, that would add to the game.


As with most Olympic sports games, Decathlon is, at its core, a button-masher, or stick-twister in this case. Konami’s Track & Field used two alternating buttons to run, but this one uses alternating between left and right movements on the stick to run. You have a meter on the screen for each player showing your current pace, and can affect it with proper stick-movement rhythm. You will also use a button for jumping or throwing in those events. As you might expect, the 5200 controller’s loose analog stick makes running a bit trickier than it is on the 2600 with its tight digital stick. This game is playable, but the constant stick-waggle gameplay is tiring and gets old fast. Playing this a lot would be bad for your hands, I would say.


As the name suggests, there are ten events in this title as you go through the ten parts of a decathlon track and field event. You’ll run the 100, 400, and 1500 meter track races and a hurdles race, jump the longjump and high jump, throw the discus, javelin, and such. Most events are simple to control, but getting the timing right for the jumping events can be challenging and will definitely require practice and perhaps a read of the manual. The graphics are nice and are enhanced over the 2600 version. This game is far from essential even on the 2600 but is an amusing enough game once in a while. The controls on this version do hold it back a bit, but it’s alright. This game has definitely aged, with its very short runtime and lack of AI opposition, but even so is an above average game on the edge of good. This game could have been a lot better but is okay.


Atari 2600 port. Also released on Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports of the game were released on Commodore 64, MSX, and Colecovision.

The Dreadnaught Factor – 1 player. Released by Activision in 1983.


The Dreadnaught Factor is one of Activision’s few console games of the early ’80s that isn’t a port of an Atari 2600 games. This game is an early scrolling shmup. The game was only released on the Intellivision and 5200, and the two versions are quite different — this one is vertical scrolling, while the Intellivision version, as you might expect, has worse graphics and is horizontal scrolling. This game is one of those titles which shows what the Atari 5200 can do, and it is impressive. The graphics here are really good, with nicely-drawn sprites and some cool effects as the enemy ships approach you. Audio work is also great. This is the kind of thing this system can do when it wasn’t just getting last-gen ports!


The Dreadnaught Factor is a shmup where you fight against a finite fleet of enemy battleships. Yes, finite — this is one of those rare pre-crash games that you can actually beat and last more than a few minutes! The game has different difficulty levels, each with more battleships than the last. The easy modes are quite simple to complete, but the 100-dreadnaught hardest mode will be much more of a challenge; this game does have limited lives and no continues. In the game you fly upwards, facing off against the dreadnaught one at a time. This game has full analog control, so your side-to-side and forward speed are proportionally controllable. You cannot stop or turn around however, only slow down to a crawl. One action buttons shoots lasers that hit turrets, fighters, or bridges, and the other drops bombs that go in exhaust ports or engines. Yes, this game makes good use of the 5200 controller’s strengths.


Your main objective is to blow up all of the exhaust ports on each ship. Destroy those and you will blow up the ship. In order to do that though, you will need to destroy many turrets, bridges, and engines on the ship in order to slow the ships down and make them shoot at you less. The game has some nice strategy to it as you consider what to attack. Now, I mentioned speed control, but you can’t stop, so each time you fly over the dreadnaught without dying you will automatically fly back around for another pass. Dreadnaughts advance after every pass however, and if you take too many passes and a dreadnaught reaches your base, it’s Game Over. You can get shot down many times and keep going as you have many lives, but the game ends if they reach the base. The game doesn’t have a lot of variety, but makes up for it with its quality. Sure, you just fly up, avoid enemy fire, and shoot targets on the various types of dreadnaughts, but with good graphics, good controls, and well designed, high quality action that pushes its genre forward in ways rarely seen at the time, The Dreadnaught Factor is a pretty impressive game for the pre-crash era.


How great is this compared to the top shmups of the NES, though? Well, it’s no Gradius and it is a more limited game in some respects, with less graphical variety and a slow difficulty curve, but it makes up for it with great gameplay. There is challenge eventually, there are different styles of dreadnaughts with different designs so you aren’t just shooting the exact same ship every time, and challenge the loop is a lot of fun, though, so I don’t mind the pretty minor flaws much at all. I also really like that you can actually beat this game. This is a standout game for the 5200 and one of the best shooters of the pre-crash era.


Also released on Atari 8-bit computers, without the analog controls there of course. The game was also released on the Intellivision, though that version is fairly different; it is a side-scroller instead of vertical.

Frogger – 1-2 player alternating. By Parker Bros., 1983 (licensed from Konami).


Frogger is one of the early arcade hits and it has been ported to dozens of platforms, past and present. The Atari 5200 version is a solid port, but this game is a very poor fit for the Atari 5200 controller. I mostly like the 5200 controller, but certain types of games don’t work well with that analog stick and a precise digital-control game like Pac-Man or, here, Frogger is at the top of that list.

I imagine most people know how Frogger plays, but I should describe it. This is a single-screen arcade game. You are a frog and need to get across a road and a river in order to get to the other side and score points. You move space-by-space, trying to avoid the oncoming cars in the first half and then trying to stay on the logs and alligators in the second half so as to not fall in the water. For some reason this frog can’t swim, which is quite silly. The game has nice graphics that well respresent the arcade game. It is a simple but addictive arcade game.


The game looks and sounds nice and plays correctly, just as Frogger should. the issue is the controller. You have two control options here: either you can use the stick and a fire button, or the keypad. For the stick option, you use the stick to choose which direction you want to move, and a fire button to jump. The stick is more comfortable to use, but its drawback is how much you have to move it to make Frogger change directions. This delay makes quick reactions very difficult, and it is the controller’s fault and not the game. The keypad option is simpler, hit # to go into keypad mode and then you just push the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys on the keypad to move in the four directions. A complete copy of the game comes with an overlay that leaves the 2, 4, 6, and 8 digits exposed, though it is quite unnecessary once you remember that those are the directions. The keypad is a quicker and more reliable way to move, but these sunken-in rubbery keys were not meant to be main action buttons, just supplimentary ones, so I find this less comfortable. I’d almost rather use the stick honestly, even if it makes the game harder. The four buttons are also far apart from eachother.


So, both control options have good and bad points. Parker Bros. did the best they could with the controls in this game, but as good as the 5200 is its controller is not equally suited for all kinds of games. As I have said before, this issue is why modern controllers have both a d-pad and an analog stick on them, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of game being played. The 5200 controller was highly innovative and I like it, but this game shows that it is better for some kinds of games than others.


Arcade port. This version was also released on Atari 8-bit computers, there with simpler digital controls. Other versions of Frogger have been released on dozens of platforms. Frogger is surely one of the most-ported games ever.

James Bond 007 [1983] – 1 or 2 player alternating. By Parker Bros., 1984.


This is one of the many Atari 2600 to 5200 ports on this platform. This game is generally unpopular on the 2600, and unfortunately this is an accurate port. Parker Bros. made some great 5200 games, but while this game has improved graphics and sound over the original 2600 version, the gameplay is the same and that is the main problem here. While not bad, this is, unfortunately, a below average game.


What is the game, though? Well, James Bond 007 is a side-scrolling vehicular action game. Each of the three levels is loosely themed after scenes from different James Bond movies, but they all involve you driving in a car, car-boat, or such. The game tells you the movie name and your number of lives before your car takes off and the next stage starts. This game kind of plays like a much worse, more complex take on Moon Patrol with mission objectives that it doesn’t tell you except in the manual. You can move forward and back a bit with the stick. You jump by pushing the stick up, which is awful and very hard to control. If you hold the stick up you will keep jumping as soon as you hit the ground, so watch out. The game uses one fire button, which fires your two kinds of shots, anti-air missiles and bombs/depth charges, to hit enemies above or below you. Both attacks go diagonally forwards and you cannot turn around so if you miss an enemy it can be a problem, some will shoot you from behind. The game badly needed either separate fire buttons for the two attacks or a jump button, but no, it’s just a lazy 2600 port controls-wise. Oh well.

For graphics and sound it’s a mixed bag. While there are some nice graphical details here, particularly in the animated Bond waving and getting into his car in each level’s intro, this game both looks and plays worse than Moon Patrol on the 5200. The game does scroll smoothly, as expected on the 5200, but don’t expect any parallax here. There is a nice rendition of the James Bond theme on the main menu, but as sadly usual on the 5200 there is no in-game music.


Anyway, in each stage, you drive to the right. You cannot stop so you will need some good reflexes to survive. You need to jump over pits and shoot enemies as you try to accomplish the objective in each level, which generally means reaching the end of the stage. You do need to know what to do in order to complete each mission though, so read the manual. You should try to shoot the diamonds in the sky in the Diamonds are Forever level, for instance, and must jump onto and land on a specific oil platform in another level. You will do a lot of jumping here but cannot control your car in the air, so if you’re shot midair there isn’t much you can do, you lose a life. Similarly, you can also dive under the water in some areas, but only in a jump-style automatic dive which you cannot really control while underway. This game gets very frustrating far too often, as dodging enemy far is a huge pain. Practice pays off, but is it really worth the hassle? There are also three difficulty levels, with the easiest as the default.


And that’s the game. The graphical differences and moderate complexity of each mission is interesting, but the flawed, slow controls and sometimes very frustrating gameplay make this game much harder than it should be. Like most people, I haven’t finished all three levels yet and don’t know if I will. It probably loops afterwards, though. This is a below-average game that probably isn’t worth playing. If you do, get ready to memorize everything and die constantly. I don’t regret getting it, but can’t recommend this one to anyone other than serious James Bond diehards or 5200 collectors.

Released on Atari 2600 first, then also Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer (this version), Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, and Commodore 64.

Magical Fairy Force [Homebrew] – 1-2 player simultaneous. Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller or a regular 5200 joystick. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (aka Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2021. The game was completed and released digitally in 2020, but due to production delays the physical cart was not released until 2021.

Magical Fairy Force is an original homebrew title, something quite rare for the Atari 5200. I was looking forward to this game for some time before its release and it’s awesome to finally have a copy! It is from the same developer as Ratcatcher, which I will cover later. The game was loosely inspired by the versus Neo-Geo shmup Twinkle Star Sprites, but is its own, entirely original game. It isn’t as good as Twinkle Star Sprites, but it’s a 2KB game for much older hardware, it does what it can.


The primary influence Magical Fairy Force takes from Twinkle Star Sprites is that it is a two player splitscreen versus shmup. Unlike that game though, probably for technical reasons the split here is horizontal instead of vertical, so one player is on the top half of the screen and the other the bottom. Both players shoot towards the center of the screen, so they face eachother but cannot hit eachother due to a status bar between them. The game has two modes and no difficulty options, either one player versus a computer or two people against eachother. The game was mostly designed as a two player versus game. The single player vs. AI side of the game fortunately exists, but was not the focus. Sadly, I have no one to play against so I can only judge the single player here. The single player mode is a story mode where you fight against all of the other characters and then get an ending text screen for that character. It’s cool that each character gets an ending, that adds some replay value. The two player mode is a basic versus mode, it does not keep track of wins and losses. The game is fun but there are no difficulty options and the game is mostly somewhat easy, though this does vary depending on which character you play as and whether you use controller or trackball.


The core gameplay here is to move around your side of the screen, charging your super meter by shooting enemies and then using those super attacks once the meter fills. This game has fully analog movement. The joystick works well, but if you have a Trak-Ball controller as I do it is highly recommended! With the trackball, control is basically perfect. Anyone with a 5200 trackball really should get this game. Anyway, one button shoots your normal shots, and the other uses a special attack. Each match ends when one player runs out of health. Each match is one round long, and the single player game has eight matches, against the eight characters. Multiplayer is strictly a single-match affair.


On screen, on each player’s end of the screen a status bar has a character portrait, health which is made up of four blocks, and the super meter. In the middle of the screen in a black bar are two timer bars, if one runs out that player loses. Also in the black section along a bar on the top or bottom edge of each player’s half of the screen, small wisps appear. These wisps are your main targets as shooting them fills your super meter. They will shoot bullets at you sometimes, shooting straight at you, but can’t move and only appear in this bar. Below/above that is the blue area you can move around in. Here you have your character sprite, and each of the eight characters has a custom sprite, and a few obstacles, most notably clouds and fairy dust, along with wisp bullets and enemy super attacks. Touching clouds drains your timer quickly, so shoot them if they are getting in your way. I have almost never run out of time though, so the threat of the timer is rarely an issue so long as you shoot the clouds in your way. The graphics are pretty good for this system and have an impressive amount of detail. Audio is extremely minimal, however; there are only very basic sound effects and that’s it, there is no music.


My other criticism is of the core gameplay loop, that is, of shooting those small, immobile wisps. The gameplay, as you move mostly left and right trying to hit those wisps while shooting or dodging lightning bolts, bullets, and super moves, is fun and rewarding when you do well, but it lacks the excitement of its inspiration. Twinkle Star Sprites is a dynamic game full of enemies attacking in wave-based patterns. You don’t really have any of that here, you just shoot the wisps while dodging or shooting any other obstacles or enemy supers in your way. For the 5200 this is a fairly complex game, but I can’t help but wish for more dynamic action than this target-shooting-focused title. I would never expect the equal of Neo-Geo gameplay complexity on the 5200 of course, but it’s too bad that something more like the pattern-based waves of Twinkle Star Sprites aren’t here. I know you couldn’t do too many patterns in a playfield this horizontally wide and vertically narrow, but maybe something could have been done. On the other hand though, while a bit dry the game is fun. It requires good skill, and matches get tense as health dwindles. The game also shows off the Trak-Ball well.


Bullets can be dangerous, but most damage in this game is done by special attacks you charge by shooting those wisps. You have two abilities, a weaker one for about half of your super meter which sends a couple of lightning bolts at your enemy, and a character-specific super attack for a full, blinking meter. Enemy lightning bolts are easy to shoot down and fill up your super meter a nice amount if you shoot them, but if you miss one and it gets past you that player does take a hit. Still, I think they’re probably too easy to dispose of, taking damage to lightning is rare as far as I’ve seen in this game so far. They add some tension as you have to get over to them to shoot them down, but I almost always make it. The full-bar supers are another story though, they are definitely dangerous. I like how each character has a custom move, that’s impressive for such a small game. I don’t think all eight are equally balanced, though; some are MUCH easier to hit enemies with than others, and while the different characters’ meters do charge at different speeds, still I get the strong sense that this game isn’t balanced. At least against the AI, I think some characters are significantly better than others. It all depends on how easy it is to hit the AI with your supers. Oddly, the final boss’s super is not the best one, I would say. I know balance is hard, but this is one of my main issues with the game. Things may be quite different against a human, but I haven’t been able to play that way so far.


It may sound like I am criticizing this game a lot, but I do like this game and enjoy playing it. It is simple and yet has depth, the graphics are good, and the controls are spot-on. I do wish it had more polish and balance, and more features such as music, difficulty options for single player, and a win-loss record for multiplayer, but I know the game creator said that they couldn’t fit more features in this cartridge size, the largest the system natively supports. Unfortunately, while having a larger cartridge with bank switching is possible on the 5200, it is not currently available much at all. I hope that that changes, this game could use the space. What’s here is good but a few more features would be great and the balance is questionable. When I first played this game, I lost my first match, won my second, lost my third, and then went back to read the manual more thoroughly. After that I easily beat the game without losing a single round. Yeah. I seem to have happened to select a character with one of the best supers, and got lucky in that few full-bar supers were used against me during the game; the AI sometimes uses full-bar super attacks and other times just throws that mostly useless lighting at you for long stretches, for some reason. When that happens you win easily. I had fun despite how easy it was, though, so I decided to play again with a different character. I found it much harder with them, I died many times. Overall, the difficulty is a little easy but is balanced reasonably, most of the time I do get a few game overs before winning. Fortunately you have infinite continues in this game, so you will win so long as you keep trying. That’s good design.


Overall, Magical Fairy Force is a good game. It doesn’t quite reach greatness, at least in single player, but it is good and can be a lot of fun to play. The graphics are great, challenge reasonable, and the action fast and a good mix of skill and luck. I also love that it’s an original game and not just another conversion or port! It is also great to see another Trak-Ball game, the 5200 trackball is an amazing controller and needs more games. The core ‘shoot the little wisps in a line on top of your half of the screen’ gameplay isn’t as exciting as I wish it was, audio is minimal, and the super attacks seem quite unbalanced, but the game is much more good than bad. If I had another human to play against, instead of the sometimes iffy AI, I probably would like the game more, too; again, it was designed first and foremost for multiplayer that I can’t often try these days. I can imagine multiplayer matches being pretty tense at times, as you go back and forth. This indie game has some issues, but it’s pretty good overall and absolutely is worth buying.


This game is a 5200 exclusive so far, though the developer is working on a PC (Steam digital download) port/remake with added features.



If I was ranking these games against eachother, I would put them in this order:

The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > Magical Fairy Force >> Blaster > Countermeasure > Decathlon >>> Frogger > Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom > James Bond 007

The top three of these are very good games I definitely recommend, and the fourth is at least worth a look for sure. Overall none of these games quite match Defender, Centipedeo, or Galaxian, games I covered in my original 5200 list, but The Dreadnaught Factor is close. As for those last two, though… well, James Bond and Buck Rogers are, currently, my two least favorite games of the now over 40 titles I have for the 5200. Ah well. If that’s the worst a system has, we’re talking about a pretty solid console.

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.....it seems like you are definitely a "cartridge head", but for all the homebrew and other games that are not available on carts, and since you have a great affection for "Big Sexy" I suggest throwing some dough on an Atarimax SD multicast and downloading some games on ROM files and many of us are more than willing to help you enjoy the 5200 as I have since I had my first date with Big Sexy for my 17th Birthday in 1983 (May 19th) and I play her more than my other three systems, a 2600, a 7800, and, my XEGS I also own.


The quality of the over 350 titles available for her is amazing and I'm glad you're hooked on her, many of us can help you out with rom files to fill out the missing voids you collection has, for example check out Yar's Strike, in which Paul Lay @playsoft ported over and improved from the original A8 version that Lennart Bown @Thelen  did back in 2009, and his most-recently redone version of Asteroids he did, the guy is an absolute genius when it comes to programming and so is @Ryan Witmer with most recent work, Intellidiscs, his version of the Intellivision classIc Tron: Deadly Discs, and there are many others as well.


People like you and myself and all of us on AA are THE life's blood of classic gaming and many of us have owned our units for decades even going back to the 80s, so great job on your essays, but now let's play shall we? 

Edited by BIGHMW
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Here's some ROMs I highly recommend for you to use on an Atarimax SD cart once you get it, including the newly-fixed Asteroids (the re-ported and improved version), and also Yar's Strike (originally done by Lennart Bown @Thelen in 2009), and also OUR version of Star Castle, Star Island (released for the A8 back in 1982), that Paul Lay @playsoft did for us, three soon-to-be classics done up Big Sexy-style!!!



Asteroids.bin Star Island.bin Yar's Strike.bin

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Very good write up! Thanks for sharing.  


You mentioned that the 5200 has a "small library, and poor reputation."  While the library is smaller, its small time frame of existence had put out more games per year than the Lynx, Jaguar, and 7800.  The 7800 lasted in some cities 8 years but put out 59 games?  As far as the reputation, the 5200 was considered one of the most cutting edge consoles in 82 when it released and only the Colecovision rivaled it.  Bally, Astrocade, Intellivision, Oddysey, 2600 all had nothing on the 5200 when it was released.  The poor reputation was a myth in the early 80s and was created after the fact especially in the day of youtube.  If anything, the release of the 7800 during the time of the Nes and Sega and the release of the Jaguar during the era of SNES, N64, Genesis, PS1 had Atari with a poor reputation.  


You mention, "The 5200 isn't powerful enough to do perfect ports of early '80s arcade games, so 5200 games are at least somewhat unique, and no 5200 game is available on any modern platform "


In 82, there were no perfect arcade ports from any console.  Even the Colecovision version of Donkey Kong was missing screens and other details.  What the 5200 was doing in 82 was pretty amazing. There are aspects of 5200 Centipede that imo were better than the original (i.e, Scorpion).  


In terms of Berzerk review, I disagree that the controls are slow.  I think the controller work great for the sticks but the game design was slower not the sticks.  Your complaint that the game doesn't seem to have a point is the same as the arcade.  You have to imagine in 83, there was no console that offered berzerk with speech synthesis.  


I also disagree with you that the 7800 has better graphics on Centipede. The spider is more detailed on the 5200 plus the centipede fluidity when it comes down is smoother. The aspect ratios are also off with the wand much bigger on the 7800 and leaving not much playing field.  The controls on the 5200 are true to the arcade with analog or trackball.  Plus the 7800 lines on the screen are annoying.  I do like 7800 two player mode.  We're not even talking about sound effects and sound.  Having own the 7800 since 86, thee 5200 centipede is king of all versions in that generation and it isn't even close.


Hopper on the TI-99/4A does not have better graphics than 5200 Pengo.  Unlike Hopper, Pengo looks and feels like its an arcade game and it does a good job translating the arcade experience for 82. Plus it has music and more sound effects than Hopper.  My cousin had a TI and we used to play a lot of TI games like invaders.


While Super Breakout was probably the wrong game to pack in, it's still a great game. The fact that it's difficult for you tells me you haven't learned how to use the 5200 sticks yet.  Once you know how to use the controllers, you will appreciate more Countermeasure.  The game wasn't supposed to be fast.  TANKS are slow.


Countermeasure on the 5200 is one of the gems and is a reason to buy the 5200 (Space Dungeon, Baseball, Tempest, Gremlins, Centipede too).  Many 5200 purists love Countermeasure.  


Great conversations here about the 5200. Thanks!

Edited by phuzaxeman
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/9/2021 at 8:31 PM, A Black Falcon said:

The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > Magical Fairy Force >> Blaster > Countermeasure > Decathlon >>> Frogger > Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom > James Bond 007

Blaster and Countermeasure are two of my favorites, and it's flattering that you think my game is better than those.  Castle Crisis is so good that nothing I've ever done should even be mentioned in the same sentence as that game.

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5 hours ago, Ryan Witmer said:

Blaster and Countermeasure are two of my favorites, and it's flattering that you think my game is better than those.  Castle Crisis is so good that nothing I've ever done should even be mentioned in the same sentence as that game.

While Castle Crisis is an amazing game, your work on all your games are great especially Intellidiscs.  Intellidiscs is a top 10 5200 game and I'm looking forward to purchasing the cartridge. 

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  • 4 months later...

Thanks for the replies.  I should have replied to some of them, but never got to it.  I still will.  To make a few comments though, it is clear that several of you like Countermeasure a lot more than I do.  I think it's alright, but wouldn't rank it anywhere near the system's best.  Also, while Castle Crisis is fantastic, I think that you under-rate your games, Ryan Whitmer.  Ratcatcher here is decent but not the best, but Magical Fairy Force really is pretty good.


I did write the rest of this update to the 5200 Game Opinion Summaries, though.  I finished part two in November... and never posted it here, just on my site.  I finished part three yesterday.  I probably should post both of them, huh.  I will start with part two, and post part three quite soon.  Part three has only six summaries, but the file size is actually larger than part two's because of how much I have to say about several of those amazing 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.


Here is part two.


Titles covered in this update:


Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid


The Summaries

Mario Bros. - 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Nintendo.


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 the next game in the series of sorts, Mario Bros.  Atari released ports of the game on their consoles, the 2600 and 5200.  Meanwhile, less popular Nintendo games Popeye and Sky Skipper were published on Atari consoles by Parker Bros.  I covered Popeye for the 5200 previously, but Sky Skipper was unfortunately only on the 2600.  But anyway, Atari’s 2600 and 5200 releases were the first American home console releases of Mario Bros.   Nintendo would release a Famicom (NES) version of the game in in Japan in the same year as this one released here, but that would not see an American release until 1986.  In the interim, this was one of the better ways to play the game here.  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, much like Popeye, it doesn’t quite match up to the NES version, 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 until the next level. 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.  I’ve never loved this game, but it’s fun if you give it some time.  This game is challenging, perhaps too much at times, but it’s easy to see why the game was successful. It’s challenging and well designed, and may keep you coming back.  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.  It’s neat to have as a Nintendo game on a non-Nintendo console, but there are many versions of Mario Bros. are out there, and quite a few are more arcade-perfect than this.  Newer ports will control better than this, too.  Even so, Mario Bros. for the 5200 is a good game 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 - 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Williams, the original American publisher. The original arcade game was developed by Irem.


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: The Lost Caverns - 1 player. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.


Pitfall II is a very ambitious game. A groundbreaking platformer when it released in 1984, Pitfall II has a large world to explore and a very modern-feeling continue system with infinite lives that send you back to the last checkpoint. It also is fairly 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 significant amount of exclusive added content! 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. If you can get to the end of all that, this version has a much more satisfying ending than the 2600 game. Yes, this is one of the few 5200 games with a real ending. These are very cool additions which makes this almost certainly the best console version of this game, if you have a good controller for this kind of game. I do not, the standard 5200 controller has issues with this game.


As for the game itself though, Pitfall II is a nonviolent exploration platformer. The world is a rectangular maze of 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 when you go up or down, but flips from screen to screen when you go between screens horizontally. Huh. Your goal is to rescue your niece and cat, get the rat, find a diamond ring, and then escape. Along the way, you want to try to collect as much of the gold as you can. This task will be more challenging than it is on the 2600, though, since you have twice as much game to get through to finish it. 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 265 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. There are also water areas you can swim in which add some variety 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 [or down] 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 and really should be better.


The ambition is obvious here, and a lot is accomplished. However, I find this game maybe more frustrating than it is fun. 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; 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 exploration. Compared to later titles in this genre this games' exploration is relatively straightforward once you get used to the game, as the game has a mostly linear path to follow with dead ends and smaller side areas along the way that may have gold in them for you to find if you want, but exploration still is a significant part of the game; it's up to you to figure out which are the side paths and which the main one. Again this game is fairly mild in this respect, but still, I do like some exploration in games but strongly prefer to know where I am going; I hate wandering around lost in a game! You can't get too lost in this game, but you can wander around aimlessly in some areas and that gets frustrating. You move slowly in this game so going to a dead end and back can take a while. Also, I know the treasure is optional, but I wish that it told you how many treasures you have. Figure it out yourself. 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.


At first I disliked how open the game feels, I want to know where to go. It made me want to not play the game, a common reaction I have to open-world games. However, once I realized that the game is actually fairly linear, I started to like it a bit more. The music is catchy, graphics decent, and some of the exploration is fun. However, while exploring and finding your way can be fun, as you remember which paths to take and where the gold is, the controls are slow and avoiding the enemies is very frustrating. Avoiding enemies requires very precise movement, you must be at the exact right spots to not get hit. And you will often be hit, and you die with one hit.


So, even when I am starting to have fun exploring, the constant deaths get in the way. This game introduced the innovative concept of checkpoints in an open world, and they work. The issue is that they are quite far apart. Getting from one to the next without dying over and over and over will take a lot of practice. And when you die yet again and are sent all the way back to the last checkpoint it 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. For instance, 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. Frogs hop back and forth over ladder entrances, killing you if you slightly mess up your timing. And more. 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. When you get hit, you watch Pitfall Harry float back to the checkpoint while a sad song plays while your points reduce down until you get back. The sad version of the song continues playing until you collect some gold. I often wish I could just fight the enemies 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. 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. A lot of people love this game, and I recognize the games' ambition and innovation, but between the design, controls, and controller, a lot of the time I find this game much more frustrating than fun. 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 more 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 [Homebrew] - 1-3 player simultaneous. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (now Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2016.


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. This game feels better balanced for multiplayer than 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.


RealSports Baseball - 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.


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 - 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.


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.


Atari 5200 exclusive. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it's different.


RealSports Tennis - 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls.  Trak-Ball controller supported.  Developed and published by Atari in 1983.



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 move with the stick or, if you have one, with the Trak-Ball’s ball.  The trackball is a bit better of course, but either one works.  Either way, the rest of the controls are on the  keypad and buttons.  To hit the ball, you need a well-timed button press.  The button you press may be the regular side buttons or a keypad button, depending; this game makes heavy use of the side buttons.  However, in order to serve you need to press the upper side button to serve.  Having to go back and forth constantly between side buttons and keypad can get a little confusing at times.  Still,  serving is easy and you’ll pretty much always hit it in bounds on the serve. The upper side 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.  It can be a fun challenge.


However, 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, particularly for two interested players. 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.  Has analog controls. 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 instead of gradient speed control you switch between set speeds depending on how much you push the stick up or down.


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, and I don’t like it quite as much as that game, but it’s still good.  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 a lot 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, it would go several spots lower.

Edited by A Black Falcon
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