Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for January, 2009

Indy 500

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 7, 2009

Indy 500 for the Atari 2600 is a racing game, developed by Atari and published by Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1977.


The cover boasts “14 video games”, though, as with most Atari games, these were mostly small variations. Indy 500 contains three or, generously, four distinct games. Three of the four game types have both one- and two-player modes available. For these, the object in single-player mode is to obtain the highest score in one minute, and in multiplayer to outscore the opponent.

The first game, “Race Cars”, is just what it sounds. Two tracks are available, with the cars moving faster on the second. This game is pretty good with two players, but quite dull for solo play.

The second mode, “Crash N’ Score”, involves catching a dot that appears on the map. Once caught, it relocates itself randomly, rather like a snakes game without the growing tail. As before, the cars move faster on the second map. This is the best game for solo play.

Third, we have “Ice Race”. This is like “Race Cars”, except with different tracks, and the cars continue moving as though they were on ice, making it very difficult to turn. I just found this one frustrating.

The final game is “Tag”. If you’re ‘it’, you try to touch your opponent and then run away. Points are scored for each second while your opponent is trying to catch you. This one is two-player only.

Gameplay: 7/10
The controls work pretty well in “Race Cars”, though I found the turns a little too tight to manage on the second track. “Ice Race” was entirely too difficult to control–once you got to full speed, you would slide across half the screen before stopping, even if you turned the car to accelerate in the opposite direction. The controls in the other modes are as in “Race Cars”. Minus a point for “Ice Race” having such horrid controls, but otherwise not bad.
Graphics: 8/10
Though it was possible to do nicer graphics on the 2600, Indy 500 doesn’t look bad. The only real problem is that the blue car didn’t show up well on the ice background, making it difficult to tell which direction you were facing.
Sound: 7/10
The only sounds I noticed were the hum of the engines and the crash of cars hitting walls. Those effects were fairly well done, though the engine sound did get a little old after a while.
Personal Slant: 7/10
“Race Cars” in two-player mode is pretty good fun, and “Crash N’ Score” is similarly fun in single player. That’s a pretty good value, really.
Total: 7.3/10
Indy 500 may not exactly deliver the 14 games it claims, but “Race Cars” and “Crash N’ Score” are good enough by themselves to make this a worthwhile cartridge. Some later games of each type were better–I like R.C. Pro-Am for racing, and pretty much any snakes game–but for 1977, Indy 500 wasn’t bad at all. I’d definitely give it a go for the nostalgia, even if you shelve it in favor of newer games afterward.

Posted in 1977, Atari 2600, Driving, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on January 6, 2009

Mines by Ian Heath is a Minesweeper variant for Windows 3.1, released in 1990.

At first glance, it seems very much like Minesweeper, but the goal is somewhat different: rather than finding all mines on the playing field, your task is to find a mine-free path from the upper left corner to the lower right. You can walk any direction including diagonals in order to reach your goal. The game includes the same marking functions that Minesweeper had, allowing you to mark a square as mined or possibly mined, but these are only for your reference in Mines.

Although you can’t change the size of the playing field, you can choose the number of mines on it. The default, 30 mines, is quite easy, but the difficulty grows quite a bit as the number of mines increases. The maximum, 160 mines, is very difficult indeed.

Every generated playing field is solvable: some path exists through the mines, though, as with Minesweeper, it may not be possible to determine for sure where the mines are. In the above screenshot, for example, the mine on the third column of the first row could have been moved down one without changing the numbers shown when the game started–it’s not possible to be sure any move is safe, though the square down-right of the 3 was definitely mined.

Mines can be downloaded here.

Gameplay: 8/10
The concept is great–it’s definitely one of the best Minesweeper variants I’ve played. Most ‘variants’ only change up the size of the board, or something equally tiny. The only reason this didn’t score higher is that the game lacks keyboard controls, which seem like the natural input method for a game like this, and has no timer.
Graphics: 7/10
Mines looks basically like Minesweeper, which is to say plain but not bad. The feet that represent the player blend in a little too well for my taste, but it’s otherwise fine.
Personal Slant: 8/10
The addition of a timer, keyboard controls, and maybe the ability to change the board size would have made this a 9 or even 10, but it’s still quite good even without these things.
Total: 7.7/10
Mines is a fairly original variant on Minesweeper, and a pretty well-done one at that. Anyone who likes Minesweeper ought to give this one a try.

Posted in 1990, Full Review, Good, Puzzle, Windows 3.x | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on January 6, 2009

Checkers is a Windows 3.1 implementation of checkers by Gregory Thatcher, released in 1990.

I’m just going to assume we all know the rules of checkers, and skip that part. Checkers provides an AI, so you can play against the AI or another human in hotseat play, or watch the computer play against itself. The difficulty (how smart the AI is) can be selected from five levels, Beginner through Master. You can also choose whether to play black or red, and can switch in the middle of the game, if you so desire.

The one with the white circle on it is a king, and was thoroughly beating me.

For anyone who doesn’t know how to play, the help file includes instruction on how to play the game as well as how to use the software.

Checkers can be downloaded directly at this link.

AI: 4/5
The AI beat me, so I guess it can’t suck too badly. However, I do suck very badly at checkers, so I’m only weighting this half to account for my inability to tell whether the AI is actually good. Minus a point since it could be more granular, too.
Gameplay: 4/10
It does what it says on the tin, but minus a point because waiting on the computer to move is boring.
Graphics: 2/10
The graphics are far too simple, and the board looks rather squashed. There’s no excuse for this, given that the DOS version of Battle Chess came out two years earlier and looked much, much better. The Windows version of Battle Chess wouldn’t come out for another year or so, but it too would look much nicer.
Personal Slant: 1/10
I don’t really like checkers that much, and this particular implementation doesn’t make me want to play it any more. I give it one point for including 0-player mode. Fight amongst yourselves, my minions, fight!
Total: 3.1/10
Checkers does indeed play checkers, but it doesn’t do anything beyond that. The overly-simple and somewhat poor graphics hurt this one quite a bit, along with the utter lack of anything original. Battle Chess had been out for two years at this point, so we all knew more was possible. Of course, this implementation probably wasn’t intended to be anything special–but it gets no points for achieving that goal. There’s really no reason you’d want to play this, since there are far better checkers games out there.

Posted in 1990, Bad, Board Game, Full Review, Windows 3.x | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Lucas’s Problem

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 6, 2009

Lucas’s Problem is a Windows 3.1 implementation by James Curran of a puzzle created by the French mathematician Édouard Lucas, who also created the more famous Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

The object is to reverse the positions of the colored blocks, so that red fills the right, and blue the left. Each color of blocks can only move in one direction (indicated by the arrows on these blocks) one space, or jump over a block of the opposite color.

There is, I think, only one way to solve this puzzle (up to reflection), so there’s not much to say. The puzzle isn’t hard to solve when you realize what situation leads to an unwinnable game, so this hasn’t got any replay value.

You can download Lucas’s Problem, or play a web based implementation, at Novel Theory

Gameplay: 8/10
The game works and responds to clicks as expected. The puzzle is pretty clever, though not an invention of the game’s creator. There’s nothing wrong with the game, but there’s just nothing to it, so 8 is the highest score I can give it.
Graphics: 6/10
The graphics are very simple, but acceptable given the scope of the game. One can imagine a more visually pleasing implementation of the puzzle, even in 1990, so minus a few points for not really trying there.
Personal Slant: 5/10
Although I really do think that Lucas’s puzzle was quite clever, Lucas’s Problem has no replayability and offers no value beyond the satisfaction of solving a nice, though simple, puzzle.
Total: 6.33/10
The lack of replayability in this one was a killer for the game’s score. I’m not sure what could have been done to alleviate this–perhaps if the scope of the game had been larger, implementing several similar games, like Towers of Hanoi, it might have made the game worth a second look. As it is, though, even if the puzzle is worth remembering, the game will be soon forgotten.

Posted in 1990, Decent, Full Review, Puzzle, Windows 3.x | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on January 5, 2009

Qix for the Atari 5200 is a straightforward port of the arcade game, developed by Taito America Corporation and published in 1982 by Atari.

There have been ports of Qix for most systems, and other games, such as JezzBall, have been inspired by it. The premise is simple: you must draw lines across the playing field in order to fill in areas. After a certain percentage has been filled in (in this version, 65%), the level is complete, and bonus points are awarded for any additional area filled in beyond the required percentage.

It’s not as simple as it may seem, however. You begin with a totally empty playing field–empty, that is, except for you, the Qix, and the Sparx. The Qix moves about in the unfilled area, and if it touches you or a line that you are drawing, you lose a life, and the line you were drawing disappears. The Sparx travel around the edge of the filled area, like you do, and touching them similarly ends your life.

You can draw two kinds of lines in order to fill in territory. Fast lines, which are blue in this version, give fewer points, and slow lines, which are orange in this version, give more points. Of course, there is more danger in drawing the slow lines, so you must certainly earn the extra points.

It is possible to take the screen slowly, by drawing small boxes around the edges, thus avoiding leaving long lines exposed to the Qix, but this carries its own danger: a timer at the top of the screen is constantly counting down, and each time it runs down two new Sparx are created. Too, on higher levels, the Sparx will chase you up the lines you are drawing once the timer runs out.

By cleverly creating lines, it is possible to trap the Qix in a very small area, and fill a large percentage of the screen. This can be quite valuable, since each extra percent filled is worth 1000 points. Too, trapping two Qix in separate areas multiplies your points on following levels.

Gameplay: 9/10
I found the controls a little difficult to use accurately, but it may have been my joystick rather than the game. Of course, the 5200 had a notoriously bad controller as well, so perhaps I should consider it to be a part of the ambiance.Control issues aside, the gameplay is essentially perfect. It is simple, easy to understand, and challenging as you progress. It’s not without good reason that this game has been ported so often.
Graphics: 8/10
The graphics look as good as can be expected for a 5200 game. The movement of the Qix is a nice effect, and a mostly-filled screen actually looks sort of nice, with the orange and blue areas separated by the white lines you drew. Qix loses a couple of points, though, since I found the text somewhat hard to read (which I suspect could have been improved), and I don’t quite like the orange color for the slow fills.
Sound: 6/10
There’s no music, although that’s not uncommon for contemporary games, and the sound effects are acceptable. I think this could have been improved somewhat–Pitfall, released the same year, or especially Pitfall II, released two years later, had rather nice music, and it would have been nice to have something in the background to listen to.
Personal Slant: 8/10
I enjoyed playing this quite a bit. There are certainly better versions available–I prefer the arcade original, in fact–but this is still fun.
Total: 7.75/10
Qix is a well-done port of a good game, which has endured throughout the years and inspired other interesting games. It looks a little primitive now, but the gameplay is still solid. I might choose a different port to play, but if I had to pick my top four or five Atari 5200 games, this would surely be in the list.

Posted in 1982, Arcade, Atari 5200, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »