The reviews

A-M | N-Z

New to the Color Computer? Learn a bit about it and the terminology I use here.

Want to submit a review or offer a second opinion? E-mail me and I'll post them.

These are graded from "A" to "F" based mostly on my opinion of them, although the collective opinion of reviews from the era and the CoCo gaming community also factor in a bit, especially when I feel my opinion might be seriously out-of-whack with the majority. Also, these are graded on a curve relative to other CoCo games. Brutal as it sounds, I would probably lower all scores anywhere from half to a full letter grade if matched against competing platforms.

Games with a "play online" option can be found at Brad Grier's amazing Mocha emulator site, while the individual games offered for download come from L. Curtis Boyle's invaluable CoCo games site. Thanks to both of them for their huge efforts in keeping our beloved titles of the past alive.

3D Bricks (C+)
A pretty good version of what the title indicates, a three-dimensional version of the ageless game Breakout. You use the joystick to control a translucent paddle that knocks a ball "down" the chamber to the bricks below, arranged in a square instead of stacked on one another like the 2D version. The ball physics are pretty good, as is the control with the paddle (and thankfully the ball angle varies even with dead-on hits, so there's no endless cycle of the ball covering the same ground over and over). It's not an overwhelmingly great title, however, due largely to graphics that flicker an awful lot and sound effects that are just short of annoying. Plus the game itself isn't all that deep, so it's unlikely you'll be playing all that often. But a good overall effort of delivering what the title promises.

A Mazing World of Malcom Mortar (C)
(CoCo 3 only)
This arcade maze/strategy game is the sort of thing I enjoy a bit more than this grade indicates, but I also realize the concept isn't overly original and there are games of this ilk with better depth, variety, graphics and...well, just about everything. Sold by Tandy in cartridge form, it had the advantage of being far more widely available than higher-quality third-party titles, so most CoCo fans are likely familiar with it. The main character is "B. Rick", who wanders around scrolling mazes trying to trap evil creatures by laying bricks to trap them so he can escape. Touching the nasties is obviously bad news. Some can also shoot and others can destroy the bricks you lay. You can prevent the latter by making the bricks you lay "permanent," but this has a potentially game-ending drawback we'll get to shortly. In addition to your limited supply of bricks (more can be collected in the mazes), you also have dynamite at your disposal. This can be used to try to blow up creatures (very tough to do) or blow up temporary walls. But they cannot destroy walls you've made permanent and therein lies a problem: If you put yourself in a situation where you cannot escape or have insufficient bricks left to trap the creatures, the game ends. On the other hand, if you've trapped all the creatures, a yellow brick road will show the way to the now-open exit for that level. Mazes get more difficult, of course, and the ultimate objective is to trap the evil Malcolm in his boss-stage lair. This requires "magic" bricks (another type that can be collected) which, like permanent ones, are also indestructible. The game allows keyboard or joystick control, a nice touch, and it's fast and increasingly challenging at a pace that's reasonable. The graphics are blocky – aside from a few extra colors, this could easily pass for something from the original CoCo's. My one real wish is the game allowed multiple lives instead of making you start over every time you die. Allowing the player to start at the last level completed would also be an acceptable option. As it is, the desire to play diminishes greatly when you have to keep replaying the entire game every time you make a mistake.

Advanced Star Trench Warfare (D)
advancedstartrenchwarefareOh good grief. This may be the most overhyped BASIC game in CoCo history, presumably because people were mesmorized by the scrolling Death Star-like trench. There were lots of lousy games with this feature on all kinds of machines back then (Star Strike for the Intellivision anyone?) and they tended to be strong sellers anyhow since Star Wars mania was in full Force (wasn't trying for the pun, but since it's there…). July 1986 Ugh. This 3D space shooter is not only highly acclaimed, but also sold for $18.95 as a commercial product during the early CoCo days. Spaceships appear at random on a 3X3 grid and the player must shoot them by aiming a laser with similarly limited movement. The alien "blips" to 10 different locations before killing the player. Thing is, it does so so fast the game is just a random crapshoot where you have to hope the alien pops up wherever your crosshairs happen to be. A minor bit of strategy is you can't just fire continuously hoping for a random hit, since you have a limited energy supply during each three-minute wave. I have played a large number of space shooters on a colorless, soundless 1K ZX81 more entertaining and complex than this. But hey, it's got that scrolling space trench. In fairness, this is actually an exceptionally impressive demonstration of how programmers could use the CoCo's quirky graphics capabilities to write decent hi-res programs in BASIC. The CoCo could store up to eight "quarter-slices" of the screen, four of which are displayed at any given time (the concept is similar to drawing pictures in a notebook and flipping the pages). Any of the "slices" ("pages" is the technical term) can be swapped with a simple command, so programmer Fred Scerbo drew two trench scenes and flips them continuously on the third section of the screen. I eventually found a great use for this technique, writing a very crude MacPaint-like program where page flipping allowed for scrolling and undo options (cursed be the like-minded programmer who beat me to The Rainbow with his submission). A simpler version of this was published in the November 1982 issue of The Rainbow.

Adventure in Ancient Jerusalem (D)
This unremarkable text adventure is on one of the first monthly collection of programs sold by Chromassette for $5 an "issue." If you're wondering why I'm bothering to review it, I was writing a column long ago about what holiday-themed games existed for CoCo owners during the computer's first Christmas. Obviously, the gift-giving possibilities were almost nonexistent, as this was the only program I found with any ties at all (I mentioned a a few others, such as a skiing game since it involved snow. A company was also offering rather frim "stocking stuffers," consisting of 4K BASIC games like Brickout, Biorhythm, Blackjack and Lunar Lander for "less than $5" each. ). The Jerusalem adventure requires the player to find nine treasures while avoiding hazards such as “burning your eyes out in the Dead Sea” and murderous Arabs (just the stereotyping we need in today's world). It's a tough challenge, but not much fun even if the xenophobia is overlooked. The big issue is the Random Death for wandering into "wrong" locations for the first time, a common but unforgivable sin of early adventure games. Another common plague is puzzles based less on logic than trying to guess whatever exact phrase is in the mind of the programmer. Finally, while it’s possible to wander an absurdly long distance in a given direction, doing so is ill-advised since it seems to do little but tally how far you’ve wandered from the "real" game map. A save/load option is offered (but may not work in most emulators), so at least those playing on real machines can make some trial-and-error progress, save at some point, and then not have to repeat the game tirelessly from the beginning.

Alpine Slopes (A+++)
The greatest CoCo game ever!!! Just kidding and don't stop reading these reviews just for being this lame this early in the list. I had to post this game here since it holds the distinction of being the only professional program I ever wrote for the Color Computer. I got all of $25 from Rainbow Magazine, the leading publication for the platform, when they ran this in their December 1983 issue. It's nothing more than another weak and boring version of a far-too-often copied genre involving dodging things that are coming at you from the bottom of the screen, but hey - it's my weak and boring program. And it fit in less than 2.4K of memory, less than 1/1,000th of what the lowest entry-level computers typically come with these days.

Here you're a skier (other programs you might be a car or something else) and you use the arrow keys to dodge light blue trees (oh, that makes sense), while touching yellow slolam gates and dark blue ski jumps for extra points (the jumps also scroll you ahead, giving you a momentary breather from all the obstacles). The trees get fatter as you get further down the course, and you can select speeds and visibility when you start. The game ends when you hit a tree.

In reality this is all pretty tepid stuff and totally lacking in originality, so I'd probably give it a D- on an objective scale, with the various options and the fact it doesn't have any known bugs that cause it to crash saving it from failure. The graphics are blocky, there's a lot of flicker and the sound really is pretty annoying. So as you read my cranky comments further down this list (especially any programmers mentioned here), remember I'm in no way saying I could do better.

Annihilator (D+)
An unfinished version of Defender is about the only way I can catagorize this game. I look at it and think it has promise at first, but then realize all kinds of stuff is missing. Where are the humans? Where are the enemies beyond the undersized landers, who don't shoot and have no intelligence whatsoever? What's with the flicker and crummy collision detection? Why would I want to press a key to play another game?

Somebody named Doug Kelley wrote this in 1983 - given the state of CoCo software at the time I can only assume - or hope - that it was part of a cassette magazine's monthly collection or a magazine type-in program (if it was the latter it would actually rate as a very good program within the quality of such offerings).

There are so many Defender clones out there that I have played worse, but that doesn't mean this is any good. Luckily, that's why we all had software reviews back then, to make sure we could at least pick one from the masses worth having.

Arithmetic Football (D+)
Not really a game - instead it's a two-player math drill that incorporates football elements. It's included here as an example of the genre of educational games ("edutainment" became the popular phrase a few years later - and as soon as any kid heard the word they'd flee from whoever was pushing it on them) written in BASIC. They were everywhere because they were relatively easy to write for what was supposed to be a family-friendly machine. Just about anyone could probably do something like this on their own if they knew the language, but it was nice to have someone else crank out something competent and save you the effort (except for typing it in, of course).

All in all, this one is pretty well done. Instructions are provided. Get an answer right and you progress toward the end zone. Get it wrong and you lose yardage or fumble. Each player can set their own difficulty level and how much time they get to answer questions. Everything takes place on a high-res field, but unlike some titles it doesn't slow things down. The only thing you can't change is the fact this is a math drill - how often did stuff like this really get used anyhow? I could see it being something a teacher or student wrote for se at a local school (I did a few similar projects myself) and then getting encouragement to send it to a CoCo magazine. The grade might not reflect it, but truth is I haven't seen a lot of titles like this that were better, but I certainly saw plenty that were worse.

Astro Blast (B)
(Play online | Download)
Basically a clone of the coin-op with an almost identical name (Astro Blaster, or something like that). There's probably 100 versions of this basic space-shooter in existence, but for some reason I've always enjoyed it. It's sort of a cross between Space Invaders and Galaxian. You guide a ship along the bottom of the screen, shooting various waves of defending aliens who descend slowly in different patterns toward the bottom of the screen, dodging their shots and asteroids as you go. If one or more escapes you have to start over, which is a real bummer since you have only a limited amount of fuel and this will almost certainly doom you. Pretty simple, but this early conversion is nicely done and a pleasant, if not overwhelming diversion. As with the good games, its secret is working within the abilities of the CoCo, not trying to stretch the graphics or sound so much they affect gameplay.

Bagitman (B+)
Probably my favorite game written by Dave Edison, the CoCo programmer for Pyramid Software, a company whose main claim to fame seemed to be a large collection of some of the worst text adventures I can recall being sold commercially. They were determined to offer them on virtually every home computer platform made; therefore the games had to be capable of running on the simplest of them. That meant watering things down so bad they were virtually void of descriptions, useful vocabulary and puzzles that made any sense. But I digress, since Dave wrote a number of CoCo arcade games ranging from marginal to very good in quality.

This is a conversion of Bag Man, an arcade game that industry pundits thought would be a hit, but never really caught on. You're a robber trying to collect gold bags in a mine shaft that stretches over three screens, avoiding a couple of policemen as you go. You can take them out by finding one of the pickaxes scattered about, but mostly you'll spend your time trying to avoid them. Dave's conversion looks very good, but in typical CoCo version has to omit most of the sound. This is too bad, since the arcade had catchy tunes and other fun sound effects as you went about your thievery. And it's also slower than the arcade, another pretty normal thing for CoCo conversions. I also found it pretty tough, but that's just because I'm a lousy gamer at most titles. There are better, faster and more in-depth platformers in the arcade and CoCo world, but this is solid and novel enough to recommend to fans of the genre.

Balloons (C)
If you want to get an idea of some of the better homebrew games being circulated on the various disk magazines out there at the time, this is probably as good an example as any. It's one of probably a million simple shooting games that aren't terribly awful or great, with no real unique claim to fame.

In this one you control a ship at the top of the screen which shoots arrows at balloons rising from the bottom. They move faster as you go, you die if one reaches the top of the screen and things progress until you lose your three men. Unlike the multitude of BASIC games, this one is playable because it's written in machine language. It's also very simple and idiot-proof, maybe giving it appeal to those who want to kill time without reading instructions. But this and all others of its ilk were never going to become classics; with any luck whoever wrote it was just doing it either for their own satisfaction - in which case they can take comfort in knowing this is a perfectly competent game - or in order to get a paycheck at some software house cranking this stuff out in bulk.

Bedlam (C+)
Competent text adventure sold on tape at Radio Shack, although its grade (and probably sales) earns a small boost for a somewhat original plot. Your mission is to escape from an insane asylum, dodging or getting help from other patients, doctors and the like along the way. The game promotes itself as being humorous and replayable with multiple endings, both of which are kinda true. The puzzles are usually somewhat logical, but getting to the final puzzle often isn't - and a key solution to a maddening problem is nothing short of ridiculous, but at least the instructions warn you it's coming if you pay attention. The game is bit small in scope, but that's excusable since it's squeezed into 16K of RAM. A game that scores lower now than at the time I bought it, when it was one of the first text adventures I played. But even as plain text it beats more hyped disasters such as "Sands of Egypt" and "Dallas Quest."

Berserk (B)
Mark Data Products had one huge advantage when programming and releasing this 1981 conversion of the coin-op game of the same name - it's got to be one of the simplest and easiest-to-duplicate games out there. On sheer excitement and gameplay value I might drop it a bit, but truth is I always liked the original and whoever programs this deserves credit for keeping it virtually identical to the original, while some other companies (hello, Spectral Associates) were churning our versions that really were pretty awful as a result of their trying to be clever (all that memory wasted on a horrible bit of voice synthesis) and sacrificing huge amounts of playability (poor mazes, everything the wrong size and nothing else that feels much like the original).

Concept: Shoot robots in a maze or lure them to collide with each other (surprisingly easy because they're incredibly stupid, part of the coin-op game's charm) and get out before Evil Otto shows up and fries you to a crisp. The first maze is largely a mulligan since the 'bots don't shoot, but afterward they shoot increasingly often and quick. It seems like Evil Otto shows up kind of quick here, but it also seems like he's just a bit slower in pursuit as well, so this evens out. All in all I'd have had plenty of fun with this if I'd bought it as a kid, but I'm hoping it went more in the $20 range instead of carrying a $30 premium price tag - it wouldn't be worth that much.

Blitz (C-)
blitzThis highly polished vertical space shooter, a simplified take on the Apple II classic Sabotage, is one of The Rainbow's best type-in programs (it's in the June 1988 issue). The player controls a tank that shoots bomb-dropping planes overhead. That's it and the game might not merit attention here, except for the extra polish. First, there's a decent title screen with instructions explaining among other things the slightly unusual controls. The arrow keys aim the tank's turret, but also move the tank once the gun reaches its left or right maximum. While this only takes a moment or two, obviously you can't dodge or reverse direction instantly which complicates things a bit. The "F" key triggers a continuous rapid-fire that takes out planes and the bombs they drop. Hit anything and it blows up with considerable shrapnel, which will take out anything it hits. A good thing, too, since when things get heated you'd have no chance without some chain reactions. The presentation is highly professional. Your tanks don't just appear; they bounce into place from your reserve supply at the top of the screen. The planes' bombs obey the laws of physics, picking up speed as they descend. The graphics and sound are commercial quality, and there's ten selectable skill levels. The easiest is truly a "for idiots" option since the planes at the top of the screen don't drop any bombs, therefore making you invincible until you reach 10,000 points where an extra tank is awarded and the skill level increased. One big annoyance is loading the thing, since you'll need to load three separate BASIC programs and wait several minutes while each POKE's the game's machine code into memory. The code can be saved afterward if you have a real machine or emulator with virtual disk capability (Warning: if not, choose the "tape" option when it asks you to save – otherwise the thing crashes, although you can recover by typing "GOTO 60").

Blochead (C-)
This is a rare disappointing title from Computer Shack. This conversion of Qbert differs most noticably from the arcade version in that the action doesn't take place on a pyramid - in itself not fatal - but everything else is pretty inferior to other CoCo versions (themselves not a model of perfection) in most other ways. The graphics are crude, the gameplay really doesn't capture the finer details that give charm to the original and all in all I'd just rather play something else.

Brewmaster (B)
I always considered the arcade game Tapper to be the world's greatest cousin of Kaboom, with serving up all those beers a whole lot more fun than defeating the Mad Bomber or doing any of the other things various versions incorporated. This conversion by Novasoft (Tom Mix's bargain software unit) is a great one, capturing the feel and flavor of the arcade game - probably not overwhelmingly tough, since it really is a very simple concept.

You're keeping four rows of customers in suds, who gradually progress toward your end of the bar unless you toss them glasses to keep them satiated. A lot of them will then slide the mugs back to you, which you need to catch. If you waste a beer, miss a glass or allow customers to reach the end of the bar, well, it's later days, mate.

As noted, it's the simplicity of the original that allows this to shine. Nothing ever moves so fast that the CoCo can't duplicate it from a gameplay perspective - yet the gamepace gets frantic as hell as the customers increase and more glasses start flying in both directions. All the original game's features are here, including the bonus rounds (on second thought I take that back - I don't remember seeing the Budweiser dancing girls do their dance in the background on this one. There's a real loss). Animation is pretty minimal in the real thing, so nothing has to be pushed in the home version. And the graphics really are impressive in sort of an abstract/impressionist sort of way; rather than seeking pixel-perfect perfection, the characters are captured in ways where all are distinctively interesting and fun, as long as you don't scrutinize them up close (irrelevant rant - I always felt Nintendo did a great job accomplishing this on their GameBoy titles; that platform has a lower resolution than the CoCo, yet was releasing Mario World and Donkey Kong Land games that looked great and earned raves similar to what its 16-bit titles got).

I'd have paid the $18.95 asking price for this easily as a youth and gone back for more titles from this company - they had plenty of others that looked - and indeed played - great. No surprise; I just wonder why they ended up in the so-called bargain bin under a different company name.

Bustout (D+)
(Play online)
I don't know how you can possibly screw up the game of Breakout, since any half-competent programmer could write their own version in BASIC on a 4K machine (or a 1K ZX-81, for that matter), but this is one of those early Radio Shack ROM carts you look at and feel sorry for any salesman that was using it to demo the CoCo's capabilities. You and up to three other players compete on a basic playfield, with an option for number of balls (1-20) and whether "gravity" exists, meaning you have to move your paddle upward as you strike the ball if it's going to rise high enough to knock out bricks. I find the whole thing totally unplayable. Thank goodness for all those BASIC programmers, as well as any of the other commercial variations on this game, for anyone who wants to get a brick-bashing fix in.

Buzzard Bait (A-)
(Play online | Download)
The better of the two "Joust" games for the Color Computer - it looks better, plays faster and your riders are easier to control (even so, I should note the games are very close and some choose Spectrum's Lancer over this). All of the elements of the arcade game are there and it looks as close to the arcade version as a CoCo is going to get. Theme waves appear and platforms disappear in the same order they do in the arcade, and the behavior of the enemies is pretty close to spot-on (although you can't "hunt" the pterodactyl for hours like you can at the arcade). The main drawback, as usual, is speed once a bunch of enemies are on the screen. I spent a lot of hours with this one, but haven't played it or any other version of "Joust" since enduring a six-hour marathon on a coin-op machine in college - the last hour I was just killing off all the riders I had accumulated.

Candy Company (C+)
Intracolor, the company that brought above-average conversions of Centipede (Colorpede) and Robotron (Robottack) to the CoCo, decided to break their mold here with an original title that required 32K instead of the usual 16K. What they ended up with was a game that shows plenty of polish, but really wasn't all that interesting to play. Too bad, given the obvious effort involved.
One or two players move around on conveyors that can move about in a number of ways, collecting sweets and avoiding bad guys. I don't remember too much more about it, sadly, other than it just started to feel very repetitive after a few waves even though new challenges in platform movement, etc. took place. That lack of impressionable memories probably explains the ho-hum rating as well as anything.

Canyon Climber (C-)
The sort of game that gets purchased at Radio Shack on impulse because a gamer (or more likely their parents, friends, etc.) sees what looks like at least a reasonably attractive and interesting game. It then gets played for a few days and tossed in the cartridge box to gather dust. Some people genuinely hate this Donkey Kong ripoff by Datasoft, I find it merely a mediocre title that owes its higher-than-deserved commercial success on various platforms to good marketing.

This game has three screens: The first two bear very rough resemblances to, in order, the rivets and barrels screens in Donkey Kong. The object of the first is to plant dynamite charges on bridges while avoiding goats (instead of fireballs); the second you climb several ramps, avoiding arrows along the way (instead of barrels). The third you jump from platform to platform, trying to reach the top of the screen while avoiding, uh, rocks being dropped by birds flying at the top of the screen.

It's all carried off competently, with decent graphics and speed for the time, but as soon as you've completed the levels a few times the challenge is pretty much gone. And there's too many annoying little details to really make this a worthwhile time killer; one of the worst is the random-factor element that guides the goats and rocks, meaning they move at random and all too often whether you live or die is all about luck and not about skill and planning.

Cashman (A-)
Here we have a platform game that mostly gets everything right. This is a variation on the hit game Jumpman that came out for the Atari and a few other platforms, but never (of course) on our beloved CoCo. No matter - this is a great version of it with unique touches and I recommend it to any retro platforming fan. It was sold by Computer Shack (later Michtron), who did a number of the better CoCo games released.

Basically you run around picking up cash and avoiding bad guys on each level. Simple concept, but the fun and challenge comes from the different designs of each level (I believe there are 45 of them). Subsequent levels throw all kinds of weird stuff at you, like screens where you can't jump, screens where you do "super jumps" trampolines and so on. Also, two players can play at once - nice option even if I never used it.

This game is far and away better than Canyon Climber (amazing how similar games can differ so much in quality) and deserves more words, but none are really needed - grab it and play it if this sort of genre is your thing.

Castle Guard (C-)
castleguardWarlords is one of the most underappreciated coin-op arcade classics and the thought of Tandy porting a version to the CoCo is a welcome one indeed. The original Atari game could easily be called Combat Breakout, as four human or computer players at the corners of the screen use paddles to knock down the barriers of their oppenents's fortresses while deflecting attacks on their own. There's also a catch-and-release feature, allowing you to strategically place your attacks. But a lot got lost in the CoCo translation, making this about a "D" game for one player and a "C+" for two. The first big problem, as those familiar with the Arari original probably recognize from the screenshot or previous sentence, is there's only two players instead of four. Next, while Warlords allows each player to move their paddles along what's essentially an invisible wall surrounding their fortresses, Castle Guard allows each player to wander all over a large portion of their half of the screen, with the paddle slowing down as you near the edges (obviously knocking the ball there is the key strategy for victory). Also, a less anoying variance is you're not chipping away at the walls of a fortress, but striking your oppenent's castle and casuing it to slowly sink into the ground. Getting back to big issues, the computer only plays at one level of difficulty and not a very tough one, as I came within one hit of defeating it during my first attempt despite spending the first minute tweaking the controls in my emulator. In the coin-op version the game continues at a higher level if a human prevails, but Castle Guard ends after a single round no matter the outcome. I can play the coin-op and Atari 2600 versions of Warlords for hours (they're part of an Atair app for the iPhone and are perfect mobile gaming pasttime), and Darrell Spice's pumped-up version called Medivial Mahem (playable online here) is easily one of the top five Atari 2600 homebrews of all time. But as a solitary retrogamer I tired of Castle Guard after only a few games, although it'd have some staying power for two players (especially given the standard of other two-player ROM packs from Radio Shack at the time).

Castle of Tharoggad (D+)
castleoftharoggadEveryone involved in this project deserves to run a gauntlet of angry CoConuts armed with their plastic machines to beat the offenders over the head with. My personal inclination is to give this game a "D-minus" for so badly screwing up the sequel to one of the most famous and beloved CoCo games ever, but I'm forcing myself to be objective enough to realize it does have some play value to the uninitiated. For those unable to decipher the title's clever spelling (a group that not surprisingly includes The Rainbow's reviewer in another display of that magazine's astonishing ineptitude at critiquing software), this is a follow-up to Dungeons Of Daggorath, a real-time 3D RPG that is unquestionably Tandy's best CoCo game (see below). The goal here is to reach the top level of the castle and save the "good" wizard. Doing this requires killing lots of creatures, picking up the weapons and other useful items they drop, and keeping an eye on your heartbeat which speeds up when you move and do battle (a single hit can easily be fatal). All the gameplay elements are the same as DOD except for one thing: the interface is icon driven instead of command driven. So instead of typing "A R" for attack right, you double-click on the right hand icon. Problem is, cursor movement isn't as precise as it ought to be and many of the commands are anything but intuitive, involving a series of clicks on different icons. How bad is the control system? The INSTRUCTIONS state "while playing, especially in battle, there will be times when the joystick is not real responsive. Consider this in your strategy." Or you could consider it inexcusably shoddy programming and chutzpah. The save feature is beyond absurd – instead of saving your progress on cassette (or, dare I say it, floppy disk since this was the late 80s) you get four nine-character passwords to type in. Obviously these passwords contain the necessary data to set up most of your position, so someone able to decipher the code could create any situation they wanted. Also, notice I said "most" of your position - all injured creatures are restored to full health and their locations randomized, a "feature" no doubt resulting from the limited information the passwords can contain. One claimed improvement compared to DOD is the graphics are now "filled" rather than outlines, but they rate somewhere between non-factor and ugly. Is there anything I'm going to say in COT's favor? Well, there's "at least seven" levels to the castle, to quote the instructions, and it's still a real-time RPG with many core elements of an intriguing challenge But all in all this game is a staggeringly disappointing step back from the original and there's no reason to play it these days unless you somehow miss the fact it has a highly esteemed predecessor that's been ported to other platforms (the code is now in the public domain), is playable online at Mocha and has a great fan page with tons of in-depth details).

Cave Hunter (C-)
(Play online | Download)
A nondescript, harmless maze chase game with elements of Pac-Man and Rally-X. You control a car that goes through a maze, collecting four gold bars, one at a time, from the bottom of the screen and taking them to the exit at the top of the screen. Meanwhile three cars chase you and try to ram you. You can snag one of four red power pills to temporarily take them out. About your only other real way to outwit them is to go through the side tunnels, where like Pac-Man you have a nice speed advantage on them. Collect and deposit your four gold dots and you go to a new maze with more agressive cars.
Probably the most novel aspect of this game is Mark Data Products decided to program this in that funky 64X192 Semigraphics 24 mode, meaning you get eight colors on the screen at once, but everything is drawn with some of the strangest-looking pixels on any computer ever made. I always find it amusing seeing how people try to make this look attractive and it isn't too bad here, but it's not a game with all that much overall staying power. At least there's nothing inherently bad or annoying about it either. As Douglas Adams would say, mostly harmless.

Chambers (B+)
This is sort of a Robotron knock-off by Tom Mix, with a few gameplay elements added and deleted. All in all, the whole thing works pretty well - I might even say it has more long-term play value than Robottack, which I thought was about as good a conversion as you could so on a CoCo.

The concept is somewhat similar - move a guy around and shoot large numbers of enemies in a room, then move on to the next one. Here there's only one thing to collect, a key that allows you to access more chambers once you've completed the wave (you do this by exiting through one of the doors in the walls). There are no humanoids for points and the selection of enemies is much smaller - usually the bad guys moving around, plus some missiles occasionally launched from the base (or whatever it is) in the middle of the screen. I confess I haven't made it that far into the game yet, but the whole thing takes place in a chamber with many, many rooms, and there may be some further developments in those as you progress. Just seeing them there on the map gives a feeling of anticipation (sort of like those Mario world maps where you know there's lots and lots of areas to conquer). Tom Mix also made an effort to add lots of Williams Electronic-like flash to the graphics and gameplay, which all works well here. And it all takes place at a very playable speed. All in all, a very addicting game.

Chopper Strike (C+)
chopperstrikeA decent Scramble-themed game with a touch of Choplifter thrown in by placing people with waving arms to be rescued along the mountainous terrain. It's a solid concept and well programmed, but too much has been altered or stripped out to make it a favorite.

CoCo Max (B+)
(Play online)
Not a game, but I gotta mention here anyhow because it was one of those "ultimate eye-candy" programs that got CoCo owners drooling (until its sequa came out, CoCo Max II, which actually had some decent power). Basically this was an attempt to imitate the original MacPaint right after the Macintosh made its debut. On a surface level it looks and works OK, especially considering everything is squashed into 64K of memory (the sequel required a disc drive). Most of the basics were there, if somewhat sluggishly, and it came with a nifty hardware interface so your joystick or mouse could access every pixel on the screen (without it the joysticks can only cover a 64X64 grid - meaning a fraction of the screen or having to "jump" about three pixels at a time). All in all a lot of fun and better than most CoCo graphics programs.

CoCo Zone, The (B)
April 1986 I played dozens, if not hundreds, of adventures and this prison escape thriller is among maybe ten I finished without resorting to hints or cheating. You find yourself in a prison cell, framed for a murder you didn't commit, only to find yourself receiving a mysterious note from a guard one day. This fairly mundane setup develops into a compelling story, especially given the memory limits of early computers, and the graphics are first-rate commercial quality. The plot twists thrown at you feel like part of the narrative rather than pointless punishment to make things harder. Unlike a lot of adventures where you hope to avoid the grave, successful completion here means literally burying yourself alive. I don't remember typing in endless commands trying to guess the "right" word for a situation or feeling like I was unfairly killed merely for entering a room for the first time. Actually, there is one such situation - an arcade-like challenge in a room you must cross with lasers firing at random locations and intervals. The only way out is moving fast and hoping randomness doesn't coincide with where you are. One other flaw occurs toward the end, when the program takes a good 30 seconds or so to draw certain locations from scratch, presumably because there wasn't room for any more pre-rendered scenes. The first time it builds up tension, but if you have to leave and come back a few times it really gets irritating. But having come as far as I did, there was no way I was going to give up my final quest.

College Adventure (D+)
I'm including this only so the uninitiated can see an example of a game genre that was waaaaayyy too common back in the retrocomputing era - the extremely boring and frustrating homemade text adventure. I actually suspect this was cranked out by T&D software as one of their monthly cassette magazine releases, since it strongly resembles a lot of other releases by that company. I imagine they started with a skeletal program and just filled in the blanks with some kind of so-called plot, not all that much different than plugging in Mad Libs.

Unlike some Infocom games I rave about later (see Wishbringer), these text adventures are shallow and unlikely to hold anyone's interest for long unless they enjoy torture. This is actually one of the better examples - which is why I selected it - in that the plot is somewhat original, you get instructions to start and it tells you what commands are allowed. One of the worst sins of many homebrew text adventures is they make you guess all the commands, which usually becomes an exercise in utter frustration and futility.

However, this game suffers from another common and deadly flaw: the unavoidable, completely illogical death. You "die" in a number of ways simply by wandering into certain rooms (i.e. the girl's dorm), even if you haven't been there before and had no idea what you were entering next. Any good adventure needs to give the player a chance to remedy a mistake, or least ensure they've done something to put themself into danger (i.e. if the player entered the room drunk and naked) to ensure such a fate. As it is you need to make a map (essentially for most adventures anyway) and retrace all of your steps time after time, trying to get a bit further before your next demise. It's definitely a lot more work than play.

I've played some outstanding homebrew adventures by very creative people; sadly I haven't been able to track them down yet. With any luck I'll stumble across them someday. In the meantime, try this for a couple of minutes if you want to learn and feel grateful about something you didn't spend time on during your youth.

Color Baseball (B+)
A sports game Radio Shack finally got right. I'm not a big fan of the real thing, but I played this more than any other sports title where a ball of some sort was involved (driving doesn't count and the Skiing cart would give this one serious competition if I tried to name the best RS sports title).

One or two players go at it with nine-player rosters. You can enter names and batting averages for players, which actually affect their hitting ability. The national anthem plays and then the teams take the field. Batting, pitching, fielding, running and everything else is amazing intuitive and well-suited for those lousy joysticks. Crowd noise is well done and there really aren't major flaws EXCEPT it gets way too easy to kick the living hell out of the computer opponents, even if you give your players lousy batting averages. Basically, it all comes down to timing and after a while you end up hitting most of the time and winning by 20 or more runs. Works better as a two-player option, but even after I mastered the one-player mode I'd still boot it up from time to time and play with various goals (like overcoming huge point spreads).

Color Caterpillar (B)
I'd never heard of the Rugby Circle until I came across this Centipede conversion on Brad Grier's Mocha site, but this title surprisingly ranks as my second-favorite version of this much-imitated game behind Intracolor's Colorpede. It feels and looks largely like its pay-for-play cousin, which for some crazy reason is something almost no other CoCo version manages to do.

Ninety percent of the game is well-executed. The centipede looks authentic, moves authentic and appears like it does in the arcade - whole at first, then with more and more individual head segments (harder to hit) as you progress. Spiders and fleas do their thing as expected. Mushrooms are chipped away by your shots and heal up when you die. The only real annoyance is the lack of scorpions - instead mushrooms just get "poisoned" at random moments without warning. This is the game's one true annoyance, since there's no warning and can lead to some unfair deaths when the centipede hits a sudden one and plummets to the bottom of the screen before you can do anything about it. And one more small thing - it'd be nice not to sit through their very annoying title screen sequence every time a game ends.

Still, I'm interested in finding out what else they've authored. I'd probably have gone back for more titles if they had them and they were reasonably priced.

Colorpede (B)
This is probably the best CoCo conversion of Atari's Centipede, a big hit that had some of the longest staying power of any classic coin-op. Part of the longevity is due to the fact that, along with Ms. Pac-Man, it was one of the few games that drew a large number of female players. And like its Pac missus, it seems like it's one of those few classic games you see in the ignored back corners of arcades and bus stations even today.

Intracolor (programmers of the very good Robotron conversion Robotack) did this version and it generally wins out based on the strength of all of its elements combined. Others might play well and look like utter crap or look pretty good and be totally lacking in gameplay. More often both elements just generally kind of sucked on the various versions.

The movement is a bit choppy and there is nothing resembling the great addictive sounds of the coin-op here, but generally it captures the stuff that makes the pay-as-you-die version a blast. And for once the CoCo's analogue joysticks are an advantage here, since the movement in the original was controlled by a trackball and a free-floating joystick makes it easy to mimic the variable speeds and angle of movement in such an environment.

Color Space Invaders (C+)
This is Spectral Associates' version of Space Invaders and, like most of their early conversions of coin-ops, is competent and not terribly exciting. It gets the same grade as Radio Shack's Space Assault (see above) - they are similar, but have some individual strengths.

This version's gameplay is probably a bit closer to the arcade's and you get to choose 15 levels of difficulty. But the sound is much more spartan. Radio Shack's version feels a bit livlier and has the "expert" option with the two-directional movement and lack of shields. Neither qualifies as the best the CoCo had to offer in this genre. I had this game as part of a 10-pack of older games sold late in the CoCo's life for $20 (early version of the shovelware concept) and this was one of the lesser-played games in that batch.

Colorzap (C)
Games don't get much simpler than this. You have a gun at the center of the screen. Objects come at you from one of four directions and you point the joystick up, down, left or right and press fire to shoot it. The objects get faster as the game goes on. And that's it, except for a ship that occasionally appears and must be shot as it circles the screen.

Given those elements, it wasn't too difficult to make this conversion of the arcade game Spacezap into a decent version for the CoCo. And it's fun for a few games when your brain is a numb as it'll ever get and you need to pass time. But there's too many better games in the world to keep it up for long. But it's worth noting one of the coolest "edutainment" titles ever was born from this concept (and never converted to the CoCo, of course): a learn-to-type program called MasterType where you had to type out letters and/or words and then press the spacebar to fire. Not only was it a great typing tutor, it was a lot more fun to play than the arcade game. Hmmm...maybe for one of those Web games I keep wanting to write it's time to steal the idea and do a conversion...

Cosmic Clones (C+)
The robots from Mark Data Products' Berserk (see above) are back and, boy, do they have a new attitude. They and a couple of buddies are storming you from above in this space shooter that cobbles together a lot of elements from different games. It would even be worth spending a little time with - IF IT WEREN"T VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO PLAY FOR LONG BACAUSE IT'S SO DAMN HARD!

It might take a few minutes to list all the games it borrows elements from: Berserk, Space Invaders, Demon Attack, Phoenix, Missile Command, Tempest, Joust, others I'm not thinking of immediately. Basically it's pretty simple - shoot the 'bots before they reach the bottom of the screen and turn into faster 'bots. If you shoot them they turn into a pair of bombs (uh, that's logical, I guess) that must be shot before they collide with the row of large dots (whatever they are) you're protecting at the bottom of the screen. All the while you need to avoid a barrage of missiles from a slowly descending shield across the screen that protects the 'bots when they're above it - you're still fair game, by the way.

It's that shield that makes this game impossible. You get a few moments when it's relatively near the top to battle it out fairly, after which you have little shot at the 'bots before they get too low for comfort and the shots prove unavoidable no matter how skilled you might be. The gameplay elements - graphics, control, sound, speed, etc., are all good here - but it's all for naught if you decide early on to toss this in a drawer because the programmers decided to put you in a hopeless situation. Oh, well. Even if that wasn't the case it'd probably never be better than a B game since it's not an overwhelming original, so it's not like it's a near-miss classic.

Cuber (B-) disc 41
This version of Qbert by Tom Mix Software isn't the prettiest version, but it's solid where it counts - in gameplay. I'd probably still opt for Cubix as my first overall choice (see below), but this would get pretty strong consideration since it ranks just a bit higher on the playability scale.

You get all the vital stuff, including the animation sequences showing how you need to jump on the squares to complete various waves. The characters act pretty much to their true selves and speed is true to form. Nice effort, although I wish someone had put the best of all these games together into one stellar title.

Cubix (B)
A solid version of the coin-op hit Qbert. This is one of Spectral Associates stronger efforts, ranking up there with Lancer (Joust conversion) in capturing the feel of the arcade game.

As with many titles, it's the little things that help. The graphics, while obviously not as good as the real thing, are still cute. Sound is sparse, but still a plus for a change. Gameplay moves along nicely. And there's other little things like needing to press the fire button after losing a life (allowing for pauses if desired) to resume the game.

There are a few quibbles: The color scheme is random rather than constant, leading to some playfields that are uglier than others. The snake seems to need to be only one square away from Qbert when he jumps on a disc (in the arcade it's two), and I died a number of times because of this. The graphics are a bit jumpy, but nothing like some primitive versions like the Atari 2600. At the same time I used to play this on the Colecovision all the time and that's a far superior version, as are the coversions for a lot of other consoles and computers. A better version of this no doubt could be done (maybe it has - I know there's some other titles I haven't played yet - but I've definitely played worse (see Queer Bert review)), but this one won't feel like a disappointment.

Cuthbert in the Mines (C+)
A cheesy, simple, but somewhat entertaining game that apparently was put out by Radio Shack, although I never saw it. It's sort of combines primitive elements of Frogger, Donkey Kong and maybe a few other games. What emerges is something that's kind of fun for a few rounds, but lacks any kind of depth to hold your interest for an extended period of time.

Your goal is to guide your miner to the top of the screen, avoiding all the mine carts on the conveyor belts that will knock you down a level (but not completely off, unless you're on the bottom level). Meanwhile, a devil-looking creature patrols up and down a ladder on the right hand side of the screen, occasionally hurling a fireball across a belt. I didn't find him to be too much of nuisance.

While simple gameplay elements often make for a winner, here it's all too simple, since it's just wave after wave of the belts. It doesn't have the diversity of Frogger or the multiple screens of Donkey Kong, and according isn't as much fun. But I'm sure it beats 12 hours of inhaling coal dust, even if you won't get any union wages for your efforts.

Cyrus Chess (B+)
(Play online)
If I were any good at chess I'd be in a better position to grade this fairly. I'll just say here that 1) it's better than Radio Shack's first ROM cart, 2) you can do all you'd expect on a game like this, such as setting up boards, taking back moves, getting hints, etc., and 3) I've never beaten it, even on level 1, so someone else should offer a more useful critique.

Dallas Quest Adventure (D-)
UGH! Look up the phrase "this sucks" in any slang dictionary and there's a good chance you'll see a screenshot of this game next to it. This easily is one of the worst and most overrated adventures of all time. How on Earth did this ever manage to become a popular game - across several computer platforms no less? Nothing except the OK-for-the-times graphics works in this so-called comedy-mystery adventure. Instead of wandering around exploring, you basically get stuck in a horribly stupid linear plot where you don't go more than a screen or two without solving some puzzle that makes absolutely no logical sense at all. At least half of the time the solution is the same - offer a monkey who accompanies you some tobacco from a pouch and he'll do some utterly ridiculous thing to save you (if your boat is leaking, he'll use his tail to block the hole; if you're stuck in a certain room he locates a trap door for you - it's like some horrible "Bonzo" movie I saw where the chimp started off rescuing little Timothy from the edge of cliff by screeching and eventually ends up rescuing the family at the end of the movie by flying them out of a war zone in an airplane he steals). No thought at all spent on the puzzles.

And when it's time to move on, often a single innocent "misstep" puts you in a trap you can't get out of. In other words, if the story says "obvious" paths go north and south, and you choose south, you may end up stuck in a jungle with no means of escape - not the result of a bad decision, just INSANELY BAD PROGRAMMING to try to make a pathetic game more "challenging." The ending is totally ridiculous and frankly I can't believe I played it that long. I think I was irked at the $40 price tag and felt I had to get my money's worth. Don't go near this one unless you're the type that also uses to figure out what you shouldn't be putting on your Web pages.

Demolition Derby (B-)
I probably shouldn't mention this on the Internet of all places, but one of my landmark achievements in computer hacking is tied to this game: It's the first time I figured out how to copy a ROM cartridge into the memory of my CoCo, therefore allowing me to save it onto a disk. Exciting stuff for a kid who figured he'd made a major hacking achievement (the who point of carts is they're not supposed to copyable, after all). Sure, it turns out everyone was (and still is) doing it, but like so many other other pleasures in life that doesn't diminish the thrill of my so-called "discovery." Except by then the software industry gurus were already ahead of me and had started putting copy protections in their code so the game wouldn't run properly. So, frustrated, I exchanged it for some other title I remember being very dull and a dust-gatherer in the unused software drawer.

So what about the game? Well, I managed to get some fixes for my pirated game a few months later (along with a list for a bunch of other carts) and it's OK in a not-terribly-exciting way. It's a conversion of the arcade game Bump-N-Jump and it's done fine, but it just doesn't have any elements that make it all that addictive. Your role is to guide a car along a track that scrolls from the top of the screen downward, forcing other cars off along the way. The harder the car is to push, the more you bounce off it (and therefore are in danger of hitting the side walls) and the more points you get for it. If I recall right, this is also critical to keeping your fuel supply going and to advancing to further levels. Better than a lot of driving games on the market, but I'd still boot up two or three better titles (Speed Racer, Pitstop II) before considering this one.

Demon Attack (B)
This one of those rare classics where the CoCo actually got an official conversion. I remember being blown away by it when it came out on the Atari 2600 - it's nothing but a basic space shooter, but it was incredibly well done for a VCS title - and I was ready to buy it on sight when the RAM pack showed on the shelves of the local Radio Shack. Except the box said 32K was required and this back when we were stuck with our measly 16K CoCo I. So it wasn't until many months later, after I got my 64K machine, that I was able to get this. And guess what? The actual requirements are a 16K machine (the sticker on the outside was incorrect). I wonder how many sales Radio Shack lost with this screw-up, which was never corrected.

The game can't be any simpler: Guide your ship along the bottom of the screen and destroy the waves of aliens shooting at you from above. Starting with the third wave they split in two when hit and start diving toward you when one of the "split" enemies is hit. And every third screen you get a chance to take out a massive mother ship that keeps spewing out little demons - a feature first included on the Intellivision and preserved on most later versions for the more "advanced" platforms.

This is a long ways from the most advanced or sophisticated game on the planet; it's just simple, well-executed fun. Too bad that's a concept that all too often gets lost in the desire to be flashier, bigger and (not really) better.

Demon Seed (B+)
Good, if not exact, conversion of Phoenix. Gameplay is sharp, so the fact it's missing a few details isn't all that big a handicap. There's no mothership in the background on the opening two screens (which was just a decoration anyhow) so it looks and plays a lot more like Galaxians, for instance, but the diving behavior of the birds, your ability to shoot and use shields, etc. is captured pretty well. Same thing for the egg stages 3 and 4 - not too far off in any notable way. The final mothership scene is also executed well. And there are nice touches - your ship explodes and the graphics between levels are pretty much the same as the arcade. Sound, as always, is pretty much on the sparse side. It's very similar to Demon Attack in many ways, but because it has more diversity in gameplay it gets a slightly higher grade.

Desert Rider (B-/incomplete)
This is based on a test drive of a couple of games. It appears to be a Pole Position type of game where you can also jump to avoid the cars, potholes and other road obstacles. Instead of beating a time you get a limited number of crashes before the game ends. I suspect a lot of people bought this because it was one of Steve Bjork's game sold through Radio Shack. It's a competent racer, but lags just a bit behind better games such as Speed Racer and Pitstop II (the latter was also sold at Radio Shack - hopefully most customers opted for it instead).

Everything moves along nicely, the simple controls work well, the graphics are pretty good and the jump element saved my life more than once. Mostly my reservation is the other games I've mentioned have better graphics, features such as multiple tracks and/or pit stops, driver realism, etc. I suspect I'd probably have seen a demo of this running at Radio Shack and taken a pass as a youth, since I already had better stuff waiting at home. Still, those who bought it certainly don't need to feel ashamed or cheated.

Devious (B-)
This is an adoption by Spectral Associates of the arcade game Xevious. As a stand-alone game it's not a bad offering, but it's success in replicating the arcade game's feel is more disappointing.

The game is one of those scrolling shooters, where terrain passes under you and various bad guys attack your plane from the ground or air. Probably my main gripe with the game is it's somewhat slow, a killer with a shoot-em-up like this where one of its main attractions is the fast and furious action. It's also not possible to fire bombs at ground targets and missiles at ships separately, since the CoCo joysticks have only one fire button.

Gameplay elements like graphics and sound are generally in the moderate to good category, and there's enough depth to keep players interested for multiple sessions. There's other shooters that are more entertaining, but this one wouldn't feel like a bitter disappointment if it was the one you plunked down your allowance money for.

Donkey King (later The King) (A)
(Play online)
This Donkey Kong clone single-handedly redefined how a Color Computer game should look and play, and for once proved to be a better conversion than most of the official versions for other 8-bit consoles and computers. There were some who doubted a 32K game could sell at the time (1981 or 82), but it raised the expectations of gamers from Atari 2600- and Intellivision-type quality to that of the Colecovision or NES. The amazing thing is it was one of the first programming projects by Chris Lathem, then in his early 20s, who wrote many of the best CoCo software titles ever. In an interview years later he called many aspects of this game lame, including the graphics. Huh? All he did was outdo the programming teams from Atari, Nintendo, etc. with a game he wrote in a few weeks. Go figure.

The game has all four screens, the appropriate number of girder levels on each (no "short" screens to accommodate TV's horizontal screen, presents them in the proper order, features the opening and intermission sequences, and the gameplay very closely mimics that of the coin-op. There are only two real drawbacks: 1) The game is extremely hard - you will play it many, many times before getting past the first barrels screen (either the barrels are bigger or Mario can't jump as high, or something); and 2) the sound is competent, but nothing more. At least the game offers a practice mode with 12 men so you actually have a chance of getting to the latter screens.

One magazine reviewer at the time said "it's hard to communicate just how impressive Donkey King is. If I had to pick one game to show off the Color Computer's capabilities, this would be it." I can't say it better than that after all these years.

Donkey Kong (A)
donkeykong"I call bullsh*t" is a not surprising first reaction from people seeing screenshots for the biggest breakthrough in CoCo gaming since Donkey King redefined the standard. The latter title, as noted above, took expectations from Atari 2600 caliber to Colecovision/Commodore 64 heights that prevailed until the CoCo 3 was introduced, Most CoCo 3 titles aren't all that stellar either, to be honest, but I can only imagine the reaction this unauthorized Donkey Kong would have caused had it been released when the computer debuted in 1986. It isn't just a good intrepretation of the coin-op, it IS the arcade game running on what's essentially an emulator interpreting the original programming code. No other home version came even close to this until the dawn of MAME emulation. John "Sock Master" Kowalski released this for free in 2007, saying he hoped to inspire others to port more games to the CoCo 3. A simple description of how he programmed it, along with some useful links, is at his homepage. As for the game, there's little to be said for anyone familiar with the original. Virtually everything is identical except the title screen which includes things like programming credits, including the ability to adjust DIP switches. To see the exact hues and – even more – hear the exact sounds and background music on a CoCo is mind-blowing. The only signifiant differences are the screen has slightly fewer vertical pixels (225 instead of the arcade's 256, which is unnoticeable unless you're playing them side-by-side) and only one-player games are allowed (press the fire button once to insert a coin, press again to play). One of many features I love is being able to select the USA or Japanese order of levels. I'm one of the rare freaks who loves the conveyor belts, but hates having to reach the third cycle of screens to play them. Using the Japanese setting means I get to play all the screens each time through. This isn't the most fun CoCo game – plenty of others reflect the years of advancement since the original Donkey Kong debuted – but you'd have a hard time arguing it isn't the most impressive.

Doodle Bug (B)
(Play online | Download)
Nice clone of Ladybug, one of those fairly obscure arcade games that most people only know about because Coleco decided to license it for the Colecovision, along with the usual inferior versions for the Atari and Intellivision. Basically it's a Pac-Man game, with the main difference being 1) the maze has turnstiles which you can use to make quick escapes and cut off the bugs; 2) a timer controls when the bugs appear in the maze, until a specified maximum of them are wandering around; and 3) there are no energizers - your ability to evade is all you've got. There are a few scattered stationary extras to worry about - prizes to collect for points, letters that will earn extra bugs and skulls that will kill you on contact.

This unlicensed CoCo version does everything well, but nothing so spectacular as to make it stand out above other solid titles. It's fun in a mindless way, but after Ms. Packman and the like you do want a bit more variety in mazes and other stuff as the game progresses. Also, the level of difficulty stays the same throughout the game - you choose from three to six bugs at the start, and that's how many there always are; and they always move at the same speed. But it's certainly not a bad way to kill a few minutes of idle time.

Doubleback (A)
Easily among the top original games offered by Radio Shack and probably among the top 10 CoCo games of all time. This is one of those rare gems that really belongs in the "something for everyone" category. The ROM cart was inexpensive ($19.95), playable on a 4K machine and could be enjoyable challenge for anyone from a tot to a hard-core gamer.

The concept, a like a lot of classics, is amazingly simple: Use your joystick to guide a line as it snakes around the screen, circling objects that pop up along the way. If you circle them completely they disappear and you get points for them. Circle more than one and you get an increasingly high number of points (five objects, for example, would be the total of all the objects multiplied by five). You lose one of your lives if you touch any of the objects.

And that's it - sort of.

A kid could play this a long time by circling objects one at a time and enjoy it, thanks to a very slow increase in the level of difficulty. The objects are fun, colorful and act in interesting ways. Progress slowly and new types will appear every so often, and it's fun to see what comes next: Roller skates that move back and forth, yo-yos that move up and down on strings, spiders that chase you and many others.

And here's the real key to its success: This game is as difficult as you make it. An experienced player can wait a few minutes until a bunch of objects are screen at one time (there can be up to 20) and, by doing some careful planning to get most or all of them in a group (takes work, since they are moving in different patterns), can have an enormous number of points almost immediately - and touch off the program's nasty side. Since point totals determine when certain enemies appear, your sudden high score means all sorts of nasty bad guys start coming after you - frequently at very high speed - and some wicked stuff which NEVER disappears crops up. On the other hand, you can get bucketloads of points for grouping and circling the objects that appear, if you can manage it.

Titles like this always made me wonder what original games I was missing out on for other platforms. I didn't think much of it when I first read reviews describing it as a perfect family game (sort of like recommending a "heartwarming film"), but this is one of the very few CoCo titles I'd recommend without hesitation to anyone. Pity no one's ever ported it to more modern machines.

Downland (A-)
(Play online | Download)
Absolutely great original Mario-style platform game - the sort of thing that could make you forget "famous" titles like Miner 2'049er and the like were never ported to the CoCo. This game is hard and it REALLY would be nice to have some kind of a save or continue option instead of having to start over each time, but there really isn't another bad thing I can think of to say about it. Oops, I lied: Radio Shack copy-protected the damned ROM cart, so it was a while before I was able to play it from disk.

You are Mario, trying to get through 10 screens of caves and gathering keys that allow you to open doors to other screens. There's also treasures to collect for points (big deal - survival is always to key to these types of games). Balls and drops of acid from the ceiling get in your way. You navigate by jumping and climbing the vines and walls. You need to get to another screen before a timer expires, otherwise a bat-out-of-hell comes after you and kills you - this is not some slow-bouncing Evil Otto, by the way; it runs your ass over instantly.

The levels progress in difficulty very well, the sound is sparse but effective, the graphics are well done without getting excessive - in short, all the pieces fit together very nicely. And the great thing is it isn't simply a matter of going from one level to the next: You often have to go back and forth between levels to get keys for higher levels, expanding the challenge significantly since doing a screen backwards is often a completely different challenge (imagine trying to get from the top of elevator screen in Donkey Kong to the bottom - yikes!). And only once did I make it through all 10 screens, but it appears the keys open entirely next doors at the next level, so the challenge begins anew there even if the screens are the same.

This is one of the few CoCo games I still play regularly today. It's not in Nintendo's Super Mario category by any means, but it's always a hell of a lot of fun for when all you have are short stints for platforming. It turns out a disk-only sequel (I believe it's called Cave Walker) was done with 25 screens and a lot more happening (treasures have specific functions instead of being just decorations, along with a lot of other advancements). Sadly I can't find it on the 'Net anywhere; otherwise I'd plan on kissing a few evenings goodbye getting through it.

Draconian (B)
Double the speed of this game and you'd probably have one of my all-time favorites. This rough translation of the arcade game Bosconian (or even more roughly, picture the playfield from Sinistar if you're not familiar with the former) is a scrolling outer space shooter where you rescue astronauts from bases scattered around the rather large playfield. You have to avoid rocks and mines while shooting down the barriers on the bases - which shoot at you - and get everyone rescued and exit the top of the screen before a massive dragon appears and hunts you down.

What's obvious is a huge amount of effort went into this program. The graphics and sound are very impressive. Everything about the gameplay is also well-done, from the behavior of the enemies to control of your ship. But the whole thing feels awfully sluggish, a failing far too common in latter-day CoCo titles when looking good seemed to take precedence over gameplay.

Dragonfire (C+)
Lots of people rave about this Imagic game in its various incarnations, ranging from the Atari 2600 to the Commodore machines, but I simply have never found it all that interesting. There are two levels: On the first you run across a bridge dodging fireballs along the way, in the second you gather treasures from a room while avoiding the flames of a fire-breathing dragon. The screens progress rapidly and I find it rather repetitive, but it's probably not fair to be too hard on a game just because it doesn't suit my tastes.

This conversion is fine if you're a fan of the game and it even has one notable CoCo achievement: Due to some clever split-screen programming, it manages to get eight true PMODE 3 colors on the screen at once. Basically half of a color set is used in the upper half of the screen, while another appears in the lower half. This may be the only title able to claim this, but if I'm wrong I'm sure somebody will set me straight.

Dungeon Master (D-)
This is one of those dime-a-dozen efforts that pretty much anyone into BASIC programming could write if they also had an interest in D&D games. Like certain other genres, these were actually pretty well-suited for BASIC and a lot of interesting games actually got cranked out. This really isn't one of them - no plot, no flash, just wander around killing things - but also isn't flat-out awful.

Instructions are provided and it's easy to navigate around and kill things. Too easy, really. There's no strategy in combat - just keep pressing attack until the random number generator makes you or the enemy the winner - and not much intrigue to the dungeons. But if you want a brief overview of how these games work (it's definitely not Diablo, or even Rogue - a truly cool text-based dungeon game for many early computers and can be found nowadays on the Web) this is worth a shot for a few minutes.

Dungeon Raid (B-)
Sort of like the hit Atari 2600 game River Raid, played upside down with cute dungeon characters instead of a warplane navigating up a river filled with military nasties. Ken Kalish did a nice job overall with this 1983 release, giving it plenty of flash, although it really doesn't capture the best in any one aspect of the highest quality titles on the CoCo.

I confess I haven't made it a long way into this game - it's tough no matter what skill level you select, but at least doesn't feel overly or unfairly so. And it definitely has a "play once more" quality since games are fast and furious. Something I wouldn't have minded paying for as a youth. It is not, however, quite up to the 2600 cart.

Dungeons of Daggorath (A)
(Play online)
Quite possibly the best and most popular game ever for the Color Computer. It certainly was the best ever sold by Radio Shack and best capable of running on a 16K machine. This ROM pack was one of the many 3-D dungeon-exploring games on the market for many machines back then, but this version had a number of novel features that put it in a class all of its own. It still has an active users' group on the Web and has actually been ported to Windows - I think it's safe to say not a lot of CoCo games can make that claim to fame. If it weren't for a couple of annoying quirks it'd get a perfect score from me on the CoCo scale - even if I also have to acknowledge that there were games on competing platforms offering more fun and depth.

The goal was nothing unique - explore a five-level dungeon, killing monsters and collecting items to aid you in your quest along the way. The graphics were in a standard 3-D "wire" format used by a lot of this genre at the time. You typed in various commands to move, pick up things and fight. Actually, most of the time you typed singe-letter abbreviations because everything occurred in real time and even slight delays could result in death.

Torches, weapons and shields - starting with basic ones and progressing to better ones as you progress - cover basic needs, while things like rings and flasks dealt with the wonderful world of magic. You couldn't just use many of them, however - you needed to solve a riddle to properly ID it, although without giving too much away I'll say a thesaurus generally proved enough to get you through.

Probably the most unique feature of DOD was the heartbeat. Essentially this was your health meter, hit point count or whatever you want to think of it as. If it got too fast you would pass out - and a wandering monster was almost certain to kill you before you woke up - and too much strain killed you outright. It started slowly and would pick up in pace every time you did something - a little bit for moving slowly, faster if you started moving faster, a lot if you attacked and often by a fatal amount if a monster hit you even once (I always felt this was just a bit too harsh). To get it under control you needed to find someplace safe where you could move nice and slow, or not at all. There were also some magic flasks that would help get things under control. Your heartbeat sounds with an ominous thump-thump throughout the game, just one of many first-class sound effects that for once make this a superior audio experience.

The heart thing was definitely a big-time challenge at the beginning of the game, when you're a pathetic weakling and even a bit of quick movement gets your heart going too fast for comfort. Even most of the weak creatures could inflict a pretty fair amount of damage as well. The key to getting stronger lay mostly in killing monsters - sort of like getting experience points in D&D - although a few magic items could help (some on the other hand could hurt, so you had to be careful figuring out what was what). After a bit you could at least move about without having a heart attack, but combat always remains a bit of tricky thing.

The goal was to find and kill the wizard on the bottom level, but like the best of dungeon games even the seemingly simple elements had a bunch of subtle nuisances you needed to figure out for any real chance of success. In combat, for instance, it turns out there is a creature too weak to kill you. One key to defeating the game on later levels is to let him/her/it occupy your "space," therefore keeping other monsters at a safe arms' length, and then do some quick back-and-forth maneuvering to kill the nasty creatures.

The monsters pretty much wander at random early until they see you, but in latter levels will start hunting you down in groups at once. Eventually there will be long lines of them in all directions coming at you and you have to act and type at least as quick as you think.

So with all these raves, what's not to like? Well saving and loading games was a huge pain in the ass, thanks to Radio Shack's cassette-based storage system. Making sure your tape was properly positioned and the recorder set properly is not what you want to do in the heat of battle, which you're pretty much always in later. And loading was the worst - you can actually crash the game if it never finds a saved game to load. Some sort of interrupt feature really was needed here. I already said getting killed in one blow is a bit harsh, especially since you need to hit most enemies a bunch of times. Finally, the ending is universally described as disappointing and anticlimactic.

But it'd be treason to say any of these are enough of a problem to merit serious complaint. The CoCo never managed to get major hits like Ultima and Wizardry translated for it, but this provided nearly all of the fun and so many unique opportunities of its own it was one of those few games you could show off to competing platform gamers and not have to worry about sniveling superior reactions.

Dunkey Munkey (C-)
OK, here's an example of a game that is basically crap and has no business being on the market given its competition, in this case the ground-breaking Donkey King. It only achieves the grade it does because the graphics and gameplay are OK, and there's at least a modest attempt at a touch of originality. But given that both Kong games required 32K and cost roughly the same, I'd be shocked if this ever managed to sell even a mediocre number of copies.

Like a lot of other low-end Kong clones, this offers only two screens: One is a reasonably good copy of the rivets screen that ends each round in the coin-op version. The other is a rather goofy hybrid of the barrels and elevator screens. It's OK, but certainly nothing great, or even as far as either screen is in the real thing and its various home versions. Play it once so you can appreciate how much better Donkey King is and be done with it.

Electron (C+/incomplete)
Based on a few games; due to some bugs with the emulators I was using it was somewhat hard to evaluate this due to some control and crashing issues. Still, I got a pretty good overall view of the game and it appears to be a compentent if not overwhelmingly great conversion of the arcade game Tron.

For those of you unfamilar with Tron, it probably ranks as the best game ever done from a truly awful movie - just like Mario Bros might get credit for being the best game to spawn a truly awful movie (anyone wants to make other nominations, I'm all ears - and what the HELL is this rant doing in here anyways?). You go through a series of minigames, including being a tank hunting other tanks in a 2D maze, a guy who has to shoot spiders in one game and blocks in another to enter escape zones, and a lightcycle that leaves a trail behind riding against other cycles in an attempt to crash them into the trails or walls (this last one is one of the most common retro games anywhere, starting in the 70s under the name of Surround and progressing to the modern day where you get advanced features like a first person 3D view of the playfield).

All four minigames will be familar to fans of the arcade game, but they all feel and look a bit crude. I don't expect perfection, obviously, but I suspect the CoCo is capable of better. I'd probably still recommend it to die-hard fans who wanted to play this on the machine, but maybe not to others.

F-16 Assault (B)
Diecom got a lot right with this use-you-plane-to-kill-everything shooter, which presents things from the top-down view so popular in the days beforre 3D became the norm. I'm sure this is modeled after a particular game, but I don't know which one, and there were a lot of games very similar to this so I guess it doesn't matter all that much.


Fembots Revenge (B+/Incomplete)
Wow! This looks like a great game. Incredibly, it sort of seems like a pre-Doom version of Doom, with less advanced action but more intellectual depth. Unfortunately I haven done little beyond start it because I don't have the instructions and therefore can't really figure out the interface. It appears to be a cross between a 3D maze shooter and a text adventure, since you both move through the maze shooting things and have to issue text commands to solve puzzles. Wish I knew the commands so I could get out of the initial hallway and see what the objective is.

Football (D+)
A pretty lame two-play-only ROM cart from Radio Shack, made worse by the fact nobody ever bothered to write a decent football game for the CoCo. There are five offensive plays and four defense formations (run and pass, short and long, for each - plus a kick option on offense). You control one of the five players on each side. The QB, if not running, simply sits in the pocket until you press the pass button or until he's sacked. The linemen move with no intelligence at all - they simply go toward where the ball is. So without a second player it isn't worth much anyway. Basically you're the receiver and your foe is covering you, making this more a game of catch than anything. I seldom had any luck getting anyone to play this with me, not that I tried all that often.

Fortress of the Mutant Waffles (D+)
This has all the elements of a pretty good game, especially considering it's one of T&D Software's monthly releases (tough to crank out all those games). It's got a catchy name, interesting theme, simple but effective gameplay and moves along nicely because it's written in assembly language. Problem is, they left it one beer short of a six-pack (maybe one cake short of a short stack would be more appropriate here, or just throw in whatever cliche you want to insert there) - or in other words, a few critical touches short of an interesting game.

Your job is to explore a large maze and gather nine bottles of syrup, returning them to the room you start from. Along the way you need to avoid mutant waffles that will drain health points from you if you touch them. The object is to complete the task in the least amount of time. The game ends once you've returned to the entrance with the waffles.

A simple, but strangely warped version of Atari's runaway 2600 hit Adventure? Sadly, no, although I felt that way at the start. The problems are very simple - not enough challenge and absolutely zero replay value. There are only a few waffles and they move in predictable patterns, so it's highly unlikely your health will be seriously threatened. The waffles are easy to find and once you've done it there's no incentive to go back and do the same quest again, even if you supposedly should try to shave a second or two off your time.

This would have been a great game if 1) mazes and the waffle locations were generated randomly and 2) the waffles chased you intelligently - or even better, there was a selective difficulty option and/or the possibility of them getting smarter in a progressive series of mazes. Easy for me to be a critic, of course. I wasn't writing this on a deadline for some tiny company that was probably already trying to figure out a dozen new program ideas for the following month.

The Frog (B/D-, depending on controls)
This Tom Mix title is mostly what the official version of Frogger should have been. It would score higher, maybe even into low "A" territory if not for one big issue - the controls totally suck unless you do something totally illogical and probably unknown to most players. Hence the radically split grade - if you know the secret it's a good title, if not you're stuck with a virtually useless game.

The graphics are much sharper here than the official conversion of Frogger, which is probably its main advantage. It also moves along at a somewhat better pace. The gameplay isn't perfect; probably the main shortcoming is things are a bit crowded on the freeway and more difficult in the river than the coin-op and home CoCo versions. Not a problem for experienced players, but probably a bit discouraging for all the kids and novices that tend to be attracted to these sorts of games.

The big problem is the controls. Far too often your key presses aren't recognized and you die as a result. In fact, the game is pretty much impossible unless you do something totally absurd: hold the spacebar down with one hand while using the other to control your frog. I do not know why this works, but it's a tip from the Web that ended up saving my sanity on this title.

Frogger (C)
(Play online)
This enormously popular arcade game has been ported to just about every platform imaginable and, for the most part, the efforts are almost universally praised. Oddly enough the most negative reviews seem to come from the versions from the so-called latest and greatest machines, as programmers have taken a delightfully simple game and tried to turn it into a 3-D extravaganza with horrible results. But in retro times I've played and been enormously impressed with versions on the humblest of machines - the Atari 2600 version is one of that system's best conversions for any arcade game and even the incredibly humble ZX-81 has a pretty interesting version, even if the ultra-low-res, black-and-white, totally silent game has to be split into two screens to fit everything in.

All this preamble is for a reason: With so many great versions, it's an utter shame that the CoCo folks put out such a lame version for our humble machine. It's in low-res PMODE 1 graphics, a bit pokey and just doesn't feel as much fun as other versions. It's not bad - most of the arcade elements are there, even though the background music that plays such a big part of the original's charm isn't possible here. But a lot of phrases like ho-hum, mediocre and so on come to mind. Luckily there are better, non-official versions out there. Hell, I wrote a version in BASIC using only 4K of memory that I ended up playing more than this one (not an ego thing - I just didn't have the commercial version for a while).

Fury (A-)
An outstanding conversion of the coin-op game Time Pilot by Computer Shack (a.k.a. Michtron), which for the most part cranked out some of the most impressive software done on the CoCo. My experience with the coin-op was strictly as a casual observer, but it's immediately obvious this home version captures all the essentials and appears to be lacking for nothing within the abilities of the Color Computer.

Basically the premise is you fly around a large scrolling sky area shooting aircraft (they start simple and get more sophisticated in subsequent waves as "time" progresses) and rescuing balloonists. There's more, of course, but I can't say much about it because the truth is I'm pretty terrible at this game and don't know what secrets might be locked in the advanced waves. But give this one a spin for sure.

Fyr-Draca (C+)
This is a quirky-as-hell shooter that takes place in that bizarre Semigraphics24 mode (64 pixels across, 192 down), yet I've found it strangely addictive. It probably helps I got it as a free throw-in title with the floppy disk drive I bought for my CoCo.

Basically you're shooting at some very odd-looking dragons and trying to catch their eggs - I'd say it's a little like Phoenix in concept, but it's a bit too deviant for that. The game moves along quickly enough, but suffers from flicking and just general weirdness from the graphics. On the other hand, I guess that's one of the things I liked best, sort of like owning one of those ancient and completely loved VW Beetles that ran horribly - but always ran.

Galactic Attack (C+)
This was Radio Shack's ROM cart of the hit coin-op Galaxians and it's pretty much what it looks like: An average first-generation conversion. Subsequent games generally surpassed it, especially since they started imitating better-quality sequels such as Galaga. Even if the conversion effort were better I probably wouldn't play this all that much. I enjoy top-down shooters, but far too many offer more variety and better gameplay as part of their basic concept, making an OK version of those much better than an OK version of this game.

Galagon (A-)
A top-notch conversion of the arcade hit Galaga, this may be the best clone effort issued by Spectral Associates. The only criteria for determining whether to buy/illegally download/play this title is whether you like the coin-op original. If so, you'll rave over this; if not, well everybody has their own tastes and nobody's going to force you to play this.

Every element minus the sounds (of course, but those that are included are still OK) is in this title. Aliens enter the screen in patterns similar to the original, and their habit of shooting and bombarding you in latter waves during this process is fully intact. The actual waves are executed perfectly (mother ships that can capture you, diving aliens that reenter the screen unexpectedly from the bottom, etc.) and the challenge stages are similar - not exact - to the patterns in the original. The slight movement differences are a plus to me - you're not just duplicating everything from the arcade when booting up at home.

The only thing that might be an issue for experienced players is this seems a bit easier than the original, only because I managed to progress further in it than I ever did when feeding quarters into the money-grabbing version. I dock it just a bit for that, since I'm guessing more people will be annoyed by that than poor players who will welcome it. But it isn't noticeable enough to really be an issue, especially if you're a fan of the genre.

Galax Attack (B-)
Didn't we just do this? Nope - this is Spectral Associates' version of Galaxians. It's a pretty good one, too, among the better of their "first-generation" arcade conversions (later games would be better and more advanced versions of Galaga and the like).

Lots of little stuff makes this better than Radio Shack's version. The graphics are higher-res with a black background so it actually feels like space, there's a starry background, the action is faster and sounds better, and the larger characters make it feel closer to the arcade original, even if it isn't completely convincing.

Gauntelet (A-)
Like other Diecom games, I found it just to much to believe someone had actually had done the conversion pictured in my monthly Rainbow magazine - in this case a version of Atari's "Gauntlet" dungeon shootout game. I was never any good at the arcade version, which involves guiding D&D-type characters (fighter, mage, etc) through ever-tougher mazes, mostly in a frenzied shootout involving hundreds of attacking monsters. Up to four players are allowed to lose coins at once, which happens rather rapidly, since cold cash is what buys the health points that disappear in a big hurry.

But I always considered it a great game and the lure of a home version, complete with the ability to play with up to three people (instead of four) at a time seemed pretty impressive. The screen shots in the print ads, like other Diecom games, were absolutely stunning for the Color Computer. Furthermore I was mostly pleased with another of their games, Marble Maze (see review elsewhere), even if I had learned a harsh lesson in reality when the game turned out to be w-a-y-y-y-y too slow compared to the arcade version.

OK, so I'll take a chance on this and keep my expectations in line, I thought. And I guess I could say this game managed to exceed them and fall short at the same time.

This game has incredible depth speeded into the limits of a 64K CoCo: 15 large and innovative levels with fantastic graphics (levels 7-15 repeat once you're good enough). The character choices of fighter, mage or thief are well-balanced, and you can take shortcuts to higher levels once you learn where they are. Overall, I'd give design a perfect score - something maybe two or three other games deserve.

But that damned speed thing!

If Marble Maze is pokey, this thing absolutely crawls. There is no way to pretend this is an arcade experience - it's basically a strategic exercise the whole way, which I guess also has the advantage of making it easier for clods like me. It's been a while, but I'd guess you'd be lucky to get the equivalent of 5 frames per second when there are an average collection of monsters on screen - and it's even slower when there are a bunch of them.

But like Marble Maze, it gets a higher score than it might deserve because in the end the damned thing is so addictive, especially for a CoCo conversion. It took a long time to get through all the levels and for the most part I had a ball doing it. Sure the speed issue was a bummer, but in the end it's still a superior title compared to most everything else available on the platform. Sometimes getting graded on a curve is a good thing.

Gazon (C)
A fun little diversion that gets monotonous quickly. You control a ship that must fend off robots who try to steal your supplies (whatever they are) from the center of the screen. You can shoot them or collide with them since you get unlimited ships, appearing somewhere at random after a collision. The game ends when all your supplies are stolen.

The game is competent in all respects, but there's nothing really that's exciting and addictive here. You'll play it a few times and then move on to something with more depth. And it's not terribly likely you'll seek it out the next time you boot up your machine.

Germ Warfare (C-)
Ooooh...another shooter involving attacking aliens from the sky. Actually, I enjoy a number of games in this genre as my rantings elsewere should indicate, but when I see a decidly mediocre title like this one I always question what the authors were thinking - I never understand why you'd put out an inferior version of something that's been done better by a million others already.

In this case it may have been because the game was a T&D Software monthly cassette release, so maybe they hadn't done a machine language shooter of this type yet. It certainly is better than a lot of the crap cranked out in BASIC by them and other hackers, but a lot of it is still rather crude.

You shoot aliens that look different each wave, but don't act all that different as they move toward the screen (except for getting faster). You need to shoot them before they reach the bottom, but there's no other elements - no shots to avoid, shields, mother ships, etc. In addition, the game has one real annoyance - it picks up exactly where you left off when you die (ideally the aliens should return to the top of the screen), so you can lose all your men at once if you get into too deep of a jam with multiple aliens. Fix those tweeks and you'd have something that got a better grade - I might even overlook the crude graphics and play it a few more times.

Ghost Gobbler (D)
Passable, but certainly not great, early version of Pac-Man. It doesn't look at that much like the real thing with its green and red medium-res graphics and somewhat altered maze, but it plays competently at a good speed. The monster intelligence isn't all that much like the arcade (a lot of back-and-forth random movement, for instance), but it's not a lot different than a much more heralded late title (Ms. Maze) in that respect.

Gold Runner (B)
First, this is generally an excellent, if limited, conversion of the mega classic computer hit Lode Runner. The "endless challenge" of the original platformer game drew rave reviews, offering 150 levels of challenge and the ability to make more of your own with a easy to use level editor. The game itself wasn't the most sophisticated on the planet, but the basic elements were fun and the simple elements were combined in ways to make some ingenious puzzles to solve as you ran around collecting gold while avoiding bad guys by digging holes for you or them to fall through.

Second, a memo in retrospect to Dave Dies, with all respect to one of my favorite CoCo programmers: If you aren't desiring or able to exactly duplicate a popular game on the market, feel free to leave out a few of the original's most annoying features. The CoCo version has, I believe, only 30 levels and no level editor - understandable given the CoCo's limited memory and the fact it was sold through Novasoft, the bargain unit of Tom Mix Software. It's still a fun game offering a lot of challenge and gameplaying hours and I'd score higher if Dave had made one change in his "almost too perfect" conversion. When a level starts or you die (which happens to me a lot), the game screen features a circular screen "wipeout" effect that takes forever to close and then open up again. I hated this in the original and it caused me to quit a lot of games when the going got rough and, from the comfort of my desk chair, it seems like this could have been speeded up or left out in Gold Runner.

Of course, my lecturing Dave on programming is roughly equal to a fan of Kenny G telling Miles Davis what he ought to be playing on stage, so he's welcome to flame me here for all he's worth or come up to Alaska to kick my ass (actually I'd love to meet him and a few other CoCo gurus) if he ever sees this. The rest of you back off - at least submit your own second opinions with enough thoughtful analysis to show me up as the moron you consider me to be.

Grid Factor (B-)
After spending an entire day playing various BASIC games, nearly all of which were total crap, I'd pretty much given up hope finding something that was truly fun - not just OK compared to other BASIC efforts. But this game - which is sort of an anti-Tetris - is actually one of the better programs I've run across. And it has nothing to do with flash or in-depth programming - I suspect T&D Software might have been able to write this in a few hours using only a few kilobytes of memory - it's a simple concept that very addictive, highly playable and gets the highest grade I've handed to a BASIC "action" game to date.

You only need to press one key to play this. It controls when bricks of various colors are released by a gun (ship, man, whatever) that moves rather rapidly across the bottom of the screen. The released bricks collect at the top of the screen. The game ends when two bricks of the same color are touching horizontally or vertically. And that's it. And it's amazingly fun with a high replay value.

The game works because everything moves along quickly and smoothly. The graphics are the lowest resolution the CoCo has, but that doesn't matter here since bricks are rectangular anyhow. The scoring is simple but clever: You get points for each successful brick launch and, while not required to launch bricks before the gun crosses the screen (the initial direction, by the way, is random), you lose a point if you fail to do so.

I remember thinking someone probably could have written Tetris years before it came out on any number of primitive computers and maybe made a fortune. This obviously is a lesser game that never gained any acclaim of note, but is a great example of how cleverness will outdo flash every time when programming on limited hardware. A B- might seem like faint praise, but that is on my unflinching scale of how I view commercial games, meaning this would rank above average as a stand-alone title someone was charging money for. Given how simple its appearance is, the game itself has to be pretty strong to make up for it.

Grid Run (C-)
Looking for a decent arcade game in BASIC requires going through an awful lot of crappy titles that are pleasing to nobody except the author who managed to get them published in whatever magazine (or whereever) was out there. Finding the titles, however, is often a worthwhile quest for programmers because a lot can be learned from the techniques used in something that's actually playable.

This 3D space shooter would definitely rank as an above-average BASIC effort (the subpar grade has to be expected - there's no way it's ever going to measure against a commercial title; bad BASIC games are pretty much all D- or F efforts). It works by keeping things very simple and user-friendly. You get the option of instructions, which are simple and presented fairly nicely (if slowly). The objective is simply to target an alien on the horizon and shoot it before he does the same to you. This happens in waves of increasing difficulty (again, progressing probably too slow for impatient gamers). A convincing 3D grid scrolls along as you fight the aliens, which materialize and move about as well as you could expect in BASIC (meaning everything is still pretty choppy and full of flicker, but at least it's playable).

I probably wouldn't play this more than a few times, but I definitely would have been interested in how the 3D effects were done (I won't go into it here, but trust me, I've seen it with other CoCo programs and it's a trick well worth learning). Look at it as an example of what primitive homebrew gaming was all about - it's the sort of thing family and friends could no doubt play and have kind words for, without being overly condescending.

Gwana Bwana (C+)
When even the instructions make a game sound tedious, that's not a good sign. This scrolling platform/shooter has the distinction of getting officially ported to about as many computer and video game platforms as any title in existence - and in virtually every case the reviews range from mediocre to awful. I have no idea why this game was pushed so hard, but like Canyon Climber, Dallas Quest and a few other mediocre Datasoft titles it apparently managed to achieve some level of commercial success simply through persistent marketing.

You navigate your guy through eight stages (misleading really, since half of them are basically the same screen repeated over and over - one of the many frustrations with this title). In some you're trying to get through a pseudo 3-D environment to some location on the screen; in others you need to shoot or avoid stuff coming at you on a Zaxxon-like scrolling field - but with nowhere near the graphics, speed or playability of the more-esteemed space-shooter. In theory, the game might have had promise. In reality, it can be interesting for a while to see what the next screen is - and some of them are interesting (hence an overall passing grade) - but in the end it has no real staying power.

Every version seems to have its flaws, ranging from terrible 3-D portrayal to just plain terrible gameplay. The CoCo suffers from tepid-for-the-era graphics, slow movement and almost no sound. And having every other screen repeat itself is a terrible idea when it's perhaps the most boring screen of the game - even the cartoon character in the instructions complains about having to navigate the canyon in question so many times. Like I said, bad sign.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (B+)
(Play online)
Often considered to be the funniest and one of the best text adventure ever by the wiz folks at Infocom, this grade is adjusted upward from my opinion of it (B), due to the collective opinion it gets from the intelligent gaming community (A). Douglas Adams wrote this game based on his amazingly cool book of the same name. I can't deny it has a lot going for it, but there is one serious problem with it that caused me to shut down and never reboot and complete it - and this was after I knew the solution to the problem.

Mostly the news is all good and I wouldn't dream of not recommending it to any fan of the series or text adventure fan who thinks they're in for a good time. You don't have to read the book to get through this, but it sure as hell helps. Example: One of the first challenges is making sure you don't get caught in your house when it gets bulldozed; another is making sure you're on a spaceship instead of buying drinks and getting hungover when Earth suddenly gets blown up by nasty aliens who are really bad at poetry. If you've read the book you'll know what you need to do here; if not, you'll have to find out on your own.

The game has Infocom's usual enormous vocabulary, so you're mostly relying on your wits and not on trying to guess what verb will allow you to light a torch. I have it on good authority the story is clever and funny throughout, and the truth is this is the only place I've ever seen someone say anything bad about it at all. So what's my problem? There is one puzzle for a key thing you need early on that is almost completely impossible to solve and the logic required to get through it is often nonexistent. It's terrible to sink a great game on one thing, but this is inexcusable to me for a number of reasons. To put a puzzle like this in so early in the game, especially when a lot of people newer to the genre are probably trying this game out, and the overall concept of it is so frustrating that it made me dread what might lie further ahead even if I got through it. The puzzle is sort of a really bad running gag - the setbacks you'll encounter the first three or four times are funny, but by the end (I believe there are 20 steps you must follow EXACTLY to get through it) you want to shoot the messenger. Even typing in the hints directly from a code book didn't ease my frustration - I just kept thinking how stupid it was to allow this into the program.

Others probably found it great, though, so I'll abandon the rant. One thought: If you want to get into Infocom without that much frustration, try one of their easier games floating around the Web. I got through Wishbringer pretty easily (see long, raving review further along, Planetfall is a funny sci-fi favorite of mine and, for pure laugh value, Leather Goddess of Phobes is a real winner that allows plenty of initial exploration without too many puzzles blocking your way.

Finally, a word about the original Hitchhiker packaging, which of course you don't get if you're just booting it up online or downloading it (it's free from a number of sources for PCs, Macs and other platforms, so unless you're using the Mocha emulator there's no real reason to use the CoCo version). It was, like most Infocom products, incredibly great, including a "DON'T PANIC" button and other fun stuff - but inexplicably there is no towel in here. How, in the name of all that's sacred to galactic hitchhiking, could they leave that out?

Hopbobber (C+)
OK, go figure this: Here's a game totally lacking in originality, featuring animation straight out of the worst "South Park" has to offer, with graphics and sound from the Stone Age, and which repeats the same screen over and over - and yet I somehow ranks as a respectable and fun game. How is this possible?

Maybe this platform game caught the reviewer on a good day (not). Actually, the utterly simple, even stupid, concept is executed so well that all the quirks actually end up being somewhat charming - sort of like a "B" movie. It's not a classic by any means, but if this was somebody's contribution to a cassette magazine or homebrew programming project, they should take pride for a title that ranks above most other such efforts (which often flop by trying to get too fancy or complex).

The entire game is you are a blob and you have to jump on the other blobs before the timer runs out. Do so and you go to another level with more blobs than before. You use vines on the edges of the screens to move between the platforms. Movement, especially jumping, is about as sophisticated as those handheld LCD games - in other words there's basically no animation - but somehow the controls feel mostly OK (enemy blob movement appears to basically be random, so your successes and failures aren't always totally your fault). Generally games will probably last a couple of minutes at most, so it doesn't feel like a huge time-waster until you've played it 30 times. Why this game has that "it" that makes me replay it while others don't can't be quantified with any analysis here, but it's worth booting up as an entertaining example of primitive CoCo programming.

Indy Race (D-)
This had to be one of the most common action games written in BASIC on home computers, mostly because it was one of the easiest ones to program that was relatively playable. You guide a car (various programmers made this a skier or some other object) "down" a road, avoiding the edges of the road that scroll past. It was easy to program because it used the automatic text scrolling routine built into virtually all computers, making things as fast as the programmer wanted/needed.

This version is probably about average for the genre. You can select the width of the track and how much of the road you can see. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles, which is usually what people added once they go familiar with the basics of programming and wanted to move on. But those efforts as often as not ended up resulting in a game that was worse as people tried to be too clever for their own good (Want a modern day example? Look at how virtually every version of "Mortal Combat" or "Pitfall" after the first sequel or two has been almost universally slammed by the gaming community).

Instrument Flight Simulator (C-)
August 1984 This probably gets bumped up or down a full grade depending on how you feel about the navigation portion of flight simulators. The display is just what the name says – an instrument panel with no window view – so the visual takeoffs and landings that make this genre so popular are absent. But William Franklin crams an impressive amount of realistic aviation into this 32K all-BASIC program, including the ability to create up to 26 stations with varying altitudes, runway headings and so on. Radio Shack punished CoCo gamers with fragile non-centering joysticks that rank among the worst controllers ever made, but they're a great fit for the yoke controls of a simulator like this.

The Interbank Incident (B-)
Such a great effort went into this game and it is so impressive at first glance that I just want to bump this up at least half a grade - but I can't do it. This is an innovative and very interesting three-disk adventure game from Spectral Associates that looks fantastic on the surface, but in the end the maddeningly slow gameplay (it takes forever - and I do mean forever - to move between screens and execute many actions).

The storyline is you've been hired to recover a stolen codebook and must travel to several locations around the world to find it. You get to select one of eight characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses, and the interface is selected using icons instead of the usual "type in the command" text interface. This, of course, became pretty standard for these games in the PC/Mac era, but back then it was still a novelty. You could also examine areas on the screen by clicking on them (also standard now), essential to finding key items and clues in your quest.

I probably made it a third of the way through this game, but simply didn't have the patience to go further because at least 90 percent of your time is spent waiting for the disk to load the next action every time you select an action. A classic example of trying to make the CoCo's limited hardware do too much. Sigh.

Junior's Revenge (B+)
This Donkey Kong Junior clone by Computer Shack is nearly up to the awesome standards set by Tom Mix's Donkey King, including all four screens plus the animations from the arcade game, great gameplay and top-notch graphics. But it falls just a bit short, being a little slow and jumpy in the animation. It isn't as difficult or feel as unfair as Donkey King, however, so the overall playing experience for many probably will be every bit as enjoyable. Sorry I missed this one as a kid - I was a cynic and didn't think the game would be worth its stiff price tag.

Junkfood (D+)
November 1984 This port of Fast Food for the Atari 2600 (itself a relative of Kaboom) isn't great, but worth playing just to see one of the oddest graphics modes ever offered on any machine. The screen resolution is 64 horizontal by 192 vertical pixels, meaning each "dot" is an absurdly long and skinny horizontal line. The tradeoff was it offered eight colors instead of the two at the machine's highest resolution of 256X192. The goal is to eat fast foods as they zip across the screen, avoiding purple pickles. The player – a set of teeth – can also take refuge between the rows of food, but staying still for long will result in a fatal squirt from a mustard bottle. Programmer David Taylor does better than most with these quirky pixels visually, but in terms of gameplay it's a scaled-down effort with little long-term value.

Katerpillar (C-)
I'm not positive what order all the Centipede clones came out for on the CoCo - I know this was one of the earlier efforts, but not necessarily by all that much - but I wonder how many of them said something to the effect of "I know our version sucks compared to the competition, but we've already paid the programmer for the work so I guess we might as well see if anyone will buy it." This joins the ranks of the lesser clones, falling short in both the graphics and gameplay departments - a real shame given all the quality stuff Tom Mix Software cranked out over the CoCo's lifetime.

The graphics are large and blocky, making it feel more like a 2600 title than a CoCo game (note: that doesn't mean it looks anything like the Atari version - which basically used squares for its gameplay elements and yet still played great; go figure). The action is fast, but nothing much feels like the real thing, especially if you were aware of any of several titles that did everything better. Oh well, guess there wouldn't be incentive to try harder the next time if you were the best at every title out there...

Klendathu (B)
This is a cheap, somewhat bizarre arcade game from Radio Shack sold on cassette (a rarity for them) that equals more than the sum of its mediocre parts. You control, as I can best figure it, a cigarette lighter or something similar (probably a guy in a fire suit, but you sure don't look like it) whose mission in life is to seek out and burn giant bugs. You do this by seeking them out on a grid (where the word "bug" very helpfully appears in the infested squares). You then move your "thing" there and warp/teleport/whatever there. If all goes well bugs start descending from the top of the screen and you need to get them before they exit the bottom. If it goes badly the screen will be crawling with them as soon as you arrive and you need to get the hell out quick or they'll take you down.

My memory's a little hazy on this, but I believe there was a time limit you selected for the game and there was also a limited amount of fuel you had (I'm pretty sure there was a way to recharge). Also, you had a protective shield/suit/something that eroded gradually as bugs escaped from the bottom - if too many made it you bit the dust (or "bought the farm," as the game would inform you).

The whole thing was supposedly based on Robert Heinlein's book Starship Troopers. Could be - I know nothing about him, the book or what apparently was a terrible movie about it that came out a few years ago. All I know is I played it a fair amount in the short term after buying it and remember it was one of my lingering choices when I was in the mood for something different. The graphics are a bit clunky and it's not like there's a ton of variety in gameplay from wave to wave, which keep the score in the respectable but not phenomenal category. But definitely make it a point to feel the burn at least a few times if you get the chance.

The Lair (B-/incomplete)
Looks like a reasonable solid maze/dungeon exploration title, but I haven't made it all that far into the game because I can't figure out what the objective is. All I know is you gather squares that apparently are good and avoid enemies who are bad. If you can shoot them or otherwise defend yourself I don't know how, which is why I gave up rather quickly. Assuming there is some means of self-preservation, this is a title that looks like it might have some depth and works at a decent speed. But there's also a lot of other titles that offer this kind of fun without the hassle of not knowing what you're doing.

Lander (D)
There's only a million of these Lunar Lander games, usually all with the same title. Most of them are pretty awful, although you'll see great versions in BASIC and terrible ones being sold commercially, so if you're really into the genre it's just kind of a trial and error thing to find the right title. This offering from T&D Software probably isn't it.

Your task is to land on the same platform over and over, with no fuel gauge to make things more challenging. As you progress other ships appear in the sky to get in the way. But so what? This is really too dull to even spend much time on as a reviewer. I hope this wasn't their "feature" game of the month.

Lemans (C+)
This is a rehash of some primitive, yet rather fun, driving games seen in arcades beginning in the 70s (and later rehashed in supercharged form as the Off Road series). It's not a bad diversion if - and only if - you've got two players competing against each other. Otherwise it's basically you driving around the track in what is basically a pretty pointless exercise (OK, that's what all video games are, but this is even more so, sort of like that "more perfect" stuff in the Constitution).

You use the joystick to steer around one of three tracks and the fire button to accelerate, with control being both as easy and out-of-control as those early games that usually relied on steering wheels for control. There are a scattering of obstacles and bonuses that pop up at times - fuel tanks good, dogs bad - and the game keeps track of your time and laps run. Races last 20 laps, which is far too many in my humble opinion. Would I have paid for this? Not likely - I seldom had anybody to do any CoCo gaming with (sniff!) so it would have headed straight for the dusty drawer.

Lunar-Rover Patrol (B+)
I'm not sure why, but it seems like almost every conversion of the game Moon Patrol ends up being well-received on whatever platform it's on. Some of it has to be the game itself - despite not being an overwhelming commercial success it's one of the most fun shooters out there. This version is no exception, suffering only the drawback of its green, red and blue PMODE 3 graphics (it's a space game - where's the BLACK?), but since I tend to gripe about people trying to push graphics stuff too far I won't knock the exercise in moderation here.

Your goal is to guide a moon buggy along the surface from wave to wave, jumping over craters and shooting rocks on the ground while avoiding the missiles from alien ships overhead. Simple concept that is an enormous amount of fun, because the simple range of perils are creatively combined to increase the difficulty as you progress, so you've got to think and plan ahead as well as blast away at everything. Plus you can continue your games at the end, something a lot more games should allow.

This version retains the charm of the arcade, including the catchy opening music, the fun bouncing of the wheels as you traverse, the quirky behavior of the ships overhead and the great explosions when you screw up. A good solid title that reminds people why retro games are often a lot more fun and innovative than the endless fighting and other cookie-cutter games coming out these days.

Lunchtime (B-)
An OK conversion of the arcade hit Burgertime, that is just a few missing touches away from being a first-rate conversion. Whoever programmed this for Tom Mix did such a nice job with the elements that are included that it's a shame they didn't finish the job, probably because they couldn't figure out how to squeeze everything into the CoCo's limited memory.

You guide your chef through various screens, assembling the burgers on the platforms by running over them and avoiding hot dogs or dousing them with pepper to disable them. Experienced players will note I mention only hot dogs - this is not an oversight, as all the other enemies from the game (eggs, pickles) are missing. This is one of the game's big oversights, as is the fact that there's only three hot dogs throughout the game. It means the game feels rather faithful to the original at first, but less so as you progress. A shame, because the first impression is really rather good. The graphics are as good as the CoCo will allow for this sort of title, the mazes are diverse and progress in difficulty nicely and all the gameplay elements included - enemy movement, control, etc. - feel spot-on. I'd have been cool paying this as a teen and played it enough to get my money's worth, but would always feel just slightly cheated since I could play better versions on other machines I had access to at the time (at school, but don't tell the gurus in charge there that).

Madness and the Minotaur (C+)
The first trio of Radio Shack cassette text adventures ????, but this game licensed from Spectrcal Associates actually has some unique and interesting elements to it. Mostly notably, it is played in real-time, so (as the instructions note) if you leave the computer on and go to bed you'll probably be dead in the morning. Also, certain aspects of the game are randomized, so there's some replay value once you've solved it.

Furthermore, the instructions provide a vocabulary list - a great addition all adventure games should have so the challenge is solving problems using logic instead of guessing what words the programmer might have been thinking of (i.e. "take" doesn't solve something, but "grab" does).

The game places a heavy emphasis on spells (not a bad thing) and on navigating around a maze that features one-way passages and other hazards (this is a bad thing - it's a tacky method many adventures use to make the game more difficult in an illogical way that's unfair to the player). Unless the unique plot of Bedlam appeals to you, this is probably the Radio Shack adventure title I'd recommend first.

Marble Maze (A-)
(Play online)
This unlicensed version of the Atari game "Marble Madness" was one of the first games from Diecom Products, a relatively late player in the CoCo games market. First off, let me just say that programmer Dave Dies is a bleeping frickin' genius at CoCo programming - in the elite class of two or three others - no matter what bad things I might say about any of his games. I remember seeing the ad for this and some of the company's subsequent games (all required 64K) and the screenshots always blew me away. I couldn't believe that 1) the games mentioned were actually being adopted for a machine as humble as the Color Computer and 2) they actually looked as good as they did. Marble Madness was one of my absolute favorites at the arcade those days, so I did everything I could to scrape together the $30 for this.

Was it worth it? Well, yes and no. I played this thing to death and even after realizing its major shortcoming (more in a minute), I was astounded at the quality of the game. No matter what else is factored in, Dave still managed to get eight decent and mazes of increasing difficulty implemented into the 64K RAM limits. The graphics were also as good as could possibly be expected - even now it remains one of the main things that draws my attention when I boot up most Diecom products.

So the problem? Same thing as always - it's just so doggone slow. The Atari version is a fast-and-furious arcade game; this is more a strategic affair. But unlike some games where the lack of speed would mean death, the concept of this game and the desire to see what mazes and challenges lie ahead are such that it can still be very interesting at a relative crawl.

The concept, by the way, is to guide a marble mostly downward through a 3-D maze, avoiding obstacles, drop-offs and various enemies such as marble munchers along the way. Oh, you also have a time limit which becomes a bigger and bigger factor as the mazes get more complex. The CoCo version has simpler mazes and is missing some enemies that obviously are far too animated for the humble home machine, but there are a few extra/substitute elements as well to discover.

Soundwise, the home version gets a D. The arcade has catchy tunes and creative sounds; the home adaptation has basically a couple of beeps and bips, but is mostly nearly silent - too many other things are already sucking up processor time. I guess this wasn't a big deal to me, since I can't think of many CoCo games where sound is a selling point.

All in all, worth playing, at least to me. I have no doubt others would give it a harsher grade, but in the end it retains the one most important element of the arcade version - the addictiveness.

Mega-Bug (B)
(Play online)
I saw this game on display at a Radio Shack early in my CoCo life and was immediately captivated. At first glance it looks sort of like Pac-Man in an enormous maze, with a scrolling window magnifying your location on-screen (the rest is rather tiny, due to the sheer size of the maze). Eight or 16 bugs, depending on the difficulty level selected, chase you around as you eat dots. Unlike Pac-Man, however, there's no energizers to bail you out and no bonuses to collect for extra points. And you have one life - you zip around until you're caught and that's it, with a catchy little bonus - a spoken "We Gotcha!" - which I considered a charming touch at the time. It was also one of the first games I saw that used hi-res color artifacting, which contributed to the wow factor somewhat.

Eventually we got the ROM pack (and more importantly the 16K upgrade needed to run it) as a Christmas present. We all played it our fair share. And in the end, that's basically what this is - a good, not great, family-oriented game suited for just about anyone. But it doesn't completely thrill because 1) it takes forever to clear a maze (one is a major achievement) and 2) the game feels slow-paced as a result. It's better than some of the other early Pac efforts, but better ones would come. Amusing tidbit: programmer Steve Bjork said in an interview he hates Pac-Man games and can't stand to play his own title - all the more amusing since it was one of his best-selling efforts.

Microbes (B)
Pretty good conversion of Asteroids by Spectral Associates, who sold the game on ROM carts through Radio Shack like a number of other titles. The instructions talk about stuff like germs and whatever, but don't kid yourself - you're a spaceship that's shooting rocks. Don't let paper-thin copyright issues convince you otherwise.

The graphics look like the vectors they're supposed to, and the action is consistently smooth and fast. If you liked the coin-op version, you'll like this. How much more needs to be said?

Microgolf (D)
Dull, slow and mostly unimpressive; in short, another program that shows what BASIC programmers were churning out on their CoCos and getting published. This isn't a terrible simulation of what appears to be miniature golf. You use the left joystick (not right, as the instructions state) to set a direction for the ball and press the button to hit it. You dot then progresses toward the hole, hopefully avoiding any obstacles in the way. It's playable since things don't take forever to happen (golf games with 30- or 60-second pauses while holes or other things were drawn were known to happen) and the gameplay sort of feels logical. It passes the "family and friends won't resent you" test, probably the best you could hope for under the circumstances.

Mine Rescue (B-)
The game Super Pitfall was released on both the NES and CoCo and, like virtually every other Pitfall sequel, mostly what it does is remind you the original is still arguably the best (my personal vote is Pitfall II, as long as it's the Atari 2600 version – or maybe the Atari 400/80/etc. version with its second level). Steve Bjork programmed the CoCo version that was sold as a cartridge by Tandy. At about the same time Bjork released Mine Rescue, selling it through his own company, SRB Software. Cynics said it was the same game as Super Pitfall with different graphics (similar to his "official" Tetris and "unofficial" Bash! efforts). The games use the same game engine and sound, but there are some modest differences in gameplay. The goal is to navigate large scrolling mazes bringing oxygen tanks to trapped miners. You can carry only five tanks at once, but more are scattered in the mine and at your starting point on the surface. You have to reach all the miners before you run out of your own air supply. Impeding your way are a lot of creatures that move a lot like the creatures in Super Pitfall. The graphics aren't anything special, although Bjork mentioned back then how the techniques were a breakthrough in compression, and neither is the sound or originality of concept. It's a reasonably fun game that will take a bit to complete (which can also be said for Super Pitfall).

Miss Gobbler (D+)
(Play online)
msgobblerOne of those first-generation arcade ports that makes the CoCo look like the competition's retarded cousin. I don't know if Spectral Associates was trying to "infuse creativity" into this Ms. Pac-Man wannabe or hoping fend off Atari's copyright trolls (a futile thought given their success at killing K.C. Munchkin while missing hundreds of closer Pac replicas). But they managed to include just about every element of mediocrity common to subpar Pac imitators. It's almost certainly the worst of Spectral's so-called "second generation" of CoCo releases that required 32K and cost several dollars more. Unlike the company's enjoyable clones of Joust, Moon Patrol and Q*bert, nobody will ever begin to think this bears any resemblence to its coin-op ancestor.

The screenshot of the first maze is the first giveaway – notice those long dead-end passages to the energizers? Any Pac game with closed-off passeges immediately outs itself as incompetent. The PMODE 4 artifact graphics are strictly functional withoutmuch effort to match the coin-ops colors (which, as seen in Ms. Maze below, is somewhat possible), but at least a shade better than the garish lower-res PMODE 3 hues in Spectral's preceding effort Ghost Gobbler. The main playability issue is excessively high speed because it severely inhibits the ability to nagivate accuractly. Most of your deaths are likely to be high-speed invadertent collisons until you acclimate, if you ever do. The ghosts, like far too many home Pac games, move rather erractically without anything resembling the coin-op's intelligence and character (oh, to have those simple-but-clever algorhythms known to programmers back then).

In Miss Gobbler's favor, and saving it from a lower grade than the "D" earned by Ghost Gobbler, it matches the arcade original with four mazes and eight types of wandering bonus prizes. The mazes change every level, so even though the game is unfairly difficult there's some hope of seeing all of the layouts. Speaking of difficulty, there's Specrtral's usual 16 levels of difficulty, but I didn't observe a great deal of difference between choices zero and 15.

There's also one trick feature that's more of near-fatal curse if you're trying to play without the instructions (highly likely with emulators): There's a hidden one-way warp at the bottom left of the screen that activates unless you're holding the fire button down. Frankly, I'd like to see it the other way, so the uninformed don't get the impression there's a bug that makes it all but impossible to clear a maze. I'm thinking it might have been a stealthy form of copy protection – and certainly far from the most irritating I've encountered if that's true.

Monkey Kong (C)
(Play online | Download)
When I think of the CoCo being perceived by the world at large as a medicre games machine, this Donkey Kong clone is the many, many games that are a perfect example of what its capabilities seemed designed for. Thank goodness people learned to push things further over time.

This version has the two levels, barrels and rivets, that appeared on the dreadful Atari 2600 and Intellivision official conversions. The graphics (even if they are the totally incorrect colors of green, red and blue) and gameplay are somewhat better than either of those primitive platforms, but overall it isn't vastly superior to either. Author Ken Kalish said he wanted to a Kong game that would run in 16K of memory, but acknowledged later that might have been a mistake. Luckily the company he worked for, Tom Mix, would revolutionize the CoCo gaming world not too long after with the 32K phenom Donkey King (see rave review elsewhere).

Montezuma's Dungeons (C-)
This is a conversion of the coin-op game Venture, similar to Venturer by Aardvark's Dave Edison. I had a tough time figuring out which is better, although neither is all that impressive. In the end, I'd rate this as a slightly better game even though it's less faithful to the original coin-op game.

The concept is the same: enter rooms in a giant hall, shoot the monsters inside and make off with the treasures. The graphics in this version are much better than Venturer, although your player looks nothing like Winky from the coin-op and I have no idea who those dungeon enemies are. Also, one other flaw: there are times when you're put into impossible situations depending on the door you enter. Skill, not luck, should always be the determining factor when it comes to life-or-death at the arcades.

Mouse Maze (B/Incomplete)
(Play online | Download)
This grade is based on my early impressions, which are very favorable. I've played part of this graphics-based text adventure on the Mocha emulator and am impressed enough that I downloaded it and will probably end up wasting a decent amount of free time in the near future seeing how far I can get through it.

The premise is apparently the need to navigate a maze to prove Earth has intelligent life, otherwise it will be destroyed. So far it's been a basic wander around and collect things that help you overcome puzzles type of experience, but it all appears to be well done. The graphics are good, I've been able to do a fair amount of exploring without absurd puzzles blocking my way and the idea it's a 64K disk game makes me believe there will be plenty of depth. Kudos to John Kowalski (a.k.a. the Sockmaster) for what looks like a strong, if not revolutionary, release - and for making it freely available to the public.

Ms. Maze (B)
(Play online)
The good news: This is probably the best Pac-type game available for the CoCo I and II. The bad news: That doesn't mean it's all that great, because most of the competition is truly awful.
Tom Mix tries to capture the same success with this game they did with Donkey King, Buzzard Bait and Sailor Man, but it isn't in their class. It looks OK and features all four mazes from the arcade version, but it doesn't deliver all that well in the playability category. This is one of those cases where I prefer even the Atari 2600 conversion, even though it's far inferior graphically and the mazes aren't completely faithful to the arcade.

The main problem is the programming of the monsters - they simply don't navigate the way they do in the arcade and latter 2600 versions. They shift back and forth over the same territory a lot, seemingly at random, and exhibit none of the individual character that makes the real thing so charming (you know the red one will aggressively chase you, the pink one will try to cut you off, the orange one is a dolt, etc.).

Other minor "non-touches," such as prizes that appear at random in the maze without moving, also drag down the score here. But it gets an above average score thanks to the bell curve; there isn't anything else I would recommend instead to a Pac-starved fan determined to boot something up on a CoCo.