Arcade Hits for the Atari, Vol. 2 – Battlezone, Crystal Castles, Kangaroo, Phoenix, Popeye, Tapper

An eclectic mix for sure, but all 6 games on this list saw some level of minor success in arcades of the 80’s. In some cases, their subsequent console successes on the Atari 2600 (and other consoles and home computers) exceeded that of their arcade originals. All of these games were added to my Atari 2600 collection during the early influx of eBay additions in the early 2000’s. 

Battlezone is an Atari developed first person tank shooter with a pretty faithful and fun 2600 port to accompany it. The major differences to note are lack of vector graphics (this game would have made for a great addition to the Vectrex library) and position of camera, behind the tank instead of inside it. I like this game and it’s an impressive achievement for sure but shooting at the tank enemies from a near first person perspective continues my trend of not loving FPSs, even ones from 1982!

Crystal Castles was one of my favorite arcade games growing up but I can’t say the same about this port. Generally speaking, arcade games with track balls controls always felt super satisfying and intuitive to me and my lack of Atari track ball ruins my experience with this game. Moving your little bear around the 3D playfield picking up crystals while avoiding enemies was the epitome of arcade fun for me but not so much with an arcade joystick. Maybe someday I’ll own a Crystal Castles cabinet since this port will never meet my lofty expectations. 

Kangaroo is a Donkey Kong clone where you control a mama ‘Roo trying to rescue your baby from annoying monkeys. You run, punch, dunk, grab fruit and generically make your way up the platforms but don’t fall off! A wrong step means and easy death. This game’s graphics and visual style looks very bland compared to the arcade version. While that is kind of an obvious statement and is true for all 2600 arcade ports, some games fared better than others. This was not one of the kinder reimaginings for the 2600 but the punishing difficulty may keep you coming back even if the lack of originality and visuals don’t. 

Phoenix is your typical Galaxian/Galaga type shooter with colorful birds swooping down at you to shoot out of the space/sky. Earlier levels include smaller birds that take one shot but later levels you can shoot of the larger birds’ wings which can regenrate if you don’t finished them off with a body blow in time. I always thought that was cool. You also have the ability to use a shield to protect yourself in tight moments. What sets Phoenix apart despite the interesting visuals and shield is the inclusion of a boss battle which wasn’t super common in arcade games back in the early 80’s. I loved playing Phoenix at the local bowling alley and this Atari version does it justice. 

I’ve already covered Popeye for the NES & Colecovision so I’m not going to say much about this version except it’s on the 2600 and you can expect less than the versions already mentioned. Graphics are blockier and more primitive but the gameplay is still primarily effective. There are 3 unique screens to keep you from immediate boredom (cough*Donkey Kong*cough). 

Finally, we have Tapper. Not Budweiser Tapper or even Root Beer Tapper, just Tapper. Like the arcade version, your job as bartender is to ensure all of your customers stay hydrated while also collecting their empties, but there are no monetary tips left behind for you to pick up in this version. I always loved the frenetic pace of the arcade version of this game; tossing drinks up and down the various bars, sometimes 3-4 beers flying at a time. Oops, Atari 2600 Tapper only allows 2 at a time but at least if you throw a third while the first is still on screen, the game remembers so you can move on to the next customer knowing the patron flagging you down will get his drink…eventually. 

Currently in my collection:

Battlezone – game, manual, box B

Crystal Castles – game only B-

Kangaroo – game, manual, box B-

Phoenix – game only A-

Popeye – game, manual B

Tapper – game only B+

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