Not sure why electronic betting or table games were so popular in the late 70’s/early 80’s but there were a plethora of them on the Atari VCS, Intellivision and Colecovision. I suppose some of the appeal is that you didn’t have to have a dealer to play electronic blackjack, an actual casino to play casino games or even an opponent who knew how to play Othello. As for pinball, we all know pinball machines are heavy, expensive and take up a lot of space (I should know, I have one in my home office) but damn are they fun. Who wouldn’t want to be able to play pinball anytime they wanted?
Blackjack was one of the 1977 launch titles for the Atari VCS and a game like Blackjack doesn’t need fancy graphics or major embellishments to serve it’s purpose. That said, the Atari VCS visuals for this title are super primitive. There’s a stark green screen, cards with numbers or symbols on them and prompts to hit, stay or double down. You start with $200 and you can bet anywhere between $1-25 on each hand. The game is as simple as you’d assume. The computer deals the cards, player(s) decides what they want to do using the paddle controllers but you don’t have the option to split pairs which is a bummer. Eventually, Atari would discontinue producing this game once they created Casino since Blackjack became a part of it.
Casino is another paddle controlled card based game that includes a virtually identical version of the original Blackjack but with welcome additions. The minor differences are now the cards have symbols on them to represent suits and you also start with a whopping $1000! The major differences are that you can now split pairs as well pay for insurance when the dealer shows an ace. You can also play up to 4 players against the computer but the option to split cards goes away if playing more than 2. With all of these improvements, Casino definitely obsoletes the launch version of Blackjack unless you’re a completionist. Additional card games include Stud Poker and Poker Solitaire and both are a lot of fun! Casino is a much better option for card game lovers looking for a simple, yet effective way to play these games on an old school console.
Othello is a chess/checkers type game using black and white game pieces while attempting to take up as much of the board as you can with your pieces. Like chess and checkers, Othello requires the player to use strategy and think a few steps ahead of their opponent in order to succeed. The game offers 3 difficulty levels against the computer and also has a 2 player option which is really nice. Othello is pretty fun but if you don’t like strategy games of this nature, you’ll have no interest.
Last is Video Pinball. Pretty self explanatory title and the object of the game is keep the ball in play as long as possible and rack up the most points. A precursor to the NES black box “classic”, Pinball, Video Pinball looks ugly but has its merits. The table used is a boring blue and the typical pinball effects are there but only in theory. You allegedly have drop targets, bumpers, spinners, rollovers, including one with the Atari logo, and of course, two flippers to man. You really have to use your imagination as there are virtually no animations indicating as such. Controlling the flippers requires movement of the joystick and the button itself has no purpose after you’ve launched the ball. To hit both flippers simultaneously, just press up. Press left to only use the left flipper and right to only use right flipper. I found using both at the same time was easiest to master. I was never a big fan of Nintendo’s Pinball back in the day and this version is even more primitive and dull. I can see this being interesting at the time but I guess I’ve been spoiled. I give it credit for trying though.
Currently in my collection:
Blackjack – game only C
Casino – game, manual B
Othello – game, manual C+
Video Pinball – game, manual C-