Atari 2600

Review by Dave Giarrusso



Graphics: 6

Sound: 2

Gameplay: 4

Overall: 4

Some games just shouldn't have been ported to the 2600. Famed 2600 game designer Howard Scott Warshaw has often said that Star Castle would (in his own words) “suck” on the VCS, and rather than port it over with limited or no success, he created an offshoot. Perhaps you’ve heard of the wildly popular, bestselling VCS cart Yars' Revenge?

More often than not, I’m with Howard. Though I'm an insane game player, I have (barely) enough sanity left to know that if a game sucks, I (sometimes) won't play it. (For example, 2600 Pac-Man sucks, but I still find myself playing it every now and then – don’t worry, the people in charge of the white coats with the buttons in the back have already been alerted.) On the other hand, that insanity often makes me wonder what certain games would have looked/played like on the VCS, despite the fact that they would probably suck. Sinistar was one of those games.

When I first heard that a prototype 2600 Sinistar cart actually was “out there,” it's a good bet that my jaw hit the ground in a “take” of Tex Avery proportions. “Wow! What's it like?” Images, not unlike sugarplums, danced through my head. It could work. Given the successful conversion of the late silver label era games (Crystal Castles, Stargate, Millipede) it could have been well done, even for a VCS game.

Alas, it's not that great, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it sucks. Pac-Man sucks (but hey, Tod – your 2600 Xevious proto is great!) Part of the problem with Sinistar may be that it is still in the early stages of production. As with some other 2600 games, the sprites in Sinistar are much bigger than in the arcade counterpart, while the working area of the screen is smaller. For some games, it's an acceptable trade off (Mario Bros, Asteroids) but for others, it spells disaster (Mr. Do!, Tempest). Sinistar just doesn’t feel right in its current form – the smaller screen is too crowded, and the action is sluggish at best. Not good enough for an insanely difficult, twitchy action arcade shoot ‘em up.

Mining the crystals in the 2600 port is a bit too easy, while bombing the Sinistar once he lives is actually tougher than in the arcade version. Here, Sinistar doesn’t stay on the screen long enough for the player to launch a well placed bomb. The voice samples are absent too, though nobody would have expected them to be included, nor would their absence have seriously affected game sales if the game had been released. The hideous reverberating sound that replaces the threatening voice samples needs to be swapped with something a little less nerve shattering though, like… maybe a fire alarm, or fingernails on a chalkboard.

As it stands, 2600 Sinistar is a nice place to visit, but well, y’know. I wouldn’t wanna have it as my only 2600 cart. It’s got the beginnings of a decent port, but it needs some more work. Still, it is surprisingly good for a VCS translation of a pretty advanced golden age game. All we can be sure of is that it would have fared MUCH better on the 5200. Anybody out there found that version yet?

NOTE: There are currently two different versions of the Sinistar prototype out in the wild. One version is much more “finished” than the other one. If you have the version that actually says “Sinistar” at the top of the screen, you’re playing the more complete version of the two.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:31 PM