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2002 Stan's Atari Excellence Awards
Homebrew of the Year

Homebrew of the Year

Marble Craze
by: Paul Slocum

Marble CrazeThere are not enough words to extol the virtues of this incredible game. Perhaps the most innovative game for the Atari 2600 EVER! Marble craze is based on those old wooden marble games where you tilted the playing surface in an attempt to guide your marble through a trap-filled maze. Paul Slocum more than succeeds at translating that idea into a VCS game.

There are so many good things about Marble Craze, it is hard to figure out where to start! The most obvious thing that sticks out about the game is that it is the first Atari game to utilize both paddles in a single player game! You control the direction of the marble by tilting the "table" on both its X and Y axis. The paddles give you independent control of each axis. The more you tilt, the faster the ball will roll. While that sounds really easy, believe me, its not. This may also be one of the VCS most challenging games. With 18 levels of increasing difficulty, Marble Craze promises a challenge to even the best old school gamer out there! The game starts you out with walls that make it impossible for your marble to fall off the maze, but as you progress the walls go away and you must master control of the marble to survive. If that's not enough for you, you'll also be racing against the clock; and the game has plenty of hidden "bonus" items that you can seek out.

Graphically speaking, Marble Craze may not look like much on the surface, it's a solid colored ball rolling on a mostly solid colored track. But don't sell it short, Paul went to great pains to make each level unique and have its own look and feel. A perfect example of this is level 2, the "Atari Age" level. The entire maze is constructed of Atari classic characters.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Marble Craze is the music. Marble Craze will make your VCS produce sounds you never though possible. Paul (also the designer of the Synthcart) is a 2600 maestro. He displays intimate knowledge of the Atari's sound capabilities with the varied library of cool tunes that provide an excellent backdrop to the manic action on the screen. To top it off, the first run of Marble Craze carts were released in very nice collector's tins with full color manuals.

Most important of all though, is simply how much fun Marble Craze is to play. When I first got the game, I spent several weeks playing it exclusively. It's addictive, its fun, and no matter how good you are, the game is always a challenge. For these reasons, Marble Craze is my Homebrew of the Year!

Other Homebrews released in 2002

by: Erik Eid

EuchreA card game for the VCS? Activision had Bridge, and that thing was a snooze-fest if you ask me. However, Erik Eid does an AMAZING job of bringing the popular card game Euchre to life for your Atari. I was skeptical at first, having played Euchre with my family as a child, but not really jazzed about playing it by myself on a video game system. Yet I overcame my skepticism long enough to re-learn the rules for the game and give it a try. I am very thankful I did.

Euchre is by all rights possibly one of the best "game" translations for the 2600 (and by "game" I mean things like Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, Casino, etc). The game play follows the rules of Euchre to the letter, and the AI is challenging enough to give you a run for your money, yet is not unbeatable by a long shot. The AI is programmed to keep the game interesting and keep you on your toes. However be ready for the computer to "pass" often, if its hand is not overwhelmingly suited for picking up the trump. This can get a bit redundant as you will have to re-deal a lot.

Graphically, the game is well set up. The "table" is clear and easy to read, the symbols for the spade and club suits are a bit squished but recognizable, and the background is a pleasant green color.

If you are a fan of the card game, you will love this translation. If you are new to the card game, you can use the upcoming game manual and the game itself as a handy tutor for learning to play.


Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
by: Adam Thornton

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingGot five minutes? That's about all it takes to walk through this glorified hack of a previous homebrew "classic," Dark Mage. This game utilizes the "Dark Mage Engine" (with a few tweaks) to tell the story of Frodo Baggins as he journeys to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom in Mordor. While a great idea, there is not a whole lot to do in this game other than follow the story to its end. You have a very limited range of things to do, and even then the game will not let you deviate from the story in any way.

LOTR is a nice little homage to the insanely popular trilogy from J.R.R. Tolkien, but it's not much of a "game." At the end there is a "promise" of a second release "The Two Towers." Here is hoping that one is deeper and more involving. This seems more like an effort to just cram the whole story into an Atari cart (as suggested in the manual). A neat little exercise, but not a true game.

The best thing about LOTR: Fellowship is the awesome label art and the manual and the neatness factor of having the "whole" story on a 4k cart!


Mental Kombat
by: Simon Quernhorst

Mental KombatSadly, no ROM was made available for Mental Kombat in time for this award (and honestly at $55 a turn, too rich for my blood). However from the description, this game appears to be an interesting puzzle game pitting you vs. an opponent (human only, sorry no AI) in a death match version of Connect Four. The object of the game is to connect four squares of your own color so that your opponent loses energy to the point where they have no more and therefore lose the game. Of course your opponent is trying to do the same to you. Looks like it's probably a fun game, but sadly two player only.


by: Eric Ball

SkeletonFirst person maze games are hard to pull off well on the 2600. Tunnel Runner does it, Survival Island tries to do it, but it's often just a mess. Eric Ball's Skeleton does a nice job of keeping it simple and succeeds in creating an interesting first person shooter (believe it or not) for the VCS in the process. The premise is simple, you are locked in a maze with a bunch of unruly skeletons. Armed with only your trusty "Undead Disintegrator" you must make a break for the exit by hunting down and vaporizing all of the Skeletons who are stalking you (there are 80 total).

Skeleton is a LOT of fun to play, mainly because the game utilizes the sounds of the Atari as well as your ability to spot approaching trouble. You can detect how near or far a skeleton is by listening to the sound of its "footsteps," the closer the skeleton the louder the "footsteps. (There is a Skeleton Compass option if you do not want to use the sound). If your VCS is hooked up to a stereo for some odd reason, then you can even tell if the skeleton is to your right or left!

Graphically, you won't be looking at much unless you are confronted by a skeleton, but when they do pop up they are well drawn (as is the unfortunate screen you see if the get you!) By far the coolest innovation in this game is the sound.

Skeleton got some harsh, yet somewhat deserved, criticism for its lack of a "kill counter." While the game does not need one necessarily, the only way to track your progress is to record your own kills or keep an eye on the color of the maze walls, they change as you kill more and more skeletons. If I had one criticism of the game, that would be it (that and maybe the fact that you get one and only one life, because this puppy is tough!) Skeleton is a fun game with tons of replay value and worth having in your collection.


Space Instigators
by: Christopher Tumber

Space InstigatorsNot happy with your old VCS port of the arcade classic? Well fret no more, thanks to Christopher Tumber (a member of the XYPE consortium), Space Instigators is here. Far more than just a simple hack of the existing VCS game, Tumber started over from scratch to create a more "arcade real" translation of Space Invaders for the 2600. And I must say he greatly succeeded. Space Instigators features some impressive programming feats, such as squeezing nine invaders in per row sans that annoying flicker. The colors are more true to the arcade original and the gameplay is a bit crisper as well. If you are a Space Invaders purist, this game will make you ultra-happy. For the rest of you, it's a neat little title to pick up, but not a must have.


Space Treat
by: Fabrizio Zavagli

Space TreatLook at all those pretty colors! This may be the best looking Homebrew released this year! With lots of nice graphics and eye-popping colors, Space Treat is very addictive and fun game in which you must navigate through far flung space traffic in order to liberate a "tasty treat" from its home at the top of the screen. But wait, there's more. Once you get the treat, you still have to get it back home, and trust me, that is no easy task.

Space Treat is a simple game, but its colorful graphics and compelling game play make it a real winner and something you will spend a LOT of time playing. My one complaint, and it's a small one, is the lack of a score counter. The best judge of your ability must simply be the level to which you can climb as you nab the delightful delectables from their lofty perch. This is a very good game and belongs in every VCS collection.


by: Paul Slocum

SynthcartLet's be honest, this thing is cool. It's not a game, so most people will gloss over it, but if you take the time to play with it a bit you soon begin to realize just how smooth this thing is. The Synthcart is a program that allows you to make "beautiful music" with your VCS. You don't have to be Beethoven to use this program, all you need is a love for the squeaks and squawks of the Atari. And even then you might just end up making some really nifty tunes! (Don't believe me? Feel free to sample some of the player-created music included on the cart.)

The only real drawback is that you are going to need TWO keyboard controllers for this one. But don't let that stop you from finding out just what the 2600 can do! This is a really well put together program that will enable you to see your old VCS in a whole new light!


Warring Worms
by: Billy Eno

Warring WormsThis is a GREAT update to the original run Atari game "Surround." While the object of "Surround" is to, well, surround your opponent and run them into a wall, Warring Worms takes a more proactive approach to the idea and allows you to shoot at your enemy worm! Where "Surround" is worth a few minutes of your time, Warring Worms will be a bit more addictive and a LOT more fun as a two player party game. In addition to being able to shoot your opponent for points, you will also be able to tunnel through any obstacle in your path, even your enemy's tail! And don't worry there can be PLENTY of obstacles.

While not a big graphic upscale, Warring Worms features many solid variations for both solo, and 2 player modes. Possibly the hardest of which are the "random block" levels where obstacles can simply appear out of nowhere! Overall a nice game, particularly if you are a big "Surround" fan. But for me, this game is best in a two player environment, much like "Surround."

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