• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAtari 8-bit
PublisherAtari Age
ReviewJason and Gordon

Main review

As always before I play a game for review, on this occasion Castle Crisis on Atari 8bit, the first thing I did was my research to find a little information about the game itself and it’s developers. I like research, it makes it seem as though I vaguely know what I’m talking about! My investigations led to an Atari arcade release from 1980 called Warlords, of which it appears Castle Crisis is a conversion in all but name. Naturally, a ROM download later, I fired up MAME and began playing Warlords as part of my “enquiries”. About three months later I finally decided that maybe I should force myself to leave Warlords (a very addictive arcade game indeed!) alone for a while and actually get about the business of playing the game I was meant to be reviewing, lest I incur the mighty wrath of Oldschool Gaming‘s editor. Begrudgingly, I fired up my Atari emulator and inserted my virtual Castle Crisis cartridge. I did a double take because what greeted me on start up was practically identical to the arcade game I had been playing for the last few months. I smiled. I was home…

Initially, the game is presented exactly like an arcade game; no title screen as such, just the game screen and a message asking a player to press fire to begin; indeed, the only thing missing in this home computer version is the message asking to insert a coin! Essentially, Castle Crisis is a Breakout clone, mixed with a modest slice of Pong for good measure. Each of up to four players, either human or CPU controlled, begins in a corner of the screen and is surrounded by a protective “castle” wall. Quite simply, each player is tasked with the responsibility of destroying the opposition’s walls by deflecting fireballs, launched at the beginning of each level by a dragon, around the arena using a small shield. During this mayhem (and believe me, it can become very chaotic), you must remember of course to try and protect your own castle walls. Once sufficient gaps are made in a wall, players are “killed” when the fireballs enter the castle and touch the target at the centre.


The graphics, while appearing unsophisticated on first viewing, are more or less identical to their 1980 arcade machine equivalents and embody the action perfectly. Nothing more complicated is even necessary. The targets of the computer controlled players are depicted by a Darth Vader mask look-alike, while human players are represented by crowns which, I’ve only just this moment noticed, have the Atari Fuji logo emblazoned on them! Neat! The flying dragon at the beginning of each level and its fireballs are well drawn and passably animated whilst the castle is made of computery wall stuff. What do you want from a wall today? Sound is minimal. A few beeps here and there, if you’re lucky, and a short end of game ditty. That’s fine by me since an in-game soundtrack or more complicated effects would actually detract on this occasion, by upsetting concentration. And believe me, you need to concentrate. A lot.

If this game is sounding rather one-dimensional so far, then you will be pleased to hear that there are a few elements that give this game an edge over other “by the numbers” Breakout clones. The players can actually catch a fireball, increase its speed and force and initiate a devastating attack on a specific player. Unsurprisingly, this power comes at a cost; the longer a player hangs onto a fireball in order to increase the strength and velocity of a hit, the more unstable it becomes and begins to destroy that players own wall. Additionally, the longer a game continues then the number of fireballs in play increases, introducing multiple attack possibilities. There is also a substantial tactical element to Castle Crisis. Do you sit back and protect your own wall and the target at its centre, while the other players battle it out, or do you go for an all out attack on one player or several players. Or do you do both? Decisions, decisions…

During the 1980’s and ’90’s it became an often heard phrase in review magazines that an arcade game conversion was “arcade perfect”. So many 8-bit and 16-bit games were described as such it became almost a cliche; more often than not, the conversions were far from “perfect”. However, that particular cliche seems to have been invented for Castle Crisis, it is exactly like playing WarlordsCastle Crisis, although being quite simple, is great fun. It plays slickly and sucks you in from the word go. It’s actually one of those games that you concentrate on so much, that you don’t realise you’re having fun until it finishes. It always merits “just one more go”. Okay, time to put my bag of cliches back in the cupboard…

Second opinion

Castle Crisis seems, partly due to it’s Warlords heritage but mostly down to conscious decisions by the developer I suspect, to hark from a more simple age of video gaming; to that end the presentation is very simple and could possibly even be described as uncluttered in the same way that the classic cartridge games for the Atari 8-bit and indeed 2600 or 5200 machines tend to be uncluttered, the titles page is just an attract mode where the game slowly demolishes the various walls whilst it cycles through the options and displays the scores rather than being a separate part of the program as is now the norm. The sound also appears to have taken its cues from that oldschool simplicity since it’s pretty much been boiled down to white noise crashes when the fireballs are hit by a shield, some nice clanking noises when bricks are destroyed and explosions when a base goes kaboom; nothing truly of note to be found really, but it’s certainly a full “sound scape” when things get busy.

And the graphics are, as with the rest of the game, relatively sparse but at the same time what is there may be rendered simply whilst remaining functional; the walls around each of the four bases are bright, almost Fisher Price colours, the bases themselves are either a Transformer-style mask or a “crown” and similarly colour coded, whilst the fireballs and the dragon that launches them are rendered in shades of orange that make them stand out nicely from everything else; so things can never be unfair, since players can always tell what elements they need to be paying attention to at any point in time and, since control is through a paddle, it’s their own fault if they can’t get the shield to the right part of the wall in time to defend it!


There is something truly addictive to Castle Crisis that the other, more simple Pong clones we’ve seen over the last few years really don’t have. It’s not particularly complex as a game but the use of paddles for player controls (which is in itself rare for games that fall under the OSG remit) and the presence of nice features like trapping the fireball to charge and indeed the aim it, the sheer number of fireballs that are released into play simultaneously and enough intelligence in the computer-controlled players to make them challenging, it all adds up into a very respectable package. And one particular feature that earns Castle Crisis Brownie points from me, it doesn’t need a second player to be properly enjoyed because those smart computer opponents are more than capable of putting up a decent fight against each other as well as the player to make it worth taking on alone, especially when things start getting a bit more manic later on in a level when there are three or four fireballs in play.

That makes Castle Crisis a pretty unusual game since most of the more recent efforts all seem to rely on the presence of a second player and a lot simply neglect those amongst us who are more solitary gamers through either choice or necessity. And, since it can be comfortably played and indeed enjoyed as a single player, it comes highly recommended; in fact most of the playing I did during this review and indeed beforehand was in the single player mode and for what would normally be a multi-player only affair, the way it holds interest is very impressive indeed.