Friday, May 29, 2015

This Week's Comics 5.28.15

This week I went off the beaten path a little bit and picked up Archie vs. Predator #1.  (this is a four issue limited series that is already on issue #3, but for the sake of starting at the start, I picked up #1 this week).  Since, I'm coming back to comics, I thought it worth the time to stretch my mind a little bit and pick an occasional comic that is nothing like the super hero comics that dominate my collection.  Archie vs. Predator is perfect in that capacity.

As juxtaposition is the heart of all comedy, the premise is absolutely solid.  However, the actual comic itself falls victim to one of the chief ills of modern comics:  failure to deliver a full story.
Basically, the Riverdale gang goes on vacation in the same exact place where a Predator ship has landed.  The gang runs afoul of the obligatory Betty vs. Veronica conflict, has an encounter with the snobby prep school kids, and then decides they like staying in Riverdale better than going on vacation so they go home.  That's it.  They never encounter the Predator.  Oh, sure, the Predator stalks them and it appears kills the two prep school kids and strings them up, but even when the gang has fresh human blood dripped upon them from above, they blithely march on, completely ignoring the waiting horror above.  Maybe this is the joke?  Maybe the payoff comes next issue (as the Predator seems to have stowed away in some of Veronica's luggage to make the trip back to Riverdale), but I paid $4 for a comic called Archie vs. Predator and the titular claim is never validated.  I hate paying for the set up of a joke and then paying separately for the punchline.  That is NOT cool.  It's like if the movie Predator ended when Arnold's team caught the girl in the village.  NOT cool.

So, while I really like the concept here, the execution falls very flat.  I am on the fence about picking up issue #2.  I still kind of want a payoff to issue #1, but I'm not ready to shell out another $4 on the chance that the story actually happens in issue #3.  This is what happens sometimes when you branch out...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

This Week's Comics 5.20.15

Two years ago, I stopped buying comic books.  My son was just born, and time and money were in rapidly decreasing supply.  Likewise, the quality of the comics I was buying was also in decline.  So, in a move I couldn't have fathomed a decade prior, I quit buying new comics.  I started living on a steady diet of back issues and that is what lead to my current PURGE project. (see recent entries related to comics)
I kept my eye on the comics scene during my absence from partaking and honestly, I didn't get the impression I was missing much.  Then came Marvel's announcement of their upcoming (now current) Secret Wars event.  Secret Wars promised to fix everything that was wrong with the Marvel Universe and return the Marvel Empire to its previous glory.  Being a die-hard Marvel fan who quit in disgust, this naturally intrigued me, so I started following along by reading great comic book news sites like CBR. At the same time, the lovely wife was really getting into classic Disney Duck Comics, the collected works of Don Rosa and Carl Banks specifically (with big help from CBR Pipeline writer Augie De Blieck Jr.).  As luck would have it, Disney was about to launch new Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comics.  So I took this as a sign that the universe wanted me to take another look at my beloved hobby once again.

Long ago, I used to do a feature called the Comic of the Week, or something, that no one ever read. In that time honored tradition I am going to start sharing with you the comics that I am buying and let you know how my return to comic readership is going.  I'll likely not buy comics every week as I am only getting a very few, but whenever I pick some up, I'll share my insights with you.  Maybe this will help inform your own comics purchases, maybe not, but either way, my opinion will be out there, which is honestly where it needs to be.

So without further ado, here are the comics I bought this week and some thoughts to go along with them:

First up, is A-Force #1.  Marvel's Secret Wars all female Avengers team!  My fear is that this is a gimmick comic that will sell strong for four or five issues and then vanish, but based on the first issue it is worth at least a look.  I have no idea which universe these characters are pulled from, but it can't be the main Marvel U because there are all kinds of crazy things going on.  So if you aren't overly familiar with She-Hulk or Loki or Captain Marvel, that's ok.  You'll get all you need from the story itself.  The first issue is a better-than-average set-up issue that delivers a full story and does a better job of explaining Secret Wars than Secret Wars #1 or #2 did.  I'll get issue #2 and see where this one goes.

Spawn #252.  I was super excited when Paul Jenkins was named the writer taking over for McFarlene, but he's off to a bit of a slow start.  We are two issues in, and while I get the general gist of the plot, the finer points are being lost on me, mostly because I've been out of the Spawn universe for about 8 years and I'm not sure why he has Venom teeth or what his relationship with Malebolgia and the rest of the cast is.  I'm trying to stick with it because I believe in Jenkins' ability to tell awesome, character-driven stories, but this one needs a kick in the pants to get going.  I'm good for about two more issues if things don't pick up.

Finally, True Believers:  Age of Apocalypse #1.  Marvel is doing something really smart here for once.  The True Believers line is a series of one-shot issues that spotlight some of the biggest storylines in Marvel history.  For instance, this issue, Age of Apocalypse #1 is a reprint of X-men: Alpha #1 which launched the now legendary Age of Apocalypse story.  There won't be an issue #2, but there are smartly placed ads for the trade paperbacks that collect the whole story, so if you like what you see, you know where to go.  The best part:  these comics are just $1.  That's right, $1.  And what's more, there are NO ADS, except for the ones in the back for the trades.  It's a genius way to celebrate the rich history of the Marvel U, introduce new readers to classic stories, and get everyone geared up for Secret Wars.  It is no coincidence that each True Believer comic spotlights a Marvel Era that is represented in that story. Again, smart for once.  I have seen TB one-shots for things like the Infinity Gauntlet, Iron Man: Armor Wars and Ultimate Spider-man.  So I'll probably be picking up a few more of these.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ultimate Guide to Tutankham for the Atari 2600

NOTE:  I am attempting to port over all of my old "Ultimate Strategy Guides" from the old site (circa 2002).  The site is archived somewhere deep in the annals of the internet and that is my only resource for retrieval.   I apologize that for right now these will be text only, but I hope to migrate them all over at some point and revitalize them for everyone's enjoyment!  Thanks   

Ultimate Guide to Tutankham 
by yer ol’ pal Stan
This game gets a lot of flack from arcade purists because the poor old VCS cannot handle a true arcade port; however Parker Bros. Tutankham is an excellent game if you don’t care about its arcade origins. The premise is fun, the action is faced paced, and there is enough of the arcade carried over here that the spirit of the game is not totally lost in the translation (on top of all of that, the manual is very well written and gives you lots of neat Egyptian stuff to read about) You don’t have to like it as an arcade port, but if you approach it as a game on its own merits, Tutankham can be a very enjoyable run-and-shooter.
But enough! You did not come here to have me defend the game; you are looking for tips and tricks, so let’s get to it! Tutankham is based on a very cool idea: you are a tomb raider (before such a thing was cool) exploring the secret chambers of King Tut’s tomb (all 4 of them). As you race through the ancient tunnels you are ambushed on all sides by creatures trapped in the catacombs for thousands of years, and man are they hungry (ahem). All you have in your defense is a gun and a handful of flares! So let’s talk basics.
1. Do not get killed.
2. Find the Key that will unlock the door to the next set of catacombs.
3. Find the locked door and proceed to the next level.
4. Along the way, claim as many ancient treasures as you can!
Sounds simple, right? Well its not! Creatures pop out of nests at the worst times, usually just as you grab that sacred ruby or some such. Your supply of bullets gets used up quickly as you fend of the monsters on your way to the exit. The labyrinth is a true maze and if you are not looking you can get trapped. Each catacomb is a maze full of secret passages and carefully guarded relics. So to help you out, yer ol’ pal Stan is going to give you a guided tour of each Burial Chamber so you don’t get lost and you can rack up the big scores! So put on your hat with the little flashlight thingy on top, because we are going in search of the lost tomb of King Tutankham (and maybe we’ll find out why they misspelled his name: see also Tutankhamen?)
(SPOILER WARNING: This is a COMPLETE walkthrough of this game. If you don’t want something ruined, please read ONLY the GENERAL TIPS section at the end.)
(COOLNESS ALERT! If you would like to view the ENTIRE map of each Burial Chamber at once, please visit (PLEASE NOTE:  This link is from 2002 and is, sadly, dead.  Ben had an amazing map) Pitfall Harry’s Map Room here: Ben Valdes has worked incredibly hard to create these beautiful maps for Tutankham and they are definitely worth a look. I could not have compiled this guide without the help of these maps! Enjoy!)

(Please consult the manual for creature and treasure images, I will be referring to them by the names given there)

You start out right in the thick of the action. Directly beneath you are a creature nest and the all too important key. This is as basic as you get, blast the critters, nab the key and get out of there! Your only escape is the not-so secret passage below the starting point.

The next two treasures will require a little more skill. You can run right over and grab the Silver Crown, but a creature will sprout from the nest below! Quickly run back to the left and the creature will pursue in the tunnel below. Suddenly reverse direction, drop into the tunnel with the creature (usually a Scorpion) and blast it! Then drop down and pick up the Royal Ring. As you come back up, another creature will generate (usually a Royal Cobra), blast it and proceed to your right.

Now you will build on the strategy you just used to nab the Ruby. The Ruby is dead opposite you in the tunnel, but two creature nests below will make getting any further very frustrating! Run left as fast as you can, a creature will pop out of the nest on the left (often the Giant Bat). If you move fast enough, the creature will follow you left in the tunnel below and become “stuck” in the nest. Grab the Ruby and head down the central passage. Blast any chasing creatures and get below as quickly as possible.
The giant bat is stuck in the nest and will not pursue when you drop into the tunnel
Things get a little trickier! You can see the Gold Chalice just ahead, no sweat! Problem is, it’s a trap! As soon as you grab the Chalice a monster will spring from an unseen nest below. There is no way to get into the large room and shoot the beast in time, so do this instead. Stand in front of the room’s doorway as the creature approaches. When it gets close, lure the creature into the tunnel with you by running right. Blast it! Now try to enter the room. If a new creature spawns, repeat the above “lure” trick. Keep doing this until you can safely enter the room (there is a 2 or 3 second gap in creature generation after every five or six releases). Enter the room and bear left as fast as you can. This will put you in the alcove with the Gold Crown. (A creature may be chasing you as you enter the alcove, blast it before you get the Gold Crown). Now pop out of the alcove, and blast your way across the room to freedom (well kinda’).

You are almost out! All that lies between you and the exit is a secret passage and a creature nest. Zip through the passage, a monster will spawn, blast it and make for the door! Open it, take the Map, and proceed to Burial Chamber 2!!!

All of the skills you just picked up will be used in the second catacomb, only things will get much harder quickly!

When you start out all looks peaceful, but there is a creature nest dead ahead that will give you headaches! As you move left, a creature will spawn from the nest below left (they generally spawn in this order: Turtle, Jackals, and finally Blue Condor, usually after several Jackals). DO NOT ENTER THE TUNNEL WITH IT!!! Instead lure it up into the upper tunnel with you by moving back right. Blast the creature. If another spawns use the lure trick again. Finally, when that “generation gap” occurs make your way into the lower tunnel, but be quick, you need to grab that Gold Crown from the lower alcove as you run. If any creatures spawn while you are in the lower tunnel, blast them of course. (Don’t worry about the nest on the right, it will be inactive for at least the first 3 rounds). After grabbing the Gold Crown, run right and grab the Ring from the upper alcove.

Do not rush down into the next set of passages, wait until a new creature spawns from the nest at the start of the game, (don’t wait to see the creature, hearing the “slurping” sound is enough), then run down through the zigzag passage QUICKLY! If done correctly you will miss the first creature that will spawn from the new nest below. (Do not worry about the nest on the left it will be inactive for several rounds) You may need to blast a creature before you continue down the zigzag passage.
Ok, so the screenshot made my guy disappear, but stand right above the downward path and wait for the enemy to spawn, then dash down

It’s the KEY! Carefully tucked away in an alcove right above a nest! A tight spot indeed! Drop into the tunnel with the nest and start shooting. Hit the creature as it leaves the nest, grab the key and then get out (blasting behind you as you run). This is a true hit and run situation, timing is of the utmost importance. Drop into the lower alcove and access the secret passage. Take a breath.

Directly below you is a very large room. Along the left wall lies the Emerald. Bottom-center of the room sports a nest and a very narrow exit. A tricky spot, but you can use a trick of your own to reduce the danger: Get in, get out! Wait in the alcove at the top of the room. Drop down ever so slightly and allow a creature to spawn. DO NOT go any deeper into the room than the first step once the creature appears! The creature will come straight up at you. As it comes, run to the niche in the left or right wall (If you run left, the creature will follow you up along the wall, if you run right the creature will continue straight up and then come at you). When the creature is on your level, blast it and make for the emerald. If a new creature spawns, repeat the above niche trick, if not grab the Emerald and make for the exit below. (If a creature is generated after you grab the Emerald its best to repeat the niche trick again to access the exit). Creatures will still generate after you leave the room, but few can manage the narrow gap to get at you, mostly they will get stuck. (The Turtle is the exception; he will pursue you into the catacombs below!)

Believe it or not, you can grab the Goblet without shooting anything or having to look over your shoulder! But you are about to begin the mad dash to the exit! In the tunnel below, a creature will spawn from the nest in the center and start to hunt you. VERY CAREFULLY, lure the creature into the tunnel you are in and blast it! (Don’t let it get “stuck” in one of the holes in the top of the tunnel or you’ll have to drop into the tunnel to blast it, not a good idea) Drop into the tunnel, grab the Bust and start blasting as creatures pop out of the central nest again! Head right and drop into the tunnel below!

Four Nests and a Vase are all that’s left! A creature will spawn from the right nest in the tunnel below (the left nest is inactive) and start hunting you. If you are fast you can run left and drop into the tunnel with it and blast it. If not, you will have to lure it up into the uppermost tunnel and then make your way down. Once you are in the middle tunnel keep blasting any creatures that may spawn. When you reach the right side, DO NOT drop into the lowest tunnel! Wait for a new creature to spawn from the nest right next to you (Again, don’t wait until you see the creature, just listen for the “slurp”), as soon as it generates, drop into the lowest tunnel and run left as FAST as possible. When done correctly, you will NOT encounter a creature in the lowest tunnel.

Open the locked door, take the Vase and proceed to Burial Chamber 3!!!

Now things get hard! Chamber 3 is a much tougher ride and you will have to combine all of your skills and wits to survive and grab ALL of the treasures! Here we go!

You will start in a passage on the left. Both the Trident and the Ring are available for pick-up and are well guarded by a hyper active nest, but if you start out with a plan, getting both can be very easy. Try this: Drop into the tunnel with the nest and shoot the Snake. Run left and grab the Ring from the lower room. Pop up and blast the Lion. Run right. Turn and shoot the emerging Moth. Run up and grab the Trident. A new creature will spawn and wander. Sit in the Trident tunnel until it wanders away, then drop into the tunnel and blast it! You may run left or right, but get down to the lowest hallway. Creatures rarely chase you any further. (Creatures spawn the way I listed above 95% of the time)

There is only one passage to the tunnel below in the center of the hall. A creature will spawn from the right nest below (the left is inactive for now). If the creature is a MOTH, lure it up into the tunnel with you and blast it, then try again. If the creature is NOT a Moth, run to your left and the creature will follow you in the tunnel below. Quickly reverse direction, drop into the tunnel and blast it. Be ready to blast any other creatures that may spawn as well. Run right and access the secret passage.
Here the lion is tracking you, but he is too slow to catch you if you reverse direction and drop down and shoot

You can pick up the Herb no problem. The next section is made of two parallel tunnels. The top tunnel holds the Diamond in an upper alcove. The bottom holds two ACTIVE nests (that usually spawn Moths and Lions). You can use the two passages between the tunnels to your advantage. Drop into the upper tunnel. When a creature spawns, lure it up and blast it. Make your way to the Diamond and then work your way down into the lower tunnel. Drop through the exit in the center. CAUTION: A creature may follow you, keep your eyes open.

The next room is very odd. The entire right side, the larger chamber, is completely empty (there are a few inactive nests on the right wall). The narrow left side holds the Key and the game’s first invisible nest in the upper middle. The best way to get from the right side to the left is a small crevice in the center of the broken dividing wall. A moth will spawn (95% of the time, the other 5% usually sees a Lion). DO NOT enter the left side with the Moth, draw it into the right side with you, and then blast it. (More ideally, shoot the creature just as it enters the crevice in the wall, while running at it!) After killing the Moth run into the left side and up into the alcove with the Key. Head straight down very, very quickly. If done fast enough, you will dodge the monster spawning on your heels. If not you may have to waste a flare or run back into the right side of the room. The new monster may follow you through the passage below, keep your eyes open and shoot behind you as you move.
Moths tend to spawn one right after the other, but there is often a gap between other creatures.  Kill all of the moths and when something new spawns, kill it and make your move on the key.

The final section is very unusual and features one of the best “cheats” in the game! The upper tunnel features a series of long dead ends and terminates in a final down passage on the far right. This is where the cheat comes in. Straight down that passage is an active nest (note: both nests in that tunnel are active!) that will spawn the moment it is visible. DO NOT waste a flare! Instead, sneak down the passage until you hear the “slurp” of a creature being spawned. IMMEDIATELY reverse direction and head back up the passage. The creature will not appear if done correctly. Reverse direction again and head back down the passage. If you do not hear a “slurp,” all is clear and you may descend into the lower tunnels. If you do hear a “slurp,” repeat the “cheat” again. Once in the lower tunnels, keep your ears open. Creatures can spawn from either nest and come at you. 

Make your way over to the Candelabra and then down to the locked door. Grab the Cat Statue and get ready for the toughest Chamber yet!!!

This is the toughest chamber by far. You will have to use all of your old tricks plus learn some new ones if you plan to reach Tut’s tomb! And we start off with a bang!

Be ready for action the minute you start the Chamber. Immediately make your way to the secret passage in the center of the maze and zip to the other side. Quickly hide in the annex below the secret passage. A Virus will usually spawn first and slowly follow you into the annex. Blast it and run up so that you stand directly left of the nest. A Monkey will usually spawn, SHOOT IT! Then run past the nest, snag the Key from the alcove and be ready to shoot another Monkey. Make a break for the secret passage again and zip back across (because a Mystery Weapon can pop out of the nest and kill you).
Get here immediately and then wait to kill the virus when it comes down, then haul ass for that key
The large room below hides an invisible nest in the upper right corner. This nest LOVES to spawn those Mystery Weapons. Be ready at all times. You will need to blast the creatures that spawn, grab the Neck Ring and make a break for the central exit (the nest lies directly above the Neck Ring). Rarely will they be able to squeeze through the crevice to pursue you. 

The next series of tunnels can be tough. Drop into the tunnel with the two nests. The left nest is inactive, but the right nest and the nest in the right passage below it are both active! Something will spawn from the right nest and come for you, blast it! Run right and up into the annex above. Grab the Amulet, and get back down, quickly. A new creature will spawn, blast it and head down the right passage. (If you are not fast enough, a creature can spawn from the lower passage nest and you will have to lure it out or waste a flare.)

Zip through the secret passage, and a creature will spawn from the nest above the passage. This is the ONLY time in the game you should use a FLARE. (This is the only way I know of to get the Fan) Use a FLARE, snag the fan from the hallway, and run down the passage. A creature may pursue if you are too slow. Lure it down into the tunnel below and blast it.
If you don't use a flare, your timing will have to be perfect to get the fan
The next treasure will take some skill to get. The nest in the center of the maze will spawn mostly Monkeys and Weapons and often two at a time. When a creature spawns, run just right-of center in the tunnel above. The creature will follow in the jagged hallway below and get “stuck.” Get the Crystal while you are at it. If a second spawns you can “trap” it the same way (occasionally it will “stick” in the nest itself). Once you have trapped the creatures, return left and make your way down to the Zircon. This next bit is VERY tough. Carefully lure the “trapped” creatures into the small hallway with you and blast them. No new creatures will spawn until both are destroyed (95% of the time). When both are destroyed, drop down the right passage and into the final room.
If you stand here, the enemy will get stuck where that monkey is and you can pursue from the right without (much) fear.
There are only two nests in this giant room, both are active and both are in the worst possible place. The only treasure is the Dagger, but it’s worth the trip! The left nest is the most active but the right nest can surprise you at the worst times, so don’t dally around it! Here’s how I get the Dagger and get out safely: Follow the right most passage past the right nest. Go all the way down and out of the main room. Travel past the locked door at the bottom of the Chamber and start back up the left passage (if you unlock the door, the Chamber will be completed and you will not get the Dagger). QUICKLY, move toward the Dagger. Grab it and immediately reverse direction. A creature will spawn from the nest above (99% of the time it’s a Mystery Weapon). As fast as possible, return down the left passage. The creature will usually get stuck along the way and be unable to follow.

Now you are free to unlock the final door and claim Tutankham’s Mask for yourself! But don’t rest on your laurels, you are about to embark on the quest again, only this time its MUCH more difficult.

Here are some things to help you along the way.
TIP: You don’t have to see a creature to shoot it. Once you hear the “slurping” sound that precedes creature generation, SHOOT! You won’t see the creature, but you will see the “explosion” from its destruction. This can save you a lot of time in tight situations and get you a few extra points once you learn the generation routines.
TIP: Creatures generate in sequence. Usually one or two will spawn, followed by a 2 or 3 second gap. Then more will generate. Occasionally the number will increase to 4, 5 or 6 between the “generation gap.” You can use this time to slip by dangerous nests. As the game difficulty ramps the number released will increase.
TIP: Some nests are inactive early in the game, but become active more regularly as the difficulty ramps. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times each round. Be ready for unpleasant surprises!
TIP: Nests usually cannot spawn if they are off screen. You can use this to your advantage to keep troublesome nests quiet. There are exceptions, though, so use with caution.
TIP: If a creature leaves the screen, it is usually gone. If you run fast enough up and down you can run creatures off the screen and not have to worry about them. Of course, this could also get you in bigger trouble. Know your catacombs well before running around all willy-nilly.
TIP: You will get an extra FLARE each time you complete Burial Chamber 4. Budget your FLARE usage carefully. To avoid wasting FLARES during movement, remember that you CANNOT shoot up or down; therefore there is no reason to press the red button if you are moving thus. Lay off the trigger finger. Learn when and how to use your gun effectively, plus you will conserve ammo. (Important later in the game!)
TIP: You probably won’t have to worry about conserving ammo in the first two rounds, just blast away. Once you get to the third or fourth round of searching the tombs, your bullets will really drain. Conservation of ammo can make or break you.
TIP: The collision detection in this game is not the best. Avoid close calls at all costs. You may think you can blast a creature as you run past, but too often the creature will get you first. When possible, shoot from a distance. I call this shoddy collision detection “Tut’s Curse.”
Questions, comments, tips of your own? Let me know! I’m always happy to answer feedback and include your stuff!
Final note: The above guide is for the cart version of Tutankham; the information may be inaccurate if you play the game on an emulator.
My best score on Tutankham is 2610


Monday, May 11, 2015

Atari 2600 Reactor: One of the Greatest Video Games EVER?

Yeah, you heard me.  You can keep your War of Duty 9 and your Halos and Grand Theft Criminals and whatever else passes for a video game these days and give me a good ol' classic from the dawn of gaming:  Reactor.

Reactor might just be one of the best video games ever for one very simple, but very important reason:  it's unique in almost every possible way.  None of the grist mill games above can even pretend to say that.  Reactor is a game that requires quick reflexes, intense concentration, lots and lots of luck, and a willingness to completely abandon the idea of strategy.  Let me explain:

Reactor is a game born of the Cold War.  Nuclear Winter was an ever-present threat and the mystique around nuclear energy was never higher.  The fear that a nuclear reactor might go all Chernobyl on your butt was as real as the duck and cover drill.  So what do we do when we are scared of something?  We make a video game out of it, to help us feel like we have some measure of control over the situation.  No different from the duck and cover drill, actually.  Maybe that is over analyzing the situation a bit, or maybe not, but either way, Reactor comes to us from a culture very occupied with nuclear possibilities.

The point of the game is damage control.  You have a reactor on your hands that is about to go critical and ruin everyone's day in a radical way (how you like me now?).   It's up to you to get in there, literally, and get a handle on the situation.  Nuclear particles, you can decide what that means, are loose and bouncing around like mad threatening to melt down the core of the reactor.  It is your job to smash those particles against the walls of the chamber and also to use them to knock down the control rods that will calm the core and prevent meltdown.  However, there is a catch:  you can't touch anything except the enemy particles.  Contact with the walls or the core and it's Fissionville for you.  Imagine the game of Operation except instead of removing the medical issues you had to smash them against the sides of the game board without getting buzzed.  All of this might sound tough, but what makes it truly insidious is that the particles push back, and hard.  So while you are pushing them, they are pushing you and you find yourself in a dance toward destruction.  More on that later.
So you have to smash the particles and knock down the rods to keep the reactor core in check.  See while you are playing bounce house with the neutrinos, the core is steadily growing outward from the center, threatening to engulf you and all of Western culture.  Oh and on alternating levels the core turns into a swirling vortex that can suck you inside and smash you to bits.
The game is called "Reactor," but it should be called "Constant Challenge."

So the very premise alone is pretty unique.  The closest thing I can think of that is similar is Mutant Virus for the NES, but that has far more puzzle elements and takes a different part of your soul when you lose.  There isn't even a game on for the Atari 2600 generation of consoles that is like this game.  (I realize Reactor was an arcade game first and console game second, but I am focusing on the game I know and love and fear)

At its heart, Reactor is a finesse game AND a twitch game, requiring precise control and the ability to make sudden and erratic adjustments purely on instinct.  This is at least partly why I am terrible at it (I really really suck at finesse games, see also Gravitar and Thrust +), but even though I am a dismal player, I am drawn to this game like a drunken moth to a blowtorch.  Despite being a game that wants random chaotic perfection, it is also the kind of game that demands you play one more time because you know this time you will be able to avoid the stupid mistake that caused your game to end the last time.  You won't be able to, of course, but you are left with the feeling that you might.  You won't.

And why not?  Because there is no successful strategy to playing this game.  There just isn't.  Forget what the instruction manual says in the back.  Forget what legions of nerds on Atariage tell you, there is no strategy for playing this game and succeeding.  The only thing you require to do well at Reactor is absurd reflexes and infallible instincts.  Sure, you can deploy your decoys by the bonus chambers to rack up major points.  Sure you can clockwise rotate the vortex swirl to knock out particles in the vortex levels, these are all great things to do, but knowing that you should do them, and being able to actually execute those strategies is completely different.
The core of this game is a dance, as I mentioned above.  You and the upwards of forty nuclear particles (that come at you in waves, not all at once) engage in a dance that is part dare and part aggression.  The particle charges at you, you dodge, it dodges, you lunge, it dodges, you dodge, it lunges, you bounce off one another, maybe it hits a wall, maybe it is destroyed, or maybe it just lunges back at you and you dodge, and it dodges, so you lunge, and it dodges, then it lunges and you lunge and you miss and so on and so on, and so on.  Eventually, one of you hits the wall and is destroyed.  Sometimes it's you, sometimes it's the particle, but that is the only way the dance ends.  If the particle is destroyed, then more appear to resume the dance.  And you are often dancing this dance with three to four partners, not just one.

Yes, the particles sway and you can sometimes anticipate where their momentum will take them, but not always.  Hell, not often.  You can try your hardest to lure them, knock them, or even just lead them into the bonus chambers to score maximum points, but you can never reliably get them in there.  You can set a decoy right outside the entrance to the chamber or right next to the control rods, but there is no guarantee the particles are going to do anything other than sway around, dancing to and fro.  And so, you must dance.

And this is why you always think that next time you will do better.  It's like the Lotto.  But all the while it is mocking you with its sinister dance, it is also seducing you into playing it more and more.  I've rage quit this game so many times, my controllers won't speak to me any more, and yet still I play another game.  You can play for 15 minutes or 15 seconds, but every game is new and different and you have no idea how long you are going to last.
This is my personal best shattering score submission for the High Score Club.  Too bad another cat has already beaten it 6x over!

It's unique, infinitely challenging, loaded with unlimited replay value and eschews any set strategy in favor of madcap reflexes and instinct.  I cannot name too many other games that can make that claim and successfully back it up.  That is why I say Reactor is probably one of the greatest video games ever created.

Oddly enough we are played Reactor this week in the Atariage High Score Club.  You should drop by and play with us, is good fun!