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Word Zapper - The Atari Times

Word Zapper

An educational shooter?
by Darryl Brundage

April 25, 2014

Word Zapper is a game that I thought didn't get a fair shake. It's not as "horrible" (as I've heard people describe it) as they say; it's no Pac-Man or E. T. (and neither of those games I thought were horrible either, but neither were terrific though, of course). Granted, I'll admit it's not one of the greatest games either, but it's not as bad as others say.

Plus I'll also admit you have to consider the source: U. S. Games...not exactly one of the most exalted of Atari publishers, like with Activision and Imagic being held in high regard for most 2600 fans in general, among others. Because here's a brief wrap-up of several of their other titles, most of which I've played:

  1. Commando Raid--neat sunset/colors, nice gameplay idea, but never really speeds up and gets harder (i. e. so it gets repetitive), plus it's got it's share of glitches (looooove those parachute guys that drop in out of thin air without a plane to jump out of first!)

  2. Space Jockey--too easy and dull, even at it's hardest setting; I pretty much agree with the TAT review of it here (although I wouldn't have rated it as high though), it's ok at best. I traded my copy of it for something else on Atari Age ages ago (har!), luckily

  3. Wabbit--those wabbits can get insanely fast, but not in an insanely fun manner

  4. Towering Inferno--also not a bad one -- and even somewhat unique -- as I also pretty much agree with it's review on here

  5. Sneak 'n Peek--I never got this AT ALL. It seemed like an unfinished project rather than an actual GAME. I tried playing it several times, each time ending with me going "that's IT?" (This came with a lot of an Atari 7800 and games when I bought it from a friend, so no, I didn't specifically buy it myself actually...luckily)

  6. M. A. D.--Atlantis/Missile Command clone, but not bad, and is even more fun with two players

  7. Name This Game--a frenzied, annoying shooter piece of crap; ugh! I also agree with it's review here on TAT, although again, I would've rated it lower than Ethan did

  8. Squeeze Box--compared to Telesys' Ram It, everyone that I've heard from that played both said Ram It was the better game (the latter of which I have, as the concept of both games is identical)

  9. Entombed--possibly U. S. Games' best outing, with you nagivating through scrolling mazes, which I need to get myself...always wanted to play this one

There's more to it than the above, of course, but it's just what I'm personally familiar with. Not a glowing review to be found anywhere either, eh? Nothing for Activision to be worried about back in the day! (Or Imagic, or Atari themselves...or probably anyone else!)

So, in Word Zapper in particular, you, for some reason, in a action-paced, dangerous, yet educational world (?), must spell out words. You must shoot the correct letters as they scroll by in the streaming overhead alphabet while avoiding or shooting evil denizens that are out to sabotage your spelling lesson of a mission (ok, I'll admit the plot doesn't make any sense).

Those evil denizens comprise of the Bonker and Zonker (whee, the variety of names there), which just batter your ship around, but the Scroller will scramble the alphabet for several seconds, which is needed to spell out words you are given, as you must spell three words during a game before time runs out, lest you flunk Space Jockey Spelling School, or whatever. However, the ominous Doomsday Asteroid lives up to it's name, as colliding with one of those ends your game and gives you the lowest rank possible, so avoid or shoot those into kindergarten oblivion once they appear.

So, all you need to do is spell out three words in the allotted time without being destroyed (if you're playing a game with the right difficulty switch on expert, which enables the Doomsday Asteroids to appear, that is) and you've won the game, or you can play a variation where none of the letters spell out words (just random letters), which is more challenging, since, if you forget which letter is next, there's a funky-looking icon that, when shot, will automatically reveal the next letter for you, since even the biggest words to remember (much less spell out) probably wouldn't even challenge a six grader. (Note: the "Freebie" symbol will appear if the player shoots five asteroids before the scrolling alphabet starts over at the letter A again.)

So, obviously the difficulty level in this intergalactic spelling bee isn't sky high, but at least the killer graphics helped save the game though, right? Eh, not really; again, being U. S. Games we're talking about, the Bonkers and the Zonkers look pretty much the same (what the hey, they have practically the same name), just several dots bunched together, the Scroller looks like a football, and the Doomsday Asteroid looks like a football cut in half (oh gee, the variety here!), but your green ship is kind of cool, that's...uh, flapping it's wings? What the heck is going on with that, exactly? I never could figure that one out. (Ok, I just looked it up in the instructions, it says it's a "rotary wing" ship...case closed.)

The sounds are also about as equal to the graphics, just being adequate, with the 'plink' noise when the Bonkers and Zonkers knock you around and all, although the ominous sound of the Doomsday Asteroid is pretty rousing, and a few brief musical interludes help a little too. The controls respond instantly, making up for the slack from the so-so graphics and sound.

Of course, it's doubtful whether or not this game is educational. And even though I don't think this is a candidate for Best Game of the Year when it came out (much less Evar), and nor do I still play it 20 years later, I still don't think it's as horrible as people say it is. After all, I've read slamming reviews that claim there's no way to get killed (wrong!) and people complain that it's too hard at high settings, which I don't agree, I've beaten it tons of times on variations where you have to match up letters, rather than words, varied (i. e. slow and fast) meteor speeds, dense, rather than sparse meteor density, both difficulty switches on expert (the other switch is for the Scroller asteroid) and no first "Freebie" appearing at the beginning as it is...not too hard, guys.

Yep, I'd say that proves this game isn't educational, as it seems like people didn't learn much from it at all with mistakes such as those in reviews.

Zapping words was never so much fun (unless you are typing them.)
Another one bites the...
Yes, I am the CHAMP!
Word Zapper
System: 2600
Publisher: U. S. Games
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 60%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 65%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 60%

Reader Comments for Word Zapper

Not the worst but not the best by Randy Johnson on 2014-07-22 20:37:34
I own this game. I bought it way back in 1983. It's hard to believe but it's not the worst of the 16 games that was made by US Games/Vidtec. Gopher was the worst.
This game is educational and is good for small children but it sucks for older people. If you put the difficulty switches on the harder settings, your ship can be destroyed.
This isn't the worst US/Vidtec game but it's not as good as Space Jockey or Towering Inferno either.
by Darryl Brundage on 2014-07-24 16:48:28
I have Towering Inferno too. That was interesting. Never played Gopher though.
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