Review by chad9976

"Gambling fun for the whole family!"

Pros
Easy to learn and play; fun for groups.

Cons
Not fun for singles; very basic graphics and sounds; too few games.

The Bottom Line
The very basic in video gambling games; and I do mean BASIC.

Full Review

The Atari 2600 was marketed as fun for the whole family since most games could be enjoyed by adults and children equally. However, gambling is an adults-only activity, so the concept of “Casino” for the VCS strikes me as rather odd. I keep picturing children honing their card-counting skills at Blackjack and parents offering up wisdom on when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

PRESS FIRE TO START

Naming this game “Casino” was a bit of a misnomer on Atari's part. Such a name implies a variety of games but only three are contained within this cartridge – Blackjack, Stud Poker and Poker Solitaire. Absent are: slot machines; craps; roulette or any other card games.

In all games you start out with 1,000 points (Atari was clear to use the term “points” and not “dollars” so as not to appear to be encouraging gambling). You use the paddle controller to increase or decrease your bet and push the button to take action. All the games are played the same way they are in reality, in terms of their rules, betting and actual gameplay. There's really no way to make modifications to these classic casino games, so the game has kind of a timeless and universal appeal. Blackjack was the same game in 1978 as it is today.

It's quite possible this game was intended for adults only, but there's no notation of such on the box or the instruction manual. Kids tend to like action-oriented and fast-paced games, but sometimes playing cards with mom and dad can be fun. I think children between 7 and 12 might find this particular game interesting since it involves some basic math and memorization skills. Otherwise, it would most likely be enjoyed by adults, especially in large groups since up to four players are able to play Blackjack and Stud Poker at the same time.

The game's inherent appeal will lie with how much the player enjoys playing games of chance. Since there's no money involved it might be more fun to the person who doesn't like to gamble in real life. Although I find the use of points instead of dollars makes “Casino” seem stiff and self-contained. This cart doesn't give you the feeling of a casino atmosphere.

PLAYER 1 – READY!

Blackjack is pretty fun to play, assuming you like that game to begin with. There are two different ways to play it: Game 1 is for one or two players with the ability to split cards; Game 2 is for up to four players without the option of splitting. The only problem is you have to add up the cards' totals yourself. Why the game designers didn't throw in a simple counter is a mystery. Fortunately, you have the option to decide whether you want to be dealt from a new deck after every hand or after 34 cards have been dealt. The latter option is ideal for players apt at counting cards.

Stud Poker is a classic variation on Draw Poker, but is the least fun game on the cart. The computer and the player are each dealt one card at a time and you must decide to bet or fold after each deal. By the time all five cards are dealt your final wager will be five times your initial bet. I never cared much for this type of poker because there's too much stoppage of play. Probably only expert poker players will fold after only one or two cards are dealt, but I suspect the average player wants to see at least four cards before they decide to risk it all.

Poker Solitaire is an interesting inclusion because I've never seen the game played in an actual casino other than on video slots (then again, I rarely go to casinos – so who knows?). It's a game that's fun but quite easy. You're dealt one card at a time and you're able to place it anywhere within a five card-by-five card matrix. Obviously, it's quite easy to give yourself straights, flushes, etc. The trick is knowing where to place the cards since your overall points are awarded on the 12 possible combinations (five rows across, five rows down, plus the two diagonal rows). Once you place a card you're not able to move it so this is a game of mathematical predication.

The only problem is there's almost no challenge. Your only opponent is yourself so it's almost guaranteed you'll garner some points in this game. What's the point of a “Casino” game if there's no risk involved? Poker Solitaire would have worked better as a game of two players competing for the most points or involving a wager on how high you'll score. It's fine for what it is, but it gets old fast.

JOYSTICKING

As you can tell, this not a game of action - rather, decision-making. In fact, the controls to “Casino” serve as more of mandatory function and are not crucial to the overall gameplay. Utilizing the paddle controllers instead of the joystick was a wise decision on Atari's part, as it enables you to scroll through your betting options very quickly.

SPRITES & PIXELS

Much like the controls, the visuals to “Casino” exist only for the fact that it's a video game. Since we're playing with cards here and not shooting alien spacecraft, there isn't much reason to expect this game to be aesthetically amazing.

The graphics here are pretty standard for the first generation of Atari 2600 games. The background to every game is two shades of green to replicate the felt tables at real casinos, so it's easy on the eyes. However, the cards are all very small and the icons for the suits are a bit of a stretch. The game would have been vastly improved by allowing for larger cards during games played by only one-player. Since other players can buzz in at any time there's a lot of empty space on the screen.

CHIPPED TUNES

The sound palette here is extremely small, consisting of a fog horn-like sound when you lose and a high-pitched chime when you win. There is no background music, but it's understandable. The game could have been completely mute and it wouldn't affect the gameplay or quality. Most likely Atari assumed “Casino” would be played during group gatherings with the hi-fi playing in the background.

INSERT COIN TO CONTINUE

At the time of its release, “Casino” was an innovative game because it allowed people to play gambling games at home without having to break out cards, chips and folding tables. It was probably much more fun and attention-grabbing back then because of its novelty. However, since there are only three total games to play here it becomes surprisingly boring for the single player rather quickly. In group settings it most likely would have a longer re-play value.

GAME OVER

Back in the day, the newness to “Casino” was its hook, but it hasn't aged well. It's one of the few games whose playing conditions directly affect the entertainment value of the game.

Recommended:
Yes


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 04/07/08

Game Release: Casino (US, 12/31/78)


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