Here, from California, are what Rick Vogt and his Church Street Irregulars -- an informal group of consenting adults and several dozen more-than-consenting youngsters -- concluded about some of the more popular home video games. More will be rated in weeks to come. DEFENDER
Fast-paced and action-packed, Atari's Defender is a video game that appealed to most of those testing it.
The object of the game, a reasonable fascimile of the popular arcade version, is to protect an earth city from attack by a variety of invaders.
As an invasion game, this one has come a long way from the granddaddy of them all -- Space Invaders. The player controls a fighter that fires a stream of rockets to zap the alien force. The fighter can be flown at any altitude above the city as "lander" space ships drop, firing shots at the city's protector.
The space ships will land in the city and carry away the humanoids (in the old days, people). The defender's job is to either blast the space ship off the face of the earth or shoot it out of the air and then rescue the humanoid as it falls to the ground. This is really an intricate game.
While the save-the-humanoids action is going on, the defender must also blast square "bombers"; silver, rectangular "baiters"; and "pods," which release fast-moving "swarmers" that shoot at you.
Worst of all are the "mutants," the humanoids that aren't saved. These creatures come from the sky to attack. And if enough humanoids aren't saved, your city will be blown up and at least five waves of mutants will come firing at you. If you last long enough, the city will be rebuilt and you get another chance at saving fellow humans.
One feature that's also being incorporated into other space games is a radar screen. By watching the rectangular screen at the top of the TV screen, you can track the invaders and fly and shoot accordingly.
When it came to the test, adults and children alike found this to be a good game.
Our testers, particularly those between seven and 16, said Defender would have staying power in their video library. One unusual aspect was that girls who played the game said they liked it because they were able to rescue people. Boys said they liked the fast-action shooting.
Colors on the game are vivid, action is fast and varied. Defender would be a good addition to most video-game libraries.
If the directions are read carefully, Defender is relatively easy to learn. But a superficial scan of the directions will make playing the game difficult, particularly for younger children. KIDS' RATING: B+ ADULTS' RATING: B- DONKEY KONG
Let's hear it for Mario!
Yes, Coleco has brought Donkey Kong to the home- computer game screen in versions for both the Atari and Intellivision-compatible systems.
We tested the Atari game and found it excellent in its reproduction of the arcade game.
Sure, the graphics on Donkey Kong are not as sophisticated as the arcade version, but compared to many Atari- built and Atari-compatible games, this one is a breakthrough.
Donkey Kong is a simple game.
Mario, in his red cap, just runs to the top of a network of ladders to save his girlfriend from an angry ape. He must jump over or dodge barrels in his quest to save his honey.
If Mario can make it to the top of the ladders, the screen changes to another set of girders and ladders, and this time the love-struck crusader must avoid roving fireballs and remove rivets from the girders to get to the top.
If he makes it, the player is back to the first screen with the ladders, and the play repeats. This can go on indefinitely, though a player gets only three chances.
A player can increase his or her score if Mario jumps for one of the hammers on the screen. These hammers, when wielded by Mario, can knock out barrels and fireballs -- gaining 800 points each time.
The version Coleco makes for its own system, which we have not yet formally tested, is more sophisticated, with a third stage involving a system of ladders and elevators that must be negotiated while still dodging the fireballs. Several addicts describe it as indistinguishable from the arcade game.
Our group of testers all liked Donkey Kong.
The game is non-threatening but lacks any obvious educational benefit.
Youngsters under 10 found this game to be fun and would play it for several hours at a crack if given the opportunity.
Most adults enjoyed the game, but we believe boredom would soon set in because of the repetition involved. Women in the group seemed to enjoy Donkey Kong more than some of the space games played in previous tests.
Donkey Kong could be played for hours on end after initial purchase, but, for adults, it has the potential of being relegated to the bottom of the heap. KIDS' RATING: B+ ADULTS' RATING: C+ STARMASTER
Video games take a giant step with this space-wars offering by Activision.
Not only does Starmaster have incredible graphics, but it also uses memory on the Atari home-computer system; most Atari factory games don't.
For example, the game creates the illusion of flying through space. This isn't a joke; we aren't kidding. If you watch the screen long enough, those stars and meteors (or asteroids?) are real.
One of the beauties of the game is that the player must think and plan ahead. Many things can happen -- including having one's bases blasted away while the player is busy warding off attackers in one of the galaxy's four quadrants. In each quadrant, there's a space station where the player can dock -- easier said than done, because the station travels in an elliptical orbit as the spacecraft moves. A player is refueled when he finally docks at the station, but loses points for each docking.
This game is one in which strategy is a must. That's what makes it a good game.
While it's complicated, members of our test group (the youngest was five) were able to grasp the concepts of the game quickly and move on through the first two ranks of play. There are four ranks -- Ensign, Leader, Wing Commander and Starmaster.
Each game level also has a top number of points that can be garnered before you go on to the next level.
Though this is a relatively violent game -- as are most space games -- the educational level of Starmaster is high.
Youngsters -- and adults, too -- must keep track of where they are in their galaxy and fight off attacking ships, and worry about attacking ships that aren't even on the screen blowing away one of the four starbases. This is a thinking person's game, with graphics that are good, though not outstanding. The colors are vivid.
Buy it if you like space games. KIDS' RATING: A ADULTS' RATING: A PAC-MAN
Just another maze game? Hardly. Pac-Man is a craze -- and rightly so.
Though the Atari home-video game has been on the market for several months, it has much of the action that arcade players have come to expect -- and some different twists that will be of particular interest to the parents of small children.
The reason is that this six-game version has a "slow" game, making it ideal for a youngster.
This game's also loaded with sounds similar to those of the popular arcade version.
Pac-Man features a yellow circle with eyes and munching mouth that eats dots on the video screen. Pac-Man is chased by ghosts that can be gobbled up only when he eats the energy pills in the corners of the screen. After a meal, the ghosts turn blue and run from the yellow disc.
This is a game the entire family can enjoy: The top-level game is challenging for a teen or adult whose reflexes are finely tuned, or anyone who refuses to start without a challenge.
Directions are easy. Our test group showed the game to be particularly interesting to those six to 18 -- and to girls, unlike some of the shoot-'em-up games. This is one of the few non-violent games around.
Colors are vivid, the image crisp. As with nearly all Atari games, this is best played on a color set. A worthwhile addition to a home game library. JUDS' RATING: B ADULTS' RATING: C FROGGER
With a catchy tune as an introduction to the play, Parker Brothers' Fogger is a pretty good rendition of the popular arcade game.
The aim is to jump your video frog across a busy highway, scooting in and out of traffic, and then across a hazard-laden river.
Along the way there are points fro rescuing a damsel frog in distress. Players make the leap by jumping from turtles to logs to more turtles and to the riverbank on the other side.
But one false move and your frog (you det three tries) will be crushed by a speeding car or truck, or fall off a log into the water or get eaten by one of the turtles. All this disaster is indicated with a resounding "splat!"
The hitch is that you have only 30 seconds to jump your frog across the highway and river before he automatically goes "splat!" In addition, the frogs can be gobbled up by giant-jawed alligators or fatally bitten by snakes that live along the river bank.
When you get five frogs across the river, the tune plays and the game starts over at a more difficult level.
How did Frogger test out? Adults found this game just so-so, though the musical sounds were entertaining. Kids were a different story. One teenager said simply that the game lacked challenge and shooting. Pre-teen girls thought Frogger was fun; most of the boys in the same age group also liked it, but not as much as space games or some other adventure games.
No one -- boys, girls or adults -- seemed to like the finality of falling in the water or getting hit by a car.
In the test group, a four-year-old and a five-year-old were able to play Frogger without supervision. For this reason, it seemed a particularly good buy for people with younger children; it's a good game to grow with. KIDS' RATING: B ADULTS' RATING: C BERZERK
Berzerk by Atari is electrifying.
The object of the game is to avoid and eliminate robots that will track you down and shoot you.
In room after room of robots, the player must not only avoid the robots and their fire, but also not let the man touch the walls: If he does, he's electrocuted. He's electrically zapped as well if he touches a robot.
It's this electrocution that pleased most of the youngsters (and many of the adults) who played the game.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this game is Evil Otto, a round face that appears on the screen and can capture the player. He's fast, dangerous and can cost you a game.
Berzerk has a number of different skill levels that will provide challenge for most players, including one with an invincible Otto who cannot be destroyed. In this game, a player's only hope is to get out of Otto's way.
Berzerk was appealing to most age groups in our test. It has one version designed specifically for young children. As an example of how satisfying this can be, a four-year-old tester managed to get 2,000 points. Some adults didn't fare that well with the same level of play.
Testers in our group kept coming back to Berzerk, and most said they would play the game over an extended period of time.
Graphically, Atari has done a good job with Berzerk, creating a game that has a figure that looks and acts -- well, almost human -- compared to its other game people.
Relatively simple to play with the joystick controllers, it's still worth the money. KIDS' RATING: B+ ADULTS' RATING: B- PITFALL
Here's a game that's fun to play.
Activision's Pitfall is a jungle adventure game in which the player gets to guide Treasure Hunter Harry on journeys fraught with excitement and peril.
One of the best things about Pitfall is that Harry looks like a real guy, with arms and legs that move. Once again, Activision has scored with its superior graphics.
The game is pretty good, too: The screen keeps changing as Harry works his way through 255 different tableaux, exploring his way through the circular maze game. Skills required for Pitfall are diverse, though Harry escapes most of his dangers by jumping over them or swinging over them. In any event, the proficient Pitfall player will be good at using the joystick controller to jump the plucky explorer.
And Harry has only 20 minutes to complete his journey. The clock at the top of the screen lets you know how many minutes and seconds remain.
There are some rewards alon the way. Harry can collect as many as 32 treasures (bags of money, gold bars, diamond rings, silver bars) that range between 2,000 and 4,000 points each.
Pitfall can capture the attention of adults and youngsters. Test results showed that youngsters felt that it was an orginial game, and most were intrigued by Harry's swinging on vines over various perils.
Some didn't like the alligators the adventurer had to hop over, while others felt it was too difficult to jump over a menacing scorpion down in the pit. (Yes, there is a pit and Harry can easily land in it.)
Most found the game easy to learn and the directions clear. It's wise, though, to read the directions before starting to play.
One adult tester observed that youngsters who like to take risks had a great time playing Pitfall. Another observed that those who liked fast-paced games became frustrated when they couldn't quickly overcome some of the obstacles.
Pitfall is a game that adults and youngsters alike will probably keep playing, and it's worth adding to your video game library. KIDS' RATING: B+ ADULTS' RATING: B-