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:
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.