Word Zapper (Atari 2600)

Word Zapper
Atari 2600 (1982)

The easiest way to get kids to play educational videogames is to simply trick them into doing so. Word Zapper attempts this by disguising a combination spelling/memorization game as a space shooter. Unfortunately this duality is also the game’s major downfall – it’s neither particularly educational nor fun.

The object of Word Zapper is to memorize and spell back words displayed across the bottom of the screen. The alphabet continually scrolls across the top of the screen, and words are formed by shooting the correct letters in the correct order. This is made only slightly more difficult by the addition of horizontally scrolling ships that attempt to crash into your ship, dubbed the “rotary wing Word Zapper.”

Above the scrolling alphabet sits a countdown timer that starts at 99 and counts backwards to 0, at which point the game is over. The game also ends whenever a “Doomsday Asteroid” (a specific side-scrolling enemy) crashes into the Word Zapper, or the player successfully spells three words. The good news is that even in a worst-case scenario the game will be over in 99 seconds or less, which is likely to be as long as you’ll want to play Word Zapper.

Word Zapper supports one or two players and includes 24 gaming variations that allow you to configure every portion of the game from meteor speeds and density to the alphabet’s scrolling speed. While the game can be made more challenging, there’s no setting to make it fun. The spelling portion is elementary and the shooting elements are so boring that they may have actually convinced kids not to become astronauts. Instead of spelling, take a lesson in economics and skip this one. Class dismissed.

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