The Rube’s Review: A GREMLINS Video Game Retrospective [Part One]

Gremlins Atari

I may not remember my first day of school or my first kiss but I do remember where I was June 8, 1984. That day was a big deal for me. It was the first time that I saw it snow, it was the first time I tried Little Caesars Pizza, and it was the first time that I saw the 80’s kids horror Christmas classic, Gremlins.

GENRE: Strategy, Shooter
Atari 2600
1 or 2 Players

I spent that summer in Canyon Country, at the time a one light desert town in California where the only thing for a kid to do was go to the movies. Even though the highly-anticipated film Ghostbusters premiered on the same night, everyone was dying to see Gremlins. Yes, at this point everyone knows the story of the cute and cuddly pet with special needs, Gizmo, and the night that gremlins destroyed the small fictional town of Kingston Falls. Back in 1984, though, we knew nothing about this film.

Thanks to a clever marketing campaign, this Steven Spielberg production used the classic Universal Monsters approach and didn’t show it’s featured creatures in any of it’s commercials, trailers, or magazine ads. Even on it’s poster art, all you saw was a pair of fuzzy paws, glowing eyes with only five cryptic words, “Cute. Clever, Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous.” Adding to the mystery, all of Gremilns million’s of merchandise was covered in secrecy and held back to sell the following weekend. For months, the general public was hooked on this mystery monster movie and couldn’t wait for its premiere.

gm2600boxartThat night it was snowing outside, which was a rare site to see out in the Californian desert, so the theater’s management allowed ticket holders to wait in the lobby. While in line, popcorn in hand, my grandmother and I noticed dozens of moms coming out with crying children. They were irate and waiting impatiently in line to argue with the manager. When the previous showing let out, we were met by a crowd of sobbing youngsters, still in shock of what they just saw with their worried parents trying to do anything to calm them down. Even at the age of 9, the Rube knew that this was going to be the best movie ever made!

Soon after it’s release, there was a media frenzy about Gremlins and how some of the (best) scenes may not be age appropriate for younger viewers. From parent/teacher associations to church groups, people were PISSED about Gremlins and it’s infamous kitchen scene, causing the MPAA to introduce it’s newest film rating, PG-13, as a warning to future movie goers about disturbing scenes of violence. Instead of pushing people away, all this did was drum up ticket and merchandise sales… and there were TONS OF IT!

I came from a small income family with very little cash for child bobbles but I remember having a Gremlins lunchbox, read along books, stickers, trading cards, cereal, puzzles, and my very own Gizmo to sleep with at night. I swear if there was a Gremlins item, I had it. The only two things that I didn’t have was the Stripe plush toy (which was immediately pulled off shelves for being too scary) and the very, very hard to find video game for the Atari 2600.


In traditional Atari 2600 fashion, you’re in it for the points as you continue to replay each level over and over again.

This “two-part” game starts with… a balding middle-aged man with his hands up in prayer? Nope, that’s Billy Peltzer and his goal is to catch falling Mogwis that happen love burgers so much that they’re will to plummet to the deaths to eat one… eww. Why would anyone want a burger without cheese? Anyways, you move from left and right saving these furry mindless lemmings to score points. If a mogwi happens fall to it’s delicious doom, it’ll turn into a green cocoon. If you get eight cocoons or catch 32 mogwi, the level is over and you continue to a grey swamp-like area (?).

In this new and unexciting level you shoot at gremlins as they walk forward, looking to tear you into shreds. If a Gremlin reaches to bottom of the screen, it attacks and you lose a life. Sometimes the screen can get hectic with gremlins but can be out-dueled by your flashlight as you pull down on your controller. This will stun advancing gremlins and killing bottom dwelling ones. It’s a nice safety net to have but is only available twice.


In traditional Atari 2600 fashion, you’re in it for the points as you continue to replay each level over and over again. The levels do get more challenging but overall the gameplay eventually becomes boring with each re-level. For older gamers, once you figure out that you’re just playing rehashed versions of Ka-Boom! and Space Invaders, you’ll just want to drop your controller and play those two games instead since they have better controller response.



It’s not the worst game to ever come out for the Atari 2600 but after play three levels or so, you feel done with this title. Still, it is Gremlins and for a game based on a film, it’s not that bad but you just wished for something better. If you happen to find a copy for cheap I would defiantly make this a new addition to your game library.


+ Challenging gameplay


Controls feel stiff
Repetitive levels
WTF is up with Billy’s hair?

Written by The Rube

The Rube is co-owner of Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade & Museum in Minneapolis, MN. He is also a Special Effects Artist, Master Chef, and Multiple Threadless Design Winner. Other than writing reviews and doodling, he enjoys watching bad movies, building monster model kits, and collecting games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

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