The Atari 7800: My Thoughts & System Overview
I’d never owned an Atari system before, and had barely ever played one, but that changed when I got an Atari 7800 back in April. It’s an interesting system to have… and yes, I do like some of the games. The Atari 2600 is a true classic, certainly one of the most important videogame consoles ever. The games are generally EXTREMELY simple, as was true in all consoles up until about 1984. Think basic cellphone-game level stuff, only often with even less variety. Prices are similar too, though… most 2600 games cost between $0.50 and $5 for the slightly pricier ones. More than that is only for the true rarities. 7800 games cost a bit more; it’s maybe $3-5 for the cheaper games, $30-50 for the rarer ones. There are hundreds of 2600 games, but only about 65 for the 7800, which is about the same number as the system Atari had in between those two, the Atari 5200.
On that note, Wikipedia and GameFAQs may call the 5200 a “second gen” console, but the non-NES new systems of 1982-1983, including the 5200, Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, and Vectrex, came 2 1/2 to 3 years after the last system released, and were called “next-gen” at the time. They clearly should be considered third generation, along with the NES, 7800, and Sega Master System. Yes, Sega and Atari both had multiple third gen consoles, one early and the other later. Atari did that because of the crash, Sega because they liked releasing new hardware at an unhealthily steady pace.
The Atari 2600 was one of the most important consoles ever. Released in 1977, the system was the first console to be a huge hit, and it won its generation (the second) by a huge margin. I didn’t play the 2600 during its life, though; the NES was the first console I knew. It actually wasn’t until I bought this system that I owned an Atari console. I had played some emulated Atari games before, but that’s not like the real thing, and I had spent almost no time with 2600 games, even there. So yeah, a lot of this is new to me. The first 2nd gen console I got was the Odyssey 2, which I got last year. See my thread on that system for my thoughts on that console; I like it. O2 graphics are in some ways better than the 2600, but they are more limited. The 2600 can be pushed in all kinds of crazy ways, while the O2 runs faster and more smoothly, but with extremely limited graphical variety (I don’t know if it can even do curves at all, for example, beyond round sprites and the like…). It’s interesting to compare the two; the 2600 can put more colors on screen and has been hacked to the base of the hardware in many ways, while the O2 is much less alterable (in addition to being pretty much all lines for environments, you also see the same sprites a lot across games, and can’t really do behind-the-character/vehicle games either), but is faster and doesn’t flicker, which can be a major problem in many 2600 games. I like 2600 games which do stuff like bright shaded color palettes, because that stuff looks great.
Unfortunately, my 7800 doesn’t display properly on my HD television. I have to use the system on my SD CRT TV. The O2 works on the HDTV; colors are slightly off, but it’s entirely playable. The 7800, though? Nope. Not playable at all. Ah well. The 2600 has several kinds of controllers, including regular joysticks, which have a stick and a single button (I have several of these), paddle controllers, which are a rotating dial with a button, and have two on each wire so that you can play four players on a single system with these (I have one pair of paddles, which do work), the racing controller, which is similar to the paddle but spins all the way around (and works only with one game; I don’t have this), and the keypad, which is used by Star Raiders and a few other things (I don’t have this either yet). The paddle controller is fantastic; it’s really too bad that newer systems have nothing like it! The regular controllers, or 7800 controllers, are stiff digital sticks, but the paddles give you extremely smooth analog control. It really needs to be experienced to be understood; I’d heard before about how much Atari fans like paddle controllers, but until I actually used it myself, in a game, I didn’t get it. Well, now I do. Paddle controllers are really great.
The Atari 7800 was originally designed in 1984, as the 5200, and the rest of the industry, collapsed. The system has solid graphics for the time, which are better than the NES in some respects and worse in others, but very poor audio; it only has the 2600’s audio chip for sound. The excuse was that games would have sound chips in the carts, but that was a questionable idea. GCC, who designed the system, should have designed it better — the audio is simply awful. Only two games ended up using that audio chip. The graphics are solid, though. Games generally are small, for reasons explained below (almost no games make use of anything beyond the smallest cart sizes available), but look decent enough for their size. As with the Sega Master System, the system is poorly designed and has the Pause button on the console, instead of on the controllers. That was a terrible idea on both systems; I know the 2600 had the access buttons on the system, but the 5200 had had a pause button on the controller! Dropping that was stupid. At least it really is only used for pausing here; it’s not like the SMS, where some games use it as an essential options selection button.
The Atari 7800 system feels a bit cheap. Buttons are squishy. It does still work, but this isn’t exactly the best build quality externally. It also doesn’t have a color/B&W switch, so some 2600 games are not properly playable, and is incompatible with a few 2600 games (including one I have). Some 7800s work better than others, compatibility-wise; there’s really no way to know if you have a good one or not without trying the games. Weird. Some have an expansion port on the side, others don’t. Mine does have the port. It’s not used by any official accessories, though some homebrew ones that use it may be coming.
I’ve mostly been playing everything with the regular US 7800 controllers. They are two button joysticks, with a long and narrow design, two buttons, one on each side, and a stick in the middle. I know 2600 games, and 1-button 7800 games, can work with Genesis controllers, and I tried that too, but the 7800 stick’s not so awful that I want to switch controllers all the time just to use a better one (since 2-button 7800 games require 7800 controllers, Genesis controllers only work with 1-button games or 2600 games). Maybe sometime I’ll get one of those gamepad-style controllers they released in Europe. The US stick 7800 controllers are moderately uncomfortable, and the buttons are squishy, but there’s worse out there. At least they work.
Atari built some and test-marketed them in one city, with a handful of games (~9), all arcade ports. Releasing a new system just two years after their last one was a stupid idea, but Atari was going to do it. However, Warner Bros., who owned Atari at the time, decided to get out as the crash got worse, and the system went into legal limbo. Finally, Jack Tramiel bought Atari Consumer in late 1984. Atari Games, the arcade branch, was separated out into an independent studio. Atari Games would go on to form Tengen as their home division, would get bought by Warner again, and then got sold to Midway (before getting shut down in 2004, some time after which Warner once again bought up those rights by buying Midway’s remnants.). Tramiel got the home computer and console side of the company, which lasted until its shutdown in early 1996. Tramiel was focused on making a profit more than anything; Atari was losing a lot of money when he bought it in 1984, and he turned things around by being incredibly cheap. Tramiel’s Atari never had much in the way of internal game development, quite unlike the Atari of old. He also couldn’t get the rights to many of the major arcade games, because of course Nintendo had their illegal monopoly going. He eventually sued Nintendo and won, but that didn’t help sell systems. Anyway, 7800 games were mostly all outsourced. Many are from different studios, as Tramiel always searched around for the lowest bidder. Few push the system well; the 7800 graphically actually is as good or better than the NES, but few games show that off. Blame that on Tramiel’s cheapness in not allowing larger cartridge sizes, spending to build up internal development teams or fund enough development in a timely manner, those onboard audio chips, and also not releasing the system’s high score backup passthrough cartridge that GCC had designed (nice idea!).
Overall, the Atari 7800 is an okay system hamstrung by poor decisions. The system could have been interesting, but instead, it’s a system with a small library heavy on last-gen ports. The popular 7800 games are mostly ports of old arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong (since Atari had DK, DK Jr., and Mario Bros. rights, they did 7800 versions), and the like. The system has some later titles which push it more, such as Commando or Ninja Golf, but few were released; Atari didn’t seem to get significant resources aimed at the system until 1989, and then stopped developing for it by the beginning of 1991. It really was a failure of leadership, I think. I mean, there was a legal battle over the 7800’s rights that delayed Tramiel from starting plans to release it until May 1985, but after that, what did he do? Well, he released the system sometime in 1986, with those games that had been made back in 1984 by GCC available at launch. But as for new games… those took quite a while. The original 1984 games were re-released again in 1987, this time with cheaper cartridges (the sliding cartridge pin connector that the 1986 editions have was removed; I have only one 1986-edition cart, Galaga) and 1987 license dates, but as for new games… uh, wait for 1987, it took that long until new games started appearing. Why didn’t he immediately start developing games for it as soon as he had the system rights in May 1985? Pure cheapness, I assume, but trying to run a console without putting any money into making first party studios was a very bad idea. Atari may have managed to succeed despite that with the 7800, but the Lynx and Jaguar’s failures were in large part to the paucity of first-party output, as well as Atari’s consistent failure to get many third parties on board, even after the Nintendo monopoly was broken down. If you can spend less for something Tramiel may not have really cared about about as a core element of his business anyway, why not do it? He seems to have thought of the 7800 as a system to make a cheap buck off of, not as something that should be a great videogame console. Too bad. And so, the 7800 was aimed at the budget market, for people who wanted to spend less to get a console. For people who wanted to spend more, Atari later released a THIRD third-gen console, the Atari XE, which is a consolized Atari 8-bit (Atari 400/800) computer. Yeah, that’s way, way too much competing against yourself there. Choose one system, and stick to it.
Despite the dated, thin library, though, the Atari 7800 sold decently in the US and Europe. The system sold 3.9 million systems in the US, and is said to have sold that much or better in Europe. Not bad, considering all its limitations. I’m not sure if it deserved that level of success or not, but I will admit that it does have some pretty solid ports of classics. However, so does the NES… they just weren’t focused on as much as they were on the 7800. Atari almost completely missed most of the stuff that made the NES a hit, such as Super Mario Bros., only edging into making some slightly larger games in 1989-1990. There is only one true Super Mario-esque platformer on the system, for example, Scrapyard Dog, and it was a late release. As some people have said before, where was, for example, the Bentley Bear (Crystal Castles) platformer, earlier on in the system’s life? That kind of thing could have sold more consoles. Their sales show that some people were interested in this more 2nd-gen-esque game selection, though, so it worked out. Despite the tiny budgets, the 7800 was profitable for Atari. That would not continue with their next two systems, the Lynx and Jaguar, though, of course; both bombed hard at retail, and also had very little software. What had worked on the 7800 didn’t continue to, and once again, Atari’s failure to build up a better first party studio, and make third party relationships, hurt it badly.
Still though, yeah, the 7800 is a decent system. It’s a single system that plays both the 7800 games, which are interesting to see, and also most 2600 games, and that 2600 has a massive library. It’s worth having, I think, though probably more so for the 2600 than the 7800 part, though the 7800 has a few good exclusives, anyway. Just make sure to keep a notebook handy, because 2600 and 7800 games are very frequently score-focused games where the only thing that matters is how many points you got, because you can’t actually win. Since the games don’t keep track of your score, you will have to do so yourself, at least when you get a good score, or else there isn’t much point to playing.
I have not had the system long enough yet to say for sure what a top 5 or top 10 or something are, but I will list some games that I particularly like here (in no order).
Pole Position II
Honorable Mentions: Centipede, Asteroids
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom!
Dodger Cars (Dodge ’em)
Honorable Mentions: Dragonfire, Amidar, Astroblast, Commando Raid, Pheonix, Demon Attack, Space Invaders, Demons to Diamonds, Moonsweeper, Kangaroo, Turmoil
The Games: Table of Contents
Atari 7800 Games
Atari 2600 Games
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom!
Demons to Diamonds
Dodger Cars (aka Dodge ’em)
Lock ‘n Chase
Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Riddle of the Sphinx
Video Olympics (aka Pong Sports)
Here I will say a little bit about each 2600 and 7800 game that I have. I say how many players each game supports, and for 7800 games, if they support the save cart.
Atari 7800 games frequently have four difficulty settings, and have an ingame menu to choose the options. There’s a pause button on the console, as in the Sega Master System. It only works with 7800 games, not 2600, and, well, pauses the game. The other buttons on the system are generally not used by 7800 games; they’re usually for the 2600, though a few 7800 games do use the difficulty switches.
Asteroids – 1-2 player simultaneous or alternating, supports score save cart. Asteroids on the 7800, part of the original 1984 library, is an enhanced remake of Atari’s classic single-screen rock-shooting game. The game has a graphical overhaul and looks pretty nice. The gameplay is the same as ever, as it’s still an endless game you just play for score. The controls work well, and one button fires while the other warps you to a random point on the screen. As ever, the controls are momentum-based, so you’ll keep moving in the direction you’re pointing; there’s no gravity in space, after all. To slow down you have to turn and move in another direction. Left and right rotate, and up turns on the thrusters. Asteroids’ controls take a lot of getting used to, and I’ve never liked them all that much; it’s fine while you aren’t moving, but once you start moving, it gets difficult. It works with practice, but isn’t natural. This version has several exclusive multiplayer modes, including a versus mode where the two players shoot at eachother while also dodging asteroids, and another where the two players work cooperatively to see how far they can get. Pretty cool stuff, those modes make this version worth owning for sure. The game also has four difficulty levels to choose from, a common theme in 7800 games from Atari. Overall, I may be a bit of a skeptic of Asteroids, but I will admit that this is a quite good version of the game. I like the colorful graphics, and the gameplay is about as good as it gets for Asteroids. They probably should have added some kind of campaign game with an ending, in addition to the endless main game, but this is pretty good as it is. Nice added content.
Centipede (7800) – 1-2 player simultaneous or alternating, supports score save cart. As with Asteroids, Centipede is a part of the original 1984 library, and it’s a nicely enhanced remake of a true Atari classic. The arcade game of Centipede used a trackball, but here you have to make do with a digital pad. It works decently well, though it’s not quite trackball smooth. It’s unfortunate that the 7800 never got a version of Millipede, but it did get this game, and it’s a great version of this great classic shooter. The game has co-op and versus modes, and is a quite good port of Centipede all around. Centipede is a classic single-screen shooter where you can move around the bottom part of the screen, while shooting up at mushrooms, centipedes which break apart as you shoot their segments (which then sometimes turn into mushrooms after being shot), and tricky-moving spiders. Yes, the bugs are out to get you! Shoot them down. It’s a good version of an addictive, very good game. Oh, and yes, there are four difficulty levels, on top of the very cool exclusive co-op and versus modes. This is a game to definitely play.
Choplifter – 1 player. Choplifter is a mediocre port of an Apple II classic. The game is a scrolling shooting/rescue game, where you control a helicopter and have to rescue people taken prisoner in some bases. You can shoot angled at the ground, or straight down to hit tanks, which can’t be hit with the angled fire. Your goal is to rescue as many of the hostages and get back alive. It’s a fun game with solid controls, mediocre graphics (seriously, the tanks look pretty bad…), and poor audio. Despite those issues, Choplifter is a fun game, and series, so this is fun to play. However, the game has a crippling flaw. As with most versions of Choplifter, this game is based on the Apple II original. That means that it has only one level, period. So, win or lose, Choplifter will be over in minutes. Very disappointing. Sega expanded on the game in Choplifter for the Master System, which is a fantastic game, but this game pales badly in comparison. I like Choplifter a lot, which is why I got this game anyway, but overall, I can’t recommend it; just get the great Master System game. Also on Apple II, other computers, Atari 5200, etc. etc.
1-2 player alternating. In Desert Falcon, you play as a falcon soaring over the Egyptian landscape. There are a bunch of different enemy types to shoot, obstacles such as obelisks and pyramids to avoid, and at the end of each level, a sphinx boss to defeat. After each level, there’s a short bonus area where you collect powerups, and then the screen theme color changes for the next stage. Levels are long and get tough, and there are no continues of course, so I don’t know if the game has an ending or not; it gets very difficult. It goes on for a while, at least. Desert Falcon’s development was started in 1984, but says 1987 on the title screen, so they must have added something to it later. Unlike the other 1984 games, this one’s an original game. The game was inspired by Sega’s classic arcade hit Zaxxon, and is an isometric shooter with depth which plays very similarly to that classic, but it has its own unique elements, and is a quite good game overall. This and Galaga are my favorite 7800 games so far for sure. Once I got the 7800 I knew I had to have this game — I mean, it’s a game where you play as a falcon! Come on. My username may refer to the legos, but falcons, the birds, are awesome too. This falcon is kind of cute, too. If you land on the ground, it hops along (aww!), and you have to press for each hop (or stroke through the water); in the air, however, you automatically fly forward. Good stuff. You’ll want to land for a few reasons. First, it’s much easier to actually hit things on the ground (in the air, lining up shots is hard), second, some obstacles are hard to avoid while flying, and last, you can only collect the powerups if you land. On that note, the powerup system is maybe the game’s most unique element, other than playing as a falcon — that’s rare in games! On the ground, there are various hieroglyph tiles. If you land and walk over tiles, the tile will appear in part of the status bar on the bottom of the screen. Once you get three tiles, something happens. Each different hieroglyph combination does a different thing, so if you don’t want it to all just be guesswork, either get a complete copy or print out the list of combinations from a scan of the manual (on AtariAge, for instance); knowing what the hieroglyphic combinations are makes the game more fun for sure. The game is fun even without paying attention to that, but paying attention to the combinations does make the game better and more interesting. Desert Falcon is, as with most 7800 games, a simple game. It has little variety, and hitting enemies in the air can be tricky, due to perspective issues. But the great graphical style, good gameplay, and interesting powerup system carry it through. Recommended, if you have a 7800 anyway. I just wonder if it has an ending or not…
Dig-Dug – 1 player, supports score save cart. Dig-Dug is another one of the 1984-original 7800 games. It’s a port of Namco’s popular game Dig-Dug, the game where you go around a side-view underground screen shooting enemies with this odd pump weapon. You have to inflate and then pop all of the enemies. Once only one is left it’ll try to run away, so you’ll have to be positioned to be able to cut it off. Simple concept, and the port is good. However, while Dig-Dug is an okay game, I find it gets boring quickly. The game just doesn’t have enough variety, and it kind of wastes its underground setting since you rarely have to make many tunnels. I think that Mr. Do (Colecovision/Arcade/SNES) is a much improved version of a similar concept. It’s too bad that that game isn’t on 7800, or NES either for that matter. Dig-Dug’s just a bit too repetitive and simplistic; all you do is kill the enemies, there’s nothing to collect or anything. You can dig around underground, but the only reason to do so is to get to enemies. It’s okay, but is kind of boring compared to Mr. Do!. Also in the arcades, on the Atari 2600, and on many, many other platforms. The game has sequels as well, including Dig-Dug 2 (NES) and Mr. Driller (franchise).
Galaga – 1 player. Galaga is another one of the early 7800 games, and it’s a very good port of a true arcade classic. Galaga is a single-screen shooter from Namco. The game was clearly inspired by Space Invaders, but has some unique elements like how you can get two ships (by letting one get captured and then rescuing it); at the time, that kind of firepower enhancement was revolutionary, and even now it adds a strong risk-reward element to the game. Do you go for the two ships, knowing that if one gets hit you lose a life, or do you stick with one, and not risk that life, but have a harder time shooting the enemies? The enemy patterns, which zoom into the screen, are fun to look at and shoot, too. This game has four difficulties, as expected, but I recommend the highest one; the other three run slowly, but on the top speed, this game is fast and challenging, just like the arcade game. The music is good for the system, and the spritework is good too. Galaga is also on the NES, and many collections, but still, this is one of the best 7800 games that I have, and is fun to play. This really is a great, classic shooter, one of the best single-screen shooters ever. Also in the arcades, on NES, and in many Namco Museum collections, though the difficulty level choices are 7800-exclusive.
One-On-One Basketball with Larry Bird and Dr. J – 1-2 player simultaneous. This is a port of a PC game that also had been on Colecovision. The game is a half-court 1-on-1 basketball game, and the two players in the title are the only two you can play as. Audio is awful as expected, but the graphics are good and gameplay okay. It’s a decent game for its time and genre. I don’t know how interesting it is today though; this doesn’t hold my interest for long. Still, it could be worse. The players look decent as they run around the court, and you can shoot easily. It’s better than some basketball games, for sure. Also on computers and Colecovision.
Pole Position II – 1 player. Pole Position II was the 7800’s packin title. It is a port of Namco’s racing game of the same name, and it’s pretty good! I like this game for sure. As with the first Pole Position, this is a behind-the-car racing game. The fake scaling is competently done, the engine noise is about as “good” as you could expect from the 2600 sound chip (even if Pole Position 1 for the 5200 does sound a lot nicer, since that system has a better sound chip in it, at least this one has better graphics), and the graphics look pretty good. There are four tracks in this game, as in the arcade version. First you choose a track. Then, you run a qualifying lap. If you do well enough to qualify, you then race a full 4-lap race. You have a tight timer running, which is extended after each lap with just enough time to get around if you have no mistakes, so you’ll only finish races if you run very cleanly, with few mistakes. Remember, as a Pole Position here, the timer is the real enemy; you may start in a starting grid, but there are no actual cars to race against, and the only thing you get at the end is a finishing time. It’d have been nice to see a mode where you race against other cars, I think. Ah well, it’s still a good game. The game is quite challenging, but fun. I like this game quite a bit. It’s also too bad that it has only single races and doesn’t have a championship mode (even just with going through the four tracks would be a real challenge…), but what it has it does well. I like this game more than any behind-the-car style racing games I’ve played on the NES; honestly, as much as some people like it, Rad Racer is no match for Pole Position II. Console-exclusive at the time, but later the game has been in many Namco Museum collections.
RealSports Baseball – 1-2 player simultaneous. RealSports Baseball is a pretty terrible baseball game. This game is an “enhanced” port of a gmae also available on the Atari 2600 and 5200, but going by reviews, the 5200 version is actually better! Ouch. That version had better field graphics and speech, which of course is absent here. As with the previous versions, RealSports Baseball is a single-screen baseball game with small, poor graphics, a very abstract style, poor controls, and questionable fun value. This game was probably fine in 1982 or 1983, but in 1988, when this released, it was unacceptable. At least the game has AI to play against, unlike most 2600 sports games, but the 2600 and 5200 versions of this game had that as well. In a game like Hardball III being able to see to the outfield on a single screen (well, several screens, for left/center/right view, but there was no scrolling around) worked well, and I’ve never liked the “way zoomed in top-down” view most NES and SNES baseball games that aren’t Hardball games use, but this game, with such a tiny little single-screen field, it just feels cramped and dated. The game has extremely limited options, too. The teams are made up of course, and thre isn’t any kind of season mode either. Disappointing. People must have expected better than this pretty awful effort. The controls are confusing and hard to get used to, as throwing the ball and swinging the bat are not nearly as simple as you’d think they would be. Even just pitching the ball is kind of a chore. And after the ball is hit, the game automatically selects the player nearest the ball, without any control on your part. This is frustrating and very hard to get used to; the computer will get a lot of hits in this one, I think. If you actually keep playing, that is. I’d recommend against it. There were only two 7800 baseball games, and I did only pay $2 for this… but even so, it’s bad. Baseball is my favorite sport, but this is not a good baseball game. Also on Atari 2600 and Atari 5200.
A few notes:
-Unless I say otherwise, games use the standard joystick controller.
-I do not list when games are in modern collections. Some games are in various retro collections or download services for the PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, PSP, and others. Maybe I’ll specify exactly which eventually.
-If I don’t say who the publisher was, it’s almost certainly Atari.
-If you’re buying loose Atari games, look up the manuals on Atari Age. Atari 2600 games almost always put vital information you must know in the manual, such as what the game variations do or, in more complex games, how to play, period.
-The Atari 7800, and 2600, have several buttons on it. There’s Pause, which is for 7800 games only, and for 2600 games, Reset, Select, and A-B difficulty (and, on 2600s, Color/B&W TV). Select changes game mode selection, and Reset, in most games, starts the game with the selected mode. Yeah, it’s kind of odd. Some games, mostly third party, allow you to start with the stick or button, but most require you to push a button on the system every time. It’s kind of annoying. The difficulty switch is odd too; “B” is easy, and “A” hard. B is the usual setting, A is for if you want to make games harder, usually. I won’t mention what the difficulty switch does, usually, but it works in almost all games, giving you an easier or harder option. I’ve mostly played with it on side “B”.
Air Raiders – 1 player. Air Raiders is a first person flight combat game from Mattel. The graphics are basic of course, and the game has no variety, but 2600 games almost never do. In the game, you fly around and shoot enemies until you run out of ammo. At that point, you can try to land and refill your ammo. Otherwise, you’ll get shot down. It’s an alright game, but the game doesn’t hold my interest much. The 2600 isn’t powerful enough to do a great flying game, it just isn’t. There are a bunch of games sort of like this on the 2600, but I haven’t bought any of the others yet.
Air-Sea Battle – 2 players required. Air-Sea Battle is one of the two player only versus games, so I haven’t played it because I haven’t played any 2600 multiplayer yet. The game has quite a few game modes, including plane v. plane, plane v. ship, and ship/sub v. ship/sub.
Amidar – 1 player. Amidar is an interesting maze game which created a small subgenre. The game was somewhat inspired by Pac-Man, in that you move around a maze dodging enemies, but instead of grabbing dots, in Amidar you have to walk over all territory in each level in order to move on to the next one. There is only one maze, unfortunately, but there are two different graphical modes, which alternate between levels. In one you play as a gorilla, and in the other as a paint roller. Yeah, it’s random stuff. I like this kind of silly setting, 2600 games had some great game concepts. The game is very slow paced and is quite challenging, but I like it. Some later games that use this same concept, including Crush Roller, Amazing Penguin, and Zoom!, are better than this game, but it’s quite interesting to see what I think is the first game to work on this concept. The slow pace can make enemies hard to avoid, but you can “jump” several times per level by pressing the button, which makes you invincible for a few seconds. It’s important to strategically use each one of those. Overall, Amidar is an interesting piece of history, and I do enjoy playing it once in a while, but the game has been exceeded by later titles in its subgenre. Arcade port.
Astroblast – 1 player, Paddle Controller supported as well as the regular Joystick. Destroy the falling asteroids! Astroblast is a Mattel game, and it’s similar to Astrosmash on the Intellivision. While the graphics of this version aren’t as good of course, the gameplay holds up well, particularly with the paddle controller. This game is really good with the paddle controller, that much is for sure. You move left and right along the ground by rotating the paddle, and shoot up at the descending rocks with the button. Every rock that hits the ground reduces your score, so the game has a classic 2600-style risk-reward design, where you want to get in the way of those rocks to shoot them, but someimes that will lead to you losing a life. You get ~9 lives per game, but you can lose them quickly. Yeah, it’s a fairly frenetic game. The game is alright with the joysticks, but the paddles are the real reason to get the 2600 version of this game. Atari paddle controllers are awesome, and this is a good paddle controller game. The graphics are basic, with rocks that break apart into smaller rocks and a simple ground and vehicle, but they’re enough, and the extremely fast pace of the action keeps games short but exciting (if frustrating, but that happens in these games).
Atlantis – 1 player. Atlantis is a popular game from Imagic, which was a popular developer of Atari games that sadly only lasted a few years before being taken down by the video game crash. Imagic the Atari developer has no relation to the later PC strategy game developer Interactive Magic, which also sometimes was called imagic. Imagic games have cool silver cartridges, though they do seem to be a bit harder to fit into the 7800’s cartridge port than the other games I have. They do fit, though, just not all that well. Atlantis is a game where you control some bases on the ground and shoot up at descending aliens, so it’s sort of like Space Invaders crossed with Missile Command. Atlantis isn’t as complex a game as those in some ways, though. The graphics are great, with a highly detailed underwater city to defend made up of many levels and bases, but all you do is fire three cannons, each of which has a preset firing angle. One fires diagonally left from one side, the second diagonally right from the other side, and in the center there’s a cannon which shoots straight up, but can be destroyed by enemy fire (the side cannons cannot). You can’t win of course, as usual in 2nd gen games that last more than a couple of minutes. You can just try to keep poor doomed Atlantis alive for a few minutes more. Who knew that it was actually aliens who took out Atlantis? There are various types of enemy ships, and each one moves at different speeds and patterns. There are several modes, including some with the center cannon removed (for greater challenge). The game gets tough quickly, but is quite fun for a few plays at a time. Once you lose a small ship escapes from Atlantis; this was one of the first games with an “ending scene” like that. That set up for the games’ sequel, Cosmic Ark (below). Overall, I can see why Atlantis was popular. It’s a very simple game, as was often true with Imagic, and I do wish that it had more depth or variety (again often true with Imagic…), but what’s here is great, and anyway, depth and variety, from the 2600? Yeah, that’s uncommon. Good game for sure. Atlantis had ports on many platforms, including the Intellivision and Odyssey 2, but each is slightly different; the O2 has only two cannons for instance, and a much more basic city, while the Intellivision lets you fly around in the air in a little ship, shooting at the baddies, as well as controlling the cannons. I don’t have those versions; sadly the O2 version is pricey, and I don’t have an Intellivision (yet).
Berzerk – 1 player. Berzerk is an extremely popular game that Atari fans usually seem to absolutely love. The game is a topdown shooting game. This is another endless game; you are trying to escape from a planet full of killer robots, but sadly you are doomed. The game has a bunch of game modes that vary the difficulty and settings. I wish you could win this game, I think it would help it. I also wish that the game had twinstick shooting controls, but those hadn’t been invented yet when Berzerk came around. Still, by 1981-1982 games like UFO! and then Robotron came up with better ways than this game, which merely allows you to fire in the direction that you are facing. It’s kind of an issue at times; it’s easy to die because of only being able to shoot forwards. Both you, and the robots, die if you touch any walls, so you can sometimes lure them into walls, which is interesting. There’s also a bouncing smilie face which chases you around. In some game modes he’s invincible, while in others you can kill him, until he comes back of course. You can avoid him by going into any exit. There isn’t any kind of maze here, though, so it doesn’t matter which route you take; all just send you through a pretty much random assortment of screens. Later, more complex games like Robotron in some ways, or Shamus in others, make things more interesting, but this game is one of the orignators of the genre. Still though, this game does not hold my interest. It’s just not all that fun to play; I’d much rather play something newer that has better controls and an actual objective. Make it into an actual maze, for example! Even so, Berzerk is alright. The game is an arcade port and has a Colecovision/Arcade-exclusive sequel, Frenzy.
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom! – 1 player. Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom!, by Sega, is a port of the Sega arcade game of the same name, known in Japan as Zoom 909. The game was Sega’s first-ever scaler arcade game, so it is a very important game. The game is a space shooter, as you fly a ship through various different scenes, shooting baddies. It’s a rail shooter, essentially. There’s a great article on Hardcore Gaming 101 about the game. Go and read it, now! This version of the game is the most simplistic one that exists, but it still tries to look “3d” at least in style. As with many console ports there are only a few different environments, including flying through gates over planets, flying through gates while also shooting at enemies, and shooting waves of enemies that fly out on a curving path on a black screen. There’s a boss at the end of each round, though it’s just another wave of enemies, essentially; you have to shoot both halves of the boss ship before it leaves the screen, that’s it. You have to finish each planet before your fuel gauge runs out, or you lose a life and have to start it over. Unlike all of the other versions, 2600 Buck Rogers is a flat, 2d-plane game. All you can do is move left and right and fire; there is no height component. This simplification makes hitting the enemies easier, and considering the hardwares’ limited power, was surely a good decision. Buck Rogers is a fast-paced, fun game. The game has little variety, of course, but it’s got a soundtrack of sorts, with this pulsing noise that it makes while you’re playing, and the shooting action is lots of fun. I really like this game, actually; it’s one of my favorite 2600 games so far. I really wanted to play some of Sega’s 2600 games, and this is the first one that I have. It’s the most expensive 2600 game I have (I paid $6.50 for it), but it was worth it; this game is pretty good. Sega’s 2600 carts are pretty cool, too — they have the word “SEGA” embossed into the plastic on the back. Pretty nice. Buck Rogers is a simple game, but I, at least, think it’s a good simple game. Move back and forth, go through the gates, get better a t your aim, and try to get farther each time! I love that music too; it’s this weird, simple pulsing beeping noise with a grindey engine sound running over it, but it’s great. The solid tone that plays over the title screen is strange as well, as is the odd layout of that screen. What happened there… Oh, and I don’t know if epileptics should play this game. Beyond the fact that pretty much every sprite is flickering at all times while it’s on screen (that software scaling takes hardware power to pull off after all!), the screen also flashes for quite a while after you beat each boss. Yeah. It was the 2nd gen, they did stuff like that. This game has versions on many platforms, though this one is a bit different from the others. The best home console version is the Colecovision release, apparently. This one is unique and great, though.
Casino – 1-4 players, requires Paddle controllers. Casino is a card game collection. It’s got Blackjack, Poker, and one other game. The game has four player play with the paddle controllers, which is surely why it uses them. Controls are simple; rotate the paddle to select an option, and click the button to choose the current choice. I’m no good at poker, but blackjack here is fun enough. The game does have AI to oppose you if you don’t have humans to play against, which is good. That was not a given in the second generation. This is a simple game, but it’s probably the card game to get on the 2600. There’s also a standalone Blackjack cartridge, but if you have this, there’s little reason to get that one.
Centipede (2600) – 1 player. Centipede is a port of one of Atari’s great classic arcade games. While in the arcades the game used a trackball, the 2600 doesn’t have a trackball (well, there is one, but it’s actually just a dpad replacement; the 2600 “trackball” actually does not support analog proportional controls, oddly enough), so this game is digital. The controls do work. The graphics here are basic, of course. The game is a single-screen shooter, where you control a ship at the bottom part of the screen (you can move around, but only in the bottom area; still, it’s not a left/right only game), shooting at a giant centipede descending down at you. The screen is full of mushrooms, though here they just look like squares. There are also spiders to try to avoid or shoot. Centipede sections turn into mushrooms after you shoot them. Centipede is a true classic, and this is a fine version of the game for its time. There is no real reason to play this on a 7800, as the 7800 version of Centipede looks and plays better and even has some exclusive multiplayer modes, but still, this game is extremely cheap and common, and is fun, so it’s worth a look anyway. Versions of Centipede are in innumerable platforms.
Circus Atari – 1-2 player alternating, requires Paddle controllers. Circus Atari is Atari’s version of the Exidy arcade game Circus. It’s essentially Breakout, except you have a teeter-totter for a “paddle”. Basically, it’s the Atari game that Magnavox based Acrobats! on the O2 on. I liked that game quite a bit (see my review in my O2 article), and paddle controllers are awesome, so I was hoping that this game would also be good. Well, it is, but I think I might actually like the O2 game more, paddles or no. Circus Atari is a great game, though. Anyone with paddles should consider this a must have. In the game, you have to bounce two guys off of the swinging board at the bottom in order to try to break three rows of square “balloons” up on the top of the screen. One guy is on one end, so you have to have the falling person land on the free side. The “paddle” is much larger than that in Acrobats, so the game is in some ways a bit more forgiving, but still, this is a very hard game, and you get fewer lives than you do in Acrobats, too. There are also a lot more blocks on screen, and they feel a bit farther away than the balloons in Acrobats, which can be frustrating because that means you have to hit closer to the edge of the teeter-totter in order to reach the blocks. This means greater risk. Still, at least the guys to bounce off of the blocks that they hit, which is fantastic; 2600 Breakout and Super Breakout are sleep-inducingly boring because of how the ball can only bounce off of one block each time, then must hit the paddle or a wall before it can hit another one. That’s just awful design, but Circus Atari does not share it. Best Breakout-style game on the 2600? Well, no, Warlords is better, but this is probably second. Anyway, in both Circus Atari and Acrobats!, sometimes you’ll get situations where the only blocks left are very hard to reach. At least in this game you can switch the direction of the paddle by pressing the button — that is, you reverse the free side. This is a really, really nice feature, because it allows you to bounce a guy the other way, for when you’re kind of stuck on the other side. Very nice. In Acrobats you only have one guy, and have to bounce off of the indicated side each time, so you can get “stuck” in one part of the screen at times. The paddle controls are extremely precise, but the guys are small, so missing them, and losing a life, is very easy. This is a hard game. Hitting the ball up to the top row of blocks can be tricky, too, and requires either luck (with the guy bouncing around up in the air) or a hit right off the end of the paddle. As in Acrobats, when a row is destroyed, it respawns, so the game keeps going until you lose. The balls jitter around a bit in this game, unlike that one, so they’re not exactly static. Circus Atari has eight variations, including some with shields, which in this game are a row of moving shields right under the bottom row of balloons, so it works differently from the shield in Acrobats. Keeping the guy bouncing around in the air is hard, but with great controls — paddle controllers really are fantastic — and decent gameplay, Circus Atari is a fairly good game. The graphics are ugly, though, and it’s unfortunate that the balloons aren’t round. The game also can have a high frustration factor as you just miss the falling guy yet again. Still, this is a pretty good game overall, well worth playing. It’s challenging, fun, and well designed. The rough graphics and tough gameplay hold it back a bit, but still, play it. Arcade port.
Combat – 2 players required. Combat is one of the most common Atari games; it seems to show up with several copies per system sold, for whatever reason. The game is a two player game where you control various vehicles, most commonly tanks, shooting at eachother. I haven’t played it, as I haven’t played 2600 multiplayer yet. The game does have a bunch of different modes and stuff, which is cool. All are single-screen two-things-shooting-at-eachother variants, of course. Based on an arcade game.
Commando Raid – 1 player. Commando Raid is a game from US Games somewhat inspired by Missile Command, but with its own twist. The early ’90s DOS PC game Night Raid is very much like an improved version of this game; I liked that game quite a bit as a kid, so once I got the 7800 and heard about this game, I wanted it, and found a copy around here. In the game, you control a turret in the center of the screen, and have to shoot down an endless stream of helicopters and parachute soldiers, as well as the occasional bomber and bomb. You only get one life in this game; if a bomb hits you, or if too many paratroopers land, you lose. The paratroopers fall in four specific paths, so it’s not random; Night Raid has more variety on that front. In this game, they only drop over the four buildings that they are trying to capture. If you shoot helicopters before they drop people, you’ll get a moment of breathing room. Unfortunately the helicopters don’t fall to the ground and take out paratroopers either in the air or on the ground, unlike Night Raid, but ah well; it’s still fun. This game has an interesting element, in that a certain number can be allowed to be missed on each of the four paths, but once each one of those four buildings have been fully captured, further paratroopers landing on those spots make permanent tunnels in the ground under your base. Once those tunnels get under the turret, a guy goes down and blows you up, and it’s game over. At certain score intervals you will get your most-damaged building restored, but the tunnels cannot be filled in. Commando Raid is a simple game, and US Games has a poor reputation, but I quite like this game. The game has some good graphics, with a very colorful background and fun action. This is a pretty good turret-shooting game. Try it. Also try Night Raid for DOS.
Cosmic Ark – 1 player. Cosmic Ark is, story-wise, the sequel to Atlantis. In terms of gameplay, though, it’s completely different; this is not a target shooting game, but instead is its own thing. Cosmic Ark has two gameplay styles, each on a static screen. In one screen you are in space, and have to shoot down asteroids coming at your ship, the Cosmic Ark (alien abduction ship!). The asteroids, conveniently, only approach you from the four cardinal directions. Press the direction plus fire to shoot. It’s sort of like the ’70s arcade/Bally Astrocade game Star Castle, I think. This is simple, but in the later, faster sequences, it can get tough. In the second screen, you hover over a planet, and have to abduct some … specimens. You control a small flying saucer which descends out of the large mothership. By pressing the button, a beam goes down to the surface. This tractor beam will pull up the required people, animals, whatever. Once you have two captured, return to your ship and move on to the next asteroid screen. The game stars out very easy, but gets tougher once the planets have laser towers to avoid, and the asteroids get fast. Cosmic Ark is an okay game, but I don’t love it; I haven’t played it much since getting it. The space mode is too simple, and the planet part, while fun, isn’t the best. Still, it’s a good enough game, well worth getting considering its low price and somewhat fun gameplay. It’s probably not one of Imagic’s best, but it’s solid. It would be better with more variety and challenge.
Crystal Castles – 1 player. Crystal Castles, from Atari, is essentially an isometric 3d take on Pac-Man. As you might expect, the transition to the 2600 is… rough. Isometric 3d, on the 2600? Yes, Crystal Castles technically pulls it off, but I don’t know if it SHOULD have. This game has incredibly blocky graphics and frustrating gameplay; I’d recommend playing something better instead of this. It is interesting to see how an isometric 3d game works on the 2600, but… yeah. This is one of those “it’s ambitious, but the hardware just isn’t good enough to do this well” titles. There are three or four screens, which is nice; more than average on the 2600, particularly with how each one really is very different. As in Pac-Man, you have to collect all of the items on each screen. In this game you’re Bentley Bear, and have to collect all the honey, of course. The “honey” blocks can be frustrating to pick up, as they’re kind of small and are easy to walk past while you go around the screen. Pac-Man-like railed paths have some definite advantages. The arcade version had a trackball, apparently, but no luck here. There are also multiple levels, and you can get between them with stairs or elevator platforms, depending on the stage. I like the stage layouts, and after you get used to the controls and graphics this game is alright and is quite playable, but still, this really is something which needs better hardware than the 2600. There have been many comments about how Bentley Bear should have had a platformer series, on the 7800 and such, as Atari’s answer to Mario; I agree, that would have been a good idea for sure. He was finally brought back as the only classic Atari character in Atari Karts for the Jaguar, but that was far too late to make a difference. Crystal Castles also has an arcade version, and there’s a cancelled, but leaked and complete, 5200 version. It was also on some computers.
Defender – 1 player. Defender is a remake of Williams’ exceptional classic arcade game of the same name. The arcade game Defender was Eugene Jarvis’s first game, and Williams’ first arcade game (they did pinball only before Defender), and it’s one of the greatest games ever made, no question. Jarvis would go on to make Robotron, Cruis’n USA, Smash TV, and more, but his first game might be his best. This Atari version of the game isn’t by Eugene Jarvis, though; it was done by Atari. The game redesigns the concept, and is quite different from arcade Defender. Instead of being in space, this game is set on land, over a city. You still fly both directions, trying to save the people from aliens who are trying to abduct them to power up their ships, but it’s all blockier and simplified. The blocky buildings are easier for the 2600 to draw than that angular space-ground design was in the arcade game. Enemies are much blockier too, of course. The arcade version also used a button to reverse direction, instead of a two-way stick; here; you have to turn around by pushing the stick the other way. It’s a bit odd, compared to ports of the arcade machine (the arcade game had a two-way joystick and 5 buttons, fitting it onto the 1-button-and-4-way-stick 2600 took modification). There is still a radar on top of the screen, because this game does still scroll. The radar shows all enemy locations in the level, though there’s not as much to it as the arcade game. This 2600 version of Defender is decently fun, but I can’t help but think that I’d rather play the arcade game… arcade Defender really is one of the greatest all-time classic games. For the time this was surely a quite good game… but it’s not quite on arcade Defender’s level. The worse graphics, simpler controls, less interesting gameplay, and more all take their toll. 2600 Defender is probably worth having, for a dollar or two, but don’t go in expecting something the equal of the arcade game. It isn’t; it’s decent, but it isn’t DEFENDER.
Demon Attack – 1 player. Demon Attack is a popular Imagic single-screen shooter. The game was somewhat inspired by Atari’s Phoenix, and actually Atari sued Imagic and Imagic settled. The games aren’t the same, though. They have definite similarities, but aren’t identical. Demon Attack is a very simple shooter. You move left and right, and shoot at the flying “demons” as they appear in waves of three. The graphics are quite nice, and the effects as the demons come onto the screen look great. Very cool effect there. Demons have a central part and, sometimes, two wings. You can shoot the wings off, but they will regrow; to kill them, you have to shoot them in the center. Some waves have only wingless demons, but the actual target is the same size; those wings don’t get you anything if you hit them. Demon Attack apparently crashes after wave 84 or something, but I haven’t gotten nearly that far. This is a very simple game, but it’s fun. The visuals are good, and the gameplay simplistic but solid. Demon Attack was ported to a bunch of other platforms, but the 2600 version came first.
Demons to Diamonds – 1-2 player simultaneous, Paddle Controller required. Demons to Diamonds is a fairly ugly looking, but decently playing, shooter. In the game, you move left and right with the paddle, and fire your beam with the button. Instead of shooting bullets, you shoot a solid beam which extends into the field. In one player you’re on the bottom, but in two player there’s also a player on the top of the screen. Enemies appear in the middle, passing from one side to the other along several paths. Enemies come in two colors, white and red. You want to avoid the red ones, though; shoot them and they turn into turrets which shoot at you. Enemies can change color after passing across and moving to another level of the field. You can’t kill turrets and just have to wait until they time out and disappear. After shooting a white enemy, it turns into a diamond which will then quickly fly across the screen to the other side. Shooting the diamonds gives you bonus points. So, as the name suggests, in this game you shoot demons, turn them into diamonds, and then shoot the diamonds. Yeah, the name is silly, but it’s descriptive… 🙂 Demons to Diamonds has basic, early-looking graphics, but the controls are good (the paddle is good for shooting games!), and the gameplay is quite good too. Fun game.
Dodger Cars (Dodge ’em) – 1-2 player simultaneous. Dodge ’em, or Dodger Cars in this Sears Tele-Games release, is a single screen maze/chase game. The game has basic graphics, but they’re enough. As in Pac-Man, you have to collect all the dots on screen. However, you can’t stop in this game; you move quickly at all times. You can go even faster by pressing the button, though. Also, the screen is broken into several different lanes, with passing areas on the top, bottom, left, and right. If you run into the computer car, you lose a life and have to try the stage over. Yeah, it’s a tough, tough game. You have to try to predict where the computer is going to go in order to succeed. Even beating the first screen is tough. In the two player game, both try to collect the dots, while avoiding each other of course. Dodge ’em is a tough, fun game, and I like it. Games are very short, but fast and somewhat exciting while they last. Simple fun. Apparently this game crashes after only a few screens, but it’s tough to get even that far.
Dragonfire – 1 player. Dragonfire is another Imagic game. The game has a pretty cool cover with a dragon on it. The game is, as expected, simple but good looking, as usual from Imagic. You play as a guy (a prince I think?) who’s trying to retake treasures from dragons who have occupied the castle. Dragonfire has two screens. In the first, you run across the screen, dodging fireballs. You can duck and jump, and fireballs can come high or low. You’ll only have to dodge a few each screen, but still, it can be a bit tricky. It’s too bad that the platformer element of this game wasn’t expanded on; it’s good, but extremely limited. In the second screen, it’s now top-down and you can run anywhere on the screen. Here you have to collect all of the treasures on screen while dodging fireballs from the dragon on the bottom of the screen. There are several different colors of dragons, and they get harder over time. You can’t win the game, of course, so your quest for treasure is ultimately doomed. The game quickly gets frenetic, as you try to dodge the fireballs in each screen type while collecting those treasures. This is a popular game, and after playing it I can see why — the game’s got a great pick-up-and-play style, and is fun to play and tense. You can’t fight back, so all you can do is dodge and collect. Good stuff.
Enduro – 1 player. Enduro is a behind-the-car-style racing game, and it’s a very good one. This is by far the best racing game I’ve played on 2600, and from what I’ve read, is one of the best for the platform overall as well. Really, the only big problem with Enduro is that after playing this game, going back to other 2600 racing games isn’t easy. Ah well, that just shows how good this game is. Enduro is a very good looking game, and plays just as great as it looks. In the game, you have to pass a certain number of cars each day in order to keep driving. The first day has a low, easy-to-reach target, but after that the number goes up to 300 per day, and it will require skill and some luck to keep going. There is only one environment, and the cars that you have to dodge appear randomly, but you can control your speed, and there are four different parts of each day. First, there’s daytime. This is the easiest part. Then, it gets cold, and the road ices over. Controls are slippery here. In the third part, it’s night, and all you can see of the other cars is their taillights. And last, early morning fog rolls in and you’ll have to slow down if you want to avoid crashing, as your view distance gets QUITE short. All four parts of each day look different, and it keeps the game interesting even if each day has the same four parts. The background graphics are bright and colorful, though cars are only one color each. Still, it works. The game has some nice sound too; the car engine noise has a nice grinding sound to it. Enduro doesn’t really have variants, but surviving in this game for more than a couple of days is tough, and the game keeps me coming back wanting to get farther the next time. This is a fantastic game. It’s fast, fun, challenging, and there’s some nice variety in each day with the four different sections. Overall, Enduro is certainly one of the best 2600 games I’ve played.
Freeway – 2 players. Freeway, from Activision, is an extremely basic game based off of the first half of Frogger, except for two people. In the game, you run across a highway made up of 8+ lanes. You cannot move left or right in this game, only forward or back as you try to dodge the cars. You get a point each time you get across the screen. There’s no AI, so there’s no point to this game in single player, which is disappointing. This game is too simplistic, and needed more depth, both in single player, and in at least allowing you to move around the screen. Regardless though, even if Freeway is two player, just stick to Frogger. It’s a much better, more varied game.
Grand Prix – 1 player. Grand Prix is a very basic racing game from Activision. The game has good, large graphics, but limited gameplay. This is a side-scrolling racing game — you drive to the left, starting from the right. There are four courses, but all go left only, and each one is pretty much identical to the last, except longer. Essentially the course has four segments, and you can choose to not play all of them if you want. A narrow section separates each segment. Each one takes maybe a minute at most to get through, so this is a very short game — once you reach the end, that’s it, write down your time if you like it but otherwise it’s over. The replay value is from trying to get a better time, as there are cars to dodge which affect your time. Still, this is an extremely bland game. This kind of “dodge the cars” racing game is common in the 2nd gen, and can be fun, but though the graphics are quite nice, and the cars look much more like cars than usual for 2600 games, the game just doesn’t have enough to it to keep me playing for more than a few minutes. The cars are a bit too large on the screen, the game’s too easy, and getting a good time is simple and won’t take long at all. Games like Enduro or Speedway! keep me coming back, but so far this one doesn’t at all. It’s just too easy and simple. I think that they focused mostly on the graphics here, and not the gameplay, and it shows.
Haunted House – 1 player. Haunted House is an action-adventure game. In the game, you have to find some pieces of an urn scattered around a dark house at night. All you can see of your character is a pair of eyes, which you move around. You can’t see the urn pieces, though, so you have to hold down the button in order to light a match, which lights up the area around you. If an enemy is near, the light will go out, so you have to dodge the enemies. You can’t fight back in this game, so the enemies have to be avoided. You can see the enemies, at least, if not the things you’re looking for. You can also pick up an item which wards away enemies, but you automatically put down any urn pieces you’ve gotten when you pick it up. Once the urn is together, go back to the lower right entrance on the first (blue) floor to exit and win the game. There are four main variations, and in three of them the walls are invisible too unless you have a match lit. Only the first one has walls visible all the time. The house has four floors, which all have the same layout, but some passages can have moving doors in them in higher difficulties, and there are of course the enemies. It’s basically a proto-survival horror game. The fact that you can’t see the items you’re looking for is kind of frustrating, but if you could see them this extremely short game would be even shorter, and the light mechanic is central anyway. Yes, as usual in Atari games that you can actually beat, this game takes just a couple of minuites to complete. There’s a little replay value, in trying the harder difficulties where the walls are invisible and there are more enemies, but still, this is a very, very short game. That may have been okay in the 2nd generation, but we have higher standards now, and have since the NES. Also, you have nine lives, which takes away a bit from the suspense; you can take a good number of hits and still keep going, for all the agonized sound it makes after you get hit. Still, for what it is, this game is decent. The atmosphere is solid, as you try to dodge the enemies and systematically search every room for the urn. This game is very much a product of its time, but it’s an interesting piece of history.
Joust – 1-2 player simultaneous. Joust is a port of the Williams arcade game of the same name. This game was ported to many platforms, and has shown up in many Williams and Midway collections besides, so there are much better versions of the game that you can play than this one, but still, for the platform, Joust works impressively well. Joust is a single-screen sidescrolling action-flying game. You play as a jousting flying ostrich rider. You knock out the other flying ostrich knights by hitting them from above; get hit from above yourself, and you lose instead. Yes, the concept is awesome. The game was very successful, and has been cloned by games such as Nintendo’s Balloon Fight, but I’ve honestly never loved it. I remember playing Joust back in the early ’90s, but it never held my interest, unlike other Williams titles such as Robotron 2084 or Defender. Still, it is a decent game, and isn’t too bad. This port is fairly impressive considering the hardware. Of course the graphics aren’t nearly arcade quality, but for the 2600, it’s about as much as you could hope for. The characters move around the screen quickly, and the game plays pretty well. I’d still rather play Defender or Robotron, but this is a pretty good game. Joust is on many platforms.
Kangaroo – 1 player. Kangaroo is a single-screen side-scrolling platformer. Basically, Atari wanted to make something sort of like Donkey Kong, and so they did. This game has 3 screens, so it’s got more than Donkey Kong for the 2600. The graphics are simple, but the game plays pretty well. In the game, you play as a female kangaroo who’s trying to save her child, who has been captured by villains. So, you have to jump and punch your way around, as you get to the top of each screen. Enemies at the top drop stuff down on you, and enemies also come from the right side, either to hit you, or to shoot at you. The game is unforgiving, as any fall of pretty much any height means instant death. Every jump is a deathtrap. Even so, I like platformers, and this game is fun to play, so I like it. The game is simple and yet fun, and there’s plenty of challenge for sure. Kangaroo isn’t original, but is good and solidly designed. Arcade port, also on Atari 5200.
Lock ‘n Chase – 1 player. Lock n Chase is a Pac-Man clone. That’s really about all this game is. In this game, you’re a robber trying to take stuff. So, you go around the maze, collecting everything in each screen. Collect everything and the door at the top will open; go there to get to the next, identical, screen. The graphics are extremely basic, and your character looks really patheticly drawn; the enemies look okay, but not your guy. Environments couldn’t be more simplistic. At least there’s no flicker, though, unlike Pac-Man. The maze is fairly wide open, but the game has one original mechanic, that you can create walls by pressing the button. Unfortunately these walls only can appear as horizontal bars, so you can’t wall off horizontal paths, only vertical ones. I wish you could do both, that would make the game more interesting. As it is, though, this is an extremely simple, and extremely derivitive, game. It’s not very interesting, but it’s not awful either; it’s just bland, and a knockoff of course. The wall-dropping mechanic is a little interesting, but isn’t enough to keep me playing for all that long. This game is from Mattel, based on a Data East arcade game and other versions are on the arcades, Intellivision, and Game Boy.
Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers – 2 players simultaneous. Maze Craze is a top-down single-screen maze game. The graphics are about as basic as can come, with a very simple maze, tiny little guys moving around in it, and squares as enemies, in game modes with enemies in it. In the game, you have to get through a maze. It’s a two player game, so if you’re playing with only one person the only modes worth playing are the ones with the enemies to avoid; the game doesn’t keep track of your time, so the only goal is just to get to the end of each maze. In the modes with enemies, there are two squares which move around the maze, starting from the end point. They can be tricky to avoid at times, and even in 1 player the game can be a bit of fun with them to get around. Still, this game is mostly designed for two people. With only one person there’s not much to do. For what it is it’s good though. Very basic, but decent. You move around the maze at a decent speed, at least; the mazes are a bit on the small side, but don’t take too long to navigate, unlike, say, Snail Maze on the Master System (that game is glacially paced! At least it comes free on the system…).
Megamania – 1 player. Megamania is a single-screen shooter from Activision, and it’s one of my favorites for the system. Megamania is obviously inspired by Space Invaders, but it has its own take on this genre. First, the enemies you are shooting are a random assortment of crazy things, from rings to cheese wheels. The games’ story is that you are in a dream, fighting an endless space battle against random stuff in that dream, and the enemies fit the somewhat silly theme of the game. In addition, in this game the enemies move back and forth on the screen, loop around from one side to the other in their sideways patterns, and move towards you as well. They’ll wrap around to above the top of the screen after leaving from the bottom. In some stages, the start is key — there’s one where you need to shoot at least one enemy in all three lines of enemies if you don’t want to have to die in order to get through without dying, for example. The game isn’t one of the hardest shooters around, as it’s fairly easy to loop through it the first time at least, but it’s a lot of fun. The way the enemies move around, left and right across the screen, makes the game more interesting than many shooters of its time, and I like the comical theme as well. One other mechanism is the timer. You’ve got a timer on each stage, and if it runs out before you kill all the enemies, you lose a life. Overall, Megamania is a great game. It doesn’t have any alternate modes of note (only straight or aimed shots), but it’s a very fun game I quite like; it’s weird, interesting, and fun, something I enjoy (see: I like Jeff Minter games). The only real negative is that there’s also an Atari 5200 version which is the same, except with better graphics. On 2600 you can’t really tell what many of the enemies are, but on 5200, they are detailed enough that you can make them all out. If I ever get a 5200 I’ll have to get it. This version will do in the meantime, though, for sure, and it probably controls better. Also on Atari 5200.
Midnight Magic – 1 player. Midnight Magic is a pinball game from 1987. See Video Pinball, below, for my thoughts on Atari’s first pinball game for the 2600. This game came many years later, and is much, much better. Midnight Magic has impressive graphics for the 2600, and this pinball table really looks like a pinball table, or at least as close to one as the 2600 can. Not bad. However, it still has very poor “physics”. The ball bounces around crazily, just like it did in Video Pinball. Yeah. There are also very few targets on the board. There are two little paths on the sides, five targets on the top center, a couple of bouncers in the middle with a spinner between them, and that’s about it. There are two sets of paddles on each side, two on the bottom and two in the middle, but there isn’t much to do other than try to hit the other stuff, or get all five targets on the top center. Throughout it all the ball bounces around somewhat randomly. There’s a small bar below the paddles in the well, but the ball will often bounce off of it and well back into the playfield, so draining doesn’t always mean losing a ball. For the 2600 this is probably about as good as a pinball game could get, and it visually looks good, but with the awful physics and lacking amount of stuff to actually do, I think that this game shows that 2nd gen consoles just weren’t good enough to do good pinball games, something you also see with other 2nd gen pinball games like Video Pinball (2600) or Thunderball! (O2).
Missile Command – 1 player. Missile Command is a port of one of the great early ’80s arcade games. In the game, you’re on a doomed mission to save some cities from an endless barrage of nuclear missiles. You have three bases to shoot missiles from, and a limited supply. Missile Command is a true classic, and it was a great, great arcade game. The 2600 version isn’t quite the match of the arcade version, of course, but they do what they can. The arcade game had a trackball controller, with three buttons for the three cannons. However, on the 2600, you have only one missile base, and of course have to use a digital joystick to move the cursor around with. It doesn’t control anywhere near as well as the arcade game, that’s for sure, and it’s not quite as hard with only one base (and more missiles). Still, you WILL lose eventually, of course, as in any endless game. The goal is to get a high score by blowing up as many missiles as you can. They come in waves, and your missiles are replenished between rounds. Once you lose a city, it’s pretty much gone. Missile Command is a simple game, and a great one. Play it, or the original version at least. This version definitely isn’t a system seller today, but if you have a 2600, play it for sure; it’s a good version of a classic. Other versions of Missile Command are on many, many platforms.
Moonsweeper – 1 player. Moonsweeper is an Imagic game. This game is quite visually impressive; it’s from 1983, and looks very good. As with some other Imagic games, Moonsweeper has two different sections to the game. First, you’re in space. Your ship flies forward into the screen. There’s a sun in the distance, but you never can reach it; it’s just there for looks. Your goal here is to avoid the asteroids and comets which approach diagonally from the lower sides of the screen, while touching planets, which come from the same places to go down to the surface. It’s an endless game, so you keep going until you lose. The challenge of avoiding things which will hurt you, but touching planets, works well. You can also turn on a shield in space by holding down, which works for as long as you hold the button, but you can’t move, fire, or interact with anything (including planets) when you use it. Once you go down to a planet, the game changes. It’s still a forward-flying game, but now you’re passing over a planet, isometric-style. The planet graphics look great. There are several different planet color schemes, so there’s some variety. On planets, your goal is to pick up five kidnapped people, and then touch four warp gates in a row to get back to space, while avoiding the towers that are all over the planets’ surface, and fire from enemy ships that fly around. By pressing the button here, you can shoot at towers, though they look similar to people from a distance, so you can easily kill the people you have to rescue by accident. Luckily towers won’t shoot at you, though the enemies which do can be annoying. Larger enemy ships pass by in space overhead. You can shoot at them by holding down while pressing the button; this will fire up into space, though these shots won’t hit ground enemies. The large enemy ships sometimes send down a ship to the surface, which will fly around and shoot at you. Try to kill it if you can, but this can be a pain. Once you’ve collected enough people, it can be tricky on some planets to get back into space; in some planets the warp gates are in a straight line, but in others they’re at an angle so you’ll have to try to line up with them while moving quickly. Then you’re in space, and repeat the process until you run out of lives or get bored. Overall, this is a good game, though it could be better. The graphics are great, but gameplay is repetitive, and the space scene could use a bit of work. It’s kind of annoying that you never actually get anywhere despite flying towards that sun, and while the diagonally approaching obstacles and planets can be tricky to touch or avoid, I wish that sometimes stuff would actually come from ahead of you too. And on the planets, there is only one kind of tower, so on the ground there are only ever two things, towers or guys to pick up. There is some variety of spaceships in the air, but the little ship they send down only has one type too. So, Moonsweeper is lacking in variety, and does get boring after a while. Still, it’s a great game to play a game of or two here and there. The visuals are good, and it’s fun for a while for sure. Also on 5200, Colecovison, and some computers.
Night Driver – 1 player, requires Paddle controller. Night Driver is a behind-the-car driving game, based off of Atari’s early mechanical driving game of the same name. Apparently in the arcade you had a physical cutout that you moved left and right to avoid posts which actually moved towards it, but this 2600 game is a standard videogame. In the game, you still control a car, very crudely drawn, which has to stay between lines of white rectangles which form a road. The road twists rapidly, so staying on the road is quite challenging, particularly if you speed up much. Fortunately you do have speed control. The game has a good number of different game modes, which is nice, but generally, your goal is to see how far you can get in a set time limit. There are cars to avoid, occasionally, but the biggest challenge is just from staying on the road itself. The graphics are very basic, with just a black screen and the various things I’ve mentioned, plus the occasional house off the road that you pass by. I’d recommend not going full speed, so that you don’t crash constantly. Night Driver is an okay game, and I love the idea of a racing game that controls with the paddle controller, but this is a pretty basic game; it’s got nothing on Enduro, either in graphics or gameplay, that’s for sure. This feels like a very early game. It’s worth a try, but don’t expect too much. Just be prepared to spend a little time with it until you get used to the controls; it does get a bit better with some practice. Arcade port.
Outlaw – 1-2 player simultaneous. Outlaw may claim to be for 1 or 2 players, but really, this is a two player only game. The one player mode is a very basic “shoot the targets” game which won’t keep anyone entertained for more than a minute or two. The real game requires to people. Outlaw is Atari’s knockoff of the mid ’70s Midway arcade hit, Gun Fight. Outlaw is basically the same thing as Gun Fight, so it’s fortunate that Midway didn’t sue… :p (Yes, I still think it’s absurd that Atari actually won over KC Munchkin. That game is not identical to Pac-Man.) The game is, as the name suggests, an Old West gunfight showdown game. One player stands on each side of the screen, and can move around and shoot at the other one. The game has various game modes, some of which have obstacles, some static or some moving, in the middle of the screen to shoot around. The game probably would be a pretty decent two player game, but with only one person isn’t worth playing at all. Still, it’s a solid clone of a very early, and very simple, but not too bad, arcade game.
Pac-Man – 1 player. Pac-Man is one of the Atari 2600’s most infamous games. The game is a maze game based on the arcade Pac-Man game, of course. Move around the maze, eat the dots, avoid the ghosts, and grab power pellets to eat ghosts. This version of Pac-Man is widely hated, but it’s not THAT terrible. It is subpar, and the ghosts flicker very badly; Lock n Chase doesn’t have any flicker, at least, even if the game is incredibly bland. The maze looks nothing like the arcade maze, of course, but that’s to be expected. Pac-Man for the 2600 is a serviceable game. It’s playable, and does work. The graphics are poor, and it flickers a lot, but still, this isn’t an utter disaster or something, like you sometimes hear. Sure, though, the 2600 can do better than this, and has. Even so, 2600 Pac-Man can be a fun game to play for a little while. It’s okay. Other versions of Pac-Man are on probably dozens of platforms.
Phoenix – 1 player. Phoenix is a single-screen shooter, again in the Space Invaders vein. The game is by Atari, though it’s a port of an arcade game by Centuri. In this game, you again play as a base on the ground, shooting at enemies in the air. The game has several different types of enemy waves, and they loop each time you beat the boss. Yes, Phoenix has a boss; uncommon on the 2600! Phoenix also has well-drawn graphics, music, and more variety in its shooting than some 2600 games have. You also have a shield; press back on the stick to use it. While the shield is on you can’t move or fire, but are impervious from incoming fire, which will save you at times if used carefully. Some enemy waves in Pheonix are, as I mentioned earlier, the ones that inspired Demon Attack. In these, the enemy phoenixes fly around. You can shoot off their wings, but the wings regrow, so you have to hit them in the center in order to actually kill them. Other waves have just the birds without wings. The target is the same size, but because there are no wings it can feel harder. As you go you defeat waves of winged and wingless phoenixes, some of which stay far away and others which dive down, come in close, and fire at you from close to the ground, so there’s variety. After you get through several the other waves, you’ll fight the boss. Of course the game loops, gradually getting harder, after that, but still, the boss is interesting to fight, and makes the game better for sure. The boss is a large ship which fills the screen, and you have to shoot out its lower hull/shield below first, then its rotating middle shield bar which loops from end to end, all while avoiding the ships’ constant fire. Your goal is to hit the center core. As usual on 2600, one shot will blow it up; the challenge is breaking through the shield without getting hit. Phoenix is a fairly good game, with good graphics, some variety, bosses, and not too bad music either. This game isn’t one of the great single-screen shooters, but it is a good one well worth playing. Arcade port.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1 player. Two joystick controllers required to play. Yes, you need to plug in two joysticks for this one. Raiders is a top-down adventure game. This game is fairly complex for an Atari 2600 title, as there are puzzles to figure out, an inventory to manage, and more. That’s why it takes two joysticks, one is for movement and the other is for inventory. Of course though, with such simple graphics, the puzzles are extremely obtuse. This game is extremely short once you figure it out, as usual for 2600 games you can actually beat, but it will take a little time to get through. The graphics are fairly simple for a 1982 release, but the gameplay is better than the graphics are, and it doesn’t look that bad really. You can hold up to six items, and of course where you use those items is pretty random stuff. Yeah, this is the kind of adventure game which annoys me… one where it’s more about luck, or using a guide, than skill. Figuring out what to do based purely on deduction is unlikely. Still, it’s nice to see this kind of game on the 2600, a console mostly full of arcade action games. But overall, this game is for people who don’t mind very frustrating “puzzles”, which sometimes are puzzles, and other times are just ‘figure out where to randomly use this item where it’ll actually work’. That’s probably about all that you could do on the 2600, but it’s the kind of design I’ve always found kind of annoying. Still though, this is probably good for the time.
Riddle of the Sphinx – 1 player, requires two joysticks. Riddle of the Sphinx is a somewhat complex vertically-scrolling action game from Imagic set in ancient Egypt. The setting is good, but I have mixed feelings about the game. The game seems simple at first, but the game has some obtuse elements to it. It’s also not entirely playable on the Atari 7800, unfortunately; the game uses the black&white/color switch to switch the information displayed at the bottom, but the 7800 doesn’t have that switch, so you can’t view your health and thirst level. Anyway though, in this game, you walk up through an oddly white desert. This game has somewhat bland graphics for an Imagic game. There are several different types of enemies which appear, and a few characters that you can’t attack… including one which attacks you, but is invincible. How nice. You can kill the bandits and scorpions, but don’t attack merchants! You need to trade with them instead. Inventory manipulation, as in Raiders, requires a second joystick plugged in to use, and as I suggested earlier, the color/B&W and difficulty switches are used ingame to display how long you have been playing, your inner strength score, and if you have a 2600, your health and thirst. How annoying. Your water refills at oasises, and you have to figure out which item to leave at each temple as well, and in a specific (and unspecified, unless you use a walkthrough of course, order), so the controls are complex and not intuitive or fun to use (no, I do NOT want to have to switch switches on the system in order to display vital information!). This game really requires either the manual or a guide, and preferably both, to understand; you need to know what the items, buildings, and characters all are. This game is in one part basic action game, but it’s also an adventure game. I don’t know if the hybrid design really works all that well, though. This game doesn’t interest me enough to make me want to play it enough to get good at it. The game is okay, but the game just isn’t as fun as the other Imagic games I have for the 2600. I don’t mind some depth, but the game is a bit obtuse. Of course it’s easy to find out what to do online, and once you do this game makes sense, but there’s more to read up on for this game than most 2600 games, and this hardware isn’t powerful enough to do depth well. That’s really an issue with the 2600 — games are often either too simplistic, or have complexity but on hardware that can’t do much other than annoyingly obtuse hiding-game-elements-from-you stuff that I don’t like. Some games manage to thread that needle, but the 2600’s idea of an adventure game isn’t exactly my favorite kind, the Lucasarts adventures of the ’90s is. Riddle of the Sphinx may be different from other 2600 games, and it does have an interesting theme, but that doesn’t make it fun.
River Raid – 1 player. River Raid is an extremely popular shmup from Activision. This is a simple shooter; you fly up the screen, shoot the enemies, destroy the bridges, rinse, and repeat. The dams serve as checkpoints, but aren’t really bosses, because they just blow up with one hit and can’t defend themselves. The challenge is, of course, that you have a fuel meter. Fly through fuel powerups and your fuel recovers; the rest of the time, it depletes quickly. River Raid is a good game, but I don’t like it quite as much as many Atari fans seem to. The 2600 just isn’t good enough hardware to do a good shmup… all three scrolling shooters I have for the system are pretty flawed compared to the static-screen ones. This game is probably the best of the three, though, so there is that. The game has decent graphics, obstacles to avoid because the river is broken up into dividing paths, various different types of enemies, and more, so there is some nice variety here. The controls and shooting works well, too. I also like that you actually have to fly through fuel, and don’t refill fuel by shooting fuel tanks, as you do in some games (that idea is so silly, shoot the fuel to get it! :p). Shooting fuel tanks gets you points, but not fuel. Still, this is a repetitive game without much variety. You just fly up through an endless succession of paths and dams. There isn’t any variety to the game, and that gets old after a little while. I haven’t gone back to this game very often. Still, it’s a solidly decent game, worth a dollar for sure anyway.
Robot Tank – 1 player. This game is sort of like Battlezone, except from Activision. Unfortunately, I have one of those 7800s which is incompatible with Robot Tank, so I can’t play the game. I’d definitely like to try it sometime, though. It’ll have to wait.
Othello – 1-2 player boardgame. Othello is a solid conversion of the board game of the same name, also known as Reversi. I’ve always quite liked Reversi, so I wanted to pick up this version. The game has three difficulties of computer AI, or a two player match, so there are a good number of options. The game is a bit slow, but good. There isn’t a lot of reason to play this over other versions of Reversi, of course, but still, it’s a fine version of the game. Also, unlike NES Othello, the AI isn’t broken; in that game it’s crazy hard even on the “easiest” setting, but here it scales up nicely. Of course higher settings take longer to make a move, but otherwise, yeah, this is a good Reversi game.
Space Invaders – 1-2 players simultaneous. Space Invaders was one of the system sellers for the 2600, and for good reason — it’s a good rendition of this super-popular arcade shooter that helped create the space shooting genre, and the static shooter genre as well. Kill all the aliens before they reach the surface! The graphics in 2600 Space Invaders are fairly odd, as these invaders look nothing like the familiar ones from the arcade game and instead are these odd … things …, but otherwise, this is a great package. This is worth buying even for people who own many other versions of Space Invaders because the game has a lot of different game modes. There’s a lot of stuff here, including modes with moving shields, zigzagging enemy shots, fast shots, and invisible invaders, as well as single player, two player alternating, two player competitive, 2 player competitive with alternating shots, 2 player cooperative where one player moves and the other shoots, two player cooperative with the two players alternating control of one fighter (when you shoot, or after a certain amount of time, it switches players), and two player cooperative where one player can move right and the other left. There are options for each one of those multiplayer modes with each one of the four game rule variations, which adds up to 112 game modes in all. Only 16 are for one player, of course (based on the four rules options), and not all of the modes work equally well, but still, there’s lots of stuff here. Space Invaders for the 2600 is a definite must-have. Space Invaders is a classic game, and this version has some unique options you won’t find anywhere else.
Space Jockey – 1 player. Space Jockey is a pretty basic shmup from US Games. US Games has a fairly poor reputation, and this game is indeed quite basic. You just fly to the right, shooting enemies as they appear. Enemies appear from several different lines, and cannot move up or down — they just move straight ahead on the path they appear on. So, you can basically choose whether you want to fight the enemies or avoid them. You can also destroy things on the ground for points, though they don’t shoot back. The super-scary things you can blow up on the ground include houses and treehouses. Yeah. Enemies are planes and helicopters. Oh, yes, even though the name is “Space Jockey”, this game is indeed entirely planet-bound. The game has various modes which increase the difficulty, so this game isn’t always easy, but the basic setting is extremely simple and you can keep playing for some time. Still, the visuals are pretty decent, with nice use of color, and the game is moderately fun in short bursts. It was worth the dollar or two I paid, I think, even if it’s nothing particularly special.
Street Racer – 2-4 player simultaneous, requires Paddle controllers. Street Racer is a very basic, early top-down racing game. You drive forward, up the screen, towards the end line. The game has very ugly graphics and mediocre gameplay, though it does support up to four players in some variations, which is pretty cool. However, the single player game is pointless; the game has one player on each side of the screen (or two on each side, for 3-4 players), and the goal is to complete each race, or challenge, before the other human. In addition to standard races, the game has a lot of alternate modes, with various different vehicle types and race variations. In some you have to get to the end, while in others you’re trying to dodge oncoming things. There’s also a mode in aircraft, still top-down of course, where you’re trying to shoot oncoming enemies. There’s also a ski race mode. There’s also an odd mode where you collect numbers in order to add up specific numbers. But without another person to race against, there’s no real point to the game. Still, for the multiplayer, if you have two sets of paddles, pick it up.
Super Breakout – 1-2 player alternating. Super Breakout is the second version of Breakout for the 2600. I haven’t played the first version, but this game is so bland that I don’t know if I want it. Apparently this game has several new modes that one doesn’t, but does cut a few things too. Now, I love the genre that Breakout created. Arkanoid is an arcade favorite of mine, and I like many home console Arkanoid-style games too, including Alleyway and Kirby’s Block Ball. Warlords and Circus Atari on the 2600 are fun too, as well as Blockout! Breakdown! and Acrobats! on the O2. But Super Breakout? Well, the controls are outstanding of course. Paddles give you a precise level of control that would be impossible with other kinds of controllers, and makes it possible to play this game even considering that the paddle is very small. With a d-pad this game would be near-imposssible, but with paddles, it can be done. However, Super Breakout, and 2600 Breakout before it from what I’ve seen, has one critical flaw that for me pretty much ruins the game: When the ball hits a block, it can only hit ONE block before it must bounce off of a wall or the paddle, then it can go back, hit one more, etc. This means that it is impossible to bounce the ball off of one block, have it ricochet off another, and such. Instead, the ball will simply pass through those other blocks. Blockout! Breakdown! didn’t have the ball bouncing off of other blocks, but at least the other blocks a ball passing down went through would be destroyed too. In this game, however, it just warps through them without destroying them. It’s just infuriatingly annoying, and makes games of Breakout EXTREMELY long, slow, and tedious. There are a LOT of blocks on the screen, and even once the ball speeds up, which it eventually does, clearing a screen takes a long time. And of course, there are no powerups here to speed up the process of hitting that one last block that you’re having problems getting. Clearing even a single screen of Super Breakout is quite a task. This game does have several modes, including multiple balls, multiple paddles (both on the bottom), and more, but it’s just not much of any fun thanks to the design. Play better breakout-style games instead, or for a 2600 game, play Warlords. Arcade port, other versions of the game are on many newer platforms.
Target Fun – 2 player simultaneous. Target Fun is a target-shooting game, and as like too many multiplayer 2600 games, this game really is multiplayer only. You can play the game with one person, but there’s no point to it because the only goal is beating the other players’ score. As for the game, this is a shooting gallery game, essentially. The players control guns at the bottom of the screen, and can fire up at various targets that pass by above. You can turn your gun left and right and fire, and that’s about it. There are a bunch of variations with different things to shoot at, plus some modes where instead of a shooting gallery, you have ships and planes shooting each other, sort of as in Air-Sea Battle. Regardless, all modes are once again multiplayer only. You can shoot in the gallery for score, but without someone to compete against it’s kind of pointless. The game is extremely basic and simple, too. This game is alright, but very straightforward. It’s not interesting for long; even with two people, after a while you’ll probably want to move on to something else.
Towering Inferno – 1-2 players alternating. Towering Inferno is from US Games. In the game, you are a firefighter and have to rescue people from a burning building. First you see a picture of the building from the outside, but this is not interactive; the only interactive screen is inside the building. You see a helicopter, which you are on, taking you to each floor of a burning building. Still, it’s cool to see a “cutscene” of your progress while you go, as you see the building as you clear each floor, with the fire retreating. So, the game is topdown. Your goal is to get to the white block on the other side of the screen, which represents the group of people you’re trying to rescue. Flames block the way to them, so you’ll have to use your water gun to get rid of the fire. Conveniently, you have infinite water. The fires come in small and large sizes, though when you shoot the big ones they break into several smaller fires. The fire moves around horizontally, but not vertically. If you take too long, some of the people you have to rescue will die, one every few seconds. So, if you want the best score, get to the white block as quickly as you can, but without getting hit by some fire yourself of course. Then, get out by the door you entered in to take the helicopter up to the next floor. This game has some decent risk-reward gameplay. Plus, it actually ends; clear the building and you win. Of course, your score varies based on how many people you managed to rescue and how many flames you shot (you get 1 point per fire put out). You can also clear a floor by putting out all of the fires, but that’s unlikely to happen before some survivors die. Towering Inferno is a fairly simple game, and isn’t great, but it is alright for a few minutes anyway. This isn’t one of the better 2600 games I’ve played, I think, but it is okay. The fire’s not too bad looking for the 2600, and it does have a nice mix between making you hurry, but putting obstacles in your way that could cause you to lose a life (if you try to run past some fire but get hit). On the default setting the game is quite easy to beat, though. The challenge is just trying to get a better score. As for game variations, setting the difficulty switch to A makes fires invisible within walls. The one player variations are the standard one, several where you repeat a floor if you die instead of continuing from where you were (until game over of course), and some two player alternating modes, alternating turns by floor several ways. Any way you play though, the game is over once you’ve cleared all floors in the building, so this is a short game with only average at best challenge. So, overall, average game I think.
Turmoil – 1 player. Turmoil is from Fox Games, and it’s a fast-paced and frenetic action game. In the game, you move up and down in the middle of a screen made of numerous rows. In each row, enemies approach from both sides, and you need to shoot them. Note that you can autofire by holding down the button, which is very handy. The enemies are a fairly weird variety of things, which is fun. You need to shoot most of them, but the flashing yellow thing is a prize you need to collect; miss it and an invincible enemy will spawn. Normally you just want to move up and down, but you need to move down a path in order to get prizes. The ingame graphics are quite basic, but there is a quite colorful between-level flashing screen which looks great, and very, very early ’80s. There are also invisible maps, but you can see the enemies, so it’s not any harder than the regular ones; just move up and down and fire, as usual. This is a fast game, as you move up and down and shoot the enemies, but there is some strategy in the action, as some enemies draw you in towards them, and others have shields on one side, so you’ll have to wait until they pass by before shooting them in the back. Turmoil has fairly simple graphics, but the gameplay’s pretty good. After getting a couple levels in the action gets kind of crazy. It’s simple but fun stuff, and this game is definitely recommended. Pretty good game.
Vanguard – 1 player. Vanguard is a shmup, ported to the 2600 based off of a SNK arcade game. Naturally the 2600 version doesn’t look nearly as good as the arcade original, but they did what they could. The game has various different stage types, including horizontal-scrolling areas, diagonally-scrolling ones, and vertically-scrolling ones. You can fire in all four cardinal directions, but not diagonals. The first stage has numerous invincibility powerups, but don’t expect to keep seeing those later in the level. Diagonal scrolling screens can be tricky, as you have less room to maneuver around in, and enemies come from all sides. At the end, there’s a boss core to destroy, which, like usual on 2600, dies in one hit, once you get through its shield. Vanguard is a slow, plodding game, and clearly shows the limits of what the programmer could do on the 2600; the arcade game moves faster, for sure. On the 2600, though, this game is an interesting piece of history, as one of the very early scrolling shooters (shmups) on a console, but it’s not quite as fun as I was hoping. The game is just way too slow, and gets boring after a level or two. It is interesting that each level changes the route map, so the game isn’t exactly the same in each loop, but there are only a handful of base game types, and all have slow, overly-deliberate gameplay. Even just dodging walls can be tricky sometimes, with how slow your ship moves. Overall, Vanguard was good for its time, but hasn’t aged quite as well as River Raid, I would say. Still, the different directions (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) do keep things at least a bit interesting. The arcade original, or the Atari 5200 version if you have a good controller, are definitely better though. Or play a newer shmup. Arcade port, also on Atari 5200.
Video Olympics – 2-4 players simultaneous, requires Paddle controllers. Video Olympics, aka Pong Sports, is, well, Pong on the Atari 2600. The game has many different modes, as the name “Olympics” suggests, but tragically, there is no single mode in this game. Warlords has AI opponents, so there’s really no excuse for this. I’m sure they could have managed an AI to move the other paddle around. It’s really too bad that they didn’t, and indeed never did correct that problem by releasing another 2600 (or even 5200 or 7800) Pong game with AI to compete against. If you have a person to play against, though, Video Olympics has lots of variety in its Pong variants. Not all are good — Pong Basketball is quite strange, though might be worth a try once or twice for the novelty. Basically, you control paddles in the bottom, and can “jump” up to “shoot” the ball at some suspended “baskets”. It kind of works, but not quite. Pong Soccer and Hockey are more standard variants seen in many 1st gen Pong standalone machines, as are of course standard Pong, Pong Doubles (the 3-4 player mode, with two players on each side), and such. So yeah, it’s Pong, on the 2600, with a few new odd game types added in, but still with no AI. This version is 2600 exclusive, but many of the modes in this are in Pong and Pong clones for numerous platforms.
Video Pinball – 1 player. Video Pinball was Atari’s first attempt at a console pinball game that I know of, and it’s … basic. This game is almost charming its extreme simplicity, and in how little it resembles pinball, but like other ’70s pinball games like Thunderball! on the O2, this is a pretty awful game from a gameplay standpoint. Basically, you launch the ball, and then watch it crazily bounce around the screen. You can hit it with the paddles, but don’t really need to a lot of the time; it’ll bounce so much off of stationary… well, anything… that it doesn’t need the extra boost. There are only a handful of targets to shoot at, and you only have limited control of the ball, and the graphics are quite terrible, so yeah, this game is pretty limited in a lot of ways. Still, it could be worse, I guess. It does technically function, and a few people manage to have fun with this game. I’m not one of them, myself.
Warlords – 1-4 players, requires Paddle controllers. Warlords is a four player Breakout variety that’s far, far better than either of Atari’s 2600 versions of Breakout. In this game, four lords, in four “castles” in the four corners of the screen, are competing for dominance of the nation. You play as one, and try to defeat the other lords. There’s actually a crazy sci-fi story behind that basic concept, but that’s best left for the game manual — and you will want to read it. In the game, you play as a paddle, the yellow one in the upper left in one player mode, protecting your corner of the screen, You move in a L shape around the blocks on your side. The ball moves fast on the default setting, and can be hard to get used to at first, but in the default setting you can also grab the ball by holding down the button, to throw it where you want. You can disable the “catch” and slow down the ball, if you want, in alternate game modes. This is an absolutely fantastic game, and it’s really, really great that it has AI and thus a single-player mode. Unfortunately there aren’t any difficulty levels, and the AI isn’t the best so ideally you want some people to play against, but still, it’s enough to present some challenge. The game is more than fun enough to be worth playing against the AI for a while, at least. If the ball breaks through a players’ wall of blocks, and then hits the thing behind it which represents the ruler, that player is eliminated. Each round continues until only one player is left, and the winner is the first player to win five rounds. This is a really great game, easily among the best I’ve played for the 2600. An absolute must have. Play Warlords and come to love paddle controllers. Arcade port.
Warplock – 1 player, requires Paddle controller. Warplock is a decent game from Data Age. Data Age is a quite disliked Atari third party, but Warplock, at least, is alright. This game is a somewhat original single-screen shooter. In the game, you control a ship that’s near, but not at, the bottom of the screen. You move back and forth with the paddle, so control is very smooth, and fire with the button. Waves of enemies appear, and you have to shoot them. However, you only need to hit one enemy in each group of up to five in order to destroy the whole group. Once you destroy a group, the next enemy, or enemy group, will appear. Enemies will shoot at you, of course. That is this game’s unique element, along with the fact that enemies fly around, fly behind you, and generally do not just stay in static “back an forth” movements at the top of the screen. Fortunately, enemies don’t shoot when they’re behind you. This is a very simple, straightforward game, and it’s not one of the best 2600 single-screen shooters, but it is an interesting paddle title absolutely worth picking up for cheap. The unique design of enemy waves which have a bunch of ships but you only have to hit one, and which fly around behind you for moments of pause in the action (and to make their motions a bit less predictable!) is cool. Warplock is decently good.
Yars’ Revenge – 1-2 player alternating. Yar’s Revenge is an extremely popular game from Atari, and it’s a 2600 original. Yar’s Revenge is a single-screen shooter, but it’s a pretty unique one. In the game, you play as the Yar, a bug person descended from mutated house flies who live on alien worlds. You’re in space now, naturally, and are fighting against your enemies, the Qotile, who destroyed one of the Yars’ planets. The Qotile are unseen in the game, manual, and comic book which came with the game. Whoever they are, you’re off for revenge. On the screen, you can move around freely. The Qotile base is on the right, and if you go off the top of the screen, you wrap to the bottom. there’s a distorted area in the middle that is the “neutral zone”. You cannot fire here, but can’t get hit by regular enemies either. The enemy base can also shoot out a shot at you. The main regular enemy is a homing missle, always tracking you around the screen. Your goal is to break down the shield protecting the enemy base with your shots, after which you can call in an attack from the Zorlon Cannon, a cannon back on the Yars’ homeworld, which will destroy the Qotile base, provided that the shield is down and you aim right (bounce against the left side of the screen to call the cannon). You need to call it in but then dodge it, as it will destroy you too if it hits you. The first stage has a basic enemy shield, but later stages have moving enemy shields and more, to mix things up a bit.The game has several variations, including one where the Zorlon Cannon bounces off of the shield if it hits it, and faster speeds for the enemy missile and shots, but those don’t change the base game. There is one mode which does, though, Ultimate Yars mode. Here you have to collect five “Trons”, items you get by eating pieces of the shield, touching the Qotile, or catching a Zorlon Cannon shot after it bounces off the shield (not lethal in Ultimate mode), before you can fire a Zorlon Cannon blast. Still, as with most Atari games, Yars’ Revenge is a simple, repetitive game. Do I love it? Eh… it’s interesting, but honestly, overall I’d rather play something else. The game has fairly basic graphics, and the game gets repetitive fast. Still, it’s definitely a somewhat original shooter, and if I play it more, I might come to like it more, and this is one I will play more. The concept of playing AS the bug-people, instead of against them, definitely is unique, too. This is a decent game, worth playing long enough to figure out and see if you like it for sure at least. I don’t know, I just find teh invincible homing missile that chases you pretty annoying… still though, yeah, it’s a good game overall. This game has a couple of sequels, though they came much later — first was a GBC game called “Yar’s Revenge” (it’s not a port though, but a new game with 250 levels and an ending instead of endless gameplay like on the 2600), and second a Xbox 360/PC game also of the same name, which apparently is a fairly bland 3d flying shooter. Your character is an anime-esque girl with a mecha-bug suit on, so even that’s more generic. Probably stick with the original.