Choosing a classic list of games for the Atari 2600 is no easy feat, particularly when you consider there was around 1,000 games released for the system. This is not a list of the best selling 2600 games of all time, which is why awful games like E.T. are not included. Though many of the games listed in this article did sell millions.
For those who grew up with the Atari, this article will hopefully remind you of some of your favourite games when growing up. For those who didn’t own the system, I’m sure this article will help point you in the direction of some of the best games which were released for the console.
Released in 1979, Adventure was the first action adventure game for the Atari 2600 (some consider it to be the first for any console). It also the first game to include an Easter Egg in it (not the chocolate but a secret message to gamers). The game was very successful and sold over a million copies.
In the game your goal is to find an enchanted chalice and return it to the gold castle. You are represented by a simple square.
When walking around your character will undoubtedly get lost within the games mazes, not helped by the fact that the rooms looked so similar.
Along the way you collect keys to unlock castles, a magnet to pull things towards you, a magic bridge to let you walk through walls and a sword.
There are 3 dragons in the game. Each of which guards a castle. Killing the dragon with the sword will you give you an item like a key.
The easter egg is quite pathetic by todays standards but it did encourage other designers to include hidden treasures and messages within their games. The user had to find a grey dot which couldn’t be pulled by the magnet. Going through the wall leads you to a secret room with the message “Created by Warren Robinett”.
The game would prove to be a huge inspiration for role playing games like Zelda and Final Fantasy.
Asteroids was a port of the successful arcade game of the same name, which Atari also created. It was released at the end of 1981.
Asteroids was an incredibly popular game for the Atari. In the game you control a ship which can shoot asteroids which are floating around in space around you. You can stay in the same position and shoot though you will inevitably have to move at one point to dodge an incoming rock.
When you shoot the larger asteroids they split up into smaller ones. This happens again and leaves two smaller rocks, which then disappear when you shoot them. The more asteroids you shoot, the higher your score goes up.
It was a pretty faithful port to the original arcade game.
Breakout is another Atari arcade machine which was ported to the Atari 2600. It was released in 1978. A prototype for the original arcade machine was designed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak!
The original arcade game had 8 rows of coloured bricks to break but the Atari port only had 6. Lives were increased for the 2600 version from 3 to 5. Other that than, it was a pretty faithful port from the original game and proved to be a good seller.
Combat was a launch game which was bundled with the Atari 2600 when it was released in 1977. Thankfully, it was also a great game!
In the game you could control Tanks, Bi-Planes (two wings) and Jets. There were 27 different variations of the various machines.
In the tank game you could bounce shots off walls to hit your opponent and there was an option to be invisible briefly too. The Bi-Plane maps had clouds which you could temporarily hide in from your opponent. The jet mode was similar to the Bi-Plane mode except for the way the missiles were fired.
The game is remembered as one of the best two player games for the 2600.
The popular Nintendo arcade machine Donkey Kong was ported and released by Coleco on the Atari 2600 in 1982.
In comparison to the NES port of the game, which was released a few years later, Donkey Kong wasn’t a very good replication of the original game. Yet it proved to be popular with gamers.
In the game you need to avoid barrels being thrown by Donkey Kong, a crazed Gorilla who has kidnapped your girlfriend. Most people will remember that you controlled Mario in this game but the original character was called Jumpman (the girlfriend was called Lady but was later renamed Pauline).
Released in 1981, Frogger was a port of the popular Konami arcade game of the same name. The game was orgiinally going to be called ‘Highway Crossing Frog’ but thankfully, someone from the marketing department realised that would have been insane!
The premise of Frogger is incredibly simple. You have to help frogs get across to their home. The first part you need to cross is a busy road with lots of cars, trucks, buses etc. There is a section in the middle where you can relax after crossing the road. After that you need to cross a river via logs, avoiding crocodiles and turtles along the way.
It’s a fairly straight forward game but it’s good fun.
Released in 1981 by Activision, Kaboom was a basic game where you had to catch bombs by the ‘Mad Bomber’. Within two years the game had sold over a million copies.
To play Kaboom you had to use the Atari Paddle Controller to move your bucket under the bombs which were being dropped. The more bombs you caught, the more points you accumulated, with the bombs being dropped at an increased rate as well.
Have a look at the video below to see how insanely quick the game got!
Released in 1981, Missile Command is a good port of the Atari arcade machine.
In the game you are from the planet Zardon. Your mission is to defend your base from attacks from inhabitants of the planet Krytol. In order to do so you fire missiles at the incoming bombs which are falling from the sky towards your planet. Only a well placed shot will destroy the incoming bombs. It doesn’t sound too exciting but it’s strangely addictive!
It was possible for 2 players to play the game but they had to take alternate turns.
Ms. Pac-Man was the second port of the popular Pac-Man arcade game to be developed for the Atari. It was released in 1982, just a few months after the best selling Pac-Man port. The Ms. Pac-Man arcade game was originally an unauthorised sequel to Pac-Man but Namco liked it so much they licensed it and made it official.
Many of you reading this will be wondering why the original Pac-Man is not listed here instead of Ms. Pac-Man. The original sold over 7 million copies and is the game which most people remember, including myself. In fact, as a young boy, Pac-Man and Galaxian were the first two games I can remember playing addictively. I loved Pac-Man and was a bit of demon on it in my pre-school days I’m told.
However, there’s no way of denying that the original game was a very poor port of the arcade game, which is why so many people returned the game for a refund. The flickering ghosts in particular pissed off a lot of people.
Ms. Pac-Man on the other hand, released only a few months later, fixed a lot of the graphics and gameplay bugs which plagued the original. Unfortunately, most people only got to play the original Pac-Man and not the much improved successor.
Check out the video below to see the game in action:
Released in 1982 by Activision, Pitfall! was one of the best selling Atari games of all time shifting more than 4 million copies.
In the game you need to control a man called Pitfall Harry through a jungle in order to find 32 treasures. The game features many obstacles like holes, crocodiles, walls and quicksand.
The game inspired a lot of games in this genre including A Boy & His Blob, Price of Persia and countless others.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was an Atari 2600 game released in 1982. It was based on the movie of the same name.
The game was designed by Howard Scott Warshaw, who is better remembered as the developer of the Atari E.T. game, one of the biggest video game flops of all time (critically and commercially). Thankfully, this game received a lot of critical acclaim.
The game is quite unique in that you need to use two controllers to play the game. The first controller controls Indiana Jones whilst the second controller lets you choose items. It’s actually quite a good way of getting round the limitation of the Atari joysticks having only one button since all Ataris were bundled with two joysticks.
In the game you need to go around mazes and collect items in order to complete the game.
River Raid is a vertical scrolling shooting game which was released by Activision for the Atari in 1982 (It was one of the first games I had for the Commodore 64 so I remember it well!)
In this 1 player game game you control an aeroplane which is flying north. There are lots of obstacles to avoid as well as enemy ships, helicopters and planes. You also had to make sure you collected fuel along the way or your plane would crash.
Released in 1980, Space Invaders was the official licensed game of the hugely popular Taito arcade game. It is credited as popularising the Atari 2600 and is apparently responsible for quadrupling sales of the system.
The game is a fixed shooter game. You control a a cannon upwards towards aliens which scroll horizontally across the screen and then downwards towards you. You must shoot the aliens whilst avoiding their bombs. If the aliens are not killed and they reach the bottom of the screen, the game is over.
Your cannon does have some protection though. At the bottom of the screen are 4 bunkers which you can hide underneath, however these bunkers deteriorate when hit by the alien ships.
Without doubt, Space Invaders is one of the most influential, commercially successful and fondly remembered video games of all time.
Released in 1982, Yars Revenge is one of the best selling Atari 2600 games ever made. Yar is apparently a pun on the Atari’s president at the time, Ray Kassar. This is another game which was designed by Howard Scott Warshaw (Raiders / E.T.).
In the game you control Yar, an insect who must eat or shoot his way out to kill Qotile. You do this by shooting your ‘Zorlon Cannon’.
Essentially, you need to dodge the boss long enough to shoot the barriers down and fire your weapon at him. Which results in you dodging around quite a lot of the game avoiding shots at you.
It doesn’t sound like fun but it’s actually quite challenging.
I hope you enjoyed this round up. If there is a great Atari 2600 game you think should be included in this list, please drop by Electric Bandits and let us know.