The Top 25 Atari 2600 Games
The Atari 2600 is also the one console that could arguably be claimed as the herald of modern gamings success and a stark reminder of economic collapses ability to topple even the mightiest; the crash of 1983 was at least partially due to the constant churn of low quality games being produced for the console.
But that Atari 2600 lays claim to its fair share of games that still stand as pillars within their respective genres. So far removed from its heyday, it might be easy to forget exactly which these were and are. Thank goodness for this definitive list of the Best Atari 2600 games of all time
25 - Defender II
In the game, the player pilots a spaceship that is tasked with defending the humans on the surface while destroying the aliens that pop up on the screen. The second joystick is used to control many of the extra features, like hyperspace, which is wise move considering the original Defender instead had the player going off the screen in order to use such things.
24 - Berzerk
With some skill, players could move themselves so that robots ran into walls or even shot each other. But Evil Otto always came if they lingered too long, balancing things out, and making escaping from the entrance to the exit of any screen more complicated.
23 - Jungle Hunt
The game consisted of a series of scenes that the player was required to traverse. The first a level of ropes the character must swing across, then a crocodile-infested river they must ford followed by a scene where the player must run under boulders and jump over rocks to reach the final screen. In that final area, only two spearmen block the path to rescue the girl.
Though it may sound straightforward, the second difficulty setting, simulated depth and excellent color make Jungle Hunt a cartridge worth tracking down.
22 - River Raid
It was also one of the first games to procedurally generate the placement of enemies and other objects, making it near impossible to try and memorize a set path. While it might not be the best Atari 2600 game, it is certainly a staple in any collection.
21 - Atlantis
The player uses three stationary missile bases to fire at invaders dropping from the sky. In order to destroy them, the player must time their shots so that they intersect with the interlopers at exactly the right moment. Atlantis is also highly praised for being one of the first games with a true ending. When all of Atlantis is destroyed, a small craft escapes to fight again another day.
20 - Demon Attack
The player was represented by a spaceship that shot vertically at demons that shot right back. Over time, different waves would have different attributes, like splitting when hit. While the graphics for the Atari 2600 werent terribly impressive, even at the time of release, Demon Attack went on to become the best-selling Imagic cartridge on the system.
19 - Joust
The game pits the player as a knight with a lance riding a flying ostrich with the goal of knocking the other ostrich-riding knights about, gathering eggs and survival in general. As the waves progress, more enemies attempt to unseat the player. On. And there's lava. Did we mention that there's lava?
18 - Spy Hunter
Gameplay primarily consists of two segments: Land and Water. The player pilots a car and then a boat in the different acts that tries to avoid or destroy the enemy vehicles chasing them. It also came with a special controller piece that would let two joysticks be conjoined so the player could use both the machines at the front of the vehicle and the back.
17 - Raiders of the Lost Ark
The game loosely follows the plot of the movie and requires a series of somewhat obscure steps in order to complete it and find the ark. Both joysticks are necessary - one for movement, one for the players inventory - and if that werent complicated enough, certain events only occur at random intervals in the game.
Even with the ridiculous difficulty, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a wonderfully varied game for something as simple as the Atari 2600. Too bad movie tie-ins didn't remain this good for long...
16 - Asteroids
The objective of the game is to last as long as possible, destroying asteroids and other objects as they appear while avoiding them as well. Though it was considered a much easier game than the arcade original, the Atari 2600 still stands out as an example of how to make potentially repetitive games an enjoyable experience.
15 - Yars Revenge
The game features the player as an intergalactic flying bug that must shoot down the evil Qotile which hides behind its shields. There is a neutral zone in the middle where missiles cannot hurt the player but the player cant shoot either. The Qotile has some tricks up its sleeve, though, and can still fire an angry swirl and do damage.
Part of the appeal was the difficulty of the game and strategies that developed using the various mechanics available. Specifically, the neutral zone is often cited as a stroke of genius.
14 - Centipede
Though the hardware limitations prevented the same graphical quality from being presented, the gameplay translated incredibly well to home consoles. The player moves a cannon from side to side while firing at the centipede making its way through the course. Extra points are granted for hitting various other enemies like the spider and fleas.
13 - Ms. Pac-Man
Whereas the original Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man was a (very) poor port, the port of Ms. Pac-Man was nothing if not stellar and crisp. Of everything included in the arcade cabinet, the only thing missing from the Atari 2600 version were the intermissions. That means that four different mazes, different-colored ghosts, fruit, and even an animated title screen made the jump to consoles, and that's none too shabby, especially considering how much was cut from the original Pac-Man port.
12 - Q*bert
The entire game revolves around the titular character, Q*bert, jumping around to turn blocks the same color. Whilst the player goes about this business, Coily the snake and other bizarre creatures give chase. Its admittedly a pretty weird scene, but it's weird in a good way.
11 - Pong
But the time-honored tradition of the original Pong is something that cant easily be tainted. The gameplay consists of tennis-like rules where two paddles bounce a ball between them and hope to have the opponent miss in order to score a point. Given that its usually black on white, theres not much more to this. It was immensely popular upon release and remains one of the most influential and oft-copied games of its time.
10 - Warlords
The players each control a shield guarding a wall of blocks in front of their respective knights. A fireball bounces around the screen that the players can deflect using paddle controllers to send them off at their enemies to destroy the blocks guarding their knights. The last knight standing wins the round and the winner of five rounds wins the game.
Though the graphics are nothing to write home about, the game they represent certainly is. Talk about a series overdue for a revisit.
9 - Frogger
The 1982 version included everything from the arcade game, like navigating the street filled with cars, the river full of logs and flies that could be picked up for extra points. The bright and distinct colors made all of the different objects stand out from each other in a way that made sense. The Atari 2600 version is a timeless classic, and perhaps the best version of Frogger.
8 - Pole Position
The core game remained unchanged, however, and the gameplay had the player weaving in and out of a series of enemy cars while twisting and turning with the road. The car accelerates automatically and the fire button acts as a brake button as the player jets down the raceway. Though the environment might be sparse and oddly colored, the game itself continued to be exhilarating. Everything that made the arcade game as good as it was made the jump to home consoles.
7 - Dig Dug
The player, as the intrepid gardener Dig Dug, must dig around and try to blow up the pesky enemies cluttering the screen with their handy-dandy air pump. There are also rocks scattered about that the player can strategically use to drop on said enemies if they so choose. They arent terribly discriminating, however, and will crush the player just as easily.
6 - Space Invaders
The different variations allowed for elements like moving shields and invisible invaders but the core game remains a classic. Though it went on to inspire games like Galaxian and Galaga, the original Space Invaders for Atari 2600 remains a worthwhile game to play for an afternoon or more.
5 - Combat
Though simplistic and straightforward, the game remains an enjoyable experience due mostly to the tank levels. A form of Tank Pong can be played that is both brilliant and strangely addicting. Shots bounce off walls and some variations require them to do so before they hit their target. Then again, its Pong with tanks; theres little there that doesnt sound appealing.
4 - Adventure
In the game, the player navigates a series of screens in order to find and return an enchanted chalice to the gold castle. There are multiple items hidden throughout the world, such as swords and the keys needed to unlock the castles, as well as monsters to defeat. There are even dragons named Yorgle, Grundle, and Rhindle that will eat the player if they come in contact with them.
3 - Super Breakout
What Super Breakout offers over its progenitor is a set of three different modes other than the original. Double gave the player two bars on top of each other to move and two balls to juggle, Cavity provided two extra balls encased in bricks that could be used once freed and Progressive, like it sounds, progressively moved the ceiling down to make play faster and more difficult as time went on.
2 - Missile Command
Though it began life as an arcade game, the Atari 2600 port remained miraculously faithful to the source. It limited the player to one missile base, three missiles on the screen at once, and had some other oddities, but remained largely the same even down to the screeching alarms and tones. As an added bonus, the backgrounds changed colors as the waves continue.
The hectic pace and consistent movement made Missile Command an enjoyable game when it first released, and it remains so because of it. Quick! Someone give this game the Geometry Wars treatment, stat!
1 - Pitfall!
The real trouble comes when you factor in the time limit - a mere 20 minutes. The game even taunted players by providing underground tunnels that advanced the screen three times for every full tunnel explored. Unfortunately, said tunnels are even more dangerous that the ground above them with scorpions guarding their passages. If you were looking to actually complete the game, however, they were a necessary evil.
Those lucky enough to reach 20,000 points could even score a sweet patch from Activision for their trouble. How many other games can boast such claims?
What do you think?
Obviously not every game could make the list - there are only so many games that can be labeled the absolute best. We're sure that some of you have games you think should have been added, cut, or rearranged, so let us know in the comments below what you would change about our list of the Best Atari 2600 games of all time.