Skip to main content

Best Atari 2600 games of all time

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...

Sam Loveridge
Sam Loveridge

Sam Loveridge is the Global Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar, and joined the team in August 2017. Sam came to GamesRadar after working at TrustedReviews, Digital Spy, and Fandom, following the completion of an MA in Journalism. In her time, she's also had appearances on The Guardian, BBC, and more. Her experience has seen her cover console and PC games, along with gaming hardware, for over seven years, and for GamesRadar, she is in charge of reviews, best lists, and the overall running of the site and its staff. Her gaming passions lie with weird simulation games, big open-world RPGs, and beautifully crafted indies. Basically, she loves all games that aren't sports or fighting titles! 

With contributions from