Finally, the second half of the CDP‘s list of the Top 30 Atari 2600 games of all-time. This is my own personal list based on games that I’ve been fortunate enough to play over the last 26 years, and by no means is a complete document of well-researched Atari 2600 history. Please enjoy.
Proof that classic and timeless games don’t have to look good at all to be amazing, Asteroids looked identical on almost every platform it was released for, including the 2600. Most games from this era had no ending; you simply played until you died, and that always gave me an anxiety complex at the time. Even though I loved Asteroids, I’m pleased that we’ve more or less moved on from ‘high score’ aspect and focused more on rewarding the victor with a cheap cut scene or poorly-dubbed dialogue. We’ve come so far.
Semper Fi, SS Triangle. Semper Fi.
14. River Raid
River Raid always reminded me of Spy Hunter if it was set in a river (such brilliant insight by a published author). This was yet another one of the many spectacular games created by Activision for the Atari 2600, and one of the more popular at the time; everyone I knew had River Raid before I did. I was never any good at it, but I always came back in an attempt to conquer it, which is a sign of a classic game, in my opinion.
What an interesting and groundbreaking game. Enemies that couldn’t be killed, one of the first examples of speech synthesis in a cartridge, maze-like levels and a Boss that actually killed players in real-life. If you’ve been previously unaware of Berserk, click the links and get educated on one of the weirder chapters of early gaming history.
Also known as Panic Attack: The Game, the Centipede/Millipede combo was fast-paced, frantic, worthy only of skilled players and capable of causing all-out brawls between friends competing for high scores. I think I remember getting punched in the face as a direct result of a Centipede marathon. I’m sure I was in the right, whatever the argument was.
11. Crystal Castles
The older I get, the more I appreciate and enjoy Crystal Castles. Sure, ‘Bentley Bear’ is one of the more feminine and un-intimidating lead characters in Video Game history, but this was the first attempt at taking a Pac-Man-style game and putting into the third dimension. There used to be a Crystal Castles machine at the laundromat next to my best friend’s house in the Third Grade, reminding me that the best memories are sometimes made in the most awkward and depressing places. I’m so happy that I own my own washing machine.
Seaquest holds an interesting place in my heart for being the only game in history that my mother could destroy me at. She loved this game; absolutely adored it for some reason, and practiced hard and often at consistently taking me to task over and over again. She never showed this level of compassion or obsession for any other game since then, which I find incredibly bizarre, yet endearing. From my own standpoint, the sound effects and gameplay are addictive and the premise is fun and endlessly replayable. I love Seaquest, although probably not as much as my mom did.
When it comes to simplistic, addictive games, Breakout is nearly on par with Tetris as being stylistically perfect. The ‘seconds to learn, a lifetime to master’ element shines with full-force here, all but cementing Breakout‘s status as a game that will be played for generations to come. No honest storylines, characters or objectives to speak of here, just a fun exercise that has entertained millions for almost 30 years now.
The racing game that essentially created all racing games to follow, Pole Position was an arcade staple; In fact, I’ve seen more of these machines at various arcades over the last 20 years than any other games I can think of, with the exception of Ms. Pac-Man. The Atari 2600 transfer wasn’t 100% perfect, but for me, the idea of never having to pay to play Pole Position again was an awesome feeling for my 7-year-old self.
Oh, man. What else is there to say about Space Invaders? The sheer paranoia brought about by the grating sound effects and ever-advancing alien army. The fact that it’s one of the longest-lasting and revered video games ever made. The fact that, even after all these years, it sort of scares me for some reason. There’s just something about Space Invaders that we’re all well-aware of, and that’s neat to me. Maybe the nostalgic feeling of the game has long surpassed the actual credentials that Space Invaders realistically entails, but isn’t that what all good things do?
6. Jungle Hunt
Stage One: Swing through a series of vines. Stage Two: Swim with (and subsequently stab to death) bloodthirsty crocodiles. Stage Three: Jump over/run under advancing boulders of various sizes. Stage Four: Jump over two evil cannibals that plan on eviscerating your girlfriend. Repeat as necessary. The sound was tight, the graphics did exactly what they needed to do, and the realization that the ‘girlfriend’ you just saved was a pigtail-swinging 10-year-old make Jungle Hunt an absolute must-play Atari 2600 classic.
As you’ve probably noticed with this Top 15 list, it’s really hard to list the shortcomings or downfalls of the bulk of these games. When you talk about the greatest Atari and Arcade classics of all-time, you’re dealing with games that have transcended their electronic limitations and changed our lives in one way or another. Ranking some of these games is arguably next to impossible; they’re all worthy of the highest praise. Frogger is no exception. By taking a simple task, throwing a simple storyline atop of it and adding simple twists to appeal to gamers, Frogger is a perfect example of flawless game creation in action.
With current games boasting 90 minutes of cutscenes, downloadable content, online play and endless button combinations, it’s good to remember that myriad options does not necessarily a classic game make.
Sweet merciful Jesus, do I love Spider Fighter. Apart from the awesome cover art and downright-disgusting instruction manual art for the game, it is without any uncertainty the fastest and most difficult Atari 2600 game I’ve ever played. You can click on the accompanying link to see the gameplay in action if you wish, which is an absolute blast and improving on just about everything that its influences had created in the past. When it came to producing quality Atari games, Activision was in a class all its own. There is a ‘plug-and-play’ game out there now with Spider Fighter on it; I strongly suggest you shell out the $9.95 and own it for yourself.
February 1, 1987. A day which will live in infamy. The Atari 2600 is given to me by my parents for my 5th birthday, which includes a copy of Missile Command. A mere handful of hours later, Missile Command becomes the very first of hundreds of video games that I win. The feeling was incredible, and I’ve been a changed man ever since. My sister was born the day prior to this, but I’ll stand firm in my theory that my Missile Command victory had the longest and most profound effect on me.
Three years before Super Mario Bros. took over the world, Pitfall Harry made gaming history for the Atari 2600. With an astounding 2.6 million copies sold, Pitfall! is one of the most popular cartridge games ever made, and rightfully so. This was a game; there were objectives. There was a beginning and an end (not a great one, but a definitive ending nonetheless). There was strategy, a time limit, and many different ways to complete your missions. In short, this was a brilliant example of what would later become the home gaming explosion of the late-80’s. For my money, Pitfall! was the greatest game ever created specifically for the Atari 2600.
1. Dig Dug
After all this time, after all these years and after all these advances in entertainment and video game technology, there is one game on this Top 30 list that I will come back to again and again, and it’s Dig Dug. It’s the perfect combination of strategy, pattern recognition, high score maximization, sound effects and theme music (which only plays if you’re moving around, hilariously), increasingly difficult levels and the feeling that you can always get better at it. Dig Dug is a true, original classic. It’s still fun, still conjures up good feelings and memories and can be played by anyone. To me, it’s what best represents the Atari 2600 Age, and those who were fortunate enough to live in it.
Thanks for reading. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.