In the days of Xbox and whatever all the other video game systems that the kids are going wild over, I look back with fondness at the system I grew up with and the favorite Atari 2600 video games I loved.
No, the graphics weren’t that great. By today’s standards, Atari 2600 video games look like they were rendered on a slow Commodore 64. (Remember those little gems?) But the video game revolution had to begin somewhere, and when you grew up in the 1970s, Atari was it.
Here are my 10 favorites.
Megamania was an Activision game designed for the Atari 2600. It was a Space Invaders-like game in that the player’s ship remained at the bottom of the screen, able to move only left and right and fire at waves of enemy vessels that resembled everything from bowties to rolling dice to steam irons. It was an enjoyable game because each wave featured ships that could move in different ways and each brought new challenges as the game continued.
There was a time when my dad and I would go to the arcade every other week or so. During those outings, Joust, a game that featured knights on flying ostriches jousting against enemy knights as they avoid a lava pit was a favorite of ours. So naturally, it was a favorite of mine on the Atari 2600.
In Defender, you had to shoot aliens and rescue humanoids who were being abducted by alien ships.
Atari’s version of Pac-Man certainly didn’t live up to the visual quality of the arcade version, but the basic gameplay hadn’t changed: you’re still the familiar yellow character being chased through a maze eating up wafers while being pursued by ghosts.
5. ‘River Raid’
In River Raid, you flew a plane forced to fly over a river and blow up other planes, tankers and bridges. If you tried to fly over land, you crashed, so the river channel had to be very deep or you had to be flying really, really low. It was a good action game because there seemed less of a pattern for enemy aircraft, so you had to stay on your toes.
6. ‘Donkey Kong’
This is the game that launched one of the most famous video game characters of all time, Mario. But when this game made its debut, he wasn’t yet named: he was simply known as Jumpman. Jumpman’s mission was to rescue his girlfriend, Pauline, from Donkey Kong, a giant ape who’d kidnapped her. He had to climb various beams in a construction-type atmosphere and dodge fires and barrels that the ape dropped to stop him from reaching the modern-day Fay Wray.
7. ‘Dig Dug’
Dig Dug was a character tasked with disposing of underground monsters called Pookas and Fygars. The Pookas looked like walking tomatoes while the Fygars resembled miniature fire-breathing dragons. Dig Dug could either blow up the monsters with an air pump or drop rocks on them to kill them. But Dig Dug could be killed by a rock fall, by being burned by a Fygar’s fire, or touching either a Pooka or Fygar.
Q*Bert was an odd-looking little furball with a trumpet-shaped nose whose goal in life was to change the surface color of cubes stacked in a pyramid by hopping onto them. A series of other creatures, including blobs and snakes, hope to stop him in his tracks.
This game was a space-flight simulator-style game requiring players to track down and destroy enemies while protecting four starbases. You had to monitor damage from enemy fire, keep tabs on your energy level, and track your surroundings with a sector chart you could switch to. It was a challenge to figure out what you were looking at in the charts (again, graphics at that time weren’t what they are today), but once you got the hang of it, this was an exciting game to play.
10. ‘Space Invaders’
This was the most dull of the games on my list, particularly by today’s standards. But it was a fun game in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My haven’t things evolved?
That’s my list. And yes, I’m suddenly tempted to dig out that old Atari and play a few of these…if only I can figure out where I put it!