"Classic" Atari Games

- wadE

Those of you who are older than 20 should easily remember the Atari 2600. For the time it came out, it was truly amazing, and everyone had to have one!

Just like today, there were multiple companies that produced games for the Atari system, but the cream of the crop was Activision.

So when I stumbled across a Playstation One game featuring 30 Classic Games from Activision, I just had to pick it up.

I'll be honest with you, I thought this would be an article that would turn into at least a three part series, detailing each of the 30 games...but let me tell you something...most of those games sucked.

Any nostalgic notions I had that games were so much cooler back in the day on the Atari were quickly crushed.

Let's take a look! (in alphabetical order)

Atlantis - Kinda/sorta like a missile command type of game. You have several cities that are underwater (i.e. Atlantis. Your cities are guarded by three guns perched atop cliffs that protrude from the ocean. One is on the right, one is on the left, and one in the middle (these olds games were simple, if nothing else). The gun on the right shoots at a 45 degree angle across the sky, the one on the left shoots across the other direction, and the gun in the middle shoot straight up. The game begins with strange looking aircraft flying across the top of the screen one at a time, if you miss it, it comes back slightly lower and another aircraft has joined flying across the top. If you don't get the planes in their first 3 fly-bys they get low enough to shoot some sort of death-ray down into the ocean destroying one of your cities. The game starts easy enough...and since you can only shoot one of your guns at a time (and only two shots at a time) the easiest strategy is to stick to the middle gun. As with most Atari games (as you'll see the more games I review) the game just gets faster and faster until all your cities are gone. Mindless, lame, yet not absolutely horrible. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 2.

So this is what happend to mythical Atlantis! Damn aliens!

Barnstorming - probably one of my favorites for the sheer absurdity. The plot is that you need to fly your World War I plane through 10 barns as fast as possible. Shown from the side angle, you basically fly up over windmills and then quickly back to ground level to go through the barns. The first few are a simple fly up over the windmill, down through the barn, but then they throw you a curve ball and put two windmills in a row. At this point you are so used to the simple up and down that you can't pull up in time and you crash into the windmill...well, crash really isn't the word, because in this game anytime you hit anything you actually bounce off it it... including birds. After you make it though the 10th barn, the game is over and the clock stops. Yet another classic type of Atari game...the "beat the clock" style game. This game is horribly stupid. At least level 4 is random...the other 3 are easily memorized. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.


Boxing - A moderately fun game if you are playing against two players. For some strange reason while playing this on my PS2 it would keep pausing during the game, even though neither person hit the button. When the game isn't randomly freezing, it's oddly fun...I guess there is something to be said for the simple games. Shot from an overhead view, you have one black figure and one white figure (insert your own racial overtone here). Both players are stuck facing each other and are shaped like the Greek letter Epsilon (capital E but "slantier"). You need to remember that the Atari 2600 only had one button, so when you press your button, your boxer punches with whichever glove is closer to the other guys head. You get 2 points per punch, and 2 minutes to beat the crap out of each other...first to 100 pts gets the KO...otherwise you win by your number of points. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 3.

Rocky vs. Apollo

Chopper Command - The goal is to shoot down all the enemy helicopters and jets. Pretty simple really. And pretty boring. The one neat thing about the game (I had to say "neat", these games came out in 1982!) is the "map" at the bottom of the screen that shows you where the enemies are, so you get to fly both left and right to track them down. All in all, not bad, but not very fun either. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 2.

Yeah, chopper chasing down jets...riiiight.

Cosmic Commuter - Wow, now this game is stupid. You land on a planet with this odd shaped ship, reminiscent of the one that brought ET to earth. The top of the ship pop off (a small blue circle) and you fly around the planet looking for men to pick up...all the time avoiding yellow double stuffed oreo cookies that don't even shoot, and occasionally flying over pink circles with the letter "F" in them so you can refuel before your fuel counter hits zero. This game is soooo boring it's not even funny. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Doesn't it look like ET's ship?


Crackpots - I love the premise of this game. You are standing on top of an apartment building with six windows, there is a potted plant on the ledge of the roof aligned with each of the windows. At the bottom of the screen is the curb, with a storm drain. Strange spider looking creatures come crawling up out of the sewer and start climbing the walls to get into the windows. Your job is to knock off the pots so they crush the nasty beasts climbing up the walls. It starts out easy enough with each creature picking a window and climbing straight up towards it...with subsequent levels they move faster and start zig-zagging as they climb. If six or more of them get into windows, at the end of the round one of them appears at the base of the building, and chews off a layer, and your building is suddenly a bit shorter. After 3 or 4 times of shortening the building, the game is over. The game is fun your first and second time playing, but you lose interest quickly. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 2.

Stuff like this happens in New York, right?

Dolphin - This game might be the worst I've ever played. Here are the actual directions, "Guide your dolphin through openings in the seahorse schools by listening to sonic tones and catching waves. Periodically, a seagull will fly overhead. Have your dolphin leap up, touch the seagull, and then quickly turn and touch the squid." What kind of drugs were these people on? ...and where can I get some? This game is really bad, and playing it makes as much sense as those directions. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 0.

Insert your own Flipper joke here.

Dragster - I remember being 8 years old and trying to figure out how to play this fucking game. The button is your accelerator, and you tap left to shift. Sounds simple enough, right? If you've played this game, you know how frustrating it is. When you first fire up this game you are bound to blow the engine the first 5000 times you play. The secret is when the clock hits zero, shift into first, then hit the gas, as soon as you see red in your gauge, let up, and shift again, and slam back on the gas. Of course by the time you learn this, you realize how shitty this game is, and you are very tired of staring at what might be the worst graphics of any Atari game ever! I dare you to find a game with worse graphics! On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 0.

Wow, look at those graphics!

Enduro - This game is a classic. Pretty lame by today's standards, but used to be pretty fun. The simple premise is that you need to pass 200 cars in 24 hrs. The best parts of the game are towards the end when the sun sets, and then when it's dark you only see the headlights of the cars...even later you get a pretty cool fog effect (at least for the early 80's it was pretty cool). But at the end of the day, it's a still a pretty boring game where all you do is pass cars. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 2.

...and to think, these are "good" graphics...

Fishing Derby - Oy! Ok, two guys sitting on docks across from each other. Magic fishing poles that extend and shorten, and fishing line that moves up and down with ease. The goal is to get the end of your fishing line just under the nose of a fish. The first person to haul up 99 lbs. of fish. The kicker is that there is a giant shark at the top of the water who swims back and forth really quickly...and if the fish you are hauling up even touches the tip of the sharks tail, you lose your fish. I hate that shark. Playing 1 player sucks, the computer is way too good. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Stupid shark! Get away from my fish!

Freeway - Kinda/sorta like Frogger. You are a chicken, and you need to cross the road, but it's like one of those LA style freeways with like 6 lanes on each side. The best part is that the chicken can only run forwards and backwards. The secret is to time it right and you can pretty much just run all the way across. If you don't go at the right moment, it's pretty much impossible to make it and you'll get smacked by a semi.

Somebody is about to become road pizza.

Frostbite - Personally one of my favorites. The premise is that Frostbite Bailey must jump on rows of ice floating across the water, and with each one he lands on a brick is added to his igloo. You have to avoid birds, clams, crabs and a big bear back on shore while jumping around. You must finish your igloo and jump inside before the temperature gets down to zero, otherwise you'll freeze to death. The reason I like this game is probably because I'm really good at it. It's one of those games that keeps getting faster and faster to the point when you almost can't miss a block because they are moving so fast you are bound to land on something when you jump. Personally I'd give this game a 5, but in reality it's more of a 3.

Trust me, more fun than it looks.

Grand Prix - Game objective: Complete the race circuit in the shortest possible time. That's about how complicated this game gets. Do you remember on the Atari there was the one lever that you used to get to different games and difficulty settings? Well this game has 4 different settings. They all look exactly alike, some just take longer to finish. Your view is from above running from left to right...there are no turns. Yes, the course is completely straight, the only thing you need to do is avoid other cars, which conveniently are lined up in 4 rows. It would seem the you are the only racer to figure out how to change lanes. This game is truly boring. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 0.

I hate this game.

Hero - This game kind of reminds me of Metroid. The premise is that you are a "Hero" who is trying to rescue miners. The best part is the propeller backpack that allows you to fly/float down the caves. It seems like this game has potential. It's like the developer had a great idea, but was completely held back by the limitations of the Atari. On the minus side, each level begins with the exact same room, where you must bomb a wall to get to the next screen. Is that really necessary...having to do the exact same thing at the start of each level, especially something so rudimentary. All things considered though, there is some challenge, and it can hold your interest for more than 5 minutes. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 4.

Ok, so maybe it isn't much like Metroid.

Ice Hockey - Game objective: Score more goals than your opponent in the three-minute time period. You will be controlling the player on your team who is holding the hockey stick. This will always be the player closest to the puck. Ok, so you've got two guys on your team who are stuck on their sides of the ice (top or bottom). Shooting is next to impossible unless you are right in front of the goal. The best feature is the ability to hack at the other person when you don't have the puck. After enough hacks they'll "fall" and you can run after the puck. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 3, mostly because of the fun when playing with 2 players.

This game can't compete to Nintendo's Ice Hockey.

Kaboom - One of the best games for the Atari. It doesn't "port" well over the Playstation since this game used the paddles. Instead of spinning a paddle, you push left and right on your controller. The only way you could get far into Kaboom (yet another game that just got faster and faster) was to get the rhythm down of spinning the paddle back and forth. This game is fun for sheer nostalgia, nothing else. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 2.


Keystone Kapers - The goal is to track down the thief before he can leave the building. On one hand the game is pretty easy because you run so much faster than the thief, even though you have to dodge shopping carts and jump over strange looking radiators. My issue with the game is that on the second level, I couldn't get my stupid guy to stop right in front of the elevator so he could ride up and cut the thief off. Level 1, not a problem. Level 2, frickin' impossible. Just enough to leave me bitter. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Elevator not pictured here.

Laser Blast - This game is kind of hard. You are flying a spaceship and you use this Independence Day type of death ray to destroy what looks like three artillery guns. But the bad guys are very accurate, and when they shoot, there is no dodging. This makes the game hard, and not very fun. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 0.

Boom! You're dead.

Megamania - Ah, one of the true classics. This game is a Space Invaders type of game. I remember playing this with my friend Bob and we had names for all of the different ships/creatures/whatever they were. There were the ones that looked like little bugs, and ones that looked like tire tracks...if you played the game, you know what I'm talking about. Nostalgia tells me to rate this a 4...but in reality, it's just a 2.

I think we called these "hamburgers".

Pitfall - Did you know that there is a new version of Pitfall coming out on PS2...I'm serious! You could really say this is the first adventure game for a console system. Without Pitfall, would we have Tomb Raider? It doesn't get much better than this for Activision in the 80's. Except for Pitfall 2...man, I loved that game. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 5. To read about some sad sad people who spend way too much time playing this game and have obviously never seen a real human breast, go here.

Pitfall Harry then...

Pitfall Harry now...

Plaque Attack - Game Objective: Destroy the waves of attacking food before they touch and decay your beautiful, and healthy teeth. No, I'm not kidding. Toss in some really crappy graphics, and you've got yourself a real crappy game. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 0.

Mmmmmm...evil cherries...halalalmph...

River Raid - Another one of the classic games. I personally always preferred being Player 2 on this game because you were a black plane, very Stealth Bomber-like. The game itself was fairly simple, fly through hostile land, shooting up all the bad guys. The only tricky part is having to fly over large "fuel" areas to refuel your plane. If you didn't, you ran out of fuel and crashed. The key to this is to slow down while flying over them to increase the amount fuel you added. Ok, more than you needed to know. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 4.

Stealth Bomber not pictured here.

River Raid 2 - What a huge disappointing sequel. I guess they tried to make this game like some sort of flight simulator. The game starts with you taking off from an aircraft carrier. If you don't push down right after take off to climb, you crash right into the water. There are three bars at the bottom of the screen, one for speed, one for altitude, and one for fuel. The strange thing is that as you push down, your altitude goes up and your speed goes down. If you push up, your altitude goes down and your speed goes up. If you are too low, and it's impossible to tell what "too low" is, you can crash into the land areas you fly by. Also, I couldn't figure out how to refuel, because you need to fly low enough to either shoot or crash into what looks like water towers full of fuel, but again, it's impossible to tell because if you fly too low, you crash into the land. Anyway, assuming you get through a level you need to land on the aircraft carrier...which is also damn near impossible. This game...sucks. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Pull up Maverick...PULL UP!!!

Sea Quest - What kind of submarine needs to come up for air? The sub in this game. Very very lame. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 0.

Doesn't this game look like fun?

Skiing - A simple race against the clock game through classic early video game gates. Not a bad game, just really boring. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Wow...I'm overcome with excitement.

Sky Jinx - This game is just like Skiing, except you are in a plane. Oh, and besides trees, you have to dodge blimps. Again, not a bad game, but even more boring. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

As if the graphics couldn't be worse than Skiing.

Spider Fighter - Pretty much the exact same game as Megamania...but not as good. Yawn! On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Take that you evil orange balls!

Stampede - This game is hard to explain. You are a cowboy whose goal it is to rope some dogies. It's kind of like you are running the kentucky derby, except you have a lasso. I like it because it is different, but it isn't all that fun. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Yee-haw! Get along little dogie!!!

Star Master - The instructions for this game are 4 pages long. 4 pages!!! If you ever played any sort of Star Trek type game on the Commodore 64, this will be moderately familiar. You warp from sector to sector protecting your starbases against attack and periodically docking to get refueled. The screen for flying/attacking is very basic. A classic shot of the stars with a couple of lines making up the crosshairs of your weapon. Did I mention the instructions are 4 pages long? For a freakin' Atari 2600 game. Anyway, the game is pretty boring, even the engaging the enemy screens aren't very exciting. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 1.

Mr. Chekov, lock on phasers!

Tennis - I'm always a fan of the tennis games. Ever since the introduction of Pong, tennis has been a very basic game for all gaming systems. This version is actually pretty good. My only word of caution is to play against another person. The computer doesn't make mistakes and runs everything down. And it's pretty impossible to blow a shot past the computer, even if they are up at the net. Against another person however, the game is actually pretty damn enjoyable. Instinctively you chase down the ball and hit the button to swing, but not long after playing I realized that you don't need to press the button, you just get in the way of the ball and you'll hit it. Kind of lame, but you can direct your shots by being closer or further from the ball when it comes to you. All in all, not bad. On a scale of 1-10, I give the game a 4.

Graphics...bad. Game...good.

Wow, that's a lot of games. This ended up a lot longer than I thought. The moral of our story is...no, things weren't better back in the day on the 2600. Most of these games sucked. Even for the time they came out, many of these games were terrible. But proof that substance is truly more important than style, even some of the better games stand up over time even if their graphics are atrocious.

For more fun, check out www.atariage.com!

- 05/07/2003

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