There are certainly other iconic games for the Atari 2600 not listed in the title of this post but the 5 games I will be discussing here are not just iconic games but include iconic characters. Some have continued on to enjoy success in the modern gaming age (Mario, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man) while others remain memorable relics of the golden age of arcades. I don’t remember exactly when I acquired these 5 games but most were likely purchased in bundles back in the day. I will preface my first Atari game related post to state that the grades I give these games are only relative to other Atari 2600 games. We all know that Donkey Kong ports were much better on systems like Colecovision, NES, Atari 7800, etc. but I won’t be judging this port of Donkey Kong against them. I will be judging the arcade ports against their arcade parents in addition to the overall fun that the game possesses regardless of how faithful it is to the original.
Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 is a tough game for me to grade in 2017 because I’ve played it so many times on more powerful consoles. It was released after the Colecovision version, which was far superior, so it was already at a heavy disadvantage out of the gate. By 1982 there were millions of homes with Atari consoles and having a means to play one of the most popular arcade games meant it was going to sell regardless of it’s quality. To put in perspective of what consumers were treated to; Donkey Kong in the arcades has 4 screens, on the Colecovision there was 3 screens, but on the Atari 2600…..there were 2. The first girder climbing screen and the rivet screen. The first screen is fairly faithful to the arcade but on the rivet screen, the fireballs don’t move up and down the ladders so all you have to do is place Mario partially on a ladder and wait for it to pass in the opposite direction. The two screens are way too easy and the game repeats itself quickly without getting significantly harder. Dying usually occurs when you think you’re going up or down a ladder and you misjudge your position, not because the game amps up the challenge. This is an iconic game for the Atari but it’s hard for me to say its actually good.
Frogger and Q*bert are both pretty faithful renditions of the popular arcade games and overall very fun games for the Atari 2600 but my biggest gripe is with Q*bert. Typically, the enemies in Q*bert will bounce from block to block and you can sort of predict where they are going as a result of the direction they are facing but that animation is completely missing from this version. As a result, you’ll need to stay at least 2 blocks away from enemies at all time in order to ensure that you won’t jump onto a block that they are going to jump onto. It took me a little bit to realize why I was constantly jumping onto blocks at the same time as the enemies…because I couldn’t tell which direction they were going! As for Frogger, there aren’t many negative things to say about this port. It’s car dodging, lily-pad and log jumping Frogger fun and it remains very addictive as all good arcade ports should be.
Finally we have the happy couple of Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man. More so than any other arcade game in the early 80’s, Pac-Man created a fervor amongst even the most casual of video game fans. This meant that any means allowing this ground breaking maze game to be played at home was going to sell big numbers. The home port of Pac-Man was unfortunately, nowhere near arcade faithful thanks to being rushed to capitalize on the craze combined with the hardware limitations the 2600 presented. The issues that players had with this port (poorly designed mazes that didn’t look anything like the arcade, ghosts that flickered constantly, unfortunate hit detection) are legitimate. It really is less of a port than a re-imagining and its a shame because I find this game to be about as fun as the 2600 port of Donkey Kong, which doesn’t get nearly as much shit for being bad. Thankfully, Atari rectified their Pac-Man botch job with the sequel, Ms. Pac-Man. The game looks, plays and feels much closer to the arcade version and as a result, is a way better game.
Currently in my collection:
Donkey Kong: game, manual C
Frogger: game A-
Ms. Pac-Man: game plus a CIB, unopened version with game, manual, box A
Pac-Man: game C-
Q*bert: game B+