There are almost too many classic games for the Atari VCS/2600 than it is possible to cover in a month so this post contains yet another stellar list of titles from my collection. Asteroids, Defender, Galaxian & Missile Command were all successful and popular arcade games before finding their way onto the Atari 2600. Combat and Yar’s Revenge were original titles for the system, with Combat being one of the launch titles and probably the most common Atari cartridge in the world.
Asteroids is still the same addictively fun shooter that you remember. You control a ship that starts out on the middle of the screen blasting 360 degrees at the multicolored asteroids (boy outerspace sure is pretty) that make their way across your path. As you shoot them, they become smaller but their patterns of movement stay the same which aids in your efforts to anticipate where they will be coming from. You can also use the thrust technique to move your ship from its stagnant position in order to avoid enemy fire in a pinch. I always found Asteroids to be easier the less I moved but as the game progresses, the asteroids themselves become faster and with a larger quantity of them filling the screen, staying put isn’t really an option.
Defender for the Atari 2600 isn’t the best looking port of this classic but it doesn’t mean that there still isn’t some fun to be had shooting at alien spaceships attempting to kidnap humans. This version is clearly much easier than the arcade or some of the other ports (e.g. Colecovision) which is an odd feeling when you consider how inherently difficult Defender is. Defender for the Atari 2600 suffers from the lack of joystick buttons as the hyperspace and bomb options are awkward to engage. I find myself just flying around shooting at enemies and saving humans from falling to their deaths and pretending like those other fundamental game options don’t exists. As its own game, Defender for the Atari 2600 is fun enough but if you’re going to compare it to the arcade, don’t bother.
Galaxian and Missile Command are amazing arcade ports in my opinion and two of the best for the Atari 2600, period. Galaxian is the less popular older brother to Galaga but essentially plays the same. Shoot upwards, avoid enemies & their fire that are swooping down towards you. Clear the screen and move on to the next. What’s not to love about this tried and true gaming concept? Missile Command requires super fast reflexes and precision to counter the enemy’s missile attacks and save your cities from destruction. I don’t own a roller ball controller for my Atari so I play using my joystick but I feel the gameplay is equally as impressive and fun. This is my favorite of the bunch and is one of my top 5 favorite Atari 2600 games.
Yar’s Revenge is one of the most impressive original Atari creations and has enough interesting elements to keep it high on most Atari fans’ best of lists. You control an insect like creature (Yar) attempting to destroy Qotile for irrelevant reasons I’m uncertain of. Qotile has a barrier surrounding it and a couple of defense mechanisms (a swirl that it hurls towards you as well as a homing missile that slowly follows you everywhere you go.) Once you’ve exposed Qotile, you can touch it to deploy your own missile to attack and hopefully destroy it but it approaches from the far side of the screen so you must time it perfectly since Qotile is a moving target. There is also a weird static looking barrier in the middle of the screen that acts as a neutral zone but I don’t find myself using it that often. Yar’s Revenge is memorable and offers an interesting take on the traditional space shooter. If Galaxian is the traditional Space Invaders clone, then Yar’s Revenge is the cool alternative nerd hanging out in the A/V department after school hours. Its the David Cronenberg to Galaxian’s Steven Spielberg. Yar’s Revenge is the Videodrome to Galaxian’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Ok, I think I’ve exhausted that particular analogy, you get what I’m trying to say. Both games rock but in different ways.
Last but not least is Combat. The gaming equivalent of finding a penny when you’re searching for Atari games in the wild, Combat was a launch title and pack-in from 1977-1982 that offered players a multitude of 2 player options including tanks, planes & jets. Each variation tweaked the rules and what was offered in the way of defenses so it’s likely that original players of this game had their favorites growing up that they will throw down to defend. Like most of the Atari launch titles, Combat hasn’t aged particularly well. The graphics are boring, the gameplay is standard and the fact it requires 2 players really detracts from it’s usefulness 40 years later unless you happen to have a retro game aficionado nearby when you want to pop this bad-boy in. Usually I don’t have that luxury as my children don’t find Combat to be that engaging and they actually like retro games! This would be game that could possibly get two ratings from me. One for nostalgia and one for current playability/enjoyment.
Currently in my collection:
Asteroids – game, manual A-
Combat – game B- (nostalgia B+, current playability C)
Defender – game B
Galaxian – game, manual, box A-
Missile Command – game A
Yar’s Revenge – game, manual A-