Atari VCS/2600 Final Thoughts + New Additions

At the beginning of the month I posed the question “Have you played Atari today?”, which was an Atari advertising slogan in the early 80’s. While the question was initially meant as rhetorical, I can absolutely confirm that almost every day this month I have played an Atari cartridge or two. With a collection that has swollen to 89 games, my Atari 2600 library is now my second largest having surpassed my Sega Genesis collection in size (NES still wins by wide margin). I tried every single game in my collection, all 3 of my consoles, all of my joysticks & paddles and even kept track of my high scores. Spending a month playing Atari games confirmed what I always suspected, I love arcade style gameplay! As a kid, inserting a quarter into the machine meant trying to get my initials on the arcade machines for achieving high scores. The closest I could get to replicating that at home would be to keep track of my high scores on paper and each subsequent gameplay would now have a goal….beat that score! Such a simple way to make these games even more competitive and pleasing for an arcade gamer like myself.

As far as new additions are concerned, I really focused on adding games that are widely considered fun and/or iconic. I corrected an egregious error by adding Pitfall and River Raid, two of the best and most iconic games for the system, to my collection. There are so many games for the 2600 and many of them are mediocre to bad so it makes no sense for me to add games to my collection that either aren’t fun or don’t have some sort of pop culture relevance. I also made a decision, very late in the month, that I wanted to own a copy of all of the Activision games for the 2600. Activision is widely considered, along with Imagic, as the best 3rd party game developer for the VCS/2600. The company consisted of many former Atari employees that were looking for greater recognition for their work and the early Activision game manuals would always feature a photo of the developer along with tips direct from him or her. I also set out to buy as many manuals for my existing cartridges as I could as the manuals are an important aspect of enjoying these games in my opinion. Since most games have multiple variations and sometimes the gameplay mechanics and goal of the games aren’t always intuitive, I’ve found that owning the manuals provides a level of enjoyment to games that I never had before.

I wasn’t able to add my most coveted game to my collection this month, Halloween by Wizard Video Games. Halloween is one of my favorite movies of all time so naturally I would want the video game based on the film. Unfortunately, I never pulled the trigger to get a copy back when I first started collecting for the 2600 in the early 2000’s due to it’s price, which I believe was around $75-90. Now I don’t think I could find a loose copy for less than $120 which I guess isn’t that much of a difference from 2001 vs 2017 prices but the problem is its rarity and how infrequently a copy comes up for sale on eBay. Someday I will own a copy but it just didn’t happen during my Atari VCS month.

The pros and cons of the Atari VCS/2600 console and it’s games are pretty clear. The pros are that it allows gamers to play a wide variety of arcade classics at home and cartridges generally sell for very reasonable prices. This is partly due to the fact that the Atari 2600 sold millions of consoles and games during its heyday so there’s a lot of inventory out there 30-40 years later which drives down prices. The other factor that can be considered is that the Atari 2600 has lost some luster in the retro collecting community in the past 10 years or so as the community’s focus seems to be all things Nintendo (NES, SNES, N64) and 90’s based fringe consoles (TG-16, Neo Geo, Jaguar, even the Sega Saturn and Sega CD to a certain extent). Additionally, the consoles themselves are very durable and reliable which helps the community and keeps cost of consoles down. The biggest con in my mind is that in some cases, better versions of these arcade ports exist for consoles that were released while the 2600 was still popular. Atari’s own 5200 and the Colecovision are the two most obvious options to play better versions of the same games. With that said, many players prefer the Atari 2600 joysticks and paddles over the 5200 and Colecovision controllers which are generally derided for their ergonomic properties and/or durability. Another con, which really has no bearing from a collector’s perspective, is the sheer volume of games with questionable quality. While this was troublesome in 1983 when the internet didn’t exist, now it’s easy to figure out which games are considered turds and what games to steer clear of unless one is going for a complete set. Based on these opinions and my personal experiences with the console and the games for the 2600 I could keep my Atari 2600 permanently hooked up to my CRT TV and never get bored.

Overall Grade: B+

I won’t call out all of the manuals I bought to add to my collection this month but my game additions were:

Combat – picture label version along with box and manual

Space Invaders – picture label version along with box and manual

Pitfall – game, manual, box

River Raid – game, manual, box

Dragonfire – game, manual, box

Moon Patrol – game only

Dolphin – game, manual

Starmaster – game, manual

Space Attack – game, manul

Porky’s – game only

Spider Fighter – game, manual, box

Keystone Kapers – game, manual

Oink! – game only

Jr. Pac Man – game only

Atlantis – game, manual

Chopper Command – game, manual

Skiing – game, manual

Grand Prix – game, manual

Dragster – game, manual

Driving controller and second set of paddle controllers

Here were my high scores for the month as well:

Game Score Variation
Asteroids 79,260 A
Asteroids 36,140 B
Atlantis 11,300
Battlezone 45,000
Berzerk 3,970
Centipede 38,311
Cosmic Ark 13,510
Crystal Castles 18,096
Custer’s Revenge 69
Defender 24,550
Demon Attack 5,170
Demons to Diamonds 962
Dig Dug 78,700
Donkey Kong 29,100
Dragonfire 1,190
Fast Food 1,476
Freeway 31 1
Freeway 18 2
Freeway 20 3
Freeway 23 4
Freeway 25 5
Freeway 16 6
Freeway 14 7
Freeway 26 8
Frogger 1,414
Galaxian 13,440
Gangster Alley 4,090
Gravitar 2,450
Haunted House 9 1
Haunted House 15 2
Journey Escape 98,500
Joust 42,100
Jr Pac Man 13,750
Jungle Hunt 6,250
Kaboom 1,605
Kangaroo 3,100
King Kong 1,490
Laser Blast 18,810
Lock n’ Chase 10,730
Missile Command 39,465
Ms Pac Man 40,990
Night Driver 47 2
Pac Man 3,365
Phoenix 11,880
Pole Position 30,570
Popeye 14,750
Qbert 33,550
River Raid 8,070
Space Invaders 3,520
Star Voyager 1 chevron
Star Wars Arcade 1,238
Super Breakout 606 1
Super Breakout 1,186 3
Super Breakout 996 5
Tapper 54,025
Venture 3,600
Video Pinball 27,636
Wizard of Wor 8,300
Yar’s Revenge 50,173

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