From time to time I’ve been keeping an eye out for Atari 2600 games to improve my small collection, especially boxed copies. I didn’t have too many back in the day so almost everything is new in terms of both owning and playing. And though the system is almost 45 years old (!) now I’m still impressed with just how capable the system is in creating games that deliver a great experience. Thanks to recent sales I landed copies of:
- Missile Command
Both Missile Command and Berzerk came together and were in really good condition, as was Megamania. The Solaris box was a little beaten up but putting them all in box protectors will help mitigate any risk of further damage in the future. Seeing how old these are you can’t really expect the packaging to be perfect but I do like seeing that the previous owners had put some care into how the games were treated. Of course they must be tested and I was happy to plug them in and see what they were like… 😉
In the arcade, Atari’s Missile Command (developed by Dave Theurer) tasked players with defending cities from an incoming nuclear attack. It leveraged a trackball to move a cursor across the screen and three buttons to control launching your defensive missiles from one of three bases. Success relied on good aim as you had to predict the flight paths of the incoming warheads as well as management of a limited number of missiles you had available. Translating that to a single button joystick might seem difficult but the port by Rob Fulop is a great example of a smart design choice by cutting down the number of players missile bases to just one, mapped to that single fire button. Additionally, the cursor movement that’s mapped to joystick directions is intuitive enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s a step down from a trackball. In comparison to the original game it plays very well.
Stern’s Berzerk (developed by Alan McNeil) was a proto-Robotron that pitted a player against a roomful of robots and the indestructible Evil Otto. Standouts of the arcade game at the time were the identifiable characters and use of digitized audio. Now, the 2600 wasn’t going to be doing digitized audio at that time but developer Dan Hitchens does a great job of translating the look and gameplay and I think it’s really impressive. The screen size and resolution may only be a fraction of what the arcade could do but the essential parts of the game are all there and it runs at a decent pace too which makes it another excellent conversion.
Megamania (by Steve Cartwright) has elements of Space Invaders and Galaxian but combines it with some oddball enemies and a variety of different attack patterns. The player’s energy gauge adds an element of haste to your play that goes into the risk/reward territory and the plays fast which makes it a fun distraction.
The final addition to the collection is Doug Neubauer’s Solaris – a game that really has no right to be as good as it is on the 2600. Taking much of what he achieved in his classic Star Raiders he has somehow distilled a space combat game even further down to one that has many of the elements, in some places more, of the original but is a far better fit for the more limited platform. It even looks substantially better and doesn’t need the keypad controllers which is a massive bonus. Whether it is truly better than Star Raiders is open to debate but it is an amazing piece of work that deserves recognition.
I really shouldn’t be too surprised with how good these games are but time often tends to go against the play value of earlier titles… at least in the eyes of younger gamers. So jumping into these and having fun is a great feeling and provides plenty of incentive for me to find a few more games out there too. 🙂