Atari 2600 essentials
When introducing someone (or yourself) to the classic Atari 2600, which games and accessories do you need to try out in order to get a feel for what the console is all about?
I want to talk about the essential games and accessories while avoiding the typical list of games that are overpriced and constantly talked about. While games like H.E.R.O. are a lot of fun, I don’t feel like they are essential to getting a feel for what the console has to offer.
For starters, you will need a console. Don’t worry about heavy sixers vs light sixers vs the Darth Vader vs the junior. To most people there will be little difference. I personally like the wood grain 4, but any model should work. (There are also a ton of Flashback consoles with games built in that give a good feel for the console)
To hook up the console- you will need a way to hook an analog RF source to your TV. A CRT TV will be most likely to have an analog RF tuner and will give you the most “authentic” experience. Otherwise, for new TV’s, you can use a VCR to go from an analog RF to composite out (yellow/red/white) to hook into your TV. A VCR can be found at most Goodwill stores for $10. You will also need an adapter to go from the hard wired RCA/Phono plug that is built into the console to coax (That is the standard screw-on type connector). You can use either the classic game/tv switch or this little guy. The last choice would be to buy a modded console (or mod a console yourself). If that is a path that you want to venture down, start with the Atari Age forums and go from there. The mod is pretty simple and cheap, but the end result can vary a lot depending on how it is done.
You will also need 2 joysticks or Sega gamepads (2,3, or six button will all work.). I recommend the Atari joystick over a gamepad to get a better experience, but either will work. You do need 2 because multiplayer is where the system shines.
- Combat. This game is readily available and extremely cheap because it was a pack in game with the console for so long. Along with that, it is a game that pretty much every Atari owner has played. It shines in 2 player head to head mode and has a ton of different game types built in. Just because it is cheap doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun!
- Pac-Man. This game is often panned heavily, but it was another game that pretty much every Atari owner has played. It does suffer from a lot of issues, but when it came out it was the only way to play Pac-Man at home. The bigger reason to play it, however, is that the sound effects are iconic. They were used thought the 80’s and 90’s as generic video game sound effects in a huge variety of TV shows and movies.
- Space Invaders. This is one of the few Atari ports that people often prefer to the arcade counterpart. The pacing is better than the arcade, there is a two player mode, and there are many different game variations that were not in the arcade. Hold down the game reset as you turn on the power for a nice surprise.
- Yars’ revenge. Besides being a classic, this game really shows off what the Atari 2600 can do. This is a single player game where your end goal is basically a high score.
- Maze craze. This is another great head to head two player game. It includes many variants like cops and Robbers mode (Player 1 tries to catch Player 2) and blind mode where you navigate the maze by sound
- Missile command. This is another arcade port and people who loved it in the arcade are usually not fond of this port, but people who played it first on the Atari say that it is the best way to play. The reason is that in the arcade it used a trackball, but the home release used the joystick. While you can get a trackball for the Atari 2600, I feel that the game plays best with a joystick.
- Asteroids. Yet another home port of the arcade machine that also drew criticism from people that loved the game in the arcades. The arcade version used vector graphic, while the Atari 2600 port used solid looking graphics. The gameplay is great for both both versions – I prefer the home port myself.
- Pitfall! Pitfall! was a revolutionary game by a third party developer (Activision) that is often credited with being the first side scrolling platformer. You have 20 minutes to collect 32 treasures. Sounds easy – right?
- Ms. Pac-Man. Ms. Pac-Man really showed that a good version of Pac-Man was possible on the console. A lot of people miss this title because of the bad reputation of the first one. Don’t make the same mistake!
- Adventure. Adventure was another game that introduced a genre. You play yellow square who is trying to retrieve a chalice and bring it back to yellow castle. You are being chased by 3 dragons and harassed by a bat. The best description that I have heard for this game is that The Legend of Zelda is the NES port of Adventure. (I forget who said that, my apologies. I think that it is a very accurate description though.)
If you can get a working set of paddles please check out
Kaboom! By Activision – This is a single player paddle game that nails it with great graphics and fun gameplay.
Video Olympics – Video Olympics is all of the pong variations dumped onto one cartridge.
Double Bonus – If you can get 2 working sets of paddles please check out:
Warlords – This game features 4 player head to head gameplay and is another classic.
My Personal favorite games on the system that are not essentials:
Moon Patrol – This is another arcade port. While it is a very simplified version of the arcade game, the gameplay is spot on.
Solar Fox – I did a review of this game here: Solar Fox Review for Pac-Month
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator – This is another arcade port where I feel that they nailed the gameplay. It is also a release by Sega!
Freeway – Why did the chicken cross the road? To play this game, obviously!