These are the 10 games Atari should include on the Ataribox
Atari is about to have a renaissance.
Today’s unveiling of the new Ataribox jolted the gaming world wide-awake this morning, stoking feelings of nostalgia in both the middle-aged fans of the original Atari 2600 console and newer fans of retro games.
The 8-bit games of the Atari 2600 were often a memorably basic experience. The console was notably weaker than its contemporaries, the Intellivision and ColecoVision, so gameplay tended to be simpler, more direct, and lower-resolution.
But that didn’t mean the games were bad. On the contrary, the sparse memory available for Atari games and the large catalog meant game developers needed to be clever and innovative in other ways. A tiny block could represent an entire character. Simple physics like bouncing a ball against a wall were realized in dozens of different ways. In the race to stand out, the most mundane things — frogs catching flies, for instance — could be re-interpreted as games.
Atari had plenty of hits, misses, and storied legends (whole books could be written — and have been — about how bad the E.T. game was), but for everyone who grew up with the Atari 2600, there are some signature games that you could play for hours and hours and hours. These get our vote:
Eight-bit dragons have never been more scary. The goal of Adventure is always the same, and it uses pretty much the same map every time you play, but the random placement of the items at the beginning somehow keeps it fresh. It helps that the items aren’t focused on violence (there’s only one real weapon, the sword), and you have to love the utter chaotic randomness of a character — the Bat — whose sole purpose is to grab stuff and leave you other stuff.
Combat in a real way, was the original game console, predating the Atari 2600 with its own single-game system, and the cartridge came packaged with the original Atari. Ultra-nostalgic game cred aside, Combat has some fantastic (if absurd) physics, with things like ricocheting tank shells and bombers that shoot one big, single “bomb” at other planes. If you mastered either, you were unbeatable.
Right before the bottom fell out of the game market, Atari created its own franchise of fantasy games, planning four connected titles, each sold with an accompanying comic book that offered clues on how to solve the puzzles in the game. The puzzles were confusing, the gameplay was frustratingly repetitive, and the fourth installment never came out (though prototypes are still rumored to exist). Atari should complete the game and include all four installments — if only so fans can finally finish the damn thing.
The Empire Strikes Back
Never have so many Star Wars fans destroyed so many Imperial Walkers. Sure, it’s one of the most repetitive games ever made, but there’s real strategy to killing the Empire’s black, 2D AT-ATs, and the game succeeds in amplifying feelings of panic (the Walkers are about to reach your base!) and relief (You’ve got the Force! With the Star Wars theme!).
How would this game ever get greenlit today? A game based on frogs catching flies on a pond shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. The gameplay is super-simple — you compete with a friend (or the computer) — to catch flies on your tongue as you leap from lily pad to lily pad. It might sound boring on paper, but go head-to-head with your roommate, and you’ll find yourself talking smack whenever your frog snatches the tiny black dot before he does.
This is easily the best of the “cockpit” games Atari ever produced. Star Raiders pushed the Atari’s capabilities to the max, with a galactic map screen, limited resources (energy) that you had to allocate, and some very cool, high-speed starfighter combat (for the time). Krylons 4-ev-ah!
Alien worlds, flying bugs in armor, and a whole bunch of different ways to destroy stuff — Yar’s Revenge had all that, plus an incredibly cool mythology, fully explained in the accompanying comic. More than being a classic game to include, no Atari game deserves a sequel more.
All the activities — swinging over crocodiles, jumping scorpions in caves, and avoiding tar pits — were repetitive, sure, but somehow Pitfall hit the bulls-eye on atmosphere, perhaps through the delightfully beep-y Tarzan yell. The sequel, Pitfall 2, was certainly a much better game, but was much less memorable.
Breakout is rightfully a classic, but it was just a tad too basic to really remember that fondly. Super Breakout, however, took things up a couple of notches with better graphics and many more realizations of the walls you have to keep wrecking to survive. This sequel learns from the movies: When the wall isn’t just a barrier, but is actually closing in on you, the feeling of peril is amplified considerably.
The Man of Steel’s Atari incarnation was a surprisingly complex game that has just enough of the Adventure ethos (with some odd objects and unique characters) and exhilaration (it really is satisfying to fly around and grab baddies as Supes) to succeed. Superman showed just how much you can do with just a joystick and a button.