The Atari 2600 Video Computer System, or VCS, is one of the greatest consoles of all time. It was the system that truly kicked off the games industry we have today and turned it from a geeky pastime into a global phenomenon. First released in 1977, the last games were released for it in 1991, giving it an amazing 14 year shelf life. Several different models including the iconic “Woody” and the sleek Junior edition, sales of over 30 million and of course the most famous joystick design of all time mean this system will never be forgotten and will forever remain a favourite with retro gamers everywhere. But what are the best 10 games the system has to offer? Let’s find out!
10. Space Invaders
Space Invaders was the game that well and truly kicked off the video game industry we have now. It was the very first licensed arcade conversion and helped sell millions of Atari 2600s as people clambered to play the unbelievably popular arcade in their homes. The VCS version looks a little different with its chunky graphics and use of colours but the 112 game variations (yes you read that right!) more than make up for it! Space Invaders is not just a fantastic game from a historical point of view; it still plays every bit as well today.
9. Winter Games
Epyx only released three Atari 2600 games, but all of them are fantastic (Summer Games only just missed this list). As amazing as California Games is, it still only had four events, so how many does this title have? Five? Six maybe? Nope, Winter Games has an incredible seven different events included on one cartridge! On offer here we have the Slalom (skiing), Ski Jump, Bobsleigh, Speed Skating, Luge, Biathlon and finally the Hot Dog – an acrobatic ski jump style event. Each one is every bit as playable as the other.
I don’t think that it’s possible to compile a list of the greatest Atari 2600 games without mentioning Pitfall!. David Crane’s masterpiece was one of the most important games to be released for the machine and remains among its best selling titles. It has spawned numerous sequels, had a cartoon based on it and made Activision a household name. Many of today’s adventure games and platforms can trace their roots back to this game, undoubtedly one of the most important video games released to not come out of an arcade.
Phoenix has a special place in the video game hall of fame because it was the very first game to feature a boss, or mothership as it was then known. Like Galaxian, it received a very fine conversion to the good old 2600. After you take out the waves of flying birds you come face to face with the mothership and that is where the action really hots up as you have to try and destroy its core while under constant attack. Phoenix plays every bit as good as it looks!
Namco’s Galaxian arcade game, while clearly inspired by Space Invaders, very much formed the basis for what we know today as the side-scrolling shoot ‘em up. It was the first game to introduce attack patterns, star fields, full-colour RGB graphics and individual rounds (or levels). Thankfully the game translated incredibly well to the humble VCS and it retains near enough everything that made the arcade game so great. Of particular note are the high-resolution graphics and impressive sound effects.