5. Ms. Pac-Man
The original version of Pac-Man for the 2600 might be the more famous game, but not for the right reasons. This sequel starring Pac-Man’s missus gets everything right that the first game got wrong. You now face the right way when you move, the mazes are authentic to the arcade game, much improved graphics with no flicker, more authentic sounds and improved intelligence from the ghosts. Ms. Pac-Man is without doubt one of the finest arcade conversions to appear for Atari’s original home console.
It was really hard not to include this game in the top three, as Warlords is without doubt the best multiplayer game on the system. A favourite video game all round the world, its simple four-player gameplay is the real winner here. Warlords is a game that anyone can just pick up and play: just grab a paddle and defend your castle! Don’t be put off by the simple graphics and basic sounds; Warlords is a game you will come back to again and again. Also look out for the equally fantastic homebrew remake called Medieval Mayhem.
3. California Games
A conversion of the popular home computer game this came fairly late in the Atari 2600’s life (1987 to be exact) and was programmed by Peter Englebrite who went on to code Slime World and Gates Of Zendocon for the Atari Lynx. This version features four of the original six events: surfing, footbag, halfpipe and BMX. Funny enough, this is the same four events that featured in the brilliant Atari Lynx version, but they all play quite different. The surfing doesn’t scroll and is just on one screen. The footbag has probably the biggest sprite of any 2600 game and is my favourite version of this event on any system. The halfpipe plays just like the home computer versions, and last but not least we have a unique version of the BMX. In this 2600 version this event features small sprites, has no up or down movement and is flick screen. This means it relies much more on doing fancy jumps and tricks than other versions and plays much faster. Like the footbag this is my favourite version of this event out there. California Games on the 2600 really is a work of art; an incredible achievement in every way. The graphics are simply amazing, as is the sound; there is even a very good rendition of the classic Louie Louie music! It can also be played by up to eight players making it the ideal party game. This game is without doubt one of the best in the system’s vast library.
2. Defender II
Atari’s conversion of the original Defender is still talked about as one of the worst arcade conversions of all time. Thankfully this conversion of the sequel (also known as Stargate) could not be more of a different story. In fact, I would go as far to say that this is the finest arcade conversion available for the machine. Defender 2 featured several improvements over the original, adding “Stargates” to warp to other parts of the level, new enemies and alien mutations. One of the best features of this game is that you can use the second joystick to activate your smart bombs. The idea of the game is still exactly the same: to fly horizontally left or right across the level wiping out the alien invaders. You also have to make sure that they do not abduct all the humans on the planet below. If this happens then they win and you lose! The high-resolution graphics move so fast and with very little flicker indeed; the sprites are detailed and colourful, and the planet below remains intact on this version too. The multi-directional scrolling is fast and smooth, and in the sound department this game also excels with awesome effects that really do add to the frantic action. This game really is a wonder to behold and one of the finest games to ever grace the vintage VCS. I still consider this game, originally by the great Eugene Jarvis, to be one of the best horizontal shoot ‘em ups ever made and it is certainly the grand daddy of the ones we play today.
In Solaris you pilot your star fighter through the universe, exploring each galaxy and visiting alien worlds. The game is split into several distinct parts that are all linked together. The first of these is the map screen, which represents the current galaxy you are in and allows you to choose where to go. Once selected you are presented with an incredibly impressive warp sequence where you see your craft rushing through space before zooming into the distance. Next are the planet sections that play much like a 3D version of Defender in many ways. You zoom over the planet surface shooting aliens and rescuing the humans stranded there. On some planets there are also keys that allow you to enter and destroy enemy bases! The last part of the game is the space sections that play more like Star Raiders with you shooting down aliens and enemy fighters before a battle with a mothership. From start to finish, Solaris is incredible in every way. The gameplay is amazingly deep and I am not sure I can explain in words just how impressive the graphics are in this game. Put quite simply Solaris is the best Atari 2600 game bar none. There really is no excuse to not have Solaris in your collection – the game is a work of art!