Top 20 Atari 2600 Games

My first experience with the Atari 2600 was in Sears, back in the late 70's/early 80's. We went to the mall every week or two, and Sears had a 2600 on display to try. There was usually a line, and the first game I remember playing was Air Sea Battle. I begged my mom to get me the 2600, but it was always "too expensive" or she feared that it would "break the TV." I finally convinced her on my birthday in 1984. Being that it was during the "Crash", I got plenty of discounted games (I remember getting ET for $1!). Here are my top 20 games, which may change on any given day.

20: GI Joe Cobra Strike (Parker Brothers/1983) I was a big fan of GI Joe when I got this, and really enjoyed this Paddle game. Hit the giant cobra in the head and use the shield to protect your troops.

19: Spike's Peak (Xonox/1983) Part of a Double Ender cartridge where you get two games in one (my other game was Artillery Duel). Get to the top of the mountain before you freeze to death, all while avoiding birds, bears, and even a Yeti!

18: Swordquest Earthworld/Fireworld/Waterworld (Atari/1982/1983/1984) Although beyond hard and cryptic to the max, these games had their moments. While impossible to beat when I was 12 with no internet or detailed cheat book, each game came with a comic book with a few hints. The comic was outstanding, and the prizes for being the first to complete were even better. There was a planned Airworld release that was supposed to come out in 1985 but was canceled. While a version was completed in 2022, sadly the comic has yet to appear.

17: Pole Position ( Atari/1983) Nice racing game that is worlds ahead of some of the earlier 2600 games in this genre. Good graphics; you can tell that they're cars!

16: Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man ( Mattel/1983) Perhaps me being a massive MOTU fan when I got this influenced me to put it this high, but it's fun. While the flying part is a bit boring, once you get to the castle it gets way better.

15: Haunted House (Atari/1982) While it's a bit of a stretch to call this "survival horror", it's a ton of fun and even has an ending (sorta). You control a set of eyes on a dark, haunted mansion. Find your way out and collect keys and other items along the way.   

14: Tutankham (Parker Brothers/1983)  Here's an adventure game where you must find lost, priceless items and find your way out of a cursed pyramid. Great game, even if it is a few letters short!

13: Super Cobra (Parker Brothers/1983) Cool little helicopter game where you must raid enemy territory and avoid getting hit. Catchy theme song. Oooh, side scrolling!

12: Warlords (Atari/1981) This is a Paddle Controller game, where you can play with up to 4 players simultaneously. Protect your castle. Destroy the other 3. Great fun.

11: Super Breakout (Atari/1981) Sequel to Breakout, an ancient arcade game where you breaks bricks with a paddle. This game is far superior, and has tons of game variations to choose from. 

10: River Raid (Activision/1982) Carol Shaw really made a great game here. It even uses vertical scrolling. Raid an enemy country, destroy bridges, and refuel along the way.

9: Vanguard (Atari/1982) Here's a super-fun space game with various (and entirely different) levels. Touch the "E" and you not only become invincible for a brief moment, but get to hear an awesome song in the meantime!

8: Millipede (Atari/1984) I used to play this and Centipede all the time in the arcades, and I was quite good despite being like 9. No real plot, except that you are in a garden. Destroy the insects, spiders, mushrooms and more. 

7: Berzerk (Atari/1982) Oh how I loved this arcade game in the early 80's! It was the first game that I ever played with speech (Chicken! Fight like a robot!). Avoid the electric maze barriers, and destroy all robots and get out before Evil Otto gets you. While the 2600 version isn't an exact replica and lacks the speech, it is an outstanding version nonetheless.

6: Dig Dug (Atari/1983) I was a big fan of this game in the arcades, and this version is excellent. You are a digger who uses a pump as a weapon. Defeat the bag guys and collect the veggies.

5: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari/1982) Very tough adventure game based on the movie. I played this game as a kid for hours, and could get as far as the end but never quite could beat it. Very cryptic clues. 

4: Circus Atari (Atari/1980) You're a clown on a teeter totter and must pop balloons with your clown buddy. While you are up in the air, position the teeter totter so that it'll catch the clown coming down. Super fun Paddle game.

3: Pitfall! (Activision/1982) Nearly all of Activision's games are awesome, and David Crane's legendary masterpiece is no exception. You control Harry, who is sorta like Indiana Jones meets Tarzan. Go right or left, swing over pits, and avoid crocodiles, snakes, and other danger as you collect the treasure. But hurry! You only have 20 minutes to complete this game, or it's lights out for Harry.  

2: Keystone Kapers (Activision/1983) You are a cop from the old days, and this beauty by Gary Kitchen's takes entirely in a department store. Try your best to catch the thief before he escapes on the roof, all the while avoiding cathedral radios, shopping carts, remote control planes, and more. Check the map and see where the elevator is, as it can save you worlds of time.

1: Adventure (Atari/1980) This is a true iconic landmark game by Warren Robinett. Before Adventure, your only option for playing anything resembling an RPG was either on a mainframe or Apple II. Although simple, that was forever changed in 1980 with this release. Get the stolen enchanted chalice and return it to the castle. There are three levels of difficulty. There's also a hidden Easter Egg in the game (if played on Level 3). Find the dot and bring it to a room and you get to see Warren Robinett's name. Very cool, but Atari wasn't amused!

Written by Ter on December 5, 2022

Return to Zap!