15 Most Influential Atari Games of All Time
PocketEpiphany Published 12/26/2020 in ftw
Nintendo gets a lot of credit for taking household gaming mainstream in the 1980s. But before Nintendo could show us the way, Atari showed us that you could bring the fun of the arcade into your home. The Atari 2600 first blazed the trail for home video games, and although it's an old hunk of junk by today's standards, in its time it was somewhat of a masterpiece. If you're curious, you can find a lot of these games on emulators today. To look back to the past, here's the most quietly influential Atari 2600 games ever made.
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The Atari 2600 version of Frogger is notable for being such a good port of an arcade classic.
But it is also influential for another reason: it was a character and game that appealed to just about everyone.
Even back in the 1980s, this game helped fight against the perception that video games appealed primarily to men.
2. Super Breakout
The Atari 2600 version of Super Breakout became so popular it would eventually be the pack-in title for the later Atari 5200 system.
As for why the 2600 version is so popular, its brilliant color graphics, multiple game modes, and support for up to eight players taking turns gave it some serious replay value.
3. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
When we talk about influential games, not all influences are good.
And the rushed Atari 2600 game E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was so bad it helped herald the video game crash, leading to thousands of copies of this game being buried in the New Mexico desert.
This title also solidified a simple truth. Most games based on movies are destined to be pretty bad.
While his fandom fever never rose to the level of Pac-Man, Q-Bert remains one of the most iconic characters of the 1980s.
The Atari 2600 port of the arcade game is tight, and it helped create the blend of puzzles and platforming that would eventually give us games like Catherine.
5. Pole Position
Pole Position is another port, but it’s an ambitious one. It helped prove that home consoles could reliable bring home a fun and interactive driving experience.
We might have missed decades of racing games (Gran Turismo, anyone?) if this title never took off.
6. Pong/Video Olympics
Pong is seeing something of a resurgence now thanks to those cool 3D Pong tables.
But the original Pong home consoles helped create the first generation of video gamers.
And the Atari 2600 port included within Video Olympics showed multiplayer gaming was the way of the future.
7. Yar’s Revenge
Yar’s Revenge is proof that you don’t need a great story to have a great game.
The story is basically “little ship fights big ship,” but the spaceflight gameplay is engaging and intuitive. This title proved that beyond ports, the Atari 2600 had plenty of original games.
Adventure looks insanely simplistic. But this blocky game is actually the first real action adventure game for home console.
It paved the way for future fantasy titles and showed players that games could be more than just simple combat.
Like to blow your buddies up in virtual combat? In that case, you can thank the Atari 2600 Combat game.
This multiplayer title proved how addictive and fun it could be to take on your friends while commanding vehicles like tanks and planes.
In retrospect, many critics believe Asteroids one of the best titles on the Atari 2600.
It reproduced the graphics and fun of the arcade original quite well. And this title also helped to normalize our idea of quick pick up and play gaming.
11. Ms. Pac-Man
The Atari 2600 port of the original Pac-Man was legendarily bad and helped kick off the video game crash.
But the port of Ms. Pac-Man minimized flicker while featuring vibrant colors, showing games a level of polish that other ports simply didn’t have.
12. Space Invaders
Space Invaders was an arcade hit, and Taito made gaming history by adding the first real high score mechanic to the title.
The Atari port of the game showed that gamers could have arcade experiences at home, and the game is intuitive enough that it turned plenty of parents and siblings into fellow gamers.
Pitfall! seems basic now, but it paved the way for your favorite action platformers.
We may never have had titles like Super Mario Bros. if not for the addictive fun of Pitfall!
14. Missile Command
The controls and gameplay were simpler than the arcade version, but Missile Command was another title that proved Atari could bring arcade-sized fun into the living room.
And the meta nature of fighting off missile attacks in the Reagan area showed how topical games could be.
15. River Raid
River Raid is a fun game to pick up and play. But what makes it so influential is hidden under the hood.
The game makes use of non-random repeating terrain and advanced AI to randomize enemy patterns. The final result is a longer and more complex game than you’d typically find on the Atari 2600.
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