Circus Atari (Atari, 1981)
Although some are certainly better than others, paddle games tend to represent some of the most purely fun games you can play on the 2600. Warlords, Kaboom! and Breakout instantly spring to mind when thinking about the best paddle games for the system and Circus Atari ranks right up there with them. The game is essentially Breakout (or Breakthru in some variations) except for the crucial difference that you’re breaking balloons with two clowns on a teeter-totter. Unlike Breakout which can go for periods of gameplay where your ball goes in the same direction over several hits, Circus Atari is rarely static. Your clown flies back at you in unpredictable ways and you really have to work to make sure you position your teeter-totter right in order to catch him and launch the next clown. Such a simple concept but just such a blast to play. This was a period of time when Atari’s home programming division was definitely on more than not – 1981 also saw the release of such great games as Asteroids, Dodge ‘Em, Yar’s Revenge and a host of others. Yes, it was also the year of the controversial home version of a certain pellet-chomping, monster-avoiding game but that’s not something we have to deal with for several more letters of the alphabet. A
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Coconuts (Telesys, 1982)
Telesys marketed themselves as bargain game manufacturers, with typical titles retailing in the $15 range (still a hefty sum in 1982 money). For that kind of price and upwards, it was crucial to get as much gameplay value as possible from every cartridge you bought. Pity the poor souls, then, who shelled out cash for Coconuts. For the inflation-adjusted price of one of today’s AAA games you get to move a man back and forth while dodging coconuts. That’s it – that’s the game. Ok sure – the speed of the coconuts increases and the difficulty ramps up quickly and considerably, but it’s still just dodging coconuts. It feels more like something you’d play on one of those old Tiger handheld LCD games. Maybe the Nintendo Seal of Approval for third-party produced games didn’t amount to a whole lot (just ask the Angry Video Game Nerd), but even the worst NES game could still be considered a game. Prime pre-crash shovelware. F
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Codebreaker (Atari, 1978)
Math games, believe it or not, can be fun. I’m currently semi-addicted to Calculords, a game for iOS and Android in which you fend off space evil through the power of addition, subtraction and multiplication, complete with 8-bit era graphics and the wicked humour of Internet legend Seanbaby. Codebreaker is the polar opposite of that game in terms of fun. OK, I know it’s poor sport to compare a modern game to a technological relic like this, but part of the point pf this blog is to prove that many Atari 2600 games have a place in today’s heady gaming world despite their primitive graphics and sound. Codebreaker simply does not rank among those titles, and I would guess it was probably considered out of date by 1980. The game gives you a given number of chances to correctly identify a three- or four-digit number, using black and white markers as clues to signify correct numbers and correct or incorrect placement. Codebreaker may have provided some mild amusement back in 1978, but it seems like a game anyone could easily play with pen and paper rather than a $200 machine and a $20 cartridge. Codebreaker is ample proof as to why video games (notable exceptions like Pong and Breakout notwithstanding) didn’t really take off pre-Space Invaders. Until companies figured out what computer games were capable of, they were no match for pinball in the arcade or board games at home. D-
Update: I finally figured out what Codebreaker reminded me of. Remember the old Master Mind board game? That’s pretty much Codebreaker. The board game is much more colourful and fun.
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Col ‘N’ (Home Vision, Release Date Unknown)
You know why they named this cartridge “colon?” Because it’s full of crap. HAW-HAW! But seriously, I can’t figure out how to play this European-released game for the life of me, even after watching a YouTube demonstration. I have a vague idea that you’re an alien trying to put pieces of your ship together a la E.T. but that’s the most I can figure out. There’s no instruction manual available on Atari Age and very little information on the game out there on the Interwebs in general. I’ve stressed the importance of manuals in order to get the most out of Atari games before, but basic gameplay should be fairly intuitive. Col ‘N’ (what an awful title) fails on that score. F
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Colony 7 (Homebrew, 2007)
(Inserted into post 13/10/2018) Manuel Rotschkar is quickly becoming one of my favourite Atari 2600 home brewers. For one, he picks great material on which to base his games: Seawolf, Star Fire and Gunfight are all ports of some underrated ‘70s arcade titles and in one case at least (Gunfight) are improvements on their source material. Colony 7 is another port – this time of an obscure 1981 Taito game that mixes elements of Missile Command with some original material that would later appear in Atlantis. What I can say is that Rotschkar’s homebrew is the equal of its predecessor, which is to say good but not great.
Just like Atlantis, Colony 7 has the player protecting an underwater city from various spaceships/aliens with cannons mounted on both sides of the screen. Compared to the two-button arcade game, in this case your cannons fire continuously while you aim at your enemies with your reticle; you only hit the action button to launch smart bombs that wipe out every baddie on the screen (always a satisfying gameplay element).
The enemies chip away at the Breakout-style matrix which protects the city, and to me this is where the game – in either of its incarnations – kind of goes wrong. The matrix protects the city quite well, taking away some of the imminent threat on display in superior games of its style. In the process, it makes the game a little too easy.
Otherwise, Colony 7 is pretty solid. The intro screen is absolutely eye-popping for a 2600 game and the music is top-notch. It probably won’t inspire game resetting marathons, but it’s good enough for occasional plays. C+
Colony 7 is available in the AtariAge Store.
Combat (Atari, 1977)
Prior to the release of Goldeneye 64 on the Nintendo 64 two full decades later, Combat was the gold standard for shooting at and enraging your friends in the comfort of your own home. It’s as simple and primal as video games get: two players attempt to outshoot each other with their tanks, biplanes or jet fighters. To keep things interesting, Atari added variations such as tank-pong and guided missiles. As a 2600 collector you will have no problem getting your hands on a copy of Combat – just about everyone had one because it was the pack-in game for the first several years of the console’s release. If anything, you’ll probably find yourself with plenty of duplicate copies (I swear they procreate if you put two of them together). As classic as it gets. A
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