KEITA IIDA'S TOP TEN ATARI CONSOLE AND COMPUTER GAMES|
10. Ms. Pac-Man
(2600, 5200, 7800/Atari)
Can a game without aliens, missiles and explosions make it in
the family amusement center? In 1981, Pac-Man proved
convincingly that the answer is, "Yes!" Thanks in part to its
tremendous appeal to female and adult arcaders, Pac-Man
machines gobbled up quarters nearly as fast as the little
on-screen pac-man scoops up the point- scoring pellets in this
maze chase program. There is no denying the charm factor of
the "Big-4" -- Centipede, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug and the "Pacs."
Why do ALL the current coin-up games have to be so macho?
Why, then, was Ms. Pac-Man chosen in favor of your hubby? For
one, Pac-Man only had one playfield while Ms.Pac-Man quadrupled
that number. Furthermore, the AI of the ghosts were greatly
uprated to help eliminate patters that were used by veteran
arcaders to easily conquer Pac-Man. While no one can question
which of the games was more significant in terms of history,
it is the sequel to the monster hit that has shown lasting
power. Ms. Pac-Man is also unique in that every single port
of the game is top-notch... all the way down to the spectacular
2600 version, which helped to clear the sour tastes in the
mouths of 2600 gamers after experiencing the disastrous port of
The fact that editions of this game exist on formats as diverse
as the Playstation, Super NES, Genesis and Lynx is testament to
the replayability and timelesness of this classic. Along with
Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man is also the classic game most likely to
still be found cluttered along the walls of modern arcades.
And that, folks, says something about a game that made its
smashing debut way back in 1982!
(2600, 7800, Lynx/Atari)
Way back in 1979, I remember myself becoming increasingly bored
with all the Pong and Space Invaders clones and hoping for a
new challenge, a game that would break the highly restrained
and patterned nature of the horizontally-mobile-ship-firing-
upward-at-advancing targets genre. Asteroids came to save the
day and added fresh blood to the shoot 'em up theme by adding
the element of speed and unpredictability. Besieged by meteors
of various sizes, one had to navigate his/her way through a deep
space asteroid field and clear sector after sector of dangerous
space debris. The space craft was able to rotate a full 360
degrees and had a front-mounted laser cannon to chop up the
moonlets. One was allowed the freedom to move anywhere on the
screen -- at one's own risk. If that wasn't enough, UFOs would
periodically appear on the screen, diverting your attention away
from the asteroids which further added to the anxiety.
Thankfully, the inclusion of the hyperspace button, a feature
pioneered in Computer Space, gave the pilot a fighting chance to
The original, coin-up version of Asteroids uses a Quadrascan
(vector) monitor that allows high-resolution images to be drawn
anywhere on the screen. This permits the machine to vary the
speed and direction of any oncoming space debris. All three of
the home adaptations, while not quite matching the polish of its
arcade counterpart, are nontheless extremely playable and should
provide any gamer with hours of fun -- and stress.
The cliche "easy to learn, difficult to master" is an
understatement when talking about this gem from the folks at
Activision. The game is easy enough to figure out -- A mad
bomber runs back and forth near the top of the playfield,
dropping incendiary devices over the wall. must be caught in
one of the three vertically stacked buckets controlled by the
gamer. Each time a bomb hits the ground uncaught, it ignites
a chain reaction that fills the screen a series of sharp
explosions and subtracts one bucket from the stack. The game
ends when all buckets are lost. Easy enough? Ok, then try
The bombs, while initially falling at a leisurely pace, plummet
to Earth as fast as 13 per second when the program gets going,
and only the pros will be able to keep up with the Mad Bomber
for an extended period of time. Hand eye coordination, as you
would expect, is the most important success ingredient in this
While Kaboom is incredibly repetitive by nature, it is one of
those magical games which keeps you coming back for more. One
of the most memorable moments occur when you get "in the zone,"
where "you're not sure how you're doing it, but dammit, you're
doing it!" You watch the score shoot up as you deftly maneuver
your buckets, picking off one bomb after another, screaming
"Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!" Once you experience this sensation you
will want to feel it over and over again! Kudos to Mr. Larry
Kaplan for a most "orgasmic" game.
7. Star Raiders
When Atari introduced Star Raiders for their 400 and 800
computers, they literally created the term "system seller," as
hordes of science fiction fans plunked down their well-earned
cash for an Atari computer JUST to get their hands on this
remarkable game that set the standard for intergalactic dogfight
simulators for years to come....and I was one of them.
Despite the inevitable progress of innovation and audio/visuals
in the computer field, this is a game that has remained
virtually as fresh and stimulating as the day Atari shipped its
first cartridges to the retail stores. Star Raiders is a
beautifully executed Trek-type game that immediately made all
other programs in the same general classification obsolete.
With its multitude of strategic and tactical options, this sci-fi
classic can keep several gamers happily flying along the
spacelanes for hours on end.
By merely calling Star Raiders a "great" game would be doing
this cart a grave injustice. As a testament to the popularity of
this game during its heyday, it not only topped the Reader's
Polls in Electronic Games Magazines, but that's exactly where it
remained for TWO straight years!
Although Star Raiders debuted (and made its biggest impact) on
the Atari Computer format, the 5200 and 2600 versions are solid
translations as well. Regardless of the format its on, Star
Raiders will be remembered as the game that sent shock waves
throughout the electronic gaming world, serving notice that
"strategy" and "graphics" do not necessarily have to be mutually
As a knight, your mission was to return an enchanted chalice to
a gold castle, encountering dragons, bats, bridges, keys and
other items along the way. Being an avid Dungeons and Dragons
player at the time that I first gave this game a try, Adventure
immediately captivated my imagination. Sure, your character is
just a dot, and the dragon looked more like a duck than anything
else. However, at a time when the vast majority of VCS games
were nothing more than Pong clones, Adventure had no peer. Even
today, when compared to fantasy games such as Final Fantasy and
Zelda, Adventure has a distinct advantage in that no two games
are ever the same. There is a random skill setting where
everything from the bridge, bats, dragons and keys are in
different locations for every game! Because of this feature,
Adventure is arguably the most replayable fantasy/adventure game.
Oh, and Adventure was the first ever console action/adventure
Oh, and it was the first videogame of any kind that included a
hidden Easter Egg.. And its not some cheap code, either.
For about a year after being released, the 5200 SuperSystem had
been dwelled in a shadow, thought of as a slightly retooled
Atari computer in a sleek black plastic disguise. Then, all of
a sudden, a flurry of first-rate titles appeared from Space
Dungeon to Pengo to Centipede. It was with these second wave of
titles that the 5200 finally came into its own.
Centipede broke new videogame ground by offering players a
measure of vertical movement of the gamer-controlled cannon/space
ship, in addition to the total horizontal access standard in
Space Invaders and its plethora of clones. This intriguing
element made the game especially viable for trak-ball play, with
gamers zipping their cannons in everything from straight lines to
zipping curves, all the while sitting on the action button as the
gun barked in continuous rapid fire. The rapid fire element
made the ability to aim-and-move in a single, fluid motion all
the more vital.
What the 5200 version of the coin-up classic offers is quite
simple: everything. The graphics are not only equal, but
slightly superior, to the 8-bit computer version's. The audio
accompaniment is full- bodied, and the magnificent 5200 trak-ball
elminates what many feel is the 5200's Achilles' heel: its poor,
non-centering joystick controller.
While Centipede is (or was) available for a multitude of systems
like the 2600, Colecovision, 8-bit computers, C-64, Gameboy and
even the Genesis, the combination of the awesome control
provided by the trak-ball coupled with magnificent programming
work from the folks at Atari makes the 5200 edition the best
home port -- and represents one of the high-water marks in the
home translation of arcade action games.
4. Tempest 2000
Like so many 5200 aficionados back in the early 80s, I eagerly
anticipated the arrival of Tempest when it was announced that
Atari was working on a home port of the vector shoot 'em up on
its flagship gaming machine. Never in my lifetime, therefore,
was I more disappointed than when Atari ultimately canned the
development of one of the greatest coin-up games of all time.
It wasn't until 1994, when "Sir" Jeff Minter unveiled his Tempest
2000 Jaguar cartridge to universal acclaim, that the arcade
classic was finally ported to a home videogame console. And
ooohhh what a game it was!
By adding crisp, 3D polygon graphics, a techno soundtrack, and a
swarm of new enemies and obstacles, Atari managed to create a
fresh cart out of the timeless, 13-year-old arcade game. More
than just a mere graphics enhancement, Tempest 2000 offered 100
different levels, power-up features like a particle-blaster,
jumps, new enemies and a "Melt-O-Vision effect." There were
also a choice of several play options ofering two-player
cooperative and competitive play modes. Jeff Minter had single
handedly forced everyone to start considering the 64-bit Jaguar
machine as a contender.... for a while, at least.
My only gripe is not about the game itself, but rather with the
white shirts up at Atari during the time. For a game as
important and groundbreaking as Tempest 2000, why could they not
have included a rotary ontroller with the game? Even if it were
the only game which utilized this special controller, it would
have been a far better accessory than the Team Tap 4-player
adapter which was packed in with the god awful White Men Can't
Jump. As it stands, however, Tempest 2000 was the glimmering
light in what turned out to become the last gaming machine
before Atari rode off into the sunset. May the almighty Fuji
rest in peace.
For those contemporary videogame magazines and on-line 'zines
that hail Super Bomberman as the best multi-player game ever,
apparently you have never experienced of an all-night Warlords
session in your friends in your youth.
The object of Warlords is to batter down the walls of the
opponents' castles and slay the monarchs inside. If a gamer
winds up becoming the last surviving warlord, he'll earn himself
a point, and if he wins five such battles, will go on to win an
The beauty of Warlords lies in its successful blending of
elements from Breakout with the more traditional Pong-type
games. Control is exemplary as only the precision of a paddle
controller can provide.
Simply put, Warlords is 4-player gaming at its finest.
2. Space Dungeon
Space Dungeon, among all the games on my top-ten list, is bound
to create the most negative reaction towards its selection. But
I will bet that 90% of the individuals who disagree with this
choice will have NEVER played this masterpiece of a game.
Although it didn't have the legs necessary to make it a super-
successful coin-up, Taito's Space Dungeon nonetheless represented
everything that a good arcade game should be. It offered
intruiging, high-tech graphics, riveting audio accompaniment and
just the proper amount of strategic viability.
In short, Space Dungeon, like Qix and Venture, is exactly the
sort of game that just aches for home translation, where players
can learn the type of tactics and skill necessary to master it,
without the annoying need to continue dropping tokens into the
coin-up machine. Thankfully, this was not lost on Atari,
obviously, when they scooped up the home console rights to this
Space Dungeon is the ultimate "closet classic."
1. Super Breakout
Super Breakout is perhaps the greatest design of the popular
ball-and-paddle contest that first reached arcades in the 1970s.
The cart itself actually contains four games -- Breakout,
Double, Progressive and Cavity. All four variations offer an
infinite succession of target walls and on-screen scoring that
includes both a numerical total and a comment by the computer on
each player's skill.
The 2600 version of Super Breakout shows skill, imagination and
loving care in its design, so much so that it has spawned
numerous "clones," most notably Arkanoid. A Jaguar version,
titled Breakout 2000, will soon be available from Telegames after
it was originally cancelled by Atari. Sadly, this version
probably will not measure up to the original due to the lack of
an available paddle controller for the 64-bit system.
Given my choice, 2600 Super Breakout would be the game that I
would take to my grave if I had a choice of one game to take with
me to a deserted island (along with Sarah Michelle Gellar).
- COMBAT - (Not a top-10 game but deserves special mention)
Combat, Adventure, Warlords, Asteroids... you are likely asking
yourself why I picked some of the earliest 2600 games as the
best while disregarding the later, more sophisticated and
graphically flashier carts such as Pitfall, Solaris and Demon
Attack. The reason is quite simple -- many of the first-
generation 2600 titles dished out some of the most incredible
Many classic gamers have a love-hate relationship with the
pack-in game for the Atari VCS. Anyone who's hunted for classic
carts will be able to tell you their tales of stumbling upon a
motherload of cartridges -- only to find that every other cart
was Combat -- and all the others were either Space Invaders or
Pac-Man. Ask the same people what they thought when they first
PLAYED Combat, however, and you will most likely see a gleam in
their eye as they share their stories of epic all-night battles
they engaged in with their brother or next door neighbor. Love
it or hate it, Combat is sure to evoke strong emotions out of
all of us.
Combat was, and always will be, one of the greatest games for
competitive play. And for those of you who are thifty with
regards to their videogame spending habits, Combat can be had
for... free? That's right, check out the rec.games.video.classic
newsgroup and you will periodically see individuals posting
sales of classic cartridges... with Combat often going for free!
Or, if you're one of the (shame on you!) unfortunate gamers who
have yet to get into classic gaming, a 2600 setup with Combat
will set you back about $10 or so. A small price to pay for
the privilege to experience "the most common cart on the face
of the Earth!"
Circus Atari (Atari)
Frogs 'N Flies (Mattel M-Network) .. yeah, yeah, bite me :-)
Laser Gates (Imagic)
Ms. Pac-Man (Atari)
Pele's Soccer (Atari)
Space Invaders (Atari)
Video Pinball (Atari)
Bounty Bob Strikes Back (Big Five Software)
Miner 2049er (Big Five Software)
Montezuma's Revenge (CBS Electronics)
Ms. Pac-Man (Atari)
Pitfall II (Activision)
Cannon Fodder (Virgin)
Iron Soldier (Atari)