Last time I did one of these posts was the first time I did one of these posts. And it was all about the ColecoVision. It was a handy little device that you hooked into your television set that allowed you to play the arcade hit Donkey Kong right in your own living room.
This time, I’m shifting focus to another company’s home console from the second console generation, the Atari 2600.
Starting out, my family did not own a proper Atari 2600. I mentioned in my previous post that the ColecoVision offered a handy little add-on that allowed users to play Atari 2600 cartridges through the ColecoVision, eliminating the need for another console.
How crazy would that be today? You buy a PlayStation 5 but you can still play X-Box games without actually giving Microsoft any of your money.
Now, I’m sure that the people behind the ColecoVision had some kind of deal with the people at Atari which allowed them to make such a technological marvel possible. Because, and I could be remembering this inaccurately, in the early 1980s, Atari was the name in video games.
And, kids, did I love my Atari.
Sure, we started out with the ColecoVision add-on, but eventually that system petered out. This forced us to upgrade, if you will. By the time we got our hands on an actual Atari 2600, they had moved beyond the wood panel look that the system premiered with. The 2600 that I had was slim and black with a silver strip across the top.
Controllers for the 2600 were much simpler than those for the ColecoVision. Basically, it was joystick with a single button in the corner of the base. That’s it. Nothing complicated about these games, let me tell ya. There were a few games that required the paddle, which was… hard to describe. It was like a little wheel that you would turn clockwise or counter. The only game that I ever used the paddle for was Super Breakout.
Are you familiar with that one? It’s the one where you have a bunch of colored bars at the top of the screen with your little paddle at the bottom moving back and forth, trying to bounce a little ball back to the top to eliminate everything on the screen. Obviously, if your paddle misses the ball and it flies off the bottom of the screen, you lose a turn.
Anyway, the most complicated game that I remember having for the Atari was a pretty lousy adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark. For this game, you needed two controllers. Not two players… two controllers. Because there were certain actions that could only be done with the Player 2 controller, while most of the action was controlled by Player 1. If you’ve never seen the oddity that is this game, look it up on YouTube. It is fascinating.
Thing is… I loved it. I know I played that game hundreds of times. And it’s a game you can beat in about 15 minutes, give or take. But what’s so complicated is that there are so many tiny details and actions you have to take in order to win, it’s amazing that any of us figured it out back then. I mean, it’s not like we could jump on the internet and Google “how to beat Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And the instruction manual sure wasn’t helpful.
Another movie adaptation gets a lot of flack and is almost single-handedly blamed for the video game crash of 1983. That movie/game is E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It has been called the worst video game of all time. And I had a copy.
To hear people talk about the Atari version of E.T. today, you’d think it was absolutely despised. And maybe it was. But when all that was going on, I was only three years old. To me, I just thought it was cool that you could run around on screen as E.T. and when you pushed the button, his neck stretched out. Was it a great game? Absolutely not. But how on earth do you make a compelling video game based on an emotional film about a boy dealing with his parents’ recent divorce who befriends an exiled alien creature?
Apparently, the guy who created game was given very little time to develop the game in order to get it in stores quickly so they could capitalize on the popularity of one of the most popular movies of all time.
Okay, let me talk about one more game that was my absolute favorite of the 2600 era and I promise I’ll be done. It’s actually another movie adaptation. The Empire Strikes Back was so awesome. And whoever developed this game really did it right. Because they didn’t try to cram the greatest Star Wars movie of all time into an 8-bit cartridge. They just took one little scene from Empire and built the game around that.
All you get from this game is the Battle of Hoth. You control Luke Skywalker’s snowspeeder and try to take down as many of the Empire’s AT-ATs as you can before you lose all your lives… or the AT-ATs reach the Rebel base… whichever happens first. Every now and then, the Star Wars theme would play and your speeder would start shifting colors, indicating that you were tapping into the Force and you were briefly invincible. It was simple and it was super fun.
We really did have a ton of games before the end of our 2600 days. Because we had that thing well into the Nintendo era. And by that point, games were going for less that $20… maybe less than $10. So we had all the classics: Pitfall, Mario Bros. (before they were Super), Yar’s Revenge, Berserk, Haunted House… We never had Pac-Man because the 2600 version of that game was a dumpster fire.
Speaking of the Nintendo, I’m pretty sure I was one of the last kids to get my hands on an NES, but that’s a story for another time. Funny enough, my cousin had an NES at his house, but whenever he came over to our house, he was so eager to play Atari. And he always got to be Player 1 because, as he put it, “Guests first.” Now ask him if that rule applied whenever I wanted play Nintendo at his house. The answer is no, it did not.
I still give him crap about that to this day.
Did you ever play the Atari or am I the only one around here showing my age? What games do you consider classics of the era? Did E.T. really crash the video game market? Let me know what you think down in the comments!