This notorious 1982 release for the Atari 2600 was – at the time – the most expensive movie license ever acquired by a video games company ($35 million dollars it apparently cost), and it also undoubtedly hastened the demise of Atari Inc. as a company (as it was back then), and was also a major contributing factor in the video game market crash of 1983.
You’d expect the Atari 2600 version of Spy Hunter to be the runt of the litter, and… it’s actually not too bad.
It’s certainly more playable than the DOS version, and more colourful too. Unfortunately the graphics are very basic. The car sprites are pretty good, and recognisable, but the backdrops are plain and empty with hardly a tree in sight. There are some weird glitches onscreen too, characteristic of certain Atari 2600 games.
Gameplay-wise, there is some fun to be had here. Bumping other cars off the road is satisfying, and quite easy to do. The speedboat section is in there, but – like the flawed Apple II conversion – it’s compulsory. Also: I’m not sure if there are any helicopters. I certainly didn’t see any.
Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty pathetic excuse for Spy Hunter, only really to be played out of curiosity or blind fanaticism.
The Atari 2600 version of BurgerTime is extremely basic and contains little of the character and playability of the arcade original.
Yes: the gameplay is the same in essence – walk over, and drop the various layers of a number of hamburgers, onto plates below – but in reality it is hampered with ‘sticky’ controls and graphics that aren’t sure whether they are video game sprites or breeze blocks… The BurgerTime tune is recognisable though.
This might appeal to hardcore Atari VCS fans, but to the rest of us: Atari 2600 BurgerTime is little more than a joke. Pity, really, but the limitations of the machine are stretched to almost breaking point with this interpretation.
Combat was designed by Atari, Inc. and first released for the Atari 2600 in 1977 and was the pack-in game for the system until 1982 (meaning: you got a Combat cartridge with the console, upon purchase).
It was one of the first home video games I ever played (probably the same for millions of others) and it enthralled me. Yes, Combat is very simple by today’s standards, but in 1977 it was a revelation.
As a two-player game it is up there with the best of all time. Tanks, jets, biplanes – each player took control of one of these and chased each other around a single screen, in order to blast them with bullets. With tanks you are placed in a maze; with planes you fight it out in a cloudy sky (look at those clouds…). Various skill settings allowed you to choose things like bouncing bullets, or more planes, or different mazes. In total there are 27 different types of screens in Combat.
Combat has also been re-made numerous times for different systems, and also has a sequel, Combat Two, which remained unreleased until 2001, when somebody put the completed prototype onto a limited number of actual cartridges.
David Crane‘s Pitfall! is a pioneering old game, from way back in 1982.
You control Pitfall Harry and must find 32 treasures in 20 minutes. You run and jump from screen to screen, swinging on ropes, jumping on crocodile heads, and avoiding quicksand. Not to mention: creatures that will kill you if you touch them.
Pitfall! was one of the first games to feature a running man sprite that actually looked half decent. Being able to swing on ropes was not only a revelation, but it felt good too. Somehow, programmer David Crane had managed to push the Atari VCS to unheard of limits and make a playable game out of it too. Which ultimately developed into a famous series.
Adventure – designed and programmed by Warren Robinett and released for the Atari 2600 in 1979 – broke new ground at the time, on a number of different levels.
Not only was it one of the first ever video games to use multiple screens, which you could explore at will, but it also featured enemies that would continue to move, even if they were not on screen. It was also one of the first games to feature an “Easter Egg” – a secret, hidden room containing text crediting Robinett for creating the game.
In Adventure you basically play a square dot as an avatar, and must explore an open-ended environment in search of a magical chalice. You can pick up keys, weapons, and other items and must use them to solve simple puzzles. A number of dragons roam the game world and will eat the character if caught. A bat will also steal items from the player too, so has to be avoided.
Looking at Adventure now: it would be easy to dismiss the game due to the simplistic nature of the graphics and gameplay, although its influence after release was actually quite profound.
The original Defender on the Atari 2600 is rubbish, but Defender II is the shizzle.
Unlike the first game, Defender II has a great feel to the controls, nice movement of the ship, and fast, decent, absorbing gameplay.
You could argue: “why on earth did they ever bother with a Defender sequel on the Atari VCS in the first place?” The easy answer is: because they looked at the first game and thought they could do a LOT better. Which they did.
The result is: arguably one of the best games on the Atari 2600.
Defender II is also known as Stargate in some circles, as per the 1981 Williams Electronics‘ arcade game on which it is based.
John Van Ryzin‘s popular H.E.R.O. (Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation) first made its appearance on the Atari 2600 (aka Atari VCS), via Activision, way back in 1984.
The premise is simple: you are a guy with a helicopter rotor on his back and can fly through caverns of a deep mine, looking for trapped victims to rescue.
You have to be careful where you fly, though, because hitting certain things can kill you.
Every now and then you’ll come across an immovable wall, barring your way, and can drop sticks of dynamite to get rid of them. Avoiding the blast of your own explosives is crucial though. Oh, and you can shoot a short range beam out from your eyes too. Helpful for shooting spiders and suchlike. Don’t shoot a lamp though, otherwise the screen will go dark.
H.E.R.O. is classic 1980s video gaming. A simple, original idea, made fun by pushing the limited abilities of the Atari 2600 to their limits.
H.E.R.O. also appeared on many other 8-bit video gaming platforms too, including Apple II, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, MSX, and ZX Spectrum.
More: H.E.R.O. on Wikipedia