Top 60 All-time Atari 2600, 5200, 7800 Games That You Must Play


These days, it’s hard to imagine a life without video games. Whether you play on a console, mobile, or PC, gaming is an entertainment medium that influences everyone around the world. However, the emergence of video gaming as an activity can be attributed to just one company.

Yes, I’m talking about the legendary Atari which was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. These two American electrical engineers created Computer Space in 1971, the world’s first commercially available arcade game. And then, they made Pong.

Pong was originally an arcade conversion of Tennis for the Magnavox Odyssey (the world’s first home game console). When Atari made Pong in 1972, they single-handedly revolutionized arcade gaming. In fact, Atari is responsible for the widespread adoption of arcades because previously the only “arcade” experience you could get was a pinball machine.

There’s so much more I could tell you about the history and technological achievements of this forgotten legend. I feel the easiest way to do so is by looking at the top games for Atari’s 3 best consoles. This article is about the top 60 all-time Atari 2600, 5200, 7800 games that you must play.

Top 20 All-time Atari 2600 Games

In 1977, Atari released the Video Computer System. This was an affordable video game console for your living room. It would provide an arcade-like experience, but you didn’t have to spend a bunch of coins and go outside every time you wished to play games.

Most of you might know the Atari VCS by a different name- the Atari 2600. The VCS branding lasted up until 1982. Remember, this thing was released nearly 6 years before the Nintendo Entertainment System.

And talking of the NES, you probably know that it used cartridges, right? Guess which console popularized the concept of cartridges. That’s right, it was the Atari VCS/ 2600.

Technically, the Fairchild Channel F is the first cartridge-based home gaming system. But it was more expensive than the Atari 2600 and had a worse selection of games with inferior audio and graphics. Video game cartridges became mainstream thanks to the Atari 2600, and the Nintendo NES would build upon this concept nearly 6 years later.

Pitfall!

  • Developer: Activision
  • Release Date: August 20, 1982

These days, many retro gamers consider Pitfall! to be one of the greatest games ever made for Atari’s VCS console. It’s a simple flip screen platformer in which you play as an adventurer called Pitfall Harry. Unlike Mario in which the screen scrolls with you, Pitfall! has 255 separate static screens.

Your goal is simple- to collect all the treasures scattered across a jungle within the given time limit. Treasures can be gold/ silver bars or diamond rings. You gain points for every treasure collected and points are lost by falling into traps.

You’ll have to dodge swinging logs, pits, fires, alligators, snakes, etc. You also have tunnels located below the ground which will slingshot you up to 3 levels ahead at a time. You will lose points and one of 3 lives if you hit any obstacle. 

Pac-Man

  • Developer: Atari, Inc. 
  • Release Date: March 16, 1982

With over 7 million copies sold, Pac-Man is the most popular Atari 2600 game ever. It even outsold Pitfall! which gives you an idea of how much people loved this game. Originally designed for arcades, Pac-Man eventually found its way onto home computers and consoles when Atari figured out how many people wanted to play this game.

However, this game is not without its issues as you’ll see in any video comparing the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man with its arcade counterpart. The color schemes are very different, ghosts flicker around the screen, and some character designs feel worse. Overall, it’s definitely a big visual downgrade compared to its original arcade majesty.

Despite these shortcomings, the game is a ton of fun. And the gameplay is simple- you play as a sentient smiley face running around a maze and eating wafers while trying to dodge ghosts. Special wafers reward you with a buff that lets you eat ghosts who try to run away from you. 

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Space Invaders

  • Developer: Taito
  • Release Date: March 10, 1980

In Pong, you had a fixed screen with two paddles on either side and a bouncing ball in the middle. It was essentially tennis with different nomenclature. In a way, Space Invaders is more of the same.

Once again, you’ve got a screen with a moving player-controlled object. But this time, the screen has been flipped for horizontal movement from left to right instead of vertical motion. And the object you control is a spacecraft that shoots bullets instead at incoming waves of aliens.

Space Invaders is one of the most influential games ever and laid the foundation for shooters. The more aliens you kill, the more points you get. Alien waves swing around to make aiming harder, and they get progressively larger as you advance in the game. 

Donkey Kong

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1
  • Release Date: July 1982

Hey, have you heard of this Mario character? He seems to be super popular. But a lot of you may not know that he debuted in Donkey Kong, and was originally called “Jumpman”.

Donkey Kong was a smash hit on arcades. And it’s considered the first video game ever with a narrative that unfolds on-screen as you advance in levels. It is also one of the earliest platformers ever, establishing the trend of moving from A to B while jumping across platforms and avoiding obstacles.

In this game, you’ve got a damsel in distress, called Pauline. Donkey Kong has abducted her and climbed to a really tall spot on a building. There are platforms linked with ladders and various obstacles in your way including stuff that Donkey Kong tosses at you. 

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Mario Bros.

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1
  • Release Date: July 26, 1983

Donkey Kong’s success laid the foundation for Mario, who started off as Jumpman trying to rescue Pauline. Mario Bros. finally gave the Italian plumber his own game. In which Mario and his brother Luigi team up to kick creatures emerging from sewers.

This is way before the mushroom kingdom was a thing, in Mario Bros. you and your brother are working in New York City. There has been a sudden emergence of strange creatures from the underground and you must investigate it.

And you don’t jump on enemies to beat them. Instead, you hit the ground beneath them to flip them over.

Once they’re flipped, there’s a time period within which you must kick them away. Running and jumping are the only things you can do (so no fireballs or fruits for you to throw). 

Warlords

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: 1981

Once again, Atari took the basic Pong/ Tennis concept and turned it into something much more interesting. In warlords, you’ve got 4 castles- one on each corner of the screen. These are color-coded and up to 4 people can play at the same time.

Your goal is to protect your castle while destroying your rival’s castle. And to do that you’ve got a bouncing ball that will ricochet off moving paddles that you control. When it hits an enemy castle, it will remove a chunk of the wall. 

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Missile Command

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: April 1981

This game was released during the height of the cold war in 1980. People from both sides were apprehensive of an ICBM attack by the enemy. And the game basically puts you in charge of an anti-ballistic missile station to protect friendly cities from incoming enemy fire.

An early shooter, missile command lets you take down incoming enemy munitions by placing a pointer on the skyline. You then choose which missile battery you want to use. Each battery holds a limited number of missiles and it can also get destroyed by enemy missiles. 

Combat

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: September 11, 1977

One of 9 launch games for the Atari VCS back in 1977, Combat borrows a lot from Atari arcade games like Tank and Jet Fighter. Basically, you’ve got 3 different combat platforms- tank, biplane, and jet fighter. And there are 27 game modes built upon these 3 basic systems.

Tank mode gives you a top-down view with 2 tanks moving around inside a maze. There are 3 types of weapons at your disposal. Guided missiles, unguided missiles that go wherever you point, and finally the main gun.

In biplane mode you’ve also got a similar set of weapons with one small difference- instead of a maze, there are clouds. Going into a cloud will render your aircraft invisible for a short duration. You can also do 2 v 2 fights where one guy controls 2 airplanes moving in sync or 3 synchronized fighters vs one bomber.

Finally, there’s jet fighter mode in which you have only missiles (guided or unguided). There are no guns, and you can fly solo jets or duos/ trios of synchronized jet fighters. 

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Dig Dug

  • Developer: Namco
  • Release Date: April 1982

A simple maze game with comically ridiculous character designs and a cute protagonist who burrows underground. Dig Dug can tunnel through the soil, and there are multiple enemies located within each stage who you must defeat. Enemies can also chase you around and they will act more aggressively as you keep taking them down.

You can defeat enemies by inflating them with an air pump or dropping rocks on them. Multiple takedowns with a single rock with net bonus points. As you get to the final enemy, it will attempt to run away. 

Frogger

  • Developer: Konami
  • Release Date: September 1981

Here’s a neat concept- you control a frog crossing to the other side of a road while avoiding vehicles. Seems pretty simple, right? However, Frogger is actually a pretty engaging and deep game once you start chasing high scores.

Apart from vehicle hazards, you’ve also got to deal with opposing lanes so there might be cars coming from both sides. Then once you cross the road, you’re presented with a river that’s filled with crocodiles, giant logs, and turtles. I don’t know about you, but if I was a frog I wouldn’t want any part of that river.

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Berzerk

  • Developer: Stern Electronics
  • Release Date: August 1982

An extremely early shooter in which you control a green protagonist armed with laser guns. You’re placed in one of several mazes that make up each level for this game, and your goal is getting to the exit at the far end of each maze. However, there are obstacles along the way.

These obstacles are humanoid robots who’ll often speak synthesized dialogue depending on their awareness state. You can shoot them with your laser rifle, but they will shoot back at you. Maze walls are electrified, and there’s an indestructible spherical villain called Evil Otto who randomly chases you around.

Pole Position

  • Developer: Namco
  • Release Date: November 30, 1982

A massive success in arcades, Pole Position is one of the earliest examples of motorsport in video games. It was the highest-grossing arcade game within Japan in 1982 and got a similarly positive reception with its international release in 1983. Pole Position created and established many of the basic gameplay concepts used in racing games to this day.

In Pole Position, you drive a Formula 1 car on a track that’s derived from the real-life Fuji Speedway in Japan. This type of track design is a first for any racing game. And Pole Position also has time trials (qualifying runs) that you must beat to participate in Grand Prix races.

For its time, Pole Position showcased a giant technological leap. You had color landscapes, scaling sprites, and a unique rear-view system.  

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H.E.R.O

  • Developer: Activision
  • Release Date: March 30, 1984

One of the earliest games made by Activision. H.E.R.O is short for Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation and it sounds like some made-up military jargon you’d see in a Michael Bay movie. 

The game itself features no helicopters. however, you do pilot a small flight system strapped to your back.

There are some miners trapped deep below the ground, and it’s up to you to rescue them. You have dynamite that you can throw to break walls that block your path. Helmet-mounted lasers are used to shoot down any monsters who emerge from the underground cave systems.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: November 1982

Visually, it may not seem very impressive. If you showed footage of this game on Atari 2600 to a modern gamer, they wouldn’t be able to tell Indiana Jones apart from a bush. However, you have to realize that despite the technological limitations of its time this is one of the founding games for action-adventure.

You play Indiana Jones, and the setting is Cairo in 1936. You have a marketplace and entrance area from where you can go through a wall to enter a mysterious temple. The temple is filled with all sorts of hazards as well as treasures that you can collect. 

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Battlezone

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: 1983

Back in 1980 when this game was released for arcades it was considered a revolutionary experience due to its use of early 3D vector graphics. You had a first-person view on top of that, making this a first-person shooter (possibly the first-ever). However, you aren’t controlling a person.

Instead, you’re put in charge of a battle tank as you search the fields for enemies with your radar. Once you find a target, you can shoot at it with your gun. Obstacles like rocks and hills will stop projectiles and block your line of sight.

Secret Quest

  • Developer: Axlon
  • Release Date: 1989

An extremely early sci-fi game set in space. Secret Quest was released towards the tail-end of Atari’s 2600 console. In it, you fight hordes of aliens who’ve captured various space stations.

You have to defuse bombs planted by these aliens while planting bombs of your own. Secret Quest is a game that’s one part shooter and one part adventure, featuring many explorable locations. 

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Q*bert

  • Developer: Gottlieb
  • Release Date: 1983

A simple puzzle game in which you play as the hero Q*bert who jumps on cubes stacked up to form a pyramid shape. The goal of this game is to turn the color of every cube into the target color. Once you do that, the level is completed and you move on to the next stage.

However, the game throws a few curveballs at you along the way. Apart from the enemy snakes who chase you around, certain cubes require you to jump on them twice before they change colors. Other stages have cubes that revert back to their original color if you step on them again.

Asteroids

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: July 1981

One of the formative experiences for any gamer growing up during the late 70s and early 80s. These days, The asteroids game is often used to simulate the process of creating a basic game for anyone new to coding. It stands up there with Pong and Space Invaders in the hall of fame for video games.

Asteroids put you in a spaceship that’s traveling through an asteroid belt. You can rotate left and right or push forward, but the ship will keep moving from its own inertia for a while even after you stop giving any inputs. To counteract this, you must apply force in the opposite direction.

Shooting larger asteroids will break them up into smaller rocks that fly around much faster. These smaller chunks are harder to shoot but give more points. Once you reach a certain point threshold, two alien saucers will fly across the screen and try to shoot you down. 

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Crystal Castles

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: 1984

While most other maze games of this time had hundreds of looping randomly generated levels, Crystal Castles used a different strategy. Other arcade games threw endless levels at you so you’d keep popping in coins. But Crystal Castle has 9 stages with 4 sub-levels in each one.

And there is a final 10th stage with just one sub-level or castle as the game calls it. Once you beat this 10th stage, it’s over. Not just that, but the protagonist also shouts cries in the form of speech bubbles when you lose lives.

In this game, you go into castles that are designed like mazes, filled with shortcuts such as ladders and doors. You must avoid enemies and collect gems to advance. One thing unique to Crystal Castles is that it uses the 3 initials of whoever has the high score to form its first castle level.

Haunted House

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: February 1982

This game came out long before Resident Evil was even a concept, and it is said to have started the survival horror genre. In Haunted House, you are represented by what looks like a spherical fuzzball with giant eyes. See, even the playable character looks scared.

Your goal is to find 3 pieces of an urn containing the remains of Zachary Graves. You have 9 lives and one item slot to pick up keys, scepters, etc. Keys unlock doors and scepters drive away ghosts. 

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Top 20 All-time Atari 5200 Games

When Atari released the 5200 in 1982, their previous console- the VCS, was renamed the Atari 2600. The 5200 was a more premium version of 2600 for people who wanted an even better gaming experience. Apart from a faster processor, the 5200 also had an analog joystick that allowed for a full 360° range of motion.

Yeah, you thought Nintendo was the first company to put a 360° analog stick on their controllers? Think again, because the 5200 had already done that more than a decade earlier. Unfortunately, the 5200 didn’t sell nearly as many units as its predecessor which is why 3rd party developers were reluctant to make games for it.

Rescue on Fractalus!

  • Developer: Lucasfilm Games 
  • Release Date: 1985

One of the first games to be created by Lucasfilm’s fledgling video game division. Rescue on Fractalus! is one of the earliest first-person shooters, having been released in 1985. It’s also a bit of a flight sim because you have a camera placed within the cockpit of a futuristic search and rescue aircraft.

Everything takes place on an alien planet with mountainous terrain and you’re trying to find survivors of a plane crash. The mountains are home to an enemy force called “Jaggi’s” who use anti-aircraft guns and flying saucers. You’ll also have night battle sequences during which your direction finder and altimeter come in handy. 

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

  • Developer: Sega Electronics
  • Release Date: 1983

A true Sega classic, this Star Trek game closely follows the original TV series. It puts you in charge of the Starship Enterprise and you must defend various sectors in space from hostile Klingon forces. While combat is done from a first-person perspective, most of the game is resource management.

You have to monitor your shields, photon torpedo reserves, fuel levels, etc. while avoiding unnecessary contact with Klingons. To replenish resources, you can dock at friendly bases. Some of these will initially be under Klingon control, and you’ll have to liberate them first. 

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Miner 2049er

  • Developer: Big Five Software
  • Release Date: September 1, 1982

At the time Miner 2049er was released, it was considered to be a step above the competition since it supported 10 screens. For comparison, Donkey Kong only had 4 screens. Remember, back then platformers would have to switch screens and we didn’t have smooth scrolling in which the entire level is shown as one continuous sequence.

The game derives its name from portraying a 21st-century gold rush patterned after the 1849 California Gold Rush in which prospectors are called 49ers. Set in 2049, you search abandoned uranium mines for a violent criminal who goes by the name Yukon Yohan. Along the way, you must dodge all sorts of environmental hazards.

Centipede

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: March 1983

Centipede is a fixed shooter in which you control a gun located at the bottom center of your screen. At the top, there’s a centipede that moves from left to right and vice-versa. If you shoot a centipede segment, the fragmented chunk will turn into a mushroom.

There are tons of mushrooms scattered all across the screen and the centipede can eat these to move faster. It will move down towards the player and you must destroy it before that happens. If you hit the head you get a lot more points.

Occasionally, you’ll see spiders located at random spots and they move in a Z pattern. Shooting them gets you bonus points. Extra lives are awarded for every 12000 points. 

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Vanguard

  • Developer: TOSE
  • Release Date: October 1981

This one is a scrolling shooter set in the future. You don’t really control the direction in which your ship flies because the game will automatically scroll you forward through stages. Each stage is distinct in both design and aesthetic, with unique obstacles and enemy types.

Your goal is to defeat the main boss who’s simply known as “The Gond”. He is a real mean fellow, terrorizing space colonies and extorting people while running all sorts of rackets from his base. You invade his base in your fighter and go through various “zones” before reaching his residence. 

Beam Rider

  • Developer: Action Graphics
  • Release Date: 1983

A fixed shooter similar to space invaders, but with a few tweaks that differentiate it from sci-fi shooters of the time. For starters, you don’t have an unlimited supply of ammo. Well, the laser is unlimited but it’s limited to short ranges only.

Your primary long-range weapon is the torpedo, and you get only 3 per round. Certain enemy ships like mini-bosses can only be damaged with the torpedo so you have to be very conservative with how you use them. Also, you get these extra life beacons but accidentally shooting them will create debris that damages your ship instead.

Congo Bongo

  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Date: March 1983

Even though it’s another platformer released in the 80s, Congo Bongo feels fresh and unique thanks to its isometric perspective and incredible level design. In terms of narrative, it’s just another barebones story designed to get you started with the game. You are an explorer and a monkey named Bongo once set fire to your tent.

To get revenge for this prank, you’re now chasing Bongo across a jungle terrain. Within each stage, you have a different challenge. In the 1st stage, Bongo will throw coconuts at you, while in the 2nd stage you’re jumping off the backs of hippos while crossing a river. 

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

  • Developer: Activision
  • Release Date: February 10, 1984

The original Pitfall! for Atari 2600 was a revolutionary game, introducing gamers to an exciting world filled with all sorts of hazards. As a player, you had to carefully plot your path across each level while also paying attention to shortcuts and treasures. In Pitfall II you have a similar goal and a lot of the gameplay mechanics also carry over.

However, it introduces many new things like balloons that carry you over obstacles and gaps. Then you’ve got levels that are much larger and feature a lot more variety in obstacles. No more limits on time or lives either, so you can explore to your heart’s content. 

Joust

  • Developer: Williams Electronics
  • Release Date: July 16, 1982

It’s basically the ancient combat sport of jousting combined with flying ostriches. Instead of horses, you’re a knight flying an ostrich. And there are enemy knights on buzzards coming at you from the other direction.

To beat an enemy, your lance must be positioned above theirs. Plot a collision course and knock out as many enemies as you can. You can hover, raise altitude, lower altitude, etc. by changing the rate at which your bird flaps its wings. 

Gremlins

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: 1984

This game was originally developed as a promotional tie-in for the movie Gremlins released in 1984. It features two playable screens with totally different gameplay in each one. In the first screen, you’re running from one side to another trying to catch mogwai.

These mogwais are dropping from the sky and trying to eat your hamburgers. You also have a 2nd screen in which you move your character horizontally to shoot gremlins that attack you in waves. 

Choplifter

  • Developer: Dan Gorlin, Broderbund
  • Release Date: May 21, 1982

So this is a game in which you’re a rescue helicopter pilot trying to save UN delegates who’ve been kidnapped by terrorists. And for some reason, you’re supposed to deliver them to the United States Postal Service as though they were mail? Ok, wacky story aside the gameplay is pretty good.

You’ll notice that the direction in which you shoot is independent of the direction in which you move. That makes sense for a chopper, unlike a fighter aircraft which cannot rotate on its own axis while flying. And there are different enemy unit types- tanks, infantry, fortified towers, etc. 

Ms. Pac-Man

  • Developer: General Computer Corporation
  • Release Date: January 13, 1982

An improved version of the original, Ms. Pac-Man surpasses it in every way. The graphics have been updated so players can now navigate through the maze more easily. Additional warp tunnels have been added, and Ms. Pac-Man’s dying animation is also much better than that of the regular Pac-Man.

Enemy movement is more randomized now, and you’ll find it harder to predict their paths. Fruits can still be eaten for bonus points, but they are not stationary anymore. Instead, they bounce around the maze and eventually disappear by entering a warp tunnel if you don’t get to them in time. 

Mr. Do’s Castle

  • Developer: Universal
  • Release Date: September 1983

A platformer with some really fun mechanics that keep it interesting even in the modern age. Mr. Do’s Castle is like any other platformer in the sense that you jump across platforms while collecting stuff. In this game, you collect cherries.

However, you don’t just pick up these cherries. Instead, you hit blocks with a hammer to reveal the cherries. And the holes that you create in platforms by removing blocks will serve as pits into which enemies can fall.

There are ladders to climb up on platforms. But the amazing thing about this game is that you can switch the direction in which these ladders are pointing. This way, you can access multiple paths with just one ladder. 

Defender

  • Developer: Williams Electronics
  • Release Date: 1981

You’re piloting a fighter in space, over the surface of an unnamed alien planet while trying to rescue astronauts from invading aliens. The terrain is quite rocky and you’re flying close to the ground, so you’ll have to change your elevation to dodge mountains and other obstacles. You’re armed with a gun and smart bombs that destroy all enemies on your screen.

Super Breakout

  • Developer: Atari, Inc.
  • Release Date: 1981

A game that builds upon the concept of Pong. In Super Breakout, you’re given a paddle and bouncing ball. The goal is to smash through walls of bricks that come in various colors, shapes, and sizes.

Compared to the original Breakout, you’ve got some new game modes. There’s Double Mode in which you control two paddles at the same time, with two balls. Cavity Mode gives you two paddles but just one ball, with additional balls trapped inside the wall. 

Popeye

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1
  • Release Date: November 18, 1982

You’ve probably watched a few Popeye cartoons as a kid. He is the sailor with insanely large forearms who eats spinach and beats up bad guys. This game is based on him.

Not the animated TV series, but the comic strip. Gameplay is like any other platformer of the era; you walk around levels collecting stuff left behind by Olive Oyl. Eating spinach will make you invulnerable and you can defeat Brutus just by walking into him.

Wizard of Wor

  • Developer: Dave Nutting Associates
  • Release Date: 1981

It’s a dungeon crawler from the early 8-bit era. You are placed in a maze and there are two sides or factions on either end as well as two doors. Two players can play this game at the same time and destroy each other’s “worriors”.

In single-player mode, you go up against various monsters. There are wolves, dinosaurs, giant bugs, and all sorts of horrors within each maze. Some enemies can go invisible which is why you have a radar to spot them.

Zaxxon

  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Date: April 1982

One of the biggest hits in the early 1980s, Zaxxon is the first game to use axonometric projection which is why it still looks amazing to this day. Basically, it uses clever camera angles to create the illusion of 3D even though the game is rendered in 2D. This is also known as an isometric viewpoint, and Zaxxon did it all the way back in 1981.

In this game, you pilot a fighter while flying through enemy castles in space. Your aircraft even casts a shadow which further enhances the 3D illusion while also giving you a sense of altitude. You can shoot fuel barrels to replenish the fuel gauge. 

Robotron: 2084

  • Developer: Vid Kidz
  • Release Date: March 1984

The original arcade release of this game had a two-joystick control system which was pretty advanced for its time. One joystick was for controlling movement, while the other would control your aim. This is a multi-directional shooter which means you can spin the weapon in a 360° arc from a top-down view.

The narrative is one of the earliest game stories to feature a rogue machine race. Set in the future, Robotron 2084 shows a world where robots have revolted against humans. You must rescue as many humans as you can while destroying any robots that get in your way.

Qix

  • Developer: Taito America
  • Release Date: March 1983

Qix is a simple line puzzler in which you draw lines within a rectangular play area. Each shape you draw will close off a certain play area from the Qix, which is a collection of colored lines that move around in random patterns. If the Qix touches a shape you’re drawing, you’ll lose a life.

You can draw quick lines or slow lines using your market. Areas captured with slow lines net more points. You also cannot backtrack once you’ve initiated a line, otherwise, you lose a life. 

Top 20 All-time Atari 7800 Games

The Atari 5200 wasn’t as commercially successful as Atari hoped it would be. It was facing some tough competition from ColecoVision and Intellivision. The 7800 was designed to remedy these issues and boasted far superior graphics processing compared to both of its predecessors.

However, development issues plagued Atari and they delayed the release of this console after first announcing it in 1984. Two years later in 1986, the 7800 was finally released. Because of the 1983 video game crash caused by a deluge of lazily designed games for 2600, Atari came up with a quality control system.

This was implemented through the use of digitally signed cartridges. The 7800 was Atari’s first console to use such a precaution. Any cartridge that didn’t have this signature would operate in 2600 mode, and it was refused access to advanced features present on the 7800.

A lot of people consider the PS2 to be one of the first examples of a console featuring backward compatibility. And that’s one of the reasons the PS2 sold so many units- it could also play your entire catalog of PS1 discs. However, the first console EVER to do backward compatibility is the Atari 7800 since it could also play Atari 2600 cartridges.

Xevious

  • Developer: Namco
  • Release Date: February 1983

Originally, the creator of this game wished for it to be themed around the Vietnam conflict. It was supposed to be called Cheyenne. But plans changed halfway through development and we got a futuristic military shooter in which you pilot a fighter aircraft against alien forces that are invading Earth.

Xevious plays like many other vertically scrolling shooters, but with far better visuals compared to its rivals. It also managed to strike a fine balance between difficulty and fun, resulting in an extremely enjoyable game with tons of replay value.

Food Fight

  • Developer: General Computer Corporation
  • Release Date: 1986

Picture this- you’re a kid who really loves ice cream. So great is your love for ice cream that it lands you in a sticky situation. In which you’re trying to finish a cone before a group of 4 chefs stops you.

Why is a group of chefs trying to forcibly prevent a child from eating an ice cream cone out in a playfield? Who cares, the game is awesome. You start on one end of the field, on the other side, there’s a cone that’s slowly melting.

Your objective is to get there before it melts completely. In your way are 4 really tough-looking chefs and a bunch of throwable food items. You can toss these items at the chefs and they can toss stuff back at you. 

Midnight Mutants

  • Developer: Radioactive Software
  • Release Date: 1990

I know most of you reading this article are millennials or Gen Z, but there was this TV show called The Munsters back in the 1960s. It starred Al Lewis, an actor who looked very similar to Count Dracula, playing the role of “Grandpa”. Well, Midnight Mutants has its own copy of Al Lewis and he is called “Grampa”.

Do you see any similarities between this game and the TV show? I sure don’t. Midnight Mutants plays like comedy horror, with a kid fighting waves of zombies and werewolves to save his grandpa on Halloween night. 

Alien Brigade

  • Developer: Ken Grant
  • Release Date: 1990

This game puts you in a Rambo situation where you’re fighting hordes of enemies all alone, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and explosives. The only difference between Alien Brigade and Rambo is that you’re not fighting disposable extras from 3rd world countries. Instead, you’re going up against aliens who like to take over the bodies of dead soldiers.

You could play this game with a light gun or the regular Atari 7800 joystick back when it was released. There is a first-person perspective and shooting happens on rails, with you killing everything from zombies to vehicles. Locations range from enemy prison camps to secret underwater facilities.

Ninja Golf

  • Developer: BlueSky Software
  • Release Date: 1990

You know, I find gold to be an extremely boring sport. Plus, it’s much too expensive. But what about a golf video game with ninjas?

Everything becomes cooler when you add ninjas to it. Ninjas were all the rage in the 1980s. Ninja Golf has ninjas playing golf and fighting dragons, what’s not to like?

Ikari Warriors

  • Developer: SNK
  • Release Date: 1990

Ikari means “fury” or “rage” in Japanese, and Ikari Warriors is the embodiment of that feeling in the form of a shooter. Think Contra, but in a vertically scrolling format. You play as gruff, muscular, cigar-chomping spec-ops guys and obliterate everything from infantry to armored vehicles with your arsenal of machine guns and rocket launchers.

Commando

  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: May 1985

Commando is a genre-defining shooter, it spawned several clones who attempted to imitate its run-and-gun style of shooting. Ikari Warriors is one of the games that was inspired by Commando. You are dropped via chopper into a jungle teeming with hostiles.

Naturally, the next thing you do is shoot your way through truckloads of bad guys. Armed with a machine gun and an endless supply of ammo, you can fire in any direction. Grenades are also available but in limited quantities. 

Winter Games

  • Developer: Epyx
  • Release Date: August 1988

Getting an official Olympics license must have been really expensive. Because Epyx basically made their version of a Winter Olympics without actually calling it Winter Olympics. In Winter Games, you’ve got a big collection of sports lifted straight from actual Olympic events.

There is alpine skiing, ski jumping, skating, luge, bobsled racing, and biathlon. You can do every single event on a sequential basis or participate in just one specific event to earn a ranking.  

Galaga

  • Developer: Namco
  • Release Date: October 1981

A successor to Namco’s incredibly popular Galaxian, Galaga is a fixed shooter. You pilot a space fighter which is positioned at the bottom of your screen. It scrolls vertically, so enemies come in waves from the top of your screen.

You have to eliminate as many enemy units as you can while also evading capture by enemy ships. They can shoot tractor beams and suck you in. You can rescue a captured fighter which will combine it with your existing fighter to double the firepower.

Crossbow

  • Developer: Exidy
  • Release Date: April 1989

I don’t know if you actually shoot a crossbow or a gun in this game because all that’s shown to you is a crosshair. When you put said crosshair on an enemy, you destroy your target with one hit. Your job is to protect a group of travelers who are trying to get from one side of the screen to the other.

There are various stages- desert, volcano, cave, town, etc. Each one has a different backdrop and unique enemy types. You can also shoot the people you’re trying to protect, so be careful with friendly fire. 

Rampage

  • Developer: Bally Midway
  • Release Date: November 1989

Hey, you remember that Dwayne Johnson movie in which he is friends with a giant Gorilla and fights two other mutated monsters in Chicago? Yeah, it was based on this game. In Rampage, you control 3 mutated monsters and make them fight against military forces.

It’s like King Kong, but you’re in control and there are 2 other giant creatures you can use. Funnily enough, the goal of this game is to completely demolish each stage you’re fighting in. Which is pretty much how the movie plays out.  

Donkey Kong Jr.

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1
  • Release Date: June 30, 1982

In the original Donkey Kong game, Mario is the one trying to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong. In Donkey Kong Jr. you play as Donkey Kong’s son who is trying to rescue his father from Mario. Much like the original, you’ve got different platforming stages.

There are vines instead of ladders that you can climb to reach the next platform. In each stage, you must navigate your way to the key dangling from your father’s cage while Mario sends waves of enemies to attack you. 

Super Skateboardin’

  • Developer: Absolute Entertainment
  • Release Date: 1988

Absolute Entertainment struck it big with this one, thanks to the genius of David Crane (who also made Pitfall!). Super Skateboardin’ is an enhanced version of Skateboardin’. The first version of Skateboardin’ was designed around tricks, much like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series.

But Super Skateboardin’ is more of an adventure game in which you explore various stages on your skateboard. You’re the last employee at the end of a shift and it’s your job to turn off all the lights and equipment around the factory. Your skateboard comes in handy when you need to jump around obstacles.

Double Dragon

  • Developer: Technōs Japan
  • Release Date: November 1989

I reviewed River City Ransom in my top NES games list. Double Dragon is very similar to that game since both are beat ‘em ups developed by Technōs Japan. The River City Ransom games were known by a different name in Japan- Kunio Kun.

Compared to the original Kunio Kun, Double Dragon has several new features. You can now pick up weapons dropped by your enemies. It also has continuously scrolling levels and cutscenes. 

Tower Toppler

  • Developer: Hewson Consultants, Atari Corporation
  • Release Date: May 1989

Hewson Consultants created this game called Nebulus which would eventually be re-released under the name of Tower Toppler. It is a unique platformer in which your goal isn’t to rescue some princess or move from left to right while jumping over enemies. Instead, you’re trying to destroy underwater towers in the ocean by planting bombs at their base.  

Kung Fu Master

  • Developer: Irem
  • Release Date: 1989

Inspired by classic Hong Kong martial arts movies, Kung Fu Master is a side-scrolling brawler in which you play as Thomas. He is named after Jackie Chan’s character in Wheels on Meals, a 1984 movie. The settings and plot for this game are also inspired by Bruce Lee’s Game of Death.

You fight through various levels filled with enemies to reach the final boss who has kidnapped your girlfriend Sylvia. Each level has its own boss, and this too is a concept taken from Game of Death. 

Klax

  • Developer: Atari Games
  • Release Date: June 4, 1990

A falling-block puzzler similar to Tetris, you control colored blocks falling from a conveyor belt atop your screen. Your objective is to arrange them in sequences using a control arm that catches these blocks as they fall. Three blocks of the same color can be arranged horizontally, vertically, or diagonally to make them disappear. 

Impossible Mission

  • Developer: Epyx
  • Release Date: 1987

One of the earliest spy thriller games, Impossible Mission puts you in the shoes of a secret agent trying to stop a supervillain. Think James Bond, but with platforming.

You dodge enemy robots while jumping across platforms. And you search for puzzle pieces in rooms to decrypt the door code for the evil guy’s computer room. 

Fatal Run

  • Developer: Sculptured Software
  • Release Date: 1990

Fatal Run is a vehicle combat game in which you play the role of a delivery driver trying to transport anti-radiation vaccines across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. You’ll be confronted by thugs, scavengers, and other types of bad guys looking to steal your cargo. There are a total of 32 levels, and people at the end of each level who are waiting for your delivery.

If you delay your delivery, they will explode. The more you delay the vaccine, the more people you lose and the fewer points you get. Points are used to upgrade your car, and you can also collect power-ups in each level that provide a temporary buff. 

Ballblazer

  • Developer: Lucasfilm Games.
  • Release Date: 1987

Imagine football, but with robots. Ballblazer is a 1 v 1 sports game in which you get points by tossing a ball into the enemy’s net. You control a “rotofoil” which is basically a hovercraft that can catch and throw balls.

The enemy rotofoil can blow away your ball by shooting at you. There is a checkered field in which both sides move around, and goals from longer distances will give you more points. Matches can be player vs computer, player vs player, and computer vs computer (there are 10 AI difficulty levels).

Conclusion

After looking at all the great things Atari accomplished in their prime, it’s truly sad to realize that this exceptional game company doesn’t exist anymore. The video game crash of 1983 really hit them hard and after that, they just couldn’t keep up with the firepower of Nintendo. By the late 80s and early 90s, they had given up on developing new consoles and home computers.

Eventually, they sold their consumer electronics department and focused primarily on publishing software. In 1996, the company was sold to WMS and would later be renamed Midway Games West. In a way, Atari both started and nearly killed the American video game market.

Before the Atari 2600, you were stuck with whatever games were pre-programmed into the ROM of your console/ computer. But with 2600 you could actually buy games in cartridges and play a new one when you felt like it. The cartridge-craze also created fly-by-night companies looking to make a quick buck.

These guys pumped out cheaply designed games, saturating the market and causing the 1983 video game crash. Nintendo’s NES revived the industry from its dire state, and Atari would soon fall victim to the big N’s success in America.

Atari popularized the use of cartridges in home consoles. They also made the first controller with a 360° analog joystick. And the Atari 7800 was the first home console to introduce the concept of backward compatibility.

Even though the company doesn’t exist anymore, its legacy will live on forever. As long as we enjoy gaming, Atari will be remembered as the foundation upon which our current games industry is built.

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Jacob

As long as I can remember myself I always enjoyed video games. I had amazing moments playing them and that's why I became a game developer, to create amazing experiences for the players. Read More About Me

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