If you’re looking to bring the spirit of the arcade into your living room, then finding out what the best Atari 2600 games of all time are is a great start.
This iconic console put the magic of gaming cabinets in players palms from the moment that they woke up until sleep forced them to put down their joystick for a couple of hours.
In 1980, this console made a whopping $2-billion in sales, and by the end of 1982, Atari had sole 10-million units.
It’s considered to be one of the founding fathers of the golden age of gaming, and many of the titles in this list have influenced other games, spawned impressive sequels, boosted careers, and shaped the way we game today.
So, in a rare turn of events, I’m going to stop my waffling here and crack straight on with the article. I’ve listed my favourite titles for this iconic console below along with a few facts about why they’ve made this list of the best Atari 2600 games of all time…
…though it’s mostly because they’re my favourite games and they’re awesome!
Enjoy, and happy gaming!
When the Atari 2600 launched back in 1977, Combat was one of the games that the system launched with. If you ever played Tank or Jet Fighter back in the day, then you’ll recognise their influence in this title.
Combat is an interesting entry in our list of the best Atari 2600 games as it technically boasts 27-games-in one.
They all basically follow the same attack pattern in different maze filled levels, with the player controlling tanks, biplanes, and fighter jets.
Although the games all follow the same style of play, they’re super addictive to play with a friend. When it comes down to beating your mate at a game, it doesn’t matter whether you’re playing on an Xbox or an Atari – the thrill of the hunt is still the same.
It’s time for a multidirectional space shooter! Ok, So it’s hardly Lylat Wars and looks a little like marshmallow hunting in space, but this was cutting edge stuff back in 1979!
Everyone wanted to be Han Solo after the success of the first two Star Wars Movie, and this gave young space fans the chance to head out on Asteroid-smashing adventures.
As the player, you must fly a spaceship around blasting Asteroids and avoid flying saucers. If you hit a galactic rock or get blasted by an alien, you die. It’s that simple…
Well, it would be simple if the bloomin’ asteroids didn’t shoot off into loads of tiny asteroids or drop below the screen to appear at the top a second later!
The spaceship needs the player to engage thrusters to move and can drift in a single direction for a while, leaving you to shoot everything in sight.
The original arcade unit sold over 70’000 units over the course of its life, and Asteroids went on to become one of the most played and best Atari 2600 games on the home console circuit.
13. Pole Position
The next title in our list of the best Atari 2600 games was the most popular coin-operated arcade game of 1983. If you are ever looking for an example of the golden age of gaming, then look no further.
Pole Position has also been cited as being one of the most influential racing games of all time. It’s probably safe to say that we wouldn’t have games like Mario Kart or Combat Cars without it!
The premise is pretty simple; race along levels that look as though they’ve been made on Mario Paint as you follow the red and white barriers to the finish line.
The scaling sprites, unbelievably realistic driving experience, and other features such as the time trial qualifying lap before Grand Prix races made this game an instant hit with gamers the globe over.
Before you can race in a GP, you have to complete a time trial, getting a time between 57 and 120 seconds.
Race against 7 other CPU players, avoid crashes or drifting off course, and try to get that all-important win.
Add the joystick into the mix, and you’ve got an instant home arcade classic on your hands.
12. Crystal Castles
No, Atari didn’t make a game about that electronic band from Canada that were big in the late ’00s. They took their name from the next title in our list of the best Atari 2600 games, though sadly none of the band members were bears.
Crystal Castles was one of the very first arcade games that actually had an ending that you could work towards.
It features Bently Bear, arguably the bravest bear in Video Games apart from that ninja lad from the new Pokemon Sword & Shield upgrade.
Bentley must make his way through 37 different castles, collecting gems and avoiding bad guys.
Some of the bad guys that you will encounter as you play through the game are dancing skeletons, nasty trees, and gem eaters.
If an enemy eats a gem, then you can’t get that all-important bonus at the end of the level, so make sure you collect them before any filthy henchmen get their mouths around them.
Crystal Castles has a couple of neat little easter eggs hidden away for the player to find (no clues from us as to what these are – that would spoil the fun!) and is a fun little title to play through.
The castles are well thought out and differ enough to keep the game fresh.
11. Haunted House
Some of you might have played the remake of Haunted House on the Wii in recent years. The original looks a lot less polished; it’s hard to believe this was a game at all looking at the screenshot below!
The weird thing is that it’s a fun title to play even now and despite its simplicity.
The house in question is haunted by ghosts, spiders, and something that looks like a furry beach ball with eyes.
The game ends if you get hit by monsters or ghouls more than nine times; needless to say that I died a lot when I played this game the first time.
There are three floors and a basement to play through, and players can use one of three items as they explore each room.
You have to light a match to see what is in each area, though monsters can blow it out if they are nearby.
It’s hardly House of the Dead or Resident Evil, so those looking for a pant-wettingly scary game might be a little bit disappointed.
But, if you’re looking for a brain-teaser with odd monsters, then this could be the game for you.
10. Dig Dug
Fans of the Mr Driller series might recognise this next title. Dig Dug may well be the first strategic-digging-puzzle game for any home console.
The player must dig down through different levels of coloured soil and defeat enemies.
The level ends when you have defeated all of the enemies on the screen. ‘How do you defeat said enemies’ I hear you ask? Well, you pump them full of air until they explode or crush them under falling rocks.
To stay this game was known for it’s cute characters, that’s a pretty brutal way to go!
Addictive isn’t a strong enough word for this game. It’s like a digital pack of pringles; once you turn it on, you can’t stop eating…I mean playing…you get my meaning.
My favourite enemies were the fire breathing dragons; I still hope I might find one when I dig in the garden.
This is without a doubt another popular title in the ‘golden age of gaming’ and one that you might well find in the best retro gaming books, Dig Dug made over US$46.3 million in revenue by the end of 1982. Impressive, right?
9. River Raid
Next up on our list of the best Atari 2600 games is River Raid, a Dambusters inspired game where the player flies along the ‘River of No Return’.
The aim of the game is to shoot first and ask questions later in this vertical-scrolling shoot-’em-up.
Over one million of these cartridges were sold back in the day, making it one of the most popular titles for the console.
Heck, it would have gone further down this list if there weren’t games that I liked more than it. Still, I can’t get enough of this classic war-fuelled arcade game.
It’s a forward scroller, but you can’t move any further forward than the screen will let you. The plane can move side to side, accelerate, and decelerate.
The player gains different points for destroying various enemies on the screen, with enemy tankers at the bottom of the scale and bridges worth 500 points at the very top!
Destroying a bridge acts as a save point, so you ‘wanna make sure you shoot up as many as you can.
Back in 1984, River Raid received the award for the best action video game. Plane enthusiasts and fans of war-time movies will be all over this title – chocks away!
No one likes seeing a squashed animal on the roadside, but that’s a very real terror that you might have to come to terms with in this next title.
Frogger sees players trying to get a load of frogs across a busy road, avoiding traffic including lorries and bulldozers.
To top it all off, once you get to the halfway point, you’ve got to contend with alligators, otters, and snakes!
Kermit really was right when he said ‘it’s not easy being green!’
Using the joystick, players must move frogs by making them hop one space at a time towards their final destination; their lily pad homes.
By avoiding traffic, jumping on logs and alligator mouths, you can get to the goal and move to the next level.
The game ends if all of your frogs die, and the number of frogs that you have when you start depends on what difficulty setting you have the game on.
Frogger was loved by gamers of all sexes and ages; it had a timeless appeal that still attracts gamers today.
It’s simple to grasp, making it easy to play no matter what your ability is, and it has that ‘I’LL TRY ONE MORE TIME’ addictability (if that’s a real word).
I remember having the next title in our list of the best Atari 2600 games on my mobile as a teenager. I used to play Q*bert on the way to the city while riding around on trains on busses. It’s super fun and more than a little bizarre.
This action-fuelled puzzler is built in an axonometric third-person perspective.
In other words, it’s made to look 3D. Q*bert must change all of the squares on each pyramid to a target colour while trying to avoid a whole host of enemies.
And damn, are they annoying!
To make the game harder, Q*bert has to contend with Coily the snake, two purple menaces named Ugg and Wrongway that move up the pyramid, and Slick and Sam who bounce down while changing the colours of cubes that Q*bert has bounced on.
So many things are lethal to our little orange hero; falling off the pyramid, coming into contact with purple enemies, bouncing balls… Ok, pretty much everything can kill him off.
If you like Rubix Cubes, those puzzles where you move pieces around to make a square picture, or orange people, then you’ll be all over Q*bert.
6. Jungle Hunt
Jungle Hunt was one of the first computer games to use a technique called parallax scrolling. It’s essentially when the character moves faster then the background scrolls, creating the feeling of depth in a game.
Putting aside the groundbreaking (for the time) techniques used in this game for the moment, the gameplay itself was wild!
Swing from vines, avoid crocodiles, run away from rolling boulders; it’s basically Tarzan meets Indian Jones!
Oh, and cannibals. You can’t forget about the cannibals.
Jungle Hunt was undoubtedly Taito’s biggest hit after the groundbreaking success of Space Invaders.
It follows an intrepid explorer who’s trying to save his girl from being boiled alive by a bunch of cannibals. He has to save her from a cauldron at the end of the game for crying out loud!
Talk about an incentive to get a move on!
It might have had parallax scrolling, but the graphics were pretty poor. That’s not the reason that I like this game though; it’s very like the top title in the list for both story and level of difficulty which makes it an instant hit in my book.
It encapsulates that true ‘arcade’ spirit right from the comfort of your armchair, and it’s a perfect title to kick back while trying to relax (even though you’ll end up shouting at the screen most of the time instead).
5. Mario Bros
This next title hardly needs any introduction.
Many Mario games over the years have included this classic arcade game as an extra playable mode, helping to give gamers that ‘golden age of gaming’ experience.
Developed by gaming legends Shigeru Miyamoto and Gameboy developer Gunpei Yokoi, this game features Mario and Luigi as they kick ass and take names down in the sewers of New York.
They have to knock back enemies such as crabs and koopas, collect coins, and generally stay alive!
So it’s not Super Mario 64, but we wouldn’t have games like it without this classic plumber adventure. Play single player or two player as you defeat all of the enemies on a level before moving onto the next.
The Pow Block might be a popular weapon on Super Smash Bros., but it was first used to knock all of the enemies on a stage onto their backs for a limited time to make clearing the stage easier.
This game is legendary. It’s been ported to more titles than I can count and is one of those titles that you can play while switching off from all of the news and responsibilities of the outside world.
Underground, down in the sewers, the only thing that matters is how hard you can stomp and how quickly you can clean up the scene.
LET’S A GO!
4. Space Invaders
Next up on our list of the best Atari 2600 games is a title that pretty much everyone in the entire world will have played or witnessed being played at some stage in their lives.
Space Invaders was one of the most popular arcade cabinets ever made. Its popularity lives on in everything from mugs and lunchboxes to hoodies and posters even today.
Aliens are trying to destroy the planet. Using a laser cannon, you must try to kill them all before they reach the surface (the yellow line) that you’re moving along.
Extra points can be earned by blasting a flying saucer that moves across the top of the screen, and you can take cover behind shields that eventually give way under fire.
By the end of 1982, Space Invaders had grossed $3.8 billion. That’s an insane amount of money for such a simple game.
It’s regarded as one of, if not the most influential game ever made, and that music still invokes the panic of failure in me whenever I hear it.
3. Pac-Man & Ms Pac Man
I couldn’t decide where to put Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man, so I stuck them both together. Think of it as a ‘2-4-1’ offer.
Both games are timeless, but Ms Pac-Man has the edge when it comes to having the biggest appeal for collectors.
Both games follow the same pattern of moving around a maze ‘nomming up tasty pixels and staying away from bad guys.
The graphics in Ms Pac-Man were slightly superior, and she was the first female lead in a computer game which is very cool.
Whenever you see a show set in the 80s, they’re always playing Pac-Man or the telltale sounds of the ghosts following his round behind are playing somewhere in the background of an arcade.
These two games basically represent an entire decade of gaming, making them two of the most influential titles ever made.
Can you imagine bringing this home into your living room for the first time?
The thought of no longer having to put money into an arcade machine to send these two yellow heroes around a maze must have been incredible. As of 2016, the Pac-Man franchise had made over $14-billion in revenue.
If that doesn’t secure it’s place in our list of the best Atari 2600 games, then I don’t know what will!
2. Donkey Kong
Another game that hardly needs an introduction is Donkey Kong, the ladder climbing game in which ‘Jump Man’, a.k.a Mario has to save his beloved girl from the clutches of our banana-loving simian.
If you look up the definition of ‘addictive’ in the dictionary, the picture below will be staring back at you. This game was the best, and it still provides hours of fun to this day.
It’s the first time gamers saw the K.O hammer, one of the best weapons in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, and although Donkey is a bad guy in this game, he’s still super cool.
Jump over flaming barrels, try not to get hit by anything that looks like an enemy, and reach the top of the tiered level to proceed to the next ‘jumping ground’.
This game is one of Nintendo’s finest creations and twinned with Mario Bros., secured Nintendo’s rise to the top of gaming charts to this very day.
Pitfall! deservedly takes the top spot in our list of the best Atari 2600 games!
Those Microsoft Paint style graphics were the real deal back in the day, and even though games have quite clearly developed since the ’80s, this arcade classic is still up there amongst the greatest titles ever made.
Some of you might have played the smartphone version of this game in recent years, but you need to grab an Atari 2600 and hold a joystick in your hands to to get the full feel of the original side-scrolling masterpiece.
In true arcade style, Pitfall! has a 20 minute time limit for players to adhere to.
Players must guide Pitfall Harry as he collects 32 treasures within the allotted timeframe, dodging jungle beasties such as crocodiles, snakes, and scorpions.
There are numerous obstacles to avoid despite the many creatures lurking around too. Pits, quicksand, and fire can also stop Harry in his tracks; give a guy a break, for crying out loud!
This game is fast-paced, full of danger, and a real ‘seat of your pants’ adventure. It’s pretty much like working for Retro Dodo but in a computer game.
If you haven’t tried it, then I urge you to go grab a copy and give it a go (the game, that is, not working for Dodo).
You can even buy the Atari Flashback 8 Gold mini console and play Pitfall! and 119 of the other best Atari 2600 games on it too!