It’s time to blow some dust off those cartridges you have stored in the attic as we check out the most rare Atari games and how much they’re worth!
Atari’s Video Computer System – or VCS – released in 1977 and became an absolute phenomenon.
Atari have an even longer history in the video games industry though, having been founded 50 years ago. Check out our Atari 50 review, which looks at the recently released anniversary compilation, for more on that!
Rebranded as the Atari 2600 in 1982, it wasn’t the first home console to use swappable game cartridges (many consoles at the time simply came with games built in to the hardware. But it was definitely the machine that brought the concept to the mainstream.
The Atari 2600 had a particularly elongated lifespan, despite Atari playing a big part in the mostly US-based video game crash of 1983.
Production of the console ended in 1992, with the final games arriving in the same year.
So many games were released over those 15 years that some have ended up becoming extremely sought after.
Whether they were released in limited numbers, were just highly desirable or have since become difficult to find in good condition, some Atari titles now sell for eye-wateringly huge amounts of money.
Which ones are the rarest and most valuable though?
Let’s find out, as we check out the ten most rare Atari games and how much they’re worth!
10. The Music Machine (1983)
Though the name of our number ten entry evokes thoughts of an early rhythm action game, the truth – of what The Music Machine actually is – is far stranger.
Developed by Christian Software Development and sold only in religious bookshops, The Music Machine sees players in control of two kids, Stevie and Nancy. Gamers attempt to catch the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ that the eponymous Music Machine drops from the top of the screen.
Once each of the different types of item – which represent ‘good qualities’, such as a Snail denoting ‘patience’ or, bizarrely, a mustard seed being ‘faith’ – have been collected, a heart drops.
Catch this and you’ll move on to the next stage.
However, the dastardly Mr Pims is also above the children. He drops his assistants, The Pudgeons – catch these and it’s a life lost!
It’s just as bizarre as it sounds, though as with most Atari games you need the manual to give you context for the on-screen action.
Given its nature as part of a line of religious products – including albums – which featured The Music Machine, this Atari game is incredibly rare.
Price-wise, it has sold for $600 as a loose cartridge, as much as $1800 complete in box and over $5000 new in shrink-wrap!
9. River Patrol (1984)
A belated port of a fairly obscure 1981 arcade game (with both the original and this Atari port developed by Orca Corporation), River Patrol sees players in charge of a boat, travelling upriver to rescue drowning people while avoiding numerous deadly obstacles and creatures.
Though largely forgotten these days, River Patrol was the eleventh highest grossing coin op in Japan in 1981.
The Atari port was released by Tigervision, a subsidiary of Tiger Toys – and was one of only ten games they released for the system.
River Patrol didn’t get very widely distributed and is known as an extremely rare game in the Atari 2600’s library. As such, it can fetch prices of close to $700 just for the cartridge, $2000 for complete in box copies and $3000 for new, unopened copies!
8. Lochjaw (1982)
Publishers Apollo Inc were legally forced to change the name of their shark-themed video game Lochjaw due to its similarity to the movie Jaws.
Which meant that Lochjaw was withdrawn from sale and went on to be re-released as Shark Attack. The second version also fixed numerous bugs and is generally considered to be a much better game.
This Pac-Man style underwater adventure is of course very rare due to the fact that it was replaced by Shark Attack; consequently, unboxed copies have shifted for as much as $750.
No doubt boxed and new copies would fetch incredibly high prices, but there’s no sales data on those due to how much of an endangered species the Lochjaw video game is!
7. Atlantis II (1982)
Only the second third party publisher for the Atari 2600 (after Activision), Imagic released 24 games before going out of business in 1986.
One of these games was Atlantis, a visually impressive (for the Atari 2600!) single screen shoot ’em up.
A competition was run by Imagic, in which players of Atlantis were encouraged to send photos of their high scores to the publisher. The players who submitted the highest scores winning a copy of the specially produced Atlantis II cartridge.
Atlantis II was essentially just a more challenging version of the original game, but due to its nature as a competition prize, it’s one of the rarest games on the Atari 2600.
Prices start in the region of $800 – and at the time of writing, one seller on eBay is offering their copy for an eye-watering $23,000!
6. Karate (Ultravision Version, 1982)
Ultravision were a third party publisher for the Atari 2600; they had ambitions of creating an all-in-one TV/computer/games console device (which would have additional modules to play Atari 2600 and Colecovision games), but it sadly never came to fruition.
They only ended up releasing two games for the 2600: Condor Attack and Karate.
One-on-one martial arts fighting game Karate was released in two versions; one is worth far less (in a ‘Froggo Games’ box) and the other – the Ultravision branded game – is the one which seems to fetch very high prices.
Each of their games are rare, but it’s the Ultravision Karate which has made it to the most rare Atari games list. That’s all thanks to an eye-watering price of $1100 unboxed that it’s been known to sell for!
No information on pricing for the boxed or new copies is available, but no doubt they’d fetch exceedingly large prices if any ever surfaced!
5. Magicard (1982)
Though not actually a game, this is a rare Atari cartridge that definitely earns a place on this list thanks to its value to collectors.
Magicard is programming software, with which very basic programs could be created.
It’s unlikely that it was ever made available at retail; instead, Magicard was likely sold only via mail order, from the publishers (CommaVid – though the cartridge credits them with their original name: Computer Magic).
There was no box, so of course this means that a complete copy is just the very plain-looking cartridge and it’s rather extensive, 100 page manual.
Five sample programs were included in the manual. Although users weren’t limited to these five programs, they were useful as demonstrations of what Magicard was capable of; they included a Memo Pad and a basic Target Practice game.
The Magicard cartridge alone can sell for $1200, but with a manual the value doubles to as much as $2400!
4. Pepsi Invaders (1983)
Despite the Pepsi branding in the title, hilariously this next entry in our rare Atari games list was commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company as a promotional item to be given out at their 1983 sales convention.
A Space Invaders clone – essentially a hack of the Atari version of Space Invaders – Pepsi Invaders sees players shooting down adversaries that are either the letters of the word ‘Pepsi’ or, in the final column, an alien.
The bonus UFO – which occasionally moves across the top of the screen for extra points if shot – is also changed to look like what was then the Pepsi logo.
The black cartridge – of which 125 were manufactured – had no label and many were simply discarded by the salespeople they were handed out to as incentives.
This, of course, makes Pepsi Invaders an extremely rare find – copies change hands for around $1500-$1800 at present.
3. Eli’s Ladder (1982)
An early example of an ‘edutainment’ game – that is, educational entertainment software – Eli’s Ladder has players solving mathematical problems during the game.
Successfully solving a problem helps the titular Eli climb his spaceship’s ladder – with the ultimate aim being for Eli and his crew to journey to the moon.
Interestingly, the game was packaged with a wall chart and stickers to keep kids invested in progressing.
Thanks to limited distribution – this is publisher Simage’s only Atari 2600 game – Eli’s Ladder is a real rarity.
The cartridge alone fetches prices in the region of $2600, but boxed (with wall chart and stickers) it can command $7000.
Unopened, as new copies sell for as much as $10,000!
2. Red Sea Crossing (1983)
Perhaps the most legendary of all our rare Atari games in existence, it’s thought that there are only two copies of Red Sea Crossing in the world.
Much like The Music Machine, Red Sea Crossing is a religion-themed game. It’s much more overt here, with the game directly taking players through the story of Moses parting the Red Sea.
With the player in control of Moses as he attempts to reach the Sinai Peninsula, they must dodge obstacles and the Egyptians in pursuit of the Biblical character.
Red Sea Crossing was published by Steve Stack Inc/Inspirational Video Concepts in 1983 – and was only made available via mail order, with adverts having appeared in Christianity Today magazine.
A copy of Red Sea Crossing sold for just over $10,000 in 2012; the whereabouts and value of the other copy are not known at this time – but if sold it would no doubt reach an incredibly high price!
1. Air Raid (1982)
Though not as rare as Red Sea Crossing (of which only two copies are known to still exist), there are only 13 copies of Air Raid known to exist at present.
The only release from publisher Men-A-Vision, Air Raid is a single screen, arcade style game in which players aim to protect two buildings from being destroyed by enemy ships.
In 2010, a boxed copy – with just the cartridge and no manual – sold online for a huge $31,600.
A year later, a cartridge only auction sold for $3,575 – then in 2012, the first ever fully complete copy to surface in decades (which included the cartridge, instruction manual and box) sold for an incredible $33,433.30.
Others have popped up since then, though they’ve sold for less; for instance, in 2021 a copy sold for just over $10,500.
So Air Raid, thanks to a combination of its extreme rarity and the high prices it commands, makes it to the very top of our most rare Atari games list!
While you’re here and checking out Atari games, why not take a look at our very own list of the best Atari 2600 emulator apps?
Along with this, why not check out our list of all Atari consoles too?
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.