Ten favorite games for Atari 8 bit

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Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006

What are your ten favorite games for the atari 8 bit systems? (400/800, XL, etc.)

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Thanks for all the help guys.

Thanks for all the help guys. It certainly confirmed some of our ideas as well as provided new ones.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Wow, Blue Max. I played that

Wow, Blue Max. I played that to death on my C-64. I still don't quite get why it was so appealing. I guess it was just the polish the designer put into it.

Greg Johnson
Joined: 12/01/2010
Great list, Rob!I often use

Great list, Rob!

I often use Necromancer as an example of how imaginative and innovated games can be - even on such a limited platform.

Sadly, Bill Williams, creator of Necromancer and Alley Cat, lost his battle with Cystic Fibrosis. Electron Dance has a nice memorial:

Anyways, for what it's worth, here's my top ten (hexadecimal):

1) Bruce Lee (Datasoft)
Still the best martial arts game made. (I could never get the hang of games requiring multiple buttons/combo moves).

2) Eastern Front (1941) (Atari/APX)
First scrolling wargame. Launched Chris Crawford's road to one of the most famous game programmers in history. (I enjoyed Crawford's Scram and Energy Czar - both early cassette-based simulators).

3) Field of Fire (SSI)
I played many great wargames from SSI. Field of Fire just happens to be the first to come to mind.

4) Rescue on Fractalus (Lucasfilm)
Only game to have ever made me jump out of my chair. Taught me to always look for green helmets!

5) Ultima III (Origin)
No explanation needed here.

6) Archon (Freefall Associates/EA)
Chess deathmatch.

7) Temple of Apshai (Epyx)
Defined "Roguelike" games.

8) BC's Quest for Tires (Sierra On-Line)
Humorous, caveman side-scroller.

9) Blue Max (Synpse)
Kind of a River Raid mixed with Zaxxon and Xevious

A) Flight Simulator II (SubLogic)
Primitave, slow wireframe graphics, but it was mindblowing back in its day.

B) Ghostbusters (Activision)
One of the few movie-based games worth playing.

C) Miner 2049er (Big Five Software)
Awesome platformer.

D) Spy vs Spy (First Star Software/Warner)
Mad Magazine's splitscreener.

E) Preppie (adevture International)
Russ Wetmore's Frogger clone.

F) Numerous Arcade Ports (Joust, Dig Dug, Battlezone, Pole Position, Pengo, Q*Bert, Donkey Kong, Galaxian, etc.)

I could sum up by saying:

Anything by SSI, Epyx, Microprose, Synapse, Infocom, Origin and EA (What a difference between EA then and now).
Plus, any free type-in programs by Tom Hudson from Analog Comuting magazine.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I used to play the hell out

I used to play the hell out of Shamus and Drelbs on the C-64.

When I was gathering screenshots for our chapter, I was really amazed by Necromancer. I hadn't seen that game before, but was really pleased at its originality, music, and general weirdness (what else would we expect from the great Bill Williams). Alternate Reality is also in a class of its own; no attempt to copy an existing CRPG there.

David Fox is a huge fan of the Atari 8-bit, and did a lot of the Lucasfilm games on it. I think that includes Ballblazer, Rescue on Frac, Koronis, and of course The Eidolon.

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
My Atari 8-bit list, and some thoughts

Hopefully it’s not too late to add to this thread, but since I was a real Atari 8-bit user, these were some of my favorites. The list here is skewed towards what I believe are games that looked, sounded, and/or played better on the Atari, as opposed to other platforms. There were many classics that I played (Pharoah's Curse, Lode Runner, Ultima II, Archon, etc.), but were not necessarily noteworthy in their Atari versions over other platform versions.

Some things to consider when approaching the Atari 8-bit scene:

a) Bill is right, the lack of a set RAM standard seriously hampered developers from pushing the boundaries. Games that were designed for 16k Ataris competed with games made for 48k Ataris, and games that might have benefitted greatly with 48k were pared down to 8 or 16k cartridges. It was messy.

b) A game platform really starts to get pushed to its limits in its later-life stage, but the Atari was deprived of late-life development when the C64 took over and killed it off. We never really saw what the Atari could have been if it achieved its prime.

c) The Atari was just starting to hit its stride when the C64 hit big-time. Thus, these “Atari great games” are more in parity with early-life C64 games, generally lacking the sophistication or polish of later C64 games.

d) “Synapse Software” kicked major ass on the Atari. You pretty much can’t go wrong by playing any of their Atari games. They ruled!

e) General consensus is that the SID chip was the best 8-bit sound chip, but do not underestimate the Atari’s POKEY chip! I’m not saying it was better, but it had it’s strengths also. It was no slouch, but only long after its heydey have we finally heard what it could do.

f) The Atari’s rather odd (but impressive) graphics capabilities resulted in the weird position of it receiving near-identical direct ports of games from the C64, Apple II, and the Atari 2600(!!!). Imagine playing “Pinball Construction Set” (Apple II) and “Pitfall” (Atari 2600) on the SAME MACHINE!

g) The Atari platform never really caught on in Europe, and therefore lacked the great European C64 developers, musicians, and demo coders.

* * * *

Okay, here’s my list:

1. Alternate Reality: The City. Essentially a “sandbox CRPG,” Alternate Reality was extremely ambitious and technically impressive, and is generally considered a showcase game for the Atari 8-bit series. Cool opening sequence, and I spent many hours exploring and hand-mapping the city. The music is.... bizarre-sounding, though; I'm not sure if it's good or bad.

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnY50HLjiQQ

2. Star Raiders. An action-packed first-person space combat sim with a dose of strategy, this game was an astounding technical achievement, considering it’s an under-16k game. Nothing since (in my mind) has matched the “warp” effect; the feeling of “warping” between sectors was exhilarating! (Imagine what they could have created in 48k!)

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_VDM8nC9sM

3. Pac Man. This game holds a special place in my heart; it was the game that my entire family, including my relatives, spent entire weekends playing for at least two years! It’s not a technically impressive game, nor is it the most faithful 8-bit port of Pac Man, but it just played so slick and smooth that I prefer it to the original coin-op Pac Man! (Ms. Pacman and Super Pacman were technically much better ports, but I still love Pacman.)

4. Zombies! Known as “Realm of Impossibility” on the C64 (and other) platform(s), this is the most exciting cooperative two-player game I’ve ever played! You can play solo, which is mild fun, but with another player, this game becomes an unheralded classic! I highly recommend you dig this game out (even the C64 version) and play this with your friends, kids, or significant other! The Atari version holds no special advantage over the C64 version that I recall (except for the comically-charming “Zombies!” title screen), but this is just a great game.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhRTTugudrU

5. Protector II. When Apple II loyalists claimed that they had the superior game machine, this is the game I used to shut them up! While it’s a respectable variant of “Defender” in single-player mode, it was this game’s mind-blowing simultaneous split-screen two-player mode that had Apple jaws dropping! “Holy #$%&!!” they would exclaim before crawling back under the rocks from which they came. (The C64 received a rather cruddy port of this game, it appears.)

Youtube Link: NONE! (Somebody get on this!!!)

6. Mr. Do! Compared to the Apple II, C64, and Coleco versions, the Atari 8-bit version of Mr. Do was the most faithful port of the coin-op, being spot-on, gameplay-wise. Graphically, it’s a toss-up between the Atari and C64 versions, but the C64 version is missing some of the coin-op’s game elements that the Atari version has.

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt8GBlgjMaU

7. Ballblazer. In essence, this is a simple sports game, but the presentation was an incredible 3D tour-de-force! What set the Atari version above other versions was the Atari’s color palette, allowing for anti-aliasing on the checkerboard playfield, resulting in mirror-smooth movement (hard to explain)! The sound chip was also effectively used compared to other platforms, with cool bassy title music.

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IEcJ0fRJWg

8. M.U.L.E. You already know this game, but the Atari version was the definitive one. While it’s not a graphics extravaganza on any platform, the Atari version had way-cool music, much better than the C64’s tinny-sounding version (that extra sound channel goes a long way!). It also featured a few graphics effects missing from the C64 version (more colors, whole-screen-shaking earthquakes, etc.).

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z48FWWCG4dU

9. Necromancer. Possibly the most original, imaginative arcade-action game I’ve ever played. If I told you that the first screen involves you planting and growing trees, would you imagine a game with blazing action that rivals Robotron?!?! Once you’ve grown and defended your trees (from trolls and spiders), you move to the next screen, where you now magically command your army of walking trees (think “ents”) in a very off-beat platform-style game. In the final stage, you take on the evil necromancer in a graveyard, collecting tombstones while defending against evil spiders. Overall, the Atari version is much faster paced and generally superior audio-visually than the C64 version.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnc3vI0fgJA

10. Drelbs. Take the maze-door-flipping game mechanic of “Lady Bug,” add the capture-the-territory mechanic of “Amidar,” and then smoke some crack, and you get “Drelbs.” Just watch the gameplay video, I can’t do justice in words. Strange, but very fun game. (P.S. the C64 and Apple II received very respectable ports of this game.)

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jjg9Hx1gA8

11. Alley Cat. No other game I’ve ever played more effectively promotes the feeling of “cathood” better than “Alley Cat.” Although many of the scenarios are comically over-the-top, you just feel like a cat in this game! The way your cat moves, jumps, climbs, clings, and fights with dogs is just so cat-like that you can’t help but be charmed! I’m still not convinced a cat didn’t actually design this game! Good graphics and great sound effects round out a superb game. (Note: the C64 “Alley Cat” game on Youtube is a totally different game by a different company, so don’t be confused.)

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkj71R16kVQ

12. Shamus: Case II. This game mixes puzzle, exploration, platform, and shooter genres. Nice graphics for it’s time, particularly your “electro-ball,” with it’s mesmerizing physics, during the shooter stages. There’s a touch of “Metroid” in this game; a precursor, if you will. C64 version is respectable, but graphically inferior

Youtube Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtq9cPeiXvA

Sorry.... I couldn't stop at ten games, and I could have gone on for many more. Hopefully this list was enjoyable!

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
retroc64 wrote:

So except for the 64k memory, the Atari was actually a little better in the hardware department? Very interesting, I always thought it went from (weakest to strongest in 8-bit gaming fun):

Apple IIe
Commodore 64

Well, it's certainly not quite so cut and dry since talented programmers could take advantage of different aspects of each system, save for the black and white and no built-in sound TRS-80 -- there wasn't much you could do with that, obviously; that didn't stop it from being the best selling computer into the start of the 1980s, though. However, taken as a whole, your ranking is more or less accurate, but it's definitely a "toss up" type of situation technologically speaking between the Atari 8-bit and C-64. Naturally, the TRS-80, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, and Commodore 64/128 all eventually got to 128K (or more), but for the longest time until the C-64, 48K was the standard. I'd argue that the C-64 having the 64K as its default was a serious advantage in that regard for a variety of reasons, including that all the software could always target that spec. If you wanted to target the broadest swath of Atari 8-bit and Apple II users, you went after 48K as the best combination of "what many users had" and "usable memory". It's also important to note that there was memory overhead when supporting disk drives due to the disk operating system, so you generally needed more memory over cartridge or cassette games (hence the reason why you often see the same game requiring different memory on the box depending upon the format).

The memory thing was also one of the few things that held something like the TI-99/4a back from surviving longer, which could certainly have been part of the discussion. For a short period it was the best selling computer, but TI simply couldn't keep competitive with Commodore's supply line advantages and the overall C-64 package. The TI-99/4a had stock 16K memory and quality 16 color graphics and three channel sound. When you added the 32K memory expansion and disk drive - typically through the excessive PEB box - it was more or less on equal footing with the Apple IIs, Atari 8-bits, and C-64s of the world. That PEB though really wasn't a viable mass market solution.

Joined: 05/11/2008
Very interesting

So except for the 64k memory, the Atari was actually a little better in the hardware department? Very interesting, I always thought it went from (weakest to strongest in 8-bit gaming fun):

Apple IIe
Commodore 64

Joined: 01/21/2009
i too got my commodore

i too got my commodore machines before my Atari so remember the atari less fondly. Star Raiders, otherwise it did have some good arcade ports.. lots of Donkey Kong, Moon patrol.

BitWraith's picture
Joined: 12/11/2012
10 Fav Atari Games:

Demon Attack
Sword Quest - Earthworld
Yars Revenge
Space Invaders
Donkey Kong
River Raid

Edit* - whoops these are 2600 games. My bad.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Atari versus C-64
retroc64 wrote:

Does this include games that are on other systems, or exclusive to Atari?

I really never played any game on the Atari 8-bit. It looked like a Commodore 64 wannabe, with less graphics, and sounds. I should boot up the emulator and check it out. Do you have any recommended games?

Games original to or having the best versions on a particular platform (in that order) are always preferred.

The Atari 400/800 were actually out just over two years earlier than the C-64 and featured a larger color palette and extra sound channels. Naturally, the C-64 had more memory when it came it out and the SID was proven to be more of an instrument than a sound chip, making the sound channels debate a bit moot. Even though it has fewer colors, I've found the C-64 color palette to be rather brighter, which makes a difference. The C-64's ultimate ace-in-the-hole was always its combination of killer price and solid features. It was never really the best in anything save for the price, but starting out with 64K turned out to be a stroke of genius in combination...


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