Racket Asks: What Games Defined the Atari 2600?

It has been quite a while since I had played with an actual Atari 2600 or even played 2600 versions of many of the games in it’s library. It was never much of a conscience decision, it has just never really happened in the last 20 years or so.

This past month, I figured it was about time that I revisited the first video game console I ever interacted with and I ordered a nice 2600 and a pile of games. I plan to explore the essentials of the library (and maybe some more obscure gems – give recommendations here), get to know the original hardware well, and share my experiences with the community as I go along.

This is the first time that I can think of where I’ve planned to really spend a good chunk of time with one retro console in particular, and I can’t think of a better place to start. After a bit of time, I plan on piecing together a number of Atari 2600 installments of our series of guides and adding to the existing ones. My first stop is The Games That Defined the Atari 2600. Which leads us to this poll.  I’ve already tallied up the nominations from this forum thread and now it’s time to vote on the most defining of the bunch.   Let me know what you think!  (You can choose up to 10)

[poll id=”23″]


tcv says:

Whoops! Never mind.

But JOURNEY ESCAPE?! If that game defines the 2600 I’ll eat my hat.


Where is Indy 500 with the unique to 2600 driving controllers?

skate323k137 says:

I got a ‘maximum choices: 1’ error (or similar wording)

racketboy says:

ok – try again — this is driving me nuts 🙂

ecco6t9 says:

I picked Halo 2600, since it shows where the Atari 2600 has been and continues to go as a home brewers console.

The 3 bad games I voted for, one shows greed, one shows greed with a hit movie, both show zero respect to proper development time. The other was picked as what did happen when a rival first party decided to release games on a “technically inferior” console and how that affected the industry.

M@ says:

Great question. Somehow I missed Space Invaders when I scanned the list, though.

For me, the games that defined the system reflect one of two things. One is what made the system popular — basically good ports of arcade titles, like SI, Asteroids, and Missile Command.

The other is gaming innovation, games for which there was no arcade equivalent and that made the 2600 the only system you needed in the early 80s. River Raid, Pitfall, and Empire Strikes Back fall into this category, for me.

Orion says:

Thanks for doing this survey. I had to give a vote to Megamania because I feel it’s the strongest game on the 2600, even though I don’t think it “defines” it. Most of my other choices were for the spectacular arcade ports like Missle Command, Berzerk, Asteroids, etc. Almost all the games listed in the survey have tremendous gameplay, so much that they are still playable today. What a great system!

Hatta says:

I really wanted to pick 11! In the end I gave Star Raiders spot to Super Breakout. Star Raiders is OK on the 2600, but it’s really a defining game for the Atari 8-bit computers. Play that instead. Super Breakout on the other hand is still a compelling reason to own a 2600 today.

tcv says:

I think that Space Invaders started the 2600 on its rise to super-stardom. It became available for the 2600 at a perfect moment, when the arcades were riding the very first shockwave of a megahit. The concept of bringing a big arcade experience home was defined in the Space Inavders 2600 cart.

Plus, it was simply a good adaptation.

To me it was Adventure. It had so many firsts.. I enjoyed Pitfall and played for hours so I picked that as well. I also picked ET, I am probably one of the few that enjoyed ET. ET was the beginning of the end for the Atari 2600. I have two units and I still go back and play them

Renard says:

okay Warlords, you get up higher on the list, right now


Ack says:

Haha, Renard, I fully agree with you. Throw in Demon Attack, and you’ll have the three that I picked which aren’t currently in the top 10.

PhilExile says:

Pitfall 2 should be on here. Best game on the 2600 in every respect.

Ashraf_2003 says:

I didn’t live those days of Atari, but I recognize that space invaders one of the most titles that defined Atari Gen

Rare says:

Although SPACE INVADERS pioneered the way, GALAXIAN is a great game. TAPPER was refreshing. FAST FOOD is addicting. BASIC PROGRAMMING can be fun for a bit. 😉 Enjoy…

Orion says:

Centipede probably should have been on the list, but I realize there’s just too many defining games.

csanyk says:

This list is incomplete without Superman, Riddle of the Sphynx, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

csanyk says:

Also, Mountain King, Solar Fox, Tac Scan, Outlaw, RealSports Baseball.

mctom says:

Hi Racketboy, I also defined the Atari 2600 (in 20 Games) in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpQvB1QJ7pM
Just like you, I missed “Joust”… :S

Chris says:

Great post! I just won an Atari 7800 Pro, that is in great condition, from ebay. I was inspired by your post. Looking to get a majority of these games next.

Seth says:

Jungle Hunt should be added as well. That was one of my favorites.

butfluufy says:

shame midnight magic aint on the list. that was one awsome pinball game and tbh most pinball games suck but midnight magic seemed to work really well with a simple design and addictive gameplay.

I have a flight commander control for the atari 2600….Is it worth anything…tks

i really ENJOYED “adventure.” it was an action adventure game in the vein of zelda for those who could not afford a NES at the time.

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