Presented by Ack & Racketboy
Due to its vintage and the bizarre state of the video game industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Atari 2600 library boasts some of the most common and affordable cartridges, as well as some of the rarest and most valuable games ever released.
Because of the rarity of certain games, only a few elite collectors are able to even get close to building a complete collection for the iconic Atari console. We have been building out this guide over the last ten years and have recently been talking with some of these elite collectors to refine the ranking of the games and trying to provide the most accurate pricing possible.
Despite the challenges in tracking down some of the gems contained in this list, it is entirely possible to stumble on treasures yourself by chance. In fact, many of the the games in this list were discovered in unlikely places and without unusual effort. Be sure to study this list and keep it handy as you might be encounter one in your collection or in your game hunting routines.
In stark contrast to the Cheapest Games series, this Rare & Valuable series will round up the rarest and most valuable games for a given console or handheld so you’ll know what to look for whether you are buying or selling. It should be noted, prices vary based on condition and completeness of the title.
Prices updated October 2018
Air Raid: $2,800 – $33,000
Even though the last decade of Atari 2600 collecting has seen a handful of exciting discoveries and pricing drama, this curious game from Men-A-Vision resulted in the highest-dollar public transaction for the platform and a now-iconic collector’s piece.
This odd-looking cartridge not only has an unusual T-shape handle and powder blue shade, but it also doesn’t even contain the name of publisher on the game (that’s only to be found on the box).
Air Raid was long considered to be a pirate cartridge from South America because of its unusual case and scanline count. Some were later convinced it was indeed a US release from a small LA-based operation. Others argue that the suspicious re-use of code from Space Jockey, absence of advertising, and lacking grammar and punctuation point to it being a Taiwanese hack sold in the States.
Air Raid’s gameplay centers around the player attempting to protect a city by shooting down flying saucers, airplanes, and other kinds of enemies which are trying to bomb said city. The player must fly around in their aircraft, launching missiles at enemy ships. Waves are continuous, though scores are tabulated so players can compete against themselves.
There are no solid publication estimates, but there about 23 known copies (with about 10 found in the last five years including all five known boxed units) circulating compared to the one or two of Birthday Mania or Red Sea Crossing (mentioned below). The addition of the box to complete the collectors piece is where the true rarity and value lays.
For many years, only unboxed copies of the game had surfaced, including a 2004 sale for $3,305. In 2012, the community saw two boxed copies sell on eBay and GameGavel for $14,000 and $33,400 (included the manual in addition to box) respectively. In 2013, another loose cartridge sold for $2,500. As of this writing, there is a loose copy up on eBay with a Buy it Now of $3999 that has been lingering for a while.
The story behind the previous owner of the $33K boxed copy is especially remarkable. While working in the video game department of a drug store in California in the early 80s, he was given a copy Air Raid to sell by a visiting sales rep. After trying it out at home, he decided the game wasn’t interesting enough for the store. He offered the cartridge back to the sales rep, but he simply told him to keep it. His kids played it a couple times over the years, but it had been sitting among a collection of other boxes Atari games for a couple decades in storage. You can watch them dig it back out right here.
This last Complete-In-Box (CIB) sale made it one of the highest priced public video game transactions of all time (a bit behind the $41,300 that was paid for a copy of Stadium Events for the NES). For the record, it would be interesting to see Gamma Attack or Birthday Mania (or even a boxed Ultravision Karate) change hands just so we can see how they compare.
Birthday Mania: $6,500 – $16,000
During the era of the Atari 2600, the home video game industry was in its infancy, but there was a certain air of entrepreneurial adventure and unlimited potential that reminds me of the dot-com boom of the second half of the 90’s.
One example of this is Personal Games’ attempt at bringing a customized video game experience for the “perfect” birthday present for a early 80’s video game fan. Birthday Mania cartridges were specially ordered cartridges with personalized title screens and a handy space on the label to write the recipient’s name. The game played “Happy Birthday” tones before launching into a simple Kaboom / shooter-type game where you “blow out” birthday candles. The game wasn’t especially great and the customizing aspect was minimal.
Needless to say, It didn’t really catch on, so there are very few of these out on the market. It is estimated that there were about 300 of the Birthday Mania units produced, with only 10 sold and possibly only a couple surviving the intervening decades that the community is aware of. The cartridge was sold with a three-folded manual sheet, but no box is known. One is said to be in the hands of Jerry Greiner, known Atari collector and enthusiast, but unconfirmed, while another belongs to a user at AtariAge (I won’t list his name since he appears to value his privacy).
Back in 2009, the highest known offer for a copy of Birthday Mania was $6500, but it was turned down by the owner. With more recent sales of Air Raid and the rise of collecting over the last decade, Birthday Mania could possibly fetch 2 to 3 times the amount of that offer.
Red Sea Crossing: $10,400 – $14,000
In the early days pinball, arcades, and video games had associations with gambling and corrupting children (see the pinball ban in NYC in the 1940s). However, in the 80’s and 90’s the industry saw multiple attempts at bringing religious-themed games to market to balance out certain people’s perception of video games. Red Sea Crossing was one of the earliest instance of games based on Bible stories and was created by Steve Schustack (Steve Stack) at Inspirational Video Concepts in 1983.
The game was discovered in September of 2007 at a garage sale in Ohio (at the same time as a copy The Music Machine for 50 cents – see more info and the collectors value below) During the vetting process, the AtariAge community contacted Steve Schustack to flesh out the origin story of the game. He mentioned that he made a “few hundred” of the cartridges but didn’t know what happened to them. (He hinted that he might have units in storage, but it would be hard to dig out). After dealing with a great deal of vetting, skepticism, and relatively small bids by the AtariAge forum, nagn2 waited 8 years before putting it up on eBay, where it sold for $10,400 to AtariAge member Atari4You.
Incidentally, within four days of nagn2 finally announcing he would auction off his copy, Travis from Medium Bob’s Curiosity Shop in Philadelphia mentioned that he had a copy in his shop. He ended up selling his on GameGavel for $13,900. Some factors in the higher value include having a better condition of the label and a bit more mainstream press.
Later that month, Atari4You worked with other Atari community members to offer 100 (original plan was 50) numbered reproductions of the cart for $60 each. He was also in contact with the original developer and was open to sharing royalties. He produced it with colorful, original artwork to prevent confusion and potential fraud. (See artwork)
Years after the game was discovered (but before the game was sold) it was discovered that Red Sea Crossing was advertised in the October 7, 1983 issue of Christianity Today. According the the magazine advertisements, the game was supposed to come with a coloring book and an audio tape, but we have yet to see any of those items surface.
To this day, there have only been the two cartridges of Red Sea Crossing that have surfaced. However, if an original copy ever is sold with the original coloring book and/or the audio cassette (no official box was released), I’m sure it could climb much higher on this list – possibly beating out the complete copy of Air Raid.
Extra Terrestrials: $7,000 – $15,000
(No Aftermarket Sales)
Not to be confused with the notorious E.T. Atari 2600 release, Extra Terrestrials is the only known Canadian-developed 2600 title to be sold in the 1980’s. This previously-unknown cartridge was first discovered in October of 2011.
All four of the known, confirmed copies (including the one prototype) are either in the possession of the Personal Computer Museum of Canada or in the hands of the original programmer, Herman Quast. The first cartridge found and donated to the museum was actually a prototype. The museum contacted Mr. Quast who donated one of his personal copies to the Museum for dumping of the ROM and for presentation. Another museum volunteer knew somebody that also had a copy and it was arranged to be donated to the museum and not sold.
Partnering with Good Deal Games, the Museum produced 100 authorized but limited edition reproductions that were shipped in December of 2011. The funds were used to support the Personal Computer Museum.
The owner of the company that originally produced Extra Terrestrials believes that there were “a few hundred copies” produced. The company lost significant money on the game and no resources were kept.
There was supposedly a box for Extra Terrestrials but one has not surfaced.
Gamma Attack: $6,000 – $14,000
(No Aftermarket Sales)
It is often difficult to define the most valuable video games in the collecting community when most of the top candidates have a bit of mystery to their production numbers and methods. It also complicates things when the owners of the known outstanding units don’t easily part with their treasures.
The dilemma is made especially evident in the case of Gamma Attack for the 2600. The game was published in 1983 by Gammation, a company that had previously developed a couple of rapid-fire adapters for the Atari system. Gammation, headed up by programmer, Robert L. Esken, Jr. decided to try their hand at game design with Gamma Attack – a game where you attack tanks on the ground with a zooming flying saucer – seemingly to make good use of their rapid fire accessories. There was only a handful of cartridges produced and sales failed to materialize.
Currently, there is one copy known to exist, in the hands of collector Anthony DeNardo (known as Phantom on AtariAge). Mr. DeNardo picked it up in a large lot of games from somebody his brother knew. He initially thought it may have been a random homebrew game, but he asked about it over at AtariAge Forums to get more information. After the excitement of the discovery, he put the game up for auction on eBay in February 2008 for a Buy-It-Now Price of $500,000. He wasn’t really expecting anyone to jump at that price, but instead he wanted to bring attention to the find and get people talking.
Since 2008, Gamma Attack has gone from mysterious legend to something that has become much more substantial and obtainable. The ROM of Gamma Attack has been released, and in 2008 Gammation unveiled GammAttack4, a re-release of the game for PC emulators. Also, in 2009, Mr. Esken rebooted the Gammation brand to work on selling official re-releases of the game in limited quantities. It stated in an awkward way, but you can read more about this interesting development in our full backstory of Gamma Attack. (Of course, now you can also occasionally find unauthorized reproductions of the game on eBay).
Without the lone known original copy changing hands or other mystery copies surfacing, it is hard to place a value on it. Back when originally published this Rare & Valuable Atari 2600 guide in 2009, we had Gamma Attack valued between $5,000 and $10,000. We based this quote at Mr. DeNardo’s personal value estimation in 2008, but he confessed that he had received even larger offers for the title. In 2013, we were estimating an unusually wide range of $17,000 to $50,000 if the game ever went on auction. This was due to the excitement over the title at the time and its relative rarity compared to other games on this list. Now that we have spent more time on comparative research done and viewing the sales of the “official re-releases”, we are valuing the cartridge just below that of sale prices of Birthday Mania and Red Sea Crossing mentioned above. You can read more about how we value Gamma Attack and other super-rare titles in this extra guide.
Superman (Sears Telegames Picture-Labeled Version): $3,000 – $10,000
Don’t get too excited if you have the standard Superman release with the red text on the labels. Even a typical Sears release of the Superman game with the text-only label is only worth $150 to $200.
However, if you have the Sears version that has the yellow text and the picture of Superman on it (see comparison shot with the standard release), you’re in luck. It is the rarest of the Sears Telegames variants and the cartridge alone can fetch a few thousand dollars. A boxed copy (with a blue box instead of the typical red) was surprisingly sold on eBay for over $10,000 in November 2012.
On a side note, it is interesting to see this AtariAge thread from earlier in 2012 where Atari fans had a hard time wanting to pay even a small premium for a text color variation. I can’t say I would have been any different at the time, but it is interesting how the online collecting market has changed our thinking over just a few years.
Between in late 2012, the cartridge was going for about $1,000, but since more attention was drawn to it with the sale of the boxed copy, a loose copy could easily sell for $3,000 if marketed well.
In addition to being one of the rarest Atari variants, the Superman game is also one of the first licensed video games (released in 1979) and was built off prototype code for Warren Robinett’s Adventure (and was published before Adventure’s completion).
I could understand why a publisher may have switched to a text-only label in order to save on production costs, but it’s a curious decision to change the text color AND box color for such a small print run.
Karate – Ultravision release: $2500-$4000
Some of you may be shocked by this winding up on the list, because the Froggo Games release of this game for the Atari 2600 really isn’t rare at all. The true rarity that belongs on this list is the original Ultravision releases. In 1983, Ultravision was promoting a product that was supposed to be a TV, game console, and personal computer in one hybrid device.
Things didn’t work out as they hoped, and in the end, they only released two Atari 2600 games (Karate and Condor Attack), and they were released under Froggo and K-Kel’s labels respectively. The game software remains consistent through all the Ultravision and Froggo Games releases. Even though it was supposedly designed with the help of black belt Joseph Amelio, it is considered one of the worst games in the Atari 2600 library.
Interestingly enough, there are actually two variation within Karate’s rare production run. One is a more traditional black square cartridge case while another has a T-shaped handle. Both of these variations are roughly worth the same, and of course, the Ultravision box holds significant value as well if you ever find one.
Classifications of some of the games on this list can be tricky, but the Ultravision Karate release might be the rarest and most valuable licensed retail cartridge on the Atari 2600. Nobody has seen a boxed copy of the game surface, but if one showed up for sale in excellent condition, the value could top the boxed yellow-label Superman and get into the $12,000 to $18,000 range.
Atlantis II: $1,000 – $6,000
While Nintendo eventually created some valuable game collectibles via tournament cartridges (see the NES and SNES Rare and Valuable guides), Atari publisher, Imagic was an early innovator in providing their gamer community with a special tournament version of the 2600 port of their popular shooter, Atlantis.
In this special release, the gameplay is much faster, the scoring system has been slightly altered from the original, and enemy ships are worth far less points than the original version. Copies of the cartridge were sent to the top players in the “Defend Atlantis” competition, primarily because there were far more than four people capable of maxing out the score in the original Atlantis. Of those receiving the cartridge, four were chosen and sent to Bermuda for the final round of the competition, where the winner won $10,000. The game looks identical to Atlantis, though a sticker with “Atlantis II” typed on it was stuck to the front of the box. (Read our guide on how to tell the difference between an original Atlantis cartridge and a rare Atlantis II cartridge) It is unknown who won the competition, but some of the original contestants still have the Atlantis II cartridge. It isn’t clear how many of these cartridges were distributed, but several sources have mentioned that there are “less than 100” units in existence.
There was recently an eBay auction in April for 2016 for an Atlantis II cartridge that closed at about $1000. The auction wasn’t publicized heavily and only had three bids. However, due to this lower sale price, we are lowering our price range for this game.
Pepsi Invaders: $815 – $2200
Does anyone remember the Pepsi Challenge? While there continues to be a battle going on between Coke and Pepsi now, the 1970s and 80s were filled with a promotional war between the soda giants. In the heat of the soda wars in 1983, Pepsi Wars (also known as Coke Wins) was commissioned as a revision (or an “official” ROM hack) of Space Invaders by the Coca Cola Corporation. It was distributed to the executive levels of Coca-Cola at a sales conversion, so there are believed to have only ever been 130 of these games, at most.
Instead of waves of aliens being fended off, the player must shoot invading letters that say PEPSI, as well as a flying Pepsi logo that replaced the flying saucer at the top of the screen. The game also includes a three-minute timer to test player skill.
The games were originally distributed on black cartridges without a label, but there are white boxes with a small, red, circular label with the words “Atari goes better with Coke” on the left side. There have been a number of fan-made labels designed for the cartridges over the years. There are some nicely-designed ones showing up frequently as reproductions on eBay, etsy, etc. (like shown on the illustration here to the right)
There have been a few sales in the $800 to $900 range in 2012 and in 2014. But there have been larger verified sales on eBay include a 2005 sale for $1,825, a 2010 sale for $2,125, a $3500 sale in 2013 and a $2000 sale in 2017.
Gauntlet: $600 – $3000
This title has nothing to do with the later action RPG series Atari would release. Instead, the plot follows Sir Robert Whittenbottom as he runs the gauntlet of an ancient tribe in an attempt to prove his manhood and join the tribe. The player could run around or leap over various obstacles, and could survive multiple hits before finally succumbing to wounds.
The game was mail-order only from Answer Software and was not contained in a box, instead coming in a foam case. We haven’t really seen much activity on this release in recent years. Copies back in the early 2000s went for about $3,000. However, at the end of 2012, a copy sold for only $600.
There has only been one or two boxes copies showing up. With more copies of Air Raid surfacing these last 5 years, Gauntlet stands as rarer than Air Raid in both loose and boxed form. If more units would surface and go up for sale, we might see these valuations rise. This particular title could be a good investment if somebody finds it for a price under $1000 or with a box as it just doesn’t get enough attention.
Eli’s Ladder: $750 – $2400
Easily the rarest educational game ever made, as well as one of the rarest cartridges for the Atari 2600. Eli’s Ladder was produced by Simage and aimed at boosting children’s math skills. The players are challenged with math questions in order to help Eli climb a ladder back to his ship so he can fly to the moon.
The game did not come with a box, but it did come with instructions, a certificate, console overlays, a worksheet/wall chart, and motivational stickers for children, which are especially difficult to find. Those worksheets that have been found haven’t been spotted with stickers applied, so they may not have actually made it in the hands of many actual children for educational purposes.
There are about 15 known copies circulating with about four of them having some extras/documentation. We haven’t seen any complete copies go up for sale in recent years – only loose copies – some of which have end labels missing. Over the last ten years, these loose carts have ranged from $516 to $1500, (but it is safe to say the value has edged up a bit over the few years). If a complete copy were to go up for auction today, it could easily fetch over $2000 if promoted properly.
Lochjaw: $550 – $6500
This is the original release of the game Shark Attack, put out before Apollo changed the name due to a pending lawsuit of copyright infringement for the film Jaws. Certain minor changes were also made to the game, though these aren’t really noticeable. Some Lochjaw games still lingered at places like Kay-Bee in their bargain bins as late as 1986 – even after Shark Attack was already in the hand of gamers.
The point of the game is to grab as many diamonds as possible without letting the shark get you. If the shark does get you, he eats you, just as he eats any diamonds he comes into contact with. The Loch Ness Monster can also be found hiding in various undersea caves, and will hunt the player down if disturbed.
In 2012, we had Lochjaw priced at $300 for a loose copy and $1375 for a boxed copy, but there have been a number of exchanges since that time. In 2013, two different loose copies sold for $600 and $310 respectively on eBay. In July of 2017 a loose copy also sold on eBay for $550. We also happened to see a loose copy that came with a torn manual sell for $900 in January of 2017. We also have some data on complete copies of Lochjaw: a collector is offering $6,000 for a boxed copy in very good shape on AtariAge
And another offer for $7000 here.
There may only be a handful of boxed copies of this rarity in existence, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that bidding could get intense should someone want to part with one.
The Music Machine: $400 – $2000 – $5500
Much like Red Sea Crossing, The Music Machine was a religious-themed title, but instead of mail-order, it was only available through Christian bookstores. In the game, two children must collect the Fruits of the Spirit that fall from the Music Machine in a basket, then grab a heart to move to the next level.
This game was the only video game release by Sparrow and a Music Machine LP was released at the same time which contained several inspirational songs which could be listened to at the same time. A loose cartridge of The Music Machine routinely show up on eBay every few months and typically sell for between $300 and $500 (instructions has increased the price to $750). A boxed copy just recently sold in July 2017 for $1,825 and another boxed copy had sold for $1602 in 2016 (also $3000 has been offered for a complete on AtariAge). However, sealed copy sold on eBay for $5250.00 in 2009 and for $5,500 in January of 2017.
Cubicolor: $1,200 – $1,500
Even in the early days of the console business, there were times that a game got pushed aside by a publisher and developers go indie to sell their creations. Cubicolor was developed by Rob Fulop during his days at Imagic. After the company refused to publish it, Rob sold it on his own for $100 a copy. Earlier reports suggested there were “less than 100” copies of the game circulated, however later information reported that there were 50 cartridges made. Each cartridge was signed and numbered by Rob.
There was an eBay auction in October 2012 that mentioned that the cartridge included an “original letter from Rob about the game, [which] also included is the packing envelope and game instructions .The letter and envelope both have Rob’s company logo on it (PF. Magic). In the letter he mentions being flattered that anybody would pay attention to these games anymore. He also talks about his fascination with Rubik’s Cube, and Cubicolor being designed and programmed in 8 weeks. He goes on to say he kept 50 copies of the ROM and guaranteed that no more will ever be made.” If you would like to see more pictures of the cart and the letter from Rob Fulop, check out this archived copy of the eBay auction contents.
River Patrol: $760 – $4000
Due to a very limited run for a port of an obscure arcade game, River Patrol is considered extremely rare. There’s speculation that as few as six copies may be in circulation among collectors. It is unclear why the game is so rare, though there is speculation that it has to do with the trouble engineers had programming the game to licensing problems over the arcade game, as well as its 1984 post-video game crash release date. The game also holds the distinction of being one of the few 2600 titles with music. Players must navigate a large boat down a river strewn with obstacles.
Back in 2009, the game was valued between $300 and $500, but in 2012, the game cartridge (without box) sold on eBay for $760. A complete in box copy sold for $3500 on eBay a few years ago (and also a side-offer in October of 2017 for $3500 as well), but there have been offers of paying $4,000 for a complete boxed copy in very good condition on AtariAge in 2017.
Mangia: $400 – $1150
In this 1983 release from Spectravision, you must either eat the plates of pasta your mother is constantly making, or throw it to your pets. Eat too much and your stomach explodes, but don’t get rid of the plates quick enough and your table collapses. The game is also noted for having one of the most annoying sound effects of the entire Atari 2600 library.
This is a black cartridge Spectravision release, but was only released in the US through the Columbia House Record Club. PAL releases of the game sometimes sell for less than $200, but NTSC cartridges have sold for between $400 and $870 (with the manual adding to the value) over the last three years.
A complete boxed copy sold for $1150 in 2013. Also a boxed copy that was missing the instruction manual just sold in December 2012 for $1000. There is some debate on whether the NTSC boxes are different from PAL boxes or not. Supposedly, there is a sticker that make it a true NTSC box (similar to the barcodes on some rare NTSC Sega Master System games ) .
Xante Releases: $800 – $4450 individually
Xante was a small company based out of Oklahoma which opted to sell popular games via blue rewritable cartridges. With this interesting innovation, whenever a player grew tired of a certain game, they could return the cartridge to a Xante kiosk and have a new game written on their cart, complete with generic label and box.
Games released this way include Alien, Solar Storm, No Escape, Demon Attack, Beany Bopper, and Crypts of Chaos. There are certain Brazilian releases with the same-style cartridge, such as Spacegame, but these generally are worth the same amount, so don’t feel bad if it turns out not to be a Xante cart. It’s still worth quite a bit. When we did our last revision of this guide in 2012, the last eBay sale of a Xante release was Beany Bopper in October 2012 for $579. In September 2016, a copy of Worm War 1 sold for $1025. Many of the other loose sales in the last couple of years were selling for the $800 to $1300 range. July of 2017 saw the following sales: MAS*H (with box) for $4450 and Deadly Duck for $3707
If you’re interested in learning more about these interesting cartridges, you can see some interesting pictures and discussions on this AtariAge thread
Malagai: $300 – $2600
This title from Answer Software tries to jump onto the Pac-Man bandwagon with a maze-based game that puts you in the shoes of Commander Harrington Crag who must pursue “Malagai” aliens within his troubled starship. The player must touch the aliens in the correct order to unlock the airlock before a time ends.
Much like Gauntlet (also from Answer Software), Malagai was a mail-order only game and game in a foam case instead of a box. A bare cartridge sold for $355 in August of 2016 and $275 in August 2017 on eBay. A sealed copy of Malagai sold for over $2300 on eBay but there are probably only a handful of sealed copies in existence. More recently, an unsealed complete copy sold privately on AtariAge for about $2600.
Condor Attack – Ultravision Release: $350 – $1,830 – $2900
Much like Karate mentioned above, this game is only valuable if you have the Ultravision release. There are bare cartridges showing up on eBay fairly regularly, but a complete, boxed copy typically only shows up every now and then. However, there have been a couple AtariAge members that have put up complete copies up for sale in 2017.
In November 2012, a boxed, albeit roughed-up copy, sold for $1340. A more pristine copy sold a month earlier for over $1800. In July 2017, a boxed copy in Germany sold for $1575. The bare cartridge sold for $350 in August 2017. Interestingly enough, a sealed Condor Attack was found in a storage locker and then sold on eBay for $2900. Just another example of finding some treasures in oddball places.
X-Man: $250 – $2000 ($6500 Sealed)
X-Man is a sexually-explicit game released in 1983 by Universal Gamex (its only game publication). The game has nothing to do with the X-Men comic book series. Instead, it plays off the Pac-Man inspired maze setup with a man trying to reach a woman in a limited amount of time. The adult elements are contained in the bonus mode after the player reaches their game objective.
X-Man eventually received some media attention and faced protest from women’s groups. Understandably, most retailers declined to carry it – or if they did, it was restricted to adults or kept under-the-counter. X-Man cartridges could also be purchased via mail order, and an ad inviting such purchases appeared in at least one gaming magazine. A full-page ad can be found in the July 1983 issue of Videogaming Illustrated. Obviously, with all these restrictions, it has been hard to track down a copy. It should be noted, however that the game is easier to find in PAL format than the rarer NTSC version. It is rumored that there are between 20 and 45 cartridges of this game in the wild.
It has been incredibly difficult to find complete copies of the game, but there are standing offers from established collectors on Atari Age for $1500 to $2000. There was also a graded sealed copy that sold on eBay in February 2018 for $6500.
Out of Control: $250 – $2000
Avalon Hill, a traditional board game company, ventured out into video game publishing with rather poor timing. Despite showing some innovation and thoughtful game design from their experienced board game designers, the games were not finished and shipped until retailers already had a glut of inventory from other vendors and needed to reduce orders.
Avalon Hill ended up publishing five different Atari 2600 titles and released Out of Control in the middle of the video game crash of 1983. The game remains as their rarest release (Death Trap is another one of their treasures, but a bit more common). The company is still around today, publishing board games and computer games.
For those interested, the objective of Out of Control is to weave your ship through space buoys and pop several balloons before executing a perfect landing in a space station.
Loose cartridges show up on eBay fairly regularly for under $300, but the boxed copy has fetched well over $2,000
BMX Airmaster – Atari release: $300 – $900
Before the Skate or Die, the X-Games, or the Tony Hawk game franchise, Adam Clayton and Sculptured Software developed BMX Airmaster for the 2600 which features three levels of bike stunts. For the era, it gives a respectable presentation and challenge to keep improving your technique and score.
Before you get excited about the BMX Airmaster cartridge in your collection, we will note that TNT Games originally published this game on the 2600 and that variation isn’t terribly uncommon. However, late in this game’s production, Atari bought the rights from TNT and produced a limited number of their own cartridges under their own label. Of these produced, fewer sold, making it difficult to find a copy of Atari’s BMX Airmaster. Don’t be fooled by the “RARE” label you see on most auction sites next to this game: rarely is it really the rare Atari version.
Cakewalk: $180 – $1500
If you’re a fan of the arcade classic, Tapper, you might find Cakewalk familiar but with an almost opposite goal. In this game, you must catch and pass on the cakes as they come down different conveyer belts and avoid dropping them on the floor.
This gem was published by CommaVid, one of the more innovative mail-order game publisher of the era. While their games weren’t the most popular, they tried to do interesting things with the limited hardware they dealt with.
Other titles from CommaVid include MagiCard and Video Life (two not-really-games mentioned below), Stronghold (mentioned below) and Cosmic Swarm.
Cakewalk cartridges have been hovering around the $150 range for years and complete copies have sold for $1500.
Stronghold: $110 – $1300
Here is another rarity that is actually a solid gaming experience. Stronghold is a space shooter developed in 1983 by CommaVid (same mail-order published as Cakewalk, mentioned above). This frantic shooter is actually rather impressive from a graphical standpoint and will definitely give you a challenge. It has 16 difficulty variations – the easiest of which is way more than just a warm-up.
The gameplay isn’t especially typical for the era, but seems more of an effective hybrid of some other games. I can sense inspirations from Robotron: 2084, Breakout, and Defender.
Cartridges were going for the $130 to $175 range a number of years ago. A Cartridge with a manual just sold for $350 on eBay in August of 2017. Complete copies are going for $900 to $1300
Swordquest Waterworld: $150 – $810
The Swordquest series of games was an ambitious project started in the peak of the Atari boom of 1982. The series was surrounded in a grand promotion and prizes valued at $150,000 to the winner of the games’ contest of solving puzzles contained in the four installments: Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterworld, and Airworld (which ended up being unreleased). (Nice article about the background of the games and the the awarded and hidden treasures)
Each game would come with a comic book to explain the plot and would also be some of the earliest examples of combining narrative with twitch gameplay.
Earthworld sold around 500,000 copies, 5,000 players ended up submitting answers, and only 8 players had all the correct answers to grant them access to the tournament. Fireworld sold well, but had a much better turnout of correct answers, so there was an essay phase to narrow down to 50 tournament participants.
Instead of being sold in wide retail distribution at launch, the third installment, Waterworld was only available to Atari Club members who purchased via mail order, starting in February of 1984. The contest for Waterworld was abruptly ended in the middle of 1984 by request of Tramel CEO, Jack Tramiel, after his company bought out Atari during their financial troubles.
This title has edged up nicely since our last revision in 2012. Bare copies were previously going for about $85 and complete for $400, but in the last five years, values have almost doubled.
Ultra-complete copy sold for over $800 in October of 2018 on eBay and a rather nice complete copy went for $500 on eBay as well. However, most complete copies typically fetch between $300 and $450. Bare cartridges have recently been selling for a range of $130 to $250
Quadrun: $180 – $700
This title was released exclusively via mail-order by Atari for their Atari Club members (however, there are rumors that it have have made it into stores in very limited quantities). Atari had play-tested the game with a panel of young girls who were frustrated that the game wasn’t like Ms. Pac-Man. The Atari management apparently was scared off by this limited feedback and only produced 10,000 cartridges.
While the the game might not have appealed to the girls, the game is still more interesting than many other games in the 2600 library and was the first Atari game to utilize voice synthesis (the only other was Open Sesame).
Loose copies of Quadrun routinely show up on eBay for under $200, but a complete copy can fetch a range between $400 and $700.
Spider Maze: $150 – $225
This game from K-Tel Vision was sold exclusively in Canada and distributed in Europe. The K-Tel corporation was previously known for selling disco compilations and teflon pots and pans on late-night TV. The decided to create a software division to jump on the video game bandwagon in the mid–80s. K-Tel Vision’s only other title was Vulture Attack, which was also rather limited and mentioned below. The company ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1986.
The K-Tel’s games featured unusual handles on the cartridge and rather randomly odd artwork that has nothing to do with the game. It is also easier to find in PAL format as it had more distribution overseas. (Comparisons) One weird thing that has surfaced is that some old Ultravision cartridges seem to have been sold off to K-Tel and re-labeled for K-Tel games
Wizard Video Red Label Horror: $120 – $750
Halloween (Wizard Red Label): $175 – $750
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Wizard Red Label): $120 – $570
Much like K-Tel, Wizard Video is an example of a non-gaming company jumping on the Atari trend. Wizard was the distributor of both Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS. These Atari adaptations ended up being the first horror games in the industry. However, since these weren’t aimed at the stereotypical younger demographic, they were typically kept behind the counter at the already-small number of retailers that carried the game. Because they are both rare and they have a cool tie-in with pop-culture horror franchises, they have become quite the collectible items. They are especially challenging to find complete in the box.
To make things more interesting, Wizard Video ended up selling a good chunk of cartridges with the name written in black marker (sometimes misspelled) to reduce labeling costs. Not surprisingly, the labeled version is more popular with collectors, but the unlabeled version may be slightly more rare. Complete in Box copies of Halloween have been selling recently for $500 to $700 and Texas Chainsaw Massacre have been trading for just under those values.
Tooth Protectors: $140 – $600
Tooth Protectors was a mail-order only release by Johnson and Johnson, though it’s never been as popular as Chase the Chuck Wagon (one of the original collectible icons of the Atari era). Then again, it also happens to be rarer than Chase the Chuck Wagon.
Tooth Protectors was an interesting marketing tool in which you play as the Tooth Protector to save teeth from the Snack Attack. To do this, you must knock back the crumbs that Snack Attack shoots at you. If a tooth takes too much damage, you can clean it by using your trusty Reach toothbrush, Johnson and Johnson dental floss and Act fluoride mouthwash.
Since it was only a mail-order release, there isn’t a retail box. However, one recent eBay sale featured the original styrofoam formed backing that was included in the mailer.
Great Escape: $230 – $450
Published by Bomb in 1983, Great Escape feels like it was inspired by Defender. It is a space shooter and, much like the arcade version of Defender, you have a small map of the course and the aliens in the bottom of the screen. However, instead of only moving left and right while adjusting your elevation in Defender, Great Escape gives the player the ability of point their ship in 4 directions and accelerate from there.
Bomb titles are very difficult to find in the US due to limited distribution, although they are easier to find outside of the US in PAL format. Other titles from Bomb include Assault, Wall Defender, and Z-Tack (see below). I’ve noticed some casual Atari fans end up including “Bomb” in the title of the games. It’s hard to blame them upon reviewing the game box. Bomb put their name in the prominent position of the artwork at more than twice the size of the actual name of the game.
Q*Bert’s Qubes: $70 – $575
Q*Bert’s Qubes is actually a rather fun and interesting game. It is based on an arcade game in the line of the popular Q*Bert series and is more of a fresh take on the series instead of just a simple rehash or enhancement. The downside of this particular release is that the presentation really gets downgraded from the arcade or even the ColecoVision port, which nicely captures the arcade presentation.
Much like other games in the series, the player navigates Q*Bert around a plane of cubes (this time more free-standing) while avoiding enemies. Jumping on a cube causes it to change the color (rotates in arcade and other ports). The goal is to match of line of cubes to the target color.
The Atari 2600 version was released in 1984 / 1985 – right at the tail end of the video game crash that started in 1983. The original arcade version didn’t get a lot of attention, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the poorly-timed Atari 2600 version didn’t get much distribution either.
Chase the Chuck Wagon: $65-$400
This game is practically the poster child for what went wrong with the home video game market during the Golden Age. It was a mail-order release by Ralston-Purina, advertising dog food based on a popular commercial in the early 1980s.
Over a decade ago, Chase the Chuck Wagon was one of the most iconic Atari 2600 game collectibles, but it was often pointed out by hardcore collectors that there were many more games out there that were far more rare. Since then, we have seen numerous games that were previously undocumented show up as the new “holy grails” of Atari 2600 collecting while more copies of Chase the Chuck Wagon cartridges continue to surface. Of course, a complete copy is still quite hard to find, so it is still worth looking out for.
Rare Atari 2600 Carts That Aren’t Really Games
VideoLife. $2000 – $7000
This “game” was only available via mail-in order to CommaVid, and only if the sender already owned a copy of the rare Atari 2600 programming tool Magicard (see below). The game is an Atari version of Conway’s Game of Life, a game which happens to be a cellular automaton. One doesn’t play the game so much as simply watch it and see what happens as “life” is created on the screen.
It is rumored that fewer than twenty cartridges of the game were ever released, but that estimate may be rather low. Other collectors estimate that there may be about ten complete-in-box copies in the wild in addition to loose copies. Recently, copies of VideoLife have been selling in a range of $3500 to $7000 for complete in box.
MagiCard $900 – $2400
CommaVid is one of the more interesting software companies of the classic era. All of their cartridges are difficult to find, most notably MagiCard. Although CommaVid’s games weren’t always the most popular with fans, they should be applauded for their innovation. MagicCard was a programming tool that allowed users to create their own simple games. It was only offered via mail order directly from the company and is one of the most difficult cartridges to obtain today.
It features a plain cartridge with a bland white label and a 100+ page manual. Magicard was not packed into a box. The cartridge was available via mail-order only, hence its rarity. Several sample programs were included in the cartridge to help give an understanding of how it worked. The cartridge worked in conjunction with the keyboard controller. Loose copies sold in the $900 range, but the cart sold with the manual in September of 2012 on eBay for $2400.
The purpose of this diagnostic cartridge was to enable television owners to check the alignment and quality of their televisions. It came with fifteen different patterns, including one specifically for checking the adjustment of the color generating circuitry of the Atari 2600. Several of these patterns were simply single color screens. Back in 2010, Chris Kohler scored an awesome deal in what turned out to be a complete-in-box Color Bar Generator. I haven’t seen one of these advertised on eBay since then, but a boxed unit could probably reach $1,000 or more if promoted properly.
ECPC Cartridges: $150-$695
These were reprogrammable cartridges released by Romox. They could be taken to Romox’s Software Centers so they could be rewritten and taken home again. Some of the games to be loaded onto them were exclusive to the Romox carts, so if found, it’s one of the only ways to play titles like Castles and Keys, Flapper, Bartender, or Topper.
Copy Cart – $300 – $1000
The Copy Cart was basically a blank cartridge that could have other games copied onto it. You will also need the Duplicator to handle the process, as the cart is pretty useless on its own. While there aren’t very many of these, there’s also not much of a market, hence why the price doesn’t go as high as some of these other titles. For the complete package, the cart was originally packaged with both the Duplicator and the game Dishaster, but finding all three together can be extremely tough.
A Copy Cart unit sold for about $300 a few years ago, but some people have paid $1000 since.
Boxed Copies Only
Below, we will highlight some games that are fairly inexpensive as a bare cartridge, but have a high premium for a complete/boxed copy.
Math Gran Prix (Sears Telegames Release): $300 – $700
There are plenty of copies of the standard Atari release of this game, and it’s a bit more difficult to find the Sears Telegames variation of this cart (can be found for $10 or so) but even experienced Atari collectors think it’s easier to find cartridges of some of the games at the top of this list than it is to find a box for this game variation.
Up ’n Down $500 – $1000
This interesting arcade port from Sega had a boxed copy show up about two years ago and sold for $1000 on a 7 day ebay auction. Cartridges are showing up with some regularity (going for about $20 to $40), but you rarely ever see the box come up for sale.
Xonox Single-End Games: $300 – $1000 individually
Xonox was a division of K-Tel software (see Spider Maze above) which published eight different games at the peak of the Atari 2600’s popularity and tried to push the novelty and consumer value of two games being on one double-ended cartridges. They eventually gave up on this concept and released each of the games as single-ended cartridges. Many of the single cartridges are rather hard to find even as bare cartridges, but usually sell for about $20 to $40. The boxed copies, on the other hand go for a nice chunk of change.
Here’s some examples of complete-in-box valuations (single-ended unless specified):
- Spikes Peak: $500-$1000 (eBay)
- Chuck Norris Superkicks: $400-$550 (eBay)
- Sir Lancelot: $350 (eBay)
- Motocross Racer: $300-$400 (eBay)
- Chuck Norris/Spikes Peak Double-Ender: $300–600 (eBay)
Cannon Man (Sears Telegames Variation): $400
Much like Superman and Math Gran Prix, this Sears release is quite difficult to find with all the cardboard in good shape.
Additional Games of Value
There are quite a few other rare and valuable Atari 2600 titles. If interested in finding more information, the website AtariAge.com keeps lists of rare titles and offers a forum for those interested in Atari collecting. Here’s just a few other titles that are rare, valuable, or both:
- Video Reflex: $105-$950
- Video Jogger: $45-$950
- Crazy Climber: $55-$350
- Wall Defender: $238-$450
- Motocross/Tomarc: $145-$350
- Springer: $75-$338
- Krokodile: $75-$350
- Boing!: $80-$350
- Vulture Attack: $190-$400
- Rescue Terra I: $100-$280
- Glib: $120-$325
- Z-Tack: $90-$370
- Spike’s Peak: $90-$700 (people have offered over $500 for cib but never comes up for sale)
- Scuba Diver: $37-$293
- Assault: $80-$200
- Asterix: $60-$240
- Cosmic Corridor: $30-$270
- Berenstain Bears: $50-$375
- Pac-Man (Grey Box Kay Bee Stores): $25-$250
- Rush Hour: $60-$187
- Sir Lancelot: $40-$273
- Gas Hog: $40-$200
- GI Joe Cobra Strike: $100-$130
- Fade Out: $40-$130
- Basic Math: $15-$200
- Guardian: $25-$180
- Shuttle Orbiter: $60-$200
- Custer’s Revenge: $40-$150
- Mr. Do’s Castle: $30-$700 ($300 complete, $700 sealed)
- Philly Flasher / Cathouse Blues: $50-$130
- Subterranea: $30-$275
- Gremlins: $30-$180
- The Power of He-Man: $30-$170