Review by Retro

"The system that started it all!"


The Atari 2600 was the first hugely popular video game system, and it pretty much began what would become one of the most successful industries of all time: The video game industry.

If it wasn't for the Atari 2600 VCS (Video Computer System), video games probably wouldn't be where they are today. As a matter of fact, there might would not even be a such thing as home video games at all. The Atari 2600 VCS was perfect for being the first real popular video game system for many reasons. Its games were extremely basic for the most part, with pixelized graphics, beeps and other basic sound effects, and simple controls. The games were so easy to play that anybody of any age, beginners and veterans alike, could have fun making timeless memories by playing the Atari 2600.


The Atari 2600 console is a sight to see, especially if you look back at it now. It's shaped like a rectangle, its front part is composed of a piece of wood, and the rest of it is made of a material that I guess is either wood or fiberglass. As for the layout of the system's controls, it has a few different switches, along with various ports.

There is a Power switch for turning the system on or off, a Tv Type switch that allows you to play the games in either color or black & white, two Difficulty switches that allow for making some of the games either easier or more difficult, a Game Reset switch, and a Game Select switch. On the back of the console is two different ports for any of the controllers, along with a slot for the adaptor. Finally, there is of course, a slot that the cartridges fit into for playing any of the games.

The Atari 2600 console that I just described is called the Atari 2600 Wood-Design 6 Button. There were many other models of Atari 2600 consoles to choose from such as the Wood-Design 4 Button, the later to come Atari 2600 Jr., and many others. All of them were basically the same, just with different designs and maybe one or two extra options, such as the Channel 2-3 button that the Atari 2600 Jr. has.

It's also a lot different in terms of how to hook up the Atari 2600. Since the Atari 2600 first came out in the late 70's, you have to hook it up using something different than you do with the newer video game systems. There is a box you have to use in order to hook up the console to the television. This box has two prongs that have to be connected to either the antennae, or to the screws on the back of your television. On the other side of the same small box, you must put some sort of connector into both the box, and the back of the Atari 2600. Last but not least, on the face of the box, there is a switch that has a slot for Game and one for TV. This 'box' acted as what we now call the RF Switch that is used for many of the video game systems. To successfully hook up the Atari 2600, there's also a small AC Adaptor that has to simultaneously be hooked up to the back of the 2600 console and plugged into the wall socket.

Ancient Controls

Most Atari 2600 games require usage of a basic joystick. To play a game that uses the joystick, all you have to do is move the joystick in the direction you want to move, and press the button (there's just one on the regular joysticks) to do a wide variety of things; depending on the game you're playing.

In some Atari 2600 games such as Warlords, Kaboom!, Circus Atari, Breakout, and Night Driver, you have to use the paddle controllers. To play a game with the paddles, you just have to turn the paddles left or right to do certain things (usually to move something left or right), and press the button (there's only one) when you need to. The paddles were probably the most precise way to control a game for the 2600.

Finally, even fewer games (Hunt & Score, Brain Games, and Cookie Monster Munch are a few of them) use what is called the keyboard controller. The keyboard controller is a small, rectangular keypad that has a separate button for each of the numbers 0-9, a * button, and a # button. This might remind you of the numbers on a telephone, except that there are not any letters involved, or calls to be made. With the keyboard controllers, all you have to do is press the buttons.

There were a few games, but not many, that required usage of a special controller that was made just for a certain game, such as Star Raiders.

The main showcase: The Games Themselves

About the only similarity between Atari 2600 video games and the games that are being made these days, is that even back then, the games were what made the system. There was a jaw-dropping variety of games that were made for the Atari 2600 during its ten-year plus run.

Whether it was games based on popular TV shows (A-Team, various Sesame Street games, Star Trek, Dukes of Hazzard, and several more), blockbuster movies (Raiders of The Lost Ark, E.T., several Star Wars titles, etc.), or games that were downright strange (Custer's Revenge, Plaque Attack, Crackpots, etc.), the Atari 2600 had it all.

Probably the most worthwhile and notable of the Atari 2600's library, is the many arcade classics that were made for the system. A few of these arcade juggernauts that most people already knew by heart were: Centipede, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Missile Command, Crystal Castles, Defender, Asteroids, Frogger, and the list could unfold for several miles. Most of these arcade blockbusters, with the only major exception being Pac-Man, are a lot like their arcade counterparts. All of them (even Pac-Man) are loads of fun.

There was also a wide variety of sports games, shoot'em ups, action titles, adventures, and everything in-between. Besides the arcade remakes, the kind of Atari 2600 title that I've always been the most impressed with is the original multiplayer titles. I don't mean just the ordinary two-player games in which you and your opponent take turns. I'm talking about the multiplayer games in which you and your opponent get to play against each other at the same time. A few of these unforgettable multiplayer classics are Combat, Warlords, Football, Pong Sports (same thing as Video Olympics), Freeway, and several others.

Not only were there many classics appearing for the Atari 2600 to help it sell millions, but a video game genre that later became unbelievably popular was also first seen in an Atari 2600 cartridge. Pitfall! is said to be the first true 2D side scroller, and arguably the most revolutionary video game ever made. Another standout game that was innovative is Adventure. Adventure is a game that many consider the beginning of the rpg genre.

Final Words

Of course, since the Atari 2600 is almost an antique by now, it's one of the most dated video game systems that can be found today. It features unbelievably fun and addictive games that are, for the most part, easy to learn and play without even reading an instruction booklet. However, even though it's drastically dated and even though most people would probably laugh at its graphics and gameplay when comparing them to today's video games, the Atari 2600 is still a lot of fun to play whether you're playing it just to remember the good ol' days, or if you just want to play some great, unforgettable video games.

The Atari 2600 is one system that will live in history and that will always be remembered for starting home video gaming popularity altogether. Next time you play any games for any system that ranges from the NES all the way up to the games being made these days such as the Playstation 2, just keep in mind that the Atari 2600 started it all. Without it, there probably wouldn't have ever been any Nintendo, Sega, or Sony.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/18/01, Updated 05/20/02

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