A Look Back at 41 Years of Atari-Mania!

By June 28, 2013

This week marks the 41st anniversary of Atari. I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel old. Growing up as a child of the 80s, Atari was a big flipping deal. I can remember my earliest experiences with Atari, playing on my sister’s classic 2600 with the wood finish, later (after having that one keel over) upgrading to the 2600 Jr, and continuing to play. At the time, it was HIGH QUALITY ENTERTAINMENT with what we thought were near life-like features (although today’s kids would beg to differ.) If you’re lucky enough like I am, there may be a place where you live that allows you to experience Atari today, as it was meant to be. Otherwise, you may find some games on the newer consoles and iThingies.

That being said (because people love reading lists), allow me to share some “classic” Atari games that molded my earliest gaming experiences…

5: Keystone Kapers (Activision, 1983)

These days, you may have heard of a little company called Activision. A company synonymous with developing games like Call of Duty, Rock Band, and the upcoming Destiny. In the 1980s, they made games for Atari, and they were uber-popular for their time. One of their bigger games was Keystone Kapers, in which you (a policeman) have to catch a robber (the computer.) Sounds easy enough, right? WRONG! You have to run, duck, and dodge various objects like toy airplanes, shopping carts, and whatever this is (I want to say an elecromagnet?). Also, the game is timed, so it can get rather hard as you progress. Despite that, a 4 or 5-year-old with a vivid imagination and the ability to be easily entertained won’t mind jumping and running around into objects while time runs out. Or, at least I didn’t.

4: The Empire Strikes Back (Parker Bros., 1982)

Before any Battlefront, Rogue Squadron, or Old Republic games, there was Empire. Parker Bros. (those folks who make those board games,) published games for Atari. One of which was a side-scroller, based on the 1981 sequel to Star Wars: Episode IV. Your mission (and you will accept it,) is to fly a snowspeeder around and shoot down AT-ATs. The play time does tend to get boring after the 10th level of constantly shooting them down, but then again, IT’S STAR WARS! Again, I’m easily amused.

3: Pitfall (Activision, 1982)

The most classic (if that’s the right word) Activision game for Atari. You play as Pitfall Harry (a take-off on Indiana Jones,) and brave your way across moats, logs crocodiles, scorpions, snakes, and many other obstacles in search of treasures. The thing I remember the most about this game is…it’s soooo tricky to get past crocodiles, as you have to jump on their heads while they’re in the water. Timing is everything, and if you miss, you go all the way back to the start. Swinging on vines, on the other hand, opposite of tricky. Useless trivia: The TV commercial for this game not only introduced the world to Pitfall, but a young kid who would eventually go on to be one half of the duo known as Tenacious D.

2: Demon Attack (Imagic, 1982)

You may not have heard of Imagic, but like Activision, they produced games for Atari. Unfortunately, after only 24 games, they met their fate caused by the 1983 “video game crash” where most of the older consoles (Atari, Intellivision, etc.) went under, until the advent of Nintendo and Sega. I remember Demon Attack very fondly. It’s essentially a bit like Space Invaders, only with really cool fade-in type graphics. On top of that, as you progressed in the game, the ships got harder to destroy (sometimes even splitting into two smaller ships.)

1: E.T. (Atari, 1982)

You might be thinking “Wait, what?” If you’re familiar with the E.T. game, you know it has gone down in history as quite possibly the worst game in video gaming history. Keep in mind, this is a list of Atari games I remember the most fondest, and E.T. certainly tops that. I can go on forever about the rumors behind development of this game (and the parody on the G4 cartoon, Code Monkeys,) or the rumor that E.T. (along with Atari Pac-Man and a few other Atari stinkbombs,) were steamrolled and buried in the New Mexico desert. Suffice to say, E.T. is the most ridiculous game I’ve ever had the “privilege” of playing. And if my strategically placed quotation marks don’t give you the implication of sarcasm in my writing, then just look up the countless “Let’s Plays” on YouTube for E.T. and see how many of them begin and end with someone cursing the fact that they keep ending up in that effing pit. x_x

P.S.: Just like not reading a book, you’re better off watching the movie for this one.

What are some of your favorite Atari games or memories? Sound off below.

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New York-based John J. is the creator/Chief Operating Officer of [adult swim] central as well as the co-founder of ACPN. He is also the host of The Swimcast, co-host of Adventure Club Podcast, and writes for various outlets such as The Other View and GeekNation. John J's favorite movie of all time is Back to the Future and his favorite color is blue. John J. is available for podcast fill-ins, birthdays, and bar mitzvahs. Never submerge John J. in warm water. Email.