Sean and I were wondering last night, over text, if we still had any of our old Atari 8-bit cartridges. I don't think they're here, and I believe (or hope) that Sean has them. He's not sure either.
That conversation has made me wonder if I can remember all the cartridge we had. Here's a list of what I remember:
One of the two games Mom and Dad gave us along with the Atari 400 for Christmas back in, I think, 1982 or so. A very faithful adaptation of the massively popular arcade game, plenty of fun.
The second cartridge we received that Christmas, another faithful, colourful adaptation of the space shooter.
Sean bought this in Seattle, I think. Another excellent arcade-to-Atari translation. Excellent graphics and sound effects that stand the test of time.
Donkey Kong Jr.
A few years later, one of us picked up (or was gifted) this charming sequel, in which you, as Donkey Kong Jr., climb vines to save Donkey Kong from Mario, a clever reversal of the original game's objective.
A very faithful adaptation of the famous arcade game in which you have three missile silos to shoot down wave after wave of nuclear warheads plummeting toward you. You always lose in the end, just like in real nuclear war.
Unlike Atari's plain brown cartridges, Claim Jumper was a semi-translucent red. The game itself was an original, not an arcade adaptation; it was a two-player wild west shoot 'em up. Each player controlled a cowboy and had to avoid tumbleweeds or snakes, and the other cowboy's bullets, while collecting gold and depositing it in the bank. While the gameplay sounds simple, it was utterly chaotic in practice in the best way; the cries of frustration were glorious, whether you were shot just before depositing your gold in the bank or zapped by a tumbleweed or snake at a crucial moment.
Players control a knight riding a flying ostrich (?) and attempt to well, joust in midair while collecting eggs and avoiding lava, among other hazards. This is another arcade translation, and an excellent one.
Eastern Front (1941)
Another original, this is an abstract, strategic wargame where you control Nazi units invading the Soviet Union during World War II. You control infantry, armour, and air support in the drive to Moscow, but you have to pay attention to supply lines, morale, the dangers of being flanked or encircled, and other complexities of war. The game was tremendously difficult, but on the upside, it's never a bad thing when Nazis lose, which I think they always did . . . at the very least, I don't remember winning the game on anything other than the ridiculously simple Novice level, which pits one German unit against one Soviet unit.
The arcade version of Asteroids used vector graphics, so the raster graphics of the Atari 400 couldn't possibly support a visually authentic adaptation. Still, it was fun flying around in a little white triangle while blasting space rocks in rainbow colours.
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns
"Finding the golden rope is Pitfall Harry's only hope." Sean and I spent hours on this underground exploration game, rescuing Quickclaw and Rhonda more than once, but never quite finding the correct route to the golden rope and escape. We had a lot of fun trying, though.
One of the classic original creations for the Atari 8-bit computers, in Miner 2049er players lead Bounty Bob through four levels of treacherous mines, "painting" the floors by walking across them while avoiding radioactive mutants. The level design was great, as were the death animations; you could die by touching a mutant, falling, or using too much dynamite in the cannon level and blowing yourself to kingdom come instead of the top of the screen.
Caverns of Mars
In this vertical scroller, you control a spaceship flying through the titular caverns, avoiding the walls and rockets while shooting fuel tanks to keep you flying. Once you set the reactor at the bottom of each cavern to explode, you have to fly out safely again before the big boom. Simple and highly entertaining.
Even though Atari's Basketball supported only a maximum of four players shooting hoops, Sean and I still had great fun running around the 8-bit court, fighting over the ball. I don't remember ever playing with four players, maybe because we rarely had four joysticks working at the same time.
This was a diagonally-scrolling, World War I-themed shooter. Dad was a big fan of the George Peppard-led movie.
Possibly the best game ever released for the Atari 8-bit line, or at the very least the best game not based on an arcade title. It's a first-person spaceship simulator with a galactic map to navigate, front and rear views and torpedoes, a variety of enemy spaceships to hunt, and space stations for repair and refuel. A wonderful game.
Star Raiders II
A few years later we picked up Atari's sequel to Star Raiders, which I recall as also fun, but not as compelling as the original. In this one, you're bombing targets on a planet.
I don't know how they did it, but Atari found a way to make it really feel like you were in control of the ball, even though you were wielding a joystick instead of a racket. Mom and Dad liked this one, too.
8-bit port of the arcade game, faithful and fun, very colourful. Doesn't quite hold up today, though, unlike a lot of other games on this list.
Now this was a racing game! It supported two players racing against each other, with a top-down view of the treacherous curves. If you crashed, sometimes your driver would burst into flames and stop, drop and roll to put himself out.
We had more games than this, and I feel like I must have missed a few. Perhaps more tomorrow?
Boxing, Dig Dug, Q-Bert.
Astro Chase, Choplifter.
Fight Night was the boxing came. It might be the last Atari cartridge I purchased. ☹️
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