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Atari VCS 2600

A selection of nice games from the Atari VCS 2600
Asterix, Asteroids, Barnstorming, Battlezone, Beamrider, Decathlon, Enduro, Moon Patrol, Obelix, Pac-Man, Pitfall!, Pitfall 2, River Raid, Space Invaders

Downloads: an Atari VCS 2600 emulator for PC, with games
Presentation of the Atari VCS
History of the console

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Atari

The player controls Asterix's head up and down, left and right. The aim is to catch cauldrons and other items in order to score points. Asterix must avoid contact with the lyres (music instruments) that make you lose a life. Items and lyres scroll horizontally through the screen. Asterix must show himself to be skilful enough to navigate through the screen while avoiding danger.

The game is very simple yet addictive. A pure scoring game, the main interest is to break a record score. Sounds and graphics are typical to the Atari games: very minimalist.

Astérix Astérix

Astérix video

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Year: 1981
Publisher: Atari

Ported from an Atari arcade game that had black and white vector graphics, the Atari VCS version had color graphics. The player controls a spaceship located in the middle of the screen. The ship must survive an asteroids field. When shot, the big asteroids get parted in two smaller pieces, that each can be divided in two once more. Shooting the smallest pieces makes them disappear for good. Once the screen is cleared, a new wave of asteroids appears, and so on and so forth.

The ship can fully rotate without moving forward, but it's also possible to make it move, which can quickly place it in a situation of grave danger, as it is subject to inertia and not easily maneuverable. The ship can also teleport itself (by pulling the joystick backwards), but it then reappears in some random place of the screen. If you're lucky, you escape danger, if not, then you will reappear just next to an asteroid that will crush your ship. From time to time, an alien spaceship crosses the screen, shooting aimlessly. The chances that you get shot by the alien ship are surprisingly higher than one would think.

Graphics are... ugly, asteroids look like big colored potatoes moving diagonally up and down. After a while, your ship gets surrounded by asteroids, big and small, and it becomes difficult to sort out priorities. The game has no end, and it's obvious that the player will eventually lose. Like all good arcade game, the aim is to hold as long as possible and the highest possible score.

Asteroids Asteroids

Asteroids arcade
Asteroids, arcade version (1979)

Vidéo d'Asteroids

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Year: 1982
Publisher: Activision
Designed by Steve Cartwright

The player pilots a biplane and must fly through a series of barns in the shortest time possible, while avoiding obstacles that slow him down (windmills, weather vanes, geese). There are 4 levels of difficulty. In the first level, you must fly through 10 barns, 15 in levels 2 and 3, and 25 in the highest level. In the first three levels, the course layout doesn't change, but it becomes random in the last level.

The graphics are pretty good and colorful. Each game will only last a few minutes and the level of difficulty is rather low. The interest of the game is to try to improve your best time. The game isn't extrememly exciting but it's pleasant enough to play it from time to time.

Barnstorming Barnstorming

Barnstorming video

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Atari

Battlezone is originally an Atari arcade game released in 1980. Graphically very innovative at the time, it's entirely in 3D, with black and white vector graphics, like Asteroids. The Atari VCS version, unlike the arcade game, is in color, without 3D vectors, and the player can see the front of his tank on the screen. But the game principle remains the same.
The purpose is to spot enemies on the radar located at the top of the screen, to move in their direction and blast them. Ennemies can retaliate, so you must destroy them before they set themselves in shooting position. It is almost impossible to avoid their shooting. Enemies are tanks, planes and some sort of flying saucers hovering above the ground. This scoring game is quite repetitive, but still nice to play. Yet, it is not a must-have game. It still reminds me good memories, hence its presence on this site, but it didn't age as well as some other games.

Battlezone Battlezone

Battlezone arcade
Battlezone, arcade version (1980)

Battlezone video

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Activision
Designed by David Rolfe

First developed for the Mattel Intellivision console, this game was later ported to the Atari VCS. It's a shoot'em up game, in which the player must destroy 15 enemy ships to access the next level. To get bonus points, you must also destroy a mother ship (with a torpedo and not with a mundane laser fire) that crosses the screen between two levels. The game offers a pseudo-3D view, with vessels that grow bigger as they come near the player's ship. You have to go through 99 levels before you can free the Earth, imprisoned by mysterious energy beams.
This Activision game is a nice technical achievement. It is rather difficult but entertaining and different from other shooters such as Space Invaders, so you don't get the impression to play yet another clone. Actually, this game reminds me of Tempest, an arcade game that was released at more or less the same time but has never been ported to the Atari VCS.

Beamrider Beamrider

Beamrider video

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Activision
Designed by David Crane

In 1983, David Crane, who had developed Pitfall the year before, gives the Atari a new jewel: Decathlon.
The principle is simple: the player participates in the decathlon's 10 sporting events. 100 meter race, 110m hurdles, 400m, 1500m, long jump, high jump, pole vault, shot put, discus throw and javelin throw.
In order to simulate the ahtlete's effort, a concept foreign to video game players who'd rather sit comfortably in a couch, David Crane had an idea. To have your character running, you had to move your joystick from left to right as fast as possible. The faster you do that, the faster your character runs. To jump or throw, you just have to push the button at the right moment.
I can assure you that after a Decathlon game, your arm aches and you feel tired!!! The last event is the 1500 race and it's a killer! Fortunately, it doesn't require you to move the joystick very fast throughout the distance.You just need to keep a steady pace and only during the last 200 meters do you have to sprint!
This game is very fun, and 4 players can participate, one after the other. The graphics are simple but nice, there are barely any sounds or music and the character animation is alright. The scrolling is perfectly smooth at all times. Once again, Activision released a major hit.

Decathlon Decathlon

Decathlon trials videos

Musique d'ouverture

100 m

Saut en longueur

Lancer du poids

Saut en hauteur

400 m

110 m haies

Lancer du disque

Saut à la perche

Lancer du javelot

1500 m

Musique de clôture

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Activision
Designed by Larry Miller

Enduro is a racing game. The purpose is not to finish first, but to overtake a specified number of cars every day. The game features a never-ending race that takes you from one dawn to the next. Lighting changes during the course of the day, there are several weather conditions, which repeat themselves day after day, always in the same order. The sky color changes, you drive in the snow (sounds are muffled, maneuverability is less responding), in the fog (half the screen is blackened and opponent cars become visible when they're very close), and a night zone (only the cars' backlights are visible).

Enduro Enduro

On the first racing day, you must overtake 200 cars, then it will be 300. If the player fails to achieve this, the game ends. But if you succeed, the game goes on forever. Well, not quite. Actually, opponent cars drive a little faster every day, so you also have to drive faster to pass them, until you reach a day when, even at maximum speed, you simply cannot overtake all 300 cars. I never reached that day myself but I remember about players saying they had. I can't remember exactly when that happends, though.

Enduro Enduro

The opponents are spread across 3 different lanes. One on the left, one in the middle and one on the right. Cars never change lanes, so the player can zigzag between them and must anticipate to avoid touching them. In case of a collision, the player's car doesn't get damaged, but is suddenly slowed down, and it takes a few seconds to regain speed. As the game progresses and the speed becomes higher, any collision can prevent you from overtaking the required 300 opponents.

Enduro Enduro

In conclusion, the game is simple, but smooth, easy to handle, with a very progressive level of difficulty. Activision made yet another great game, a real hit like Decathlon or River Raid. Undoubtfully, they were the best developers for the atari VCS.

Enduro video

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Atari

Another arcade game (from Irem Corporation) ported to the Atari. The player controls a moon buggy and drives on a path full of enemies and obstacles. The principle is simple, the screen scrolls to the right. On the ground, holes and small bumps must avoided by jumping above them or shooting them, while various enemy ships attack you from above. You have to avoid their missiles and shoot them down. When you shoot, a bullet goes forward to destroy any obstacle on the ground, and another bullet strikes upwards.
The journey is divided into 5 levels. If you lose, you will start again from the beginning of the current level. The purpose is of course to complete all 5 levels.
Technically, the game conforms to the capabilities of the Atari VCS. Graphics are simple and much less colorful than the arcade version's, the horizontal scrolling is very smooth and the handling of the buggy is very good. Sound effets are correct. On the whole, the game is rather good, good enough to make you want to finish it.

Moon Patrol Moon Patrol

Moon Patrol arcade
Moon Patrol, arcade version (1982)

Moon patrol video

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Year: 1983
Publisher: Atari

Although the game title is Obelix, you will in fact control Asterix. Four Romans patrol from left to right, each on a different row. Asterix can walk freely between rows, but must walk through the red bars (doors?) to change rows. As for Obelix, he constantly walks back and forth at an even pace on the top of the screen, wearing a menhir on his back.
When Asterix touches a Roman, the Roman stops walking, frightened and remains steady for a few seconds. When Obelix passes right above him, the player must press the button to have Obelix drop his menhir on the Roman's head. If it doesn't happen quickly enough, the Roman will wake up, angry and invincible! If Asterix touches an angry Roman, he will lose a life.

The only way to defeat an angry Roman is to wait for Getafix, the druid, to come. Getafix appears where Obelix stands and comes across the screen only once, from left to right. While walking, Getafix will eventually drop a flask of magic potion that Asterix will have to catch to acquire the super-human strength that will allow him to defeat the angry Romans. The problem is that you don't know when Getafix will drop the flask. The druid may drop it as soon as he appears on screen, or slowly go across the whole screen before dropping it. And if Asterix doesn't catch the flask, he will have to wait for Getafix to come back a bit later, but put him at risk.
Romans walk at various paces, from slow to very fast. When they are stunned then crushed by a menhir, you will gain a certain number of points... in Roman numerals (X for 10, L for 50, C for 100, D for 500 and M for 1000). The faster a Roman would walk when Asterix hit himn the more points you'll gain.

This game is another endless scoring game. As long as you don't lose, the game goes on, the purpose is to hold as long as possible in order to make the highest possible score. Graphics are correct, Asterix, Obelix and Getafix are easily recognizable. The Romans look a bit like weird Smurfs and Obelix's menhir is a mere red rectangle (why red by the way? Technical constraint or editor's choice?), but it doesn't really matter. The game is nice to play, the drawing of Obelix in the title screen is very well done, the introduction music is fine, the characters' animation is very good and Asterix is easy to control... All good!

Obelix Obelix

Obelix Obelix

Obelix video

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Year: 1981
Publisher: Atari

Everybody knows Pac-Man. For a long time, it has been, and still is, the very symbol of video games. When you see the Eiffel Tower, you think of France, of Paris. When you see Pac-Man, you think of video games.
Pac-Man is originally an arcade game from Namco and was a major hit. Because it's colorful, because it isn't violent (you don't have to kill nasty aliens for once), because the character you control looks lively, is appealing with a big round face, because the game is simple, easy to understand and easy to play, immediately addictive...
So the player controls Pac-man in a maze. Pac-Man's goal is to eat all the dots. He also gets to eat bonus fruits that appear from time to time and earn you points.
All this would be pretty easy without the four ghost enemies who continually chase you. When ghosts touch Pac-Man, the player loses one life. Fortunately, 4 bigger dots, one in each corner of the maze, allow Pac-Man to become momentarily invincible and to eat the ghosts. When Pac-Man has eaten all the dots, he progresses to the next level. The maze remains the same, with the same enemies and the same game principle, only a bit faster each time. The repeats itself until the player loses
The Atari version is rather... bad. THe graphics are ugly, the ghosts flash so much you can barely see their color, all the ghosts behave the same way, unlike the arcade version, the maze looks nothing like the original game, the sound effects and the short music intro are different as well, the fruits are mere square dots and the playability is a bit stiff. Is it a complete failure, then?
Technically, yes. Pac-Man on the Atari cannot compare to the world-famous original arcade game. But fortunately, the principle of the game is still present. For those like me who discovered Pac-Man with the Atari version before they could get a hand on the arcade game, this version is nice anyway. The game is still addictive and makes you want to play more. So yes, it is ugly even though the Atari was capable of offering more (see Pitfall, or River Raid, finer, more colorful), but it's still Pac-Man. Yet, the game is showing its age. Atari did better the next year with Ms Pac-Man, much more truthful to the original, and better programmed.

Pac-Man Pac-Man

Pac-Man arcade

Pac-Man video

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Year: 1982
Publisher: Activision
Designed by David Crane

This is the non-Atari best-selling game of the console. It sold more than 4 million copies. Even by today's standards, that is a great figure, and yet, the market has expanded considerably. David Crane designed this game, and that made him THE star of Activision, the best developing company on Atari VCS. Activision still exists today, whereas all its competitors have long since disappeared.
The player controls an adventurer named Pitfall Harry and travels through the jungle, looking for treasures. The purpose is to retrieve 32 treasures within 20 minutes. Pitfall Harry must face crocodiles, snakes, scorpions, use creepers to clear obstacles, go down underground passages, etc.
The situations are rather varied and the excellent technical achievement goes along a great gameplay. This game was way ahead of its time as the first action-adventure platform game

Pitfall Pitfall

Pitfall! video

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PITFALL 2: Lost Caverns

Year: 1984
Publisher: Activision
Designed by David Crane

More beautiful, more varied, with a nice music (and nice musics are really rare on the Atari), Pitfall II is a great sequel to Pitfall!. Another Activision game, another David Crane game, another success!

Pitfall 2 Pitfall 2

Pitfall 2 video

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Year: 1982
Publisher: Activision
Designed by Carol Shaw

In my opinion, this game is one of the best ever made for the Atari VCS. This game was developed by a woman named Carol Shaw, which was not so common at the time.
The player controls a jetfighter flying over a river and the purpose is to go as far as possible while avoiding or destroying all obstacles on the way. You must also avoid crashing on the banks or the islands. Some areas are packed with enemies that move sideways in simple but sometimes deceiving patterns. The enemies are ships, helicopters and planes.
The river is divided in different sections separated by bridges. If you get hit or crash, you take over from the previous bridge, or the next one if you managed to destroy it before dying. Of course, you have a limited number of lives. Another capital element is your fuel gauge. Your fuel reserves go down regularly, but you can tank up by flying over the fuel tanks. These tanks can also be destroyed and you sometimes get to inadvertantly destroy a tank you would have needed. If you run out of gas, your plane crashes and you lose a life.
There are 3 flying speeds. Accelerate by pushing the joystick forward, slow down by pulling it and fly at normal speed by leaving the stick in its central position. The faster you go, the more fuel your plane consumes. Fuel tanks become more rare as you progress along the river. The game does not seem to have an end. At least I never saw the end.
River Raid is a vertical-scrolling shoot'em up, with a great production and perfect handling. You can even slightly guide your fire after pressing the fire button, which allows to destroy targets that are sometimes hidden in corners. It is a reflex game, it is challenging and often frustrating as you know you'll end up losing. The excellent production makes the game very addictive and compels the player to always try to go further. Either to beat a score (there are no saving capabilities, but you can write down your score on a piece of paper) or to try to go as far as possible, and maybe finish the game (if there is an end). A great Atari VCS game and deserved success for Activision.

River Raid River Raid

River Raid video

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Year: 1980
Publisher: Atari

Another masterpiece of video games! Space Invaders was first an arcade game by Taito, programmed by Toshihiro Nishikado and released in 1978. Atari bought the copyrights to port it to its console, because the first sales were not that high. This is the first shooting game ever and it was very successful in arcade galleries. It's a classic like Pac Man. The Atari version is excellent. Visually, it was simplified, there are less enemies on screen, but the game is more colorful and offers many variants that renew the interest. This is the biggest selling game on the console, especially since it was once sold with the console.
The game principle is simple: the player controls a weapon that moves from left to right on the ground at the bottom of the screen, and must shoot lines of alien ships that go down towards the Earth. The enemies stay in line, whatever happens and the player must destroy every one of them. When all enemies are gone, a new wave of aliens appears and the player must destroy them in turn. Each wave appears a bit closer to the ground, down to a certain limit. From time to time, a mothership crosses the top of the screen. It is not dangerous, but it earns many more points than any other alien ship when destroyed.
Once again, this game has no end, as long as the player eliminates the enemy waves. It's a scoring game and the only purpose is to stay alive as long as possible. The variants offer invisible enemies, zigzagging shootings, quick shootin, moving protection walls, two-player game, etc. There is a total of 112 different variants.
Conclusion? A very addictive game, although it was very repetitive, like 99% of the games at the time. After Space Invaders, there will be an enormous amount of shooting games known as Shoot'em Ups, althoug the genre has mostly fallen into abeyance. Too bad, it was pretty destressing.

Space Invaders Space Invaders

Space Invaders arcade
Space Invaders, arcade version (1978)

Space Invaders video

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You may download here an Atari VCS emulator for Windows, as well as the games mentionned on this page. Should anyone consider that these games are illegal to download in spite of their very old age, please let me know and I will remove them from the site.

Atari VCS emulator for Windows: Stella 5.0.2 - 32 and 64 bit versions (4.29 MB)

Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
River Raid
Space Invaders

Here is the Complete Collection : 1701 games!
6.13 MB representing every single Atari VCS game! The real deal!

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I discovered video games thanks to this console created in the 70's. Video games were almost completely unheard of in France in 1982 when I received my Atari as a Christmas gift.
As you can see on the photograph, the console was provided with two pairs of controllers. The classic black joystick with one red button and a pair of round controllers, used for racing games and breakout-like games. I never had the opportunity to use those round controllers with my Atari, but I used them years later to play Arkanoid on a Commodore 64, making the game controls very similar to the original arcade game.

Atari VCS

At this time, the console was also provided with the game Combat, a very simple game for two players only, with very basic graphics and sounds. An amusing game nevertheless.

Combat box Combat

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The Atari VCS is the first console to meet true success in the whole world. It popularized video gaming and helped the mainstream audience to experience video games at home.

It isn't the first of its kind, but it offered many different games on interchangeable cartridges, and it was powerful enough to allow arcade games to be ported, such as Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Q-Bert, etc. Naturally, graphics and sounds were simpler than the arcade counterparts', but these games were were very attractive to the customers.

Atari sold about 25 millions consoles and it was produced from 1977 until 1991! An exceptional life span, that can be explained because it was one of the first consoles, competition was rather weak, then when it became out-fashioned in the Western countries, it started a new life in emerging markets, like the East-European countries and Latin America.

Technically, it looks very primitive and yet, it seemed great at the very beginning of the 80's!
Main processor: MOS Technology 6507 at 1.19 MHz
Graphics resolution: 160x192
Colors: 128 (16 colors with 8 levels of intensity)
Sound: Two mono voices
Main memory: 128 bytes VLSI
Game cartridges: from 2 KB to 64 KB

Hundreds of games were released, including a significant number of very bad games. There were so many bad games at some point that it has contributed to the video game crash of 1984, because a lot of people turned their back on that new leisure that offered so much mediocrity.

This could have been the end of video gaming if other contributors, especially Japanese ones (thank you Nintendo) had not entered the market to raise the bar and bring people back in. But this is another story.

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