Atari is better known for making video game consoles, but their 8-bit line of computers was on the market for more than a decade. Atari’s 8-bit computers were supposed to be a replacement for the new Atari 2600. As the first home computers made with custom co-processor chips, Atari’s machines could do things like make better graphics and sound than computers like the Apple II could. In some ways, Atari’s computers were like glorified games. Their operating systems would start up automatically, they used ROM cartridges instead of tapes or discs, and they could plug in and play a wide range of hardware. They were available in a lot of department stores, but many of their competitors were still only sold by computer stores. There were a few games for Atari’s 8-bit computers that didn’t make it to the Atari 2600 or the Atari 5200, but most of them did.
Rescue on Fractalus!
Rescue on Fractalus! asks players to fly a space fighter through caves in an effort to find visual beacons and rescue stranded pilots. As they go through the game, players will have to keep track of their fuel supplies, avoid anti-craft gun turrets, and fight kamikaze flying saucers that come right at them. In order to be successful at saving people, you need a little bit of strategy. For example, if players get impatient and try to start their engines too soon, they might accidentally burn down the pilot they were trying to save. They make things even more complicated because a few of the people who were shot down are actually aliens. (It’s said that George Lucas asked for this feature to be added to the game.) When you play Rescue on Fractalus!, you play from a first-person point of view. The game was known for its innovative use of pseudo-3D graphics. Today, the game is probably best known for the hostile aliens who would violently pound on the ship’s windshield in a way that was meant to scare little kids.
There were many things that made Donkey Kong unique. A game called Donkey Kong was the first one made by Shigeru Miyamoto. It also made the idea of a jump button popular. It was also interesting because it had four different stages to play through. It started with a game where people had to jump over a barrel that was rolling. The second stage was about moving elevators, and the fourth stage was about walking over rivets to destroy a construction site. Because most people did the same, I skipped the third stage. Conveyor belt stages were not included in the home computer versions of the arcade game in the ’80s, as well as most of the console ports. If you look at Nintendo’s own NES port, you can’t even find the level! There is a good reason to call the Atari 8-bit version one of the best classic ports of the game because it has all four stages from the arcade version. I had to put Donkey Kong on this list because Atarisoft gave us the first home version that had all four levels.
There is a goal in Missile Command: to keep the world safe from a constant stream of ballistic missiles. Move the crosshair around the screen and launch the counter-missiles with care. When a player sees an attack missile coming, he or she must be able to predict where it will land and when it will hit. There is only one base in the 5200 version, instead of three, and it’s more blocky. This isn’t really a big deal, though. The gameplay is still pretty good. Atari 8-bit version of Missile Command allows you to control the game with a trackball. This is one of the things that made the game so popular. This feature is greatly appreciated, especially since the 2600 version of Missile Command didn’t work very well with the trackball controller and many console ports didn’t support a trackball in any capacity. Missile Command was a big part of Atari’s 8-bit library. It came with the Atari XEGS, which had a built-in game called Missile Command.
I learned about Frogger for the first time when I played a tabletop version made by Coleco. The game had a small joystick and a three-inch screen, but it was still very fun and easy to play. I’ve played a lot of Frogger games over the years, and most of them have been good. Frogger is fun no matter what type of game you play it on. The Atari 8-bit version is more colourful than many other games from the same time. There are a group of frogs who want to get home. On a single screen, the players must cross busy highways and a flowing river by dodging traffic, jumping on logs, and riding on the backs of turtle. You’ll also have to be mindful of deadly snakes and hungry crocodiles. There was also an excellent port of Frogger II: ThreeeDeep on the Atari 8-bit system, but I’ve always been more drawn to the original game’s simple design than its three-screen format.
Take off on a flying ostrich, and try to knock your opponents to the ground in the game Joust. Game came out in 1982 and set the stage for every momentum-based platformer that came after it. The game was also one of the first games to feature a multiplayer component that was both cooperative and competitive at the same time. There are games like Mario Bros. and Balloon Fight from Nintendo that are based on Joust. (Balloon Fight is a lot like Joust.) Joust was made for almost every computer on the market. The Atari 8-bit version was one of the best. When I played this game in an arcade, it didn’t have as many detailed graphics as when I played it at home. The sprites move well and the gameplay is perfect. There was a four-year period where the Atari 8-bit version was the best home port. The Atari 7800 port is usually thought to be the best.
Salmon Run (1982)
In Salmon Run, Bill Williams made a game that is easy to play but hard to master, but still very rewarding. You control a salmon as it swims upstream in a river to spawn. You have to avoid hungry bears, fishermen with nets, and birds that want to eat you. A girl salmon will come up and you’ll kiss her. Then you’ll go to the next level. Another great thing about this game is how realistic the water splashing sounds are. Still, I don’t know how Williams did that.
Dandy is one of the most important games that not many people know about. John Palevich, a computer programmer, made Dandy, which was a prototype action dungeon crawler that he later used to make the popular and successful Atari arcade game Gauntlet. With up to three other people playing, you and your friends go through maze-like dungeons, shooting monsters and killing them with guns and bombs (like potions in Gauntlet), until you reach the exit.
Dandy is a good Atari 800 game because it has four-player co-op, which was nice because the Atari 800 had four built-in controller ports. As a bonus, it also had a level editor, which led to a huge fan base of fan-made levels that you can still find online to this day.