If I had to describe the Atari 2600 in one word, it would be "enduring". After all, it is the longest-lived video game platform of all time, having been supported for fourteen years and weathering heavy competition from several other acclaimed platforms over its lifespan. These included the Colecovision, Intellivision, Vectrex, Odyssey 2, and hell, even two attempts to succeed it by its own company (The Atari 5200 and 7800). All of those came and went but the Atari 2600 marched on, not even calling it quits until the 16-bit era had begun in earnest. Hell, it even withstood the video game crash of 1983 despite two of its most notorious games (ET and Pac-Man) becoming the poster children for the kind of low-quality shlock titles that brought it about.
So what was the secret to the 2600's success? What kept people coming back in spite of its minimal graphical and sound capabilities and some extremely restrictive memory limitations (A whopping 128 bytes of RAM and up to 4 kbs of ROM space)? The answer to that question lies within the fundamental basis of any console's success - its game library. While very dated technologically, the Atari's games stand as defintiive proof that strong gameplay is timeless and that no amount of technological advancement can obsolete a title that can manage to capture the perfect blend of challenge and addiction.
So which of its games have best withstood the test of time and are just as fun to play today as they were thirty years ago? ...Well, it all depends on who you ask, but here are my twenty favorites.
20. No Escape! (Imagic, 1983)
cartridge designs and box art that looked quite nice on a shelf). One surprisingly good one that had an unfortunately timed release was No Escape!, a clever twist on bottom-up shooters. As Jason the Argonaut, you fight against the Furies by throwing stones, but with a twist - if you hit a Fury directly, they will multiply into two. Instead, you have to aim for the ceiling above them and cause one of the ceiling tiles to drop and hit them, which will finish them off. Pretty clever and surprisingly addictive. It's also one of the few Atari games that has a "good ending", as you see Jason escape and fly off on Pegasus once you lose your last life. A minor detail, but a nice touch nonetheless.
19. Crackpots (Activision, 1983)
17. Pitfall (Activision, 1982)
16. Turmoil (20th Century Fox, 1982)
15. Montezuma's Revenge (Parker Brothers, 1984)
14. Solaris (Atari, 1986)
13. Video Olympics (Atari, 1977)
12. Keystone Kapers (Activision, 1983)
12. Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (Activision, 1984)
11. Adventure (Atari, 1980)
10. Missile Command (Atari, 1981)
9. Warlords (Atari, 1980)
8. Berzerk (Stern Electronics, 1982)
Fun fact: The arcade version of Berzerk has achieved infamy for being partly responsible in at least one actual death...
7. Jr. Pac Man (Bally Midway/Atari, 1984)
6. H.E.R.O. (Activision, 1984)
5. Dragonfire (Imagic, 1982)
4. Yar's Revenge (Atari, 1982)
3. Kaboom! (Activision, 1981)
2. River Raid (Activision, 1982)
1. Space Invaders (Atari, 1980)
Fun fact: There was an alternate version of this game called "Pepsi Invaders" where the aliens are replaced with the Pepsi logo and letters spelling out "Pepsi". It was given away to employees at a Coca-cola company convention in Atlanta and never released anywhere else, making it an extremely rare title.