River Raid is probably my favourite game on the Atari 8-bit. The Atari 2600 version is arguably more well-known, but the Atari 2600 version — which also appeared on the ill-fated Atari 5200 — is superior in pretty much every way.
For the unfamiliar, River Raid is one of the original vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups, and made use of some clever programming techniques to squeeze the entire game into a tiny amount of space. It’s one of Activision’s finest games of the 8-bit era, and a game I still enjoy on a regular basis today.
Check it out in the video below, and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube for more!
One of Activision’s most fondly regarded games from the Atari 2600 library is Kaboom! — a simple affair that gratuitously rips off Atari’s own Avalanche, because apparently Atari had very little interest in porting that themselves.
Kaboom! also got a port to Atari 8-bit, and it’s a good ‘un. The enhancements over the original 2600 version may be fairly subtle, but they all add to the experience, making for a straightforward but enormously addictive little game that you’ll find yourself spending a surprising amount of time with if you let it get its claws in.
Check it out in the video below, and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube for more.
Activision may be a company that a lot of gamers like to steer well clear of these days thanks to issues like predatory DLC and microtransactions, but back in the days of the 8-bit micros, they were one of the finest companies out there.
They credited their programmers and designers, they put out games that pushed the boundaries of underpowered hardware such as the Atari 2600… and they just made great games, full stop.
One fantastic example is MegaMania, a thoroughly weird but extremely enjoyable fixed shooter that will get you bobbing and weaving between waves of hamburgers, engagement rings, bow ties and steam irons. No symbolism there, no sir.
Back in the early days of home computing, you couldn’t rely on arcade game companies to provide official ports of their own games.
Nope; they tended to be farmed out to other publishers and developers who had more experience with working on the 8- and 16-bit platforms of the era. One such example of this was the relationship between Sega and Activision; this resulted in a number of Sega arcade classics getting ported to systems like the Atari ST.
Here’s Enduro Racer, one of several products of this partnership. Can the humble ST stand up to the might of this Super Scaler classic?
Activision were a prolific developer back in the days of the Atari 2600 and Atari 8-bit computers, with many of their most well-regarded games making the jump from one platform to the other.
One particularly beloved example is H.E.R.O., a game that some see as a spiritual precursor to open-structure 2D platform games such as Metroid.
Whether or not you believe that, the adventures of Roderick “R.” Hero remain a jolly good time even today, so let’s go have some fun!
“Sam, you’re a dead man.” And how; Activision’s Borrowed Time, an “illustrated text adventure” from 1985, really, really, really wants you dead.
An early game from Interplay with involvement from Brian “Wasteland” Fargo, Borrowed Time is an early attempt to break out of the pure text format of adventure games with a graphical, mouse-driven interface. It’s not quite a full-on point and click adventure just yet, but it’s a first step in that direction.
It’s also a monstrously difficult game, fond of murdering its protagonist at regular intervals right from the very outset. You’re doing well if you manage to survive just leaving your office for the day…
We’ve made it to Z again, folks! And today’s a real stonker of a game that I used to really love playing back in the day. And still do today, in fact.
Zone Ranger was released in 1984 by Activision, back when they still made good games, and was the work of one Dan Thompson. Drawing loose inspiration from Asteroids and Sinistar, two favourite games of Thompson, Zone Ranger tasks you with shooting down a bunch of space junk because… why not?
It’s the quintessential mid-’80s arcade blaster in many ways: easy to learn, hard to master and very, very addictive.
Ah, Activision. What a wonderfully creative variety of games you put out in the 8-bit era. What a hollow shell of yourself you are today.
Ahem, sorry, got a bit nostalgic there for a moment. Anyway, here’s Pastfinder, one of my favourite shoot ’em ups on Atari 8-bit, and one of the most peculiarly interesting ones to boot. You take on control of a little jumping bug of a spacecraft as you attempt to track down alien antiquities.
Better be careful, though; the whole planet is irradiated, so time is of the essence if you want to keep all your hair and/or internal organs intact to enjoy your loot.
Once upon a time, Activision was not the bloated mess of a money-hungry corporate behemoth it is now. Well, it was slightly less of one, anyway.
The key difference between the Activision of now and the Activision of then is that the latter was much more willing to take significant risks on games that were as much a work of art as they were a piece of interactive entertainment.
One of the best examples of this practice — and one of Activision’s best games, full stop — is Master of the Lamps, one of the earliest ever music games and a spectacular example of what the Atari 8-bit was capable of in the hands of talented programmers.
Today it’s time for one of my favourite early Activision titles, and a great game from designer Garry Kitchen. Kitchen, if you’re unfamiliar, was responsible for the Atari 2600 version of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, and also the wonderful Pressure Cooker, the spiritual precursor to popular indie title Overcooked.
Keystone Kapers kasts you in the role of Keystone Kelly, a kopper who is keen to katch his kriminal nemesis, Hooligan Harry. Harry, it seems, likes hanging out in department stores, and thus begins an increasingly ridiculous series of chase scenes up to the rooftop of the store, with Kelly being forced to dodge all manner of mundane yet perilous obstacles that put his mission at risk.
Loosely inspired by the old Keystone Kops movies, Keystone Kapers is simple to learn but tough to master — and a near-perfect example of what early ’80s Activision was all about.