With the digital revolution, many classic tabletop experiences have fallen by the wayside. But back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, you could count on most households having a copy of Mastermind.
Mastermind was a code-breaking game developed by an Israeli telecommunications expert named Mordecai Meirowitz, and it was based on an earlier pen-and-paper game named Bulls and Cows. The concept is simple: one player develops a code consisting of four coloured pegs, and the other player has to guess this code in as few steps as possible, making use of the codemaker’s feedback.
Codebreaker is essentially a digital adaptation of this game, making use of numbers rather than coloured pegs. It also features an adaptation of the ancient mathematical game Nim, for those who enjoy taking the last chocolate in the box. As a complete game package, it might look a bit limited from a modern perspective, but there’s fun to be had here.
Today’s Atari Flashback Classic is Circus Atari, an interesting and challenging twist on the Breakout formula.
The origin story of this one is quite interesting, too; it began life as a third-party spin-off of the Breakout arcade hardware, then was subsequently ported by Atari itself to the 2600 platform. Original developer Exidy, who were struggling to compete with Atari at the time, must have been real pleased about that!
Anyway, if Breakout wasn’t hard enough already for you, Circus Atari challenges you to bounce two little clowns on a see-saw and pop a bunch of balloons. Good luck; you’ll need it!
I detest most real-life sports, but I’ve been known to have a bit of fun with digital recreations of sporting activities over the years; they make great, easily understandable competitive affairs, after all.
My favourite sporting games are those that don’t try too hard to be realistic simulations; those that simply make use of straightforward, abstract mechanics that provide a rough approximation of the basic rules of the sport. Games that you can just pick up and play without having to worry about the more complex side of things.
As it happens, Championship Soccer for Atari 2600 is a great example of this. It resembles football in only the most cursory of ways — but it’s actually quite an enjoyable competitive game of skill, even for those of us who don’t really like sports!
Centipede is one of Atari’s all-time classics, so naturally it appears in Atari Flashback Classics no less than three times: once in its original arcade incarnation, once on the 2600 (today) and once on the 5200 (next time).
Each version has its own subtle differences, though, and the 2600 version here is particularly impressive for keeping the gameplay’s core addictive quality intact despite not looking super-impressive from a technical perspective.
When you consider quite how much is going on on screen at once, though, you have to give the humble little machine some respect; it’s clearly working its socks off to provide some satisfying arcade action!
As we’ve previously seen, the Atari 2600’s launch lineup included a competent but fairly no-frills adaptation of the game of Black Jack.
A year later, creator Bob Whitehead followed it up with the much more substantial Casino, which not only expanded Black Jack’s gameplay with hand splitting and insurance betting, but also included stud poker for up to four players, and an enjoyable “poker solitaire” puzzle game.
Okay, sure, compared to modern offerings it might still seem rather limited… but there’s fun to be had here, especially if you bring some friends along for the virtual gambling fun!
David Crane is probably most well-known for his classic (and genre-defining) platformer for Activision, Pitfall!
But the prolific programmer worked on a bunch of things for Atari before jumping ship to a company that was more than happy to credit its developers for their hard work. One such example was the Atari 2600 version of Canyon Bomber.
To call this a port is a bit unfair; it actually offers quite a bit more than the arcade version does in terms of ways to play — including the closest we’ll get to a home port of Destroyer!
Bip! Boop! Bip! Boop! It’s an iconic sound of the late ’70s: a computerised simulation of some sort of bat-and-ball game. And few games of this type are more classic or influential than Breakout.
The Atari 2600 version of Breakout offers a variety of ways to play, including several multiplayer modes. This technically made the home console version a superior experience to the arcade machine… which is a phenomenon we wouldn’t really encounter again until roughly the Dreamcast era.
Anyway, Breakout for 2600 is a good time, particularly if you’ve got some friends to play with. If you’re flying solo, Super Breakout may be a better choice… but that’s a story for another day!