Today’s game hails from the latter days of the 2600, and was actually an Atari 7800 launch title.
For one reason or another, Atari 7800 games rarely make it onto these compilations of old Atari stuff — though the Evercade, coming later this year, corrects this oversight somewhat — so we tend to be stuck with the technically inferior Atari 2600 versions.
That said, even the 2600 version of Desert Falcon is an unusual, interesting shoot ’em up with some peculiar mechanics — so it’s well worth checking out.
It’s always interesting to look at a very old game and see the earliest glimmer of a subgenre that became well-established much later.
Mattel’s Dark Cavern, actually an Atari 2600 port of their Intellivision title Night Stalker, is a good example. On paper, it’s a simple maze game, but in practice, you can see just a hint of what would become stealth and survival horror gameplay in there.
We’ve got a fragile protagonist; we’ve got an emphasis on outwitting enemies; we’ve got limited resources. How long can Your Man survive in the Dark Cavern?
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, players of home consoles weren’t looking for “arcade perfect” — mostly because the home systems of the time weren’t up to it.
Rather, they were looking for a roughly equivalent or perhaps complementary experience to that which could be had in the arcades. This meant that sometimes games underwent a few changes in the transition from the arcade to the home.
A good example of this is Crystal Castles for the Atari 2600, which provides a surprisingly authentic-feeling approximation of the arcade classic, while working within the constraints of its host hardware.
A lot of early Atari 2600 games (or, sorry, “Atari Video Computer System”, as it was called back then) were adaptations of games that could be played on the tabletop.
The convenience of playing them on the television was, of course, that you didn’t have to worry about physical components getting scattered all over the place, setup time and the like — if you just wanted a quick game of something with someone, all you had to do was slap in the cartridge, pick up a controller and you were away.
One example of this early brand of tabletop adaptation comes in the form of Concentration; perhaps not the most interesting game to play today, but kind of fun for two players, a good showcase of the Keyboard Controllers and a game with a certain amount of educational value, too.
One of the coolest things about the Atari Flashback devices and compilations that have been released over the course of the last few years is the number of prototypes included.
In many cases, these prototypes were complete games that just didn’t get released for one reason or another; such is the case with Combat Two, a game originally set to come out in 1984, but which was a victim of the great crash of ’83.
Fortunately, we can play it today thanks to ongoing preservation efforts — and it’s an interesting twist on the tank battle formula of the original Combat, offering a very different competitive experience for two players to enjoy.
One cannot talk about the Atari 2600 — or the Atari Video Computer System, as it was originally known — without mentioning Combat.
The original deathmatch, one of the original competitive multiplayer titles and a game that is still an absolute ton of fun to play today — Combat really is an all-time classic, with the only sticking point for a lot of people being the fact that it’s a two-player only affair, so you need another person readily available to get the most out of it.
Fortunately, I have a very understanding, supportive and helpful wife, so let’s get right to the blasting!
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!