Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Top Five Atari 2600 Shmups

When you think of shoot 'em ups, the Atari VCS/2600 probably isn't the first system to enter your mind, but a surprising number of its games tasked you with shooting things. I suppose most videogames did generally back then but even so, I thought it was high time I took a look at some of the best examples available for Atari's iconic console. Many of them were clones of popular arcade machines of the time such as Space Invaders and Galaxians, naturally, but I think I've ended up with a nicely varied list in the end. Here are my choices - did I leave out your favourite?

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I've traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven't played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

5. Mega Mania (1982)

There are loads of Space Invaders clones on the VCS as you might expect but this one is my favourite I think. As normal, rows of enemies appear above you and your job is to shoot them all down. It doesn't get any more complicated than that. What I like about it, though, is that the enemies move across the screen looping from one side to the next, but even more that you can angle your shots as well. That makes it quite a bit easier to take out moving enemies as you might imagine, but it's still not easy as they can move pretty quickly and change direction regularly. Each stage has a different type of enemy too, with their own movements. Some even loop from the bottom to the top of the screen as well as left or right so it's necessary to dodge them as well as their shots, and you don't get long to take them out as your energy level is slowly falling as well. It is a little repetitive and a background would've been nice, but it's also good fun and very addictive.

4. Planet Patrol (1983)

I think this was the first VCS shoot 'em up I played - certainly one of the first - and it's still among my favourites. It plays a bit like River Raid, only turned on its side, but unusually for a horizontal-scroller, it moves from right-to-left. The list of objectives is longer than that of most VCS games too. Your main mission is to rescue downed pilots, but along the way you must brave the waves of enemy fighters and missiles, taking down as many as you can, destroy the enemy city, avoid the ensuing debris, stop to refuel, and repeat! One novel feature is the gradual transition from day to night. During the latter, the enemies and their shots are only visible from the flash of your cannon firing! It's a great idea and adds a little variety to what is already a pretty varied game for its type. The 'night time' parts can be a bit of a pain at times but overall it's an addictive and enjoyable shooter, and a bit of an underappreciated one in my experience. Rather pleasant graphics too.

3. Stargate (1984)

The VCS conversion of the original Defender has long been notorious for its whiffiness but this port of its sequel released a couple of years later went some way toward making up for it. The cool sound effects have been carried over but mercifully the hideous, blocky, super-flickery graphics have been completely overhauled here. There is still a bit of flicker but it's not nearly as bad as before - you can at least see what's going on now! That's pretty important in a game like this too, which replies on fast, precise movements from the player in addition to the pinpoint accuracy of their shots. The objective remains the same - protect the humans on the bumpy planet surface and take out the enemies in their different types of craft that try to abduct them, ad infinitum, and it's tough going, but at least you'll actually want to try this time! It's still not as fast or hectic as the arcade version, naturally, but it's about as close as Atari fans could've hoped for.

2. Beamrider (1983)

I played the Coleco version of this one before I encountered the VCS port but, while not being quite as polished as that version from a technical point of view, it's pretty darn close as far as the gameplay is concerned. At its heart it's just another single-screen shooter but the into-the-screen perspective, which looks really nice here, makes it a bit more interesting, as does the use of five fixed firing points at the bottom of the screen from which you must take out the many scary alien attackers, and the result is a challenging and very addictive blaster. It's one of those where you'll be annoyed with yourself at every lost life as it's nearly always avoidable. It's another one that offers little in the way of variety but, with 99 sectors to clear (supposedly), it's not one that you're likely to finish any time soon either. I sure can't but I keep trying anyway! It looks and sounds very arcadey too, which must've been a thrill in its day, and it still plays superbly now.

1. River Raid (1982)

Yes that's right! It's probably the most famous and popular of all the original shooters on the VCS, and that reverence is deserved. It's not one of those games with tons of variations either - you simply start, guide your yellow plane up the river, and take out as many boats and enemy aircraft and stuff as you can while you go. You'll also need to replenish your gradually dwindling fuel supply by making use of the many fuel depots that line the waterways (i.e. by flying over them), but the ones you don't need can be destroyed for bonus points. There are also a number of bridges you need to blast through for some reason but, like all the best games of the era, River Raid is a simple but very addictive game. It's quite tricky, mainly thanks to the slow movement of your plane, but it's good fun too. It's actually probably the earliest vertical-scroller I've played and it's a good one.


  1. Even back then when I was a little kid, I prefered my C-64 than Atari or Amiga stuff.
    This blog made me really happy for all those nostlagic feels that flew thru me during reading it.
    You got me hooked on it and a earned a subscription AND a Fan.

    Thank you

  2. Hi Mr. Ranalcus, glad you like my humble page, you are very welcome here :)

    1. Thank you, now I am helping with a blog of my GF. So I will post some parts of my collection there (mostly GB/GBC, Famicom/Super Famicom and PSX. Model kits and anime figures).

    2. Nice, send me a link when it's ready :)

  3. Megamania rocks. I prefer to play with straight missiles, rather than guided ones. Makes it easier to lead the enemies into your shots. By the way, have you tried the 5200 version? There's a lot more color in that one, so the abstract enemies actually look like how they're described in the manual.

    If you liked Megamania, be sure to try Astro Blaster! It's a personal favorite of mine... it's got similar gameplay but everything Megamania does, Astro Blaster does better.

    1. I believe I tried Astro Blaster when doing 'research' for this post. That's the one with the falling rocks right? Kind of a cross between Space Invaders and Asteroids.

      At time of writing I have never played a game on the 5200 - something that needs to be rectified here soon :)

    2. Here's more information about it.

      There are scenes with falling meteors, but I wouldn't really compare it to Asteroids honestly. If you've got one of the Sega Genesis collections (PSP, Xbox 360, PS3) it should be hidden as a bonus.