The Atari 5200 was the first game console I would ever own. Received as a Christmas gift shortly after the system's initial release it quickly became my favorite childhood product. Years went by playing many of my favorite arcade games at home in the comfort of my family's living room. Many decades later the 5200 remains my favorite console of all time. The system really brought home some of the most advanced technological game console breakthroughs that other consoles picked up. And most of the games looked and played just like the arcades when compared to the 2600 ports.
With that being said I would like to share the games no 5200 console should be without. It is these games that I feel showcase what the 5200 was truly capable of. These also happen to be my favorite games on the system. Strap on your safety belt...here we go!
I have to consider the 5200 port of Centipede closer to the arcade than any other console port (not counting the computers on this one). Combine this with the 5200's Trak Ball controller and the arcade feel will be present as well. The multi-colored sprites/graphics combined with sounds that seem to have been taken directly from the arcade machine makes for some unforgettable game play. This was my mother's favorite game. It is one of mine as well. I could not have a 5200 without Centipede.
As much as it can cramp your hands due to the position of the fire buttons, Defender on the 5200 is a near-perfect arcade port. Awesome sounds, graphics, and effects that mimic the arcade perfectly. My only gripe is I wish there were more controller options along the lines the 2600 received. Other than that, Atari did a great job with this title.
#8 Moon Patrol
My first encounter with Moon Patrol on the 5200 was at my 11th birthday. 1985 was a bad year to own an Atari 5200 in my area. Hardware and games were non-existent so I didn't even know that this game was made for the 5200. How and where Mom found it I have no clue...I'm just glad that she did. The multi-plane scrolling background is spot on with the arcade as is the enemy ships and the levels. The only part not on par with the arcade is the player's vehicle. We lost some wheels somewhere. Easy to pick up and play with the analog controls and doesn't cramp your hands.
My first side-scrolling shoot 'em up adventure arcade style was with this title. I spent hours upon hours on this game learning the levels, how to move and avoid level walls, and eventually beat the boss at the end of the game only to have to do it all over again. That was decades ago, now I haven't been able to do it again. My liking this game might explain why I liked Gradius, Life Force, and other shoot 'em ups that followed. Great game!
I enjoyed playing Berzerk on the 2600 when I picked up a 2600 console with some games from a classmate decades ago. I never knew the 5200 got Berzerk until a few years ago and picked up a brand new copy. I have to say that this game pushes the envelope of what the 5200 was capable of doing. When this game spoke I about crapped myself. "This game can talk!?!" I was amazed and still remain that way to this day with this title. This game can get difficult quick. "Chicken. Fight like a robot."
Out of all the ports of Qix I have come across the 5200 port of this odd arcade game is the only one I know of to remain 100% faithful to the original arcade. Other ports added extras, the 5200 adds nothing and is still as much fun to play. It doesn't need the extra stuff. It doesn't take long for the game play to get intense after a few waves either so bring your best 5200 controller to the field. Might want to bring a first-aid kit, too.
#4 Space Dungeon
This was another 5200 title I knew nothing about until a few years ago. I never knew the 5200 had games where you had to use two controllers. A very neat idea. And the game play is astounding! Great colorful graphics, interesting sounds, and lots of areas to explore with all 99 levels present. This could take a while.
This was one title that I waited to make it to the store shelves. But it would be one of many 5200 titles that would go unpublished. I was more than surprised to see the game on Atari Age's store one day and picked up a copy. This is the only homebrew 5200 game I own and considering the fact it was finished by the original developer I couldn't have been happier. The game is really good and everything about the arcade hit is here. Even the sounds are impressive. My only gripe is that the cartridge is not of original Atari quality and doesn't seat well in my system. However, the game play is so impressive that I play it often.
#2 Pole Position
Pole Position hit the arcades and became an instant hit. When it came to home ports of this game only one of those ports was able to maintain the analog controls. And that was the 5200 console. Being that this is the only racing game I know of on the system it is also a very well done port of the arcade. This game really showcases the analog controls when they are in good working order. Great sounds, graphics are good, and the animation of the track is smooth and fluid. Put your helmet on and hit the pavement!
#1 Star Raiders
Star Raiders is easily the ancestor to the likes of Wing Commander and other first person space shooters. Flying around, hunting down enemies while protecting bases is a half-hour of human time well spent. This is one of few games where the keypad on the controller is put to heavy use and the analog controls give the feeling of flying in space really well. I played this game for hours when I was a kid and I still come to it the most when I pull out my 5200 to play a game.
This list was not an easy one to make for me. There are lots of other titles that made the 5200 a good system along with those I've mentioned like Robotron, Frogger, Q*Bert, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Joust, and many, many more. My list was based off games I physically own and based on the games I go to the most. I would love to hear other 5200 owners tell what their favorites are as well.