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Your Atari Top 5


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What are your top five, desert island Atari games? I'm talking all platforms, all Atari corporate incarnations, home console or arcade.


Here are mine to get the ball rolling:


5) Marble Madness (Arcade) - One of the most unique titles to come out of Atari Games, Marble Madness is a bizarre isometric platform game where you are a marble. Hard to master, often frustrating and really, really cool. Fun fact: Marble Madness designer Mark Cerny would go on to become the lead architect of the Playstation 4.


4) Roadblasters (Arcade/Lynx) - Growing up, the local swimming pool had an area with a food stand, a foosball table and two or three games. One of these games was Roadblasters. I don't remember what the other games were because I only had eyes for Roadblasters. I loved the steering wheel, the power ups and voice synthesizer. The Lynx port is fantastic too and infinitely playable.


3) Tempest 2000 (Jaguar) - Jeff Minter's Jaguar masterpiece is one of the single most satisfying gaming experiences available on any console. Once you fall into the zone the music, graphics and gameplay become entrancing.


2) Gauntlet (Arcade) - I didn't get a regular allowance as a kid. Instead, I roamed the neighborhood with a metal Radio Flyer wagon and collected bottles to exchange for change at the corner store. There were three things that competed for my hard earned cash: Garbage Pail Kids, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures and Gauntlet. I freakin' love Gauntlet. The endless hordes of ghosts and ghouls, the boundless treasure, the sumptuous food, the "dun-dun-dun" furiously droning to remind you that your blue elf is about to die. 4-player gaming at its finest. Thank you Ed Logg.


1) Missile Command (various) - There is something about films, books and games celebrating cold War hysterics that I simply adore. No other video game captured the essence of global thermonuclear war quite like Missile Command. Whether at the arcade, on the 2600, 5200, 8-bit, Lynx or Jaguar, I love this game. There is nothing like fending off wave after wave of relentless incoming enemy missiles. The 2600 version was one of my earliest video game experiences. Later, I played it feverishly on my XEGS and Jaguar. Nowadays, Super Missile Command on the Lynx fits the bill. Whatever the platform, if it's Mutually Assured Destruction, sign me up!

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I love this topic! A few takeaways before I list some of my personal top five.  1.) I had to read up on Mark Cerny because of your post. Awesome insight!  2.) Your childhood ruled. Garbage Pail Kids, M.U.S.C.L.E. men, and Atari games.  'nuff said.



5.)  Warlords (2600) -  Hopefully my desert island has folks I like on it, because I'm going to need them for some multiplayer.

 I remember playing this pretty competitively with my dad when we got this game.  One morning we were playing before school and in typical fashion our matches were very close.  Dad kept saying "one more game" ..and I missed the bus.  "Don't worry about it" he said "keep playing, I'll take ya"  and so we did.  I went into school late that day.  Atari had saved me from riding the bus and a few hours of boring class.  One of my favorite memories.


4.) Synthcart (2600) - Sure it's a homebrew but I still love this program so much.  It turns your 2600 into a full music machine, using two keypad controllers and all the switches on the system to control tones, beats, speed etc.  I traded a copy of River Patrol (yes the game that is wayyyy too expensive these days) to the programmer Paul Slocum for an advanced copy and a six switch heavy sixer, that he had modded to output sound through a quarter inch jack. I plugged this into an Amp and away we went! During this time frame I was huge into punk rock.  The mohawk, the crazy clothes, going to see bands everyday of the week.  Staying up late, meeting awesome people, and getting into trouble was all a big part of my life.  Synthcart allowed me to marry my to interests together.  I was in a band and got to play my Atari, what's not to love? We ended up playing one house show before (in true punk rock fashion) we broke up the band.  Great times!


3.) Asteroids (various) - One of the first titles I had on the 2600.  The lone space ship, the aproaching asteroids at every angle, UFOs zipping in to deal death and those sound effects.  This game rules.  Our family later upgraded on the cheap to the Atari 400 home computer (the NES was all the rage at the time so dad picked up the Atari instead since it was on clearance) and it included some amazing multiplayer action. Up to 4 players! Nothing quite like blasting enemies (and each other) as a family.  Much later I would pick this up (on the cheap.  Dad taught me to be frugal) on the Atari 7800 and the improved graphics and sounds again captured my imagination like no other.


2.) Joust (2600) - I've never really stopped to think about how strange the overall concept of this game is.  Maybe the fun factor has always made me turn a blind eye to everything else, but flying around on giant ostriches and dueling to the death is something special.  

I remember going over to a friends house and I took my Atari 2600 system, two joysticks and this game with me.  It was during the age of the Playstation (I was in high school at this point) and there was some reluctance on my friends part to partake in the classics.  Retrogaming as we know it was not a thing at that time and Atari most certainly was not cool.  After a few rounds of Tekken I hooked up the trusty 2600, put in Joust and we played..and played..and hours later I had a best friend who still meets up with me to this day to play old school games.  I bought a copy of Joust for the 7800 years later and boy does that version rule (way better than the NES port. so there!) but fond memories of the 2600 version still hold true and keep it in the regular rotation.


2.)* Dark Chambers (2600/7800) - Have you ever read reviews of this game? People hate it! I'm not one for taking someone's opinion as fact, but I'd like to personally invite those who don't enjoy this game over for a round of Dark Chambers.  I promise we'll have a blast.  

Our family picked this game up during the Atari liquidation time frame.  It was the beginning of the Nintendo/Sega war and brand new Atari games were being sold at the local Odd Lots/Big Lots department stores for $1.99 (and a year later at the dollar store).  Our family had the 2600 still hooked up along side our Atari 400 home computer and we loved every second of it.  Brand new incredibly fun games for cheap!  Once we picked up Dark Chambers it became routine for my sister and to play it for hours.  At this time in our lives we had slowed down on the non stop fighting and this game really seemed to be part of our "hey we can be friends?" building point.  A few days out the week Dark Chambers would be on the television screen as we blasted monsters, searched for treasure, talked about our day at school, cracked jokes and listened to music.  Before I moved out on my own I had purchased a 7800 and the Dark Chambers version for the upgraded Atari received more of the same treatment.


1.) Ms. Pac-Man (various) - I enjoy playing Ms. Pac-Man on the 2600 and the 7800 version is an amazing experience, but my heart belongs to the Arcade machine.  It was during my Junior and Senior year of high school (I graduated in 1999) that my best friend Scott and I discovered that the incredibly small laundromat near the school had a single arcade machine.  The cabinet had been damaged by spending way to much time in the sun and years of heavy play by patrons.  The controls however were spot on, the screen still worked well and we deposited more quarters than I can count into our newly found addiction.  During our senior year we started walking home instead of riding the bus and we eventually started skipping out of school early and stops at the Wishy Washy Laundromat were a given.  

Looking back at that time Ms. Pac-Man was more than just a fun game for us, It was an escape.  Scott's home life was terrible.  He lived with his mother, and by all descriptions I would list her as insane.  Scott never knew his father.  His mother had another child from another relationship, and strangely his younger brother was treated like a king and Scott was hated and left to fend for himself.  My home life was amazing in comparison and my parents really took to helping out. Scott spent many a night and dinner with us.  My school life was another story.  The physical and mental abuse received by bullies is something I still won't open up about.  Scott was the one who helped me through all of this.  He was the funniest guy I have ever known and his jokes are the thing of legend.  We were a team.  In a strange turn of events Scott was forced to move in with his biological father halfway across the country by the state of Ohio courts (children's services).  Some guy he had never met before.  I haven't seen or heard from him since.  To me that Ms. Pac-Man machine still represents the good times, an escape from all the bad things in life and friendship. 


* I just notice that I have two choices for my second pick.  It's a tie - deal with it  :P

I'm on Instagram! @AtariToday

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@AtariToday - Thanks for sharing and providing the personal/historical context for your choices. One of the things about Atari era console gaming that I love is that it's tied to so many human interactions and memories. I find modern gaming in some respects to be much more solitary. + 1 for Synthcart. +2 for using it at a show! In one of my old bands one of the guys circuit bent a Speak-N-Spell which we incorporated throughout several songs. So much fun!


Quick note: I was limiting my choices to Atari properties vs. licensed or third party titles. Otherwise Joust (2600/7800) and Ms. Pac-Man (2600) would have made my list too! ;)

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