1 Up!: Going old school


I usually talk about the NES but for this installment I’m going further back into my childhood to those good old days when you really had to use your imagination to have some fun, as you’ve probably guessed by the obvious picture, we’re talking Atari today.

Long before I ever set foot in an arcade I remember going to a family friends house and their dad had an atari 2600 hooked up in the rec room. Their son John and I used to pour hours into games like Pole Position, Demon Attack, Joust and Galaga and we had a ton of fun…until I first laid eyes on the graphics available in the arcade and once the NES came out I never gave another thought to that old atari….that is until I picked one up again about a year ago.

I had posted an ad to look for retro games and got a reply from an older guy asking if I’d be interested in buying his atari collection, he said it had been sitting in a closet for years and had a few games with it. After finding out that he was only looking for $30 for the whole lot I decided to go for it as I knew they were selling for a lot more and that had deterred me from buying one previously.

When the atari arrived it was in mint condition, it was a 2600 vader jr and as I looked through the games there was a pile of classics like Mario Bros, Yars Revenge, Space Invaders and Defender…all of a sudden those memories of all the fun  we had with these games as kids came back and I suddenly had the game bug bite me and it was time to go atari cart hunting.

One of the beautiful things about the atari is that it’s an easy system to get into collecting for, the games are generally affordable, usually under $5 so I was quickly able to start building up a collection of great games like Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong jr, Frogger, Brezerk, Missle Command and my person favourite, Pole Position.

So now with a pile of games it was time to hook it up…get everything plugged in,   pop in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, power it up….the first thing I hear is that sweet old school sound as it plays the intro Star Wars music, I hit reset and start playing…obviously being in the days of Playstation 4 and Xbox One the graphics are primitive, my fiance commented on this and my first response was that you had to use some imagination back then.

I then thought about it and remembering that she was too young for the days of atari said that when the atari came out this hardware was huge, before atari if you wanted to play Pac Man you had to go to an arcade, but the atari brought the arcade home in the same way the NES did in 85. It reminded me that at the time people were blown away by these graphics, how much like the arcade some games Iike Space Invaders looked at the time and IN COLOR! providing you had the luxury of a color TV at the time, you had these games in bright, cool colors and anyone who has ever played an atari WI remember….NOBODY DID EXPLOSIONS LIKE ATARI!  Oh ya…that screen would flash crazy colors and you knew something just got blown to hell. Sure it’s not as fancy as today’s fully rendered, 60fps, digitized graphics but the satisfaction was there…you still blew something up.

Another great thing is that the atari 2600 has a gigantic game library, now because of the lack of regulations and quality control at the time, not all that glistens is gold but there’s still tons of gems in there. I’ve come across many games that I never even knew of as kid as I was born in 1980 just as the game market was reaching that breaking point from the glut of cheap, shoddy games that plagued the system at the time so many of these games were passed over have been rediscovered.

It’s actually fun to run across a lot of the games that I’ve seen various you tubers talk about in their “worst 2600 games ever” lists and actually be able to try them for myself, yeah Plaque Attack definitely deserved to be on those lists but sometimes there’s still some fun to be had but I could see how you’d feel burned as a gamer in the 70s paying full price for some of these bombs but it’s not like the NES didn’t have some real stinkers despite the Nintendo seal of quality on every box.

Of course you can’t talk about atari without touching on one thing, yes that one thing every reviewer online has beat to death….E.T the extra terrestrial!
Always reviewed as “the game that broke the game industry” and “the game that toppled the atari juggernaut”…sure it was made on a few week time line, was rushed out to stores, yes atari foolishly made more copies than there were atari’s in homes because they thought it was going to be a system seller, and yes we all know now that they did have to dump tons of them into a landfill, but despite it’s notorious reputation…it’s not really that bad of a game in my opinion.

I have the game and yes it can be frustrating if you look at it from the perspective of “you plug in the game and just play” that most atari games were known for. With E.T if you actually read the manual the game was a whole lot easier to navigate and *GASP* …it was even beatable, something that many other atari games didn’t offer as they were usually score centric games that you competed against other people in, so at least E.T tried to do something big but due to the time constraints with programming and testing you get a pretty rough game, but one that is still workable if you put in some effort.

I always find it amusing that people are amazed that things like Nintendo games are still around 30 years later and still work, but you really have to give it up to atari, they created a workhorse of a system, the way the cartridges were designed for the most part were made in a way that moisture, etc hasn’t caused them to corrode, I spend a lot more time having to clean NES games before being able to play them than I ever have with atari games which are easily a decade or more older than their NES counterparts.

So it’s been really fun to experience a system that in my day wasn’t much of big deal as I showed up a little too late for it to have an impact and with the NES showing up when I was five became an fossil in comparison. So being able to finally sit down and actually enjoy the 2600 has really given me an appreciation for where these games came from as many of the NES titles had original releases on the 2600 like Pac Man, Dig Dug, and even Ikari Warriors.

What the 2600 did in the 70s for gamers was the same revolution that I felt happen when Nintendo revived the game market in the 80s, it brought the arcade into your bedroom…you could play these arcade games at any time, no quarters required, play with your friends at birthday parties (or adult parties depending on how old or cool you were then ha ha) and the bottom line was…it was cool and it was fun.

These games continue to hang around for a reason, they might not be graphically advanced, don’t have intricate stories and gameplay but they have one major thing going for them: their still fun. I know guys who have introduced their children to their retro systems and it’s cool to see pictures of the new generation enjoying a system that debuted 40 years before they were born….but still having fun and experiencing the same wonder we had as kids playing these games for the first time.

So as promised I did a more lighthearted topic compared to my usual retro market analysis and rants and I hope you enjoyed a trip down memory lane. If you haven’t had the chance to experience the 2600…get one or get an emulator if the price is a deterrent and experience some real classic retro gaming fun.

As always you can find me on Facebook @ The Retro Redneck

So get out there, get some games and have some fun!….also the way things are going with stadium events popping up everywhere…who knows you might strike gold ha ha!