As much as old people with a ZX Spectrum glued to their bum might argue, games weren’t better in the old days. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t classics awaiting your twitchy thumbs should you raid gaming’s archives. Atari was responsible for more than most.
On this day when Atari’s birthday cake gets its 50th candle, we delve into the company’s rich arcade history, picking 11 cabs we reckon deserve another airing.
Designed by Steve Wozniak (later of Apple fame), who was duly ripped off by Steve Jobs (also later of Apple fame) over development bonuses, Breakout is one-player Pong. It’s basic fare, but tough and compelling. Play it with a spinner for best effect.
Arriving a year after Space Invaders, Asteroids made Taito’s title look archaic. In place of doddering and chunky foes was a field of asteroids you blasted to smithereens – and a sneaky saucer determined to turn you into so much space dust.
One of the earliest first-person shooters, Battlezone plonked you in a tank and had you roam the landscape looking for other tanks to destroy. It was considered so realistic at the time that a version was worked up for the US Army.
Another title that reimagined Space Invaders, Centipede’s wormy foes sped across the screen, inconveniently breaking in two when you shot them. The title’s breakneck pace and blink-and-you-die gameplay ensures it holds up today.
Missile Command (1980)
Released during the Cold War, Missile Command tasked players with fending off waves of missile attacks. Chillingly and matter-of-factly stating ‘The End’ instead of ‘Game Over’ summed things up when all your bases were nuked.
More Space Invaders? Yep, but now in a tube and across varied geometric ‘webs’. Creator Dave Theurer’s additions (spikes, smart bombs, varied foes) ramped up the tension. Years later, Jeff Minter remade the game as Tempest 2000 – aka the main reason to buy an Atari Jaguar.
Star Wars (1983)
Forget your Battlefronts and TIE Fighters (actually, don’t, because they were fab), because this vector classic made you feel like you were right there in the movie, blasting enemies to pieces, and making that famous trench run. “Use the force, Luke!”
Marble Madness (1984)
The visually spectacular isometric levels in Marble Madness bring to mind Escher-like landscapes as you attempt to coax your marble along narrow pathways and around plentiful hazards. Terrifyingly, experts can blaze through the entire game in three minutes.
British kids used to wonder what US newspapers were made of when they went through windows in this high-octane arcade game. It remains fun, though, not least when you reach the stunt course at the end of the street.
This dungeon crawler was a rarity at the time, in offering four-player co-op – and ratting you out if you kept shooting or eating all the health-replenishing food. The game itself ate coins, marking the start of pay to play.
S.T.U.N. Runner (1989)
There had been racing games before S.T.U.N. Runner, but none with the sheer sense of speed. It was all you could do to cling on as your puck-like craft whizzed around tunnel walls and blasted occasional enemies out of the way. (Well, it was their own fault for not letting you overtake, right?)