Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Top Ten Atari 7800 Games of All-Time!

Believe it or not, one of the worst home consoles of all-time DID have its fair share of decent titles … with some even bordering on being legitimately great.


By: Jimbo X
The Internet Is In America on Voat

There’s really no way around it — the Atari 7800 was a totally pointless console. Released in 1986 as a marketplace counterweight to the Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari’s 8-bit unit was severely underpowered compared to the NES and the Sega Master System, and its software library was downright microscopic compared to its competitors.

Over a roughly five year life-span, barely 60 games were produced for the console, and — unsurprisingly — the bulk of the titles just plain sucked. But amidst a small sea of clunky-ass Double Dragon boards and boring-ass “flight simulators” like Ace of Aces and Super Huey, there actually were quite a few decent games on the otherwise unremarkable system, including some that could legitimately be considered very good to almost great pieces of software.

Indeed, I’ve compiled a list of ten 7800 cartridges that aren’t just non-shitty, but certainly worth going out of your way to at least plug and play on the emulator sites for a couple of minutes. And while the 7800 may rightfully be remembered as that obscure-ass NES challenger with a ton of crappy light gun games and possessor of what may very well be the single WORST home console controller of all-time, the following titles prove, conclusively, that not everything on the ill-fated system was utter rubbish.

As a matter of fact, some of them … especially the 10 games listed below … were actually kinda’ awesome. But enough jibber-jabber from me. How about we get this party started up in this bitch right now? Well, too bad, because I’m gonna’ start the countdown, anyway.


#10 Donkey Kong (1988)
Developer: ITDC
Publisher: Atari

Yeah, I’m not sure how Atari was able to publish this game considering the Nazi-esque grip Nintendo had on the video game market in the late 1980s, but however they managed to do it, they ended up pumping out a surprisingly solid arcade port in the process. In fact, I’d consider this one a graphically superior port than the NES iteration, and personally, I kind of dug the bassier, more warbled audio of this one to its Nintendo analogue. Of course, the Atari 7800 version gets some pretty major demerits for its clunky-ass controls (yeah, why would anybody need the jumping controls in a fucking’ proto-platformer to be smooth and silky?), but in a weird way, it almost benefits the experience by making the pace a little more methodical. It’s by no means the best way to experience the Nintendo staple, but it’s certainly a much better port than it probably had any right to be.


#09 Hat Trick (1987)
Developer: ibidinc
Publisher: Atari

While no one is going to mistake Hat Trick as a great, pre-EA hockey simulator — or even a sturdy challenger to Ice Hockey or Blades of Steel, for that matter — the fact remains that this is a seriously fun, hyper minimalist “sports” game that owes more to Combat and Warlords than anything else. This is essentially the hockey version of One on One, with each player controlling a single skater and a goalie simultaneously. This isn’t as cumbersome and iffy as it sounds, thankfully, since the goaltending mechanism is basically just the ability to slide your puck-keeper up and down. The actual skating controls feel way more intuitive than you’d probably imagine them to be, and the fast, frenetic action makes this one an ideal two-player experience … fugly graphics or not, this thing is just a hoot and half, especially in multiplayer mode.


#08 Water Ski (1988)
Developer: Froggo
Publisher: Froggo

I have no idea who or what the hell Froggo was, but they certainly knew the proper way to work around hardware limitations: keep the visuals basic and focus on gameplay uber alles. The mechanics here are deceptively simple: you control a dude operating a boat, and it's your job to a.) avoid the miscellaneous obstacles dotting the waterways with your nautical vessel and b.) do whatever you can to steer the NPC water skier behind you into some cool jumps without landing face-first into a beaver dam or an outboard engine. It’s going to sound crazy, I know, but this thing truly does play like a weird hybridization of Toobin’ and Tony Hawk; and you have to give these guys some major props, not only for dreaming up a totally unique gameplay engine, but finding a way to make what would seem like an all-too rudimentary concept and making it challenging AND addictive, to boot.


#07 Ninja Golf (1990)
Developer: BlueSky Software
Publisher Atari

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you merged Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf with Kung-Fu Master and Space Harrier? Of course not, because you’re not legally retarded. Thankfully, however, the creative dynamoes at BlueSky had the chutzpah/lack of managerial oversight to craft the only side scrolling beat-em-up/back nine simulator on the 7800 … and the result, smacking against all semblances of empirical wisdom, is actually an astonishingly fun (and well-made) little game. About three quarters of the game is your standard, arcadey golf replication, while the other two-thirds consist of good old fashioned, indiscriminate, left-to-right, China Warrior-style ass-kickin’ and these quasi three-dimensional “boss fights” where you throw ninja stars at demon heads and dragons and shit. There’s not much replay value here, but it’s certainly worthy of at least one weekend playthrough. Man, if only we would’ve gotten Samurai Skee-Ball as a follow-up ...


#06 Midnight Mutants (1990)
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari

By the time Midnight Mutants was released, the 7800 was just a turd floating in the proverbial market waters, but Atari nonetheless put their all (or, at least more effort than usual) in making this one a fitting de facto software swan song for the console. It’s pretty hard to sum up Midnight Mutants as fitting into one neat little genre. Rather, it feels like a mixture of The Legend of Zelda, Maniac Mansion, Friday the 13th and The Guardian Hero, and if that sounds like a great big mess — albeit an intriguing great big mess — you’d be right on the money. While the game definitely has its detractions (the graphics are pretty blocky and the controls take FOREVER to get accustomed to), once you finally get the fundamentals down, Midnight Mutants proves to be a fairly engaging and charming genre mash-up … indeed, in some respects, you might even consider it a proto-Zombies Ate My Neighbors. And come on: how could anybody not love a game that has you launching pumpkins at vampires to save Grampa Munster from the clutches of a mad scientist?


#05 Xenophobe (1989)
Developer: BlueSky Software
Publisher: Atari

There are a ton of Xenophobe ports out there, and the weird thing is that the only one of them that straight up sucks is the version most people played on the NES. While I wouldn’t regard this particular port as a one-to-one equal of its coin-op inspiration (or even on par with the version released on the Lynx), this is still a seriously fun adventure/shooter hybrid which, in my eyes at least, provides gamers with a more streamlined (and ultimately, more enjoyable) version of Impossible Mission. But the thing that really makes Xenophobe worthy of a play is its stellar split-screen mode; on a system absolutely dying for multiplayer games, it’s certainly one of the best two-player experiences on the console.


#04 Basketbrawl (1990)
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari

You might recall me singing the praises of Basketbrawl back when we did our whirlwind tour of the Atari Lynx library, and I assure you the home console iteration is just as good as its portable counterpart … if not even better-playing. Ostensibly the same concept as Arch Rivals, Basketbrawl ups the ante with far grimier aesthetics (basically, you’re playing pickup games in junkyards and Section 8 parking lots) and gameplay that’s MUCH more visceral. When you coldcock a motherfucker in this game, you just plain FEEL it, and it’s undeniably a hoot to run around the court punching the bejeebers out of your best friends (masquerading as crude, 8-bit ethnic stereotypes, of course.) Even better, the game takes the streetball savagery one step further, with players having the ability to pick up knives AND STAB THE OPPOSING TEAM. All of this highly un-P.C. hilarity might make Basketbrawl sound like a novelty, but at heart, it actually is a shocking sound basketball game, with an in-game engine I’d consider one of the best overall of the 8-bit epoch. And, of course, you don’t need me to tell you how great the two-player mode is, but rest assured … it’s pretty fuckin’ great.


#03 Super Skateboardin’ (1988)
Developer: Imagineering
Publisher: Absolute

This is probably the closest thing the 7800 had to a killer console-exclusive title, and while it’s certainly not awesome enough to prove itself a system-shifter, the reality is that Super Skateboardin’ is still an immensely fun game, and one that, in some respects, feels slightly ahead of its time. Designed by all-time retro gaming great David Crane, Super Skateboardin’ has a downright brilliant gameplay hook; you control this radical tubular dude who has to zip through a multi-leveled factory, shutting off lights and collecting items and doing all sorts of other glorified fetch quest odd jobs. But, as the title suggests, you do so on a skateboard, and lemme tell you something kids, it is a BLAST just barrelling through the game space, speeding your way through tunnels and hopping over obstacles. The sense of speed conveyed in this game is pretty damn good, and the level layout is nuanced enough to provide plenty of exploration opportunities (indeed, you can have hop of your skateboard to do more thorough finecombing, if you so desire.) This is really the game Skate or Die 2 wanted to be, and it’s a crying shame so few people ever had the opportunity to get their hands on it … well, until emulating became a thing, anyway.


#02 Galaga (1986)
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari

This port came out before the NES version, and honestly, I think this one is the better overall arcade translation. While the Nintendo port had better sprites and a faster tempo, the 7800 iteration nonetheless feels like a more challenging game, thanks in no small part to its expanded screen. On the NES version, you could always just hug the corners of the screen and pick apart the enemy ships Viet Cong style, but in this version you’ve got kamikaze insectoids and their phallic-shaped missiles coming at you from every direction, and with less response time to get out of the way you really have to learn how to stick and move your fighter jet. Really, there’s no such thing as “bad” Galaga port, and this is one of the more unsung console translations out there; if you’re a classic SHMUP fan, you DEFINITELY need to give this one a try.


#01 Food Fight (1987)
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari

And here we are, folks … the number one game on the ill-fated 7800, and pretty much the ONLY reason to go out of one’s way to ever play the console. Believe it or not, the super-underrated coin-op classic was never ported to the 2600 or 5200, so this iteration marks the first time Food Fight could ever be played in the comfort of one’s home. It’s not a perfect port, but ultimately, I think the 7800 translation does a pretty good job of emulating its 1983 coin-op inspiration. On the surface the game my look like a minimalist Centipede or Robotron clone, but looks, as they so often say, are deceiving. Simply put, ya’ll? This is one of the most thrilling 8-bit games ever made, and in some ways, could be considered one of the first TRUE survival horror games. Think I’m joshing you? No siree, this game is downright terrifying, contextually and subtextually. A sort of Lynchian nightmare, you control a young boy who, for whatever reason, is being chased by an endless armada of chefs who want him DEAD, and these ruthless mofos hace ZERO qualms about murdering an elementary schooler with cupcakes, bananas or mounds of unidentified white powder, which I think is canonically supposed to be salt, but let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s probably a date rape drug of some kind. So you run around the cafeteria, hurling tomatoes and other foodstuffs at your foes, trying to get to an ice cream cone before the time runs out and/or you get sodomized to death by short order cooks. Yes, it’s simplistic, but it’s deceptively simplistic. Not only is this game WAY more intense than you’d think, it’s also insanely addictive, to boot. Scoff at the primitive graphics and cartoony sprites, if you wish, but whatever you do, do NOT sleep on Food Fight; not only is it far and away the best game released on the 7800, it’s low-key one of the best 8-bit single-screener kill-em-ups of all-time.

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