Have You Played Atari Today?

(Editor’s Note: Our summer vacation has extended for far too long. However, we hope to be back next week and every week for the rest of the year. Until then, I will warm up with a gaming article here to break the stretch of comic reviews.)


For the last week, the answer to the question posed in the title is emphatically “Yes!” My first gaming system was the Atari 2600. It isn’t the first one I purchased myself. That honor goes to the SNES or Sega Genesis. I can’t remember which I bought first. However, our family owned an Atari 2600. We also got a 7800, but honestly, that one didn’t last long and got quickly eclipsed by the original NES. So, while you will often read about me waxing poetic about Nintendo, my gaming lineage has roots much deeper.

Why do I bring this all up? Well, recently I had the idea to acquire a method to play my old Atari 2600 games. Let’s just leave it at, “My current laptop (after all of my mishaps in the past) is not very powerful and I wanted to test the waters with something that wouldn’t tax it’s meager capabilities too much.

Plus, I have this cool retro joystick to use!

The Good

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to convince people that nostalgia is a liar. Things weren’t better then and even if they were, they’re really not all that bad today. Well, I’m here to admit that maybe sometimes nostalgia isn’t a liar. I mentioned earlier that I’ve played this at least once a day since getting it. It has been for at least an hour each time. I started with Frostbite, probably my favorite game for the system. Then, I moved on to Pitfall, which I played a couple of times until I got 10 minutes of the timer cleared. As a kid, I cleared the whole timer more than once.

As I searched the games, I found Yar’s Revenge, which was a game that I “borrowed” from a friend and enjoyed so much that I never returned. The last game that I got is perhaps a more obscure game, a deep cut if you will, Plaque Attack. It is Activision and I noticed that the sound effects were recycled from Frostbite (or vice versa) and maybe that’s why I liked the game so much. I mean, it certainly wasn’t gameplay, which revolves around you controlling a tube of toothpaste and shooting food that is trying to decay teeth in a mouth. Okay, so yeah, maybe sometimes nostalgia is a liar because I didn’t last long in that game before moving on to River Raid and Frogger.

For those who think I was making up Plaque Attack. I have a good imagination, but not even I would think to make this game up if it didn’t exist.

The Bad

Unfortunately, I don’t any of these consoles anymore. I shouldn’t say that. Honestly, my mother might still have the Atari, NES, and possibly the SNES and Genesis in her basement or attic. Me, though, lacking any foresight and (as we’ve seen) little sense of nostalgia, I have either sold or given away most consoles I’ve owned as an adult.

PS1? Gave it away because it only played when flipped upside down. N64? Sold to a local YMCA for gas money, basically. Original XBOX? Gas money, too. I do still have my PS2 and Dreamcast, so I guess I got some sense in me eventually. Granted, the Dreamcast was bought after the console was already dead and I just found it at the bottom of my closet, but I still have it!

The bad about all of this is that I have to resort to questionably legal means to play all these old games. I mean, I got a 2600 joystick console one year for Christmas or birthday. It was fun and I played it a few times, but the games are limited and most of them aren’t my favorites. The classic Nintendo consoles are also limited in the games they play, and the games are often the good ones, but good luck getting one in the current environment of limited runs and eBay resellers grabbing all of the stock. So, I go the emulator route and hope that I don’t get a cease and desist from my internet provider again.

I fully admit that I’ve engaged in quite a bit of questionably legal content online and should have been warned. But, really, this was the last straw? It wasn’t even that great of a movie.

The Ugly

You probably think that I’m going to go with the obvious choice of E.T. here. Well, if you think that, you haven’t spent much time on the page. I know that E.T. is always pointed to as one of the biggest failures in video game history and said to have essentially killed Atari as a company. I refer you to the documentary Atari: Game Over for an entertaining look at the second claim. As for the first claim, the game might have failed, but I owned one. I also enjoyed the game immensely. It is one of the first games that I finished completely.

I mean, how is E.T. still considered the worst game ever with this turd out there?

The real ugly is that ultimately, nostalgia is a liar. The games are fun and they do the best that they can with limited pixels and colors. However, the graphics are still terrible, the sound effects are lame, the gameplay for most games is repetitive, and there’s not much here other than the reminder of simpler times. With all of the other options out there, what is the reason to choose a 40+ year old console with all of those limitations?

The Verdict

Playing these games gave me some insight into what people say when they go on about “the good old days”. I had some potentially bad news (that has ultimately worked out well as of right now) and going back to the games of my youth when I didn’t have to worry about all of these things was a powerful attraction. I have kept coming back to the games daily for a bit of a distraction.

In the end, though, they are little more than that. Like the games on my phone that I cycle through on a daily basis, I’m not terribly invested in the games. I play them to give my brain a break. I’d much rather be playing Skyrim, Fallout, Portal, or even the Lego games with the boys. I don’t know if it will have staying power in my daily routine, especially since I’m going back to school and time will be more limited. For now, I like the feeling of experiencing the games for the first time again and remembering other games that send me on the hunt for them. If you’re not worried about the questionable legal ramifications, I highly recommend the run, jump, and chomp down memory lane.

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