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The golden age of gaming 

Part I of CL's countdown of Atari's best

In 1975, Atari sold 150,000 Pong units across the country through a partnership with Sears. Atari used the profits to develop the next big thing, a high-performance, low-cost gaming console: The Atari Video Computer System, later renamed the Atari 2600.

After its launch in 1977, the Atari 2600 struggled to find success. It took the conversion of popular arcade games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man to entice kids to stop spending their quarters at arcades and save up (or beg their parents) for a home computer system.

Atari grossed more than $2 billion in 1980. By 1982, the console had sold 10 million units, and its best-selling game, Pac-Man, sold 7 million copies. Even though successors like the Atari 5200 and the Atari 7800 would become popular in the '80s, the 2600 could be found on department store shelves until the early '90s, giving it the longest lifespan of any video game console.

Needless to say, there were hundreds of games published for the Atari 2600 — some of the best (and worst) software titles ever created. In the next two editions of Console Me, we look back at the wondrous machine, with its single-button joysticks and wood veneer finish, and the games that made it such a success.

The Top 10 Atari 2600 Games: Part I

10. Adventure. Designed by Warren Robinett, 1979's Adventure was the first action-adventure console game as well as the first to allow the player to collect, carry and exchange items. The player controls a tiny square avatar on a quest to recover a lost magical chalice and return it to the Yellow Castle. During the quest, the player will find keys, unlock dungeons, maneuver through mazes and fight dragons that look like pixelated ducks or seahorses. It's a weird little game, but it introduces many of the gameplay elements that shaped adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.

9. H.E.R.O. Imagine the Chilean mining accident, but with helicopter backpacks. In 1984's H.E.R.O. (Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation), the player assumes the role of Roderick Hero, who uses a helicopter backpack to rescue victims trapped deep in a mine. Equipped with a helmet-mounted laser and dynamite, the player must carefully navigate obstacles like rocks, magma and underground creatures to rescue trapped miners.

8. Yars' Revenge. In this 1982 game, the player controls an insect-like creature called a Yar, who must nibble or blast through a barrier in order to fire his Zorlon Cannon and destroy the evil Qotile. I have no idea what a Zorlon Cannon or a Qotile is, but I can tell you that Yars' Revenge is a highly addictive Atari game.

7. Space Invaders. When Tomohiro Nishikado's Space Invaders was originally released in 1978, it revolutionized the video game industry. As one of the most popular games ever made, the objective of Space Invaders is ingrained into the hearts and minds of anyone who's ever picked up a joystick or controller: Defeat waves of creepy-crawly space aliens with a laser cannon before they invade and annihilate us.

6. Ms. Pac-Man. After the success of Pac-Man, Namco kept the ball rolling with Ms. Pac-Man, a sequel that features a female protagonist, new maze designs and improved gameplay changes over the original title. While the Atari 2600 port of the popular arcade game didn't have the same level of graphics, Ms. Pac-Man was a massive improvement over their rushed conversion of Pac-Man — one of the console's worst (but best-selling) titles.

Next Week: The Top 5, plus honorable mentions.


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