GalaxianThe Game: In one of the most seminal variations on the Space Invaders format, Galaxian was among the first clones to introduce attacking formations that would break off from the usual rows and columns of See the videoinvaders. Though Galaxian‘s use of this innovation was minimal, it was a drastic change from the usual slowly-advancing target gallery. (Atari, 1982)

Print new overlaysMemories: Like the 5200 version of Pac-Man, Galaxian is a good demonstration of the next-generation Atari console soundly trouncing its older brother. Galaxian is no slouch on the Atari 2600, but while the game play is relatively intact, the look and feel of the arcade game didn’t survive that particular translation. Those elements are handled much more faithfully in this version of the game, though. Read More


Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, See the videolarge flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score . Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Atari, 1982)

Memories: In the war of the second-generation consoles, it was clear what the chief ammunition would be: immensely popular arcade game licenses. The ColecoVision jumped out of the gates with Donkey Kong as a pack-in title, and Atari – already fighting bad word-of-mouth criticism of the 5200’s lackluster joysticks – would have to give the SuperSystem something a little more compelling than its cousin 2600’s Combat pack-in. But then, of course, everyone already knew that Atari held that most precious of arcade licenses in the early 80s, Pac-Man. Read More


QixThe Game: You control a “marker,” trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One can think of no better early 80s platform for Qix than the Atari 5200, and it almost manages to pull off a perfect translation. Qix is another case where the infamous 5200 joysticks can confound your efforts to draw a straight line, but a lot of games have that problem, and I can’t really hold the grudge against anyone but whoever it was who designed those controllers. Read More

Space Invaders

Space InvadersThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Adapted from the Atari 400/800 home computer version of the coin-op hit, Space Invaders for the 5200 is certainly colorful, though one could argue that it’s ultimately not as faithful to the original as the graphically simpler version that appears on the Atari VCS. Read More

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean you’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: So let’s see here. Atari had this great new console which sported, essentially, the guts of their Atari 400 computer, quite a bit of processing power (for its day) for a game-playing machine. Capable of detailed, colorful graphics and excellent sound effects, the Atari 5200 would, of course, need a fantastic pack-in title at launch, something which would showcase its amazing abilities. And that’s all fine and well, but what the poor 5200 wound up with was Super Breakout. Read More


BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on See the videoyour side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Already released in a near-picture-perfect version on the Atari 2600, Berzerk was surely an easy game to port to that console’s newer, more powerful sibling. But the 2600 version was so good, what could Atari do to top it? Read More

Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J. (hey, it’s better than being O.J.!), out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said dastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – and those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (CBS Electronics, 1983)

Memories: One of my favorite genre-crossing arcade titles, Blue Print was one of several in-house gems from Bally/Midway which were licensed under an overall deal with CBS Electronics. And while I mourn the fact that they never got around to making Kickman for the 5200, I can take come comfort in the work of art that is CBS’ home version of Blue Print. Read More

Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet Of ZoomThe Game: As space pilot Buck Rogers, you pilot an agile star fighter across a hazardous alien landscape, dodging buildings and destroying enemy vessels. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Bearing only the most superficial resemblance – just the design of the star fighter – to the television series of the same name, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom may seem like nothing terribly special these days, but at the time, it was a breakthrough in 3-D, not-quite-first-person aerial/space combat video games – from the same people who brought you Zaxxon, the first vaguely-3-D game. Read More

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the See the original TV adSee the videoPookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, can can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those cases where one wonders what all the Atari 5200 hype was about. Do you mean to tell me that the graphics in this home version of the licensed-from-Namco Atari coin-op are appreciably better than the cartridge that Atari turned out for the lower-end 2600 console? I just don’t see it. Read More


FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: So, there’s this frog, you see, and he advanced from a best-selling Atari 2600 title to the 2600’s bigger, more powerful brother. And the result? Read More


JoustThe Game: Suit up in armor, grab a lance, and mount your trusty ostrich. Then you try to impale others who have done the same, and eliminate the remaining “eggs” which will hatch a new warrior if left long enough. Other threats include the almost invincible pterodactyl and the Lava Troll (whose firey hands assist enemy knights while trying to drag yours into the molten rock). In later levels, there are fewer solid surfaces on which to take refuge. When one of your knights is toppled, another appears, given momentary immunity from harm until he is moved. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: In a rare instance, the 5200’s non-centering joysticks, the bugbear of many an otherwise decent arcade translation, could occasionally help you in this game. Read More

Jungle Hunt

Jungle HuntThe Game: You’re an intrepid explorer, swinging from vine to vine, braving a swim through crocodile-infested waters, leaping over and ducking under an avalanche of rocks both large and small, and trying to leap over angry natives, all to save a See the videodamsel in distress at the end of the game. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the best arcade adaptations for the 5200, Jungle Hunt in cartridge form provided a very faithful port of the arcade game, right down to the jaunty music. Read More


KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance See the videoof apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings), and avoiding the big, purple boxing-glove-stealing ape. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Released for the Atari 2600 and 5200 simultaneously, it’s a no-brainer as to which version of Kangaroo is a better representation of the sleeper hit game Atari distributed in the U.S. (a rare licensed import for a company that usually released only homegrown product). The 5200 edition looks and plays more like the coin-op, including all four of the original game’s levels and doing so without the strange blue-going-on-purple background of the 2600 cartridge. Read More

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid See the videothe monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Oh, God. If there’s a genre of video game that suffers most pathetically at the hands of Atari’s non-centering 5200 controllers, it’s the maze game. And Ms. Pac-Man is among the worst victims of the 5200’s joysticks: you could wind up smacking into a wall, unable to move before those three ghosts nailed you from behind. (Actually, that sounds pretty bad.) Read More

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss See the videoout on the subsequent race. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: When Atari announced its home versions of Pole Position, its first-person racer licensed from Namco, there was rejoicing (for the 5200 version) and scoffing (for the 2600 version). As it turns out, both expectations may have been off the mark: the 2600 version was unexpectedly good for what it was, and by comparison the 5200 version seems at times as though it’s not all it could have been. Maybe the biggest surprise is that these two interpretations of the game weren’t wildly different. Read More


Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the original TV adMemories: One of my favorite games of all time becomes an excercise in massive frustration when played on the Atari 5200. As with the 5200 version of Frogger – also, coincidentally, produced by Parker Bros. – you must press the bottom fire button in order to move, making the game almost unplayable. Read More

RealSports Baseball

RealSports BaseballThe Game: Batter up! Take charge of a team on the baseball diamond for a practice round, or a game lasting 3, 6 or 9 innings. And if you think being behind a joystick will save you from hearing from the umpire, think again. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: In 1979, the mainstay of home video gaming was space, not sports. That’s hard to imagine these days, when you have giants like Electronic Arts dropping the equivalent of some small countries’ gross national debt to lock down entire professional sports leagues. Sure, there was sports games in 1979, but they were at such a primitive level that they just weren’t a match for Space Invaders and Asteroids; the most realistic sports simulations still lived in the arcade. In 1980, Intellivision changed the playing field, literally and figuratively, as Mattel introduced sports games that actually bore some resemblance to their inspiration. A surprisingly aggressive marketing campaign for a relative newcomer to the video game field put Atari on notice: take sports games seriously. Read More

RealSports Basketball

RealSports BasketballThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1983 [unreleased])
See the video
Memories: Atari’s RealSports series was created to challenge the upper hand Intellivision’s sports games had gained over the blocky, primitive virtual versions of the same sports on the Atari 2600. The RealSports brand was extended into the 5200 line as well, and did manage to score some firsts, including the first home video game to offer speech without additional custom hardware (RealSports Baseball). But for some reason, neither the 2600 nor 5200 versions of RealSports Basketball ever saw the light of day. Read More