I think this is the most civilized vs thread yet.
I was lucky to have a plethora of machines back in the day, and this included an Apple II+ & //e, Atari 400/800, C-64, and more. That aside, and ignoring hard marketing numbers in print, and machine specifications, I preferred the Atari and Apple for gaming among many other things.
I always felt the C-64 was rather stuffy, almost as if the software had to wade through a lot of "stuff" to get something done. Almost as if there were a lot things getting in the way, or things took too many steps. The next most "stuffiest" would be the Ti-99/4A, especially with its twice interpreted BASIC. Not that the C64's BASIC was fast either.
In contrast (no pun intended) I thoroughly liked the more vibrant palette the Atari 400/800 offered. It seemed the Ataris were adept at changing luminances and colors very quickly, almost freewheeling. Less muddy. Fast and responsive. Less lag. There was an ineffable crispness and speed to a lot of the Atari games. They were VCS-like in action.
I loved defender for the explosions, and other arcade translations for their color combinations. Games like Shamus, BallBlazer, and Star Raiders, among many others played rather smoothly and fast. Atari was 8-bit was adept at moving things quickly in many different directions at many changing angles.
Despite the rig's prowess I didn't like BoulderDash on it. They didn't use appealing colors for whatever reason. The Apple II version would always be my favorite, if just for the contrasting colors. But I *did* like the expansion levels available on the Atari.
The Apple II was a different beast altogether in that it had no custom chippery going on. It didn't even have color graphics or a sound chip. More like a sound transistor! You had to make sounds by pushing the speaker cone. No waveform generators, not even a tone generator. It was all software in a tight loop. And the "color" graphics stemmed from "disturbing" the NTSC signal at the right times to make artifacts in what was a black-n-white raster. Color was essentially created by certain bits (in the framebuffer) next to each other.
And yet there was a mechanical speed feeling. Like crisp brittle inflexible parts with light machine oil on them. There was no lag. As soon as you did something with the keyboard or controller, the software knew about it instantly it seemed. Very bare metal. You could feel the game timing loops right away. Thus they were easy to fine-tune. The C64 flavor was all a mushbox, rubbery, and that godawful keyboard.. Did they uses sponges instead of snappy springs or what? The Atari and Apple were nice and crisp.
And BASIC? I loved it. I had immediate instant access to X,Y graphics. And I could toggle that speaker like nobody's business! It was truly magical when I discovered TASC and EINSTEIN. These compilers would take my infantile BASIC program experiments and totally re-write them in the mysterious god-like superfast "machine language". It was like getting a 3x accelerator in software! This is the kind of magic that makes you get up from your seat and twirl around like and over-excited ballerina. The possibilities were orgasmic. Made me feel like a god!
Much of the above opinions are formed from how a kid into (but not fully understanding) how hardware and the platforms at large worked and how well they penetrated their respective markets.
Yeah, I felt much the same way. The Atari is *fast*, that's why I still play a lot of arcade games on it. Many of the c64 ports are prettier but sluggish, it does more 'PC' style, graphics heavy games better. I don't like sluggish action games, which is probably why I preferred the Genesis to the SNES as well.
As to the Apple, it was a terrible games machine from a spec standpoint, and a great productivity one... but it had a great, brute force disk drive design and, like you said, an amazing BASIC interpreter. The disk drive allowed the Apple to excel at complex Strategy/RPG games, and I tended to play those on the Apple over at my cousin's house. It had a ton of them too. I later discovered many of them were also available on the Atari (our local Atari dealer sucked, and never had anything).
The c64 was a great games machine and a terrible productivity one. The Atari was the best compromise between the two, I always thought.