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Darran@Retro Gamer

Top 5 Atari 8-bit games

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As a Retrobate and subscriber, it's great to hear of more Atari coverage coming up in Retro Gamer! I was a lonely UK Atari owner up in the North East looking on with envy at the other areas that had Atari specialist shops as I could only get new titles by mail order. I wrote a short article for retrogamescollector.com here: http://www.retrogamescollector.com/atari-8bit-memories/ about growing up owning an Atari computer in the UK.


Not that I think they're necessarily the best games, just personal favourites because of where I was at the time and associated memories....


  1. Alternate Reality: The Dungeon
    Played this one through a number of times with many late, late nights. Incredibly involving with great replay value.
  2. Boulderdash
    Became a compulsive completion with a perfect difficulty curve.
  3. Star Raiders
    My first Atari game coming with my new computer and really convinced me I'd made the correct platform choice in moving on from my TI-99/4a.
  4. Mercenary
    Many hours lost to exploring the 3D world of Targ in a flying block of cheese.
  5. Zork
    The last pick is always the most difficult as there are so many more I'd like to have in the list but I loved the Zork trilogy and they really got me into text adventures.

If you pushed me for more -

Koronis Rift
For me, the best of the early Lucasfilm games that started life on the Atari.

Fort Apocalypse
Synapse at their best.

Synapse still at their best - frantic action where each level builds on how well you did in the previous.

Rainbow Walker
Those Synapse guys just couldn't stop releasing top quality games!

What hasn't already been said about this masterpiece.

Bounty Bob Strikes Back
For me, the game Manic Miner wishes it could have been.

Weird and wonderful.

The best four-player game until Bomberman arrived.


Edited by trev2005
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Casual: Arcade: Head to Head: Adventure: RPG: Homebrew:


- Ghost Busters - Donkey Kong - BallBlazer - Zork - Ultima IV - Yoomp!

- Pitfall II - Spy Hunter - Archon - Hitchhiker's Guide - Alternate Reality: The Dungeon - Assembloids

- Goonies - Joust - M.U.L.E. - Asylum - Alternate Reality: The City - Ridiculous Reality

- Conan - Pengo - Hardball - Deadline - Temple of Apshai - Cubico

- Karateka - Pacman - International Karate - Zork III - Auto Duel - Rolltris


I'm truly sorry. I couldn't help It.


I agree with your thinking. I can't break down my favorite games for the Atari to just five, anymore than I can for do the same for music, food, or anything else that I have much interest in. No need to apologize. My top list would probably be even longer than that... more like top one hundred.

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Hey guys, I'm putting together a list of the best Atari 8-bit games for Retro Gamer magazine.

It would be great if you could tell us your top 5 favourite games and why and we'll put some of the quotes in the mag. The machine largely passed me in the UK, so I though it would make more sense to come to a US-based forum.




Hi Darran.



This is an international forum, perhaps the most important dedicated to Atari 8-bit computers.


For example, I am Swiss (and a Retro Gamer subscriber too).



Many classic games have been mentioned by other users.

A8 homebrew scene is one of the most active (Jason Kelk would agree), so I will mention homebrew games only.


Yoomp! (2008)

Bomb Jake (2008)

Pac-Man Arcade (2012)

Crownland (2007)

His Dark Majesty (2010)




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Space Harrier - Not only is this a technical accomplishment, it's also really fun to play.


Donkey Kong - This is REALLY fun. It handles really well. A good example of finely-tuned game play.


Pac-Man - I actually enjoy this version even more than the coin-op. Great response on the controls and properly graduated skill level.


Galaxian - I never liked the arcade version of Galaxian (I prefer Galaga). However, I can't seem to stop playing this on the A8.


Demon Attack - This is one of the most inherently-playable games I've ever seen. Clever use of sound, too.

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That was a nice read Trev2005. Here's my comments on your top 5 above.


Alternate Reality: The Dungeon

Didn't have a disk drive until around '95 and so didn't have chance to see it.


Never took to this, it always felt a very average game to me. Does still to this day.

Star Raiders

Wonderful game! I loved the way that it was an open world and I could just go and explore wherever I liked next.


Same as the above, it is great to just go and walk around. Was it just me or did other people walk around from one area to another when they didn't have an aircraft? It would sometimes take a long time to get to where you want to go to, but if I knew where to go, it may take many minutes holding the joystick forward to get to where I wanted to go to.


What a brilliant game. This was so atmospheric, and scary at the same time. It was one of those games that I wouldn't get stuck for too long in one area, but neither would any area be easy either.

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Top 5 Atari 8bit games:

Star Raiders
Donkey Kong

Miner 2049er


it's very hard to limit to 5, but these were/are the ones I spent the most time playing growing up. Atarimania has some sort of voting system...

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Rainbow Walker was the best Q*Bert clone regarding atmosphere with great sound effects and cool perspective of a rainbow curving away from the player.


Flip & Flop uses a clever perspective as well to convince you that you play all 'touch all squares' levels from above and then from below, with plenty of opportunities to take a wrong turn and jump to your death.



IMHO both of them are waaay better than Q*Bert but not among my personal top 5.


As for Infocom, I love them and remember long evenings trying to outwit Zork but frankly you don't need an Atari to play them.

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1. M.U.L.E.

2. H.E.R.O.

3. Preliminary Montezuma

4. Caverns of Mars

5. Rescue on Fractalus


MULE being the first real-time strategy game I played against the computer and other 3 players, high detailed the gfx animations, required strategy with some arcade skills. A classic game which gave based for today genre.


HERO, is the beauty of simplicity, quick and fast. A cavern of lost miners, where memorizing the maze is a must, also timing skills to avoid moving red-walls.


Caverns of Mars, my first shooter, memorizing the maze and enemy's characteristics is mandatory, very common on 80s games.


Preliminary Montezuma, adventure of an explorer inside of a Mexican pyramid, was intrigue and funny, reminiscing Indiana Jones, but in our 8bit machine. Again, memory and arcade skills were required, well, After stage 9 is a marathon to get the biggest score... anyway, a classic.


Rescue on Fractulus, brought us a new world where Kind of Star Wars universe merge with Mathematics, which were in vouge those years.

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There's technical excellence and plain gameplay excellence and they don't necessarily always overlap.


My Top 5 based mainly on playability would be something like:



2. Alternate Reality: The City

3. Spelunker

4. Rescue on Fractalus

5. Ridiculous Reality

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Just for some great moments:


- BallBlazer: beating the level 10 AI and many close matches with friends (replaced years later with Kick Off 2), the goals from midfield at the start of a match (there is a trick for that), the advanced techniques like hitting another player pursuing you with your own rotofoil (after shooting the ball) and one shot toward the goal that hit the left "wall", rebounded in the other player, in the wall again and finally entered the goal x)

- Ultima 3: discovering Ambrosia and listening to that music for the first time, the secret walls (Ultima 4 was a more complete game, but I missed the music).

- Alternate Reality The City: seeing that intro and the music for the first time (with lyrics), all the ambiance and mystery in the city, the rain and the small dragons (yep The Dungeon has a lot more things to do, with puzzles and quests, but The City has the advantage of been first and the details, thanks to the hand of P. Price).

- Encounter: the many types of enemies, like the saucer that covered the field in shots or those annoying turrets, liked the clean and fast graphics, trying to reach the last level, trying to evade the incoming missile, hitting a pillar at the last moment but still destroying the missile at point blank ("RoF alien" stress level I should say x) ).

- The Eidolon: not a lot of different things to do (maybe discovering the uses for the energy balls and some small puzzles), but great ambiance and enemies, technically great, big enemies with good animation, probably one of the best "boss" fights in the A8 (not that great a finale) and the musical heads :). Special mention to the other two, Rescue on Fractalus and Koronis Rift.


Special mention for two players: One on One, Int. Karate, Archon and Mig Alley Ace. Also Star Riders, Pitfall 2 and Pastfinder.


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I think if I was dis-regarding personal memories and trying to be objective, I'd have to champion Star Raiders as the definitive Atari game. Bearing in mind it's an 8K ROM and in the first wave of releases for the computers it really is a great achievement in game programming and use of the resources of a new platform - fast, colour, first-person view space combat in 1979!


The thing is, a screenshot doesn't do Star Raiders justice as the graphics look dated when not moving and it's only when played that the game shows it's calibre and you get that real Atari 'feel'. There's the wonderful maybe one second pause just before you exit hyperspace when you hope you've managed to steer the ship to the correct destination and you're maybe just about to enter a dogfight and you can really feel the tension. Then there's the desperate attempt to escape to save your damaged ship with failing systems using a blind hyperspace jump that could take you anywhere. All this wrapped up in a frantic race against time to save the galaxy


Any game that inspired both Archer Maclean and Jeff Minter deserves a place in the all-time all-platforms hall of fame.

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Hi Darren, below is my personal Atari 8bits top 5.


1) BOULDERDASH --because of all the hours i spent trying to gain the next level. God, what a fun! A funny smart game.

2) RESCUE ON FRACTALUS! The best flight simulator shooting. I always remember the big scare i had when i saw the alien knocking against the windshield.

3) DROPZONE. The best game defender-style even better then defender. Fast, smooth, colorful, with great sound effects.

4) PACMAN ARCADE Because is the real conversion. The most similar to the original arcade ever.

5) YOOMP! Because YES. Because playing this game you can really say: "RETRO IS THE ONLY FUTURE"

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Too many games to choose and they do change over time but here goes for my fav`s at this time-


Hard Hat Willy

Elektra Glide

Final Legacy



Like I say they may change by next week lol

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Another UKer here. Oddly, back in the day almost everyone I know had Atari's but I guess people tended to clump together like that.


Star Raiders




Mr Do!

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I was able to make a list of about 60 games. But I decided to get it down to about 20 that I didn't see listed here. Not necessarily my top 20, since I'd agree with a lot already mentioned here, but ones I think need mentioning. Listed in alphabetical order only.



Castle Crisis - multi-player, fast arcade action, polished, and tastefully done recreation of Warlords

Commando - shooting, grenade tossing, multi-level/multi-mission, secret areas, variety of terrains

Donkey Kong Jr. - nice use of character mode, colorful, cool sound effects and animations, multi-screen

Frogger - classic, smooth scrolling screen sections, nice music, sound effects, colorful graphics

Gyruss - smooth animation, nice musical theme and sound effects, fast shooting, bonus rounds

Ixion - unique, fast action, shooting, bonus rounds

Jr. Pac-Man - evolved Pac-Man action, with option for number of ghosts

Mario Bros. - one or two player, nice sprites, animations, sound effects and action

Missile Command - classic, fast action, cool sound effects, track-ball control

Xenophobe - one or two player, split screen, blast 'em up, nice sprites, animations, and scenes



Bandits - unique horizontal shooter, nice animations, interesting sound effects, challenging gameplay

Blue Max - shooting, bombing, plane can sustain various damage types, refueling, repair, reloading

Druid - strategy Gauntlet style game, variety of scenes and enemies, nice use of character graphics

Eastern Front 1941 - classic, simulation, smooth scrolling map, multiple difficulties

Leader Board - nice graphics, smooth animation, realistic sports gameplay

Midi Maze - first person, networked, multiplayer free for all with chat in the mid-eighties? you bet!

Robbo - varied, challenging overhead puzzler, with nice, clean graphics

Shanghai - classic puzzle game in hi-res, detailed graphics, pull-down menus, plus mouse operation

Spy vs Spy (I, II, III) - unique, split-screen one or two player, nice graphics, animations, and humor

Summer Games - multi-player, multi-event detailed sports action, great presentation and animations

Edited by MrFish

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Top 5 Atari 8bit games:


Star Raiders

Donkey Kong


Miner 2049er



it's very hard to limit to 5, but these were/are the ones I spent the most time playing growing up. Atarimania has some sort of voting system...

Can I add Eastern Front :)

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Midi Maze - first person, networked, multiplayer free for all with chat in the mid-eighties? you bet!


I meant late-eighties.

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I know that I’ll be shot down in flames for committing heresy here, but I’ve long-since meant to pen that award-winning, glory-grabbing article for Retro Gamer, entertainingly recounting the dismal truth of what it meant to be one of the several hundred thousand UK Atari 8-bit owners of the mid-1980s. Yes: really that many.


Recently, RG’s coverage of the presumed-obscure also-ran format I was once (lovingly/furiously) lumbered with has pleasingly increased, but it’s all too celebratory for me. Because – you see – here in the good ol’ U of K, the Atari 8-bit straddled two distinct eras: the first being temporarily good, but if you (like me) were swept up in the machine’s belated second coming? Well, it was a whole different world.


Back to the beginning though, and long before the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad ruled the roost of this green and pleasant land, the first Atari 8-bit era began courtesy of several “firms” who specialised in the practice of importing Atari hardware and software to sell to – for want of a better phrase – rich bastards. And, given the buoyancy and longevity of companies like Maplin and Silica Shop, sell they did.


I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that, back in 1981, purchasing an Atari 800 with 810 disk drive and Star Raiders cartridge here in the UK would see you parting with roughly the equivalent cost of buying three Scottish castles, two (prize-winning) racing yachts, a Rolls-Royce Corniche, and a very big house in the country. Just ask Archer McLean. But despite the breathtaking outlay, within a few short months, such was the penetration of the Atari in the UK, masses of user groups, magazines and shops sprung up to support the “Ferrari of home computers,” with many of them soldiering on for years.


UK Atari owners of this era – let’s call it the golden age of 1981 to 1983 – enjoyed the following games, all of them certified classics, and most of them American. Let’s face it, many UK owners had saved for months and months to finally afford that tantalising import cart or disc that would shame any ZX81 or BBC Atom-owning friend. For completeness, I’ve included a rough estimate, converted into today’s money, of how much those rich bastards paid to secure ownership of said trinket/trophy/ego-boost:


  1. Preppie! (Disc; Adventure International; 1982) £4,291,449
  2. Pole Position (ROM; Atarisoft – Disc; Datasoft; 1983) £3.1m/£1.9m
  3. Miner 2049’er (ROM; Big Five; 1982) £7,981,190
  4. Oil’s Well (ROM; Ahem; 1983) £3,119,210
  5. Jet Boot Jack (Disc; English Software; 1983) £9.95


Truly, this was the imperial phase of the Atari 8-bit in the UK. Magazines like C&VG and – erm – probably others, would often compare the 400/800 series favourably to its then-only rivals, the ZX81 and Vic-20. And Apple II. And BBC Micro, Sord M5, and others. At least, here in the UK. The NewBrain hadn’t really taken off by then. Or the Atom. It was Atari that ruled the roost.


Yes, the ever-canny British shopper had taken one look at the sub-£300 price tag of all the pretenders to Atari’s throne (£4,419,319 in today’s money) snorting in disdain at the inexpensive, tatty games on compact cassette, guffawing at the very sight of so-called software for such mere mortal machines, increasingly laughably encroaching upon the shelf-space once reserved for The King.


But then. 1983.


The exactly 459 UK Atari 8-bit owners who plunged, head-first, into early-adoption of these new-fangled computer things, spending (on average; in today’s money) £11,191,519 pursuing their hobby are finding themselves marganalised. As the mass populous finally catches on to this whole computer (game) thing, shops that would once sell you Atari BC’s Quest For Tires (Disc; Sierra/Sydney - £1,199,383) are suddenly flooded with strange titles like Hungry Horace (Cassette; Psion; £4.19) and Wizard of Wor (Cassette; Commodore; £3.59)


By the end of the year, coverage of the Atari in the UK’s main (and only) multi-format newsstand magazine is relegated to a solitary quarter-page, navy-on-cobalt feature about “computer turtles,” the rest of the magazine concerned with reviewing games for newer computers that each have one seemingly minor hardware advantage over the Atari, which will ultimately render 99.5% of the breathtakingly successful software for them either a) impossible; b) terrible or c) unrecognisable, should anyone bother to convert it to the “Ferrari of home computers.” For everyone to copy. And copy. And copy.


* * *


Tune in next time! Remember those hundreds of thousands of UK Atari 8-bit owners I mentioned? I’ll list the (very different) top 5 games “enjoyed” by those unfortunate souls who found one of the innumerably remaindered 800XLs in their 1985 Christmas stocking, in place of a shiny Commodore 64. Was dad swayed by the sales patter and low-low price on offer at the UK’s largest high-street technology retailer? Or did mum buy it, at a premium, on the never-never from one of any number of catalogues?


By early 1986, with Atari 8-bit machines changing hands in the UK for less than a ton (often much less), the installed user base dramatically increased – but there was something very, very wrong. While publishers were gambling on new dedicated Atari newsstand magazines, and with software companies keen to leap upon the Atari bandwagon, there was an understandable air of ambivalence among those who hadn’t encountered “the golden age” of Atari and were being teased relentlessly by their Sanxion or Underwurlde-playing mates.


Will “Frenesis”, “Crystal Raider” or “Milk Race” feature in the Second Coming Top 5? Find out next time…

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Hehe funny thing, I'm just re-reading all my C&VGs from number 1 onwards (got most issues up to 250 or so). Just arrived in the year 1988

C&VG was always a supporter of the Atari, to the bitter end (up to 1987 still with extra Atari special page). They even loved the XEGS.

But as C&VG stated, the ZX juggernaut with cheap games on cassette was unstoppable. Gamers in UK didn't care about disc drives, for example. Even with the C64, people opted to buy cassette games instead of discs.

I always used mail-order, Strategic Plus Software (they advertised long time in C&VG), Databyte, Maplins...LOOK Atari Owners (never ordered from them though, it sounded weird), later on 2 page adverts from SSI, Origin, Microprose, Activison etc

Remember the poor Dragon or BBC users, the early issues full of 2 page adverts, by mid-80s they'd gone.


Anyway, way back I always thought that expensive (and American) Atari games were quality when compared to UKs cheap and cheerful tape offerings.

You pay for Burberry and have quality or you buy George at Asda. Nothing to do with ego-boost, it's just common sense.



Here's my Top 5 and why:



1.The Halley Project (1985) ...a most excellent strategy game from Mindscape, available on Atari/C64 flippy, your explore the solar system, fly missions, find clues, land on the planets/moons, use all the extras included like a cassette tape to listen to. Took me months to complete, well worth its money (£50). Atari didn't need Elite, this was much better.


2. Universe (1983) ...Now here's a expensive game, Omnitrend's masterpiece of exploration, strategy, trading, battle, and an Atari original to boot. This game was very difficult to use (eg disc swapping galore), but once in, you got the hang of it. Again, multi months of entertainment followed, never reached the goal sadly. Fun to play though. Atari didn't need Elite, this was much better.


3. Star Fleet 1: The War begins (Interstel 1986) ...okay this the the 70s Star Trek-type strategy game, but I didn't know that at the time, played it to death, finishing finally after years and years of playing. Did I mention Atari didn't need Elite?


4. Star Raiders ...Got my Atari in 84 with Star Raiders, this was the game which got me hooked on space strategy games, the original is still the best. Elite? What's that?


5. The Eidolon ...I liked all Atari Lucasfilm games, and this gets frantic quickly. Best is to put the XE on the floor and operate the space bar with you toes.


Honourable mention: The Dallas Quest (1984 Datasoft) my first adventure game, who says adaptations of films and tv don't work?

Wizard's Crown (SSI), my first RPG on computer (my very first RPG was DragonStomper on VCS), I rate it higher than Ultima.

Bounty Bob strikes back, platform fun at its finest.

Pondering about Max's, last original Atari game I purchased (mail order only), weird and wonderful, sold it to a collector.



Why does everyone here when mentioning Boulder Dash as Boulderdash? It's two words.

Edited by high voltage

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