Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!

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Centipede is a 1980 video game developed by Atari.  It is notable in that it was one of the few video games that was co-developed by a woman (Dona Bailey) and, also had a large female following.  Centipede was a monster hit for Atari and it could be found in nearly every arcade in the early 80’s.  Centipede is based on the standard Atari hardware of the era with a single 6502 CPU, a single Pokey chip,  and a 16 color CRT.

The concept of the game is pretty straight forward.  The centipede starts at the top of the screen and moves down a level every time it encounters a mushroom.  You must use your wand (blaster) to shoot the centipede before it gets to you.   If you hit the centipede in a center section, it will split in two.  You must also defend yourself from spiders that enter from the sides and fleas that fall from the top.  Scorpions periodically run across the screen and ‘poison’ any mushrooms that they contact.  If the centipede contacts a poison mushroom, it will ‘fall’ to the bottom of the screen.

Centipede at Funspot

Centipede at Funspot

Centipede was ported to a number of home consoles and computers including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 800 and the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 consoles.  In fact, it is one of the few games to be ported to all 4 of Atari’s 8-bit game systems.

In 1982, Atari released Centipede for the VCS/2600 and, when you power up your 2600 with a Centipede cartridge installed, you will be amazed with the start screen…you will think that you are about to see an amazing graphical port for the 2600.  Unfortunately, the start screen is as far as the amazing graphics go.  The game graphics are disappointing as the mushrooms have become simple square blocks.   As far as the game play goes, however, the 2600 version has it all…mushrooms, spiders, fleas, and scorpions.  It plays as close to the arcade version as any 2600 port.  In fact, Centipede is one of the top games for the 2600!

When the 5200 SuperSystem was introduced in 1982, Centipede was one of the early releases.  Given that a Centipede arcade unit has the same basic CPU and sound chips as a 5200, it should be no surprise that the 5200 version is a classic port.  Like the 2600 version, all of the arcade elements are present, but this time the graphics and sound are spot on.  Control with a standard 5200 joystick is solid, but the 5200 version supports the use of the Trak-ball unit.  Centipede is one of the top games available for the 5200.

In 1987, Atari released Centipede for the 7800 ProSystem.  Even though the 7800 lacks the sound capability of the 4 channel Pokey chip, Centipede is well executed with a nice start screen, great graphics, and more than adequate sound.   The only thing negative to say about the 7800 graphics is the box that is drawn around the screen.   The 7800 version makes up for any shortcomings with neat two player modes.  Two players can alternate turns, play against each other (at the same time), or play together as a team.

It is hard to say which version of Centipede is the best port.  The two player modes in the 7800 version make it a blast to play with a friend, but I give a slight edge to the 5200 version for its accuracy to the arcade version.  No matter which Atari home console you have, a copy of Centipede belongs in your game collection!

Wild for Centipede!

Wild for Centipede!


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Atari Flashback 2, a review…

The Atari Flashback 2 is the system that Curt had in mind when he approached Atari about the Flashback concept.  In 2004, not enough time was available for development, so Curt went with the ‘NES on a chip’ design for the Flashback 1.  When he was done with the Flashback 1, he returned to development of what is now known as the Flashback 2.

With plenty of time for development, Curt designed a custom chip to produce an ‘Atari 2600 on a chip’.  Curt also included provisions on the motherboard for adding a cartridge slot.  A modified Flashback 2 can play most games designed for the 2600.  Taking a page from the Atari playbook, the name for the FB 2 project was ‘Michelle’ for Curt’s wife.  Her name is printed on the FB 2 motherboards.

The Flashback 2 looks like a small Atari 2600 and has two joysticks that are compatible with the original 2600 and, also, supports the use of original Atari paddle controllers.

Forty two games are included on the FB 2:

Arcade Favorites:  Arcade Asteroids, Arcade Pong, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Missile Command, and Space Dual.

Adventure Territory:  Adventure, Adventure II, Haunted House, Return to Haunted House, Secret Quest Wizard

Space Station:  Caverns of Mars, Quadrun, Saboteur, Space War, Yars’ Return, Yars’ Revenge

Skill and Action:  3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Aquaventure, Atari Climber, Combat, Combat 2, Dodge ‘Em, Fatal Run, Frog Pond, Hangman, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Pitfall!, Radar Lock, River Raid, Save Mary, Video Checkers, and Video Chess

Paddle Games:  Super Breakout and Warlords (hidden from the main menu)

The hidden paddle games can be reached by pushing the joystick as follows:  up 1 time, down 9 times, up 7 times, down 2 times (for 1972, the year Atari released Pong)

There are a few cool things about the Atari FB 2:

  • since it is a ‘2600 on a chip’, the games work just like they did on the original hardware
  • supports the use of original Atari joysticks and paddle controllers
  • a cartridge port can be added (takes electronic knowledge)
  • includes hacks and homebrews (Asteroids, Atari Climber, and Return to Haunted House)
  • includes some exclusive games (Asteroids Deluxe, Lunar Lander, and Yars’ Return)
  • includes some previously unreleased games (Combat 2, Frog Pond, and Save Mary)
  • includes two Activision games (Pitfall and River Raid)

There also a couple of things to be aware of:

  • If you add a cartridge port, it does not support all 2600 games (due to some missing bankswitching and opcode capabilities)
  • the joystck ports are on the back of the unit, similar to the original 2600
  • It does not work with all TV’s

The FB 2 is an amazing console.  Although the last production run was in 2009 (with the Flashback 2+), they are still relatively easy to find second hand.  I paid about $20 for my FB 2, but consider it a bargain if you can find one for under $30.  With 42 games and a set of compatible joysticks, it is really a steal.  The only thing to be aware of is that it doesn’t work well with some ‘modern’ TV’s.  It worked great on my non HD TV, but some games did not display correctly on my Vizio HD TV.

At this point I have tested and written about all four Flashback units.  If you are looking for some Atari retro game fun, you can really not go wrong with either the FB 2, 3, or 4.  Due to it’s excellent emulation, 75 games, HD TV compatibility, and wireless controllers, I give a slight edge to the FB 4.  If you want to play games as Atari originally intended, then I highly recommend the FB 2!

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Atari Flashback 1, a review…

It may seem kind of silly to review a system from 2004 that is no longer being produced, but I think it is worthwhile as a base of comparison to the newer units.

I was able to purchase my Flashback 1 for less than $10 and it came complete with the base unit, power supply, two controllers, box, and a manual.  Having only seen pictures of these until this unit arrived, I was surprised at how small it is.  The Flashback 1 looks like a miniature Atari 7800 and is about half the size of the subsequent Flashback units.

The Flashback concept was developed by Curt Vendel of Syzygy (formally Legacy Engineering).  Atari agreed to produce the unit, but wanted to have it ready for the 2004 holiday season.  This only gave Curt about ten weeks to design the unit and he went with a design that is based on a ‘NES on a chip’.  Since the system is based on a NES chip, all games had to be ‘ported’ and a mixture of 2600 and 7800 games are included:

2600:  Adventure, Air-Sea Battle, Battlezone, Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Haunted House, Millipede, Saboteur, Skydiver, Solaris, Sprintmaster, Warlords, and Yars’ Revenge

7800:  Asteroids, Centipede, Desert Falcon, Food Fight, and Planet Smashers

At first I thought it would be cool to see how the five 7800 games translated, but I was soon disappointed.  Centipede isn’t too bad but Asteroids didn’t make the transition well at all.  Also, I find the 7800 game selection puzzling…Asteroids, Centipede, and Food Fight are popular titles, but Desert Falcon and Planet Smashers are less well known.  In fact, Planet Smashers is one of the rarer 7800 titles and, also, one of the poorest rated.  Given the quality of the 7800 ports, I am not sure that it would have mattered, but Dig Dug, Ms. Pac-man, or Pole Position II would have been better choices.

I am happy to say that the 2600 ports are much better.  Of course, more effort has been put in over the years to port and emulate the 2600, so I guess that this should have been expected.  The exception is Battlezone…this port is horrible and hardly worth playing.  Millipede, on the other hand, is a blast to play on the Flashback.  Also, the Flashback 1 introduced the concept of releasing prototype games and included the previously unreleased Saboteur.

Breakout and Warlords had to be modified to use the Flashback joysticks and I wasn’t expecting much.  These were a pleasant surprise and are very playable.

It should be noted that the Flashback 1 joysticks are not usable with standard Atari (or other Flashback units) as they are wired differently.

Given that we know that the Flashback 1 was a ‘rushed’ effort, I guess it would be a cliche to say that it seems half polished.  Unless you are an Atari collector and need to have one of these, I would recommend skipping the Flashback 1 in favor of a Flashback 2, 2+, or the newer Flashback 4.

The Flashback 1 is an important piece of Atari history in that it marked the return of Atari to the console market.  It also sold well enough to convince Atari to proceed with the Flashback 2.  As I will discuss in a future post, the Flashback 2 is the system that Curt really wanted to build in the first place.

Speaking of Curt, he is going to have a significant surgery this week and I want to wish him the best of luck and a speedy recovery!

Atari Flashback 1

Atari Flashback 1

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Atari Flashback the series…

To date, there have been five Atari Flashback models.   In this post, I will give the general background on these units and go into more detail in future posts.

Flashback 1:

The Flashback concept originated with Curt Vendel of Syzygy (formally Legacy Engineering).  Curt pitched the idea of a Flashback unit to Atari who agreed to produce the unit, but wanted to have it ready for the 2004 holiday season.  This only gave Curt about ten weeks to design the unit and Curt went with a design that is based on a ‘NES on a chip’.  Outwardly, the system looks like a small Atari 7800 and includes twenty games.  Since the system is based on a NES chip, all games run in emulation and a mixture of 2600 and 7800 games are included:

2600:  Adventure, Air-Sea Battle, Battlezone, Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Haunted House, Millipede, Saboteur, Skydiver, Solaris, Sprintmaster, Warlords, and Yars’ Revenge

7800:  Asteroids, Centipede, Desert Falcon, Food Fight, and Planet Smashers

The Atari Flashback 1 met with mixed reviews, primarily due to the emulation.  Also, Breakout and Warlords had to be modified to use the Flashback joysticks.  The system was however, successful enough to convince Atari to proceed to with the Flashback 2.

Flashback 2:

In 2005, Atari again turned to Curt to develop the Flashback 2.  This time around, the system would include 2600 games only.  With more time for development, Curt designed a custom chip to produce an ‘Atari 2600 on a chip’.  Curt also included provisions on the motherboard for adding a cartridge slot.  A modified Flashback 2 can play most games designed for the 2600.  Taking a page from the Atari playbook, the name for the Flashback 2 project was ‘Michelle’ for Curt’s wife.  Her name is printed on the Flashback 2 motherboards.

The Flashback 2 looks like a small Atari 2600 and has two joysticks that are compatible with the original 2600 and, also, supports the use of original Atari paddle controllers.

Forty two games are included on the Flashback 2:

Arcade Favorites:  Arcade Asteroids, Arcade Pong, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Missile Command, and Space Dual.

Adventure Territory:  Adventure, Adventure II, Haunted House, Return to Haunted House, Secret Quest Wizard

Space Station:  Caverns of Mars, Quadrun, Saboteur, Space War, Yars’ Return, Yars’ Revenge

Skill and Action:  3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Aquaventure, Atari Climber, Combat, Combat 2, Dodge ‘Em, Fatal Run, Frog Pond, Hangman, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Pitfall!, Radar Lock, River Raid, Save Mary, Video Checkers, and Video Chess

Paddle Games:  Super Breakout and Warlords (hidden from main menu)

The Flashback 2 broke new ground as it included homebrews, hacks, unreleased prototypes, and two Activision games.  With a great game selection, new 2600 hardware, and the ability to add a cartridge slot, the Flashback 2 was popular with both the general public and the Atari community and sold almost one million units.

Flashback 2+:

Released by Atari in 2010, the Flashback 2+ is, essentially, the same as the Flashback 2. Atari Climber, Caverns of Mars, Pitfall!, River Raid, and Wizard were removed from the game selection and a sports section was added that included:  Realsports Boxing, Realsports Soccer, Super Baseball, Super Football,  and Double Dunk.  Also, Circus Atari was added to the ‘hidden’ section for a total of forty three games.

Flashback 3:

For 2011, Atari licensed out the Flashback concept to AtGames.  AtGames developed the Flashback 3 around an ARM processor and included sixty games.  They originally did not include Curt in the design, but ended up bringing him in as a consultant when they ran into some technical issues.  The Flashback 3 included two joysticks that are compatible with original Atari systems.

Games included on the Flashback 3:  3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Adventure, Adventure II, Air-Sea Battle, Aquaventure, Asteroids, Backgammon, Basketball, Battlezone, Bowling, Canyon Bomber, Centipede, Championship, Soccer, Circus Atari, Combat, Combat 2, Demons to Diamonds, Desert Falcon, Dodge ‘Em, Double Dunk, Fatal Run, Flag Capture, Frog Pond, Fun with Numbers, Golf, Gravitar, Hangman, Home Run, Haunted House, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Minature Golf, Missile Command, Night Driver, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Realsports Baseball, Realsports Basketball, Realsports Soccer, Realsports Volleyball, Saboteur, Save Mary, Secret Quest, Sky Diver, Space War, Sprintmaster, Star Ship, Steeplechase, Submarine Commander, Super Baseball, Super Breakout, Super Football, Surround, Swordquest: Earthworld, Swordquest: Fireworld, Video Checkers, Video Chess, Video Pinball, Wizard, and Yars’ Revenge.

Flashback 4:

AtGames released the Flashback 4 in late 2012 with several improvements over the previous model.  It features new wireless controllers, support for paddles, and improved emulation.  It also includes seventy five games.  Secret Quest was removed from the game selection and sixteen games that were added.  The added games over the Flashback 3 are:  Black Jack, Breakout, Crystal Castles, Football, Front Line, Jungle Hunt, Polaris, Pong (Video Olympics), Return to Haunted House, Slot Machine, Slot Racers, Stellar Track, Street Racer, Space Invaders (special FB 4 edition, not 2600 version), Tempest, and Warlords.  Read more about the Flashback 4 in my previous posts.

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Atari 2600 Pac-Man games…

There were three officially released Pac-Man games for the Atari 2600.  In this post, I will discuss these as well as some homebrews and hacks.  Be sure to read my previous post about the arcade versions of these games.


Released by Atari in early 1992, Pac-Man ended up being the best selling game ever for the 2600.  It went on to sell more than seven million copies at $37.95.  That was a heck of a lot of money back in 1982 and would be more than $80 today.  The 2600 version was programmed by Tod Frye who was one of the first Atari programmers to receive royalties.  It has been reported that Tod was paid more than $1 million for his efforts.   Atari spent more than $1.5 million on advertising and marketing for Pac-Man.

Unfortunately, the game was horrible and it looked nothing like the arcade version.  The maze was nothing like the arcade maze and since when did Pac-Man grow an eye?  Pac-Man’s orientation doesn’t change when he changes direction and there is a tremendous amount of flicker with the ghosts.  Supposedly, there were better prototypes that had been developed, but Atari wanted to squeeze the game onto a 4K cartridge to save money.

Pac-man did sell seven million copies, but Atari had produced twelve million and, after playing the game, many customers returned it for a refund.  Thus, Atari ended up with more than five million unsold copies.   Unless you need to have this game for some collecting reasons, don’t even waste one dollar of your money on Pac-Man!

Ms. Pac-Man…

Released by Atari less than a year after Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man turned out to be an excellent port to the 2600.  Maybe the reason why is that it was actually programmed not by Atari, but by Mike Horowitz and Josh Littlefield of General Computer Corp (GCC).   Mike and Josh managed to get pretty close to that arcade experience, given the limitations of the 2600.  In fact, they pretty much have it all…four ghosts, bouncing fruit, animated title screen, four different mazes, and Ms. Pac-Man looks like Ms. Pac-Man.  There is still some flicker, but much improved over Pac-Man.   Ms. Pac-Man uses an 8K cartridge, versus 4K, and it is worth every K!

Ms. Pac-Man belongs in every 2600 collection and is the basis for several hacks.

Jr. Pac-Man…

Developed in 1984, but not released until 1987, Jr. Pac-Man was also programmed for Atari by GCC.  This time, Ava-Robin Cohen did the programming and she did an awesome job.  Once again, almost all of the arcade features are present in the 2600 version and it is a blast to play.  The biggest difference between the arcade and the 2600 version is the scrolling.  The 2600 version scrolls vertically, instead of horizontally.   Other than that, it is all there…Junior, the ghosts, candies, scrolling screen, etc.!

Pac-Man Arcade…

Using the Ms. Pac-Man code as a starting point, Rob Kudla created the Pac-Man that Atari should have done in 1982.  Rob extensively hacked Ms. Pac-Man to create a great version of Pac-Man for the 2600.  The mazes, sounds, graphics, and gameplay are all much closer to the arcade than Atari’s original version.  Photos of the game and several review comments are posted, so be sure to check out AtariAge to learn more about Pac-Man Arcade.

Pac-Man Plus…

Using Rob Kudla’s Pac-Man Arcade as a starting point, Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo did some additional hacks to create a ‘plus’ version of Pac-Man.  Bob changed the mazes to be green, changed the ghosts to have leafs on their heads, and changed the fruits to match the bonus items in the arcade version.  I don’t think that this variation has been made available on a cart, so you will need a multi-cart or emulator to play to version of Pac-Man Plus.

Pac-Man 4K…

Dennis Debro set out to make a 2600 Pac-Mac version, as close to the arcade as possible, using only a 4K cartridge.   Recently his Pac-Man 4K has become available from the AtariAge store.  For a 4K effort, Dennis has done an amazing job.  The maze, graphics, and gameplay are just about as close as you can get to the arcade, especially given the 4K size of the game.  My only feedback is about the amount of flicker for Pac-Man and the ghosts.  Photos and a video of Pac-Man 4K are posted at AtariAge, so go check them out.  Flicker aside, Dennis has shown what Atari could have done with a 4K limit for Pac-Man!

Hack’em/Hangly Man…

At one point, the folks at Ebivision had developed a Pac-Man game for the 2600.  Due to licensing issues, they instead turned it into Pesco.   Nukey Shay took their original Pac-man code and has made many changes and updates to create one darn good Pac-Man for the 2600.  He has even included the Plus mode and is working on a Ms. Pac-Man game as well.  To read more about his efforts, see his thread at AtariAge.

There have been plenty more hacks of Pac-Man games for the 2600, but I have tried to cover the most significant ones.  This actually took a lot more time and research than I thought it would!  Next up…Pac-Man games for the Atari 7800…for now, I need to go play some Pac-Man!!!

PacMan for the 2600

Pac-Man for the 2600

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Galaxian and Galaga…


Galaxian is an arcade game developed by Namco in 1979 and released in the United States by Midway.   Galaxian was intended to capitalize on the popularity of Taito’s Space Invaders and was also a fixed, space shooter game.  It differed from Space Invaders in that it was a RGB color game and the aliens would break away from formation and ‘dive bomb’ your ship.  The RGB color screen with multi-color sprites and scrolling star background was considered ‘ground breaking’ for 1979.  The Galaxian arcade units were powered by a Z80 CPU and the game was ported to nearly every home console of the era, including the Atari 2600 and 5200, and the Colecovision.

Galaxian at Funspot

Galaxian at Funspot


Namco followed up Galaxian with 1981’s Galaga.  Galaga was similar to Galaxian, but added some new features such as additional alien flying patterns and ‘challenging stages’, which occur periodically during the game.  They also added the ‘tractor beam’ where your ship can be captured.  This adds a cool twist to the game as, if you have additional lives, you can kill the alien to get your ship back and it will attach to your current ship to give you double the fire power.  With more complicated alien movements, Galaga arcade units used three Z80 CPU’s and two sound generators.  Galaga was a smash hit for Namco and ported to a number of home consoles including the NES and the Atari 7800.

In 1983, Atari released Galaxian for the 2600.  The 2600 version was a pretty good port, given the hardware limitations of the VCS.  The one thing that bugs me about the 2600 port, is the crazy yellow borders; I am not sure what Atari was thinking with these.  Fortunately, more than one gamer has ‘hacked’ Galaxian to improve the appearance of the game.  Jess Ragan’s Galaxian Arcade improves both movement and graphics to be much closer to the arcade version.  Nukey and KevinMos3 have teamed up to produce an even more arcade perfect version of Galaxian for the 2600.  You can check out both of these versions at AtariAge.

5200 owners were not left out as Atari developed a pretty good port of Galaxian as one of the release games for the 5200.  The 5200 version doesn’t have any of the cool start screens of the arcade, but the graphics and game play are well done.   Given that the 5200 has a Pokey chip for 4 channel sound, the sounds could have been programmed to be closer to the arcade, but it is still a fun game to play.  If you have a good joystick, you will not have any control issues with Galaxian, but this version also supports the 5200 Trak-ball.  I have played Galaxian with both the standard 5200 joystick and a Trak-ball and it is fun to play either way.

Galxian was not ported to the 7800, but Galaga was one of the first dozen release titles for the 7800. Like many of the early release games for the 7800, it was programmed by General Computer Corporation.  Galaga for the 7800 was positively received by many, but panned by others as not being arcade perfect.  Comparing the 7800 version to the arcade version reveals differences, but none that detract from the game play.  In fact, Galaga is one of my favorite games for the 7800 and is a pretty awesome port when you take into account that compromises had to be made as the arcade units had three CPU’s versus one for the 7800.  Galaga utilizes a single fire button, so you can play it with your CX40 or Flashback joysticks.

If you have a 2600, then you should pick a copy of Galaxian or Galaxian Arcade.   If you have a 7800, you should pick up both Galaxian and Galaga.  Also, no 5200 owner should be without a copy of Galaxian in their collection.  Since millions of copies of Galaxian and Galaga were produced, they are easy to find and are still readily available for purchase at relatively low prices!

Wild for Galaxian!

Wild for Galaxian!

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Atari Flashback 4…a second look!

I have had my Atari Flashback 4 for a few weeks now.  I posted a review on this unit a couple of weeks ago, but though it was time to post some additional insight…

Let me start with the wireless controllers.   As I stated in my first post, these are infrared and require a line of sight to the base unit.  I continue to read posts on forums that bemoan infrared controllers, but I wonder if they have actually tried a Flashback 4.  Yes, you need a line of sight, but I really like these controllers.  They have a good feel to them and work well with no lag.  The new wireless controllers are one of the selling points of the Flashback 4 versus previous units.

The second thing that hard core gamers complain about is that these systems use emulation.  In the case of the Flashback 4, the system actually runs on an ARM processor.  In the past these emulations were a little glitchy, but AtGames seems to have gotten it right with the Flashback 4.

With 75 games included on the Flashback 4, it is worth reviewing my top ten:

Asteroids-an absolute Atari classic!  Asteroids plays just as I remember it back in the days that I had a 2600.  The 2600 version was not arcade perfect, but was a blast to play and it still is on the Flashback 4.  If anything, Asteroids plays a little better as there is almost no flicker in this version.

Battlezone-the arcade version had vector graphics, but I always liked the colors in the 2600 version.  This game gets real hard after a few rounds and will keep you coming back for more.  Still a blast to play and well implemented on the Flashback 4.

Fatal Run-this game was developed late in the life cycle of the 2600 and was only released in Europe.   Needless to say, this is a game that I hadn’t played before.  I used to really like driving games like Pole Position and Enduro, so that is probably why I like Fatal Run and it is neat that it is included on the Flashback 4.   Follow this link to read more about Fatal Run and also, see AtariAge for a copy of the manual.

Gravitar-here is great game that I did not have for my 2600 back in the day.  Gravitar has good graphics and great game play.  This is not an easy game, so it should hold your attention for hours.  See if you can protect your galaxy from the evil Gravitar!

Jungle Hunt-a 2600 classic that is well executed!  It plays just as it should on the Flashback 4 with outstanding graphics and gameplay.  You will have hours of fun with Sir Dudley and his jungle adventures!

Missile Command-another all time Atari classic!  This is one of my favorite 2600 games and looks and plays great on the Flashback 4.  I would probably be rich had I not spent so much time playing Missile Command!

Space Invaders-as I mentioned in my previous blog, AtGames included a new version of Space Invaders that looks almost arcade perfect.  I wish that they had also included the original 2600 version, but this version is lots of fun to play and looks great.  It is a little too easy, so I always start my games on the 3rd or 4th level.

Super Breakout-I have always enjoyed paddle games.  I am not particularly good at them, but they provide a nice relief from the ‘standard fare’.  Super Breakout is a simple game, but is still a lot of fun to play.  You need to get a set of paddles to really enjoy this game, so it is nice that the Flashback 4 supports them!

Warlords-you need a set of paddles to play Warlords, but they are worth the investment.  The paddle input is converted from analog to digital, so they have a different feel than ‘normal’, but you will adjust quickly.  Warlords is just as much fun to play now as it was thirty years ago!

Yar’s Revenge-this was an original game developed for the 2600 and is a nice addition to the Flashback 4.  So many 2600 games were conversions of arcade classics that struggled with execution on the VCS’ limited hardware.  Yar’s Revenge provided a refreshing new game and is a still blast to play!

In addition to my top ten games, I would like to highlight a couple of others.  Both Saboteur and Save Mary were prototype games that were not released when the 2600 was in production.  I haven’t played either of these games enough for them to make my top ten list, but they are great additions to the Flashback 4 system.

Other great games on the Flashback 4 are Combat, Centipede, Off the Wall, Polaris, Pong, and Video Pinball.

Upon a second look, I still highly recommend the Flashback 4.  The emulation and the wireless controllers are a dramatic improvement over the previous edition.   If you are looking for some Atari fun at low price, you really can’t go wrong!

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Taking care of your game carts…

Cleaning your carts…

I had mentioned in a previous blog that I had purchased a number of my game carts second hand.  Early 2600 and 7800 game carts had a dusk cover mechanism which protected the carts from the elements pretty well.  Later 2600 and most 7800 game carts do not have this dust cover mechanism.  Thus, many second hand carts will be pretty dusty and dirty.  Not only will this have the potential for the cart to not make good electrical contact; this dust and dirt can get down into your game system.  The simplest and most effective way to clean your carts is with isopropyl alchohol and a good quality cotton swab.  It is important to have a good quality swap so that the cotton doesn’t come off and get stuck on the cartridge contacts.  Cotton swaps are cheap, so don’t be afraid to use more than one to make sure that you have removed as much dust and dirt from your carts as possible.  Also, be sure that the cart is dry before you insert it into your game system.  The alcohol will evaporate pretty quickly, so you don’t really need to dry the cart off.  Just wait a few minutes and you should be all set.  Once you clean your carts, you are going to want to keep them clean, so see below for a storage tip!

Going Wild for Cleaning!

Wild for Cart Cleaning!

Storing your carts…

Although game carts for retro game systems are relatively cheap, if you build up a large enough collection, the total value can start to add up to some significant $$$.  After you have more than a handful of carts, you are going to want to have some way to safely store them.  I looked on-line for cart storage systems and, since it has been many years since these systems have been manufactured, asking prices are pretty crazy.  I think that I have come up with a pretty clever and simple solution.  At a local discount store, I was able to find small plastic storage bins that were the perfect size to store 24-25 carts side by side.  These bins are pretty inexpensive; in fact,  I paid less than three dollars each for my bins.  I also picked up a couple of extras of these bins to store my game controllers.  They are also great for transporting your carts, if you want to head over to a friend’s house to play some video games.  If your carts are just laying around loose, show them that you care for them and get them a new home!

Wild for Cheap Cart Storage!

Wild for Cheap Cart Storage!

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My top Homebrews and Hacks for the Atari 2600…

I thought that this was going to be easier than it turned out to be, but there are so many great homebrews and hacks for the 2600.  I am sure that I have missed some great games, but here is my current list…

Berzerk VE–  An extensive hack of Berzerk to improve some of the graphics and add voice similar to the arcade.  It is a blast to start this game and hear “intruder alert!”.  Mike Mika did a masterful job in taking a great game and making it even better!

Chetiry– An original game just released for the 2600.  Finally, there is a Tetris like game for Atari!  This game takes advantage of a special edition of the Melody board.   Chris Walton, Zach Matley, Nathan Scrum, and Fred Quimby teamed up for a really cool game with outstanding graphics, music, and, believe it or not, high score keeping.  Don’t miss this one!

Defender Arcade– An extensive hack of Stargate to create the version of defender that Atari should have done from the outset.  This game is so good that you will forget that you are playing it on a 2600.   Another must have from Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo.  Grab a friend to manage the special features controlled by the second joystick!

Juno First– An awesome game by Chris Walton.  Juno First pushes the limits of the 2600 and has awesome graphics and outstanding gameplay.  Not an easy game, but a blast to play.  If you like space shooters, this is another must have for your 2600 collection!

Galaxian Arcade–  An extensive hack of Galaxian to improve the graphics and eliminate the crazy yellow borders.  Jess Ragan did a nice job of making a good game into a great game.  I really enjoy playing Galaxian Arcade for the 2600!

Medieval  Mayhem–  If you like Warlords, you are going to love Medieval Mayhem.  This game by Darrell Spice Jr. features a great graphics, great sound, and menu selection for game options.  All you need to do is watch the start of this game and you will know that it is something special!

Pac-man Arcade– Rob Kudla did an extensive hack of Ms. Pac-man to create a much improved version of Pac-man for the 2600.  Rob’s version is what Atari should have been able to release for the 2600 and should not be missed.  If you are a Pac-man fan, you might also want to try the new Pac-man 4K.  I haven’t played 4K yet, but it looks to be even better than Arcade.

Space Invaders Arcade– Rob Kudla is back at it with a hack of Space Invaders to make the already good 2600 version even better.  Rob improved the sound, colors, and graphics to make this version closer to the real deal.  If you like Space Invaders, give Rob’s version a try…you will not be disappointed!

Seawolf– Similar to the arcade game with the same name, Seawolf is a blast to play.  The game play is simple, but it is so much fun.  Manuel Rotschkar did an awesome job with the graphics and game play.  This game belongs in every 2600 collection!

Thrust+ PE– Considered by many to be the best homebrew for the 2600, this is the latest version of Thomas Jentzsch’s masterpiece of programming.  Thrust has been updated to be able to use a variety of controllers.  Thrust features great game play and graphics.  It is not an easy game, but it will keep you coming back for more!

And here is a bonus game that will be released soon…

Space Rocks–  An awesome new game from Darrell Spice Jr.  The best way to describe this game is Asteroids Deluxe for the 2600.  Space Rocks takes full advantage of the ARM CPU and memory on the Melody board to create one of the most advanced games ever for the 2600.  Be sure to keep an eye out at AtariAge for the release of this awesome new game!

Of all of these great games, I really have to call out Chetiry and Space Rocks as they push the 2600 in ways that could not have been imagined until now.  They both take advantage of the capabilities of the Melody board, in different ways, to produce games that would have been impossible just a couple of years ago.

Check out all of these great homebrews and hacks at AtariAge as well as many others!

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My top Atari 2600 games…part two

Here is the second half of my list of favorite Atari 2600 games.  How about you…any games that you really like that are not on this list?  Send me your comments!

Kaboom by Activison- A great game for paddle controllers and one of my favorite game for the 2600. Kaboom has a pretty simple premise…catch the bombs before they hit the ground. In each round, the Mad Bomber gets faster and faster.  Despite being such a simple game, there is some strategy involved and it is a great party game!

Midnight Magic by Atari-If you like pinball games, then Midnight Magic is a must have for your collection.  The graphics are great and it plays like a real pinball machine. Midnight Magic is much improved over Video Pinball and is lots of fun to play.

Missile Command by Atari- Missile Command for the 2600 only has a single missile battery and simplified graphics, but is still a blast to play.  Missile Command is another game that I have played for hours and hours and belongs in every Atari Collection.

Ms. Pac-man by Atari- Pac-man was Atari’s best selling game for the 2600, but a real disappointment  to gamers. Ms. Pac-man was a dramatic improvement over Pac-man; it  featured better graphics and better gameplay.  Skip Pac-man and pick up a copy of Ms Pac-man instead!

Pitfall/Pitfall II  by Activison-  Ok, I cheated here and included both Pitfall and Pitfall II as one.  Pitfall was Activision’s best selling game for the 2600 and sold over four million copies.  Developed by David Crane, Pitfall was an incredible programming feat. David managed to program an awesome game with non-flickering, multi-color sprites, and 256 screens in only 4K!  Pitfall is a must have!!!

River Raid by Activison- Programmed by Carol Shaw, River Raid was one of the first vertical scrolling games for the 2600. In River Raid, you must fly your jet and attack a variety of targets.  Periodically, you must refuel  and you must also maneuver to avoid the river band. River Raid is one of the all time classics for the 2600.

Space Invaders by Atari- Space Invaders for the 2600 was a smash hit and the first video game to sell over a million copies. It is credited with dramatically increasing sales of 2600 consoles and, while simplified, is every bit as fun as the arcade version. See more about Space Invaders in October 20th post.

Super Breakout by Atari- Super Breakout improved on Breakout, but retained the simple, but fun, game play. I always liked paddle games, probably as they provided some much needed variety. After all these years,  Super Breakout  is still worthy of a home in any 2600 collection.

Warlords by Atari- Warlords is another paddle game in my top 20 and, probably, the best of the bunch.  If you had a second set of paddles, four people could play at the same time. This made Warlords the ultimate party game and I remember playing it whenever a group of friends would come over.

Yars’ Revenge by Atari- Yar’s Revenge was one of Atari’s best selling titles for the 2600.  Yar’s Revenge was programmed by Howard Scott Warshaw and was named for Atari CEO Ray Kassar.  In an era of arcade conversions, Yar’s Revenge is a refreshing, original game that is blast to play. Make sure that you add a copy of this game to your 2600 collection!