Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!

Leave a comment

My top Atari 2600 games…part one

I started out planning to talk about my top ten favorite Atari 2600 games, but soon realized that ten was too few. Instead I have selected twenty great games and here are the first ten…

Asteroids by Atari- One Atari’s arcade classics. The 2600 version has solid, colored, asteroids instead of vector graphics, but it plays just like its big brother. See my previous blog for more info on this great game.

Battlezone by Atari- The arcade version had vector graphics, but I really like the graphics in the 2600 version. Battlezone is fun to play, but gets pretty hard pretty quickly. Follow the advice in the game manual and keep your tank moving!

Berzerk by Atari- The original shoot ‘em up game long before Halo or any of the others! Your mission in Berzerk is to shoot as many Robots as you can and avoid Evil Otto. The action is fast and intense and I can remember playing Berzerk over and over again!

Chopper Command by Activision- Activision’s answer to Defender. Chopper Command is a classic side scroller where you must protect your helicopter and truck convoys from attacking helicopters and fighter jets. Chopper command has outstanding graphics and is a blast to play.  You get an unlimited supply of ammunition, so blast away!

Demon Attack by Imagic- The only Imagic game in my top twenty. Demon Attack is a relatively simple game, but a blast to play. The graphics are good and there are some really cool effects when the ‘birds’ split apart in higher rounds. A two player version is included which makes it even more fun.

Defender II (Stargate) by Atari-It was nice to see Atari make a new effort after their first, poorly received version. Originally released as Stargate, the name was changed to Defender II.  This one is much closer to the arcade version and is a blast to play. A second joystick (and maybe a second person) is needed to take advantage of all of the games features.

Frogger by Parker Brothers-A classic 2600 game and the only Parker Brothers game to make my list. The concept with Frogger is pretty simple, but it is  harder than it looks. If you had a 2600 back in the 70’s or 80’s you probably had Frogger!

Galaxian by Atari-I am not sure what’s up with the yellow borders, but, other than that, this is an awesome game. Given the limitations of the 2600, this game is really pretty amazing!  The alien movements are well done and you will definitely enjoy playing Galaxian!

H.E.R.O by Activision-One of Activision’s later releases for the 2600 and often overlooked by Atari fans.   Programmed by John Van Ryzin, some consider it one of the best games ever developed for the 2600. You must guide R. Hero through mineshafts to reach and rescue trapped miners.  It’s not easy as you have to fight off snakes, bats, spiders, moths and blast your way through walls. Good luck!

Ice Hockey by Activision-The best sports game for the 2600 period! I can remember playing Ice Hockey for hours and hours. Alan Miller did a great job of capturing the essence of hockey, given the limitations of the 2600. Ice Hockey is awesome to play against the computer and even more fun when playing with one of your friends!

The second ten great 2600 games will be in my next post!



PacManPlus…a special thanks!

Being Thanksgiving, this seems like the appropriate day to say a special thanks to someone who has done so much for the Atari community…Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo.   Since 2001, Bob has developed more than a dozen games for 2600 and 7800 systems.  Starting with an extensive hack of Stargate to create Defender Arcade for the 2600, to helping rescue some almost finished prototypes, to ground up development of new 7800 games like Scramble and Moon Cresta, Bob has literally been a one man game factory!

Although I have never met Bob in person, over the past few months, we have become friends.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, game developers need to recycle carts to produce new ones.  I decided that one thing I could do was to help find carts for developers like Bob.  I sent Bob a couple of boxes of old carts and, one day, I received a package from Bob with two of his new games.  Here I was trying to do something nice for him and ended up on the receiving end of Bob’s niceness!

If you are an Atari fan, then you already know what a great guy Bob is.  He has spent so many hours developing games and giving to the Atari community.  He has always posted his game files so that anyone could download and play them.  He has made numerous carts for forum members and, also, allowed AtariAge to sell them at a very reasonable price.  In an earlier time, Bob would have been a highly compensated, ‘Rock Star’, game programmer.  In the past decade, he has had to settle for the satisfaction of knowing that his games have brought so many hours of enjoyment to a small group of Atari retro-gamers.

Recently, for personal reasons, Bob has had to stop the development of any new games.  At this point in time, Bob does not think that he will be able to return to Atari game development.  In true ‘Bob’ fashion, he has ‘retired’ from game development with little fanfare.   He recently posted the source code for all of his games so that others can use it for further game development.  Although Bob is ‘retiring’ from game development, his games will continue to be played and enjoyed for many years to come.

Bob is one of those special people who gives freely and asks for little in return.   We are going to miss him and his immense talents!

PacMacPlus-best wishes and a special Thank You for all that you have done for the Atari retro-game community!!!

Games by PacManPlus

1 Comment


Asteroids is a classic arcade game released by Atari in 1979.  To this date, it remains Atari’s top selling arcade game with over 70,000 arcade cabinets sold.  In fact, some operators had to install larger coin boxes to ‘catch’ all of the quarters that gamers were putting in these cabinets.

Asteroids is a mono color vector graphics game.  Your ship is in an asteroid belt and you must destroy the asteroids before they destroy you.  If that isn’t enough, your ship is also being attacked by UFO’s.  You can control your ship to spin left or right, thrust forward, or enter hyperspace and reappear in another location.   In 1981, Atari released Asteroids Deluxe which added a killer satellite and replaced the hyperspace feature with shields.  The killer satellite breaks apart when hit and the parts ‘home in’ on your ship.

If you want to play Asteroids on your 2600 or 7800 you are in luck!  In 1981, Atari released Asteroids for the 2600.  The vector graphics were replaced by multi-colored asteroids, but it played great.  There were 66 variations, including options for speed, bonus lives, hyperspace, shields,  flip, and 2 players.  Of special note, Asteroids for the 2600 was the first bank switch cart release by Atari.   A 7800 version was prepared for the system launch in 1984 and is often referred to as 3D Asteroids.  The Asteroids are multi-colored and appear to have a 3D effect.  Again, the game plays great and offers options for difficulty and 2 players.  In Europe, Asteroids was built into the ROM on the system board and would boot if no cart was inserted into the system.

5200 owners were not so lucky.  Asteroids was developed for the 5200 and planned as the launch game for the system.  In fact, it was planned to be a 4 player version, taking advantage of the 4 joystick ports on the original 5200’s.  Sadly Asteroids for the 5200 was not released by Atari and there is a simple explanation as to why…the 5200’s non self centering analog joystick.  Control is almost impossible and you will find your space ship either spinning out of control or rocketing across the universe until it  crashes into an asteroid.  Supposedly, Atari was looking at developing a special controller for Asteroids, but it, like the game, never made it into production.  In addition to the control problems, the game does not take advantage of the capabilities of the 5200.  Graphically, it is not any better than the 2600 version.  If you have a 5200 multi-cart or emulator, you can give the 5200 version of Asteroids a try.  Also, a few carts of Asteroids for the 5200 have been made and you might be able to get your hands on one of these.  Otherwise, don’t sweat it and just play one of the great 2600 or 7800 versions.

For 7800 fans, there is also the possibility to play Asteroids Deluxe.  In 2007, Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo heavily modified the original 7800 Asteroids code to produce Asteroids Deluxe for the 7800.  Bob’s version simulates the mono-color vector graphics of the arcade version and takes advantage of the second 7800 controller fire button to activate the shields, but also works well with a standard, single button Atari joystick.  Bob’s version also features the ‘killer satellites’ that break apart and ‘home in’ on your ship…just like the arcade!  An added bonus is also included…hold down the pause button while powering up your 7800 (with the Asteroids Deluxe cart inserted) and the system will boot to a simulated vector edition of standard Asteroids!  Bob’s Asteroids Deluxe is about as close to the arcade experience as you are going to get on a home system!!!  Click to learn more about Asteroids Deluxe for the 7800.

7800 Asteroids Deluxe

7800 Asteroids Deluxe

Until recently, 2600 fans had to be happy with the original 1981 version.  There was one hack that made the asteroids look more like the vector graphics of the arcade, but no additional features were added.  Enter Darrell Spice and his new game ‘Space Rocks’.  Space Rocks will take advantage of the capabilities of the Melody board developed as part of the Harmony Cart project.  The game will be a 32K game and take advantage of the ARM processor on the Melody board.  Space Rocks is best described as Asteroids Deluxe for the 2600.  It features great sound effects, courtesy of PacManPlus, and options for  ‘vector’ or solid asteroids, shields, hyperspace, difficulties, and Magna Mines (Killer Satellites).  The options are selectable on a main menu page which is a big improvement over having to remember which version is which.  Space Rocks is ‘coming soon’ to the AtariAge store, but I have had the opportunity to play the latest release candidate and this game rocks!  Of particular note is how your ship ‘warps in’ and the thrust can be seen when you maneuver.   It is hard to believe that it is a 2600 game and, if you are a 2600 fan, you need to be one of the first to order this game when it becomes available!!!  Click to learn more about Space Rocks.

Wild for Asteroids!

Leave a comment


When I started this adventure a few months ago, I had never heard of a multi-cart.  A multi-cart is circuit board, usually mounted inside a standard cartridge shell, that allows you to load multiple games on either flash memory or some type of memory card.  As it turns out, some very creative and talented individuals have developed multi-carts for almost all retro game systems.  For example, multi-carts have been made for the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, Colecovison, Vetrex, Intellivison, and others.

Multi-carts have become a critical part of the retro gaming community as they allow developers to quickly load and test their games on real hardware.  They also make it possible for others to test game release candidates and report bugs back to the developers.  They are also great for the gamer as a whole library full of games can be put on a single cart, saving wear and tear on cartridge ports.

The Atari 7800 multi-cart was made by Chad Schell and was called the Cuttle Cart 2.  It is estimated that Chad built and sold about 200 of these and they are highly sought after.  The Cuttle Cart used a MMC to load and store the games.  The Cuttle Cart 2 is no longer in production, but you can learn more about it at Chad’s website.

Atari 5200 and Colecovision fans are in better luck as Steve Tucker makes and sells multi-carts for these systems.  Recently, I purchased Steve’s ‘Atarimax Ultimate SD Multi-Cart’ for my 5200 SuperSystem.  This Multi-Cart is an amazing product that allows you to put all of your 5200 games on a single cart.  Steve has also ported over more than thirty 8-bit games including classics like Atlantis, Demon Attack, and Donkey Kong.  Additionally there are a number of hacks, homebrews, and prototypes available for the 5200.  To see all of Steve’s cool products, check out his Atarimax website.

2600 fans are also in luck as a great multi-cart is readily available.  Developed by a team of great guys from the AtariAge forum, the Harmony cart is available for both SD and micro-SD memory cards.  The Harmony cart also works with the 7800 and allows you to play almost all of your 2600 games on either your 2600 or 7800.  Since purchasing my Harmony cart, I have been able to test and provide feedback on the development of a couple of new 2600 games as well as play a number of homebrews and hacks.

The same team that developed the Harmony cart are also working on the H2.  The H2 cart will be compatible with 7800 games.  This will allow those of us who do not have Cuttle Carts to help with development of new games for the 7800.  The development of the H2 has been slow, but it should, hopefully, become available in 2013.

Hooray for Harmony!

Leave a comment

Paddle Games…

I have always enjoyed paddle games for Atari.  Maybe because they were simple to play, or maybe because they provided some variety and that there weren’t that many of them.  Of course, it was a paddle game that started the home video game market…Pong!  Pong was developed by Atari engineer Allan Alcorn in 1972 and a home version was released by Atari/Sears in 1975.  For the 2600 (VCS), one of the earliest game cartridges was Video Olympics (1977) with fifty different variations of Pong.

Other great paddle games for the 2600 include: Breakout, Super Breakout, Circus Atari, and Warlords.  Warlords is a simple, but fantastic game and is an awesome party game as up to four people could play at the same time.  Darrell Spice Jr.  has updated the Warlords concept with his homebrew game ‘Medieval Mayhem‘.  This game has improved graphics and sound, but has the same great Warlords game play!

Another outstanding paddle game, developed by Activision, is Kaboom!  If you take a look at my ‘About’ page, you will see me with some friends playing Kaboom! circa 1982.  I can remember playing this game over and over!

If have a 7800 and like paddle games, your only option was to play the 2600 classics.  Recently, however, a new paddle game ‘Crazy Brix‘ has been developed by Bob DeCrescenzo.  Crazy Brix brings the Breakout concept to the 7800 with some cool twists.  A couple of new things are having two balls to ‘juggle’ and having the ‘Brix’ patterns change.  In fact, if you get through the first few levels, you will really enjoy some of the patterns at the advanced levels!

One of the problems with paddle games is not the games, but the paddles themselves.  The original Atari CX30 paddle controllers have a tendency to become ‘jittery’ after a short time.  Best Electronics has been able to source replacement potentiometers for the CX30’s and I recently purchased a pair of upgraded paddles from them.  I have to say that these upgraded CX30’s are awesome…very smooth and jitter free!

Another potential option are the new paddle controllers from AtGames.  I am not sure what the quality of these will be, but they should be widely available soon.

In summary, if you want a change of pace from joystick games, pick up some paddle games from your local retro game shop or the new ones that I mention in this blog!

Crazy for Crazy Brix!

Leave a comment

Having a Flashback?

An Atari Flashback that is…

Atari (and AtGames) have released several ‘Flashback’ systems starting with the original in 2004.  The original Flashback looked like a micro 7800 and included a combination of twenty built in 7800 and 2600 games.  It was designed and brought to market on a short timetable and was built around an ‘NES on a chip’. Thus, all of the games ran in emulation mode.  Some hard core Atari fans did not like the Flashback, but it sold nearly a million units and convinced Atari to release the Flashback 2 in 2005.

The Flashback 2 (and 2+), like the original Flashback, was designed by Curt Vendel of Legacy Engineering.  This time around, the Flashback looked like a micro 2600 included 40 built in games.  Curt actually designed a ‘2600 on a chip’ so that the Flashback 2 was capable of running almost all 2600 games.  One of the cool things about the Flashback 2 is that Curt included solder points on the motherboard to add a cartridge slot.  Many Atari fans have done this mod to their Flashback 2 so that they can play most of their cartridge based games, as well as the 40 built in games.

In 2011 Atari allowed AtGames to build and market the Flashback 3.  The Flashback 3 includes 60 built in games and is built around an ARM processor, so all games run in emulation.  Like the Flashback 2, it uses Joysticks designed to look like the original Atari CX40.  You can also use your original Atari joysticks and paddles with this unit.

For 2012, AtGames is back with the Atari Flashback 4, due to be released in a few days.  This time around it will include 75 built in games including a new version of Space Invaders.  Some of the other classic games included in the Flashback 4 are:  Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Jungle Hunt, Missile Command, and Super Breakout.  AtGames will also be selling a ‘Deluxe Edition’ that includes a set of paddles.  You will still be able to use your existing joysticks with the Flashback 4, but, for the first time, they are including wireless joysticks!

Ok, if you have a 2600 or 7800 why would you buy an Atari Flashback?  There are actually a few good reasons.  The first is that these typically sell for $40 or less and are a lot of fun.  Second, they have an AV output and work much better with today’s TV’s.  Third, the joysticks are pretty good.  They have a ‘looser’ feel than the original CX40’s, but work great.  I was able to pick up a new Flashback 3 at a local store for under $30.  At that price, it was worth it just to get the two joysticks!

If you are looking for some fun at a reasonable price, consider getting an Atari Flashback.  For more information on the Flashback 4, check out the description at AtGames!

Leave a comment

Space Invaders…

The Space Invaders arcade game was developed by Tomohiro Nishikado and released by Taito in 1978. It was a smash hit and Taito sold more than 300,000 Space Invaders arcade games in the first two years. It was so popular in Japan, that it actually created a shortage of 100 yen coins. By today’s standards, it is a pretty simple game; 55 aliens move back and forth and come ever closer to your laser cannon. The aliens also attack with laser bombs and move faster as you destroy them. The original games were a single white color and colored cellophane was used on the display to make it appear that the game was multicolored.

Back at Atari, Rick Maurer was developing a VCS (2600) version of Space Invaders. He got a prototype version of it working, but no one seemed interested. He, thus, moved on to the development of another game. In 1980, Atari was able to license Space Invaders and they had Rick complete his work on the 2600 version. It was a smash hit; the first Atari game to sell over a million copies and is credited with quadrupling sales of the 2600! The 2600 version of Space Invaders was pretty darn good; there were only 36 aliens, but it had variations that the arcade game did not. Rick added 112 variations such as 2 player modes, moving shields, zigzagging bombs, and invisible invaders. If you had a 2600, I am sure that you also had a copy of Space Invaders!

In 1982, Atari released the 5200 ‘SuperSystem’ and Space Invaders was one of the launch titles for this system.  The 5200 version of Space Invaders has a total of 48 aliens that enter from the left and march across the screen, before starting their back and forth movement.  The aliens are multi-colored and mutate their shapes in advanced rounds of the game.  Atari included a total of 12 variations as well as 1 or 2 player options.  The variations include 3 or 5 lives, slow or fast bombs, alternating slow and fast bombs, and bombs that home in on your laser cannon.  The control in this game is pretty good with a standard 5200 joystick, but the 5200 track ball gives finer control of your movements.  Atari included a nice touch by having the sound of the aliens increase as they get closer to the bottom of the screen.  The 5200 version of Space Invaders is not really a port of the arcade version, but, rather, a new concept for the game.  The concept isn’t bad, but it could have been better executed.  The graphics are not really much better than on the 2600 version and this game does not really show what the 5200 is capable of.  Space Invaders for the 5200 is still fun to play, but it could have been a whole lot better.

In 1984, Atari released the 7800 ‘ProSystem’  and officially cancelled the 5200.  Atari developed 7800 specific ports of many arcade classics, but not Space Invaders. Fortunately, Bob DeCrescenzo has done an excellent port of Space Invaders for the 7800. Bob’s game is true to the arcade with all 55 aliens and adds similar options to Rick’s 2600 version such as such as 2 player modes, moving shields, zigzagging bombs, and invisible invaders. Bob also added color options to reflect the different cellophane overlays that were used on the arcade systems. Bob’s version is challenging, addictive, and a ‘must have’ for anyone who has a 7800! Space Invaders for the 7800 is available from AtariAge.

7800 Space Invaders

7800 Space Invaders

If you are lucky enough to have played Space Invaders on all three Atari systems, then I am sure that you will agree with me the Bob’s 7800 version is the clear winner.  If you don’t have a copy Space Invaders for the 7800, rush over to AtariAge and order yourself a copy of this great game!

Wild for Space Invaders!