The Atari 2600 existed before the world really knew what a platformer was. More importantly, it had some limitations that constrained what we now know as a platforming game. The graphics were particularly limiting and made it difficult to add detail or complex mechanics. The Atari 2600 was known for having a lot of games based on arcade titles.
However, it lacked the power of the big arcade machines, so these games were very much inferior. Still, some were really good and paved the way for modern-day platformers. Whether some of these games fit the arcade genre better is up to you. Similarly, you have to define what really makes a platformer.
The common understanding is that the game must feature some sort of action moves such as jumping or climbing. In that case, every game on the list certainly makes the cut. However, you may want to consider playing a different version of these games, as most received remasters at some point in time. These will look and feel much better than these Atari versions.
Let’s get into the best platformers for Atari!
#7: emDonkey Kong/em
emDonkey Kong/em may be one of the best and most popular platformers of all time, next to Super Mario Bros.
The game includes both emDonkey Kong/em and Mario before Nintendo had its own consoles. Like many Atari 2600 games, emDonkey Kong/em started as an arcade game but was eventually ported to several consoles such as the Atari 2600.
Unfortunately, emDonkey Kong/em on the Atari 2600 is not the same game as the arcade version. Everything has been downscaled, including the graphics and the levels. However, this is still an important title that was many people’s first foray into the platformer genre. In the game, you play as Mario, who must rescue the princess who was taken by emDonkey Kong/em.
To rescue her, Mario climbs and traverses an array of levels as emDonkey Kong/em throws objects at him. While there is no combat in the game, Mario can pick up a temporary hammer that will destroy the barrels emDonkey Kong/em throws. The first level starts with you needing to reach the princess by climbing up to her, but the next level has a completely different objective. Unfortunately, there are only two levels, and the gameplay doesn’t get any harder.
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- For the Atari 2600 and other compatible Atari systems
- Video game cartridge plus instructions
- Based on the 1982 film from Walt Disney Productions
- Requires joystick controller
- 1 player game
emAdventures of Tron/em is a classic video game tie-in that was actually pretty good.
The Atari 2600 had arguably the worst video games based on movies, in part because the graphics were so crude. Because of this and limited gameplay variety, it was hard to make a game resemble anything out of a movie or TV show.
emAdventures of Tron/em was based on an Intellivision game that featured very similar gameplay. The story is pretty much non-existent here, with the manual only saying that your objective is to keep Tron alive and scoring points. Nonetheless, it is a good example of an early platformer in an era that primarily consisted of very basic titles.
In emAdventures of Tron/em, you must ride platforms between levels to collect bits, which you will need to collect all of in order to progress to the next level. There are a variety of enemies that get progressively harder to evade as you move through the levels. Overall, emAdventures of Tron/em looks and plays really well, and the tie-in to the Tron movie fits pretty well.
You can find it on Amazon here for the Atari 2600.
emPitfall/em is one of the most well-known platformers from the Atari 2600 era, and for a good reason.
It is one of the first sidescrolling games that set the stage for the genre. emPitfall/em was originally released as an Atari 2600 game but has since been ported to dozens of consoles and received numerous sequels and spinoffs.
The game’s backstory is pretty basic, but you play as Pitfall Harry on his quest to find treasure. To do this, you are only given twenty minutes to collect as many treasures as possible. Along the way, you encounter various creatures, such as alligators and snakes. There are also bodies of water that will kill you if you fall in.
The gameplay is pretty good, especially some of the abilities, such as landing on alligators’ heads. Below the main level is an underworld that you can explore by taking a ladder down to it. This area is filled with scorpions which you have to jump over. However, the graphics are a real standout of the game as it features bright colors and some pretty good detail.
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#4: Montezuma’s Revenge
Montezuma’s Revenge is based on a computer game of the same name, and it is a rare standout on the Atari 2600.
It was also available on other consoles, such as the Colecovision and, eventually, the NES. However, most gamers remember this distinctly as an Atari 2600 title. While the graphics are inferior to the other versions of the game, they still look pretty good.
The best part of Montezuma’s Revenge has to be its gameplay, which is different from nearly anything else on the Atari 2600. There is a lot of exploration as you search for treasure. The map is also pretty big, with a wide variety of differences from room to room. In addition, you also have to dodge enemies that move throughout the levels.
Speaking of levels, some are better than others, and it can get a little confusing. As you progress through a level, different things change throughout the level, working as a sort of booby trap. The best way to describe it is a cross between dungeon crawling in Zelda (without combat) combined with Indiana Jones. Of course, Montezuma’s Revenge doesn’t have a tone of detail, but it is really impressive for the Atari 2600.
#3: emMario Bros./em
Before Mario made it to the NES, he was in a few arcade games that were later ported to other consoles, and one of the most well-known was the original emMario Bros./em game, which also featured Mario‘s friend, Luigi.
Funnily enough, this is one of the only games where Mario plays as a plumber. Despite being known as an Italian plumber, he is rarely seen around pipes (except the warp ones).
In the original emMario Bros./em, you get to help Mario and Luigi clean out pipes that are filled with creatures. The gameplay consists of killing these creatures and making your way to the next level. Unlike in modern Mario games, though, you have to get under enemies to stun them and then go up to the enemy to actually kill them.
There is also some variety, as different creatures have different abilities. In addition, there are also objects, such as fireballs which add an extra bit of challenge. The graphics are really good for the Atari 2600, with some nice bits of contrast. However, the biggest downside is that every level looks exactly the same, and the only difference is the difficulty, as more enemies will appear.
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emQ*Bert/em is easily the simplest game to make the best platformer list for the Atari 2600.
It barely meets the criteria, and some even argue that it is not a true platformer. However, you do move up and down in a level and try to avoid enemies. emQ*Bert/em on the Atari is also based on an arcade game, but it does a decent job of staying close to the original game.
The premise is very simple: hit every block to make it change colors. Along the way, enemies will pop up and try to catch you or roll down the board. This creates a cat-and-mouse game as you try to navigate the level without getting killed. As you get to higher levels, the tiles will begin changing back if you jump on them again.
emQ*Bert/em also has platforms in the middle of the board that will bring you back to the top. This is a great way to get away from enemies. One of the funniest parts of the game is when emQ*Bert/em dies, and a dialog box of a scrambled word appears, making it look like he cursed.
All in all, emQ*Bert/em is a timeless classic that everyone should play. However, you are better off choosing a newer version if possible.
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- Features five progressively harder mazes
- Build all the burgers in the maze to progress
- Fight against hot dogs, eggs, and pickles trying to stop your chef
- Pepper them if they get too close and stop them in their tracks
- Store pepper for later by snacking on ice cream, coffee, and french fries
emBurgertime/em is a classic arcade platformer that made its way to the Atari 2600.
Unfortunately, it is like many arcade ports to the Atari, meaning it is not nearly as good as its arcade counterpart. It still stays pretty true to the original game with the exact same gameplay but limited graphics. emBurgertime/em also received ports to many other consoles.
In emBurgertime/em, you play as a chef armed with pepper who is trying to assemble hamburgers. To do so correctly, you have to avoid hot dogs and eggs. The hamburger is assembled at the bottom of the screen, and you must make your way to the ingredients that are spread out across the screen. Navigating is done by going up and down stairs and across platforms.
Once you get all of a single ingredient added to each of the burgers, a new ingredient is added to the level. You start all over again, collecting the ingredients. Once all of the burgers are assembled, you move on to the next level, which has a different layout. It is a really fun platformer, albeit the Atari 2600 version is limited by its graphics.
You can take it home from Amazon here.
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