The Absolute Best Atari Sandbox Games of All Time

Atari 2600 wood veneer version on isolated background

The Absolute Best Atari Sandbox Games of All Time

Atari has been around since 1972. If you’re an 80s kid, you’d definitely know about the Atari VCS, later named the Atari 2600, and interesting Atari sandbox games. The company made one of the few highest-selling gaming consoles of that era. Almost 30 million Atari units were sold in just a few years!

Atari ruled the video game market from 1975 to the 1980s and became Nintendo’s third-party company. It released many exceptional video games in different genres, especially sandbox games. Luckily, most of them made their mark. 

From Drakkhen to Adventure (1980), all these games are set in an open world with many elements to explore. Players can enjoy role-playing, interact with different elements in the game, and make their way toward the end. After all, that’s what a sandbox is all about!  Let’s check out the 6 best Atari sandbox games of all time.

#6: Dungeon Master

gameplay in dungeon master
As a main player, you will have to earn Dungeons and Dragons experience points and use them to develop your skills. 

©openretro.org – License

Dungeon Master is a first-person perspective, pseudo-3D role-playing video game. Its developers are Atari ST and FTL Games, which released the game in 1987. Later in 1988 and 1992, Dungeon Master’s Amiga and PC ports were launched. The game became so popular that almost 40,000 copies were sold just a year after its release. 

Being the best-selling game on Atari ST, Dungeon Master set the trend for the upcoming 3D dungeon crawlers, such as Eye of the Beholder. After all, it differed from the typical turn-based games of the 80s. 

Dungeon Master included more real-time fighting elements and better sound effects, especially when a monster is close. It also featured dynamic lighting. The game is filled with many surprising elements you’ll only know about when playing. So, do try this thrilling Atari sandbox game.

#5: Eve Online

Screenshot depicting four playable races in Eve Online
The game has four playable races: Caldari, Minmatar, Gallente, Amarr

©Perplexing, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Eve Online is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that’s set in a space environment. It is a CCP Games development, initially released by Simon & Schuster Interactive in Europe and North America in 2003. Later, CCP bought the game’s rights and started publishing it. 

In Eve Online, you can participate in multiple in-game activities in both “player vs. player” and “player vs. environment” modes. These include piracy, exploration, mining, trading, manufacturing, and combat.

Players can also enjoy visiting 7,800-star systems. Eve Online became popular among gamers for its complex player interactions. For instance, players can engage in the game’s unscripted economic contest, political schemes, and warfare with other players. 

Eve Online is also a hit for the most long-lasting and expensive battles in the gaming industry. A battle named the “Bloodbath of B-R5RB,” which included more than 1,000 players in a one-star system, took almost 21 hours. In fact, Eve Online was presented in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition along with a video displaying the events and achievements of the best players.

So, if you want a trip to space, try Eve Online on your Atari console. 

#4: Drakkhen

drakkhen gameplay
Although the battles are pre-planned, you can

still manage

your four fighters to some extent.

©openretro.org – License

Next on the list is Drakkhen, one of the earliest 3D role-playing Atari sandbox games. The game was primarily designed for Atari ST and Amiga but later got ported to multiple other platforms. It is now available for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and MS-DOS. 

Drakkhen received global coverage in gaming magazines of the 90s. In fact, it became the trendsetter for the real-time strategy game genre. The game isn’t fully based on the 3D game engine. Instead, it implements a hybrid approach with the help of bitmapped scaling and vectors.

As the main player, you’ll be free to travel in a day-night cycle and explore the world. You’ll encounter many hostile monsters during the game, but the attack is more likely to happen when you’re stationary. This makes Drakkhen different from other Atari sandbox games.

You’ll enjoy performing numerous real-time tactics during the battle, such as switching weapons, moving here and there, and enabling defense. You can also try Drakkhen’s sequel, Dragon View.

#3: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

gameplay in Ultima IV
Ultima IV’s overworld map size is sixteen times larger than that of Ultima III. 

©openretro.org – License

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar was designed for the Apple II and was initially released in 1985. It is the fourth addition to Ultima, a role-playing video game franchise that involves games based on puzzles and dungeon rooms. 

The Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is the first part of the “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy that is more story-focused than its “Age of Darkness” predecessors. You can enjoy a much more vast world than the previous video games in the franchise.

You’ll also have many more dungeon rooms to discover, new commute means, and better dialog interactivity. Compared to the previous editions, Ultima IV focused more on the main player’s self-improvement instead of demanding them defeat evil. 

Because of all these reasons, Ultima IV instantly became a hit among games. Computer Gaming World even named it the “Second Best Games of All Times” on PC in 1996. 

A few years after Ultima IV’s release, Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny was released in 1988. Thankfully, it continued the legacy of the Ultima franchise. You can easily play this amazing Atari sandbox game for the best experience. 

#2: Adventure (1980)

Adventure is a 1980 video game developed especially for the Atari Video Computer System (now Atari 2600). The developer, Warren Robinett, completed working on this game in 1980 and released it under Atari, Inc. Soon, people started calling Adventure a graphical version of Colossal Cave Adventure, a text-based action-adventure game of 1977.

Adventure is also considered the first fantasy, action-adventure game that inspired upcoming games in the same genre. It introduced modern elements to typical console games. For example,  you will see continuously moving enemies even when you are off-screen and a play area with multiple screens.

While playing Adventure, you will control a square avatar to explore an open world. You must spot a magical chalice and carry it back to the golden castle. Of course, things won’t be this smooth. You will encounter many enemies roaming around, including a bat that steals and hides your items and three dragons that are hungry enough to eat you.

Warren invested almost a year in designing and coding Adventure. He also fixed multiple technical issues in the Atari 2600 console to let it play the game properly. In fact, Adventure’s prototype code was later utilized in the 1979’s Superman video game.

The game took little time to gain positive gaming reviews, even decades after its release. Surprisingly, one million+ Adventure cartridges were sold within a few years of its release. No wonder it is one of the greatest video games of all time.

#1: Colossal Cave Adventure

Colossal Cave Adventure running on PDP-11/34 with a monitor displaying the point system.

©Autopilot, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Colossal Cave Adventure is a text-based game developed by Will Crowther in 1976. He designed it, especially for PDP-10 mainframe computers. A year later, Don Woods expanded the game in size and fantasy elements. In the original version, he introduced magic spells and a dragon to make it more action-filled.

Colossal Cave Adventure is inspired by Crowther’s caving experiences in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.  You have the freedom to visit multiple locations and interact with items by typing commands. Colossal Cave Adventure’s natural language input system will interpret your commands and navigate the game forward. The program serves as the narrator while telling the player’s exact location and the consequences of actions they took. 

Colossal Cave Adventure soon became the computer community’s most popular interactive fiction, adventure, and teletype games in the late 70s. Many ports and versions were later created using Wood’s source code.

The game also became the trendsetter for upcoming role-playing, MUD, adventure, and action-adventure genres. Some examples include Zork (1977), Rogue (1980), Adventureland (1978), and Adventure (1980). 

How Can You Play the Best Atari Sandbox Games on a TV?

To play an Atari sandbox game on a TV, you must connect both appliances. While the process may seem daunting, it actually isn’t if you have some tech expertise. 

Simply follow the below steps to play your favorite Atari sandbox games on your TV:

  1. First, plug in the Atari to the power source.
  2. You can also try to hook up the original TV or switch box with the Atari device. However, some TVs are old and don’t have space to screw two wires. So, you will have to buy an adapter.
  3. Look for an adapter that screws both U-shaped prongs and connects the coax wire to the TV. This way, you’ll be able to access cable TV and Atari.
  4. Next, screen the U-shaped wires onto the newly-bought adapter. Then, push the adapter on your TV’s VHF input. 
  5. One easy method to connect Atari to your TV is by avoiding older TVs and Switchbox. Instead, buy an RCA phono plug to F jack adapter. 
  6. Now, disconnect the Atari from your TV or Switchbox.
  7. Take the plug you previously used to connect the Switchbox or TV to the Atari and use it to connect the phono plug to the F jack adapter.
  8. Finally, find the adapter and push it onto your TV’s VHF or cable input.
  9. Now, insert your favorite game into your Atari console and turn it on. It will start displaying on your TV screen!

Summary of The Absolute Best Atari Sandbox Games of All Time

RankAtari Sandbox Games
1Colossal Cave Adventure
2Adventure (1980)
3Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
5Eve Online
6Dungeon Master

Frequently Asked Questions

What happened to Atari?

Hasbro Interactive acquired Atari’s brand name and assets from JTS in 1998. It was even less than a fifth of the amount that Warner Communications paid almost two decades before. This acquisition included the intellectual property and the brand, which is now under Hasbro Interactive’s division named “Atari Interactive.”

What was the 1st Atari game?

After the establishment of Atari in 1972, the founders, Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, started working on developing games. A few months later, they successfully developed their first product, which forever changed the gaming industry. They named it “Pong,” which became so famous that the company had to start working on more arcade games quickly.

What was the most popular Atari game ever?

Pac-Man is one of the most popular Atari video games ever. It received immense love from gamers on all Atari consoles, making it the highest-selling game in the company’s industry. Many ports of Pac-Man were developed in the following years.

What game made Atari famous?

Pong made Atari instantly famous among gamers of the 70s. The game is considered one of the most influential and widespread video games even today.

How do you play Atari on modern TV?

You can play your favorite Atari sandbox games on a modern TV by connecting both devices through an RCA phono plug to an F jack adapter. This means you will have to avoid using your old Game Switchbox and TV. Once bought, plug in the Atari to the TV through the phono plug and enjoy Atari games on your TV. While this method is convenient, it may only work sometimes.

Is Atari making a comeback?

Atari’s current boss, Wade Rosen, has announced that he wants to transform Atari into a modern, more relevant entity. In 2022, Atari celebrated its 50th anniversary. This indicates that Atari is maybe making a comeback in the following years. However, no official person has confirmed this news yet.

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