The Worst of the Atari 2600

by Kevin Oleniacz (1991)

China Syndrome
Human Cannonball
King Kong
Off Your Rocker
RealSports Soccer
Sea Hawk
Sea Hunt
Swordquest: Fireworld
Universal Chaos
Bachelor Party

1. Amidar (Parker Bros.) - This is a maze-type game where the object is to color in the maze while maneuvering around a grid.  Immediately one would notice the lack of detail in the creatures and the dull, plain grid.  The game play is painfully slow and is equally painful to watch.  The sound effects are also very crude.  Slow, repetitious play would cure anyone's insomnia. 

2. China Syndrome (Spectravision) - This cart is challenging and fast paced but too easily gets out of hand and leads to frustration.  The sound effects consist only of blips and primitive sounds of explosions, while the graphics consist mainly of dots.  The "meltdown" sequence at the conclusion of the game is unspectacular and not worth watching. 

3. Coconuts (Telesys) - Avoiding coconuts thrown downward by a monkey which jumps back & forth between two trees did not make me go nuts over this game.  Besides being utterly annoying, this game is completely frustrating to play, as the gameplay goes from being very easy one moment, to nearly impossible the next.  Because the difficulty increases too rapidly and there is a lack of variations, no gamer could go nuts over Coconuts

4. Dishaster (Zimag) - The object of this dismal game is to keep several plates continually spinning on poles, catching any that fall.  The lack of sound effects, details or any background whatsoever while maneuvering around one unchanging screen would surely claim this as a DISASTER. The continual music rapidly becomes monotonous. 

5. Firefly (Mythicon) - Who was Mythicon kidding when they released their three terrible games, claiming they were the "first in a series of..."?  This dud's concept was too simple and very repetitious.  No backgrounds or sound effects, and the music would test anyone's nerves.  Firefly wouldn't fly high on anyone's list. 

6. Football (Atari) - Basic (and I really mean basic) rules apply in this game, five minutes per game and four players per team.  It's not unusual to find older Atari games' graphics to be primitive, but even the gameplay here is unrealistic.  For example, the defensive players cannot catch up with the offense, leading to many 80 yard touchdowns.  Any football fan (or non-football fan) would be very disappointed with this cart. 

7. Human Cannonball (Atari) - The extremely simple concept (shooting a man out of a cannon) surely didn't hold many gamer's attentions.  The graphics are so blocky that the "man" closely resembles the "water tower" he is fired into.  This is one of Atari's first releases, and the graphics and sound truly reflect this. 

8. Karate (Froggo) - The graphics in this fighting contest are shockingly bad considering this game was released many years after the system was put out on the market.  The fighters basically consist of (and look like) blocks connected together.  The worst aspect, however, is the gameplay, where no skill is involved (just move the stick around and hope a blow lands).  To make matters worse, the game gets more DIFFICULT when you lose, as the opponent who just beat you gets a promotion in rank!  This game is a real loser.

9. King Kong (Tigervision) - This probably sounds familiar: climb to the top of the screen where a nasty ape is holding your girlfriend.  Avoid objects being thrown down from the gorilla.  VERY familiar?  Imagine the surprise, however, when gravity somehow reverses and the objects roll from the bottom to the top.  How's that done then?  Despite some really good carts from Tigervision (Threshold and Polaris come to mind), they were also capable of this pathetic excuse for a cartridge.  This Donkey Kong ripoff sorely lacks the excitement of the original.  It is challenging but lacks decent graphics and contains some of the worst sound effects ever heard over a television speaker.  Unlike D.K., only one screen is available.

10. M.A.D. (U.S. Games) - This is like Missile Command without the nice graphics, game sounds, variety, and excitement.  So what's left?  This "action" game is MADdeningly dull.

11. Off Your Rocker (Amiga) - Yes, it's by the same company that later went on to create some really amazing computers, but they were in their early years when they released Off Your Rocker, right?  This cart plays like the popular game Simon.  Four objects light up in coordination with tones.  You try to match the patterns by moving the joystick.  Graphics are very plain and without detail.  It provides a good memory challenge but after a few plays this cart gets stored away to collect dust.  Make one error and the game is history.

12. Picnic (U.S. Games) - This game has a simple but uninteresting concept: swat at flies attempting to reach your rather sad-looking sandwiches.  The lack of variations and the fact that a paddle controller has to be plugged in to play this dull game made it a shoe-in for this list.  In fact, I'm hoping some poorly designed flies come along some day and steal my cartridge.  I wouldn't try to stop them.

13. RealSports Soccer (Atari) - Following the basic rules of Soccer... except that there are only 3 players on a team... and they can only move in their own lane... and there are no goalies... come to think of it, it doesn't follow the basic rules of Soccer!  Besides the poor graphics and sounds, it is too easy to accidentally switch control of the players when you only want to kick the ball, resulting in a steal and most likely (because you have to figure out who you are controlling) a point for the opposing team, shooting on an undefended goal.

14. Sea Hawk (Panda & Froggo) - Not one but TWO companies actually produced this terrible game, which has you shooting down hostile planes and ships.  There seems to be no end to the enemy's air force and navy, they just keep coming without a break!  The difficulty never changes from the first plane to the one-zillionth (if you care to destroy that many).  Add to that the fact that the poorly constructed plane you fly is very difficult to control.  A sore thumb, if not complete boredom, will end your game.  Utterly pointless.

15. Sea Hunt (Panda & Froggo) - The good people at Froggo have once again brought us a timeless classic from the archives of Panda games.  This deep-sea-diving-gone-awry game is practically impossible to play.  The graphics will literally hurt your eyes and the sounds are equally crude.  One cannot get to the second of two screens until all three "fish" are harpooned.  Since the fish somehow come back to life after being speared, and the sluggish diver moves like a dead worm on a hook, I don't even know how good (or how bad) the second screen is because I've never reached it.  I'm sure I haven't missed anything except for the few dollars I shelled out for this game.

16. Sorcerer (Mythicon) - Reading the instructions which make the game sound too good to pass up is actually much more amusing than the game itself.  If you purchased Firefly by Mythicon then you have already seen this game, covered up slightly with different graphics.  If you bought both, you made two mistakes.  You know right away that this is a pointless game:  on the first screen, you try to catch a floating disc.  You are not penalized for missing it, you have an unlimited amount of time to catch it, and nothing is accomplished when you catch it other than going on to the next screen.  More strangely, when you shoot one enemy, all of the enemies on the screen disappear.  Weird stuff.

17. Spider Droid (Froggo) - Move around a grid and color in squares while avoiding "droids".  After reaching 1200 points, one can turn the tables and gobble up the droids for bonus points.  Whether they thought they could do Parker Bros.' Amidar (another terrible 2600 conversion) one better, or -gasp- create something original, they were wrong either way.  Spider Droid also lacks detail and has scratchy sound effects.  Extremely dull and pointless, but then again, Atari 2600 fans had come to expect that from Froggo.

18. Sssnake (Data Age) - Now here is a game that could be considered THE worst.  It's so bad, it makes the others in this list look like the best of the Atari 2600.  All of the graphics consist of blocks.  They're equivalent to the old Pong games, except I can tolerate Pong much longer than Sssnake.  Your character (a small block) movement is restricted to the center of the playfield (blocks evenly spaced out with a gap in the middle).  The score rolls over at a whopping 100 points.  The snakes (more blocks connected together) can be easily avoided, and the other monsters (slightly misshapen blocks) are never a threat.  Shoot one monster (with fast-moving blocks) and the rest die too.  There is one round, one screen, and one life per game.

19. Star Fox (Mythicon) - Another loser released by this company.  This time you control a spaceship on a mission to extract gems beneath the ocean depths.  Your ship is defenseless at the bottom of the screen, and amazingly the gems become intelligent and avoid your efforts while taking advantage of the fact that your ship cannot move sideways while at the bottom.  Only one enemy and one gem per screen.  The playfield and difficulty never change.  I give credit to Mythicon for not releasing their second cart in the "Star Fox Series".

20. Stargunner (Telesys) - Another poor quality shootem' up on one unchanging, completely detail-less screen.  One "alien" which is strangely out of reach and therefore impossible to kill constantly bombs your "ship".  Apparently the game designer had no concept of the laws of physics, either, because your ship can perform a trick that would make Einstein's head spin.  Other non-threatening aliens aimlessly float around the screen.  I was feeling sorry for the aliens, just floating around, not harming anything, so one time I simply refused to attack, leaving my ship running idle in the center of the screen.  It was 45 seconds later (on level 8!) that the gentle aliens finally noticed I was taking up their airspace and dusted me, proving that they were a kind race after all.

21. Swordquest Fireworld (Atari) - If you were frustrated over Earthworld, then you'll find Fireworld to be twice as aggravating.  This follows the same dull concept where one has to continually pick up and drop various objects in order to discover the correct combination to receive clues.  Except this time, every room you enter has a practically impossible action sequence, such as scrolling disappearing enemies which reappear right on top of you.  Often I felt like making a little "Fire" myself, using this cart as the kindling.

22. Universal Chaos (Telegames) - As far as maze shooters go, this is indeed the worst.  Maneuvering around a screen filled with blocks while shooting other ships is obviously a very simple and pointless concept.  On some levels the background color is so bright it will literally hurt your eyes, while the continuous harsh music would even make Yoko Ono cover her ears.

23. Warplock (Data Age) - Another very unoriginal, pointless shooter from the uncreative (and unemployed - heh,heh) minds employed by Data Age.  Restricted to the bottom of the playfield, shoot at "aliens" which aimlessly wander and bounce off the edges of the screen.  There is a grand total of one screen, and once you are hit, the game ends.  The score rolls over at 100 (sound familiar?), and the pulsating sound throbbing throughout the game could have been orchestrated by Yoko Ono herself.

24. Bachelor Party (Mystique) - A side-action Pong/Breakout type cart with an adult twist, this dismal game fails in every area: poor graphics & sound, no background whatsoever, no excitement, and a massive shift in difficulty to laughably easy to impossible in a matter of seconds.  After a few tries, this game was quickly shelved deep inside my closet, and just as quickly it was inserted into this column.  Unfortunately, no obscure references to Yoko Ono could be made.

Here are THE ten worst games ever made for the Atari 2600:

 1.   Ssnake (Data Age)

 2.   Amidar (Parker Bros.)

 3.   Star Gunner (Telesys)

 4.   Sea Hawk (Panda & Froggo)

 5.   Sea Hunt (Panda & Froggo)

 6.   Spider Droid (Froggo)

 7.   Star Fox (Mythicon)

 8.   Warplock (Data Age)

 9.   Universal Chaos (Telegames)

10.   King Kong (Tigervision)


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Last updated: Friday, January 11, 2008 09:19 AM