10 Worst Atari Video Games

A split image of King Kong, Karate, and Fire Fly for Atari 2600

It’s been more than 45 years since the release of the Atari 2600 and it’s remarkable just how far video games have come during this time. Companies like Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have become the biggest first-party developers while former trendsetters like Atari are now relics of a simpler past.

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There’s no denying that the video games available for the Atari 2600 during the late ’70s and early ’80s are laughable in comparison to even the worst modern video game. That being said, many Atari 2600 games have sturdy foundations that were necessary to push the industry forward. However, there are also some truly terrible video games that deserve to be forgotten.



10 3D Tic-Tac-Toe

Release Date: 1978

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One quick look at 3D Tic-Tac-Toe for the Atari 2600 immediately proves how far video games have come as a form of entertainment. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe delivers on exactly what it promises and it’s hard to imagine anyone that prefers this game’s wireframe aesthetics over the traditional pen-and-paper approach.

3D Tic-Tac-Toe doesn’t offer anything beyond its thin concept, but the most excruciating detail of the game is that the computer takes 20 minutes to make a move. Such a long processing time drags out a simple match to unnecessary lengths.

9 Karate

Release Date: 1982

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A one-on-one fight plays out in Atari 2600's Karate

A karate Atari 2600 game seems like an easy win, but Karate is sadly one of the console’s most embarrassing entries. There’s really no rhyme or reason to Karate‘s controls, which means that random joystick movements work as well as any “strategy.” On top of everything else, Karate’s rudimentary graphics make it look like it’s an early release and not a game that came out later in the console’s lifespan.

Karate also contains a baffling gameplay decision where it actively gets more difficult after repeated losses. The player’s losses mean that the CPU opponent gets promoted and grows more powerful as a result. It’s no way to encourage repeated playthroughs.

8 Fire Fly

Release Date: 1983

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The player shoots down enemies in Atari 2600's Fire Fly

There are a number of video game developers who are still finding their footing as they develop Atari 2600 titles, but Mythicon has a notorious reputation for developing some of the console’s worst games. Fire Fly is an unoriginal space shooter that plays like dozens of other Atari 2600 games.

Titles like Fire Fly can stand out through creative design touches, but Fire Fly doesn’t include any sound effects, and its background is limited to an empty black void. There’s just so much blank space on the screen at all times.

7 Sneak ‘N Peek

Release Date: 1982

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A game of hide-and-seek plays out in Atari 2600's Sneak 'n Peek

Sneak ‘n Peek takes the novel idea to translate the playful pastime of hide-and-seek into an Atari 2600 game. This weird game pits Sneak and Peek against each other in what’s easily the laziest version of hide-and-seek to date. Players have limited time to hide—and later seek—through a rudimentary house, which then repeats.

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Sneak and Peek don’t have any animation abilities, so they just disappear when they make contact with their hiding places rather than crouching or displaying any sort of change. The game is not at all fun to play and the eerie aesthetic of the Sneak ‘n Peek house makes the game feel like a piece of cursed media.

6 Sssnake

Release Date: 1982

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Navigating through a maze and avoiding enemies in Atari 2600's Sssnake

Sssnake is a regrettable Atari 2600 game that plays more like a demo than a finished product, even during this era of gaming. Sssnake contains a player—who is conveyed by a single block—in a bland arena while they avoid snakes—represented by several connected blocks—and other avoidable obstacles.

None of the enemies in Sssnake are genuinely challenging, but the game’s single-life and single-screen setup provides players with the bare minimum. The introductory screen setup is all that Sssnake amounts to and even the rudimentary “Snake” game where a short snake gets progressively longer would be more entertaining than this.

5 Warplock

Release Date: 1982

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Shooting down enemy invaders in Atari 2600's Warplock

Warplock is a hollow attempt at a Space Invaders-like shooter that strives for the bare minimum on every occasion. There are plenty of disposable shooters for the Atari 2600 and Warplock is among the worst due to its one-hit game overs and lack of range with its level design.

There’s only a single screen that Warplock rotates through with its alien invasion, which makes it very easy to figure out the pattern and go into autopilot for an exercise that increasingly stops feeling like a video game. The game’s high score counter resets to 0 after only reaching 100 points, which even erases any interest in a competitive scene.

4 Sorcerer

Release Date: 1983

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The sorcerer shoots at enemies in Atari 2600's Sorcerer

Not to be confused with the harmless enough Atari 2600 Disney tie-in, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, plain old Sorcerer from Mythicon is much more bereft of personality. Sorcerer is more or less Mythicon’s Fire Fly but with a derivative palette swap of sorts.

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There’s not much logic behind Sorcerer and the lowest of stakes accompany gameplay that involves the recovery of a disc and the shooting of enemies. Sorcerer‘s instruction manual conjures quite the rich lore and exciting fantasy adventure, none of which is clear in the actual game.

3 King Kong

Release Date: 1982

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>The player ascends to retrieve the damsel in Atari 2600's King Kong

Atari 2600’s King Kong has the audacity to rip off Nintendo’s Donkey Kong and slap Universal’s celebrated giant ape IP on the game, but do all of this worse. King Kong requires players to ascend to the top of the screen to rescue a damsel in distress who’s been kidnapped by a monstrous monkey.

King Kong only has one screen, unlike the many that make up Donkey Kong. However, the game’s strange programming decision to have barrels “fall” from the bottom of the screen instead of the top becomes frustratingly difficult.

2 Star Fox

Release Date: 1983

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Flying through space in Atari 2600's Star Fox

Another Mythicon misfire, Star Fox is a poor attempt at an action title where players ward off alien threats while navigating barren levels to find a crystal. Disappointing sprite designs and an incessant buzz on the soundtrack don’t do much to enhance the experience.

There are also perplexing control quirks that seem to actively work against the player, like how the recovery of the flashing crystal gem in each level turns into a stiff claw machine-like endeavor. There’s just not enough to grab onto in Star Fox and what’s there doesn’t do much to impress. Thankfully, Nintendo’s own Star Fox would later make everyone forget that this abysmal Atari 2600 game exists.

1 Amidar

Release Date: 1982

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Creatures advance on the player in Atari 2600's Amidar

Amidar is ostensibly a more painful version of Pac-Man that quickly becomes a repetitive chore. Amidar‘s box art brazenly teases a King Kong-esque gorilla, but the simplified gameplay involves the colorization of a crude maze while the player avoids contact with enemies.

The basic grid designs for the levels, slow gameplay, and annoying sound effects only emphasize how much work actually goes into the seemingly simplistic effectiveness of Pac-Man. It’s easy to be exhausted with Amidar by the end of the first level, which provides very little incentive to repeat this process ad nauseam.

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