In a time when characters in video games were just cursors, (or a line if you were lucky), games could not rely on stories or graphics to keep the players interested. They had to rely on fun and replayability.
While most games for the Atari 2600 offer single-player, it’s always more fun to bring a friend along. So whether you have an emulator, one of those flashback consoles, or are still rocking an original woody. These are the
10 Best Multiplayer Games For The Atari 2600
We will start this list with a title that is unique, not because it is multiplayer, but because it supports four frickin players! A port of the arcade game, Warlords is a paddle game that plays like an advanced version of pong.
Getting the ball past your opponent is not enough. You have to get past them multiple times to break down the wall that they are protecting. Once the wall is down you can take out their king.
Even if Warlords were only two players, I am sure it would make this list. The fact it supports four and has several game modes for all skill levels makes it one of the most killer multiplayer games on the system.
Ice Hockey is one of the best sports games ever on the Atari. Considering the limitations of the 2600, it’s amazing how Activision was able to make this one so much fun. The way the puck glides and bounces, it almost feels like air hockey, which is not a bad thing.
The control jumps to the player closest to the puck, which sounds like it could get complicated but it doesn’t. It happens quite smoothly and feels natural almost right away.
Once you have the puck you will notice it moves a little along the stick. The position of the puck determines which way it will go when you shoot. And it goes everywhere.
A little disappointing that games only last 3 minutes, but it makes for a fun quick pickup game with little to no commitment.
Published by Atari in 1978, Slot Racers is probably one of the oldest games on this list. The game itself is supposed to be based on slot cars, but it is hard to see the connection.
Two “cars” drive around a maze while taking shots at each other. It kind of plays like “Combat” except you are on a set track which does add some difficulty to the game because it is harder to get into a good firing position.
Whenever your opponent gets hit by your missiles, you score a point. The first one to score 25 points is the winner. The game has five different mazes and variable speeds for the missiles.
Think Super Sprint but on Atari. It’s a standard overhead view of the track as the two cars race around to collect laps.
The first thing to note is the game is fast but has fluid and responsive controls. This makes for fun gameplay and the graphics are pretty standard for the 2600. The basic racing is already enough fun to make sure this game has a spot on this list, but it gets better.
Where Indy 500 really shines is in its game modes. Everything from collecting items in a Mario Kart style battle mode, to tag, to playing on ice. If you like racing, you need to check this one out
Breakout was a colorful game based on the concept of PONG. You bump your ball into a rainbow wall of bricks at the screen top until you break them all. There have been many variations of this classic through the years but Breakout was the first.
Part puzzle game, part reflexes., the difficulty level increases as you progress farther through the game. The speed of the gets faster and as you get better, the game keeps getting more challenging.
Frogs and Flies
Frogs and Flies was always one of my favorite games. You take control of two frogs and battle it out for dinner in the swamp. It does seem strange while reading but the game is fun.
Basically, you just jump back and forward between two lily pads and try to catch the flies buzzing by. The multiplayer here is fun and challenging. Not only do you have to time your jumps to catch the flies, but you also have to do so before your opponent because you are going for the same flies.
What if you both jump for a fly? Well, that is where the timing comes in. Whoever gets the most flies before nightfall wins.
As a kid that never owned an NES, this was as good as it was going to get. I remember this game from the arcade and this is a pretty good port.
Basically you hit the creatures from the underside of the platform to stun them, then you have to jump up to their level to kick them off. Each level offers new monsters with different abilities and challenges and even bonus levels.
While technically it is a co-op game because you are working together to clear the board, everyone knows your competing head to head for the highest score. Throw in the POW block and the ability to bump your partner and fun night of co-op could get ugly quick.
Another great arcade port is Joust. There were a few changes but its the same game at the core. You fly around on a giant ostrich and try to hit your opponents from above to take them out.
Like Mario Bros, this is a “co-op” game that is played as more of a competition. And just like Mario, half the fun of this game it bumping your partner all over the place and even crushing them yourself..
Control is tight, multiple levels, increasing difficulties, pterodactyls, eggs, and of course bonus levels. It’s a great head-to-head battle.
Outlaw is an often overlooked game that has some of the same appeal as “Combat”. It is essentially an old west style shooter where your only goal is to hit your target (or opponent) on the other side of the screen.
Each level will have different obstacles to make your goal more difficult. Things like cacti and wagons will block your way. Sometimes the wagons are moving, some times they can be shot away. Each level adds a new twist to keep things interesting.
Like most Atari games, it’s an easy pickup and play style game that offers no story or depth. But that’s ok because it is pure 1 vs 1 gunslinging fun.
Last comes the favorite of everyone, the one, and only Combat. Combat is considered one of the best multiplayer games ever. The game is set in a war zone, where two tanks battle it out. It’s simple point and shoot.
Like Slot Racers, Combat shines with its variations. Bouncing bullets, invisible tanks, Remote controlled bullets. You will never get bored because you can change the whole aspect of the game in just seconds.
If that is not enough why not take to the air. With helicopters, fighters jets and just as many game-changing variations as the on the ground gameplay.
Combat is a pioneer in gaming. It did a lot to lay the groundwork for multiplayer war games. I mean think about it, you chose your map and vehicle just like you would in the FPSs of today. Invisible tanks? Bouncing bullets? Those sound like MODs to me.
The best part is even after 4 decades, it is still a great go-to game when friends are over.