E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was the summer blockbuster movie of 1982. It is a movie that is synonymous with the ’80s and holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who was a child around that time.

The ET game released for the Atari 2600 later that year is perhaps just as famous, but for a much different reason. The video game market was about to crash, and for years to come, this single game would take the blame. So was ET for the Atari 2600 really a bad game?

No. E.T for the Atari 2600 was not a bad game. It was not a great game, but it was everything it set out to be. An E.T. game based on the movie designed for kids.

I can assure you that most people that say this is the worst game ever, either have never played it or did not play it at the time. It is synonymous with the collapse of the video game industry in 1982 but it is not the cause.

What Is E.T For Atari 2600 About?

The story for the game is just like the movie. You play E.T and the goal is to build your telephone so that you can call your spaceship and return home.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial game for Atari

The game offers a variety of locations like a forest, Elliott’s house, and ancient Rome (yeah we are not sure why the ruins). There are also enemies to avoid like the cops and the scientists who want to capture you.

You can use your “sonar?” to detect pieces of your phone which are located in holes throughout the level. Get all the pieces, call your ship, and you win.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Why Is E.T. Considered The Worst Video Game Ever?

E.T is considered one of the worst video games ever because it was the largest financial failure in the video game industry at the time. The large number of unsold game cartridges caused Atari to fall into debt.

So many excess cartridges were produced that they were eventually loaded onto trucks and dumped directly into a landfill.

Box art for ET The Extra-Terrestrial Game for Atari 2600

The game was rushed through development to get a holiday release. It was created in less than 5 weeks which is only a fraction of the normal cycle.

The gameplay could be confusing. The button has multiple purposes, there are holes that you can fall in, and different people chasing you at random times. 

How could anyone make sense of all this? How about reading the friggen manual. Everything you needed to know was all there. Most people just did not read the manual. They would pop it in, get frustrated, and pop it out.

There were also a few glitches that added to the confusion. The edge of screen detection was too sensitive in places and some holes you had to exit a certain way, but if you played the game for a while you could play around these imperfections. 

What Was The Target Demographic Here?

While the movie ET was a great flick for all ages, let’s be honest, this is a kids movie. Maybe people forget, ET for the Atari 2600, was a kid’s game. Unless you were in the 5-10 age range when the game came out, this game was not for you anyway.

Title screen for the ET game

If you are an adult, this game is not for you! Could you imagine people freaking out that the new Sesame Street game was not very good?

I was about 6 or 7 when I got this game and I enjoyed it. I spent hours reliving scenes from the movie in my imagination and would try endlessly to get the highest score possible.

Some may argue that the game is too confusing for the younger audience, but if you could read, there was no excuse. I did not have the manual and I taught myself to play just fine.

The Bottom Line About The E.T. Game

E.T was a game that was designed for the 2600 and it was loosely based on the movie. It could be confusing if you did not know what you were doing, but once you understood the game, there is some fun to be had.

The unique scoring system and multiple difficulties offered replayability. It was not the best game, but it was also not the worse. In fact, I could probably list dozens of 2600 games that make this game look like a masterpiece.

E.T. was a game designed for 6-year-olds in 1982, and some of us enjoyed it. Unless you were a kid playing this game in the early 80s, it’s something you just might not understand.