Atari bankruptcy: Remembering the 2600, 7 bestselling games

Jan. 22, 2013 | 6:36 p.m.
atari Atari bankruptcy: Remembering the 2600, 7 bestselling games

Gaming pioneer Atari, renowned for producing games such as "Asteroids," "Pong" and "Centipede," has filed for bankruptcy in the United States. Above, visitors play Atari games at a gaming convention in Germany in 2005. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images)

Word that the U.S. operations of iconic video game maker Atari had filed for bankruptcy protection was greeted with a certain amount of sadness, mostly on the part of Gen X-ers who spent hours and hours of their childhood manipulating crudely rendered blobs of light on their parents’ Trinitron television sets.

Introduced in 1977, the Atari 2600 game system sold more than 30 million units and paved the way for the Nintendo Entertainment System and countless other consoles. Without “Space Invaders,” there might never have been a “Halo,” a “Call of Duty” or a “Grand Theft Auto.”

With that in mind, here’s a look back at the bestselling Atari 2600 games of all time.

7. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982): 1.5 million copies sold. Despite its place on the list of Atari’s all-time top-selling titles, this release is one of the most notorious games in 2600 history. Rushed into production after Steven Spielberg’s movie became a box office sensation, the game was expected to sell many millions of copies, but sold just a fraction of that. The unsold cartridges were famously buried in a New Mexico landfill; the game’s failure was the beginning of a long decline in Atari’s fortunes.

6. “Demon Attack” (1982): 2 million copies sold. The title says horror, but the game was really more science fiction, as the player was stranded on the ice planet Krybor and forced to fight off waves of demonic attackers with a laser cannon.

5. “Space Invaders” (1980): 2 million copies sold. The first game to be officially licensed from its arcade version, “Space Invaders” was an unqualified success, becoming the first video game to sell more than a million copies and providing a huge boost to sales of the Atari 2600 console. Its title also became the cultural shorthand for all video games.

4. “Missile Command” (1980): 2.5 million copies sold. Everyone’s greatest Cold War fears were brought to life in this game, which required the player to protect a series of six cities from a never-ending barrage of ballistic missiles.

3. “Asteroids” (1981): 3.8 million copies sold. Forget back story, this one’s set-up was as straightforward as they come: You’re a spaceman in a ship stuck in the middle of an asteroid field. The goal is to destroy the asteroids before they destroy you. Simple, yet addicting. This was the biggest-selling Atari game before “Pac-Man.”

2. “Pitfall!” (1982): 4 million copies sold. Jungle adventurer Pitfall Harry ran, swung and leaped his way through a variety of dangers including giant scorpions in this side-scrolling adventure game that no doubt benefited greatly from the popularity of Indiana Jones in the early ’80s.

1. “Pac-Man” (1982): 7 million copies sold. Believe it or not, the biggest-selling video game ever for the Atari 2600 was considered a bit of an under-performer both in sales and gameplay. The arcade version was wildly popular and it was expected to be even more popular at home. But a poor translation of the game for the Atari led to ultimately lower sales than anticipated.

Don’t see your favorite Atari 2600 game on the list? Let us know which title you remember most fondly — leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

— Patrick Kevin Day

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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14 Responses to Atari bankruptcy: Remembering the 2600, 7 bestselling games

  1. Maynard says:

    Man that sucks…the atari 2600 was the first system i owned….i just bought the flashback 3 those are classic systems and they truly were pioneers of the time… I am a GeneXer!

  2. Wingman says:

    Dig Dug was fun :-)

  3. Dimo says:

    Yars’ Revenge will always be my favorite 2600 game. Probably their best original title.

  4. @rowynyew says:

    This is really sad, but a great article. Really brings back the memories! :( Atari was my first game system.

  5. SomeDude says:

    Stampede and Yars Revenge

  6. Scott Marlowe says:

    That is NOT what pacman on the 2600 looked like. So google image search for atari 2600 pacman to see the horror that was “pacman” on the 2600. For example:

  7. danfromwestlake says:


  8. Alex says:

    1) Ms. Pac-Man 2) Chopper Command 3) Frogger 4) Dig Dug. It was such a great console

  9. @Kreig303 says:

    REAL Atari VCS classics:

    1) Combat (Yes, dumb but fun)
    2) Adventure
    3) Night Driver
    4) Venture (scary because the poor sound was threatening)
    5) Haunted House

    For the record, you should have said "wood-panelled VCS matching the wood-panelled 13" Samsung".

  10. @Kreig303 says:

    Oh one more point:

    THIS IS NOT ATARI AS WE KNEW IT. That company died when it got merged into JTS some years ago.

    This name was adopted by Infogrames when they bought the IP. Atari has been dead for some years now.

  11. nickless says:

    Demon Attack is a great game. Much better than the Intellivision version.

    The 7800 is miles better than the 2600, as well, and still plays all the 2600 games.

  12. chris says:

    RIVER RAID all the way – my sister and I got the highest score/took pictures of the TV screen to prove it!

  13. Erin LaVelle says:

    PIGS IN SPACE!!!! I've never found anyone other than my sister and me who played it, though. lol

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