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)Link
7. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982): 1.5 million. (Atari)Link
6. "Demon Attack" (1982): 2 million copies. (Atari)Link
5. "Space Invaders" (1980): 2 million copies. (Atari)Link
4. "Missile Command" (1980): 2.5 million copies. (Scott West Production)Link
3. "Asteroids" (1981): 3.8 million copies. (JAKKS Pacific)Link
2. "Pitfall!" (1982): 4 million copies. (Atari / Activision)Link
"Pac-Man" (1982): 7 million copies. (Atari)Link
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
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