Atari was probably the first company to license arcade hits to complement their own library which they offered on the VCS and soon third-parties followed suit (Parker Bros, M-Network), or in case of some others (Sega, Bally Midway, etc) ended up spinning up their own companies to make and publish these home console versions.
It's interesting how Coleco basically went with the arcade-conversions only, which were so prominently displayed on their boxes. As a kid, I remember seeing that and being impressed by that. But other than Time Pilot (which was not a great conversion), most Coleco games for the Atari always left me cold.
Anyways, my list is:
- Space Invaders
- Double Dragon
- Ms. Pac-Man
- Pole Position
- Track & Field
1. Space Invaders
What can you say about Space Invaders which hasn't been said? It was truly the killer app for the Atari 2600. It brought them a ton of console sales; compared to Asteroids, Berzerk and Missile Command which came around the same time, this is the one that people recognized quickly (before Pac-Man that is) and you can play it quickly. This is one of the few games that I recall my dad playing with me on the Atari 2600 back in 1982/83 when I had borrowed the game from a friend. I never get bored playing this game. I love picking off alien by alien and there is a ton of variations on the cart to make it interesting especially with two players.
2. Double Dragon
Yes, Double Dragon. This is one of my all-time favourite arcade games and I can finish it on one quarter which I just did recently when I was Las Vegas and they had it at one of hotels. I recall some of my friends having it on the Sega Master System and Nintendo, and thinking it was pretty lame. I also remember the Amiga 500 version that my friend had and thinking that it looked better than the arcade. So when I saw it the local Consumers (along with F-14, Commando, Rampage, etc), I bought it right away. Crappy graphics and limited gameplay. But man, I love playing this game. I like the fact that someone actually tried it on an Atari 2600 and squeezed a 3-button control scheme into the poor Atari joystick controller. Most of the time I can finish this game and will one day put on a longplay video on Youtube!
3. Ms. Pac-Man
Like Hitman Hart, this is the excellence of execution. It is everything that the original Pac-Man wasn't. I actually only played this game for the first time in 89 and thought it was outstanding. Little or no flicker, different mazes, the bonus and speed were perfect. Reading the stories now about the Pac-Man fiasco, it's funny what a massive difference the extra 4kb made. Ms. Pac-Man drew a new line in the sand for the Atari games and set a new standard.
4. Pole Position
Obviously I like arcade conversions where I was okay playing them. Pole Position is one of the very arcade games that I had mastered and could finish most of the times. The graphics and sound were not great, and the automatic acceleration is one compromise that had to be made. I just love the fact that the same arcade track was converted into the 2600 and the sense of motion that you get. One of the finer examples of arcade conversions for the VCS.
I remember playing Frogger in a dingy backroom in a restaurant (circa 1984) in the small town I lived in for most of my teens. I always like the game and was okay in it. I was very surprised how good the Atari version was when I first got it in 89 from a used book store. The gameplay was all there and while the graphics weren't great, they did the job. And yes, I've seen the Starpath version (which is phenomenal), and just went with Parker Bros version because of what it does with its more limited resources.
6. Track & Field
There are times that I look back at how much money I spent on Hyper Olympics and wonder what else I could have bought with that allowance that went into that game? Another Atari cart (Spider Kong) or perhaps a LCD hand-held game? Hyper Olympics (aka Track&Field) was awesome and I could make it past the first round no problems. This Atari conversion is really good and it's (un)fortunate I never knew of it around 83/84 because perhaps I wouldn't have been so fixated on Activision's Decathlon. All the events are in there and they even have the head-to-head races, not to mention allowing you to enter your initials. I have to get myself a proper controller (or build my own).
I've never seen this game in the arcade, or at least don't remember. I bought my 2600 cart off eBay and was surprised how good it is. It has 3 different levels and the playability is top notch. It's a very fun game and I can play it for long periods of time. I have played the arcade version in MAME and I can't say this is the type of game I would have sought out in the arcade, but it's a fun with a good sense of humour.
I don't remember playing it in the arcade when it first came out but noticing after I got a copy of it for the C64. Always thought it was a fun game to play and once you had a sense of the road pattern you could do really well. I found a copy of this at a flea market in Pickering and probably the best $10 I spent for a M-Network game.
After the dominance of Space Invaders, there were two sucessors: Phoenix and Galaxian. I always wondered why Atari got both licenses and I suppose it was partly to ensure no competitor was able to get it. I thought that this conversion was well done and the movement and difficulty were just right. Like Space Invaders I can easily spend a couple of hours playing this over and over again. Weird that I was never really into shoot'em ups, but considering that I played Galaxian quite a bit when I was younger, I have to say that this conversion is pretty good considering we're dealing with some significant constraints with 2600 hardware. After reading about the tricks and limitations of the 2600, I can't help noticing things like flicker, solid colour for the attacking aliens and playfield used for the formations. Overall, it's a great game and perfect to relax for a while.