The First Two Gens (Pre-NES game recs)

Like many video game fans, my knowledge of the medium mostly goes back to the NES, and I’m trying to correct that and give some of these older games a chance. I know I should probably just buy that Atari 50 collection and will eventually, I’m sure, but just wondering what are some of your favorite games from the first couple of console generations. I mainly use OpenEmu for emulation, so I can run Atari 2600 (and 5200, 7800, and Lynx, fwiw), Intellivision, ColecoVision, and Odyssey 2, but feel free to discuss anything you find cool from that era.

I’ve played and even enjoyed some of the basics: Joust, Missle Command, Pong, Asteroids, etc., so those would be my recommendations based on my limited knowledge so far. Mainly hoping to open the floor to those with the real knowledge.


I can respond with more at a later time, but Demon Attack for the 2600 is a fantastic shooter in the vein of Space Invaders or Galaxian. One of my favorites for the system.


Here are some recommendations. None of these are obscure, but if you’re new to the era, these are my favorites that I’d recommend. I’ll skip things that eventually got NES releases like Donkey Kong, Galaga, Q*bert or Pac-Man.

  • Pitfall! is fairly interesting as a pre-SMB platformer.

  • The lasers feel really good and visceral in Defender (especially the arcade version), and the flying is fast.

  • Tapper is notable for it’s product placement, and is fun.


These are the Intellivision games I like:

Beauty and the Beast is a Donkey Kong sort of game. I like how fast it is compared to DK.

Loco-Motion is a sliding tile game but you’re guiding a train to pick up people.

Masters of the Universe - The Power of He-Man is a fun little shooter.

Microsurgeon is a game that I don’t think is good and don’t even really understand how to play, but it demands to be seen.

Scarfinger is a prototype of a very ambitious driving game. Sort of a Hard Drivin’ on the Intellivision.

Snafu is a Tron light cycles style of game. I just like its moxie.

Tron Deadly Discs I don’t know how to describe exactly. Overhead 3-on-1 shooter? There’s only one screen, you throw your disc at the three other men while they throw their discs at you.

Venture is a game about going into a room, shooting the little guy, taking the treasure, and then leaving and going into another room. It’s very simple, and also my favorite Intellivision game.

Worm Whomper is another shooter. I like it because of the theme (you’re a farmer protecting your corn) and because your little man has a bunch of inertia on him, so you end up sliding around the screen. Lots of fun.


I could literally start talking now and never shut up about this subject, because for me it feels as though there was just this endless gulf of games pre-NES that almost no-one talks about, and that the NES completely sucks the air out of the ‘older games’ discussion. So I’ll be brief!

One of my ancient thread that lived and died in January 2021 is this one about Synapse Software, a real highlight of the era (in my opinion). At some point I’ll go back and re-link all the links! I think if I had to pick one game with some real staying power and interest to modern game appreciators, it’s probably Shamus (and Shamus II, so 2 games). It’s got DNA from Stern’s Berzerk, a sort of maze game but also a shooting game. But it takes things one step further and requires you to backtrack with keys and so on, and as a result it ends up feeling like a proto-Legend of Zelda.

I should note that Shamus’s creator, Cathryn Mataga, was still active in game dev as of a decade ago (her company’s site is still live but no new games have been listed since 2012, so…)

Anyway, here’s some gameplay footage of most versions, including the extremely surprising Game Boy port.


Breakout is the breakout game of the era, imo

Super Circus Atari on the 7800 almost reaches those heights but can be a little bit twitchy and prequires a lot of precision. The earlier stick figure edition can be skipped.


I’m really looking forward to more great recommendations as well as more lines like


Two recommends for the 2600 I only found through playing them on Evercade

Yar’s Revenge feels like the other half of the coin with Scramble that becomes the SHMUP genre.

Aquaventure feels like a fleshed out Game and watch Game in the best ways


Yar’s revenge is a graphical powerhouse for the 2600.


This is a little basic, I know, but pretty much any given Activision game for Atari VCS is a good time. River Raid is as great as it’s ever been, ditto Frostbite.


i was a big ‘activision anthology’ fan back on the PS2

some of my favorites from that:

  • crackpots
  • hero
  • kaboom
  • river raid
  • ice hockey
  • pitfall

I grew up with an Intellivision, so here are some of my favourites from then that I have each played for many hours:

Astrosmash might be the “best” Intellivision game? It is a pretty good shoot-the-stuff-falling-down-the-screen game

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: The Treasure Of Tarmin is an early attempt at an rpg / dungeon crawler. It has nothing to do with AD&D, really. It certainly doesn’t use AD&D systems – 2nd Edition was long out and well established by then, and there isn’t a THAC0 in sight.

Space Battle is a pretty straight forward shooty game with a very minor overworld/tactical map.

Space Armarda is just Space Invaders. It is worth a cursory look just to see. We didn’t have a 2600, so this is the version of Space Invaders I played and am familiar with.

Star Strike is basically a game about the trench run from Star Wars. Instead of needing to shoot missiles in to a tunnel at the end of the run, you need to bomb a certain number of targets along the way. I sometimes had fun deliberately losing in order to watch the planet blow up!

Thunder Castle is an action game where you need to find the special macguffin in each map that is basically a power pill that then lets you kill the baddies. It might have been the first time I saw a game with a title screen that wasn’t the Intellivision’s default green background with white text, and that alone was impressive at the time


Diner is weird. I always knew it as “the sequel to Burgertime” but I don’t think that is genuinely true – I think it is, at best, a “spiritual sequel, kinda”. In this game you need to kick food balls (the manual calls them things like lettuce, cabbage…) down to the bottom of the screen to fill a plate.

Chip Shot: Super Pro Golf was the first golf game I ever played, and got me hooked. I enjoyed computer golf games for ages – although I haven’t seen/played any of them in the last at least 20-25 years now. I wonder if anyone other than EA are making them.

And then we had 3 of the Intellivoice games, and they were like magic. Hearing clear voices come out of a game was so thoroughly impressive – I still have many of the lines of speech from these games burned in my memory to this day.

B-17 Bomber is a WWII bombing run game where you fly from england, over the channel, and bomb targets within Europe. Along the way you get attacked by fighters and have to man the gun turrets to shoot them down, then you open the bomb-bay doors and have to line up your targets.
“Fighters! Twelve O’Clock!”


Space Spartans is a bit like Space Battle but with a slightly more complicated tactical map.
“Starbase two under attack”


Bomb Squad might have been my favourite Intellivision game, but that may also be down to the fact that there was something wrong with our cart and most of the time it would not load/run properly – so the times I could get it to work were all the more special. It is a combination of action and code-breaking that I found rather compelling.
“They’ll never do it in time…”


Pre NES, I think the arcade games are much more interesting than the console games. And there’s a lot of really, really good ones!

You have Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar basically inventing the scrolling shooter, the twin stick shooter, and the rail shooter in quick succession with Defender, Robotron, and Blaster, all of which are as good as any game of their genre despite their age.

You have Namco’s golden age: Pac Man, Dig Dug, Rally X, Mappy, Druaga, Galaga, Bosconian, Pole Position, Xevious, etc. which are bangers.

You have Atari with Missile Command and Battlezone and Asteroids and Centipede and Tempest which are all wildly inventive

And then you have just a million incredible arcade games like Joust and Moon Patrol and Sinistar and Wizard of Wor and Frogger and Scramble and Qix and Q*bert and Burger Time and Gorf and Phoenix and Zaxxon and Gyruss and Elevator Action and etc and etc and etc

Trying to beat your high scores in these games is still as fun today as it was back then and now you don’t have to put a quarter in the machine every time you try.


E.T. was the first underrated hidden gem

my mom had it


lords of midnight - which got this nice writeup from @aerisdead

(i guess 1984 is technically post-famicom but pre-NES?)


I had an Odyssey 2 in the late 80s that my aunt got at a garage sale and we had a few games for it. UFO was consistently fun and is an arcady shooter with an interesting shield mechanic.

I have heard via the Retronauts Odyssey 2 episode that KC Munchkin is a superb maze/chase game, but I have never personally played it.

I did not like the other Odyssey 2 games and tried to explain how “Nintendo was the real videogames” to my parents too, but unlike Tim’s family, they didn’t fall for it.


honestly, for being one of the earliest of cprgs (1981), the first Ultima game is still pretty playable. it’s some chill first person dungeon crawler stuff with a top-down overworld with light narrative interactions, and a surprise twist ending. there’s an ms-dos version from 1986 which is pretty accessible


Limiting myself to consoles here, since that’s how I read the prompt, but even then my experience outside of Atari is limited. I have played a few Intellivisions over the years. Heck, I’ve got one hooked up right now! But I don’t think I can speak to that library with any degree of confidence. I’ve played an Odyssey II once, never touched a Coleco or Channel F outside of a games store lol.

but some of the Actually Cool Stuff on the 2600, by my estimation at least:

  • River Raid (carol shaw undefeated)
  • Pitfall II
  • Adventure
  • H.E.R.O.
  • Pong is still good with paddles dammit
  • Asteroids
  • Dodge 'Em
  • Beamrider (this one actually is better on Intellivision)
  • Astro Blaster
  • ET is weird and neat imo
  • Demon Attack
  • Missile Command
  • Crazy Climber (am I thinking of the right port?)
  • Mr. Do!'s Castle
  • Klax because it is the 90s and there is time for a 2600 port of Klax
  • Combat Two
  • Miner 2049er Volume II
  • Haunted House
  • Star Raiders

idk, there’s more but i don’t remember lol


I tend to forget about so many 2600 games until people start listing them off again. Haven’t played all these, but your top 4 there are stone cold classics. Haunted House is also neat as heck.

On the subject of 2600 games, I have to mention Yars’ Revenge and Kaboom! (another one you need a paddle for). Though I actually prefer the Game Boy Color version of Yars’.

Actually, this thread seems as good a place as any to ask: Is there a good modern solution to play paddle games? I’ve casually searched for modern paddle controllers and don’t come up with much. Doesn’t help that paddle means something else now.


The stick functions as a dial/paddle on the new Atari VCS classic controller and it’s PC compatible.

Atari VCS - Classic Wireless Controller