Long before existed things such as Xbox live, MMORPGs, ad hoc multiplayer and all that, there was the good old Atari 2600. No complicated wire connections, no setting up countless options and maps, no ninja monkeys with guns jumping in your face. Just a system and cart, a couple of joysticks and some good friends to share countless hours of simple, yet entertaining, fun with. Atari supported mutiplayer games greatly on their VCS system and many games were even multiplayer only ones, leading to some truly outstanding multiplayer games on the system. Here I'll list the top 10 multiplayer games while trying to feature all genres.

Snake wasn't Nokia's original idea, as Surround preceded it by two decades. Not only did you try to make more space for yourself as your snake get bigger in time in Surround, but you also had to make sure your opponent gets trapped, surrounded or even so confused they would hit their own blocks! It's old and can seem boring at first glance, but in reality Surround is very fun and requires much thought and quick reactions. The many variations make gameplay even more fun and refreshing so it's definitely one of the best multiplayer games on the system.

#9: Boxing

You move, you punch. Those were the controls, and I couldn't have it any other way. As most other sports games on the VCS, Boxing was as simple as it gets when you first look at it, but therein lies strategy and careful thinking if you look hard enough. The closer you are to the other boxer when your punch lands, the more points you get and when you reach a hundred points he'll get get knocked down. This, along with the timer at the top provide for some fast paced action and careful timing on each side. Just like a real boxing match!

Fishing would hardly sound as an interesting concept for a multiplayer game, especially if it's on the Atari 2600. But Fishing Derby, which was made by the same guy who brought us Pitfall!, is a pretty fun and enjoyable game by any standard. You and a friend sit beside each other and move your fishing lines in the same pond. You have to catch as many fish as possible all the while evading the jaws of a huge shark waiting to eat your catch! The shark movements and different fish positions make for some exciting multiplayer fishing action. Good stuff.

The most strategic multiplayer game on the Atari 2600 by far, Armor Ambush would be a good investment for those who care about strategy and not so much of graphics. In a similar vein to Combat, you controlled a tank and shot at the opposition's tank until it is destoryed. Wait, did I say tank? I meant TWO tanks, alternating between them on the spot, while going through multiple backgrounds with multiple strategic positions and "clever plan" areas. It's certainly not as sophisticated as Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, but then again, why should it be?

Can it possibly get any better than this? There were these two small cars that you and a lucky friend controlled and just rushed through many variations including race, item collecting, mazes and time attack. Control is very fluid and responsive, with the small pixelated cars moving like a dream. You closed the path for the opponent, you snatched the item just before they reached it, you beat his record by one second, there's just so many cool things you can do in Indy 500, easily the best multiplayer racing game on the Atari 2600.

#5: Combat

This is it, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only - Combat. Bundled with all early Atari systems this multiplayer game is considered by many to be one of the best multiplayer games ever (yes, ever, as in, of all time). Having 27 whoopin' variations you and your buddy shot at each other using war tanks, helicopters, jet planes and fighters in many settings such as mazes, between the clouds, in a desert and with many options like invisibilty, controlled bullets and no borders. Combat needs no introduction. It is one of the pioneering multiplayer games, and stands the test of time as a fun game to play even three decades later!

#4: Tennis

In Tennis you can play a multiplayer game lasting 20 seconds or 2 hours, just pick it up and play till you're bored. There was an arguably better game released later on on the VCS called Realsport Tennis. If better graphics compensating for boring gameplay is better, then yes, RS Tennis is arguably better. Tennis had a minimum interface, just two dudes on a court and a ball, and had exactly FOUR different colours on the screen, but if you're one who believes gameplay is more important than graphics then welcome to Tennis heaven. Featuring fast paced well thought out gameplay and just plain out simple FUN, Tennis was the best Tennis game on the Atari 2600 and the best Tennis game ever made ever since its release in 1981 all the way until the year 2000. Yeah 'nuff said!

There's just something so mesmerizing about Frogs and Flies. Two players controlled two differently coloured frogs in a swap and your mission was to eat as many flies as you can. Sure when you read it like that it seems strange but this truly is one of the greatest multiplayer games ever. There's something captivating about jumping around catching that fly before your opponent does. Oooh there's one, you both jump, but only one will catch it. The better timing for sticking out your tongue and eating the flies with the better, and the better timing you choose to go out and get this game to play it with a friend to see how cool it is, the better as well.

Best sports game on the Atari ever. I remember in '98 I was playing some hockey game on the PS with my brother, but it just seemed boring after a couple of days (not consecutive playing of course). So anyway then we hooked the Atari and played Ice Hockey instead, and had the time of our lives. True story! Timeless classics like this are very very rare, and it's almost unbelievable how fun and great Ice Hockey is after all these years. Not one fraction has the fun factor wore down, as controlling your team of two hockey players and scoring using intuition, skill, strategy, timing, intelligence and speed is just as fun as it ever was, and will forever be. Classic.

This is "it". The Super Smash Bros. of the VCS. The big daddy of multiplayer mayhem on the Atari 2600. Warlords is a four player only game using the innovative paddle controllers where you and three others have the best multiplayer action you could ever dream of. Every player shielded a corner of the screen from a ball that eats away at your corner if touched. When the four player are moving around trying to keep up with the unpredictability of the ball and their enemies' reflections of it, you'll realize what multiplayer videogaming is all about - pure, simple, unadulterated fun. No explosions, no pretty colours, no fancy stuff, just three guys ganging up on the one with the biggest wall left and him shouting at them for being cheaters. Warlords is a gem of multiplayer action, and possibly the best multiplayer game ever made (and that's not just nostalgia talking). It's the only good use for the paddle controllers, and the only good use of having gamer friends. Just kidding ;-). Not really.

Video games constantly evolve and "become better", but multiplayer games have something that can't be made better by improving technology. Something timeless and unique, and some of these games have it in them. Whether you look at them now or after more years to come, they will still remain excellent multiplayer games, where newer games come and go as technology improves. When fun is all that matters, these will deliver. And deliver well they do. So whenever you're in the nack for some classic multiplayer action, look no further than these games I've listed. You won't regret it.


List by red soul (09/06/2006)

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