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A Time Mage’s Guide to Video Game Systems – Atari 2600

Ho there! Welcome in.

Come, we have a special guest from another realm, a magical man who dances through time and space. He tells stories of imaginable things, and we bet, if you buy him a drink, he will spin a tale for you, one you will not soon forget.

I would like to introduce you to Marius Breaux the Time Mage.

Marius: Hello there, yes, this is a wonderous place. A great tavern out of the games and movies I have played and watched my entire life. While I visit your realm, I hope to fill all welcome ears with stories about something we call video games where I come from.

How would your innkeeper, Balbo start this…yes…shall we begin, friend?

A wise man once said, “We’re in Atari!”

Ahh, but what does that mean? To some, it means you are in check, outta moves. To others, the word Atari means the dawn of home video game systems. To the old-school gaming soldier, Atari will bring many pleasant and joyous memories.

The Atari Video Computer System was released to consumers in 1977. Yes, the groovy 70s had video games. Hard to imagine, but it’s true. The system was available until discontinued in 1992 and has total sales listed as over 30 million by 2004.

Atari 2600 is remembered for many games such as Combat, Pac-Man, Pitfall, Super Breakout, Missile Command, Defender, Frogger, Pole Position, River Raid and more. But the Atari 2600 also welcomed new gamers to their first taste of fantasy-themed games. Some might say they are the foundation for modern-day RPG video games.

5 Fantasy Themed Games on the Atari 2600

5. Adventure

From 1980, Adventure is a single-player action-adventure game. This game is considered the first fantasy video game and is listed as one of the greatest games of all time.

Players control a character who is nothing more than a colored square. But it’s the action of the game and the fact that the enemies can move off-screen and continue to roam and move about the game unseen that makes it truly unique for its time.

The goal of Adventure is to return a stolen magical chalice to the player’s home castle. To do so, the player must search through several mazes and other castles while avoiding man-eating dragons and a kleptomaniac bat. Yes, that bat will steal anything and everything and is one of the main nuisances in the game (and possibly one of the biggest ones in all of Atari history).

There are objects scattered about that will help you on your quest. You’ll need keys to open the castles and a sword to slay the dragons. But there’s more, such as a bridge and a magnet. Both are instrumental at times. You’d be surprised how often something of value you are carrying is stolen by the bat and deposited somewhere you cannot reach it. This is when you’ll need that bridge or magnet. While you can normally only carry one item at a time, you can carry two if the magnet is connected to one.

One unique feature of Adventure was that the player could continue after being eaten by the dragon (the only way to truly die in the game). All you needed to do was flip one of the switches on the gaming console and the player would respawn at his home castle and best part, the game would not reset. It was an amazing detail because it was rare to make it through a game without being eaten back in the day. Those dragons were fast!

Did you play Adventure in the 80s? Or have you tried it recently? Which castle was your favorite?

4. Dragon Fire

This game was published in 1982 by Imagine. The goal of Dragon Fire was to run around, dodge fireballs and grab the stolen treasure guarded by the dragon. Sounds simple, right? It was and it was tons of fun too. Each round had two stages.

Stage one is a castle and drawbridge that the player needed to cross. The player must jump and duck under fireballs to reach the second stage. Stage two is the treasure room. After you have carefully recovered all the stolen treasure from the dragon, a doorway will open to the next round. But be careful, as one shot will kill you and each round everything gets faster and faster.

This game was often referred to as a good introduction to fantasy gaming for new and young gamers. Back in the day, games came with instruction manuals and this one had a fun little visual guide to treasure. As a child, those nine little graphical representations of treasure were enough to excite and motivate.

Did you reclaim the treasure for the king back in the day? Which treasure was your favorite?

3. Wizard of Wor

A personal favorite for this Time Mage. Wizard of Wor was a co-op game that started in the arcade and was ported to the Atari 2600 in 1981.

The game could be played solo or with a friend. Each player controlled a “worrior.” Player one’s character was yellow, and player two’s character was blue. Unlike Adventure, your character looked like the side profile of a person with a gun or some sort of magical weapon that shot bullets or arrows.

Each dungeon was a single maze that might have been considered comparable to the kind gamers’ saw on the Atari versions of Pac-Man and Combat. As the player would run around the maze, rounds of enemies would appear. The goal would be to eradicate all the enemies until the wizard appeared and then smite him too.

The wizard himself blinks in about out of existence, possibly teleporting around the maze. Players must be ready to attack and or defend themselves or they will be killed in this dangerous and fast-paced setting. Don’t stress too much, when killed, the player will spawn another character from its reserves at the bottom of the screen.

The musical score to Wizard of Wor is both creepy and a decent earworm to players, which is saying a lot for the time period.

Did you stand against the wizard’s legions alone or with another player? What was your strategy? Did you roam or fight back-to-back?

2. Warlords

In name alone, it sounds great, right? Warlords was released in 1980 and utilized the Atari 2600’s paddle controllers. The game is designed where four castles fill the screen, one in each corner. Each castle has a solo defender who acts as a shield. The defender could block attacks which were in the form of a ball (flaming ball is what it was called in the game) from the other warlord’s castles and/or make attacks on them by deflecting the ball or catching and launching it.

The game could be played in multiplayer or single player mode. And was considered fast-paced action for its time. Like Pong and Breakout, the game increased in speed at times, making it almost impossible to deflect the ball as it zipped across the screen.

Yes, it was simple, but it allowed up to four people to play at once and that was special. Did you play Warlords? Did you enjoy it more than Breakout?

1. Swordquest

Is a series of fantasy games for Atari 2600. Four games, each representing a world: Earth World, Fire World, Water World, Air World. These action-adventure games made a valiant attempt to create and carry a narrative.

Of the four games, only three were released for the Atari 2600. One every year starting 1982 and ending in 1984. The fourth and final game did not see a release on the console, however, was released many years later.

The mechanics of the game had players collecting items from one room and placing them in another. Sounds like the foundation for something like Tomb Raider, right?

What made these games different was the fact that each was released with a mini comic book that was required to progress the game. When players unlocked clues, they had to refer to the book to solve the puzzle.

Did you play the game? Did you try and solve all the puzzles? Do you remember that there was a real-world contest connected to the game with cash prizes? We wonder where those prizes are now…


Whether you played on the Atari 2600 as a kid or as an adult, it offered a fun experience back in the late 70s and early 80s. If you missed the first generation of video game systems, you can still buy retro game software, find emulators, or download apps to play many of these fun fantasy games.

If you decide to play only one, give Adventure a go!