‘Tis the season for buying things, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to show some of my favorite examples of Atari’s weirdest/worst attempts to sell games for the 2600 system. Some of these games are awesome, to be fair, it’s just that the ads themselves are such bizarre or lazy attempts to market them.
1. Atlantis – Leading off with one more bizarre than lazy, Atlantis was a shooting game where you were the bases of the Atlantean colony, warding off an attack by the Gorgons.
The ad treats Atlantis (the game) like it is the document of a war that actually happened, with a news reporter interviewing an Atlantean – but there’s a twist at the end! This spot is so needlessly complicated:
2. E.T. – This is the low hanging fruit of Atari jabs, but I’m not talking about the legendarily terrible gameplay here.
Obviously a high-profile game for Atari in 1982, they pulled out all the stops for the E.T. game’s commercial. They even got E.T. himself to appear! Dressed as…Santa Claus. Who then unwraps the presents underneath the tree, and proceeds to play his own game. Dressed as Santa Claus.
I mean, I’m assuming it’s E.T., and not Botanicus or somebody else. The ad isn’t exactly clear. Also, shouldn’t E.T. (or whoever) be safely on the Green Planet by this point?
3. Spider-Man –
What is with characters playing their own games? The Green Goblin is standing right in front of him, WITH A LIT BOMB, and he frustratedly plays his Atari to defeat him.
4. Ms. Pac Man – Pac Man’s presence on the 2600 was popular, but a little flat. The design is still great on the box-art, but in a way that didn’t really distinguish it from other offerings at the time. You can imagine why they wanted to make the release of Ms. Pac Man “pop” a little bit more:
She doesn’t quite have the legs of her arcade cabinet design, but still! Pretty provocative for a home console! And the ad’s got some good old nightmare fuel about 20 seconds in…
5. Dig Dug – I have really fond memories of Dig Dug, largely because of its bizarre premise. I know most video games have bizarre premises, but as a kid I really liked the absurdity of taking the time and effort to inflate an enemy until it popped, in an underground cavern that was prone to cave-ins where space and time were at a premium. Also throw in the fact that dropping a rock on an enemy, an instantaneous move, had basically the same effect.
I can’t even imagine what the budget was for this ad, or where it would have run – it’s two and a half minutes long! And completely bizarre, and makes Dig Dug seem like a prequel to Tremors or something.
As a bonus, here’s the commercial for Pitfall – featuring a young Jack Black!