By Jared Petty

The Atari 2600 didn’t so much burst out of the gate as gently coast, like a soap box derby car puttering along on a gently sloping sidewalk. As the years passed, the curve of public interest steepened, and by 1983 Atari was hurling down a slope of success… and toward a crash into a barricade at the bottom.

Tortured similes aside, in the early 80s, it was a woodgrain world, and we were all just living in it. While rivals at ColecoVision, Intellivision, Odyssey 2, Apple, Texas Instruments, and Commodore had made deep inroads into the home gaming hardware market in the US, Atari meant games. The 2600 inhabited millions of American living rooms, and its library, while oversaturated with opportunistic junk, also featured dozens of spectacular games from both Atari and the new breed of third-party publishers.

It’s sad that some of the very best games for the VCS arrived in 1983, just as marketing forces were undercutting the prices and perceived value of home video games. Some games hit overcrowded shelves and never really got the chance they deserved to shine. Others were outright canceled, their complete or near-complete code locked behind layers of corporate secrecy.

Today at Limited Run, you can pick up bona fide 2600 cartridges containing two noteworthy lost artifacts from those fateful days: Saboteur and Aquaventure.

Saboteur plays to the 2600’s strengths. The VCS hardware struggles to display more than a couple of sprites on a single horizontal line, but clever programmers like creator Howard Scott Warshaw could cram a relatively huge number of items onscreen by arranging them vertically. Saboteur leverages this technical limitation by implementing a multi-stage shooter approach where each level changes up the goals and gameplay while sticking to the vertical layout.

You’re always shooting, but it doesn’t get repetitive, thanks to smart design. You’re simply gunning down enemies early on, but in later levels, you’re pulling off tricky deflection shots, bouncing projectiles off invincible enemies to ricochet beams toward otherwise unreachable targets. Your success through the various frenetic trick-shot challenges changes the status of later levels: excel early, and the next stage may be easier; barely scrape by, and the difficulty ramps up. Conquer, and the sequence resets faster and harder. It’s a classic shooter loop honed to a keen edge.

Aquaventure takes a more chill approach. Like Saboteur, it’s built around the VCS hardware’s vertical bias. You’re a scuba diver descending a series of underwater caves in search of sunken treasure. Each screen you descend toward the bottom gets a little more dangerous.

Your diver is a tall sprite, and enemies are coming in from the sides, so you have to plan your moves accordingly. You’re hardly defenseless against the nasty fish sweeping in from both sides of the screen- your speargun sends them to that great saltwater lake in the sky with a single shot. But every dead critter is almost immediately replaced by a faster, meaner live critter, and since you have to retrace your steps to the surface after grabbing the treasure, you need to be really strategic about where and when you actually decide to take a shot.

Added to all this, there’s an air timer constantly counting down, so you can’t just wait for the optimal break in enemies to descend or ascend. Aquaventure plays sort of like a more subdued, multi-screen take on Seaquest, and it’s worth exploring if you’re an Atari aficionado.

Both games are available right now at Limited Run, complete with box and manual!

Limited Run Games:

the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games and soundtracks in addition to winning a number of awards for their bespoke Collector’s Editions. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form for casual fans and collectors alike. Visit limitedrungames.comfor the latest offerings, or follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.

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