The first video game system I ever owned was a Pong knock-off put out by Sears under the Tele-Games market. My parents got it before I could even play video games, but I remember the thing sitting around the house, and I barely remember playing it a little bit. I’m not sure why I mentioned that, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, it was quickly replaced when we got an Atari 2600 for Christmas around 1980-1981. I had played one at my aunt and uncle’s house the summer prior to that fateful Christmas. I remember being blown away by the “great graphics” and the fact that you could play so many different games with the system.

However, not everything Atari touched turned to gold: in fact, far from it. Atari put out some pretty crappy games that I like to call “stinkers”. I think it denotes the precise level of terribleness of these games, while allowing them to stay nestled in that soft place in my heart I have for all things video games (especially classic video games).

I’m calling out 5 of these stinkers for this article. These may not be the worst games Atari ever put out. In fact, some of these are their more popular titles. But to me, they are stinkers, and they always will be.


This game is an outright stinker. The many failures of this game are magnified based on the fact that this was a horrible translation of one of the most popular video games of all time. The game Pac-Man is not that graphically intensive. Pac-Man himself alternates between a solid circle to a circle with a missing, mouth-shaped wedge. The ghosts are pretty much ovals. The video wafers and power pills are also pretty simple shapes. This should have been a no-brainer for Atari to convert to their low-powered system. However, the programmers blew it so badly on this game that there were too many graphics on the screen, causing the ghosts and the power pellets to constantly flicker. In the above screen capture, there are actually four ghosts on the screen, as well as four power pellets, but they aren’t showing up because they are flickering because the graphics suck so badly.

Atari was so sure that this game was going to be a mega-hit, they actually produced more cartridges than Atari consoles currently in existence, the thought being that people would buy an Atari just so that they could play Pac-Man on the Atari. They could not have been more wrong.

I’ve included one more screen for two reasons: 1) to show you the bonus item (referred to in the instruction manual as a vitamin) that appears just below the ghost’s hideout, and 2) to point out that Pac-Man looks more like a crescent moon or a shrimp than he does an actual Pac-Man. Sometimes Atari really sucked.

Haunted House

To be honest, I don’t know a lot about this game. It was so mind-numbingly dull that I never took the time to learn how to play it. However, I have played enough video games to know which games are winners and which are stinkers, and this one is a STINKER. It is, in my opinion, a lame rip-off of Adventure. Let’s go to the cast of characters:

Your character in the game is a pair of eyes. I’m not kidding.




Scared yet?

You also have an unlimited supply of matches.

The story of the game involves the death of Old man Zachary Graves (Graves? How eerie!) who lived in the small town of Spirit (Oooh! Scary!) Bay. He was a mean old man who rarely left his four story house. Anyway, the old fart died, and his house was promptly condemned and locked up. Apparently, he had a magic urn in his house, but it broke into several pieces during an earthquake in 1890. (Bored yet? Me too.) Nobody has had the courage to enter his house and search for the pieces of the urn. The ghost of Old man Graves still haunts the mansion, as well as lights flickering in the windows, eerie sounds, doors slamming, and heavy footsteps, shadows running through the mansion, blah blah blah. Boy, Atari had some terrible writers and some extremely contrived plots.

The point of the game is that you have finally worked up enough nerve to search this house and its 24 rooms to find the urn. There’s a master key you can find, and a scepter to ward off evil spirits. You get the idea. It’s kind of like a rip-off of the old Adventure game, only somehow more boring.

Trying to play this game is similar to playing the Atari with no cartridge inserted. You can move the controller around, but nothing really happens. You just move your eyes from room to room and collect crap while avoiding the baddies. It’s really such a pointless game. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so.


Swordquest was one of those games I really wanted to like when I was playing Atari. It seemed to hold the promise of adventure…an epic quest that would reward the diligent player with treasure and a sense of accomplishment unrivaled by any victory in his or her short life. Unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to the hype, and was instead just really confusing.

I have to say, the title screen looks pretty nice, but that is where my compliments for this game end.

This is more like how the game was. You traveled around to different rooms in a seemingly endless maze, trying to locate and obtain the sword of ultimate sorcery (whatever that is). The way you advance in the game is by picking up different “magical objects” and dropping them in the appropriate rooms. Kind of like an interactive code I guess, but I found it entirely too complicated.

I bought this game at a flea market growing up, and I now know that I had a vital missing piece of the puzzle when trying to win this game: the mini-comic that was originally packaged with the game. The game was difficult enough, but I didn’t know that the “clues” the game would give sometime in the form of some random numerals were actually pointing me to a comic book, so I eventually gave up.

3-D Tic Tac Toe

To be fair, I never played this game, but LOOK AT IT.


There is no defending this game. It is just a more complicated version of Tic Tac Toe. Can you imagine the disgust and disappointment experienced by any children unfortunate enough to receive this “game” for their birthday, or (God forbid), Christmas?

Lest anybody get the wrong idea, and think that this game can actually be enjoyed, let me point out the following section from the user’s manual (underlined for emphasis).

Are you kidding me? Can you imagine the boredom of just sitting, staring at the screen, and waiting for the computer to make its move?

At least the game “entertains” you while you are waiting on the computer.

Absolutely ridiculous. There are no words.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I have a soft spot in my heart for this game for a few reasons. One, it was created by the same guy who developed the E.T., The Extra Terrestrial cartridge, which I think isn’t that bad and is even underrated. Second, I enjoyed trying to play this game when I was younger, and I really enjoyed the movie. However, this game is just too complicated for words, so I have to assign it as a bonafide stinker.

I realized in my adulthood that I never had a chance to win this game in my youth. The major issue was that I didn’t have the instruction manual, so I had no idea that you had to use both controllers in order to play / win the game. I just remember whipping stuff, using a parachute, and hearing some kind of snake music. It was just entirely too complicated for a kid’s game.

Various walkthroughs and reviews are available online, so I encourage you to check them out to see just how confusing this game was. I guess it is the best of the stinkers, but that is a small compliment at best.

Well, that concludes my look back at some Atari Stinkers. I may put together another one of these someday, if I can bear to re-visit these terrible games. Thanks for reading!

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