The Atari 2600 was released in North America in September 1977, and the world of home gaming was forever changed as it quickly became a must-have system for every gamer at the time who wanted to play arcade ports as well as new games, all in the comfort of their very own home. Plus the system would have a very long life as it would go from 1977-1990 with the system finally coming to a full end in 1992 showing just iconic of a console it was for its time, and yes I know that the Nintendo Entertainment System is considered the gold standard for home consoles. Plus the 2600 was simple to play as your controller was a joystick with only one red button and this kept the games from being too complex for young players and those who were new to video games in general. With the Atari 2600 also came the first wave of console horror games and that is another reason why the 2600 is so important to the world of gaming for many as it paved the way for PS5, X-Box Series X and Nintendo Switch horror games. Growing up I did not own an Atari 2600 and I would not get one of my own until I was in my 30’s, but that does not mean that I did not have one in my life as my grandparents on my father’s side had one and as a kid my across the street neighbor did as well and this allowed me to play so many of the classic titles, and later my brother had ROMs of many titles and we would play them on the computer from time to time. When I got my own system I found myself loving it and went on a quest to buy all the classic titles and of course all the horror games I could get my hands on!
I have 16 horror games for the Atari 2600 (including home brew and hacks) and that makes them the Unlucky 16, as I will rank them from worst to best! Now I am not going to give them a star rating or even a letter grade, I am just going to let their standing speak for itself. I am also going to chat a little about the game as well as my thoughts, and of course I will also tell when it was released, what company put it out, what it was rated as well as if I beat it. The thing with Atari 2600 is that many of the games do not have a true ending as they are mostly point based games, but for games that are beatable, I will say if I have finished them. And keep in mind the games I am ranking all have to be in my collection and on the original format so no digital rom games will be on here, as all that I am ranking are on the classic cart. I will be ranking them mostly on my personal opinion and of course elements like game play, spookiness, graphics, sound, music, replay value, villain(s), story, characters and presentation will all play factors in the ranking as well. So if you are ready, let’s dust off the old Atari 2600 and bust out the old carts and see what horror titles on the system brought the scares to this gamer.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Wizard Rated: NA Beat: No
Let’s start with the unlucky 16th game on this list; in last place is the Wizard Video game The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that has you play as Leatherface. Your goal is to have your chainsaw ready to kill and you have to dodge skulls, wheelchairs and other obstacles while you chase your female victim around the farm…but watch out, your chainsaw can also run out of gas and with that it’s game over as your victim will give you a kick in the butt. This is a very simple and point driven game that marks the first time Leatherface was in a video game and also was one of the first horror games that parents protested, causing it to be sold only behind counters and making it rare even when released. When I bought my 2600, one of the first games I bought off Ebay was Texas Chainsaw Massacre as for years I had heard about it and I had to own and play it, and as you can see, it did not live up to my expectations as I found it to be boring and bland. Once the appeal of playing a 8-Bit version of Leatherface wore off, it is really a bad game from the terrible uninspired plot, to the overly simple game play to the cheesy ending of the butt kick, this was just not good and that is why it finds itself in last place. But I want to also say that while the game is bad, I still do enjoy it for all its cheesy goodness.
Dawn Of The Dead
Released in 2004 System: 2600 Company: Home Brew Rated: NA Beat: No
In this Home Brew game you are a survivor during the zombie apocalypse, and in your van you must dodge tombstones as well as fight off the zombies who want to eat your flesh! To fight back against them, you must fire weapons from your van as well as make sure to get gas that is along the road. This is a fun game and is very simple to play, and while it is just a hack of the game “Worm War I” the changes make it feel like a new game and even adds the stress of the undead on the attack as well as all the obstacles in your way causing you to lose fuel and possibly be stranded on the road. The game was one of the first home brew hack games I got for my Atari 2600, and while I do enjoy it, I feel that other original, and even one other home brew, games deserve to be ranked higher. I will say that for the age of 2600, the game could be considered scary to some gamers due to the stress of it all.
Released in 1986 System: 2600 Company: Activision Rated: NA Beat: No
Cities are under attack by the likes of giant wolf Ralph, big gorilla George and mega lizard Lizzie, and your goal in this game is to pick one of the giant monsters and wreck the city while also fighting off the army! This of course is a port of the classic Arcade game, and while the graphics and some elements are downplayed, the basics are all still here. While the game is fun, it does lack that charm that even the Nintendo port had and is a little too basic and barebones to really be the outstanding game it could have been. This was another game I picked up a little over a decade ago and wanted to see how the 2600 game stacked up against the Nintendo version that I grew up playing, and I would say that it did not deliver the same punch as that version, but I did find myself praising if for having Ralph as a playable character, something the NES version does not. Over all if you like Rampage and only have an Atari 2600 to play video games on, then give this one a shot, if you have other game consoles that have this game I would say choose to buy that version over this one. While it sounds like I hate this version of the game, I want to stress I do not. The low ranking is due to the to simplified gameplay and the fact also that all aspects of giant monster horror are kind of lacking here.
Released in 1982 System: 2600 Company: Tiger Rated: NA Beat: No
King Kong has taken a woman prisoner on top of a building and is throwing bombs down. Your goal is to jump over the bombs and do your best to get past Kong who just watches you dodge his bombs and rescue the woman in this clear Donkey Kong clone game. The game, while in the horror genre due to it being about King Kong, is not scary at all though it could be considered challenging and I guess spooky to some younger players due to Kong being a giant monster who is stomping around and throwing bombs after kidnapping a woman. There’s not much to say about this one besides it’s kind of a fun game and adds its own spin on the Donkey Kong gameplay to make it stand out, and while its challenging, it’s not frustratingly hard like some of the other games for the Atari 2600. I got this game early on when I bought my system and have played it off and on for many years now, and while it’s not an amazing game, keep in mind it is still one of the earliest games based on Kong so that has to mean something for players.
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Xonox Rated: NA Beat: Yes
In this chilling game you play as a boy or girl and enter a creepy castle in order to save each other all the while having to fight and get past monsters that are on a mission to make you dead. As the character you choose, you must enter the castle by first chasing a ghost around the graveyard and then dodging an axe swinging mummy as well as skulls before getting inside and making your way up stairs to finally come face to face with Dracula. Once you trap Dracula, you save the other and make it out of the castle and then you win the game. You also have to do all this in four minutes, and also must collect spears and crosses to help on your quest. This is a fun and quick game that adds in some classic monsters and scares and the simple gameplay makes Ghost Manor a game that feels like it’s for all ages and is very fun and cheesy and that is what makes it entertaining. This was a game that I ended up buying in 2022 as it was one that was on my radar for many years, and while it was not great, I will say that it’s good and I am glad I have it in my collection now. If you like Dracula games, make sure to check this one out and if you like games based on haunted castles, this one is also for you.
Revenge Of The Beefsteak Tomatoes
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Fox Rated: NA Beat: No
Angry Tomatoes are attacking and the only hope is The Tomato Sprayer who must use its wits to collect the floating bricks to build brick walls in order to keep the tomatoes in check. But the Tomatoes also will be fighting back as the plants below are firing at you as well as some of the vines will grow to break down your walls and a mean tomato will also be passing back and fourth looking to get you. This game is clearly inspired somewhat by the cult film “Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes” and while horror themed in nature, the game is not that scary, but is very challenging and you must think fast at times in order to build your walls to keep the tomatoes out as well as get your points. While this could be one of the less spooky games on this countdown, it is one that I think you should check out as it’s a fun play and who knows, maybe the mean looking tomato will send a shiver down your spine! I can remember playing this game a decade back for the first time and being confused what to do, but once I got down how to play it, I enjoyed it.
Released in 1982 System: 2600 Company: Fox Rated: NA Beat: No
The first ever video games based on the Alien film series was for the Atari 2600 and was a maze runner game much like Pac-Man, that was the world’s most popular game at the time. This game has you playing as a crew member of a ship that has been overrun by the Xenomorphs who have laid eggs in the hallways. Armed with a flamethrower and random pulsars, you must destroy the eggs all the while dodging the three Xenomorphs that want you dead! And once you clear a stage, you have to run up the screen through a bunch of Xenomorphs in order to start the next maze. Alien brings the gaming elements of Pac-Man and Frogger together to deliver a creepy intense game that is stressful as the Aliens chase you around the maze that is your ship, and all the while you find yourself filled with anxiety as one wrong move can leave you dead and GAME OVER! While this is not a groundbreaking game when it comes to game play, it is a cool horror themed game that lets you know that no one can hear you scream when you are playing Alien for the 2600 and a Xenomorph is on your tail. Over all if you love video games based on the Alien film series, make sure to check this one out and give it a play.
Released in 2009 System: 2600 Company: Home Brew Rated: NA Beat: No
Did you readers and gamers know that the Atari 2600 has new games being made for it to this day? The new games are being made by fans and are called home brew games and in 2008/2009, a very cool one was made based on the Phantasm movie series that puts you in the sights of Tall Man and his killer dwarf henchmen in a first person maze style game that has your shotgun as the only chance for survival. This is really cool and is creepy in that classic Atari style. From the classic music opening the game to the Tall Man appearing and saying “Boy” to you, this is one that surely will chill your bones and send a shiver down your spine when playing it late at night as it’s as spooky as a 2600 game can be. It took me a bit to find a copy of this game on cart, and when I did I played the hell out of it trying to figure out the maze as well as survive the attack by the Tall Man and his henchmen, and while it was a little pricey I feel it was worth the price. Cool concept and I love the home brew community for making games like this possible.
Released in 1984 System: 2600 Company: Activision Rated: NA Beat: Yes
Ghostbusters has to rank high on the list when it comes to horror comedies. Lke all great blockbuster films, it got the video game treatment, and the Atari 2600 got a version of the game that entertained fans of the film as well as added a challenge to gamers who played this paranormal game in the early 80’s. The game has you play as a Ghostbuster, and you must drive around town and to the scene of a haunting and then bust some ghosts and update and stock your equipment before trying to defeat Gozer by dodging a jumping Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! This game is lots of fun and is very simple as one part is moving around a map, another has you driving the Ecto-1 and the other has two Ghostbusters using their proton pack and traps to capture the likes of Slimer. The game features lots of ghost that do look the same as well as the giant Stay Puft adding to the chills and thrills of the game. And unlike many Atari 2600 games, this one has an end level making beating it possible. I can remember playing this game as a kid at my Grandparents house and later on as an adult, and while I do think the Nintendo version is better, this one does have a simple fun factor to it and also added to the legacy of Ghostbusters in video games as well as added another horror themed game to the Atari 2600 library.
The Alligator People
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Fox Rated: NA Beat: No
Alligator People was a game based on the 1959 film that was to be released by Fox, but for some reason it was shelved and never released until the prototype was found and it was released via the reproduction market. This was one that I had to have as I liked the movie lots and playing a video game based on it was a must. In this maze style game, you play as Jane Marvin and you must shoot your friends and husband with a serum in order to stop their transformations into Alligator People! And all the while Jane must also watch out for the horrors of the swamps like hungry alligators. It’s shocking that this never got an official release because it’s lots of fun and even has some Atari spooky moments with the atmosphere and even the alligators delivering some chills. I wish Fox would have stuck with making video games based on their horror and sci-fi films as gamers in the 80’s could have had some very cool games to play. Check this one out if you can find it on a cart as it’s worth being in your collection.
The Earth Dies Screaming
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Fox Rated: NA Beat: No
In this game based on the 1964 film, you play as a brave pilot of a Space Destroyer who is going around space and shooting down fighters and satellites launched by the Trillians who want to destroy the Earth. I you allow too many satellites to crash to Earth and if the Trillian Fighters hit your ship too much, the Earth will fall and the aliens will win. This is a very fun space shooter game that is pretty much only based on the movie in namesake. But the game adds a level of stress and horror as you have to act quickly in order to survive and save the Earth and everyone is counting on just you to bring the end to the Alien assault. This is a really fun game and is challenging as it gets harder and harder the longer you play and the further you get. Plus I love the idea of a video games based on a film that was relatively unknown. This is one of those games I can remember playing at work when it was traded in, but for some reason I never bought it myself and finally did in 2022 in order to make sure that could take its place on this list. This is very fun game and proves that Atari 2600 knew how to make good space shooter games.
Released in 1984 System: 2600 Company: Atari Rated: NA Beat: No
In this movie tie-in game you play as Billy Peltzer and you have to run around and catch falling Mogwai and if you miss them, they will eat a hamburger and turn into Gremlins that will cause you to have to fight them off by shooting them as they come down the screen after you! This game has only two screens: one that has you darting back and fourth catching and one that has you going back and fourth shooting, and yet some how this simple and limited game just works. While it’s not super scary, it could be spooky for younger gamers as the Gremlins are pretty threatening and their attacks can be very stressful. This is another game that I first played at a neighbor’s house and can remember loving it, and of course I had to track down my own copy decades later when I bought my own 2600. The game has elements of “Space Invaders” and “Kaboom!” and adds its own touch to their game play styles. A fun and challenging game the further you get makes this a must play game for horror gamers who like their scares on the lighter side. The game is semi rare and can be hard to get.
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Data Age Rated: NA Beat: No
Doctor Frankenstein is building a monster, and you enter his castle to stop him. Frankenstein uses the electricity he is collecting from the probes to bring his new Monster to life, and to stop the monster’s return, you must brick him in and jump over pits of acid, holes and dodge bats in order to seal him in and save your village. This game is really fun and builds the tension as The Monster is coming alive and you must move fast in order to get the bricks to seal him in and must do this a total of six time to stop his creation. And if you fail, The Monster will turn green and rampage and walk towards the player until he fills the screen. This game has a very classic horror game feel and its very cool to see Frankenstein’s Monster in one of his early home game console appearances. The game is also one that I feel is very underrated when it comes to horror games on the 2600 and is highly entertaining and for the most part is often looked back on very fondly by old school gamers who grew up playing this game. When I was able to track down and get this game from a local game shop in Ohio, I was really excited to play it and it lived up to the fun spooky factor I was looking for. If you have an Atari 2600 or a 7800 and have not played this one make sure to do so.
Released in 1983 System: 2600 Company: Wizard Rated: NA Beat: No
In this game you play as the Babysitter who must rescue five kids on each level from Michael Myers who chases you around the house with a knife. If he gets you, he cuts your head off and he also will kill the kids! The kids must be brought to the end of the house for safety and when Michael appears, the Halloween theme plays giving it that extra spooky touch. The game is all about points and continues on until the Babysitter loses all three of her lives. For its time, the game was very controversial like Texas Chainsaw Massacre as parents were upset about the violence and this made the game very rare and hard to get. The game’s legacy of being bloody as well as the fact it was based on the classic 1978 slasher film masterpiece helps add to its spooky factor! This was a game that for decades I had heard about and wanted so badly to play and when I finally got a copy, it lived up to what I wanted and what I heard it was like. And while it’s not a perfect game, it is one that is enjoyable even though very repetitive in nature.
Released in 1980 System: 2600 Company: Atari Rated: NA Beat: No
What is more scary than a good old alien invasion? Well, the second best Atari 2600 horror game in my opinion is Space Invaders that was an arcade port to the home system and has that classic sci-fi horror flare from the 1950’s drive-in screens. In this game you play as the operator of a laser cannon that must fire into the sky as aliens and U.F.O’s try to invade the earth, and as a player your goal is to survive from level to level as well as collect as much points as possible. While the Atari 2600 version is not as good as the arcade version, it still was a fun homeport that captured the thrills and chills of trying to fight off the invaders from space. Over the decades I have found myself playing Space Invaders from the 2600, not only at home but also even have played it while at work when testing systems as I find it to be one of the better ports for that system. And this almost was my # 1 game as I do find it to be lots of fun and it truly one of the world’s classic games. Space Invaders is also very simple to play but as the stages are cleared it becomes more and more challenging and this adds to the already mounting stress of the aliens coming down from the sky as obstacles and the aliens speeding up really does add pressure of trying to save the Earth.
Released in 1982 System: 2600 Company: Atari Rated: NA Beat: Yes
I had to go with this classic game as my # 1 as it really was one of the first horror games I can remember playing thanks Brad Burns who lived across the street and had this game for his Atari 2600. Later I would play it all the time at my Grandparent’s house as well as at my own house once I got an Atari as it was one of the first games I bought for the system. The game has you play as a man who is inside the haunted mansion of Zachary Graves and must find a key and three pieces of an urn in order to escape, but he must also stay clear of the spiders, bats and the ghost of Zachary Graves and all you have are matches to light the room. Super simple and super fun, this is truly a classic game in the survival horror genre and could even be considered the one that started it all for horror gamers. For me Haunted House really is a simple and spooky game that makes good use of the limitations of the Atari 2600 and even uses a sound cue from the Twilight Zone TV show during gameplay.. So in other words, this game is a pure classic. This game should be reimagined for modern systems and should have lots of time put into it as we all would love to see the ghost of Zachary Graves once more rise to haunt his mansion and you must use your wits to escape it. On a side note, a home brew hack game was made based on the film “The Blair Witch Project” using Haunted House that has you playing as Heather in the Blair Witch’s run down home, and for those wondering, yes, I have it on cart as well.
So as you can see, the Atari 2600 had its fair share of great horror games with many laying the groundwork for the modern survival horror genre as well as introducing the licensed horror games to the market. It was a system that brought us games based on Alien, Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and was the first system that made kids really want to have home gaming consoles and is even what brought friends together to play a game they all could have fun with (and yes it is also the system that caused the video game crash of 1983 as it flooded the market with poorly made games). Speaking of fun, this was lots of fun to deep dive into my Atari 2600 horror game collection to do this countdown and many of you readers have always told me you enjoy these style of updates as my “Top 10 Should Have Been In The Star Comics World”, “Rotten Pixels”, “Rotten Pixels 2”, “Best Dayton Fried Chicken”, “Best Active MLB Mascots” and the “Top 60 Luchadors” countdowns have always seemed to bring readers entertainment. And with that I am going to say that I will be doing more of these horror video game countdowns in the coming years and will do so for such systems such as Playstation, Nintendo, Commodore 64, Genesis and many of the others that I own! And with that, let’s turn off the Atari 2600 as it’s time for me to tell you what the next update will be. It’s a DC horror character and one that I have been a fan of since I was a kid, and that’s Man-Bat! So until next time, read a comic or three, play a horror video game or two, and as always support, your local Horror Host! See you next update for some Man-Bat Adventures, and yes I am sure Batman will also make an appearance.