Worse than ET. Worse than Sneek’n Peek. Worse than Math Grand Prix. The Atari 2600 had thousands of games. Some were good and some not so much. But the worst Atari 2600 game, in my opinion, came bundled with the console. It was titled simply, “Combat”.
Because Combat was one of the first nine Atari 2600 games, one could argue that the benchmark wasn’t very high at this point, and there weren’t in-cartridge enhancements, etc. However, a crappy game is a crappy game. As a child, I remembered that this game was kind of like a scratch on the side of your new car. It won’t go away or become less infuriating, no matter how long you stare at it.
I will explain really quickly how Combat works: There are two tanks on the screen that look like the letter M. The left joystick moves one tank, and the other joystick moves the other tank. Pressing the button on the joystick causes the tank to shoot. If one tank shoots the other tank, a counter goes up by one. That’s it, that’s the whole “game”. And you are playing alone, tough luck. The second tank will just stay in one spot forever.
So what makes Combat the worst Atari 2600 game ever? First and foremost: tank controls. When I was five years old, I could not for the life of me figure out how to move the damn tank. For those of you who call yourself gamers, tank controls may be a simple concept: move the joystick left or right to turn, move the joystick up to move forward, and move the joystick down to move backward. Simple, right?
Well, let me explain the mind of a five-year-old trying to use tank controls. The tank is facing right. I want to go up. So I press up on the joystick. The tank moves right. What the hell? I wanted to go up! Forget it, let me press the joystick right. Okay, now I’m rotating the tank. Why am I turning? Now I’m facing the wrong direction! This game sucks, I’ll just toss this one into the fireplace and play Pac-Man instead, where up goes up and right goes right.
The tanks are seen from a top-down view and move slower than molasses going up-hill. There are many game “modes” that change the scenery a little, but from boot-up, the two tanks are inside an empty room. Nothing in it but two tanks and a border around the edge. This looks so pathetically simple and lazy that you would have to see it to believe it. Add a dash of annoying controls, a pinch of terrible graphics and a handful of no-fun-at-all, and you get the worst Atari 2600 game ever made.
The best thing about the worst Atari 2600 games is that they are easy to find and cheap as dirt. (affiliate link) In fact, many Atari 2600 games are one penny on Amazon (actually four dollars, with postage) so I suggest buying a bunch. Not this one, though. Unless you hate yourself.
Playing Combat on the Atari 2600 is like playing Russian Roulette, except instead of a gun, you have a joystick, and instead of a bullet, you have terrible controls. It’s like playing soccer with one leg tied behind your back, while wearing a blindfold, and the only goal is to feel a little bit of joy in this cruel, cruel world.
War is hell, and so is playing Combat on the Atari 2600. Watching those two tanks aimlessly move around the screen, shooting at each other with no regard for their own safety, it’s almost as if they’re trying to metaphorically represent the futility of war. Of course, that might be giving this game too much credit. After all, at least in war there’s usually some strategy involved. Let’s be honest, if we are going to have two tanks shooting at each other, how about we add a little excitement to the mix? Maybe some high stakes betting or an audience to entertain. Perhaps a bit of thunderdome action? Or better yet, how about we toss in some land mines and make the whole experience even more explosive?