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It’s the early eighties.  You and your friends are sitting around trying to figure out what to do on a boring night.  One of your friends gets up from the sofa, walks across the shag carpeted, wood-paneled room and into a closet.  The room gasps as he pulls out the wood textured, plastic modern marvel that is the Atari 2600.

The Atari 2600 was the console that popularized cartridge-based game systems as well as helped spur the emergence of third party game developers for consoles.  Its legacy is with us today and in its heyday, the Atari 2600, also known as the Atari VCS, was one of the longest living consoles ever made.

Thus, it is no surprise that collectors and enthusiasts go mad for the console and games made for it, even today.  Because of the console’s influence and timelessness, there are many sites on the web devoted to it, but which are the best?

AtariAge

Though not strictly devoted to the Atari 2600 (the site provides information on 2600’s brethren like the 5200, 7800, and the like), AtariAge provides a huge amount of information about the console and should be the starting point for any budding collector or anyone who just wants to know and love the 2600.

The main feature of interest at AtariAge is the Rarity Guide, a huge database of pages profiling 2600 games.  The Atari 2600 Rarity Guide can be navigated to by selecting “2600” on the homepage’s navigation side bar.  One there, you can search AtariAge’s ample database for any game you desire.

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Each game’s profile provides valuable information for the collector and enthusiast alike.  Things like rarity ranks, scans of cartridges and manuals, as well as links to eBay and other online auctions make AtariAge almost a one stop shop for a collector.

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If you have little to no interest in actually owning the game and just want to play, then there is information for you too.  Links are provided to reviews, tips and tricks, hacks of the game, as well as links to download the ROM of the game for play in an emulator.

As would be expected, information is more complete for more popular games, but on the whole, profiles are usually pretty comprehensive and are getting more so every day.

AtariAge is also a common stomping ground for homebrewers, people who make games today for the console, so if you want to get on the cutting edge of game design for the Atari 2600, AtariAge is a must.

The website also provides tons of information about other aspects of the system and the culture that surrounds it.  There is a nice list of available hardware, information for people who would like to program the console, the history of the console, and a forum.  The forum provides even more information with some very dedicated posters providing seas of information about all aspects of the console.

Atarimania

Like AtariAge, Atarimania is not exclusively for the Atari 2600, but does have many helpful tools for people who love the console.  Some of the coolest features include a bunch of old 2600 commercials, under “Video,” after clicking “2600” at the top, and scans and photos of all sorts of Atari 2600 related paraphernalia.

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Another big draw of Atarimania is the nice ROM collection provided by the site.  You can get there by clicking “2600” at the top and then on “ROMs” in the navigation bar just below.  It claims to be the best and most genuine collection on the internet and is in fact rather good.

The site also provides a nice database of game profiles, similar to AtariAge, for your viewing pleasure. Just click on “Games” after “2600,” like above.  One nice leg up the Atarimania pages have over their AtariAge counterparts is the ability to play the games online through a Java based emulator that can run in a webpage, in case downloading and installing a third party emulator isn’t your kick.  Other than that, pretty similar information is provided.

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AtariAge seems to be more useful for people wanting to get into serious collecting or programming of the Atari 2600 while Atarimania is geared more toward the casual gamers that want to try games made for the 2600 without putting in a huge monetary or time investment.

The Atari 2600 will not go away any time soon, making this as good a time as ever to take advantage of the thriving community of gamers and collectors devoted to creating new content and providing accurately ported old content for and about the console.

So, have you played Atari today?

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