<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/atari.jpg”>The Atari was, in its day, an amazing piece of hardware as cool and relevant as the Xbox 360 is today. Young people like myself often forget that there was a period of gaming excitement in the late 70s and 80s that was reflected in pop-culture by movies like War Games and Tron.
Those days died with debacles like the ET game, and there was a gaming downturn that didn’t resolve itself until many years later. The games of that bygone era are true classics, however – titles like PacMan, Centipede and Asteroid. Although simple by today’s standards, these old Atari games had a purity of design that makes them fun even today.
Let’s take a look at a few sites that let you play free Atari games on your PC.
The folks over at Atari aren’t dumb. The company’s best years may have passed it by, but the Atari name still holds weight, and there are plenty of people who still want to play the company’s classics. Rather than being stupid and holding their games back, Atari has put up a website that lets you play their classic games.
The Play Atari website is flash-based, so you’ll probably have best results with the site if you’re playing on a PC. All you need to do if you’d like to play is click on the big red play button (there are lots of such buttons on this site) and that’s it. You’re now playing a modern update of Atari’s classic. You can find all of these older games under the Arcade Classics category on the website. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also check out some of the new games that Atari has put up, as well.
Of course, Atari is a business, and they didn’t put these games up as a charity service. You’ll have to sit through advertisements when the games load and there are plenty of advertisements, mostly for new Atari games, plastered across the website. Still, that’s a small price to pay for official recreations of old Atari game classics.
Okay, now here’s a blast from the past. This website appears to have been made in the late 90s and never updated since. It is put together by a couple who apparently loved the 80’s very much. They also like to document the lives of their children online.
Put that aside for now, however, because these folks have collected a ton of Atari game recreations (and games from other systems) and broken the games up into categories based on the platform you used to play them (Java, Flash, .exe or even Shockwave). This is some real old-school stuff – I remember playing some of the Atari classic renditions on this website years ago.
The coolest thing about this website, though, is the fact that you are given the chance to choose between multiple versions of many games. For example, the site has four different versions of Missile Command. Don’t like one version? Fine! Try another.
Stella Emulator and Atari Age ROMs
One of the best ways to experience any older console is through the use of an emulator, a piece of software that re-creates the console experience on a modern PC. The Atari, being as old as it is, isn’t at all difficult to emulate on a modern PC. There are many Atari emulators as a result, but one of the best is Stella.
Stella is relatively easy to use thanks to an simple directory interface for finding your ROM files, and it is also fully compatible with 32-bit and 64-bit Windows. That’s a big deal, because a lot of Atari emulators are old and only work with 32-bit Windows. Stella can be a bit difficult to learn, however, so I recommend reading the documentation before diving in.
Of course, no emulator is worthwhile without ROMs, the actual game files that are loaded into the Emulator. However, there is a large database of such files available at the Atari enthusiast website Atari Age. This is not the only place you can find ROMs, but is probably the most complete and trustworthy source.
I found a lot of other online destinations that made games available, but most of them had a relatively low number of games and were cluttered with advertisements. Still, there may be some gems that were missed. Be sure to leave a comment if you know a great online destination for old Atari games.