Best Atari 8-bit Games - 10 Classics You Should First Play On Your 400 Mini 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The Atari 400 Mini is the latest mini-console-styled product from Retro Games Ltd, following the A500 Mini of 2022 and the C64 Mini before that.

Pre-loaded with 25 games, the system can run ROMs from the entire Atari 8-bit computer library and the Atari 5200, and comes with a faithful-looking (and feeling) CX-40 joystick with added inputs.

Of those 25 games, many are worth your time before you start adding anything. Included are ports of well-known Atari arcade hits; a few games that were widely converted to other home computers; and a handful of ground-breaking experiences which everyone with an interest in gaming history should play.

Here are 10 to get you started.

Miner 2049er (Atari8bit)

Where Donkey Kong had Mario, even if he didn’t know he was Mario at the time, 1982’s Miner 2049er has Bounty Bob climbing and jumping his way around single-screen levels of collectables and various mutated enemies.

A piece of platforming history that can often be overlooked as it didn’t begin in arcades and was never ported to SEGA or Nintendo home systems, Miner 2049er’s goals are simple: ‘survey’ every part of the level by walking on its surfaces, avoid and/or destroy the baddies, and use the various shoots and slides to your advantage.

It feels like a mix of Burger Time and Donkey Kong, via Snakes & Ladders, and is one of the few built-in games here that any player of any age will immediately feel familiar with.

M.U.L.E. (Atari8bit)

One of the first games published by Electronic Arts, 1983’s M.U.L.E. is probably best enjoyed in multiplayer – so search around for some more USB-compatible controllers to plug into the front of your Atari 400 Mini.

Up to four players can tackle this real-time strategy title simultaneously, with the aim of the game being to become the wealthiest landowner on the planet of Irata (yes, that’s Atari backwards). Various resources must be obtained and properly balanced so as to achieve a sort of business harmony, with the M.U.L.E.s that give the game its name – aka ‘Multiple Use Labor Elements’ – essential to the management of this system. They can go AWOL to leave you in the lurch, with new M.U.L.E.s only manufacturable if you’ve enough of the relevant element, namely Smithore.

If it all sounds as beige as the Atari 400 Mini’s authentically coloured case, you might just be surprised: rather like Monopoly, which it takes influence from, players can band together to push another competitor out of business, and with more than a little luck needed to succeed, you can’t ever be sure of the results.

Berzerk (5200)

This is (we think) the 1983 Atari 5200 version of Stern’s amazing arcade shooter Berzerk – a port was developed for the Atari 8-bit family, but it never came out.

What that means is you get the crackly digitized speech – there’s nothing quite like the evil computer calling you a chicken and to “fight like a robot” if you leg it off the screen before defeating all the enemy robots – and that those same malevolent mechs can shoot diagonally, meaning you’re going to need to be exceptionally active on the CX-40.

Always a pleasure to throw yourself at, only to usually die in double-quick time, Berzerk is probably the pick of the 400 Mini’s built-in arcade ports, but Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, Millipede and Crystal Castles also provide the usual lightly compromised coin-op fun.

Battlezone (Atari8bit)

Another arcade port that deserves its own spotlight, Battlezone took its sweet time coming to Atari’s 8-bit computers – the game debuted in 1980 and received a 2600 port, which replaced its vector visuals with raster graphics in 1983 before this version landed in 1987 – but it was worth the wait.

It might not move all that quickly but Battlezone for the Atari 8-bit family (it came out to coincide with the XEGS) sure looks the part with its bright green lines depicting three-dimensional tank combat. It’s very easy to get to grips with and won’t have you scrambling to remember what input around the CX-40 does what.

If Battlezone’s gameplay particularly appeals, another very similar release, 1983’s faster and more colourful Encounter!, is also amongst the pre-installed 25.

Lee (Atari8bit)

Originally known as Bruce Lee, Datasoft’s action-platformer debuted for Atari’s 8-bit family before appearing on the Apple II, Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and more.

It casts you as the famous film star in a quest to discover the secret of immortality. To do this, you move through a series of screens, collecting all-important lanterns (easy to miss unless you read the pre-launch blurb properly) to unlock new areas, and kicking the butts of a couple of enemy types – a sprightly black ninja and a green-skinned warrior who’s considerably larger.

It’s not especially challenging, and its tight controls make it a good game to jump into early on in your Atari 400 Mini journey.

Star Raiders II (Atari8bit)

Here’s a game with some history, a back story that’s possibly more interesting than the actual experience of playing the thing.

Originally developed as a tie-in for 1984’s The Last Starfighter movie, a previous version of Star Raiders II was ready to go for the Atari 5200 and 8-bit computers only to be unceremoniously dropped. Rather than let it die completely, Atari redesigned several elements of the game and released it in 1986 as a sequel to 1979’s Star Raiders, again putting players into the cockpit of a space fighter and showing the 3D action from a first-person perspective.

What you get is a fun but slightly confusing adventure of planet-skimming bombing runs and deep-space dogfights, with a shield to help you keep the rival fighters at bay while you’re taking out surface bases and an overall mission of protecting your worlds while destroying the enemy’s.

It looks good, it moves fast, and it can be quite a challenge to line your sights up with bomb targets, but the gameplay loop does grow somewhat repetitive.

Capture the Flag (Atari8bit)

Another 400 Mini inclusion where having a second human player participate elevates the experience considerably, this 3D maze game of 1983 pits one player as the invader, tasked with finding their way out of a maze (and thus capturing the flag that awaits them on the outside), and another as the defender, who must catch them before they get out.

The split-screen display means you can see whatever your human or computer opponent’s looking at, but you’re most likely to be focused on the map, which only fills itself in as you explore your surroundings. The map can be switched off if you want to really feel lost – but don’t be surprised if you never find your way out without it.

With music that shifts tone when your opponent is nearby and crisp 3D visuals that are never hard to read, this is a fun, tense little game which has plenty of replay value.

Wavy Navy (Atari8bit)

From Sirius Software, the makers of Capture the Flag, fixed shooter Wavy Navy is a rather less-ambitious affair which is best summarised as Galaxian at sea.

You control a boat, bobbing about on the ocean waves while enemy jets and helicopters gather above you. The choppers will swoop down and shoot at you, and some planes will kamikaze themselves in your direction.

Dodge what’s coming your way and clear the screen to progress. It’s a sweet and simple twist on a very familiar genre that doesn’t tear up any rule books, and that’s just fine.

Yoomp! (Atari8bit)

Now here is a twist – Yoomp! isn’t from the 1970s or ‘80s, or even the 20th century. This tunnel-based bouncing-ball platformer (we guess) was developed in 2007, specifically for the Atari 8-bit family.

With a few decades’ worth of knowledge on its side, this one pushes the hardware, producing some wonderful 3D effects as you bounce your ball down its puzzling tubes. A perfect run through its 21 levels is said to be achievable in 20 minutes, but such so tricky are the moves you’ll have to pull off that this game makes the 400 Mini’s rewind feature into an essential tool.

If you’re aware of the ball-bouncing racer Trailblazer, widely available for home computers in the mid-1980s, this is basically that game made a whole lot more cylindrical.

The Seven Cities of Gold (Atari8bit)

Developed by M.U.L.E. maker Danielle Bunten Berry and another early publishing project for Electronic Arts, this 1984 release is regarded as one of the first open-world games.

You play as a 15th-century explorer dispatched by the Spanish crown to seek out new lands, establish allies and trading partners and, ultimately, bring back gold. It’s a game that does a lot with very little – navigating the ocean is a case of pushing the stick in a given direction (noting how much food you have on board – your crew won’t last long if they’re not fed), and speaking to the tribal leaders you meet is all done via easy menus.

You can choose a path of peace (albeit with a few casualties, as it’s hard to not kill villagers when you enter their territory, as you do so by just bumping into them) or attack the settlements (ill-advised, but it’s your choice).

It’s not entirely intuitive stuff – which is something that can be said of a lot of these 8-bit games (pro-tip: if in doubt, have a look for a video on YouTube to point you in the right direction) – but there’s appealing depth and nuance to The Seven Cities of Gold, and it’s one that you’ll definitely be using the Atari 400 Mini’s save functionality for.