The 1981 Atari Game Catalog

Posted 7 years ago by Games

Atari Catalog

When I was a kid we had an Atari 2600 in a box in the basement left over from either my Dad or my sisters’ curiosity in video games from a time before I was born. I played it some when I was little and my sister took our (or her) NES to college. There were also a few stores in my hometown where Atari games could be found for dirt cheap, so there’s always been a weird, it’s-better-than-no-video-games kind of nostalgia in my heart when it comes to Atari.

A few years back I found this little booklet at my Mom’s house and stashed it in one of my many junk boxes. I recently dug it out and I knew I had to scan the pages and post them here on the site. With Atari graphics being so horrible, they had to rely on these cool watercolor illustrations to advertise the games, and it’s really fun to look through. So here is, in full, the 1981 Atari Video Computer Systemâ„¢ Catalog.

Atari Catalog Cover

I don’t know about you, but the thought of a Wizard, a police officer, a Spaceman, and a cowboy all watching me play Combat with my buddy Pele is kind of awesome. Although that wizard has a pretty dastardly look on his face.

Atari Catalog Page 1-2

Well, I’m sold. True-to-life sound effects? Sign me up! I just hope they make a game about E.T.!

I love how serious that pitch is. It’s like a slap across the face from Atari demanding your Mom’s purse and for some reason you like it.

Atari Catalog Page 3-4


Here we go, Asteroids! We had Asteroids for the Atari, but I was also lucky enough to grow up with a really-for-real Asteroids arcade cabinet in my room so I didn’t play that cartridge much.

Those two guys sitting down look like they’re totally not taking this captive-in-an-asteroid-belt thing seriously, and the dude standing up is like “What the hell guys!”

Atari Catalog Page 5-6

Missile Command

I want to see that illustration fully animated. It looks like complete chaos, and not the slow, boring crawl of dots that I remember Missile Command being.

Atari Catalog Page 7-8

Space Invaders

AKA Missile Command 2: The Good Version. It’s crazy how iconic the design of those aliens has become.

Atari Catalog Page 9-10

How have I never played this Superman game? Is it any good? Regardless it’s chocked full of DC trademarks if that description is correct. I haven’t played those other two games either, but for more obvious reasons.

Atari Catalog Page 11-12

It’s funny, but I never made the connection with Breakout and the actually-breaking-out-from-something metaphor.

Atari Catalog Page 13-14

These games all look hilarious. And if you’re a human cannonball, wouldn’t it hurt if you hit the target too?

Atari Catalog Page 15-16

Night Driver? I’m sure that game was on many kids’ wishlists.

I love how that family is playing Checkers on a TV on top of a barrel, Cracker Barrel style.

Atari Catalog Page 17-18

I’ve never played Othello but if the board game versions had Space Robots on them I’m sure I would have been a lot more interested.

Atari Catalog Page 19-20

Not gonna lie, I would play the hell out of Sky Diver, and I have no idea why.

Atari Catalog Page 21-22 Atari Catalog Page 23-24 Atari Catalog Page 25-26

Adventure is the Atari game I played the most, and I’ll always be terrified of that little Duck-Dragon.

Atari Catalog Page 27-28

How does Combat not get a snazzy two-page spread? I love that game.

Atari Catalog Page 29-30 Atari Catalog Page 31-32

Codebreaker and Basic Programming are perfect examples of the difference between the Atari gaming generation and my Nintendo/Sega generation. Games were still very much a nerdy, hacker thing at this time.

Before long, you and your computer will be making beautiful music together!

Atari Catalog Page 33-34 Atari Catalog Page 35-36 Atari Catalog Page 37-38 Atari Catalog Page 39-40 Atari Catalog Page 41-42

Wow, the Atari club was only a dollar a year? Meanwhile in 2013…Xbox Live, DLC..ugh.

Atari Catalog Page 43-44

I only left out two pages, but they’re just a big checklist of which games require which paddles, and they had a bunch of scribbles on them so you’re not missing much.

So there you have it. The 1981 Atari Catalog in all it’s glory. Does it make you want to go out and get one of those Atari Flashback things? I’ll admit, it kind of makes me want too.

Atari Catalog Back Cover

So were you an Atari kid? If so, what games did you have?

  • SpaceMonkeyX

    That wizard does seem a little shifty…

    Great stuff, man! Those were the days…

  • Tim Briscoe

    Ah, yes. I vividly remember this catalog. I pored over it for more hours than I really should have. Even as a kid the cartoon depictions were amazing to me. Many of them were far better than the game itself. That single Dodge ‘Em illustration conjures a more elaborate premise than anything that generation of games had to offer.

    I was in the Atari fan club too. (It was only a buck!) I’ll have to find my copies of the magazine for display here.

  • Dex

    First, thanks for posting this trip down memory lane. I love everything about this era of Atari, it just brings back such good memories.

    Nerd Alert: That’s Video Pinball in the cover illustration, not Combat. But you’re probably just saying Combat as an example game that you played, however, my OCD nerd had to say something.

    Oh man, I had Bowling *down*. There was a specific spot to stand in and tap the stick to curve the ball in just the right place to strike every time.

    In Human Cannonball, your target is an open top water tower, so you’re landing in a very high pool. That’s presuming you don’t aim too low and splat into it or overshoot and go off the screen. When we got bored we’d aim the cannon as vertical as possible, max speed just to watch the guy come down and splat on the ground.

    Othello is one of my favorite board games. I had a computerized board game version. Would have been much less work to play on Atari!

    We used to have Circus Atari playoffs. It was one of those games the adults loved as much as the kids.

    Warlords is one of my all time favorite games. 4 player deathmatch!