Raising a Gamer

Fishing Derby (Atari 2600)

Prior to writing this, I had never played the Atari 2600, but have always admired the system from afar. My father-in-law, upon learning that I have been contributing to a retro gaming site, let me adopt his 2600 that had been sitting in his garage for at least two decades. I hit the retro gaming jack pot on this one! This unit I inherited came with twenty plus games, extra joysticks and extra paddles. The 2600 fits all that extra hardware in a deliciously 70’s “Tele-Games Center”. The build quality of the 2600 is stellar, the faux wood grain and polished switches still feel great and the click when sliding in a game cart is more satisfying than any other cartridge based system I have ever played. The Atari 2600 has to be one of the most attractive pieces of video game hardware ever mass-produced. But this entry of my Raising a Gamer series isn’t about attractive hardware with the build quality of the Great Wall of China…it’s about introducing my four year old daughter, Mae, to amazing retro games.

As soon as I got home after picking up the 2600, I began untangling a mess of cords while Mae started sorting through the library of games we now have. (All in the original boxes with manuals- thanks, Bob!) Mae had shown interest in the Circus Atari game, but after popping it in it was almost unplayable on my TV with all the static. I’ll have to try the RCA to F-type connector fix suggested by Tom Hall to clear up the static. We tried a few other games and eventually Fishing Derby stood out as our favorite so far.

Let's go fishing!Let’s go fishing!

As soon as I took the game out of the box, I smiled. The message on the cartridge is refreshing. Activision gives credit to the lead designer. (Maybe the only designer? I am not sure how large video game design teams were in this era). I clicked the cartridge into the 2600 and fumbled with the switches for a minute before I realized the Game Reset switch starts the game. Thank God, I thought it was broken. Fishing Derby has simple controls and is really fun. Mae and I initially took turns catching fish and avoiding the shark trying to steal your catch. After she was familiar with the controls, we switched the game over to two player mode and went head to head. Considering that I have a couple decades more experience, I dominated that little kid. But I will admit, she was able to get a few of the extra point fish from the bottom of the lake while the shark kept stealing mine when I would reel them to the surface. When you play games with your kids, everyone wins! The action is fast paced (for a fishing game) and the controls are solid. The sound effects are minimal, which is disappointing. I would have appreciated some good ol’ fashioned fishing music in addition to the chime when you catch the fish. I understand that adding quality sound was probably not an option when developing, but I have a hard time getting past the silence. Thankfully, I had Mae’s stifled laughter when the shark would eat my fish. There is a strange part of me that enjoys fishing games, so it was nice to introduce Mae to a genre that I have always (secretly) enjoyed.

This is the most invested I have seen her in a game since we started this.This is the most invested I have seen her in a game since we started this.

This game is perfect for the small one because of its simple controls and game play. The Atari 2600’s joystick seems like it was designed specifically for Mae and her tiny, four-year-old hands by some clairvoyant hardware designer 40 years ago. At her age, the fewer buttons, the better, you know hand-eye coordination and all… Fishing Derby actually doesn’t use the button at all, which is great. The fishing pole is controlled by moving the stick left and right to control pole distance and up and down to control the fishing line. You sort of hover over the fish for a moment to catch it before you reel it up, which is done just by pushing the joystick up. With Mae’s limited attention span, this game hits that sweet spot of not too difficult and not too long. She can pick it up, play for 10-15 minutes and then go off and do other 4-year-old activities.

We both had a good time with Fishing Derby on the Atari 2600, I think it’s a great introduction to the console for my daughter and me! Now that we have regular access to the Atari, I want to pick up a few of the games that work with the paddles to see how those play. So long as we avoid E.T., i’m sure that our 2600 will help create fun memories for a long time.