The Atari 2600 “Joystick” to me is the father of them all.  There have been controllers made before the little black stick with the red button, but this controller changed the way gaming was played on what is considered the birth of home console era.  The idea was simple; to design a controller that has a direction stick that can move up, down, left right and also diagonal.  Of course there would need to be a button to execute the necessary shooting and jumping aspect of the games. This is probably the most basic controller ever assembled but the most powerful in terms of what it could do for the all games.   Anyone at any age could pick up the controller and know how to hold it and what it is meant to do; but each game was different and it took a lot of practice and patience to master some games with the joystick.  

My fondest memory of a game I played as a kid was Moon Patrol for the Atari 2600.  I still play this version today.   The joystick had a different way of executing what needed to be done for the game.  For example, the control stick right accelerated the car forward, left would slow down the car backwards.  Pushing it up will make the car jump over rocks, pits and mines.  The challenge was to time the car in terms of the settings on the screen and not crashing.   Of course the red button shot the bullets from your car.  The shots would shoot up as well as straight.   This was a great adaptation of the arcade game by just using a control stick and a button.

Other games that took precision and skill to master were games like Dragster, Asteroids, Yar’s Revenge and Pole Position.   These games were just as challenging as today’s generation console games but in a different way.   It took a lot of hand eye coordination to master the joystick to do what you needed it to do on the screen.   

Of course this joystick executed the most basic moves for games such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Pitfall.   Moving the joystick in any direction controlled the movement on the screen.  The button typically would shoot or jump.   These were the days that you could just plug in a game and play it without having to check the setting on the controller to see what each button and trigger does. 

The positive of this most basic controller is the just that.  It’s a basic controller that anyone can pick up and plug in to play.   One button and a control stick.  Enough said; the design one of the most recognizable controllers today and has been revamped in today’s society such a candy tins, Christmas ornaments and seen on vintage T-shirts.

I can say with experience that the Atari 2600 controller can age over time.  This is probably the only negative of the controller.  I have gone through dozens of controllers because of the button not working, the stick getting dirt or dust in it and not working correctly.   Wear and tear on the controller causes clicking sounds and frustration trying to go one way and it will go the other.   I do have some original controller form the 80s that still work but it’s rare to get same response to the original years of the controller to using it today.   

The sister controller is the 2600 paddle.   This was an additional controller for the Atari 2600 that was used for such games as Pong, Demons to Diamonds and Super Breakout.   This controller uses more of a disc shaped controller that could turn in a circle to move the item faster.   Only a select number of games were produced for this controller. 

Atari has made a Plug in Play TV game where they remastered the controller to play the originals without the system or cartridges.  It has the power, select and start button right on the controller.   In my opinion there is nothing like playing with the original system and controller.  But for today’s generation these plug-and- play controllers work just fine. 

Overall I give this controller 7 out of 10.   It is one of first console controllers on the first home consoles created and it still holds up today when people break out the old school games.    There will never be another like it and it probably is one the most recognizable controllers made.   The Atari 2600 “Joystick” is a must addition to a collector’s retro game stash.   Good luck and high scores. 

Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (401 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.