Beamrider is such a simple game and yet as you play, it unfolds this maddeningly intricate plot of game play elements that takes you from simple vertical shooting to a fight for survival. Don't fret, however, because Beamrider increases in difficulty with absolute precision. Each time you feel like you have the hang of things and that you have adjusted to the new game play elements, the game introduces something new and completely unique to throw you right back off track again.
The base mission is simple, ride a grid (that beautifully disappears into the background forcing a 3D perspective) and eliminate waves of enemy targets that race the grid along with you. After each wave is defeated, you use your super weapon to take out the mothership. Early on, that's all you have to do and that is plenty. But soon, new obstacles and enemies appear. Rocks manifest on the grid and will destroy you upon contact. Enemy squatters appear and, if not blasted, will sit on a line of the grid for several seconds blocking your movement. There are obstacles that move from line to line on the grid in sequential pattern forcing you to move around constantly. Other obstacles will seek you out and zoom at you along whatever line you are on. And many more!
Beamrider just keeps throwing new stuff at you until the grid is so busy you spend less time shooting targets and more time just trying to stay alive by constantly moving along the grid. Finding a safe spot can sometimes be impossible! The good news is that the game gives you an ample supply of extra lives to keep your game going...if you can catch them. Once per level an extra life will come zooming down the grid. If you blast it, it turns to sludge and can kill you, but if you catch it, you are golden. Even more so, because you are awarded bonus points at the end of each stage where you successfully blast the mothership for each life you have in reserve. Sweet...if you can catch them.
Beamrider gives you a fighting chance to keep your game going, all the while tossing greater and greater challenges at you. And the synthesis of this is a game that is endless amounts of fun. There is so much variety in the game play and the challenge is crafted at such a high level the game is infinitely replayable. The only real frustration comes from having to start over after reaching a higher level. But once you realize that those early levels are important for stacking up extra lives and bonus points, the frustration becomes fun again.
Beamrider delivers on all fronts. It is the obvious choice for the top spot on this list. When building the list, I put it in the top 5 right away and the more I played these games for research, the more it became clear that this game offered everything you could possibly want in a vertical shooter and more. It elevates the base game play, it provides lots of challenge, it perfectly balances the frustration/fun factor, it looks and sounds great, and plays fair even as it becomes insanely difficult.
Simply put, you will not find a better vertical shooter for the Atari 2600. So sayeth I.
My Top Beamrider Score: 76,714 Sector 22 (a record I set last night!!)