SummaryNot very good, but definitely not the worst.
The GoodConsidering that programmer Howard Scott Warshaw completed this game in about 5-6 weeks (at the time, games usually took at least 6 months), it's amazing the game was finished at all let alone as good as it is. The title screen looks quite good with the E.T. logo and drawing, and in game graphics are solid with no flickering sprites, plenty of color, and varied screens which really weren't out of line with other 1982 era 2600 games. Sound effects are ok, and include a decent rendition of the E.T. theme. With multiple skill levels and randomized locations for parts you need to find, there's some replay value.
The BadAdventure style games are tough to make work with just a joystick and one button; figuring the game out isn't particularly intuitive and without the instruction manual it's easy to wander about with no idea what's going on. Once you figure out how to play, the game at least makes some sense and can be completed. Unfortunately, it just doesn't hold my attention too long as I found the gameplay rather slow and unexciting. Falling down pits repeatedly is probably the most frustrating aspect, and even though it's not too hard to get out after a while it can still become tiresome. Had more time been given to the development of the game, it probably could have been made much more interesting.
The Bottom LineThis game has a reputation for being one of the worst 2600 games made, if not one of the worst for any platform. While the game isn't very good and gameplay is overall rather dull, far worse games have been made before and after this, many for the 2600; for some examples, take a look at Airlock or Skeet Shoot. Later on Active Enterprises would release 53 games that were much worse which were contained in Action 52 and Cheetahmen II. I don't think any of these and many other really bad games are as often remembered since E.T. was heavily promoted (and vastly over produced!) due to the popularity of the movie. Rumors of a significant number of copies being dumped in a landfill doesn't help it's reputation much either, which I think is usually too harsh.