E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)

Published by
Developed by
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  lasttoblame (429)
Written on  :  Jun 17, 2008
Rating  :  2.4 Stars2.4 Stars2.4 Stars2.4 Stars2.4 Stars

19 out of 28 people found this review helpful

write a review of this game
read more reviews by lasttoblame
read more reviews for this game


this is why a 9-year old child from 1982 can beat up a 9-year old child from 2008

The Good

In today’s information age, there is an undeniable respect for knowledge. Facts are as plentiful to find as they are unreliable to confirm. When it comes to video games, fact-glorifying manifests itself in most popular kind of stated opinion as how important something is. Armed with all the useless information in the world, gamers have taken it upon themselves to take a stand on an unmovable opinion that would prove to be an indelible mark upon time.

For example, “Top 10” lists are a popular method of spreading game gospel and are as prevalent as they are useless in establishing any kind of sober discussion. A popular “Top 10” is “Top 10 Worst Games” of which E.T. The Extra Terrestrial winds up near the top along with Superman 64.

E.T., don’t phone home. You were just misunderstood, that’s all. The game itself has not withstood the test of time very well by the infamous context in which it will always be remembered for. Just as the State of Florida condemned convicted serial-murderer Aileen Wuornos to death even though she was clearly mentally insane, so to will the majority of video gamers condemn E.T. the game for being the worst game ever made without ever having played it.

Any time this game is mentioned the urban legend of a remote land fill in New Mexico also gets thrown in; even though this is the subject of a documentary I don’t care to see, the fact is neither here nor there when reviewing it. Also getting heavy airplay in even the most casual of game reviews is the fact Mr. Game Designer whats-his-face only had weeks to complete this game before the Christmas buying season. These facts get thrown in with the entire mythos of the videogame market crash that tested the supremacy of the nerdling class. They are facts, perhaps even all true, but spouting them as evidence just means you don’t have your own opinion on a game you never played.

Is it a good game? Is it fun? Why don’t people have their own opinions rather than quote the guy before him? As not many people know how to play “the worst game ever made” I’ll provide a lowdown:

“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” is an adventure game where you are in control of the titular alien as he tries to collect pieces of a “phone” that he will use to “phone home” to his home planet and call in a rescue as he tries to escape Earth with the aid of his human friend, Elliot.

The game world consists of a “cube”, with each screen forming a side of the cube; as the player reaches one side of the cube, they will warp to another side of the cube. The game play has you running around this cube looking for clues to the pieces of the “phone”; this corresponds with the icon that flashes at the top of the screen whenever the player moves to a new area of the game screen. If the player finds himself standing on a “?” icon and presses the action button, E.T.’s head will raise, some of his life energy will be expended, and then a white dot may or may not flash signifying the presence of a piece of the “phone”. This piece of the phone is scattered deep in a pit, one of which are scattered symmetrically around the screen. Previously an obstacle to avoid, E.T. must now drop into the hole to retrieve this missing phone piece. Once he recovers all the pieces he may use it to contact his home world; at this point the player must race to the bottom of the cube, where in the “forest” screen he will meet the spaceship that will take him home.

However, in his way there stand the forces that will hinder E.T. in his struggle: the FBI agent and the scientist. Both chase after our little guy, and if caught will take away a piece of the “phone” or capture him, depending on the difficulty level. This quest for the phone pieces is hindered by the fact that any action or movement drains E.T. life, which can only be replenished by one Reese’s Pieces candy found on each “pit” screen. If the player runs out of energy he is resurrected by Elliot at his house, but with less energy when first starting. Upon completion of the primary task in which E.T. gets rescued and escapes Earth, the player will find himself as E.T. yet again only to repeat the same objectives all over again, but with fewer resources.

Some things should be cleared up at this point if they could, but it is more or less that vexing and nonsensical to understand; the game play could probably be described better, but you know, it still wouldn’t make much sense.

However, things should be taken into context. This is a children’s game. Children are resilient creatures who can adapt to any harsh environment. If given a game like “E.T.”, they will squeeze all the fun they can out of it like they would if you gave them a pair of socks. Playing a video game, even a bad one, is still better than doing homework. Movie licensed products were a novel concept back then for video games (this may be the first one), just as video games themselves were. It was fun to relive a fabulous children’s movie in an interactive format… for a child.

Something else should be taken into context: this is neither an action game, nor even an adventure game which it masquerades as. Instead, this is a puzzle game in which the first part of the puzzle is to figure out how to play it. While that seems completely crass I honestly mean it; at a time when the rules were still being written, and all the rules were written by Atari, there’s no reason why that statement can’t be true. Video games could be anything at this point.

As I’m writing this from memory about a game almost as old as I am, I still remember playing it way back when. My best friend Goldie Dixit (I can’t believe my best friend was called that) had the game and provided me with a 10 minute tutorial on how to play it. But as the adaptive children we were back then we squeezed all the fun to be had out of it; once the rules of this “puzzle-game” were learned, it became an action game where we tried to collect all the phone pieces as quickly as possible.

Compared to other games of the time, it doesn’t really fare badly. Graphics are not bad: objects look like the things they are meant to resemble. E.T.’s head moves up and down just like the movie. The human characters have faces, arms and legs and the entire body moves as they walk. Once again, this sounds crass but it is 1982; back then Boy George was asking “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, and no one did, even if he would “Tumble 4 U”. Furthermore, the game had a title screen that feature the lovable aliens face in detail as well as John Williams’ stirring score from the movie. Ah, good times.

The most frustrating part of the game by far were the controls; even if you knew how to levitate E.T. out of a pit, if you executed the controls improperly he would stall in mid-air until you retried, all the while losing valuable health. This is the second part of the puzzle: to figure out how to do everything as economically as possible before you ran out of health. Sure, this is really frustrating in a game when everything little thing you do, even from taking a step, means you are literally one step closer to death, especially when you are figuring out how to play the game and need to try out new things. This game is as frustrating as Defender or Sinistar after level one.

Ah, old school gaming, come on back. The fun we had with ye was uncompromising, unfair, but completely satisfying upon success. Old school gaming is not just fun, but hardcore fun.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is an old game that hasn’t aged well, but neither has many of its contemporaries. You won’t see any Atari 2600 game on Xbox Live, let alone this one (I think River Raid, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns and especially Yar’s Revenge would be exceptional additions, though). When judged alongside its peers, one could make the very appropriate conclusion that E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is not a terrible game nor even a bad game, let alone the “worst game ever made”. The fact that Atari made a terrible business decision with this game shouldn’t be burdened upon the enjoyment one can get from this unique game, if but only it is the enjoyment of a child back in 1982.

The Bad

E.T. can not run across the screen and rape an Indian woman tied to a post. Guns are not CGI-removed from FBI agents’ hands and replaced with walkie-talkies. For a guy who doesn’t wear any pants, video game graphics do not accurately depict E.T.’s massive alien phallus or his Extra-Testicle.

The Bottom Line

Lots of games deserve to be called the worst game of all time, but not this piece of nostalgia. Not everything that is old is bad. Likewise not everything that is new is the best; I am personally suspicious of recent AAA games that have received unanimous perfect scores.

A perfect 10 doesn’t compare with the fun had with an Atari 2600 in a basement with faux wood paneling back in the day before these stupid “rules” were made up; it just seems everything these days is taken for granted.