Is E.T. Really The Worst Game Ever?

By: Jac Bakley

Happy Friday, guys. Many gamers know of the story of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600, which has earned a reputation as the worst game ever made. But few people have actually questioned whether or not is truly deserves that moniker. E.T. has left many gamers frustrated since its release in 1982, and many consumers who purchased the game sent their copies back to Atari because they found the game to be completely unplayable. E.T.’s failure led many people to believe that it caused the North American Video Game Crash of 1983, a dreadful two years which put many companies out of business and would have destroyed the video game industry had it not been for Nintendo. But I’ll discuss that some other day. Unfortunately, I’m going to tell those who believe that tale that it’s wrong on so many levels. E.T.’s reputation as the worst game ever made is a gross exaggeration, and it has just become a bandwagon for people to jump on, even those who haven’t even played the game. Let’s me explain why it may not necessarily deserve this title.

Let me start with the actual game, and yes, I have played it. I won’t go into too much detail with the gameplay, because this isn’t really a game review. The game may be horribly frustrating, but that’s because you need to figure out how to play it. If you fall into a pit, you need to have patience when trying to get yourself out. If you’re still floating over the pit when you crawl out and fall right back in because you didn’t surface properly, that’s your own fault. Here’s how to properly get out of the pit: you need to keep holding the button even after you get out, and you need to let go of the joystick when you surface. Move left or right out of the pit while holding the button until every pixel of ET is out of the pit, and you’re all set. Was that so hard?

You’re given a time limit to collect Reese’s Pieces and phone pieces to find your way back home, and yes, I will admit it is incredibly frustrating, because the game doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do. This is probably why no one knew what to make of this game. However, the candy and phone pieces are nonetheless there, and a simple polish to the game easily could’ve fixed this problem. So basically, E.T. is being called the worst game ever made due to its limited given information, not for being a broken piece of shovelware.

Many people believe that this game caused the video game crash due to millions of unsold copies. However, like I said, that’s an urban legend. The video game crash had already begun when E.T. was released. The crash happened because many games were choked out for the Atari 2600 that really were of poor quality, and even just plain broken. To add icing to the cake, there were a total of 20 million of these games produced, and keep in mind, there were only 12 million Atari 2600 units produced at the time. So really, E.T. was said to be the cause of the video game crash, when really the market was oversaturated with crap that went unsold.

Also, it is believed by many that unsold/returned copies of E.T. were buried in a landfill in New Mexico. Once again, that’s largely inaccurate. Yes, there was a landfill, but that landfill was actually filled with games that were defective and unusable, not unsold cartridges. If all those copies buried in that landfill were really E.T., it would most likely be one of the rarest games ever made. But it now goes for about five to ten dollars on eBay, and whenever I go to a retro store, I see a few copies.

So, E.T.’s false reputation has become a bandwagon for people to jump on, and the stories told about it couldn’t be further from the truth. A parody review that appeared in the December 15, 2015 edition of The Critic seemed to only echo these urban legends about the supposed “worst game ever.” The intent of the review was to over-exaggerate the game in an ironically positive way. So, those aspects in which the game failed were heralded as incredible triumphs. Let’s look at a few things the review misstated.

“Released in 1983 for the Atari 2600…”

It was actually 1982, but that’s just a nitpick.

“The character must find pieces to repair their spaceship!”

The goal of the game is to find phone pieces to call another spaceship. Did you even watch the movie?

“The 3D graphics make the player feel like they are actually in the game!”

The Atari 2600 was an 8-bit system which was not capable of 3D graphics, only a 3D perspective. This is an obvious error for any gamer.

“You feel like you can eat the Reese’s Pieces…”

That’s just stupid, I just wanted to point that out.

“Atari actually overproduced the game! As a result, thousands of copies had to be buried in a landfill.”

Five million copies were produced, and like I said, the copies in the landfill were defective merchandise, some of which were unusable copies of ET.

It is doubtful that anyone who has reviewed the game in such a negative light has ever even played it.

Despite ET’s issues, it was actually a pretty impressive game. It actually contained a world to explore, as opposed to the single screens that most Atari games consisted of. It was one of the few Atari games to contain music, and an actual storyline. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, developed by the same person, also had those, and it’s considered to be one of the best games on Atari 2600. Also, given the short timeframe that Atari was given to develop E.T., the end result is actually kinda admirable.

E.T. is definitely not the worst game ever made, but it’s certainly not a great game, either. However, had it just been given a little more time and some polish, maybe it could’ve been a good game. If you want a game that truly deserves the title of one of the worst games ever made, there’s Sonic 06, Action 52, Ride to Hell: Retribution, Big Rigs, Shaq Fu, and anything choked out by Data Design Interactive. Sadly, people will still believe the legend that E.T. nearly destroyed the video game industry and that it’s still the worst game ever made, and I will never be able to change that. To read the LGC’s full review of ET, go to the Critic website. Thanks for reading, and have a good Spring Day.