Dragster [Atari 2600] – Review

Back in the day, if you could complete a race in under six seconds and mail in a photo proving it, Activision would send you a patch. I’m not there yet.

Dragster for the Atari 2600 – it’s a drag racing video game designed by David Crane and published by Activision way back in 1980. Burning through the gears and completing a quarter mile as quickly as possible is the aim of the game and with a friend, the few seconds that are spent on a single race stretch into a half hour trying to figure out the optimal shifting pattern while not blowing an engine.

It’s my favorite game on the Atari 2600 partly because it’s so fast. As soon as a race is done, it’s a flick of the joystick and the next race is already counting down. Races already last under twenty seconds but this quick reset makes the proposition of just one more race all the more compelling.

However, being able to get back into the game quickly wouldn’t matter if the underlying gameplay wasn’t enjoyable, and Dragster’s is. The risk/reward gameplay associated with shifting is easy to learn, tough to master, and flexible enough to allow experimentation. It’s not like shifting a daily driver though, unless you’re the type to rev each gear up to the redline, drop the clutch, up shift, and slam on the gas pedal. If so, I need not explain further. Perhaps I should mention that blowing the engine is quite easy and has been the cause of many of my losses.

Trust me, fourteen seconds is not a good time.

Like Vin Diesel’s mantra from The Fast and the Furious, playing Dragster is like living your life a quarter mile at a time. It’s fast and fun, but before you know it, time has passed you by.


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