E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was a video game made for the Atari 2600 in 1982.  Based on the popular movie of the same name, it was designed by Howard Scott Warshaw who accepted the absolutely ridiculous job of making the entire game in five and a half weeks (the fact that he was paid $200,000 (equivalent to half a million in modern money) and an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii probably had something to do with him accepting this). Because of its part in the North American Video Game Crash of 1983, it is often called the Worst Game of All Time. However, in terms of actual gameplay, there are even worse games than this and E.T. does have a small but devoted fanbase. When the Angry Video Game Nerd finally reviewed this game in the movie, he admitted it was not the worst game of all time.


Before the time of the game's release, expectations for the game were really high and was called a high sought-after Christmas gift.  However, Atari produced far too many units and even though the game was met with commercial success at the time, with 1.5 million units sold, around 2.5 million to 3.5 millions units were unsold, creating excess inventory for many retailers, and 3.5 million to 4 million cartridges were returned to Atari.  In addition, several retailers, desperate to get rid of their inventory of E.T. lowered their price several times, with one instance where a copy of a game was lowered from about $50 all the way down to a dollar.  These events would eventually be a contributing factor to the North American Video Game Crash of 1983.  According to legend, the unsold cartridges were then presumably buried in a landfill in New Mexico.

The legend was proven true in 2014 when the landfill was excavated. However, while the landfill was proven to be real, it wasn't just E.T. cartridges but rather a lot of unsold Atari 2600 merchandise and E.T. just happened to be part of it.

While the game did not single-handedly cause the crash, it has an enormous hand in the downfall of Atari, who spent between $20 million and $25 million ($52-65 million in modern money) on just the licence: some estimates of the game's budget, in modern money, would be enough to buy a pair of F-22 fighter jets and still have change. Millions of unsold copies of ET and the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man (which Atari famously made more copies of than they sold Atari 2600s) were returned due to Atari's return policy, filling their warehouses with unsaleable stock and devastating their balance sheets.


The object of the game was to find three pieces of an interplanetary telephone.  The pieces were found inside several random pits which E.T. had to fall down inside to find the pieces. After entering a pit, players had to levitate E.T. out of them. There were six locations in the game, with several having pits to enter. Every action E.T. takes drains him of energy which can be restored by collecting Reese's Pieces. If nine Reese's Pieces are collected, Elliot gives E.T. a piece of the telephone. Once all pieces are found, E.T. contacts his home planet and E.T. is given a limited amount of time before time runs out. If E.T. reaches the ship, the game starts over, with the score carrying over. In Games 1 and 2, E.T. is chased by human antagonists, an F.B.I. agent and a scientist. If they capture E.T., the F.B.I. agent will take the phone pieces and the scientist will take the Reese's pieces.

Why it Sucks

Note: It wasn't because of gameplay that this game is known as the Worst Game of All Time.

  1. Because there are so many wells in the game, it's often difficult to find all the components for the phone.
  2. Once you fall into the well, it's difficult to get out. You have to press the red button and hold the joystick up to float out, but E.T. must be in a specific area.
  3. If even a single pixel of E.T. touches a well, or if a man catches you, you fall back into the well.
  4. There are power zones that assist E.T. when you press the button when they appear at the top of the screen, but without the manual or a game guide, it's difficult to know what the icon does.
  5. The power zones are also invisible and randomize with each game, making it a chore to locate them.
  6. The graphics have been criticized for being very poor, even by Atari 2600 standards.
  7. Not to mention that the entire game has a low-quality green color scheme that makes the game boring and non-complex to look at.
  8. Poor and a bit ear-bleeding music and sound effects.


New York magazine's Nicholas Pileggi described it as a loser when compared to other games Atari could have released like Donkey Kong and Frogger. Kevin Bowen of GameSpy's Classic Gaming called the gameplay "convoluted and insane", also criticizing its story for departing from the serious tone of the film.  Author Steven Kent described the game as "infamous" within the industry, citing "primitive" graphics, "dull" gameplay, and a "disappointing story". 

The Angry Video Game Nerd reviewed the game, after years of refusing to do so, as the basis for the AVGN movie. He concluded that the game, while frustrating, and a brain teaser, he doesn't consider it to be the worst game ever made, and even praised it for being ahead of its time, for its use of randomized item placement, though he still claimed it sucked.