Play Caverns of Mars on an Atari 8-Bit Computer (10-15 mins)

Task: Play Caverns of Mars on an Atari 8-Bit Computer

Needed: Altirra or Caverns of Mars cartridge or disk

Time: 10-15 mins


Caverns of Mars is one of my favorite games because of its simple yet effective graphics and relatively simple and fun gameplay. The goal of this vertical scrolling shooter is to descend to the bottom of cavern, trigger the reactor to explode, and then escape before it detonates. Throughout the descent there are various targets and enemy ships to destroy. The game was programmed by a high school student named Greg Christensen and published by the Atari Program Exchange (APX) which accepted software submissions from anyone and then sold the games through the mail. According to the Wikipedia page for the game, the author programmed it in assembly language in a month and half. A very impressive effort given how little documentation there was on how to do this in 1981. Atari was so impressed with the game that they converted it to cartridge format and sold it as a regular game. I highly recommend you play this one if you have never tried it!

Caverns of Mars Title Screen
Caverns of Mars Title Screen


The ATR file and ROM can be downloaded from Atarimania along with the manuals. These can be booted in the Altirra emulator or loaded onto an SD card device such as Fujinet. The ROM could also be booted from a Maxflash.

At the time of this post, you can buy the cartridge or disk version of the game on eBay for about $30 to $50. This seams a bit high to me. I bet you could find a loose cartridge for less with some patience or by asking around.


Here is a review of the game in Compute! magazine from 1982. Here is a review in The Creative Atari. A great example of vertical scrolling which we have previously covered.

Caverns of Mars Playfield
Caverns of Mars Playfield