In 2005, Retro Atari Classics was released on the shiny new Nintendo DS platform. After some very solid emulation/classic games hitting the GBA in the years before – many of us couldn’t wait for some retro gaming goodness on our new handheld. Unfortunately, this collection of 10 titles (original and remixes) was what one could only call a “digital abortion”. Those of you who played (or worse yet; bought) this anthology know what I’m talking about.
It’s only reasonable that gamers would be gun shy about ponying up for another Atari-labeled collection of retro games – even six years later.
Those familiar with my classic gaming roots know I’m a sucker for pretty much any retro collection on the DS – so I naturally scooped this up, despite the poor track record of Atari’s.
The Gen Y / Millenial gamers may have never played an Atari-labeled game. But we Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers know the Atari jauggernaut from the ‘70s and ‘80s – where the titan owned both the arcade and console market until the video game crash of 1983. Atari never really recovered after that – essentially being an “in name only” company struggling to get hits out.
But during it’s heydey, Atari ruled the roost – with prolific arcade games and the venerable and almost unstoppable Atari 2600/VCS console. This back catalog of titles gives the Atari group an insane collection of intellectual property (IP) to re-release on modern day hardware.
While “Nintendo” was metonymical with gaming after 1985, Atari was the genericized trademark for gaming before it.
Digging into the Game
Atari Greatest Hits Vol. 1 comes in a standard DS case on a 32MB DS cartridge. The game has no extra DSi features or enhancements.
Promising us 50 classic games (9 arcade and 41 Atari 2600 games) including several unreleased titles (both home and arcade) as well as head-to-head multi-player (single and multi-card) – this title has a lot to live up to.
Firing up the game presents us with a clean, usable interface that logically segregates the games into both home and arcade categories and then further breaks down the home games by genre (you can view them all at once too – thank you guys!). Pleasant accompanying music and sound accent the interface and believe me – I’m very appreciative of a usable interface when it comes to gaming.
Rounding out the two game format collections, other menu options offer up Wireless Communications, Extras and Options. The options let you change the sound volumes of the music and sound effects. We’ll cover the other two in a minute.
The most important aspects of gaming compilations of this nature are the collection of games themselves, the quality of the emulation and the amount of extras included for those that buy these titles for their nostalgic qualities. Since these are recreations of existing games, looking at graphics and audio prowess doesn’t make as much sense as looking at them from a “recreation accuracy” standpoint. Likewise, game play quality is measured in accuracy of emulation; that is, how close are the games to play to the originals.
First up – what games do you get? (* = two player)
ATARI 2600 GAMES
|3D Tic-Tac-Toe||Gravitar||Sky Diver *|
|Adventure||Hangman||Slot Machine *|
|Air Sea Battle *||Haunted House||Slot Racers *|
|Asteroids||Home Run *||Sprintmaster *|
|Atari Video Cube||Human Cannonball||Star Ship *|
|Basketball *||Math Gran Prix||Stellar Track|
|BattleZone||Miniature Golf||Submarine Commander|
|Bowling||Missile Command||Surround *|
|Centipede||Outlaw *||Swordquest: Earthworld|
|Championship Soccer *||Realsports Baseball *||Swordquest: Fireworld|
|Dodge ‘Em *||Realsports Boxing *||Swordquest: Waterworld|
|Flag Capture *||Realsports Football *||Tempest (Prototype)|
|Football *||Realsports Tennis *||Video Checkers (Prototype)|
|Fun with Numbers||Realsports Volleyball *|
|Centipede||Space Duel *|
|Lunar Lander||Bradley Simulator (Prototype)|
Technically you get 51 games – if you include Battlezone retooled as the Bradley Tank Simulator (more on that shortly). Two of the Atari 2600 games are prototypes never before released to the public.
None of the games are “locked” or “hidden” – you can play everything right away.
The arcade line up should look familiar – it’s pretty much the same games you’ve seen before on either the Retro Atari Classics previous package or in other packages. The Battlezone based games were not included in the previous package on the DS. Several games were dropped from the previous collection – including Warlords, Sprint and Breakout.
The Atari 2600 line up looks considerably less enemic – featuring fan favorites such as Adventure, Asteroids, Basketball, Centipede, Haunted House, Missile Command, Outlaw and the Swordquest series. Huge fans of the Atari 2600 console will note the absence of the great third party games from Activision and Imagic (can’t we ALL just get along??).
I find it particularly interesting that with focus on multiplayer and dual play games, that the iconic Combat isn’t included. Outlaw is the next best thing, but not including the game that was a pack in for almost every Atari 2600 console out there seems … peculiar … to me. Perhaps they are saving it for Volume 2?
Before we get into emulation, let’s talk about the bonus features of the collection.
Looking under the Extras menu item you will find several bonuses.
One of the previous Atari collections on the Gameboy Advance contained a very fun little trivia game that tested your knowledge on Atari lore and history. I’m very pleased to see that this trivia game is back in this collection. Answer multiple choice questions about Atari, rack up a big score and you can share your score on the leaderboard right on the Atari website. While the feature is neat, it requires you get a code from the game and type it into a web browser on another device like your PC or phone. Having a more “live” leaderboard like the original Touchmaster DS game would have been a better choice rather than this missed opportunity. Still, the trivia game is top notch with some great esoteric questions that will stump even the most die hard Atari-head.
Next up in the Extras section is the Arcade Gallery. Here you can view roughly five printed media relating to each of the 9 arcade games. Items include flyers, operator brochures and other similar promotional items. A simple media browser lets you look at the items, but I’ve seen better browsers on other collections. While you can scroll up and down across the items filling both screens, but you cannot zoom in – so a lot is lost. Casual players might be ok with this – but the real fans would want a closer look.
Under the Arcade Gallery is access to the Atari 2600 gaming manuals for the included games. The resolution is high enough to read these easy enough and being color you get to see all the classic artwork and diagrams in their full glory. Don’t laugh – we didn’t have great screenshots back then – so they adorned the packaging with some great hand drawn artwork. Even the Atari 2600 console manual is included. Well worth a stop while checking out the Extras.
Finally we have Army Battlezone. I mentioned the Bradley Simulator, an offshoot of Battlezone. This is a very cool bonus – since it has never before been included in a commercially released product (it has been available in the popular MAME emulator for some time). Battlezone was retooled into a Bradley Tank simulation at the request of the U.S. Army – and only two were made. Not really a game per se, but a fascinating piece of history. Read more here.
Of the prototype games Tempest and Video Checkers (Atari 2600), only Tempest really brings something exciting to the table. Originally being a high resolution vector game, it is almost impossible to think of Tempest as even POSSIBLE on a low resolution bitmap graphical console like the Atari 2600 – and yet it is remarkably well done and worth spending some time playing.
Playing the Games
All the arcade games can be played single player as can about half of the Atari 2600 titles. Several arcade games as well as many 2600 games can be played by two players – taking turns as per the arcade. Some of the games allow two player simultaneous play via wireless communication (more in a minute) – and the Atari 2600 games that require two players (like Basketball) will play as solo games – but the controls affect BOTH players at the same time … so it’s kind of useless. You will need multiplayer wireless networking to play these games with a friend.
Multiplayer Wireless Communications
If you look at the list above, games denoted with an asterisk are eligible for multiplayer over wireless communications.
The great news is that single card play is fully supported. So, all you need is a buddy with a DS to play with and you’re set. Your friend goes to DS Download, you Create a Session – and in a minute or two, you’re playing! Pretty damn painless and the games play fantastic over the local area network. Cody Mystics get BIG thumbs up for allowing MULTICARD play too – so you aren’t forced to send the whole game to those that also have the cartridge. Hey Capcom, would it have killed you to do that for Point Blank?
There is no Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection play.
So many of these Atari classics really need a second person to be enjoyed and I have to take my hat off to Atari and Code Mystics to care enough to make sure we can play together games together.
For retro-enthusiasts, the authenticity of classic games is incredibly important. Many old games had patterns or exploits that allowed you to better master the game. For some people the music and sound effects trigger emotional nostalgia that is important to the gamer. For others, timing of enemies or powerups … heck, even just animation speeds … are all things they remember fondly and stick out like sore thumbs if they are wrong or different. A good example of poor emulation is the Jakks Pacific TV controller games. You can get one of these TV games with Pac-Man on it, but the game just isn’t … quite … right. The sounds are a little off … the ghost patterns you might have so painstakingly memorized are gone. Sure, it sounds nit picky but it is important to a lot of people.
These sort of collections are remarkably hit and miss when it comes to accuracy of emulation of the original games. Some are much better than others – while others are DEAD ON.
How well does this game collection stand up?
We will start with the arcade games. I gotta say, the boys at Code Mystics did an incredible job on the emulation. Everything is smooth and all the ducks appear to be in a row. Even the high resolution vector games are TOTALLY playable – they worked hard to keep the text readable and the detail high where it needed to be. In some cases, where the vector text might be blurry, they duplicate the text on the other screen so you can read it. A top notch job.
There are multiple control options (touch and pad/buttons) as well as the ability to play on either screen. Games with special controls even offer different types of control (simple or arcade) – not just assuming you want to play it like a DS game but rather like the original arcade game. For example, you can play with the d-pad and buttons as left and right tread respectively in Battlezone. Less experienced players can use a more simple control scheme.
I’ve played enough of these games to sign off on quality emulation for the arcade games.
What about the Atari 2600 games?
You’ll be happy to know that the entire 2600 control panel is replicated on each game – meaning yes, you can even play your favorite game in black and white. The game settings are preserved and selectable – and they even indicate on the screen what the different options will play like. All the controls are mapped to buttons as well as having on screen controls which is a damn nice gesture. So many User Interfaces are inconsistent and frankly, suck. Not here. Attention to detail is obvious and appreciated.
The emulation looks great – right down to the bleeding off-the-screen rasters to the horrible scan line flicker we all put up with in the 1970s. Each game comes complete with a shot of the original cartridge as a bonus.
After the horror of Retro Atari Classics, I thought we’d never see a quality emulation project on the DS again. Thank God I was wrong.
The only thing that will keep this title from being wildly successful is the price tag. Compilations like this usually clock in $10 cheaper than the asking $30 price tag – and while this ride is completely worth the price, only the truly devout will likely buy a ticket. Hopefully good reviews of the product will win people over and get them past the price point because there is no reason not to pony up.
This is a top notch title – top to bottom. The development team obviously knows their business and has learned from past DS mistakes with emulation titles. Aside from a couple minor niggles – none of which affect the game play component of the games – this compilation gets a huge recommendation from me.