Earlier this year, we were treated to the very pleasant Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 which featured 51 classic Atari arcade and 2600 games. We reviewed the title favorably, giving the title a solid 4 out of 5 Tikis – despite some obviously important missing games such as Combat and Warlords (which we figured correctly would come on Volume 2).
How does the second incarnation of this classic collection hold up against the first one?
The Gen Y / Millennial gamers may have never played an Atari-labeled game. But we Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers know the Atari juggernaut 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 heyday, 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 generic trademark for gaming before it.
Digging into the Game
Like it’s predecessor, Atari Greatest Hits Vol. 2 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 more arcade and 41 more Atari 2600 games) including several unreleased titles as well as head-to-head multi-player (single and multi-card) – this title has a lot to offer.
Much like Volume 1, firing up this 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? (* = multiplayer games)
ATARI 2600 GAMES
|Return to Haunted House||Secret Quest||Canyon Bomber *|
|Circus Atari *||Combat *||Combat Two *|
|Demons to Diamonds *||Desert Falcon||Off-The Wall|
|Radar Lock||Golf||Double Dunk *|
|Realsports Basketball *||Realsports Soccer *||Super Baseball *|
|Super Football *||Video Olympics *||A Game of Concentration|
|Backgammon||Basic Programming||Brain Games *|
|Code Breaker||Maze Craze *||Video Chess|
|Black Jack *||Casino *||Fatal Run|
|Night Driver||Steeplechase||Street Racer|
|Star Raiders||Yars’ Revenge||Breakout|
|Crystal Castles||Millipede||Super Breakout|
|Video Pinball||Warlords *|
|Black Widow||Red Baron|
|Crystal Castles||Super Breakout|
Four of the 2600 games are prototypes (Combat Two, Realsports Basketball), homebrew (Return to Haunted House) or special mail order only (Quadrun) games.
None of the games are “locked” or “hidden” – you can play everything right away.
The arcade collection has some old familiar standbys as well as a couple of more unusual treats like .Liberator, Black Widow and Major Havoc (games unusual for these kind of collections). Of the games, four of them are “vector” games which are always a bit of a challenge for the DS lower resolution screen.
Despite the fact you’re not going to see Activision or Imagic games here, the 2600 line up has the missing essentials from Volume 1 (Combat, Yars’ Revenge and Warlords) as well as some rare oddballs – like Quadrun (with software speech synthesis) and Sentinel (a lightgun game). To round off the interesting inclusions, the Atari 2600 BASIC Programming cartridge will let you code your own games (all we can say is: Good Luck with that…)
Now that most of the “epic” multiplayer games are out, what might we see in Volume 3? I’m not sure there is much left for Atari to give.
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.
First up is a nice interview with Atari father, Nolan Bushnell. While it is very obviously one long interview chopped up, the topics include Brand Legacy, Failed Products, Classic Games, Imitators, Uknown Games, Moore’s Law, Predicting the Future and The Internet. The videos amount to talking heads, but the information if fun and informative.
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. The BASIC Programming manual is here too – a whopping 27 pages! Well worth a stop while checking out the Extras.
Finally we have the Atari 400 emulator.. This fun extra will bring up a virtual Atari 400 computer and a “monitor” and let you code on it right there on the screen. I flexed my muscle and made a nice 10 PRINT “HELLO”:GOTO 10 mega app. I was a Commodore 64 guy – so I’m not as familiar with this version of BASIC, but it seems legit and it’s fun to plunk around on.
The prototype games Combat Two and Realsports Basketball are pretty average releases, but the Return to Haunted House homebrew is definitely worth a look – especially for fans of the original “haunted Adventure” title. Quadrun also clocks in as pretty average, but it’s crazy hearing the Atari 2600 talk without hardware.
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 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. 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.
A near perfect successor to the near perfect Volume 1, Atari Greatest Hits Volume 2 is a must have for collectors and retrogamers alike.
The best part about Volume 2 is the price. Unlike it’s brother, Volume 2 hits the streets at the respectable price of $19.99 – which is a perfect price for a collection of this quality. Bravo Atari – you listened and I hope it pays off in lots of sales. It’s worth nothing that Volume 1 is now $19.99 too. That’s $40 for 101 games – at under .50 a game, you can’t even beat that on the App Store.
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 few esoteric titles – this compilation gets a huge recommendation from me.