Ever since Infogrames scarfed up the Atari consumer corporation a few years back and adopted the namesake, the company had been sitting on a goldmine of retrogaming goodness. Atari Anthology
isn't the company's first repackage of classic games, but it is the first one the company has released on console gaming systems. It's more or less a PlayStation 2/Xbox edition of Atari 80 in One
released on the PC last year, featuring the same line-up of games as well as supplemental material released at the time of each title's era. There's certainly a lot of bang for your buck in this package, what with more than six dozen games on a disk for $20. But compared to existing classic compilations, namely the outstanding Activision Anthology
released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2002, Atari Anthology
is a sloppy, cluttered presentation with a poorly handled organization that makes navigating to each of the 80 plus games a mind-numbing chore.
At the very least, Atari went to the right guys to bring this compilation to life on the console. Digital Eclipse earned its namesake in hardware emulation and was responsible for many successful retro packs across all the gaming platforms including its most recent classic production Midway Arcade Treasures 2. The company definitely has the staff "into" the classic gaming scene, both in a technical and historical sense. All of the pack's games, from the black and white vector games to the Atari 2600 games released well after the "death" of the hardware, are emulated near perfectly on the console system. There's also a mishmosh of scanned-in trinkets, instruction manuals, catalogs, and game-related comic books from back in the day, even a video interview with Nolan Bushnell, the man who gave birth to Atari the company back in the 1970s. So, the disk is certainly filled with "stuff."
What you get for $20:
Emulated Atari arcade games including Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Black Widow, Centipede, Crystal Castles, Liberator, Lunar Lander, Gravitar, Major Havoc, Millipede, Missile Command, Pong, Red Baron, Space Duel, Super Breakout, Tempest, and Warlords.
Emulated Atari 2600 games including 3D Tic Tac Toe, Adventure, Air-Sea Battle, Asteroids, Atari Video Cube, Backgammon, Battlezone, Black Jack, Bowling, Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Casino, Centipede, Circus Atari, Combat, Crystal Castles, Demon to Diamonds, Desert Falcon, Dodge 'em, Double Dunk, Flag Capture, Football, Fun with Numbers (a.k.a. Basic Math), Golf, Gravitar, Hangman, Haunted House, Home Run, Human Cannonball, Math Gran Prix, Maze Craze, Millipede, Miniature Golf, Missile Command, Night Driver, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Quadrun, Radar Lock, Realsports Baseball, Realsports Football, Realsports Tennis, Realsports Volleyball, Sky Diver, Slot Machine, Slot Racers, Space War, Sprintmaster, Star Raiders, Star Ship, Steeplechase, Stellar Track, Street Racer, Submarine Commander, Super Baseball, Super Breakout, Super Football, Surround, Swordquest: Earthworld, Swordquest: Fireworld, Swordquest: Waterworld, Video Checkers, Video Chess, Video Olympics, Video Pinball, Warlords, and Yar's Revenge.
Even with 85 games on the disc, the package isn't exactly a complete Atari arcade and 2600 experience. Granted, many of the top-selling Atari-published 2600 titles during its heyday were licensed properties that would have had to have been repurchased for their inclusion: Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Superman, Berzerk, Jungle Hunt, and countless other truly classic games made for the Atari VCS had to be left out for this compilation. But some Atari owned games, such as the arcade versions of Night Driver, Atari Football, even the 2600 version of Championship Soccer (renamed from Pelé's Soccer) are surprisingly absent from the package.
From a casual gamer perspective, this package isn't much more than a few quick shots of playtime. Arcade games and Atari 2600 games aren't what you'd consider "deep" compared to today's game experiences, but it's still cool to experience what gamers did back during an age where every pixel counted and sprite flicker was actually intentional. Many games on this disk are absolute dogs, poorly dated designs that aren't worth more than a few minutes of your time, and some games that require a paddle controller, like Super Breakout and Warlords just aren't as fun on the analog stick. But arcade games like Asteroids, Centipede, Space Duel, and Atari 2600 games such as Adventure, Haunted House, and Yar's Revenge are still timeless classics that should be experienced again and again.
There are a few modes that are really just thrown in for the hell of it than they are fun to experience. "Trippy Mode" puts each game into this weird "smeary" video effect that makes most games near impossible to play. "Double Speed Mode" does exactly what it says, and "Time Warp Mode" just makes the games feel "broken" because they slow down and speed up at random intervals. Then there's "Hot Seat Mode," a style of gameplay where players are forced to switch from one game to the next every 15 seconds and try to score as many points as possible. This is more distracting than amusing, though, and while this Hot Seat Mode is an interesting mode I wouldn't have missed it if wasn't here.
The Xbox version supports high definition televisions at a super crisp 1080i resolution. This may seem like overkill considering that most of the games on this disk barely broke past the 320x240 resolution, but you've never seen Atari 2600 games look as crisp as they do on the Xbox in high def...not even on the original system. And the vector-based arcade games clearly benefit from the higher television resolution thanks to the crisp video mode.
From a purist standpoint, though, this classic compilation is horribly organized and designed. Games are grouped by genre in a very non-Atari "constellation" interface, where each title has its own "solar system" of game options. As slick as these menus look, they're absolutely awful for game navigation, and poorly represent that all-important retro feel. It takes several seconds to jump from one game to the next when it really should be a simple process. And for historical purposes, games aren't even listed or organized by the year the titles were released; they're all just thrown together in a pile, and to figure out any real factual data about the game's timeline they'll have to do some research in the stack of box and manual scans for each game. Activision Anthology, with its 80s bedroom and stacks of selectable cartridges, got it right, and it's more than just a little disappointing to see Atari lift Activision's namesake but not the fantastic retro presentation it created for its own collection.
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