Retro Atari Classics
is the latest in Atari's grand scheme to revive its old-school properties of arcades past on current generation systems. The company's had past success in this market on both the console and handheld side with several different packages over the past few years, and Retro Atari Games
reissues many of these same games in a unique touch-screen package. Unfortunately this DS compilation is far inferior to the company's Atari Anthology
package released for the consoles. Ten unique games is plenty to justify a handheld compilation, but when several of these games are inaccurate conversions with barely any gameplay options to customize the experience, we've got problems. And the game's main selling point of creating "remixed" renditions with new art doesn't fit the "retro" style.
For Retro Atari Classics, Atari hit up development studio Taniko to reproduce ten recognizable games from the long list of Atari classic arcade games. In the package you'll get, in alphabetical order, Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Gravitar, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Sprint, Tempest, and Warlords. The hook with this package: the Nintendo's touch screen has the potential to more accurately reproduce the actual gameplay of the designs since many of them utilized custom controls that the standard D-Pad and analog sticks of the console and handheld just can't pull off properly. Pong, Breakout, and Warlords used an analog rotation knob for control, and the DS' touch screen can simulate that pretty well by sliding the stylus left and right. Missile Command and Centipede put to use a trackball for motion, and once again the touchscreen can handle that feel, much like how a touchpad on a laptop replaces the mouse.
But even with the system's potential, the developers, for their part, missed the target. The conversions are clearly not emulations of the actual arcade hardware, and the "touch screen" controls in many of the games just aren't as good. And in some games, like Gravitar and Asteroids, it doesn't work at all, so it's a good thing that there's at least a D-Pad option for games with "broken" touch screen control. But even with D-Pad control, one game in particular is so wonky in control it's amazing that it made it out of testing: Missile Command uses both screens for its gameplay, and to target missiles on the upperscreen players have to hold the shoulder button and blindly tap on the screen where they think it will launch a missile. In D-pad control, players, for some reason, still must use the shoulder button to move the cursor from the lower screen to the upper screen. Huh? Why didn't the designers just reduce the game to the upperscreen and simply control the cursor by the touchscreen?
Atari had already attacked the retrogaming thing a few years back on the Game Boy Advance with Atari Anniversary Advance that shares many of the same games with Retro Atari Classics. And despite some technical limitations such as control and resolution, the GBA versions of these games are superior to the DS editions because of how faithful they were to the original material. All of the games are certainly playable in some form or another, but the "ports" clearly have flaws in gameplay. Warlords, for example, actually ends with a "Game Over" when defeating the three computer opponents, and never offers up more than one fireball when the actual arcade game had three balls flying in the arena. Missile Command never gives players the choice of which of the three silos to fire a missile. Centipede is zoomed in too close, which reduces the size of the playfield. Asteroids has a graphical border taking up precious game screen, which reduces the resolution of the vector graphics into dithered blobs. And even though Tempest has clever "inertia" based touch control, the game's presentation is missing the 3D look and feel because the camera never zooms through the tube after each round...which was something that became important in the arcade version when you had to "Avoid the Spikes."
Even when you look at these from the "retrogaming enthusiast" side, a few games in this pack are quick one-shot deals that will never be played after the first time. Namely Pong. As historical as this paddle game is, Pong is unbelievably boring to play solo so it really doesn't add a whole lot of value to this ten-pack of games. Breakout is pretty hard to get wrong, too, but with direct control over the paddle with the touchscreen, the game is far too easy and not all that fun.
What's probably the biggest disappointment in the package is the multiplayer functionality: it requires multiple copies of the game. I find it hard to believe that Pong, Warlords, and Sprint, three games that could literally fit in the memory of a microwave oven, couldn't be made to work in the Nintendo DS' Download Multiplayer function. This game seriously could have benefited from single cartridge multiplayer, but in the final form you need to buy two copies of the game to get "competitive" Pong.
Every game in the package has a "remix" mode, which is an option that absolutely does not fit the "retro" theme. Atari commissioned four graffiti artists to recreate a new look for the old games, and "art" is something I use loosely. Art is certainly subjective, but in my opinion, the "remixed" editions of these classic games are flat-out ugly and almost hinder the visibility of some of the designs. Centipede is particularly nasty with items such as hearts replacing the mushrooms, and the neutral black background now has a splash of random colors that makes it incredibly hard to see the enemies. These "remixed" versions really make the games feel a lot like generic, unlicensed "shareware" versions of the game designs, and this new style completely removes the original's old-school look and feel for something totally irrelevant to the original designs.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved