In my review of Atari Mania, I criticized the game for how it celebrates Atari’s history. It reimagines Atari titles as microgames, half-baked microgames, at that. The game wants to celebrate all things Atari, but it does so in the most vanilla way possible. Little did we know what developer Digital Eclipse was planning for Atari’s 50th birthday.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is ambitious. It compiles together 100 games from Atari’s past onto one disc. It features interviews with the people who shaped the company. It features an assortment of memorabilia to gawk at.
The result is one of the most definitive collections, Atari or otherwise.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, and Nintendo Switch for $39.99.
Story – Atari Through the Ages
The game doubles as an interactive history lesson and a collection of old titles. The former details the company’s highs and lows through timelines split into chapters. These timelines contain interactive prompts that let you read quotes, look at memorabilia, or watch interviews.
The interviews are magnificent. Featuring industry veterans like Al Alcorn and Howard Scott Warshaw, they discuss various topics like the making of several Atari classics and the decisions that led to Atari’s fall in the early 80’s. Later chapters talk about their climb back up and how they fared against Nintendo and Sega.
Equal parts candid, funny, and informative, the interviews are a joy to watch. Atari’s designers lived like rock stars, partying hard while making successful video games. In an industry that faces scrutiny for its workplace environments, its surprising to hear them talk about the freewheeling lifestyle that was working at Atari.
The only issue is its structuring. Atari’s golden age gets a lot of limelight, but their later years are barely talked about. The Atari 2600 receives a lot of discussion, but the same can’t be said about the Atari Lynx or Atari Jaguar.
Still, this is an excellent history lesson on one of gaming’s forefathers, and with over 103 titles, Atari 50 delivers a lot of bang for your buck.
Gameplay – A Plethora of Atari
What sets this collection apart from previous Atari collections is its roster. This title lets you play games made for the Atari 2600, the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and more. Additionally, Digital Eclipse modernizes a handful of Atari classics like Breakout.
The robust line-up mixes the classics with lesser-known games. Besides the usuals like Pong and Missile Command, we have more unique games like the Swordquest series and early 3D titles like I, Robot and Cybermorph. All games are broken into categories, and various filters make navigating a cinch to do. The inclusion of quality-of-life features like save states and customizable controls makes these games easier than ever to play.
With so many games to choose from, there arises the issue of quantity over quality and vice versa. Atari Mania suffers from this problem with too many repeats and not enough originals. Atari 50 strikes a happy balance.
Breaking Down the Collection – The Good
The arcade era and the Atari 2600 are perhaps the most iconic. The Atari 2600 may be primitive by today’s standards, but its games are technically impressive. Besides shooters and platformers, the 2600 features full-fledged adventure games like the Swordquest series. What it lacks in power, the 2600 makes up for with ambition and creativity.
In a surprising move, Digital Eclipse resurrects a handful of unmade Atari games. These include a spiritual sequel to Yars’ Revenge and Airworld, the fourth and final Swordquest game. It’s one thing to port the classics, it’s another to resurrect unmade games. The fact they did this helps Atari 50 stand out.
The graphics improve with the Atari 5200 and 7800, but the gameplay hasn’t been lost. The racer Fatal Run is like Outrun meets Mad Max. Ninja Golf is the first and only game to ever mix ninjitsu with golf.
Breaking Down the Collection – The Bad
There’s a timeless feeling to the arcade and Atari 2600 titles. The same can’t be said about the Atari Jaguar. The Jaguar was Atari’s attempt at playing catch-up with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. It touts 64-bit graphics and was an early attempt at 3D gaming. However, none of the games have aged well.
Poor controls and clunky gameplay make these titles hard to enjoy. Atari Karts is a poor-man’s Mario Kart. Fight For Your Life gives Shaq-Fu a run for its money with its stiff fighting and janky graphics. The sole exception is Tempest 2000, a fast-paced reimagining of the arcade classic.
The Jaguar selection might have fared better had it included games like Aliens vs. Predator or the Wolfenstein and Doom ports, but it doesn’t. Despite the impressive number of games, there are some omissions.
Breaking Down the Collection – The Ugly
Because of licensing issues, several Atari games skip out on the festivities. Noticeable examples include Pitfall, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the 2600 ports of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. The infamous E.T. is nowhere to be seen either, a shame because the game’s historical value is significant. The game’s commercial failure led to the infamous urban legend that millions of unsold copies were buried in a New Mexico landfill.
Instead of including any of the above mentioned, we get various ports of Centipede or Asteroids. It’s neat, yes, but once you play one version of Missile Command, you’ve played them all.
Graphics and Sound – Blast from the Past
From a presentation standpoint, the game is appealing to the eye. Menus are bright and colorful but laced with the classic Atari feeling. Sifting through the artwork, design documents, and more makes you feel like a historian digging through the past.
By including every generation of Atari, you get to see how gaming evolves from the early 70’s and into the mid 90’s. Atari 2600 games may be primitive visually, but your imagination does all the work the system can’t. Plus, playing the 2600 titles lets you appreciate how the developers made these games with such limiting hardware.
Even the Atari Jaguar, as flawed as it is, is impressive for the fact it’s an early 3D console during a time when 3D gaming was still in its infacy.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Uber Strategist.