Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration could very well set the standard for retro compilations in the future, and not necessarily because of the content it includes. In truth, a significant number of the roughly 100 builds included here are borderline impenetrable – welcome inclusions, yes, but virtually unplayable. So it’s the way the package is presented that sets it apart.
While you can skip straight to the games – organized by release year or platform – the compilation also features a museum-like interface that takes you from Atari’s origins to its final years. This painstakingly presented gallery of the company’s ups and downs is absolutely fascinating, packed with anecdotes, archival footage, photography and more.
Of course, adding context to the range of accessories is the aforementioned selection of playable games. Overall, there’s a real warmth and novelty to this package that’s rarely seen: after learning the origins of, say, Pong, you can then actually play it – with beautifully rendered borders, inspired by the original arcade cabinet.
All games are accompanied by instruction manuals, reproduced in their entirety, as well as advertising leaflets and other interesting documents. Emulation is also pretty darn good as far as we can tell; you won’t find online leaderboards, for example, but you can save your progress and have fun with the various filters available that attempt to replicate classic CRT displays.
It should not be ignored how dense this compilation is. Although there are obvious inclusions from the Atari 2600 era, like Missile Command and Centipededeveloper Digital Extremes even created a virtual replica of Atari’s old handheld game from 1978, touch mewhich demonstrates the level of commitment displayed here.
While the Atari Lynx and Atari Jaguar are represented, there will be disappointment that, likely due to licensing and legal issues, titles like Klax and Alien vs Predator are absent. AND the extra-terrestrial, an important cog in Atari’s history, is also excluded. But there’s still a lot to enjoy here overall: Storm 2000, food fightand I robot definitely holds up today.
And that’s without even touching the reimagined series that was created specifically for this package. aerial worldfor example, unexpectedly ends the sword quest series, and accompanies the three 1980s titles that preceded it. Meanwhile, Haunted house reimagines Atari’s iconic survival horror as a lightweight 3D maze game.
You also get the self-explanatory Neo Breakoutfour player tank title QuadraTankvector mashup VCTR-SCTRand the lavish Yars Revenge: Improvedwhich, confusingly, is a completely different experience than the recently published one Yars: reloaded. Additionally, you will find various unreleased prototypes, which ultimately add to the overall mystique of the package.
To be honest, very few games will hold your attention, but the presentation is introspective and interesting; it’s a celebration of Atari, yes, but that doesn’t hide the companies’ failings and shortcomings. And in this he gains real credibility: there is a clear reverence here for the holder of the pioneering platform, but he presents warts and all perspectives, which is appreciated.
While many of the games included may be unplayable from a modern perspective, the painstaking attention to detail in Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is extremely easy to appreciate. The museum-like carousel of content, from interviews to original artwork, is presented so beautifully that you can’t help but get carried away by Atari’s dramatic story. And the fact that there are over 100 of the company’s most famous titles, perfectly emulated with their original instruction manuals available to lean on, adds playable context to much of the content. It’s simply an awesome overall experience that will appeal to those who’ve lived through the rise (and fall) of Atari, as well as young gamers eager to learn a little more about one of the true industry pioneers.
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