Nov 16, 2022

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration

 Just released on most major platforms this past Friday, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is a look back at five decades of video game history. If you're around my age, no doubt Atari played a role in your childhood whether it was swiping mom's laundry quarters to play Asteroids at the corner store or going on an Adventure against duck-dragons, Atari definitely left its mark on me.

This isn't just another cash grab re-release of old video games, it also includes previously unreleased (in emulator form) games, re-imagined titles, and an interactive, multimedia Atari timeline.

The timeline is a real treat for fans of Atari and/or video game history. It starts in 1971 with the first arcade game Computer Space and goes up to present day, although there is a noticeable gap between 1998-2020.

I haven't reviewed the entire thing just yet, I'm still in the Arcade era, but what I have seen so far has been great. It doesn't go into a lot of detail but it does include archival footage as well as over an hour of current day interviews with game designers. Each arcade game featured includes scans of sales flyers.

Most people will probably get this for the nostalgia factor of the games. In 2016, they released the Atari Vault which was essentially the same thing without the timeline and only included arcade, 2600, and 5200 games. However, the Vault had a lot more games to offer and since this new collection is available, the Vault is no longer available to buy on Steam (you can still play it if you already own it).

The game list includes: 7 re-imagined titles, 25 arcade games, 40 Atari 2600, 6 Atari 5200, 8 Atari 7800, 5 Lynx, 5 Atari 800, and 9 Jaguar titles. For some reason, a few of the 2600 games are locked behind a riddle challenge that requires you to do something in another game to access them.
You can see the full list here.

The re-imagined titles are a lot of fun. Yar's Revenge is one of my favorite 2600 games and here it gets a graphics update while keeping the same game play. Others like Haunted House and Breakout, get a complete upgrade in graphics and play styles. VCTR-SCTR is an all new game celebrating Vector graphic games, incorporating levels based on Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Tempest and more in one game! 
Also in the re-imagined list is Quadratank, an update of the classic Combat cartridge, now with power ups and support for four players.

The home console games are just like you remember them. The bad news is you won't find games by other companies like Activision, no licensed games like Superman or E.T., and the only arcade home ports are Atari titles. Each game does have it's original instruction manual available which is just as nostalgic for me as the games themselves.

The good news, at least for me that only experienced the 2600 and 5200 consoles, is that they've included a small selection of games from other consoles. I'm having a great time checking out the 7800 titles. Dark Chambers has become a quick favorite. It's a lot like Gauntlet and even supports co-op play.

And just today I discovered Ninja Golf. Yup, you read that right. In this off beat game, you're a ninja playing 9 holes of golf. After you tee off, you then have to make your over the green via a side scrolling beat em up. Once you get close enough to the hole, you face off against a boss monster.

I've only had a few days with this and it's been fun tripping down memory lane, checking out the re-imagined games, experiencing different console offerings, and making my way through the timeline.

As this is being released to multiple platforms, I can tell you the controls are catering to controller players over keyboard warriors. Some games use the arrow keys for movement, some use WASD, and Quadratanks can only be played with a controller because you're driving a tank with both sticks...something I'm still trying to get the hang of! One small blessing for the games that support keyboard is they allow key mapping.

It'll take me a little longer to determine if the variety of games offered is good. Sure, they've probably got your 2600 favorites (no Circus Atari or Human Cannonball?!) but it seems like we're only getting a small sample from the other consoles. I do like that there are a couple games they included across multiple platforms to give you a sort of evolution of home gaming.

If you're mainly into the arcade and 2600 games and have the Atari Vault, this might be more of a wait until it goes on sale thing. I have the Vault but am really interested in Atari history (especially the video interviews) and consoles I never had the chance to play so this was a no brainer.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is currently available on Steam and for Xbox, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.

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