Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration (Review)

It’s 50 years of Atari and while there were a lot of highs in the early years the name has been associated more recently with a number of unsuccessful attempts at reviving the brand. So I went into this compilation with a lot of trepidation but have been genuinely surprised with what we have here which might be the best and smartest package Atari have delivered in a long time.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection takes some cues from previous Atari compilations such as Atari Flashback Classics but goes all-in on providing gaming experiences across a substantial number of Atari’s platforms over the years, from early arcades and the 2600 to (a first) finally including titles from their last consoles in the Lynx and Jaguar. A few titles have even been given the “reimagined” treatment to add some modern flair. In addition, a number of interviews provide some refreshingly honest commentary about the company and its trials and tribulations. And of course they talk about games!

The timeline of Atari is a great way to go through their history and be able to play the games as you find them. It also leads you into the interviews which are great and offer insights into key periods in Atari history. There really should be more of these or an option to see some in their entirety as it sometimes feels like a tease of more to come. That they were able to get a number of notable developers of the era, including David Crane and Howard Scott Warshaw, really shows that decent time was spent in getting new material. And many of them aren’t too worried about going into a few of the rumours that surrounded the company’s early years and its developer’s “recreational” pursuits. 😉

The games list is huge with over one hundred titles after unlocking a few secrets games. If you haven’t played any of Atari’s previous collections I’d imagine you’ll find a number of games you be never played before and will have a go out of curiosity. We even get an unreleased arcade game in Akka Arrh, something which will also be getting the Jeff Minter/Llamasoft treatment soon. Classics like Star Raiders are presented in their best, most playable way. In that case while the developers felt that the Atari 5200 version was the best of them it would have been nice to see the original Atari 8bit version and maybe even the 2600 port too. Having the Lynx and Jaguar consoles close out the collection is a win too, especially as Jaguar games have never been emulated in one of these compilations before. It’s nice for me to finally be able to play Jeff Minter’s original version of Tempest 2000 which still holds up very well.

Probably the biggest negative fans may have is that the game selection doesn’t do justice to all platforms, whether that be due to licensing, emulation or other issues. While good to see Caverns of Mars, Miner 2049’er and the homebrew Yoomp! for the Atari 8bit machines (400/800 computers), seeing others such as Boulder Dash, M.U.L.E. or Archon might’ve helped demonstrate other games that defined the system. Even worse is there’s nothing for the Atari ST when at least there could be some of Atari’s own ST ports – its version of Star Raiders still looks pretty good. Dungeon Master might be a stretch but in the very least you’d think they could get Captain Blood due to the current Atari’s tangled IP history. The Lynx loses out by not having Epyx launch games Blue Lighting and Gates of Zendocon while Todd’s Adventures in Slime World should be part of any compilation. While for Jaguar it’s a case that Atari’s own games, with a couple of exceptions like Tempest 2000 and Atari Karts, don’t hold up as well as many of the 3rd party games. Licensed arcade games are a no-go too so don’t expect to see Star Wars here and Battlezone is a no show now it’s owned by Rebellion.

I’m really impressed with what we have in Atari 50 – it’s not without flaws but as a compilation that celebrates an extensive history of the company’s products it does a pretty good job that I happily revisit. The developers have already released updates including a 60 FPS update for Tempest 2000 and I wish that they might even look at including a few more interviews and additions to the games roster to give all the platforms fair representation. Even if that doesn’t happen this is still a great way to show someone why Atari mattered. And being an old school Atari fan that makes me happy too. 🙂

Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection is out now on all platforms.

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