Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration - A Shrine to Gaming History
When it comes to compilations of retro games, many simply offer a group of games with little fanfare or context as to why you should care about them.
If you’re a retro games enthusiast, that’s no problem because you probably already know all that so you can dive in and enjoy them.
But if you’re not? It’s easy to get lost and not really understand why you should bother caring in the first place.
Enter Atari and Digital Eclipse with Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection, which not only offers more than 100 games for you to experience but also lets you take a comprehensive journey
through the company’s history from the days of Pong tearing up arcades, to their eventual decline as they tried to push the Jaguar as the new hotness ahead of the arrival of the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn.
This focus is presented right from the outset as instead of throwing you into the games library, loading the collection presents you with the choice of five pathways exploring aspects of Atari’s history.
Each is structured with a timeline – featuring photos, scans, advertisements, quotes from developers, and videos. For me, the mix of archival footage, alongside commercials and newly filmed interviews does a great job of showing the era and how these games fit in well. Of course, hearing from the developers, and other industry figures helps show the impact Atari and their games had during the early days of the industry.
By the time you’ve explored all of it, you’ll now be ready to get down to business of actually playing them.
With so many included, don’t expect to find you’re going to enjoy all of them, but finding those which spark joy is all part of the adventure, and probably what I enjoyed most. Especially with as broad a platform selection as you get here.
The bulk of the collection is focused on the Atari 2600, which as their most popular home system, is no surprise. The pickings include plenty of iconic games, both original and conversions from various arcade machines. I also appreciate it including several later releases for the system, letting you see how hard developers pushed its limited hardware over its long shelf life.
Next is a selection of arcade games, covering the period from Atari’s launch up to the US video game crash of 1983. Along with many of the expected classics, you’ll also get a few unreleased prototype games, and even some which haven’t appeared in previous Atari collections.
The rest of the platforms – the Atari 5200, 7800 and Jaguar consoles, along with the 8-bit Home Computer family and the Lynx offer smaller selections, which is a bit of a disappointment as for some it’s the first time they’ve seen reissues in emulated form.
On the upside, it’s no surprise to say I feel Digital Eclipse have nailed the emulation here, as all the games I tried out felt responsive and played great – whether using Joycons in Handheld mode, or a Pro Controller when docked.
I also appreciate the accommodations made for alternate setups. When in Handheld mode, games relying on Spinner, Paddle or Trackball inputs (games like Breakout, Missile Command or Tempest) can be played from the touch screen, offering a bit more responsiveness than using a thumbstick.
The accommodations go further, as seen with Star Raiders for the Atari 5200, and Cybermorph on the Jaguar where the assortment of keypad controls is reworked to use more of the controller’s buttons alongside the second stick to be friendlier for modern players.
Something I am absolutely here for, and not just because Star Raiders is one I’d call an essential play out of the titles featured in the collection.
Other than that, the features available for the emulations allow easy access to scans of the game manuals, abilities to adjust the screen size and enable TV/LCD filters. You’ll also be able to view both the controls and scans of the instructions and take save states as necessary. Unlike some of Digital Eclipse’s other collections, there is no support for rewinding, but I guess the simpler nature of many of these games probably renders that moot.
Alongside all those emulated classics, you’ll also find a pack of newly created games for this collection. There are modern successors to Haunted House and Tank here, alongside an enhanced edition of Yars’ Revenge. The one which stood out for me was VCTR-SCTR (Vector Sector), which channels Vector arcade games like Asteroids and Tempest to create a frantic, and challenging shooter which tickles the old-school vibes in all the right ways.
As a package, Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection is quite the weighty one. From the historical details presented front and centre, to the selection of games, it offers a lot to explore and enjoy.
More importantly, I believe the way in which Digital Eclipse have presented this should be adopted by more classic game collections. I’ve believed for a long time that the games industry doesn’t value its history the way other media does, and collections like this serve as a shining light that perhaps this attitude may change in the future.
Atari 50 was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly provided by the publisher.