Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration may very well set the standard for retro compilations moving forwards, and not necessarily because of the content it includes. In truth, a significant number of the 100 or so releases included here are borderline impenetrable – appreciated inclusions, yes, but pretty much unplayable. It’s the way the package is presented, then, that sets it apart.
While you can jump straight to the games – organised by release year or platform – the compilation also features a museum-like interface that takes you from Atari’s origins all the way through to its latter years. This painstakingly presented gallery of the company’s highs and lows is absolutely fascinating, crammed with trivia, archive footage, photographs, and much more.
Of course, adding context to the array of paraphernalia is the aforementioned selection of playable games. Overall, there’s a real warmth and novelty to this package that’s seldom seen: upon learning about the origins of, say, Pong, you can then actually play it – complete with beautifully rendered borders, inspired by the original arcade cabinet.
All of the games have instruction manuals, reproduced in their entirety, as well as advertising flyers and other interesting documents. The emulation is also pretty darn good as far as we can tell; you won’t find any online leaderboards, for example, but you can save your progress, and faff about with the various filters available that attempt to replicate classic CRT displays.
It shouldn’t be ignored just how dense this compilation is. While there are obvious inclusions from the Atari 2600 era, like Missile Command and Centipede, developer Digital Extremes has even created a virtual replica of Atari’s ancient 1978 handheld game, Touch Me, which demonstrates the level of commitment on display here.
While the Atari Lynx and Atari Jaguar are represented, there will be disappointment that, presumably due to licensing and legal issues, titles like Klax and Alien vs. Predator are absent. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, an important cog in the Atari story, is also excluded. But there’s still plenty to appreciate here overall: Tempest 2000, Food Fight, and I, Robot definitely hold up today.
And that’s without even touching upon the reimagined series that’s been created specifically for this package. Airworld, for example, unexpectedly completes the Swordquest series, and accompanies the three 1980s titles that preceded it. Meanwhile, Haunted House reimagines Atari’s iconic survival horror as a light-hearted 3D maze game.
You also get the self-explanatory Neo Breakout, four-player tank title QuadraTank, vector-based mash-up VCTR-SCTR, and the glitzy Yars Revenge: Enhanced, which, confusingly, is a completely different experience to the recently released Yars: Recharged. In addition, you’ll find various unreleased prototypes, which ultimately add to the overall mystique of the package.
To be honest, very few of the games are going to hold your attention, but the presentation is introspective and interesting; it’s a celebration of Atari, yes, but it doesn’t gloss over the companies failing and shortcomings. And in that it gains genuine credence: there’s a clear reverence for the pioneering platform holder here, but it presents a warts and all perspective, which is appreciated.
While many of the included games may border on 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 through to original artwork, is presented so handsomely that you can’t not get swept up in Atari’s dramatic story. And the fact that there over 100 of the company’s most famous titles, emulated excellently with their original instruction manuals available to pore over, adds playable context to a lot of the content. This is just an impressive overall experience that will appeal to those who lived through the rise (and fall) of Atari, as well as younger players eager to learn a little more about one of the industry’s true pioneers.