Classic Atari Games Packed Into One Exciting Package - No Assembly Required - Review By GamingNoise-Chip
There is something about me that just has to collect. If I touched it, held it, played with it, threw it or rode in it, I have had this calling to collect all of these parts of my childhood and preserve them forever. Yet nothing has provoked my collecting instinct as much as 80’s video arcade games. The addiction came to a head last year as I began carting full size video game cabinets into my house to “add to the décor” (or at least that is what I told my wife). With a baby on the way and many nights on the couch, I’ve come to the realization that this part of my collection has to come to an end, but the joy of playing these retro pieces of heaven doesn’t have to. Perhaps one of the best pieces of freeware ever released on the computer has been M.A.M.E (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator), which has allowed me to recreate the arcade experience on my home PC so faithfully, so precisely, using actual ROM dumps from the arcade circuit boards. While the PC versions of arcade emulators have put a halt to bringing in 700 pound machines into my family room, game console versions of these arcade classics have always left something to be desired.
Atari: Anniversary Edition from Infogrames is a testament to how powerful the former gaming giant once was, and just how far the mighty have fallen. The collection contains 12 of the most popular games from the heydays of arcade gaming: Missile Command, Centipede, Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Millipede, Super Breakout, Tempest, Warlords and the game that started it all, Pong.
While emulators like MAME have been available for some time, the debate of legality has grown to an all-time high. The ultimate question facing gamers is whether it is legal to download the data roms from arcade games that are no longer available and then play them your PC. Compilation releases such as Atari: Anniversary Edition prove that there is still a market with these titles, and that a profit can still be made no matter how old they currently might be. The good news is that collections such as this one are finally giving gamers a legitimate way to enjoy these classics without the question of whether they have the right to do so. Yet for hardcore vintage gamers, it is debatable whether the quality of console emulation of arcade classics has yet to reach an acceptable level. Unfortunately, Atari: Aniversary Edition doesn’t help matters much.
It’s obvious that the immense good which can be gleaned from a title of this nature is the pure nostalgic charge one gets when flipping through the different games included in this package. Just watching the Tempest high score screen brings instant memories of “my” Pizza Hut in Fairport, New York, popping in after school with my mother and father waiting for our personal pan pizzas (they were all the rage then). And in the corner tucked away by the cigarette machine it sat -- the raster cabinet of joy -- a mint Tempest calling me like it was a beacon for the digital crack it was. I can almost smell the grease now. When I say that the titles are exact replicas of the originals, it is no exaggeration. They use the actual machine code from the games to emulate them on the Windows CE powered Dreamcast.
One of the nice options this collection has over similar retro packages is that you are able to play the games in either “cabinet” or full screen mode. Cabinet mode allows you to see the overlays, monitor glass and other cabinet adornments that were part of the games original arcade release.
Beyond the games themselves, the additional content could warrant the purchase for collectors alone. Interviews with the father of video games Nolan Bushnell are informational, and promotional flyers, cabinet pictures, original Atari 2600 cartridges make for good fodder as you take this walk down memory lane.
A package like this is directly targeted to retro gamers, and unfortunately for us, this collection has many shortcomings. First is the quality of the emulation on the Dreamcast. If you are involved with PC emulation, you have been used to playing these games exactly as they appeared in the arcade, complete with scanlines. The innate resolution of your television coupled with that of the Dreamcast equals a blurry mess on many of the games. Playing Asteroids was a brutal experience as one can barely make out their ship as it races across the screen. One of the most glorious aspects of raster games is the bright, glowing aura that the lines produce on the monitor - the Dreamcast can’t and doesn’t reproduce this accurately and ultimately makes for a poor experience for the hardcore fan.
Another issue which couldn’t be solved on any platform is that games with a natural vertical monitor orientation do not translate well to a horizontal screen. It’s plagued releases of these classic titles on all systems, and the Dreamcast is no exception. Even on my 36” screen, playing a game like Millipede that is meant to be played vertically just isn’t any fun.
If you can get past the way the game looks on the screen, you’ll then have to deal with the way in which the games control. I just have a real problem playing games that demand a trackball such as Crystal Castles with the bulky DC gamepad. Speed is of the essence in order to fully enjoy these games, and no matter how hard they tried, the controller just doesn’t cut it.
There’s more - the quality of the video interviews is low resolution at best. You’ll be able to live with it, but as a true collector piece it really doesn’t lend itself to a permanent space on your shelf. As you watch them you’ll think that your 56k modem just finished downloading the QuickTime files on your hard drive. In the days of DVD and Special Editions galore, you’re always expecting more, but this title just doesn’t quite deliver.
Even the titles good points are it’s bad points, as you will always find yourself shutting off the cabinet modes to try and maximize your playing area on the screen.
The Final Word
I hate to be so critical of games that really have brought me so much joy for as long as they have. The problem is not with the games themselves, but with the way in which they are packaged and presented. Infogrames isn’t to fault, as they really tried to put some polish on these masterpieces. But as an art connoisseur would write about studying Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in a book or on the web, the same can be said of playing these games on the Dreamcast. While it may look like Tempest, and sound like Tempest, it just ain’t Tempest.