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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 

 

 


 





As gamers of a certain age have grown increasingly fond of the games of their youth, many companies are looking to capitalize on this trend by releasing compilations of classic games for newer systems. Of course, you canít talk about gamingís golden age without mentioning Atari, the dominant force at the genesis of the electronic gaming era. As you might expect, despite the years that have passed, there are still many bright memories of that time in history. The Laser looks at Infogramesí Atari Anniversary Edition for the Dreamcast and Playstation to see if it lives up to the memories.

Classic game compilations have become increasingly popular in recent years with many gamers drawn to the simple yet still addictive games of their youths. Infogrames joins the trend by taking advantage of the Atari name and the 30th anniversary of its founding in 1972 by bringing out Atari Anniversary Edition for multiple console systems, with each pack offering a fantastic time capsule of days gone by. Whatís really good about many of the recent packs is that theyíre emulated perfectly and feature the games almost exactly as they appeared in the arcade. You can even turn the original arcade game on and off during the game. Most of the games on AAE are undeniable classics, but there are also a few lesser-known gems included in each to round out the collections and make them more appealing for the hard-core gamers. As you might expect, the games are fairly limited with primitive graphics and sounds, but anyone that grew up with these game wonít mind this at all. The Dreamcast edition features 11 faithfully reproduced games: Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Gravitar, Crystal Castles, Centipede, Millipede, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout. Tempest and Warlords. While most of these titles are well-known, there are several games which havenít gotten as much of the spotlight as they deserve.

Everyoneís probably familiar with Asteroids, and itís still a solid game with the same simple and addictive gameplay youíve come to know and love over the years. Asteroids Deluxe on the other hand, is a much improved version of the classic Ė the rocks now spin around, a shield is introduced but the biggest twist are the clusters of enemy fighters which you can break apart and that subsequently attack you. This is really cool and makes things much more exciting. Gravitar is another lost classic, one that never got the attention or praise it deserved back in the day. A super cool vector game, this is incredibly challenging and difficult. Players start on a starfield with smaller objects they can fly into, and the mini-games scale up. There are several of these, the main object is to fly the ship and destroy without hitting the walls. This sounds easy but Gravitarís physics mean that you have to contend with the gravitational pulls. Itís not simple, since you have to compensate for this, and requires a great deal of skill, making this incredibly difficult to beat yet quite satisfying when you do. Crystal Castles in another oddity, with its strange 3D graphics and cute characters itís also another game that doesnít get the respect it deserves, since itís a lot of fun and the multiple maze layouts are quite challenging.

As for the other games, they hold up quite well for the most part, with the cerebral play, minimalistic green vector graphics of Battlezone retaining a lot of appeal. Tempest is still fantastic as usual, but this edition is also cool enough to include Tempest Tubes, which replaces the standard shapes with more elaborate geometric patterns yet keeps the same timeless gameplay. This was originally a conversion kit for the arcade game and as such wasnít as widely available or popular as it deserved to be. Missile Command probably needs little introduction, but some who think of older games as slow, easy and dull should play this, reach the latter levels and then complain about the lack of speed and challenge. Players whoíve grown up on the 2600 edition might be shocked to see how much better visually Warlords was in the arcade, especially when you turn on the background art, which makes all the difference. For you younger gamers, essentially Warlords is Pong meets Breakout with the added fun of having four players compete on the same screen. Whatís also cool about this is that you can hold the ball and unleash it on opponents. I really liked this version the best out of all the versions, and no, it doesnít suffer as much as youíd think without the paddle controllers. Speaking of Breakout, this is included as well, though the Super edition is much more entertaining since there are variations with locked balls, advancing rows of bricks, multiple balls and more. I remember playing the 5200 version for hours and while it seems under-rated these days, thereís still plenty of fun left. Centipede and Millipede are included in this edition as well, though to be honest, the simpler play of Centipede has more appeal than the cluttered Millipede, though this is a matter of personal taste. Finally, we come to Pong which is the one that started it all. Pong still quite enjoyable and the hypnotic gameplay can be surprisingly addictive when youíre in the right move, and the controls in this version arenít half-bad. So overall, thereís an excellent selection of games in this compilation, and DC owners should pick it up.

The PS1 version is called Atari Anniversary Edition Redux and is almost identical to the DC edition except it drops Crystal Castles and Millipede in favor of Space Duel and Black Widow. This is cool since neither have ever appeared in official home versions until now. Itís a good trade, since while these two are somewhat obscure, theyíre both excellent games. At first, you might think Space Duel is just Asteroids with color vectors and more interesting graphics, which it essentially is, the same sense of gravitational pull and similar gameplay seem to make it feel quite derivative. However, the twist here is that two-players can play at the same time. This doesnít seem like a big deal, but the two ships in Space Duel are tethered together and can be used to fire in unison. This makes the gameplay all the more interesting, making this a worthwhile addition. However, the real treat in the package is Black Widow a true lost classic with addictive gameplay and a really cool concept. You are a spider in this one, and the object here is to shoot all the enemies that come at you, collect the spikes. You also need to keep track of your web, since the lines change color, and you canít pass through them when theyíre red. The game is absolutely brilliant, it looks like Tempest, but plays a like a cross between Robotron and Centipede with a bit of Galaga thrown in, making Black Widow feel completely original. Itís highly addictive and the vector graphics in this game are particularly impressive. This is a really awesome game, though itís also one that seemed lost in the winds of time, so it resurrection after all these years is particularly gratifying. Black Widow is so good, itís worth the price of the entire compilation alone, especially for those who remember this from way back when.

In addition to the games outlined above, both compilations feature an extensive archive section where you can look through classic Atari memorabilia and other items, as well as an in-depth interview with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell which is quite interesting on its own. This is well produced and comprehensive making it must-viewing for any video game history fan. The emulations themselves are of excellent quality, and are highly faithful to the originals down to the smallest details. Players can play with or without the original cabinet artwork, set the difficulty and number of lives and also in some games, select bonus levels. More importantly, you can change the image resolutions depending on what your monitor/TV can display, which makes a huge difference in the vector graphics titles, which look so-so at lower resolutions but excellent at the highest levels. You can also change the size of the images for bigger or smaller appearance as well. One of the cool features in the game is that players can also use Nykoís cool classic Trackball controller on the PS1 version which adds a lot of authenticity to the proceedings. Both of these packs are also excellent buys in comparison to the relatively slim offerings on other compilations, and give about as comprehensive overview of Atariís early 80ís golden age as can be expected with commercial packages. Both are highly recommended and remind players that these games arenít museum pieces because theyíve aged quite well, and their addictive qualities have retained much of their appeal even after two decades of increasingly complex titles. Far from being nostalgia, both versions of Atari Anniversary Edition are fantastic because they reminds players that outstanding play remains the most important element in any game then and now.