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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Retro Atari Classics (Nintendo DS)

By Michael Palisano

In an attempt to bring some 'coolness' to what is basically yet another compilation of oldie games, Atari enlisted a trio of underground graffiti artists to change the sprites of some of their classic titles. The end result is the mixed success of Retro Atari Classics for the Nintendo DS. Ten games are included here with both Retro and Remixed modes ("tagged" versions) of each selectable. Aside from the skin-deep changes, there really isn't much new with the gameplay aside from its iffy touch screen/stylus implementation. While there are some cool ideas, the games' implementation leaves much to be desired, making Retro Atari Classics something best suited for the bargain bin.

Here's a pretty cool idea that could have been brilliant. Take ten classic Atari titles like Asteroids, Missile Command, Tempest, Centipede, Breakout and Sprint. Give three underground hip-hop artists license to tag or re-imagine them with hip visuals and give them back to players for a refreshing change of pace that would bring new life to these perennials. At least, that's how it was supposed to work. Sadly, haphazard implementation and strangely, a lack of imagination undercuts these cool ideas. The first thing most players will probably want to do is check out the new hip-hop versions of the games. Some of the changes seem relatively minor, with a few palette swaps, while others are more dramatic, with Asteroids and Centipede given almost complete visual makeovers. The individual titles reflect a unique street style, with each artist's unique spin on the games giving them at least a refreshing visual kick in the pants.

The results are relatively mixed, with some of these backgrounds actually achieving a kind of retro-chic, while others are merely distracting. Aside from these changes, the games themselves are largely unchanged, though some have been changed to make use of the DS system's stylus. Here again, the results are mixed. Some titles such as Tempest and Centipede are well suited to this system while others are rendered unplayable. An inconsistent implementation of the controls themselves makes things confusing, and the unclear commands make some of the titles border on the atrocious. Many of these problems stem largely from the inconsistent implementation, where you can use the standard d-pad and face buttons for movement in games like Asteroids, while the stylus is required to play others like Missile Command. This makes for a compilation that varies widely in terms of quality and style, making it feel uneven and haphazard at best. The in-game menus aren't that great either, and their confusing layout makes it unclear whether you're selecting the classic or remixed version.

Retro Atari Classics' emulation is a bit haphazard as well. Some of the games feel much closer to the originals, while others feel watered down and simplified. For example, Warlords feels exactly like the arcade version, while the emulation of Asteroids feels cheap and rushed. This is another area where the game seems to fall shorts. The games themselves play exactly as you remember them and there are no added features or bonuses in them. This is true even in the remixed versions, which means for all the effort that's gone into making look fresh, almost nothing has been done to make them play fresh. 

What it basically means is that these hyped versions are actually inferior in many ways, since the new visual looks are more distracting than anything else. In fact, most players would probably have more fun playing the original versions of these games and skipping the 'tagged' versions altogether, since they offer no gameplay enhancements at all. The changes are purely aesthetic - which is quite disappointing. While the new versions of the games are fun for a short time, they really don't offer much substance beneath the cool surface, which makes things less than they seem. The emulated versions of the classics are mostly adequate, though a little short of the mark in terms of perfect fidelity. Overall, while there are some good ideas in Retro Atari Classics, it falls short of expectations. The game's haphazard implementation means some games play better than others. The spotty controls try to use the stylus creatively, but tend to be more awkward than interesting. The iffy emulation leads to inconsistent gameplay makes this one compilation that offers more frustration than nostalgia.

Grade: C+

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Retro Atari Classics (Nintendo DS)

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