Reviewed: April 12, 2005
Released: March 16, 2005
What can be said about Atari that hasn’t already been said? Most people know the story of their rise and fall. Everyone knows that they were the biggest home console sellers of the early 80’s. Some even know about the time Atari dumped millions of overstocked games into a New Mexico landfill and then crushed them with a steamroller. Despite all of Atari’s up and downs, one thing has remained constant: their reputation for putting out classic games.
With Retro Atari Classics for the Nintendo DS, Atari, once again, gives gamers ten classic games to take home…or wherever they happen to be toting their DS systems. This time Atari tries to make use of the touch screen capabilities of the DS. Additionally, they’ve hired “3 graffiti legends to tag 10 Atari classics.” What this means is, that aside from the Classic Mode, players can choose to play the Remix Mode of these games, which include all new graphics. Sometimes these concepts work, but mostly they fail to hit the mark. Purists, like myself, who have been playing these games since we could barely walk will, more than likely, be turned off by the tooling.
Let’s go over the list of games. RAC contains ten Atari classics: Centipede, Tempest, Pong, Warlords, Missile Command, Breakout, Sprint, Gravitar, Asteroids, and Lunar Lander. No doubt about it, these are ten quintessential Atari masterpieces.
One of the main selling points here is Atari’s attempt to employ the use of the touch screen ability of the DS. This works in some cases, but in most cases it either hinders the gameplay or does not make a difference one way or another. Considering the fact that most of these games were designed for play with a joystick, paddle, or trackball, the touch screen approach, in theory, seems like a good idea. In reality, it makes the gameplay awkward and at times it just feels off.
Centipede and Sprint suffer the most in this area. Aside from the fact that Centipede looks cramped on the dual screens, the use of the stylus makes it feel not quite right. It is too easy to get caught up around a mushroom, whereas use of the directional pad eliminates this problem. Sprint suffers from the same problem as well. It is very easy to get completely turned around and caught up on the wall of the race track while using the stylus. Perhaps this is due to the circular motion of the wheel on the bottom screen.
The paddle games, Pong, Breakout, and Warlords, do not necessarily suffer from use of the stylus, but they don't exactly thrive, either. Warlords and Breakout employ a bottom screen with a circle that slides back and forth along with the movement of the stylus, while during a game of Pong you simply touch the paddle itself to move back and forth. Pong is so slow-going and so primitive that the use of either the touch screen or the directional pad really does not make a difference. The same can be said about Breakout. At times, I did find myself moving the stylus faster than the paddle could actually move, thus pulling it off of the circle and leaving my paddle just sitting there.
Missile Command is the game in which the application of the stylus is best put to use. It is easy for a player to fire off rapid accurate shots against the incoming missiles. Though, it almost feels like cheating. It is akin to putting the Nintendo Zapper on the screen during a round of Duck Hunt. At least Missile Command’s difficulty greatly increases with every new level providing quite a challenge regardless of choice of control.
Speaking of Missile Command, hardcore gaming purists might notice the lack of ability to pick from which base the missiles shoot. There seems to be several little quirks like this throughout the collection. It looks like some games have been tooled with a little bit.
Also quite curious is the game’s use of multi-card for the wireless multiplayer option. It seems like the games could have easily been set up so that one player could download from another player. Yet another chink in Atari’s armor.
Overall, the gameplay is what you would expect from games dating back as far as the late 70’s. There is nothing here that is ground-breaking or spectacular by today’s standards. These are simply the games a lot of us grew up with, with a little unneeded tooling thrown in.
A player gets to choose between Classic Mode and Remix Mode while playing any of the ten games included in the Retro Classics collection. In Classic Mode you know what you are in for--archaic graphics with a lot of character. In Remix Mode, the graphics can be summed up in one word. That word is "ridiculous".
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the business meeting when Atari decided to hire three legendary graffiti artists to update the visuals on some of their most beloved games. “Hey, let’s hire someone who can make Centipede look like the runner- up in a third grade Valentine’s Day card design contest.” “Sounds good, Bob. The kids will love it.”
Well, it probably didn’t happen in that manner, but I just do not understand the direction that Atari was trying to go in with this one. The vast majority of these games suffer in the Remix Mode. The graphic redesigns are just plain silly. Pong looks like something out of Wrecking Crew and Warlords looks like a Saturday morning cartoon. There is no appeal in this graphic overhaul at all. The gameplay remains the same, but the remixes can be quite distracting visually.
The Remix Mode does actually work well with Asteroids and Sprint. Sprint ditches the gray, black, and white cars in favor of red, yellow, green, and blue cars. Not a huge change, but it adds to the game and eliminates the dullness of the previous colors. Actually, all of the colors in the game are very bright and vivid. Asteroids just looks cool in 3-D. For the first time, I think I can actually tell what is going on when I play the game.
The menu interface is quite nice, too. It is easy to navigate and it is very clear as to what is happening while you choose your options. Despite the pleasing menus and the two games that actually benefit from the Remix Mode, nothing could have saved the Remix idea from being a bust.
There are no surprises in the sound category. These games all contain the familiar blips and bleeps that players have been hearing for over two decades now. You get the classic revving motor sound in Sprint and the timeless roaring fireball sound in Warlords. The tones sound especially crisp and punchy coming through the DS speakers. The shooting effect in Centipede is entirely too loud, though.
Retro Atari Classics houses ten of Atari’s most popular games. At the very least, playing in Classic Mode, you get ten solid games. Well, make that nine, because I never understood the appeal of Lunar Lander, even though it is considered a classic.
The lack of multi-play, without purchasing more than one cart, really hurts the collection. If Atari had implemented a one cart multi-player function, there would have at least been some redeeming value. It’s just one more reason that this game stews in mediocrity.
This game retails for $29.99. A player will be better off waiting and picking it up used and there will be many used copies of this game in stores within the coming months because the replay value is very low, considering that these games have been out for twenty-five years already. It only takes a few minutes before you realize, “Hey, this is just Pong.” Better yet, you might want to pick up a copy of Atari Anniversary Advance for the Game Boy Advance.
Even with the silly graphic overhaul, the game is not completely terrible. You are getting ten games and Retro Atari Classics is a great addition to your collection if you do not already own any of these games and you play the games in Classic Mode. It is just not worth the retail price if a player is looking for a solid game in the DS library.
This game suffers from “what could have been” syndrome. Atari could have done so much more: better multi-player options, more games, more faithful reproductions, etc., etc. While this game is not destined for a New Mexico landfill, it is also not destined to be a centerpiece in your DS collection. At least we’ve learned that when Atari falls, they always seem to come back. Hopefully next time they will hit the mark.