Although the videogame industry is in its infancy compared to movies and television, retro game collections have still been around for decades. These are your single titles packing a bunch of games from a single platform, franchise, or publisher, with an eye toward preserving history. As well as drawing on those nostalgic ‘childhood recreation’ feels when you’re browsing a digital or physical shelf. In recent years, the rise of mini consoles that emulate classic games with a combination of hardware and software is a prime example of this.
With new hardware cycles coming around every so often, it makes sense that we get to play games from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras on modern consoles. Especially when the idea of backward compatibility between hardware generations is still a relatively new concept.
That said, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is a lot more than a retro game collection. Like its namesake, it's more of a celebration, but also an engaging interactive slice of history that adds real context to the act of firing up an ancient “1-bit” Atari 2600 game or arcade-perfect ports of Asteroids and Lunar Lander. Thanks to emulation and ROMs, that’s something fans have has access to for decades.
Spanning 50 years of history, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration even includes playable games from Atari’s long-forgotten ‘90s console the Jaguar, as well as the handheld Atari Lynx. Which was the hardware and game maker’s attempt to compete with the Nintendo Game Boy. There are even games from the early days of the Personal Computer in the 1980s. All of this, for lack of a better term, content, is found in-between video interviews, mini-documentaries, concept art, advertisements, photos, and more.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is a lot more than a retro game collection. Like its namesake, it's more of a celebration, but also an engaging interactive slice of history that adds real context to the act of firing up an ancient “1-bit” Atari 2600 game.
Developer Digital Eclipse, who’s no stranger to the retro collection and has put together great packs for Konami covering the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games and even Blizzard’s early days in PC gaming, has raised the bar here. Like the best sort of museum exhibit, albeit with full interactivity on account of being able to read and hear about a game and then fire it up for yourself. Having the context of history, the limitations of early technology explained, and being able to hear about what it was like to develop these games is incredible.
If the dawn of the videogame era can be associated with a single name, that being the beginning of the industry we all know and love, then no doubt it would be Atari. From the groundbreaking introduction of Pong in the 1970s all but creating the concept of the videogame arcade through to the Atari VCS - or Atari 2600 - creating the home console. And the very idea of buying new games stored on a cartridge. But, the likes of Pong, Centipede, and many Atari 2600 games, aren’t exactly examples of the best in retro games. Fast forward a few years and we start to get into the Nintendo era, and the rise of Super Mario, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda.
And with that Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is not a collection of the very best arcade games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, nor is it a collection of the best Atari 2600 games (there aren’t any playable Activision games). And yet still, it’s the most engaging retro collection in years, and something I gladly fired up every game to get a real sense of a time and place. Like many of you, Atari’s golden era was a bit before my time, so having all of the info and behind-the-scenes stories was like learning about the beginnings of something I love. And for that, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is brilliant. Some of the standouts are vector-based arcade games, which use a different method to render graphics (lines and shapes) creating some of the best examples in the collection of games that have aged well.
Going one step further, to help set the tone for the Atari story, developer Digital Eclipse has even created some modern remixes in the form of Neo Breakout, the multiplayer-based Quadratank, Yars’ Revenge Reimagined, and the vector-based standout VCTR-SCTR. Which is a stylish neon-infused blend of Asteroids, Tempest, and Lunar Lander.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is not a collection of the very best arcade games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, nor is it a collection of the best Atari 2600 games (there aren’t any playable Activision games). And yet still, it’s the most engaging retro collection to date, and something I gladly fired up every game to get a real sense of a time and place.
Although labeled as a celebration, this collection doesn’t shy away from Atari’s failures, from the not-that-well-received follow-ups to the Atari 2600, the infamous videogame crash of the 1980s, and the generally underwhelming 1990s 64-bit console - the Atari Jaguar. Some of the best parts of Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration comes with the inclusion of never-before-released games and the long-awaited arrival of Swordquest: AirWorld. A series of games for the Atari 2600 I had no idea about. Ambitious adventure, role-playing, exploration games with a tie-in comic book series that never saw its planned fourth entry developed.
Digital Eclipse not only presents concept art and design ideas for the cancelled Swordquest game, but it uses all of the plans creator Tod Frye had sketched out to create a 2022 Atari 2600 game that is fascinating from beginning to end. And really, this should tell you everything you need to know about Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration. The new high watermark for retro game collections, and an essential trip into the early days of the medium.