The Atari Flashback console series launched in 2017, bringing together 150 games across three volumes – with bespoke versions later launching for Switch and PS Vita. With this in mind, you may be wondering why Atari 50 has generated a buzz, especially when this latest collection offers fewer games than 2019’s Switch iteration of Flashback.
The short answer is that this is a far more appealing package. The Flashback collections simply felt as if Atari had rummaged in their cupboards and slapped 50 games on a disc before charging $19.99 (£20) each. Atari 50, meanwhile, has been carefully curated by the retro enthusiasts at Digital Eclipse, fully intended to be a deep dive into Atari’s history – the highs and the lows.
Every release is accompanied by instruction book scans, 3D renditions of their packaging, and adverts/promotional materials too. These are then plotted along an interactive timeline, allowing you to witness the rise of Atari in the ‘70s until the Hasbro takeover in the late ‘90s.
The vast amount of extras strengthens and enriches this package considerably. Magazine scans, tech documents, comic books, and more. The hologram-based Cosmo handheld is covered in full, complete with an interview with its creator, and there’s also a playable version of Atari’s 1987 Touch Me handheld game. Several other interviews also feature, revealing the complexity of creating 2600 games, detailing the video game market crash, and even touching upon drug use. There’s a good 30+ minutes of footage to sit down and watch, with most containing humorous anecdotes.
Digital Eclipse has also developed a handful of new games that you’ll only find here. These aren’t quite as simple and throwaway as you may expect. That said, I don’t think many would hold up to scrutiny if they were released individually.
Haunted Houses is a 3D take on the 2600 original with more than just a house to explore. VCTR-SCTR mashes together a bunch of Atari’s vector games, Neo Breakout features stylish graphics with a fun two-player dual mode, Yars’ Revenge Reimagined gives the original a modern makeover, while Quadratank is the first official sequel to Combat – with four player support.
Then there’s Swordquest: AirWorld – a recreation of the lost fourth installment of the Swordquest series, inspired by original concept art. If you’re an Atari fan, this is a big deal.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this collection is the range of formats covered. Past collections have mostly focused on arcade games and their 2600 counterparts. Atari 50 ups the ante with a larger format roster, including a smattering of computer games, along with Lynx and Jaguar titles.
The much-maligned Jaguar is reasonably well represented: nine titles, including both launch games (Cybermorph and Trevor McFur) along with the critically acclaimed, and still highly desirable, Tempest 2000 and a couple of late releases in the form of the better-than-expected Ruiner Pinball and the disastrous Fight for Life. Fight for Life is so bad that it’s worth playing for a giggle. Club Drive is also here – another critically panned title, but one with slight historic importance. Evolution Dino Dudes (aka The Humans), Atari Karts, and Missile Command 3D make up the rest of the assortment, all being above average.
The poor old Lynx doesn’t receive the same amount of love. In fact, the biggest disappointment is how few Lynx games are offered – just five from a library of 70+. While it’s true that licensing may have prevented many from being included (and perhaps emulation was an issue) the five games don’t really give a good representation of what the handheld had to offer.
Basketbrawl and Scrapyard Dog are duplicates of 7800 games – although both boast improved presentation – while the two-game cart Super Asteroids & Missile Command is nothing special. This leaves us with Malibu Bikini Volleyball, which isn’t exactly a system highlight, and the decent enough sprite scaling shooter Turbo Sub. When you consider that the two Lynx collections for Evercade feature 25 games between them, it’s a bit of a blow to find just five here. Nobody bought a Lynx for Malibu Bikini Volleyball. Well, we hope not.
The computer game selection isn’t that great either, although it is fascinating to see how hard Atari tried to conquer the computer market. Star Raiders gets star treatment, covered extensively, although the version at hand is the 5200 console release. This leaves us with a few Bounty Bob/Miner 2049er games, the technically impressive homebrew release Yoomp, and 1981’s vertically scrolling shooter Caverns of Mars. The Atari ST doesn’t get a look in.
Thankfully, the vast amount of 2600, 5200, 7800, and arcade games are enough to carry this collection. Many are tried and tested greats, and while a few games are duplicated – with multiple versions of Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, and Food Fight present – it is interesting to see the differences between each iteration. I enjoyed revisiting a lot of these, including Black Widow, Tempest, Fatal Run, Dark Chambers, Major Havoc, Solaris, and Basketbrawl. Comical scrolling brawler Ninja Golf remains a guilty pleasure.
The inclusion of I, Robot shouldn’t be overlooked either, with this being the first ever game to feature 3D polygons. It’s a fascinating curio, being more complex than you may expect considering it was the first of its kind.
Digital Eclipse’s attention to detail when it comes to emulation is notable too, with a handful of games garnering special treatment such as unique borders and additional gameplay options. It has been said that Jaguar emulation is notoriously tricky, especially when it comes to 3D games, so to see a bunch of them here running flawlessly is pretty impressive. Now seems a good time to mention that Cybermorph isn’t as bad as the internet would have you believe. It isn’t quite hidden gem material though. Check out Solaris to fill that quota.
Excellent presentation, a bounty of extras, an exhaustive range of arcade classics, and a handful of Jaguar curios make this an easy recommendation for retro diehards. Those looking to see what the Lynx and Atari’s computer range had to offer may feel let down, however. Indeed, if you’ve owned past Atari collections you may notice a few other absences, such as the 7800’s MotorPsycho and Alien Brigade.
Not quite a definitive collection of Atari’s back catalogue, then, but still a very fine package. Here’s hoping Digital Eclipse is able to give other publishers the same interactive timeline treatment in the future – it’s a wonderful way to experience a company’s history.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is out now on all formats, both digitally and at retail.