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Review #381

Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Code Mystics, Inc.
Genre: Compilation
Release Date: 11/03/2010

Although I know this dates me, I played the hell out of my Atari 2600 as a kid. Even when I got a Nintendo Entertainment System, I would still go back to Warlords, H.E.R.O., Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron and other games for this now venerable system. Unfortunately I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult years waiting for Atari to put out a quality compilation of 2600 games. It hasn’t helped that Atari has gone through more owners and changes than any three other publishers put together, but everything so far has been either too little for your money (Midway Presents Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1), not the best in terms of quality or quantity (Atari Anniversary Edition for the Dreamcast) or downright stupid (Atari Classics Evolved for the PSP).

Now Atari tries it again with Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1. This little DS cart packs in fifty 2600 games for $29.99. That’s roughly $1.66 a game, a much better deal than Centipede/Warlords/Breakout, which I picked up for the Game Boy Advance in 2005 for $15. It also contains several games that haven’t seen a legal re-release since the days of the actual 2600 itself. Games like the Swordquest titles and Haunted House, the latter of which had a nice little remake on the Wii last month. The cart even allows twenty-one different games to be downloaded by a friend so you can engage in multiplayer wireless play – a first for all of the titles that offer this. Just remember, you can only download one at a time.

On paper, Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 looks like a no brainer in terms of awesomeness, but how is it really?

1. Modes

In addition to fifty different games that you can play, there is also a Trivia game, an arcade gallery, a manual for each of the Atari 2600 games, and a prototype for a game commissioned by the U.S. Army entitled Army BattleZone. Those are some nice extras, but when all is said and done, it’s the games that matters. Here’s a list of all fifty and my short commentary on each.

I. Asteroids (arcade) – I never really understood the appeal of this game, but it IS a classic so it should be here. 1 for 1.

II. Battlezone (arcade) – I’ve always found this game to be awful and it hasn’t aged well. 1 for 2.

III. Centipede (arcade) – It’s missing something without the trackball but still a lot of fun. 2 for 3.
IV. Gravitar (arcade) – A crappy second rate Asteroids wanna-be. 2 for 4.

V. Lunar Lander (arcade) - I’ve never found anyone that likes this game. It’s a horrible lunar landing sim. 2 for 5.

VI. Missile Command (arcade) – I know it’s a classic, but really, this game sucks and always has. I’ve never understood how anyone can enjoy this. 2 for 6.

VII. Pong (arcade) – Still amazingly fun after all these decades. 3 for 7.

VIII. Space Duel (arcade) – Another Asteroids wanna-be. Meh. 3 for 8.

IX. Tempest (arcade) – Another game that hasn’t aged well at all. Definitely not worth playing. 3 for 9.

X. Air-Sea Battle (2600) – This was never fun and it still isn’t. Lots of options though. 3 for 10.

XI. Flag Capture (2600) – An early minesweeper. Very dull and boring. 3 for 11.

XII. Human Cannoball (2600) – It gets dull fast, but it’s cute for what it is. 4 for 12.

XIII. Outlaw (2600) – This was always a fun PvP game as a kid, but in order for this to be any good, you’re going to need to find a friend to play with. Thankfully this is a game two people can play with only one DS cart. 5 for 13.

XIV. Sky Diver (2600) – Awful in every way. It is amusing to watch the divers go SPLAT though. 5 for 14.

XV. Submarine Commander (2600) – Another awful game. 5 for 15.

XVI. Adventure (2600) – One of my five favorite Atari games, and one of only two of those that made the compilation. That bat still makes me swear a blue streak. This alone is almost worth getting the compilation for. 6 for 16.

XVII. Haunted House (2600) – See above. Awesome game that still holds up today. 7 for 17.

XVIII. Swordquest: Earthworld (2600) – One of the worst games I have ever played. Everyone I knew got this game because it came with a free comic book as a kid and found the actual game itself to be awful. Worst of all, you NEED the comic book to beat the game and guess what? The comic isn’t included here. WTF? What kind of a choice was that. The game is still as awful as I remember it to be. 7 for 18.

XIX. Swordquest: Fireworld (2600) – Same problem as above, but with even worse mini-games. 7 for 19.

XX. Swordquest: Waterworld (2600) – This is one of the rarest and most sought after 2600 games ever. I sold my copy without the comic and manual for over $100 back in 2002 and although this might kill the aftermarket of this game, I’m glad to see it here. This is the best of the three Swordquest games , but again, you NEED the comic to get through the game and although the manuals are reprinted here, the comics are not. I’m going to be kind and give this a thumb’s up since this ultra-rare game sees the light of day again, but like the previous games, it’s almost unplayable because of this issue. 8 for 20.

XXI. Asteroids (2600) – Why include both versions of the game? This is a spot that could have been held by Crystal Castles, Warlords, Berserk, Breakout, Defender, or some other Atari games that didn’t make the cut for this compilation and SHOULD HAVE. Since a second volume is coming out, the arcade games should have been on one and the 2600 versions of the arcade games should have been on the other. Another bad design choice. 8 for 21.

XXII. Battlezone (2600) – See above. 8 for 22.

XXIII. Centipede (2600) – See above. 8 for 23.

XXIV. Gravitar (2600) – See above. 8 for 24.

XXV. Missile Command (2600) – See above. 8 for 25.

XXVI. Tempest (2600) – See above. 8 for 26.

XXVII. Slot Machine (2600) – This is pretty bad and hard to make out what is even going on. 8 for 27.

XXVIII. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe (2600) – I never liked this as a kid and I still don’t. 8 for 28.

XXIX. Atari Video Cube (2600) – An awful game. Seriously, who chose the games to make this compilation? 8 for 29.

XXX. Fun With Numbers (2600) – It’s really not. 8 for 30

XXXI. Hangman (2600) – It’s cute. It’s easy, but it’s cute. A decent enough time waster. 9 for 31.

XXXII. Math Grand Prix (2600) – Oh man, is this ever awful . You race, but only by doing single digit math equations. 9 for 32.

XXXIII. Surround (2600) – Another truly awful game. Man, either these things haven’t aged well, or Atari chose the worst of the worst for a lot of this compilation. 9 for 33.

XXXIV. Video Checkers (2600) – it’s hard to mess up Checkers. Thankfully this game does what it needs to. 10 for 34.

XXXV. Dodge ‘Em (2600) – A weird little racing game. I liked it as a kid and it hasn’t aged well, but I was still able to get a bit of nostalgia from it, so I’ll get it a point here. 11 for 35.

XXXVI. Slot Racers (2600) – Only for two players which is an automatic negative in my book. 11 for 36.

XXXVII. Sprintmaster (2600) – Pretty bad, even for an early racing game. This is no Pole Position, I’ll tell you that. 11 for 37.

XXXVIII. Star Ship (2600) – A really bad first person flying game. Avoid this. 11 for 38.

XXXIX. Stellar Track (2600) – Easily the worst game on the compilation. It’s almost impossible to see and is utterly crap in every way. 11 for 39.

XL. Basketball (2600) – A one on one hoops game. Still cute. 12 for 40.

XLI. Bowling (2600) – this was a very popular game as a kid and it still holds up. 13 for 41.

XLII. Championship Soccer (2600) – still fun to this day. 14 for 42.

XLIII. Football (2600) – only for two players. Automatic thumbs down. 14 for 43.

XLIV. Home Run (2600) – Another sports game that still holds up. 15 for 44.

XLV. Minature Golf (2600) – Awful and I have no idea how this is supposed to be golf. 15 for 45.

XLVI. RealSports Baseball (2600) – Man, I loved this game as a kid and it’s still a lot of fun. This was my favorite Baseball video game until SNK put out Baseball Stars. 16 for 46.

XLVII. RealSports Boxing (2600) – Not very good. Activision had the best Boxing game on the 2600 and this is pretty crap compared to it. 16 for 47.

XLVIII. RealSports Football (2600) – Better than the first gen football game and you can play against the computer. Nice. 17 for 48.

XLIX. RealSports Tennis (2600) – my favorite sports game for the 2600. Glad to see it here. 18 for 49.

L. RealSports Volleyball (2600) – Dull and not worth playing. 18 for 50.

Ouch. Only eighteen out of fifty games are worth playing or are any good. That’s a 36.7% quality rate. However, I’ll give an extra point for offering multiplayer without a second copy of the game on nearly half the titles and another point for all the manuals and trivia game. However, I’ll also take half a point away for the sheer stupidity of putting the Swordquest games on here without the comics needed to beat the game. But really, when hasn’t Swordquest been synonymous with stupidity?

Modes Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

These are 2600 or early arcade graphics and as such, most of these games are pretty hideous by today’s standards. Some are even hard to tell what is supposed to be going on in the game. A few titles still hold up, like Haunted House and Adventure, but since this is rating the game based on the DS’ capabilities, the game gets a dismally low score here. It might seem unfair, but remember, some of these games were considered pretty hideous even back in the 2600 era. It also doesn’t help that some of the games don’t convert to a screen as small as the ones in the DS. For several sports games, it’s almost impossible to see the ball. It’s roughly a pixel in size. Seriously. Bad planning once again.

Graphics Rating: 2/10

3. Sound

I have to admit, it was great to hear some of the classic tunes and sound effects from these games once again. Sure they’re nowhere near what can be produced today, but they’re still fun to me. Again, maybe I’m showing my age, but the “Twilight Zone” theme playing when you beat Haunted House still gets me to smile, as does the weird noise passing for a cheering crowd in RealSports Baseball. I realize you have to be an older gamer to enjoy the sound and/or music here, but there really is some nostalgia value here.

Sound Rating: 5.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

At first, one would assume it’s easy to emulate Atari games to the DS. However, one has to remember that most of these games used an analog joystick rather than a D-pad and several others used paddles or trackballs, of which there is no way to get a 100% accurate feeling on a D-pad or joystick. Still, only older gamers like myself who grew up with the 2600 will notice any real difference in the gameplay, and even then it is minute at best.

With that said, a lot of these games played like crap back when I was but a lad, and they still do now. Seriously, I don’t get how some of these games were even made, much less enjoyed and playing them know shows me exactly why we had that video game crash in the early 1980s. There are also some collision detection issues such as the ball passing through the paddle in Pong on occasion, or a bit of lag between input and action in Earthworld. For the most part the emulation is solid, but when it is off, it’s very noticeable. Factor in a lot of these games haven’t aged well to begin with and you have only about a dozen and a half games on the entire compilation that are any fun to play. It’s a decent overall experience, but only for an older or diehard Atari fan.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5.5/10

5. Replayability

With fifty games, a trivia quiz, manuals for each game and the ability to play more than twenty titles wirelessly with a friend and without the need for a second cart, 2600 fans can get a lot of replay out of this title. Sure only 18 of the 50 games are worth playing, but that’s still a lot of titles. With so much variety and such simplistic controls, this is a great cart to take on a long trip as you can flitter through multiple games without having to switch games.

I know I’ll come back to this regularly for either a Haunted House or an Adventure fix, but not really for any of the other titles. The sports games are the best overall titles on the compilation, but they’re more a one-time nostalgia trip than anything else. I suppose that’s an apt description of most of the games in Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

One really positive thing that I can say about this collection is that nearly every game offers multiple difficulty levels and/or options. Something like Outlaw offers nearly two dozen modes of play and Adventure even has a randomly generated dungeon option (making it one of the first roguelikes) and so you can play it dozens of times and never have the same experience. If you hate one version of the game, or find it too easy, odds are you’ll find something that you can like in several of the games due to the number of modes or variants each game contains.

Now other games are horribly unbalanced. I’ve already bitched about the Swordquest issues with the comic books, but none of these games are really that fun to play due to numerous design issues, which makes it all the worse. Other gamers have horrible controls while others are far too easy for even the youngest gamer. There’s no real fair way to rate the balance of fifty games in a few paragraphs, but let’s just say that since only a few gamers are worth playing or even fun, that a lot of the bad games are awful due to control issues or weird design choices. What’s here is decent, but a lot of bad games ruin it for the dozen and a half games that can still be considered quality.

Balance Rating: 5.5/10

7. Originality

On one hand, a lot of these games are the first of their kind. Pong for example. However, in this cart we can see how derivative a lot of these actually are. How many Asteroid clones are there in this cart alone? More than a fifth of the games on here are sports titles. Adventure itself is a remake. Really the only game that stands out as truly innovative or original is Haunted House, which is the first every survival horror game. Oh, and probably Centipede.

Look, I loved my 2600 and I still love several of these games on here, but most of what is on this compilation wasn’t very original even when the 2600 was new. Factor in these are ports of 30 year old games and that the most original Atari developed/published games aren’t even on here and you have something, that when viewed critically, isn’t very good in terms of showing the legacy of Atari. Still, I’ll be kind since this is the first time in decades some of these games have received a re-release…even if many of them shouldn’t have gotten that chance.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

If a lot of the Atari games I actually liked were in this compilation, I’d probably want to spend more time with it. Crystal Castles (either arcade or 2600) would have been a godsend. As would have Warlords or Berserk. Most of my time was with Adventure, Haunted House, Bowling, and RealSports baseball and tennis. Other than that I played through every other game on here twice and found myself bored with nearly off of them after only a few days with the cart. When I first grabbed this, I thought this would be a permanent part of my collection. Now I find myself asking if having the experience of four or five 2600 games is worth keeping a cart around in my collection.

It’s sad to see how poorly a lot of these games have aged and even sadder to see a lot of games I never liked as a kid making the compilation over titles that were actually popular and/or critically acclaimed. I’m a pretty big retrogamer, but this compilation left me wanting rather than ecstatic.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Are you over 30? If not, you probably won’t enjoy this collection for what it is. Even if you are over thirty, you’ll probably only enjoy a handful of these titles and find that with Atari, you really can’t go home again. Sure, a few of these titles still hold up and are as fun as the day they came out, but the audience who wants to pay $30 for a plethora of Atari titles is very slim indeed. It’s really hard to recommend this title to anyone but a big 2600 fan, and if you are one, you probably have a 2600 or two in working condition and the best of these games anyway.

Usually I’m pretty gung-ho about retro compilations, but due to the choice in games provided here and the fact only a portion of them were worth playing even as a kid, I have to say this is a pretty niche purchase at best.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

Okay. Fifty games for $29.99 breaks down roughly to sixty cents a game. That’s a good deal, even if most haven’t aged well, or weren’t very good in the first place. Now, let’s just take the eighteen games I actually liked in this compilation. That boils down to $1.66 a game. That’s still a pretty good deal, right? Hell, I’d pay $5 for Adventure and Haunted House alone and that’s a third of this cart’s MSRP.

Now factor in the fact you can play nearly twenty of these games with a friend without having to buy a second copy of the game (one for each DS). That’s a nice perk. Then you also have all the manuals, the trivia game, the arcade gallery and the army version of Battlezone. Atari and Code Mystics really put in a lot of perks to this compilation and it really helps make the fact that a lot of these games suck, go down easier. At the end of the day, I might be opposed to the fact nearly all of the 2600 games I liked aren’t on this compilation, or the fact that a lot of these games haven’t aged well, but Code Mystics did a nice job with the presentation and overall package and longtime Atari-philles will be happy with this purchase – especially if they no longer own a 2600 of their own.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7.5/10

The Scores
Modes: 5/10
Graphics: 2/10
Sound: 5.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 5.5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 5.5/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 7.5/10
Total Score: 48
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 includes a whopping fifty games from Atari’s golden age, only a fraction of them are actually “greatest hits.” A lot of the most popular games like Crystal Castles, Defender, Super Breakout and more are missing, with things like Fun With Numbers taking their deserved spots. The game also doubles on certain titles, giving you both the arcade and 2600 versions of the game, which again are spots that could have be reserved for a wider variety of titles. Still, eighteen of the fifteen games are still well worth experiencing, even decades after their original release. Sadly, only older gamers will really appreciate what’s all included here as the vast majority of gamers today weren’t even alive when the 2600 was the system of choice. A lot of these games haven’t aged well at all, but those that have, like Adventure or Haunted House are sure to bring a nostalgic smile to a niche group of gamers’ faces. If you loved your 2600 as a child, it’s worth at least experiencing this collection just to see how far things have come since we were having arguments about the Intellivision, Collecovision, 2600 and Magnavox Odyssey and which was superior.

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