Whenever a collection of classic games is released, I always find myself picking it up. Despite not usually having nostalgia for these retro packages (as my first console was the Genesis), I enjoy learning more about the medium that I love, and they’re typically a good way to experience games that I missed out on. Unfortunately, a lot of these end up being hit-or-miss; for every one game I end up loving, there are often a handful of titles that are only interesting to look at through a historical lens.
The latest retro video game collection comes in the form of Atari Flashback Classics Volume 1. This $20 collection features 50 games in total, with 9 being arcade games, and 41 Atari 2600-era titles. Since the games are the reason why anyone would pick this up, and there are way too many of them to touch on individually, here’s the full list of arcade titles: Black Widow, Centipede, Liberator, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Pong, Space Duel, Tempest, and Warlords.
Meanwhile, here are the 41 Atari 2600 games: 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, Air-Sea Battle, Backgammon, Basketball, Black Jack, Bowling, Canyon Bomber, Centipede, Circus Atari, Combat, Combat Two, Desert Falcon, Dodge ‘Em, Fatal Run, Football, Home Run, Human Cannonball, Millipede, Miniature Golf, Pong Sports, Quadrun, Radar Lock, Realsports Boxing, Realsports Football, Realsports Soccer, Realsports Volleyball, Save Mary, Slot Machine, Slot Racers, Sprintmaster, Star Raiders, Steeplechase, Stunt Cycle, Super Baseball, Super Football, Swordquest EarthWorld, Swordquest FireWorld, Swordquest WaterWorld, Tempest, Warlords, and Yars’ Revenge.
As you can see, 50 games is a lot. The biggest name on the list would be arcade hits like Centipede, Pong, Tempest and Warlords, but the Atari 2600 list isn’t too shabby either. Volume 1 features both of the Combat games (although I’d only recommend playing the original, as the iconic tank combat game’s sequel seems like a total step backwards from the simple fun that the original offers), and a lot of sports games. One thing that Atari did a deviously good job at was splitting the must-have titles between Volume 1 and Volume 2, making sure that retro fans would pick up both.
The big issue that past collections have had is properly controlling the games given the change in input devices. A lot of these games used the Atari 2600’s paddle controller, which hasn’t been seen in decades (besides the super rad Nintendo DS accessory Taito put out). Games like Pong and Warlords feel terrible when using an analog stick, as it just doesn’t offer the precision needed for those titles. That’s a problem that Atari Flashback Classics has to tackle, and I feel like they’ve done a pretty solid job even if they didn’t completely solve the issue.
Each paddle game can be played in three ways: A) with the analog stick where it resets to the center after the player lets go of the stick, B) using the D-pad to move the paddle and then holding it there (it doesn’t reset position), and C) using the DualShock 4’s touchpad as a replacement paddle. I found using the touchpad to generally be the best solution (although it varies from game to game), and I actually had a good time playing these titles that are hard to port. It isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than giving players a single option.
Since Atari Flashback Classics is primarily comprised of games from the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was expecting a lot of the games to be dated. That is definitely the case, and quite frankly a lot of the offerings here are titles that I booted up once and never had any desire to play again. That said, while they offer little in the fun department, they do have plenty of historical value and seeing them preserved is great. I’ll never play Black Jack or Slot Machine again, but I’m glad they’re available.
Some of the surprise stand-outs of Volume 1 ended up being Save Mary, a game where I attempted to save a young girl (who I assume is named Mary) from drowning by lowering blocks she could climb, and Fatal Run, a racing game released in 1989 (yes, somehow the 2600 was still getting new games just a few years before I was born). While neither are as good as Tempest or Millipede, they’re games that I would’ve never played if it wasn’t for this collection, and I feel like that’s why these packages are so important.
While there are probably only a dozen games or so that I actually enjoyed playing (such as 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, a game I’ve put probably 30 rounds into and lost every single time), that’s more than enough for me. This clearly isn’t about playing the latest and greatest games, it’s about taking a look at the history of gaming, and in that aspect, it totally succeeds.
There are also some really nice extras added in on the presentation side. Players can view the manuals for all of the Atari 2600 titles, which is a really cool and thoughtful thing to do. There is one issue, though, as sadly the photo viewer’s instructions can’t be hidden from the screen, so the bottom of the manuals are often obscured when zoomed in. That’s a bummer, but hopefully it’ll get fixed in a patch. Another awesome touch is that the game’s cartridge artwork are shown when selecting each title. It’s the small things that make a collection like this feel like a labor of love, and not a cash grab on nostalgia.
Finally, there are some great modern additions such as online multiplayer for games (you can even play games while you wait for someone to join your online lobby), and online leaderboards for the arcade games. The multiplayer is where I feel like the game really shines because even if Realsports Boxing is terrible in 2016, I still managed to laugh hysterically while playing it with a buddy. It’s also pretty cool to see that I’m apparently the number 6 player of Black Widow in the entire world (despite being terrible at it). While it doesn’t go as far as Microsoft’s Game Room did in allowing players to view the replays of high-score runs, it’s still a great addition.
Obviously, this package won’t be for everyone. But if you’re looking for a solid way to play Tempest and Centipede, or just looking to learn about the Atari 2600, then I easily recommend this solid retro collection.
This review is based on the PS4 version, which we were provided with.