A Quick Look At Atari Anniversary Edition

Ah, Atari. A company often credited as being the progenitor of the entire video gaming industry, but one which bowed out with such a whimper it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. In the 1970s and 80s, Atari could literally fire diamonds from a cannon into a lake for 24 hours a day and it still wouldn't make a dent in the petty cash box lying under the receptionist's desk. By the late 1990s though, those halcyon days of wanton abandon were over. Many people point the finger at Atari's final console, the Jaguar for the fine mess the firm ended up in, but in retrospect a combination of poor management and a failure to capitalise on a rich back catalogue is really what sounded the death knell for Atari.
Before you jump down my throat though, know this: I am a massive fan of the Jaguar and have been collecting games, hardware and memorabilia related to that dumpster fire of a system for quite a while...so I consider myself well positioned to pour humorous scorn. Oh, and Super Burnout is one of my all time favourite racing games, so chill. This article isn't about that criminally-untapped pile of 64-bit awesome though. It's about the Dreamcast and a rather nice compilation of Atari arcade classics of yesteryear that I recently acquired: Atari Anniversary Edition.

Atari Anniversary Edition is, as you'd expect from the title, a GD-Rom stuffed full of games from Atari's monumental back catalogue. The games contained in this package are some of the finest and most highly regarded in gaming history, and while they may not look like much now (or even back in 2000 when this collection was originally released), they paved the way for what we know as current gen gaming in one way or another. The games on the disc number twelve in total and these are they:
  • Asteroids
  • Asteroids Deluxe
  • Battlezone
  • Centipede
  • Crystal Castles
  • Gravitar
  • Millipede
  • Missile Command
  • Pong
  • Super Breakout
  • Tempest
  • Warlords
You'll (probably) note that three of the games listed did in fact make their way to the Jaguar in updated forms, complete with retro versions included on the carts too (Tempest 2000, Breakout 2000 and Missile Command 3D (well, four if you count Plasma Pong hidden on the Defender 2000 cart)), but I have to be honest here - this is by far the best Atari collection of its time. Since this package was released we've seen bigger and better collections of classic Atari games bundled onto a disc or cart of some description or another, but back in the day of the Dreamcast I doubt there was a better way to experience all of these in one place like this. I'm not going to go into too much detail with the actual games themselves as I'm sure many of you reading this will already be familiar with the timeless appeal of Tempest, Breakout, Asteroids et al; but what I will look at is the overall presentation and level of customisation afforded them.
I'm on the right, by the way...
First off, every game can be played either with or without an 'arcade' display. You can access a menu presenting a plethora of gameplay and visual settings at any time and should you need instructions for these simple yet addictive titles, they are a merely a button press away. The real killer app in Atari Anniversary Edition though, has got to be the Atari Archive. Every game has its own section full of 'did you know?' facts and promotional material which can be zoomed in on and enjoyed. Even previously unseen footage of the cancelled Atari 2600 port of Tempest is included...and I had no idea that it even existed! Furthermore, the manual lists factoids from the years every game was released.

Try these for size:

Centipede was released in 1980, the same year celebrated film director Alfred Hitchcock died!

Asteroids Deluxe was released in 1981, the same year deposed Shah of Iran, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, died of cancer!

Crystal Castles was released in 1983, but that was also the year singer Karen Carpenter died of anorexia!

There are many more celebrity deaths mentioned in the manual, but at this point I feel slightly uncomfortable so I'll stop.

Even in light of these tabloid-worthy revelations though, it is the interviews with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell that really complete this whole package. Bushnell is a legend in the gaming industry and no-one would deny that he was an instrumental figure, and watching these 5 - 10 minute interview snippets in which he describes the origins of Atari and the various games he worked on is nothing short of spine tingling. Yes, the videos are in a tiny window and the quality is akin to a Quicktime clip from 1995...but that's not the point. The fact that all this information, and the games themselves are here to play in such faithful states is the point.

The emulation is spot on, the variety of games cannot be faulted and the presentation is second to none. One of the only things I would fault is nothing to do with the game itself, and more to do with the fact that Atari Anniversary Edition was only ever released in North America. Atari was massively successful in Europe during the 1980s - possibly even more so than in any other part of the world with the ST and 7800 (and even the Jaguar and Lynx), so the lack of a PAL release is somewhat strange. It did come with a cool Atari sticker though (actually still in the box with this copy - thanks Lee), so it's not all bad.
For the reasons stated above, Atari Anniversary Edition is possibly my favourite retro collection on the Dreamcast thus far and I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the history of gaming. Now, if someone can produce an Atari Jaguar Anniversary Collection for the Dreamcast, my life will be complete.

3 comments:

noiseredux said...

Nice to see this compilation get some love. I've always been a fan.

The 2600 was my first console as a kid. And as such, I have quite the fondness for Atari. I never did own a Jaguar or Lynx, but always thought they were sort of fascinating.

As a company, I find that Atari is probably only second to Sega to me as far as my own interest goes.

Lee Stevenson said...

Great review, makes me wish I kept it now, only joking glad you are enjoying it as much as I did, wish I still had my jag to.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks Lee - thanks for the speedy delivery too! Noiseredux - yeah, it's a great compilation :)