Atari 50 is an incredible playable tour through video game history

The brand new retro assortment is a cross between an interactive documentary and a digital museum exhibition.

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One of many largest challenges in online game preservation is determining how you can really current previous video games. In 2022, there are extra methods than ever to play the classics, whether it’s mini consoles, updated hardware, subscription services, retro collections, or modern rereleases. Whereas these could make previous video games playable to new audiences, they aren’t at all times capable of put them in a correct context — which is very vital for actually previous video games like, say, Journey on the Atari 2600.

However an expansive new launch, made by Digital Eclipse to have fun Atari’s fiftieth anniversary, is the perfect try at a retro assortment I’ve ever skilled. It’s obtainable on nearly each console on the market proper now in addition to the PC, letting me put my PS5 to make use of for its supposed function: taking part in Asteroids. The gathering is large, detailed, and does an incredible job of explaining why these video games are so vital.

The very first thing to learn about Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is that it’s completely large. It has greater than 90 video games spanning a number of many years of historical past. Most of them come from the 2600 and arcades, however there are additionally PC video games, 7800 updates, and a handful of titles from ill-fated units just like the Jaguar and Lynx. Rounding out the package deal are numerous unreleased prototypes, just like the sequel to Yars’ Revenge and up to date or reimagined variations of video games like Haunted Home and Breakout. Exterior of the video games themselves, the gathering is filled with issues like brief documentaries that includes the unique builders; previous photographs, journal articles, comedian books; and high-quality variations of classic Atari box art. You’ll be able to even see the unique code for some video games.

It’s a seemingly overwhelming quantity of stuff, however the staff at Digital Eclipse has cleverly organized it right into a timeline. It’s divided into 5 completely different eras, beginning with Atari’s arcade origins earlier than transferring into house consoles and PCs and ending with the dire days of the Jaguar. The timeline intersperses supplementary materials alongside the video games so that you could perceive the context of a title earlier than you play. You additionally aren’t pressured to expertise the timeline in any particular order. You’ll be able to choose and select what you see, delving into what’s most attention-grabbing and skipping over stuff you already know. It’s type of like an interactive museum exhibit, solely in your tv.

This context is very vital as a result of many of those video games haven’t aged significantly properly. At the same time as somebody who loves retro video games, I’m utterly flummoxed after I boot up one thing like Swordquest. However after watching some movies of the designer explaining his work and delving into the comedian books that element the backstory, I used to be capable of recognize the collection far more. I nonetheless can’t say I loved taking part in them, however having that context helped me perceive that these very complicated mazes had been really an vital level within the historical past of video video games, serving to pioneer action-adventure video games as we all know them. (Atari 50 even encompasses a newly developed model of the beforehand unreleased fourth sport within the collection.)

I additionally actually liked with the ability to evaluate completely different variations of video games. As an example, I discovered myself actually stepping into Darkish Chambers, an early dungeon crawler. I began out taking part in the Atari 7800 model and was impressed by its detailed characters and dungeons. Then I performed the extraordinarily stripped-down 2600 port and was capable of recognize how a lot of the sport remained intact regardless of the vastly underpowered {hardware}. Taking part in Scrapyard Canine, an early Tremendous Mario-style platformer, was an analogous expertise. First, I performed the intense and colourful console launch after which the surprisingly adept handheld model from the Lynx.

All of that is made simpler by some trendy touches. All the pieces is fast and snappy, so it’s simple to swap between titles, and Atari 50 has save states so that you simply gained’t lose your progress once you do. You may also carry up the controls and authentic instruction booklets with a press of a button, which is very vital provided that the controls can change from sport to sport and platform to platform. I also needs to word that you simply don’t must expertise Atari 50 as a timeline: if you’d like, you possibly can simply play the video games from an inventory as in most retro collections.

A screenshot of an interactive timeline in the video game Atari 50.

A screenshot of an interactive timeline in the video game Atari 50.

a:hover]:text-black [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-13 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black text-gray-13″>The interactive timeline.
a:hover]:text-black [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black text-gray-63″>Picture: Atari

However that timeline is what makes this assortment so particular. With out it, I might’ve most likely performed most of those video games for a couple of minutes after which moved on; with it, I’m far more invested in understanding what they’re and the way they match into gaming historical past, and I do know what to search for after I dive in. That mentioned, there are a number of notable omissions. Since Atari 50 solely has a number of third-party titles included, vital releases just like the notorious E.T. on the Atari 2600 and the beloved Alien vs Predator on the Jaguar aren’t obtainable. And whereas it’s no fault of the staff at Digital Eclipse, I have to reiterate that many of those video games aren’t very enjoyable to play in 2022. As a child, I at all times thought the 3D Jaguar fighter Combat for Life regarded unbelievable in journal screenshots, and three many years later, I used to be capable of expertise simply how terrible it really is.

That doesn’t take away from what an achievement Atari 50 is. It’s so detailed and sprawling that it seems like a historical past lesson instructed in a manner that’s utterly native to video video games. The most important praise I may give it’s that I now need this for each retro assortment. Think about the likes of Nintendo, Sega, or PlayStation getting related remedy. It’s a pipe dream, nevertheless it’s one Atari 50 makes me need to come true very badly.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration launches November eleventh on the Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Change, and Steam.

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