Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.1 (PS4)

atari-flashback-classics-v1-review-banner-yr10

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV
Flag_of_the_United_States.svg
Title: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.1
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (380 MB)
Release Date: October 13, 2016
Publisher: Atari Inc.
Developer: AtGames / Code Mystics
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: E
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the Atari Flashback Classics Vol.2.
atari-flashback-classics-v2-review-banner-yr10

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 498 of the podcast.
498

Gameplay:
The Atari Flashback Classics collections are really geared towards a pretty niche audience when you think about it. Yeah, there are collectors out there and people who may be interested in the early history of the arcades and home consoles, but this is really aimed at the people who lived through that era.

It’s dripping with nostalgia designed to elicit a specific reaction from someone in their mid-forties. Someone like me and Atari will always hold a special place in my heart. I cut my teeth on the Atari 2600 and just thinking about it, from the unique box art, to the look and feel of the cartridges, even the iconic one-button joystick itself, fills me with a warmth and joy that few other things can.

That doesn’t mean I’m just going to give this collection a quick look, score it a 10 and call it a day. If anything, it’ll make me even more critical of what I see, or don’t see as the case may be.

Volume 1 includes some of the earliest titles in the 2600 catalog with Combat and Pong Sports along with some of the last to release on the system with Radar Lock and even unreleased prototypes in Save Mary, Tempest, Stunt Cycle, and Combat Two. These are all Atari published games so don’t expect to see any of the Activision titles.

All in all, nine arcade games and forty-one Atari 2600 games are available to play. A nice touch is that with any of the arcade games included that had a home console port to the 2600 also have that version of the game in the collection. This allowed my to show my four-year-old how different a game like Tempest was between the 2600 and the arcades.

Complete List of Games

There’s a decent cross-section of games to be sure and this first collection tends to lean more towards the arcade-type games. For Atari fans though, this may be your only chance to play some of the prototypes or even a game like Quadrun which was briefly offered as a mail order only cartridge from Atari and quickly discontinued.

It’s interesting to see where the extra effort was put into this package. The menus separate the arcade and 2600 games and they’re beautifully organized. The arcade games each ave their marquee while the 2600 games look like the cartridges have been placed in an organizer so you can pick them from the end label.

… low-res scans that tend to be pretty bad …
The addition of a semi-transparent overlay of the original Atari 2600 when starting up a game with each switch labeled with a corresponding button on the DualShock 4 is both clever and useful.

It’s great for nostalgia alone but it’s made even better by having a small text overlay appear on the top of the screen when switching between the various game modes. This is critical in games like Combat where you need to know what each of the twenty-seven modes entails.

This is especially helpful because even though Code Mystics included the manual for every game, they’re mostly low-res scans that tend to be pretty bad even when zoomed in. What’s even more baffling about this is that at least some of the manuals are currently available on the Atari website in PDF format, and they’re excellent scans. I’m thrilled that they’re included in the game but a little more effort here would have been nice.

The inclusion of original Atari arcade games is a welcome one and even though many of these have appeared in other collections I don’t think they’ve ever looked better. Each one is pixel perfect and starting up some of my favorites like Lunar Lander and Centipede immediately transported me back to my youth.

… customize the experience to your liking …
One of the best things the collection has going for it is just the speed with which everything loads. The original games tended to be around 4K, as in kilobytes, simply tiny. We’ve seen collections turn into a bloated mess in the past with sluggish front ends and such but that’s not the case here.

You can jump right into a game within seconds of starting up. When you leave them they go into a suspend mode allowing you to pick right up where you left off even if you shut down the collection entirely and come back to it a week later.

Visuals:
The emulation is absolutely perfect and plenty of options are available to customize the experience to your liking. Arcade bezel art can be turned on to fill the sides of your screen, the Atari 2600 screen flicker can be filtered or set to authentic, scanlines can be turned on or off, and the vector glow can be changed from none, to standard, bold, bright, or realistic.

When in the menus, the left of the screen displays a 3D rotating arcade cabinet or game box depending on what your cursor is resting on. You can rotate them manually or stop them with the sticks on the DualShock 4 but there’s no way to get a better look at them which is a shame. The box art was one of the signatures of the Atari 2600 era, to the point that there’s even a hefty book about it.

For anyone born after 1990, the graphics might come as a bit of a shock but for the older generation it just feels like home.

… both local and online multiplayer options are included …
Audio:
Every single sound from every single game is recreated faithfully here. I know, because I still own many of these games and play them with my son on the original hardware. These are from the early days of arcade games and home consoles so if you’re not old enough to understand what that means, be prepared for a lot of simple sounds.

Some of the arcade games do have, for the time, pretty sophisticated sound effects and “music” to a certain extent. Just don’t expect lush orchestral scores.

Online/Multiplayer:
Interestingly enough, both local and online multiplayer options are included here. Local is simple enough and works just as well as sitting in front of an actual 2600 with a pair of controllers. Worldwide leaderboards are also included for all of the arcade games.

I applaud Atari and Code Mystics for going the extra mile here, they certainly didn’t have to add an online component to this collection and I’m beyond thrilled that they did, but a few tweaks to the UI would go incredibly far in making it all useful.

When a game is selected in the menu, you have the option to play it, change video/audio options, look at the manual, or select multiplayer. Selecting multiplayer immediately searches for all available sessions for all games. It’s not entirely clear that this is what happening though since usually, there’s no one online.

… this one may be the stronger showing overall …
You do at least have the option to host a public or private match with the ability to invite other players. If you don’t invite anyone and want to just wait for someone to join randomly, which is unlikely given the way it all works, the game will open the session and alert you when someone joins.

While waiting, you can go about your business playing any other game in the collection. There’s an icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen reminding you that you have an online session open. I tried that a few times but nobody ever joined. I wasn’t able to find anyone on my friends list playing the collection either so I didn’t get to try an online session.

Conclusion:
Look, these are forty year old games from the dawn of the home console revolution. They’re going to be a tough sell to the market at large but I do hope they sell well enough to justify a continuation of the series. I love being able to play the games I never had or the games that only my friends had.

What makes it even harder is the fact that some of the best games ever created for the system were from Activision and those are (obviously) not included here. It’s unlikely that I was ever going to get 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, but it’s here in this collection, and we’ve actually been having fun with it.

It’s not perfect, but between the two collections, I feel that this one may be the stronger showing overall with a better mix of games from the Atari 2600 library. For anyone interested in the early history of home console gaming and Atari arcade games, this is a great place to start.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Flag_of_the_United_States.svg
Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg
Flag_of_Canada.svg

 

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook
  • Awesome review! I also dug your extra life live stream of this! I picked this up the day I saw it at Target and being surprised because I didn’t read a single article or Tweet about it. I’m with you on how the presentation is awesome. I grew up with Atari also and was delighted this version had the VCS games I had the most fun with – Combat, Real Sports Football and Bowling.

    I hear you on lack of Activision titles being a bummer also, but everyone should pick up Activision Anthology on PS2 as a back up because that had nearly everything they did on VCS and a killer retro presentation.

  • Pingback: Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.2 (PS4) | PlayStation Nation()