Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.2 (PS4)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV
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Title: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.2
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (405 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.1.
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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 2 is an eclectic mix of some of the very best titles in Adventure, Asteroids, and Missile Command, to some of the more esoteric in Basic Math, Brain Games, and Codebreaker.

Unlike the first collection, which had a handful of unreleased prototypes, Volume 2 only has RealSports Basketball, and Return to Haunted House, the latter of which was only ever seen in the second Flashback plug-and-play console.

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. My son didn’t see much of a difference between the two versions of Missile Command, but Asteroids and even moreso Crystal Castles surprised him a bit.

Complete List of Games

Ths second collection tends to have a lot of cerebral game type offerings, several of which used the Atari Keypad. Fortunately, the emulation and on screen prompts make these pretty easy to control. While these typically aren’t the most sought after games in the 2600 library, it’s nice to see what developers were trying in the early console days.

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.

… original Atari arcade games …
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 certainly useful in a game like Missile Command since I don’t remember each of the thirty-seven modes.

It’s 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 Crystal Castles and Super Breakout immediately transported me back to my youth.

… scanlines can be turned on or off …
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.

… Worldwide leaderboards are also 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 collection has some pretty heavy hitters …
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 pick up a game like Codebreaker, but it’s here in this collection, and it’s fun to see what developers would take chances with back then.

It’s not perfect, and while I feel that Volume 1 may be the stronger showing overall this collection has some pretty heavy hitters in Asteroids, Crystal Castles, and Missile Command. 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.

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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.

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