Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4)

Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (405 MB)
Release Date: December 13, 2018
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 and Atari Flashback Classics Vol.2.
atari-flashback-classics-v1-review-banner-yr10 atari-flashback-classics-v2-review-banner-yr10

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 612 of the podcast at 1:00:58.
Episode 612 - The Apex of the Division of Anthem

Gameplay:
While the Atari Flashback Classics collections are really geared towards a pretty niche audience, they’ve done well enough to warrant at least one more release. The third collection mixes things up a bit by adding in Atari 5200 games, which excites me to no end, and a number of M Network (Mattel) titles.

M Network only released seventeen games on the Atari 2600 and ten of them are in this collection. A pair of other games from M Network included here, Sea Battle and the two player only Swordfight, were finished but not released until 2000.

Sadly, but understandably, the seven missing titles are the arcade ports of Bump ‘n’ Jump, Burgertime, and Lock ‘N’ Chase, as well as the licensed properties Kool Aid Man, Masters of the Universe – He Man, Adventures of Tron, and Tron: Deadly Discs.

I’m guessing that the addition of these titles is to remind gamers of the Mattel/Intellivision legacy as Tommy Tallarico and the newly re-formed Intellivision gear up for a new console release in 2020.

Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4) Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4)

As for the Atari 5200 titles, I’ve talked at length on the podcast about how incredibly special the system is to me since it was the first console I bought with my own money. It was also the first console I had modded, something I had forgotten about completely until a few years ago, and the first console that I was able to acquire a complete collection for.

Only sixty-nine titles were officially released over its short two year lifespan, but more than half of those, thirty-six to be exact, were excellent arcade ports. To get around the inevitable licensing issues for this collection, Atari dove headfirst into the library of prototypes available for the 5200.

When the Atari 5200 was unceremoniously dumped for the ill-fated 7800, plenty of games were still in development and there are twenty-eight known prototypes in the wild today. While I’ve had a chance to play all of them, through various means, having seven available officially is a fascinating glimpse into what might have been.

I could go into detail for every title here but I’d literally end up writing a book so instead I’ll just mention two of the stranger titles. Micro-gammon and Miniature Golf were originally programmed by Steve Baker for the Apple II in HIRES Mode. When he wanted to port them to the 5200, he found that there was a high-res mode available but it only made two colors available at one time.

The result is a Backgammon game in black and white and a Miniature Golf game in various ugly shades of purple, green, and red. While they’re impressive technical achievements, they couldn’t hold up graphically to other titles on the system and Atari never released them.

Games like this that make the Atari Flashback Classics collections worth getting. Nostalgia is one thing, and a very important one at that, but preserving the history of these games and the legacies of the consoles and arcade machines is even more important.

Fourteen eclectic arcade games, twenty Atari 2600 games, including five unreleased prototypes and two created specifically for the Atari Flashback 2 console, and sixteen Atari 5200 titles make up the total of fifty games available in this collection.

Complete List of Games
Arcade Games

 Avalanche (1978)   Atari Baseball (1979)   Atari Basketball (1979) 
 Canyon Bomber (1977)   Destroyer (1977)   Dominos (1977) 
 Fire Truck (1978)   Football (1978)   Maze Invaders (1981) 
 Monte Carlo (1979)   Pool Shark (1977)   Sky Diver (1978) 
 Soccer (1980)   Super Bug (1977)   
Atari 2600 Games

 Adventure II (F2)   Air Raiders (M)   Aquaventure (P) 
 Armor Ambush (M)   Astroblast (M)   Dark Cavern (M) 
 Frogs and Flies (M)   Frog Pond (P)   Holey Moley (P) 
 International Soccer (M)   MotoRodeo   Saboteur (P) 
 Sea Battle (M)   Space Attack (M)   Star Strike (M) 
 Super Challenge Baseball (M)   Super Challenge Football (M)   Swordfight (M) 
 Wizard (P)   Yars’ Return (F2)   

F2 – Created for the Atari Flashback 2 Console
M – M Network (Mattel) Game
P – Unreleased Prototype

Atari 5200 Games

 Asteroids (P)   Centipede   Countermeasure 
 Final Legacy (P)   Micro-gammon (P)   Millipede (P) 
 Miniature Golf (P)   Missile Command   RealSports Baseball 
 Realsports Basketball (P)   RealSports Football   RealSports Soccer 
 RealSports Tennis   Star Raiders   Super Breakout 
 Xari Arena (P)     

P – Unreleased Prototype

All of the arcade games skew heavily towards the late 70s with a lot of black and white titles. Odd as it may seem to anyone who grew up in the 90’s or later, a lot of early video games had black and white screens.

The top-down driving games, Monte Carlo, Super Bug, and possibly the first ever co-op game, Fire Truck, are difficult to recreate on home consoles. While the graphics in these games are easy enough to reproduce, in the arcade they all had actual steering wheels.

Thumbsticks and D-pads have never really been a good stand-in for a top-down game with a steering wheel which makes the games difficult to control at best. Interestingly enough, the touch pad on the DualShock 4 is a decent alternative. The touch pad can actually be used in quite a few games, some with more success than others.

Controlling the 5200 games can be a little trickier. The original joysticks had a full number pad on them like a phone, including * and #. Overlays came with nearly every game and a handful of them used nearly every button available.

The AtGames development team compensated for this by adding a pop out on the left side of the screen allowing you to select and virtually press a button. When less are used, they’re mapped to the shoulder buttons. It’s a little awkward but probably the best solution available considering the complexity of some of the control schemes.

As with the previous Atari collections, the arcade games each have their marquee on the menu while the 2600 games look like the cartridges have been placed in an organizer so you can pick them from the end label. The M Network games stand out with their telltale black label with light blue text and the 5200 games are given a blue label with a small 5200 logo.

Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4) Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4)

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 in this collection as it was in the others. 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 incredibly useful in games that have dozens of 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.

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. This suspend mode keeps track of every single game so you can bounce between different games and save states with ease.

Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4) Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4)

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.

Let’s face it, none of these games are graphical powerhouses, but they do provide a fascinating window into 70’s and early 80’s state of the art gaming.

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.

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. Nobody on my friends list playing the collection either so I didn’t get to try an online session.

Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4) Review: Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 (PS4)

Conclusion:
Atari Flashback Classics Vol.3 has a really interesting and eclectic mix and compared to the other two. Other than Centipede and Missile Command for the Atari 5200, it’s mainly filled with prototypes and lesser known games.

This is great for collectors or people wanting to see a bunch of previously unreleased games from forty years ago. I certainly love it, but I’m just not sure there’s a big market out there for something like this.

It works well as a nice complement to the previous two collections and for a completionist, having all three side by side on your (physical or digital) shelf is a nice way to show off some of the most influential early titles in gaming history.

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

 

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

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