Video game collections are becoming more common these days as companies look back on their past. That’s great for game preservation, but collections like Super Mario 3D All-Stars can ultimately feel underwhelming when the end product is little more than a simple port. Atari’s classic lineup of games is no stranger to this treatment; you can play an Atari 2600 game collection on pretty much any platform you desire. Due to the overwhelming amount of Atari collections out there, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration might not seem like a compelling release at first.
That’s why it’s more of a surprise that it sets a new standard for this kind of game collection.
In practice, Atari 50 feels like a museum exhibit-turned-video game. It made me feel like I was walking through the Smithsonian’s The Art of Video Games exhibit for the first time, except everything is about Atari’s 50-year history. Not only does Atari 50 contain everything from Pong to some of the weirdest titles the Atari Jaguar had to offer, but it embellishes those games with trivia, scans of game-related material from the time, and video interviews with people connected to them. Anyone who loves gaming history owes it to themselves to check out Atari 50.
Digital Eclipse has been bringing old games to new platforms for years — it made Atari game collections for the original PlayStation. Over time, it has slowly put more effort into its approach, moving beyond mere emulation. Earlier this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection included the Turtle’s Lair, which had boxes, manuals, ads, catalogs, comics, TV show clips, and development document. Atari 50 takes that one step further by transforming similar content into exhibit-like Interactive Timelines.
From its title screen, you can immediately access almost all of Atari 50’s 100-plus game lineup. The real draw, though, is choosing one of five Interactive Timelines recounting Atari’s 50-year history. Arcade Origins focuses on the founding of Atari, its earliest success, weird prototypes, and classic arcade games that were released from 1971 to 1984. “Birth of the Console” is about the creation, hits, and triumphs of the Atari 2600, while “High and Lows” discusses the video game crash of 1983 and how the Atari 5200 and 7800 fared during it.
The context art is created in and the legacy it leaves behind are as important as the art itself …
Meanwhile, “The Dawn of PCs” recounts Atari’s efforts in the PC space from the Atari 400 and 800 in 1979 until the rare Atari Falcon’s release in 1992. Finally, “The 1990s and Beyond” covers everything else, emphasizing the Atari Lynx handheld and 32-bit Atari Jaguar home console. Games will pop up as players navigate these timelines, and you can play them at the press of a button. As is always the case with Digital Eclipse collections, the emulation is smooth, and players can access various visual filters and even the instruction manuals when pausing.
On top of that, almost every game included has some piece of trivia, scanned development document or ad, preserved commercial, or relevant interview to check out. Notable former Atari developers like Pong creator Al Alcorn and programmer Tod Frye frequently appear in these videos, but other prominent industry figures like Double Fine’s Tim Schafer and former Epic Games dev Cliff Bleszinski show up to offer their thoughts. The context art is created in and the legacy it leaves behind are as important as the art itself, so it’s incredible to see Digital Eclipse’s effort to include all this supplemental information.
These extras make Atari 50 an educational experience that Atari fans of all levels can learn something from. Adding to that, the game library is better than any other Atari collection currently available. It has the classics you’d expect, but also a wide range of hits-and-misses from Atari’s less successful platforms, like the Jaguar. Even some of the less popular, as well as the not particularly good, games get the same behind-the-scenes treatment as the greats. Some unreleased or canceled Atari games, like Pac-Man clone Maze Invaders, are even playable here.
All games deserve to be remembered and preserved, and Atari 50 goes through great efforts to make sure you’ll probably find and play something you’d never heard about before (Tempest 2000 for the Jaguar is as good as the original). In fact, Digital Eclipse even developed six new games based on Atari classics to include in this collection, so even the most die-hard of Atari followers will have something to try.
Now that I’ve made my way through Atari 50, I don’t think I’ll be able to look at game collections, especially ones for retro games that have been remastered before, in the same way again. These types of collections appeal to a series’ most hardcore fan and serve to preserve the series, so why not be as thorough as possible? Atari 50 is a collection that should have felt played out, but its incredibly refreshing instead. It’s a new gold standard that I hope future game collections follow.
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