This single-CD collection features emulations of 80 rare and popular games from the 1980s heyday of corner arcades and Atari VCS consoles. Billed as "the largest collection of classic Atari games ever assembled on one disk," Atari: 80 Classic Games in One features PC ports of over a dozen arcade hits -- such as Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Pong, and Tempest -- as well as scores of 2600 emulations, including Adventure, Air-Sea Battle, Breakout, Crystal Castles, Dodge 'Em, Maze Craze, Yars' Revenge!, and Night Driver.
80 Classic Games is like going to a reunion, seeing tons of old friends you've neglected to keep in touch with, and realizing they haven't changed a bit. If you had never met those friends (i.e., not played the games), the reunion would seem pretty boring. Nostalgia is the key word here. That being said, all of the classic Atari games I remember playing as a kid are on this disc. Some of my old favorites include Adventure, Haunted House, Star Ship, Surround and the arcade version of Crystal Castles. However, since the compilation consists of all first-party Atari games, missing are some of the third-party whoppers. The inclusion of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Galaxian, Frogger, Pitfall or for that matter, the excellent-but-rare Pitfall II: Lost Caverns would have required the manifestation of a small legal miracle (and may just have caused my head to implode from sheer gaming ecstasy), but it's disappointing to not have all the great 2600 games in one place.
In addition to the games, this package comes loaded with special features. We've seen the bonus material before on older Atari compilations like Atari Anniversary Edition and Atari Greatest Hits, but things like images of original box art and cartridges and game documentation scans including some great DC comic books for Centipede and Swordquest: Earthworld are all quite novel and will bring a smile to any old-school gamers face. There's also a short series of video interviews with Nolan Bushnell (the Atari-meister himself) which includes discussions of the creation of the company and it got its name (it's derived from the Japanese game called "Go"). However, since the special features are a few years old, they're definitely showing their age. A DVD-quality redux of the low-res bonus material should have been included and is a necessity for any future Atari compilations.
Back in the day, part of the fun of playing an Atari game was figuring out exactly how to play it. Instruction manuals were not the novellas they are now, and games like Swordquest that simply required you "find the hidden clues and solve the puzzle" were part of the Atari experience. If you're in doubt, ample documentation, game options, and tutorial text are present to help you figure out exactly how to play a game. Some notable exceptions to this rule include the enigmatic Basic Programming and the parser strategy Stellar Track. If you're into having any fun, you probably won't be playing these games anyway.
Let's be honest, though: The graphics in Atari 2600 games stink by today's standards. Most of the games show your character (a blocky shape) throwing something (a line shape) or wielding a weapon (an arrow shape) to destroy enemies that come in all sorts of geometric variations. Anti-aliasing is nonexistent, the pixels are huge, and the screen will flicker when there are too many sprites on screen. The wire frame vector graphics in games like Tempest and Major Havoc are by far the coolest, and the more advanced games in the "Arcade Classics" section will undoubtedly get the most play time.
Similarly, the sound in 80 Classic Games consists of beeps, boops, and the occasional digital melody. Retro samples are back in a big way, however, and some games have trippy tunes and even speech (as in Quad Run) that any electronic music artist would do good to check out.
Electronic games have come a hell of a long way in the past twenty-five years. To view modern day classics like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Warcraft III and realize that they arguably evolved from Adventure and Combat is enough to blow your mind. For gamers pushing thirty, Atari 80 is a window to the past and the essential anthology of Atari classics. For the uninitiated, 80 Classic Games could be the first course book in your self-education of "The History of Electronic Gaming." If "course book" isn't a phrase you want associated with your PC gaming, then pass on this compilation. But if you believe in video games as something more than a simple pastime, 80 Classic Games is a piece of history.
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