Platform: Nintendo DS
Rating: E (Everyone)
Release Date: 03/15/2005
The “retro” movement is in full swing, with all manner of compilations released over the past few years. No matter what your classic system of choice is, you’re likely to find an anthology or two that collect your favorite games. Many retrogamers are huge Atari fans, so it’s only fitting that a stack of ten Atari arcade titles has made its way to the Nintendo DS in the form of Atari Retro Classics. Represented here are Centipede, Sprint, Gravitar, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Tempest, Breakout, Warlords and Asteroids. Aside from their original arcade incarnations, each game also has a “remix” mode, which I’ll explain further along in this review.
Atari Retro Classics is another one of those games that gets a “filler” rating in the story department for a very simple reason: most of the games herein didn’t really have a coherent story, nor were they ever meant to. Sure, there was a basic description (i.e., in Missile Command you save your cities from being nuked), but that’s about as far as it went. Arcade gamers didn’t want some sweeping tale…they wanted to blow things up, nab the high score, and rub it in their friends’ faces.
The original arcade graphics in Atari Retro Classics are reproduced quite faithfully, and even vector-based games like Asteroids and Tempest look great.
Now we get to the aforementioned “remixes.” Instead of going the usual route when updating old games with new graphics, developer Taniko actually went out and hired top graffiti artists to radically redesign the graphics for each game in the collection. The end results range from interesting to horrible to just plain weird.
While I’m not questioning the artists’ design skills, I do question their application on the various titles in Atari Retro Classics. Some of the remixed look downright lame (Pong especially), while with others, the overworked designs actually make it difficult to see the sprites and detract from the overall gaming experience. An interesting experiment, but one that could’ve certainly used some more work.
With most of the titles, the top screen contains the action, while the bottom screen contains your control system (which naturally various from game to game). Many of these lower control systems feature some very impressive sprite rotation effects, with Lunar Lander really being a standout. We’ll get to how these control systems affect the actual gameplay in just a few moments.
The games featured in this collection never had the recognizable tunes that later titles had; in fact, there was no music at all, just your standard bleeps and bloops! These are back without fail, and carry over to the remixed modes as well. Therein lies the problem. There’s absolutely no reason why they couldn’t have had a fantastic remixed soundtrack to go along with the updated graphics. Alas, there isn’t one, and it’s a bit of a kick to the groin.
And here, my friends, is where Atari Retro Classics really fails. Each game allows you to use either the touchscreen or the regular buttons and d-pad to control the onscreen action, but in many case, the control scheme is very poorly implemented.
As a perfect example, we’ll examine Centipede. The biggest flaw here? The touchscreen doesn’t properly register where you want your elf to go! The elf often floats about half a centimeter or so above the stylus’ contact with the screen. This makes playing Centipede very frustrating, especially when you want to quickly move around to avoid your enemies.
Other titles suffer similar fates. The rotary control in Tempest is incorrect. The steering wheel in Sprint doesn’t steer smoothly. And Gravitar is a complete and utter mess, even if you don’t use the touchscreen! The collision detection is also off on many titles, which can really ruin any game.
Another annoyance has to do with the design of the DS itself, but it’s still one that the programmers could’ve gotten around without too much work. Since there’s a gap between the two screens, you’d think that the developers would have compensated for that. Nope. Objects moving from one screen to another leave and exit at the exact same points, completely ignoring that gap. It may seem a bit confusing to read about, but if you play it, it’s made very clear. It’s a very distracting flaw, particularly in Missile Command, Pong, and Breakout.
Some games feature multiplayer, like the ever-popular Warlords. The downside is that each player requires a copy of Atari Retro Classics. There’s no excuse for this at all, as the games aren’t so graphically intense that they couldn’t be transmitted wirelessly with no problem. Super Mario 64 DS can do it…why can’t Atari Retro Classics?
There’s really no reason to play any of these games more than once. Don’t suffer like I did. Nostalgia may take over briefly, but the horrendous controls will eventually anger even the most devoted Atari fanboy. (Case in point…myself!)
The difficulty is really all over the map with this one. Games like Asteroids now seem incredibly easier than before, while others are brutally tough, due to the poor controls and bad physics. The learning curve should be smooth, but it’s really not, and that can get frustrating, especially for newbies.
Using graffiti art for the remix modes definitely earns Atari Retro Classics a ton of points. Aside from titles like Jet Grind Radio, this facet of the art world is rarely used in video games (backgrounds in city-based games nonwithstanding), and mixing graffiti with arcade games that are over two decades old is certainly something no one would expect.
Atari Retro Classics is about as addictive as a bad case of dandruff. Sadly, the only Head & Shoulders for this game is to just put it down and not touch it again. If you really want to play these old games, you’re better off finding them on other collections that actually got the collision detection and control schemes correct.
Since the retro thing is so popular, this game’s going to appeal to the entire retrogaming crowd right off the bat. It’s also been marketing quite a bit more than most other anthologies, which should give it halfway decent sales. It’s a shame, though, because those buyers are going to be disappointed when they actually sit down and play it.
Atari Retro Classics is another game that really could’ve been a work of art, but tripped over its own two feet. Someone dropped the ball on the control schemes, and the game almost feels rushed. I know that wasn’t the case, but there just could’ve been “more.” Most other anthology collections have provided a lot more bang for your buck.
Overall Score: 40/100
FINAL SCORE: 4.0 (POOR)