Review: Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (Nintendo DS)

Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Code Mystics, Inc.
Genre: Compilation
Release Date: 11/03/2010

Although I know this dates me, I played the hell out of my Atari 2600 as a kid. Even when I got a Nintendo Entertainment System, I would still go back to Warlords, H.E.R.O., Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron and other games for this now venerable system. Unfortunately I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult years waiting for Atari to put out a quality compilation of 2600 games. It hasn’t helped that Atari has gone through more owners and changes than any three other publishers put together, but everything so far has been either too little for your money (Midway Presents Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1), not the best in terms of quality or quantity (Atari Anniversary Edition for the Dreamcast) or downright stupid (Atari Classics Evolved for the PSP).

Now Atari tries it again with Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1. This little DS cart packs in fifty 2600 games for $29.99. That’s roughly $1.66 a game, a much better deal than Centipede/Warlords/Breakout, which I picked up for the Game Boy Advance in 2005 for $15. It also contains several games that haven’t seen a legal re-release since the days of the actual 2600 itself. Games like the Swordquest titles and Haunted House, the latter of which had a nice little remake on the Wii last month. The cart even allows twenty-one different games to be downloaded by a friend so you can engage in multiplayer wireless play – a first for all of the titles that offer this. Just remember, you can only download one at a time.

On paper, Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 looks like a no brainer in terms of awesomeness, but how is it really?

1. Modes

In addition to fifty different games that you can play, there is also a Trivia game, an arcade gallery, a manual for each of the Atari 2600 games, and a prototype for a game commissioned by the U.S. Army entitled Army BattleZone. Those are some nice extras, but when all is said and done, it’s the games that matters. Here’s a list of all fifty and my short commentary on each.

I. Asteroids (arcade) – I never really understood the appeal of this game, but it IS a classic so it should be here. 1 for 1.

II. Battlezone (arcade) – I’ve always found this game to be awful and it hasn’t aged well. 1 for 2.

III. Centipede (arcade) – It’s missing something without the trackball but still a lot of fun. 2 for 3.
IV. Gravitar (arcade) – A crappy second rate Asteroids wanna-be. 2 for 4.

V. Lunar Lander (arcade) – I’ve never found anyone that likes this game. It’s a horrible lunar landing sim. 2 for 5.

VI. Missile Command (arcade) – I know it’s a classic, but really, this game sucks and always has. I’ve never understood how anyone can enjoy this. 2 for 6.

VII. Pong (arcade) – Still amazingly fun after all these decades. 3 for 7.

VIII. Space Duel (arcade) – Another Asteroids wanna-be. Meh. 3 for 8.

IX. Tempest (arcade) – Another game that hasn’t aged well at all. Definitely not worth playing. 3 for 9.

X. Air-Sea Battle (2600) – This was never fun and it still isn’t. Lots of options though. 3 for 10.

XI. Flag Capture (2600) – An early minesweeper. Very dull and boring. 3 for 11.

XII. Human Cannoball (2600) – It gets dull fast, but it’s cute for what it is. 4 for 12.

XIII. Outlaw (2600) – This was always a fun PvP game as a kid, but in order for this to be any good, you’re going to need to find a friend to play with. Thankfully this is a game two people can play with only one DS cart. 5 for 13.

XIV. Sky Diver (2600) – Awful in every way. It is amusing to watch the divers go SPLAT though. 5 for 14.

XV. Submarine Commander (2600) – Another awful game. 5 for 15.

XVI. Adventure (2600) – One of my five favorite Atari games, and one of only two of those that made the compilation. That bat still makes me swear a blue streak. This alone is almost worth getting the compilation for. 6 for 16.

XVII. Haunted House (2600) – See above. Awesome game that still holds up today. 7 for 17.

XVIII. Swordquest: Earthworld (2600) – One of the worst games I have ever played. Everyone I knew got this game because it came with a free comic book as a kid and found the actual game itself to be awful. Worst of all, you NEED the comic book to beat the game and guess what? The comic isn’t included here. WTF? What kind of a choice was that. The game is still as awful as I remember it to be. 7 for 18.

XIX. Swordquest: Fireworld (2600) – Same problem as above, but with even worse mini-games. 7 for 19.

XX. Swordquest: Waterworld (2600) – This is one of the rarest and most sought after 2600 games ever. I sold my copy without the comic and manual for over $100 back in 2002 and although this might kill the aftermarket of this game, I’m glad to see it here. This is the best of the three Swordquest games , but again, you NEED the comic to get through the game and although the manuals are reprinted here, the comics are not. I’m going to be kind and give this a thumb’s up since this ultra-rare game sees the light of day again, but like the previous games, it’s almost unplayable because of this issue. 8 for 20.

XXI. Asteroids (2600) – Why include both versions of the game? This is a spot that could have been held by Crystal Castles, Warlords, Berserk, Breakout, Defender, or some other Atari games that didn’t make the cut for this compilation and SHOULD HAVE. Since a second volume is coming out, the arcade games should have been on one and the 2600 versions of the arcade games should have been on the other. Another bad design choice. 8 for 21.

XXII. Battlezone (2600) – See above. 8 for 22.

XXIII. Centipede (2600) – See above. 8 for 23.

XXIV. Gravitar (2600) – See above. 8 for 24.

XXV. Missile Command (2600) – See above. 8 for 25.

XXVI. Tempest (2600) – See above. 8 for 26.

XXVII. Slot Machine (2600) – This is pretty bad and hard to make out what is even going on. 8 for 27.

XXVIII. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe (2600) – I never liked this as a kid and I still don’t. 8 for 28.

XXIX. Atari Video Cube (2600) – An awful game. Seriously, who chose the games to make this compilation? 8 for 29.

XXX. Fun With Numbers (2600) – It’s really not. 8 for 30

XXXI. Hangman (2600) – It’s cute. It’s easy, but it’s cute. A decent enough time waster. 9 for 31.

XXXII. Math Grand Prix (2600) – Oh man, is this ever awful . You race, but only by doing single digit math equations. 9 for 32.

XXXIII. Surround (2600) – Another truly awful game. Man, either these things haven’t aged well, or Atari chose the worst of the worst for a lot of this compilation. 9 for 33.

XXXIV. Video Checkers (2600) – it’s hard to mess up Checkers. Thankfully this game does what it needs to. 10 for 34.

XXXV. Dodge ‘Em (2600) – A weird little racing game. I liked it as a kid and it hasn’t aged well, but I was still able to get a bit of nostalgia from it, so I’ll get it a point here. 11 for 35.

XXXVI. Slot Racers (2600) – Only for two players which is an automatic negative in my book. 11 for 36.

XXXVII. Sprintmaster (2600) – Pretty bad, even for an early racing game. This is no Pole Position, I’ll tell you that. 11 for 37.

XXXVIII. Star Ship (2600) – A really bad first person flying game. Avoid this. 11 for 38.

XXXIX. Stellar Track (2600) – Easily the worst game on the compilation. It’s almost impossible to see and is utterly crap in every way. 11 for 39.

XL. Basketball (2600) – A one on one hoops game. Still cute. 12 for 40.

XLI. Bowling (2600) – this was a very popular game as a kid and it still holds up. 13 for 41.

XLII. Championship Soccer (2600) – still fun to this day. 14 for 42.

XLIII. Football (2600) – only for two players. Automatic thumbs down. 14 for 43.

XLIV. Home Run (2600) – Another sports game that still holds up. 15 for 44.

XLV. Minature Golf (2600) – Awful and I have no idea how this is supposed to be golf. 15 for 45.

XLVI. RealSports Baseball (2600) – Man, I loved this game as a kid and it’s still a lot of fun. This was my favorite Baseball video game until SNK put out Baseball Stars. 16 for 46.

XLVII. RealSports Boxing (2600) – Not very good. Activision had the best Boxing game on the 2600 and this is pretty crap compared to it. 16 for 47.

XLVIII. RealSports Football (2600) – Better than the first gen football game and you can play against the computer. Nice. 17 for 48.

XLIX. RealSports Tennis (2600) – my favorite sports game for the 2600. Glad to see it here. 18 for 49.

L. RealSports Volleyball (2600) – Dull and not worth playing. 18 for 50.

Ouch. Only eighteen out of fifty games are worth playing or are any good. That’s a 36.7% quality rate. However, I’ll give an extra point for offering multiplayer without a second copy of the game on nearly half the titles and another point for all the manuals and trivia game. However, I’ll also take half a point away for the sheer stupidity of putting the Swordquest games on here without the comics needed to beat the game. But really, when hasn’t Swordquest been synonymous with stupidity?

Modes Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

These are 2600 or early arcade graphics and as such, most of these games are pretty hideous by today’s standards. Some are even hard to tell what is supposed to be going on in the game. A few titles still hold up, like Haunted House and Adventure, but since this is rating the game based on the DS’ capabilities, the game gets a dismally low score here. It might seem unfair, but remember, some of these games were considered pretty hideous even back in the 2600 era. It also doesn’t help that some of the games don’t convert to a screen as small as the ones in the DS. For several sports games, it’s almost impossible to see the ball. It’s roughly a pixel in size. Seriously. Bad planning once again.

Graphics Rating: Dreadful

3. Sound

I have to admit, it was great to hear some of the classic tunes and sound effects from these games once again. Sure they’re nowhere near what can be produced today, but they’re still fun to me. Again, maybe I’m showing my age, but the “Twilight Zone” theme playing when you beat Haunted House still gets me to smile, as does the weird noise passing for a cheering crowd in RealSports Baseball. I realize you have to be an older gamer to enjoy the sound and/or music here, but there really is some nostalgia value here.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

At first, one would assume it’s easy to emulate Atari games to the DS. However, one has to remember that most of these games used an analog joystick rather than a D-pad and several others used paddles or trackballs, of which there is no way to get a 100% accurate feeling on a D-pad or joystick. Still, only older gamers like myself who grew up with the 2600 will notice any real difference in the gameplay, and even then it is minute at best.

With that said, a lot of these games played like crap back when I was but a lad, and they still do now. Seriously, I don’t get how some of these games were even made, much less enjoyed and playing them know shows me exactly why we had that video game crash in the early 1980s. There are also some collision detection issues such as the ball passing through the paddle in Pong on occasion, or a bit of lag between input and action in Earthworld. For the most part the emulation is solid, but when it is off, it’s very noticeable. Factor in a lot of these games haven’t aged well to begin with and you have only about a dozen and a half games on the entire compilation that are any fun to play. It’s a decent overall experience, but only for an older or diehard Atari fan.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

With fifty games, a trivia quiz, manuals for each game and the ability to play more than twenty titles wirelessly with a friend and without the need for a second cart, 2600 fans can get a lot of replay out of this title. Sure only 18 of the 50 games are worth playing, but that’s still a lot of titles. With so much variety and such simplistic controls, this is a great cart to take on a long trip as you can flitter through multiple games without having to switch games.

I know I’ll come back to this regularly for either a Haunted House or an Adventure fix, but not really for any of the other titles. The sports games are the best overall titles on the compilation, but they’re more a one-time nostalgia trip than anything else. I suppose that’s an apt description of most of the games in Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

One really positive thing that I can say about this collection is that nearly every game offers multiple difficulty levels and/or options. Something like Outlaw offers nearly two dozen modes of play and Adventure even has a randomly generated dungeon option (making it one of the first roguelikes) and so you can play it dozens of times and never have the same experience. If you hate one version of the game, or find it too easy, odds are you’ll find something that you can like in several of the games due to the number of modes or variants each game contains.

Now other games are horribly unbalanced. I’ve already bitched about the Swordquest issues with the comic books, but none of these games are really that fun to play due to numerous design issues, which makes it all the worse. Other gamers have horrible controls while others are far too easy for even the youngest gamer. There’s no real fair way to rate the balance of fifty games in a few paragraphs, but let’s just say that since only a few gamers are worth playing or even fun, that a lot of the bad games are awful due to control issues or weird design choices. What’s here is decent, but a lot of bad games ruin it for the dozen and a half games that can still be considered quality.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality

On one hand, a lot of these games are the first of their kind. Pong for example. However, in this cart we can see how derivative a lot of these actually are. How many Asteroid clones are there in this cart alone? More than a fifth of the games on here are sports titles. Adventure itself is a remake. Really the only game that stands out as truly innovative or original is Haunted House, which is the first every survival horror game. Oh, and probably Centipede.

Look, I loved my 2600 and I still love several of these games on here, but most of what is on this compilation wasn’t very original even when the 2600 was new. Factor in these are ports of 30 year old games and that the most original Atari developed/published games aren’t even on here and you have something, that when viewed critically, isn’t very good in terms of showing the legacy of Atari. Still, I’ll be kind since this is the first time in decades some of these games have received a re-release…even if many of them shouldn’t have gotten that chance.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

If a lot of the Atari games I actually liked were in this compilation, I’d probably want to spend more time with it. Crystal Castles (either arcade or 2600) would have been a godsend. As would have Warlords or Berserk. Most of my time was with Adventure, Haunted House, Bowling, and RealSports baseball and tennis. Other than that I played through every other game on here twice and found myself bored with nearly off of them after only a few days with the cart. When I first grabbed this, I thought this would be a permanent part of my collection. Now I find myself asking if having the experience of four or five 2600 games is worth keeping a cart around in my collection.

It’s sad to see how poorly a lot of these games have aged and even sadder to see a lot of games I never liked as a kid making the compilation over titles that were actually popular and/or critically acclaimed. I’m a pretty big retrogamer, but this compilation left me wanting rather than ecstatic.

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

9. Appeal Factor

Are you over 30? If not, you probably won’t enjoy this collection for what it is. Even if you are over thirty, you’ll probably only enjoy a handful of these titles and find that with Atari, you really can’t go home again. Sure, a few of these titles still hold up and are as fun as the day they came out, but the audience who wants to pay $30 for a plethora of Atari titles is very slim indeed. It’s really hard to recommend this title to anyone but a big 2600 fan, and if you are one, you probably have a 2600 or two in working condition and the best of these games anyway.

Usually I’m pretty gung-ho about retro compilations, but due to the choice in games provided here and the fact only a portion of them were worth playing even as a kid, I have to say this is a pretty niche purchase at best.

Appeal Factor: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

Okay. Fifty games for $29.99 breaks down roughly to sixty cents a game. That’s a good deal, even if most haven’t aged well, or weren’t very good in the first place. Now, let’s just take the eighteen games I actually liked in this compilation. That boils down to $1.66 a game. That’s still a pretty good deal, right? Hell, I’d pay $5 for Adventure and Haunted House alone and that’s a third of this cart’s MSRP.

Now factor in the fact you can play nearly twenty of these games with a friend without having to buy a second copy of the game (one for each DS). That’s a nice perk. Then you also have all the manuals, the trivia game, the arcade gallery and the army version of Battlezone. Atari and Code Mystics really put in a lot of perks to this compilation and it really helps make the fact that a lot of these games suck, go down easier. At the end of the day, I might be opposed to the fact nearly all of the 2600 games I liked aren’t on this compilation, or the fact that a lot of these games haven’t aged well, but Code Mystics did a nice job with the presentation and overall package and longtime Atari-philles will be happy with this purchase – especially if they no longer own a 2600 of their own.

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Dreadful
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Decent
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Very Good

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 includes a whopping fifty games from Atari’s golden age, only a fraction of them are actually “greatest hits.” A lot of the most popular games like Crystal Castles, Defender, Super Breakout and more are missing, with things like Fun With Numbers taking their deserved spots. The game also doubles on certain titles, giving you both the arcade and 2600 versions of the game, which again are spots that could have be reserved for a wider variety of titles. Still, eighteen of the fifty games are still well worth experiencing, even decades after their original release. Sadly, only older gamers will really appreciate what’s all included here as the vast majority of gamers today weren’t even alive when the 2600 was the system of choice. A lot of these games haven’t aged well at all, but those that have, like Adventure or Haunted House are sure to bring a nostalgic smile to a niche group of gamers’ faces. If you loved your 2600 as a child, it’s worth at least experiencing this collection just to see how far things have come since we were having arguments about the Intellivision, Collecovision, 2600 and Magnavox Odyssey and which was superior.



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10 responses to “Review: Atari’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (Nintendo DS)”

  1. j Avatar

    Wow, that was surprisingly unhelpful. Besides your questionable taste in ancient games (Battlezone, Tempest, and Missile Command worthless? insanity!), you completely failed to comment on whether the emulation is accurate, which is really all anybody needs to know.

    P.S. Berzerk and Defender are not Atari games.

    1. Christopher Bowen Avatar

      J – For the Atari 2600, both Berzerk and Defender were published by Atari. So despite the fact that they were created by Stern Electronics and Williams respectively, both of the 2600 games are technically Atari published, so Alex was correct there.

      (And purely on a personal note: no, Battlezone – specifically, the 2600 version of Battlezone – has not stood the test of time. It was an overly ambitious arcade game that did not play as well at home. This was the case when I was a child, and it’s certainly the case now. As for Mission Command, if I’m not mistaken, the DS collection doesn’t emulate the trackball, which affects how it plays compared to the old version)

    2. Alex Lucard Avatar

      I’m not really sure how you managed to missed the two paragraphs on the emulation quality, but here they are again for you.

      “At first, one would assume it’s easy to emulate Atari games to the DS. However, one has to remember that most of these games used an analog joystick rather than a D-pad and several others used paddles or trackballs, of which there is no way to get a 100% accurate feeling on a D-pad or joystick. Still, only older gamers like myself who grew up with the 2600 will notice any real difference in the gameplay, and even then it is minute at best.

      With that said, a lot of these games played like crap back when I was but a lad, and they still do now. Seriously, I don’t get how some of these games were even made, much less enjoyed and playing them know shows me exactly why we had that video game crash in the early 1980s. There are also some collision detection issues such as the ball passing through the paddle in Pong on occasion, or a bit of lag between input and action in Earthworld. For the most part the emulation is solid, but when it is off, it’s very noticeable. Factor in a lot of these games haven’t aged well to begin with and you have only about a dozen and a half games on the entire compilation that are any fun to play. It’s a decent overall experience, but only for an older or diehard Atari fan. ”

      Plus you somehow missed the difference between published and developed games. Berzerk and Defender are Atari published titles in the same way the awful 2600 version of Pac-Man was an Atari title.

  2. Phil J Avatar
    Phil J

    Nice review; my good friend was proud owner of the Atari 2600 during my youth and it stands at the entry point of my video-game recollections. I was pretty jealous, but eventually my family received the 5200 and at first all was swell and rosy; but after the glow of a near arcade exact Pac-Man wore off the reality set in that the console had lousy support and the games available would stretch thin; and of course the 2600 controller was superior.

    As for these retro compilations; well I just adore them; I really don’t mind if a few stinkers get included in the mix, it is interesting to see some of the obscure games that I may have overlooked, even if some are almost unplayable. As long as there is substantial quantity and close to half (or more) of the games are worth revisiting than I am mainly satisfied for the asking price. This is the case with the Taito and Capcom collections (fifty percent or better worthwhile rate) but unfortunately this Atari collection appears to be mediocre in that respect, and of course the very best on offer here would not compare favorably to the best on other compilation discs.

    Still, I wish that publishers would release more of these; I think that the virtual console and live arcade networks of the world suppressed the willingness to put all of these games on one disc, in favor of selling them one or two at a time digitally. Too Bad, I’m still waiting for SNK Classics Volume Zero, but signs are pointing to it being scrapped.

  3. j Avatar

    Christopher: No, he was talking about arcade Battlezone, Tempest, and Missile Command, and he was attacking their original versions. He didn’t identify specific problems with the emulated versions (controls etc.).

    Alex: I do see the one sentence about emulation now, but I’m not convinced ;)

    Both: My point about Berzerk and Defender is that just because Atari published them originally doesn’t mean they have any right to reproduce them. So the wish for them to be included instead of the shovelware isn’t reasonable.

    I think the selection of arcade games is fairly bulletproof (if incomplete – they’ve gotta have something for volume 2 ;P). Having gone through the 2600 game list for a post of my own, though, I agree that the selection is incredibly bizarre. Some of that stuff is interesting to connoisseurs only, and even then might not be…

  4. Alex Lucard Avatar
    Alex Lucard

    J – The only one I attacked outright was Missile Command. I’ve just never found the game interesting. If it helps, the genres I primarily play are shoot ’em ups, 2-d fighters and RPGs. On the 2600 a lot of my primary games were things like River Raid, H.E.R.O., Adventure, the RealSports titles and the like. I was never impressed with Atari games in the arcade, save for Centipede, which I got good enough to “beat” (aka max out the high score). So it could very well be that MC and battlezone were too slow for my tastes. Tempest and Battlezone I just said haven’t aged well and I stand by that. At the end of the day though, a review is simply one person’s opinion and you’re free to agree or disagree with it.

    I know Infogrames (aka the new Atari) does still have the publishing rights to all the old 2600 games that they originally published, so they legally could reprint them. However it could be that they would have to pay royalties for Defender and Berserk, thus being the reason they left them out. Still, no Crystal Castles, Breakout or Warlords? Those are three of my favorite Atari games and they are nowhere to be seen. I’d especially rather have the arcade version of CC over all of the arcade games included.

    For me, my biggest annoyance was some of the shovelware and how badly they messed up the Swordquest games. I mean, I’m glad every game got their manuals, but these are games you need the comics books for to get past them and they are nowhere to be seen. That’s pretty messed up. On the otherhand Waterworld is like $100+ so to have it here is a great move by Atari. Still, I would love to see the reaction of gamers when they get a “code” for the comic showing up in these games and they have no way to interpret it!

  5. Alex Lucard Avatar
    Alex Lucard

    Phil – I’m a huge retrogamer/comp collector as well (They take up less space is my big reason for them), so i was super excited for this. However the 2600 selection was just so weird, it really dampened my enjoyment of the overall product. It was great to see some of these games get release for the first time in decades but most of them are really just weird choices.

  6. David Avatar

    I was excited to hear about this comp but am disappointed in the selection. Obviously they’re saving games for Vol. 2, but with this lineup, there may not be a Vol. 2. Atari could have done better…

    What I’d really like to see is an Activision 2600 collection. Heck, even an Imagic collection would be worthwhile.

    Anybody remember an Atari arcade game called Black Widow? Man, I loved that game. Trackball though, so it wouldn’t emulate well.


    1. Alex Lucard Avatar

      David – They have had Activision Anthologies for the GBA, PSP, PSX and PS2. You could pick one of those up.

    2. Christopher Bowen Avatar

      I’m with Alex. I consider Activision Anthologies (PS2) to be the greatest video game compilation ever.

      If you no longer own a PS2, there’s also the Game Room for the 360 that has some Activision titles, but the selection isn’t good, the games are overpriced, and with the recent demise of its developer Krome Studios, there won’t be any more selection.

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