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Atari’s Greatest Hits – iPad review

100 games on your iPad (and iPhone), you can’t argue with that… or can you?

If, like me, you are a retro nut, then Atari’s Greatest hits collection is certainly a geeks wet dream. Comprising of 18 arcade and 82 Atari 2600 games, there is enough here to quench even the driest of gamers’ throats.

You don’t have to purchase every game of course, as the app is more of a library for each of the one hundred games, allowing you to pick and choose your favourites in packs of 3 or 4. If you are so inclined to buy the lot, you can do at a bargain price of $14.99.

Sure, that is at the higher scale of AppStore prices, but you get a lot for your buck. Not only do you get each game faithfully emulated, many with same screen or bluetooth flavours of multiplayer, but they also all come with bonus content.

carouselIn the case of the Atari 2600 games, they come with their original manuals. With the majority of these scanned from original copies from the vaults of Atari, as well as various collectors around the world. Many of these feature tears and folds from over use, a nice touch which reminds you of the games’ age. The arcade games, instead feature a gallery of images, as well as owners manuals, showing the likes of promotional material, original cabinet art, and the cabinets themselves.

These extra features make this App as much as a coffee table style book on the history of some of the best games of yesteryear, as being a game.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the interface. I like the carousel of cabinets (arcade) and cartridges (2600). But visually it’s not very appealing. Much of this has to do with the fact that this is a universal app, and so much of the assets used are simply replicated from the iPhone screen size to here, resulting in many of the menu buttons and text being overly large. Colour scheme is certainly 70′s in style, but it’s a little O.T.T. Not that the 70′s weren’t of course, but I still would have liked something more stylish, a mix of 20th meets 21st century.

I’m amazed at the level of detail the developers have strived for, especially with replicating the controls for each game. Both the arcade and 2600 games featured a varied amount of control options back in the day, from paddles, joystick and track balls. Even the toggles and switches of the 2600 are here, allowing you to tweak many of the game options.

Controls are replicated on the touchscreen well for the most part. And while some don’t work as well as others, they do occasionally feature alternative control options for iOS. The arcade version of Missile command for example works great with the virtual track ball, however the 2600 version, which uses joystick control, is less enjoyable. Unfortunately, for Tempest lovers, the rotation controls don’t work as well as they should, and Atari should have offered more control options for this one, tilt being one of them, but sadly these are missing.

It remains to be seen if the iCade will ever see the light of day. It would be the perfect companion for this collection. Atari did say they would support the device, but some tweaks will have to be made, most notably the onscreen control overlays would need a way of being toggled on/off, as would the ability to map all the games to the iCade’s joystick and button combinations. Of course, support may already be included, but is hidden from view until connection to the device. We’ll have to wait and see.

Now whilst, this is called Atari’s greatest hits, there are still a few duds here and there. Most of these are evident in the 82 Atari 2600 library of games. Despite people’s fondness for the console, it wasn’t exactly a powerhouse. Sure, it was pretty damn impressive to have your very own arcade hooked up to your 12″ black and white cathode ray tube TV back in the late 1970′s and early 80′s, but really there wasn’t anything else to compare it to. There are six standouts in my opinion:

pongPong sports
The arcade addition of Pong comes free with the App, but this collection on the 2600 of pong based games is the best. Varied versions of the classic game can be selected through the mode selector, including soccer, super pong, hockey, handball and basketball and volley ball. The joke of course is that they look or play nothing like their real world contour parts, and mainly feature alternative colour schemes and increased number of paddles. Played with two or players over bluetooth is an absolute joy though, evoking memories of myself in the 80s, gathered a few feet away from the TV screen with my family, mouth agape wit wonder at the awesome graphics displaying in front of me.

Space war
Like asteroids, you pilot a triangular craft around the screen. Only this time you are one to one against a human opponent. Again, a great multiplayer game.

Secret quest
A top down dungeon style crawler by the great Nolan Bushnell himself. With you fighting monsters aboard space stations with your trusty light-sword. Hilariously bad, but good!

Save Mary
This wasn’t release to retail. The game is simple by today’s standards, but at the time would have wowed people with its realistic physics (or lack of). In it you must rescuer Mary from a pit by lowering platforms using a crane, for her to climb out.

Real sports tennis
This one actually features pretty good graphics, considering. With the players actually looking like humans instead of a few pixels. It plays surprisingly well too, much like tennis on video game works now.

Radar lock
A fun shooter, like an early Afterburner, with you swooping through the skies in 3rd person, while taking down enemy aircraft.

The arcade games fair much better. My personal picks include:

Asteroids
It’s a classic, nuff said. As addictive now as it ever was. Many of the other games in this pack feature variations on this gameplay, but none, not even Asteroids Deluxe, come close.

Crystal castles
An isometric plat former like a 3D Pac-Man. You must guide Bentley the bear around the various 3D environments, icing up crystals and avoiding any nasty critters in you path.

missilecommandMissile command
This game really needs no introduction. It’s a fantastic melding of action and strategy. A surprisingly deep experience for arcades at the time. The track ball control scheme works perfectly.

Battlezone
The controls don’t work as well as the original of course. But it’s still as fun being tank commander as it was back in the day. Lining up your tank for the kill, before taking a shell, is still ‘on the edge of your seat’ stuff.

Warlords
A great four player game, which plays a bit like Breakout, but with the task of batting back a ball and breaking through your opponents walls until your hit their lord.

Millipede
The sequel to Centipede, is very similar, but with new enemy types and levels, in this variation of space invaders, but with insects instead of aliens.

Of course you may have your own favourites, and there are certainly enough to choose from!

In conclusion, any retro gaming fan would be mad not to pick this up. Sure, the hardcore of you no doubt have already downloaded the ROMS to play using MAME on PC or Mac. But, with the added extras, and the ability to browse the library of games with ease, I think there is still reason to get this too (not to mention more moral).

I can’t see casual gamers out there enjoying this as much though. While many of the games don’t exactly require a PHD in computer science to get them running, I can’t see casual players having the patience to find out what to do and how. Having said that, everyone will like the real classics like Pong, Asteroids and Centipede.

I’m hoping Atari will bring more of their arcade lineup to the app, and it could become a real addiction for lovers of retro, like me. It’s a great overall package which, for the most part, feels like it’s been built as much as a personal passion of one man and his love of retro, than simply a product for consumption by iOS gamers.

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