I suspect that over the next five, ten or fifteen years we will begin to see these milestone compilations release more and more often. As developers and franchises start to hit impressive milestones, compilations and celebrations will become commonplace. Atari are first up however, celebrating a 50th anniversary; something that, at one stage, few would have imagined. They are still here though, and many developers celebrating future milestones would do well to check out just what they have done with the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration.
If it wasn’t apparent from that introduction, Atari 50 :The Anniversary Celebration is way more than a simple games compendium. And the main menu screen will confirm this. It isn’t simply a long list of games arranged alphabetically. This was a design decision by Chris Kohler and the team at Digital Eclipse whom Atari put in charge of this collection. You could argue first and foremost this is an interactive museum exhibit where veterans and newcomers alike can discover something new about Atari.
The main screen shows five periods of time in Atari’s history. And yes, this still includes a brief insight into the videogame industry collapse of 1983. E.T. is not however playable in this compilation. Let’s put that down to licensing issues.
But these interactive timelines are full of artwork, photographs, box art, promotional items and so much more. There are over sixty minutes of Atari employees past and present right up to the current CEO Wade Rosen, along with other talking heads of videogame industry veterans. It might not seem the case now, but Atari were an absolute powerhouse for videogames, and this interactive timeline is a small reminder of that.
Also here, you can explore the videogames in Atari 50 chronologically. But if you want just games and aren’t interested in the history lesson, then the X button will take you to the game library.
There are over 100 games in total, spanning from the very beginning with Pong and Breakout right through to 2022 with some brand-new games, unreleased prototypes and more. Digital Eclipse haven’t just taken the existing back catalogue either, they’ve added to it with games like Haunted Houses, VCTR-SCTR, Quadratank and more.
Of course, in between Pong and Quadratank are 50 years of Atari gaming. Atari 50 has games straight from the arcade, the 800, 2600, 5200, 7800 and for the first time since release, the Lynx and Jaguar too. With a roster this large, there’s a good chance one of your favourites will be included here.
But it is also a bit of a strange list too, in a good way. Whilst I could have sat for hours and played Food Fight, reliving my childhood, there were plenty more to try. Touch Me was one that intrigued me, as it was a digital replica of an actual handheld from 1979. This handheld had you repeating increasingly more difficult patterns using the four buttons in the centre. It’s hardly ground-breaking now, but the fact this is even included in the collection shows how deep some of the cuts are in here.
Some games are also hidden, with only cryptic clues to help you figure out how to unlock them. I did manage to unlock one: a ‘game’ called Basic Math that is quite literally you solving very basic math sums. I feel sorry for any kid that got given this as a Christmas present.
Sadly, there are also quite a few repeated games here too, but there is a reason for that. For example, there are three Asteroids games on here: Arcade, 2600 and 7800 versions. Similar too for Food Fight: Arcade and 800. But there is a huge variation between these games. Food Fight on the Atari 800 feels like a very poor port, but the arcade version is the premium version.
As good as it is to return to games such as Basketbrawl, Asteroids and more from the Atari 7800 days, the new games created for the compilation need a special mention. There are reimaginings of classic games in the form of Haunted Houses and Yars’ Revenge Enhanced, new games entirely such as VCTR-SCTR and even the conclusion to a quadrilogy. The Swordquest series was planned as a four-game story where players could win some expensive real-life prizes if they completed it. However, the fourth game never released. Until now. Swordquest: AirWorld is the fourth in the series, specially created by Digital Eclipse based on the original concepts from Tod Frye.
This alone should tell you how much care and attention has gone into this collection.
One area that feels neglected though is the list of Xbox achievements. Yes, my biggest criticism is at the achievements. With over 100 games and over sixty minutes of interviews to pore over, the list of achievements should feel a bit meatier. Instead, there are only twenty, and all but three of these are specifically related to the newly created games in the list. But like I said, the fact that my biggest criticism is about the achievements themselves is a reflection of how good this celebration is.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is so much more than a simple compilation. It really feels like a celebration, allowing you to explore interactive timelines and to learn new things about a legendary videogame company. And then having the games alongside the stories, interviews and artwork allows you to drop in whenever you feel like it. Or you could bypass this altogether and head straight for the games. There are classics, some not so classics, some old, some new, some borrowed and some blue, but you can be sure that Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is a fitting collection for a company with such a fabled history.
Atari are once again on the up, and with this and their Recharged series, it is a delight to have them back.
Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is on the Xbox Store