Atari was one of the biggest names in video games during the 2nd Generation of consoles, and helped contribute to the popularity of home-based consoles as a form of interactive entertainment. In fact, until the 3rd generation and the rise of Nintendo, Atari was the best-selling video game console of that era. Like many early consoles, development was easy and cheap, and often could be done by a single person, as opposed to the teams of up to 100 people needed for a single AAA development title today. Many of us old fogeys, myself included, whiled many hours away on Atari’s best-selling console, the Atari 2600, as well as played many popular Atari games in the video arcades. To fuel the current nostalgia going around, Code Mystics has brought us Atari Vault, a collection of 100 of the most popular first party Atari 2600 and Atari arcade games.
Naturally, a complete, comprehensive review of every game in this collection would be a hefty read, and you don’t come to me for tomes, dear reader. The Atari Vault contains both arcade and 2600 games, but note that these are all first party games; anyone asking “why isn’t xyz game here?” will be summarily forced to play an eternity of Sunsoft’s Superman 64. So this means no Pitfall, no Jungle Hunt, no Ms Pac-Man, and no Berzerk. What you do get is tons of Asteroids, Breakout, and Combat. The games are also online multiplayer so you can play combat with friends online; also, the arcade games have online leaderboards that are already proving hard to get to the top of.
The Atari Vault collection interface is festooned in a retro-electronic style straight out of Tron. It proves to be a collection filled with all kinds of delightful details such as arcade cabinet art, box art, operators’ manuals, and 2600 game instruction manuals. In fact, sometimes you even need to peruse the manuals to get an idea of how to play some of the games if you’re not already familiar with them. One of the nicer touches is the ability to enable an overlay of the Atari 2600 control switches instead of navigating a series of menus. It makes it easier to switch games, switch modes, switch difficulties, and switch the game off if you’ve had enough. The overlay even shows the cartridge inserted, which is a nice detail.
The games themselves are a fairly comprehensive collection of what Atari itself produced, and runs the gamut from Asteroids and Centipede to Yar’s Revenge and Tempest. Some of the more obscure 2600 games are here too, including a few educational games. If you owned an Atari 2600 console, you’ll know that the original shipped with two joysticks, a weird paddle controller, and Combat, the game compilation that made us hate our siblings. Within each individual game’s settings you can select whether to use a game controller, the keyboard, or a mouse to play. In cases where the game’s primary control was the paddle, you’re either better off finding a decent USB paddle controller, or using the mouse instead because using a game analog stick instead of a paddle is horrible, if barely doable. Playing Breakout with an analog stick was painful, even when I turned the sensitivity way down. The keyboard wasn’t much better, but then it fared great for games like Adventure, when simple movements are all that’s required. Thankfully, if you do have a gamepad controller, it makes multiplayer much easier. I understand it works extremely well with the Steam controller, but I’ve yet to attain one of those.
The emulation itself feels fairly spot-on, despite some controls feeling a little less than perfect, but I suspect it’s the difference between that and using an actual Atari joystick. Sound emulation sounded good, too, and I enjoyed the marquee artwork around some of the games. These are touches that give such a collection a feel of being well-loved by the developers. I obviously have to question some of these game inclusions. Math games, for example? I guess they’re little more than an idle curiosity, but not something I see myself spending hours playing. (Fact: My kids looked at it with disdain when I asked them to try that one, and closed it down to go back to killing each other in Combat. Boys, I tell you.)
I have to give great kudos to both Atari and Code Mystics for keeping an important part of video game history alive. Some of these games are near to the hearts of many people, and some of them are still a darned sight more challenging than the majority of stuff you play today. It’s worth it to see where games have come from and how they’ve affected the major game tropes of today. Warlords did MOBA long before it was cool, and you can see how Arkanoid was birthed from the ashes of Breakout. You can even see how Centipede was the start of Tower Defense style games. It’s brilliantly fascinating if you’re interested in video game history, and of course, with 100 games here, it’ll take you some time to master them all if you’ve a mind to.