Monday, November 25, 2013

Atari Anniversary Edition Redux

It's all your favorite Atari games on the PlayStation. What could possibly go wrong?

In July 2001, Atari Anniversary Edition came out for the Sega Dreamcast featuring a ton of classic Atari games and special bonuses. Several months later a Redux version would come out for the PlayStation with a slightly altered list of Atari classics and that list includes: Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Black Widow, Centipede, Gravitar, Missile Command, Pong, Space Duel, Super Breakout, Tempest, and Warlords. So, hang onto your hats because we're going through them all from A to Z.

Asteroids: It's 1979, you're hanging out at the arcade with your buddies and you see this thing of beauty sitting across from you! Asteroids! It's basically just a black and white screen with a triangle for a ship, some drawings of asteroids floating across the screen, and a little UFO that pops up on occasion. Bullets came in the form of little white dots that flew across the screen, but back in the seventies and early eighties this would have blown your mind! Just look at all the companies that pitched in to make a kazillion different machines just to play Pong!

The objective of the game is to destroy the asteroids, breaking them apart with each shot and shooting down the broken pieces until nothing is left, and to also take out any and all UFOs that appear. If you fly to the ends of the screen you'll appear on the opposite side of where you were last. Be careful when this happens as it could be a good way to run into an asteroid. From there you just rack up as many points as possible and try not to die.

Asteroids Deluxe: Similar to Asteroids, except your ship and the obstacles on the screen are blue, there's a background of asteroids and a ship blasting through them, the asteroids rotate differently and there's a new enemy called killer satellite. A satellite that will also hone in on your position if you shoot it. I had to look that up too because looking at it on its own, I had no idea what it was. You really have to use your imagination when it come to Atari games. You also have the extra addition of a force field you can call upon to protect your ship, but it will run out after too long. Just like before your goal is to eliminate all the obstacles on screen and get the highest score possible.

Battlezone: You play as a tank. What's not to love? How about how slow the tank moves from left to right giving the enemy enough time to shoot you? How about enemies randomly popping up from behind or managing to get a shot in even after death to trigger a game over, and you being too slow to move out of the way? To be fair, the game was built with a specific control schemes in mind, a lot of the arcade games were. That makes playing it on a PlayStation controller all the more difficult and takes away from the overall experience.

Inside the tank you move to the left and right to search around for enemies. The game will alert you when an enemy appears and tells you which direction the enemy is in, but if you're not fast enough BOOM you're dead. When you do get hit the screen breaks like you just hit a baseball into somebody's window. Visually, it's pretty good for being primary a tank game with what little developers then had to work with. The tanks look like how they're supposed to, and you get a good first-person view perspective. The rest is up to your imagination.

Black Widow:

No, not that Black Widow.

  This Black Widow.

I'll tell you what, you better be as alert as all hell if you intend on playing this. You basically play as a black widow spider on a spiderweb defending your turf against a flood of other insects. When you eliminate an enemy they some times become an $ symbol that you can pick up to collect points. Enemy wise, we're looking at mosquitoes, beetles, hornets, eggs, grub steaks, whatever those are, Spoiler, an invulnerable enemy that can only be killed by a grenade bug, grenade bugs which explode when you kill them, rocket bugs which are also invulnerable, and the thunderbug. The thunderbug can take up 80% of the level at times and will break formation when shot, just keep shooting it and avoiding the t-bugs to earn 10,000 points. Easier said than done, though. After that is the bug slayer, he's harmless and only races you to food.

One recommendation I can give is DO NOT use the d-pad and the buttons if you're playing this on the PlayStation. You're better off using the analog sticks. The direction you shoot in will depend on which direction you move the analog stick. You'll go a lot faster this way. The reason this is is because Black Widow was originally meant to be played with a dual joystick. Obviously, analog sticks are still much different from joysticks, so you still aren't going to be getting the full experience out of it, but it's better than the alternative. Otherwise all I can say is, don't blink.

Centipede: Good old Centipede. You play as a head, or an elf, or a gnome? I'm not sure. Either way you're represented by a head and you're surrounded by mushrooms. Stay back, Mario! There's this centipede at the top of the screen descending upon you! It's your job to shoot lasers at the centipede taking out all its pieces before it can get you, and occasionally a spider will come out of nowhere and try to kill you. When you take out the centipede everything about the stage changes color, and it's wash, rinse, repeat.

This game is going to be annoying to play on the PlayStation because of a lack of trackball. A trackball was a device with a ball at the center of it that allowed you to move your character on the game. It made moving your guy and shooting a whole lot easier, which is something you just can't emulate on a d-pad or even an analog stick making an already challenging game all the more difficult.

Gravitar: Oh. My. God. This game is impossible. It has a bigger learning curve than Dark Souls. In fact, I got farther in Dark Souls than this game. You begin on a screen surrounded by planets, a couple of enemies, and what I'm assuming is a star I keep running into within the first three seconds. When you enter a planet or run into an enemy a new screen appears for you to navigate. You can shoot, put up a force field, use thrusters to help you steer, and use a tractor beam to grab objects.

The solar system isn't based off ours and the gameplay utilizes gravity (hence the name) in order to navigate each area. It was made with a multi-button control system in mind (all the shooting games like these are) you needed to master if you planned to get anywhere. You can trigger a game over by being hit by an enemy, hitting an obstacle, part of the terrain, or by running out of fuel. Fuel is visible in the game as blue fuel tanks you need to use the tractor beam to pick up. In a planet the game becomes a side-scroller and you have to destroy all the red bunker to destroy the planet and earn points, but this is not a game that will hold your hand even a little bit.

Missile Command: There's a single screen, like on most of them, that shows a bunch of missiles falling from the sky and it's your job to shoot them all down before they can take out the city below. Simple enough, except you can run out of missiles of your own pretty quickly if you're not careful so you need to make every hit count. Too bad it's almost impossible to aim these things in the right place to hit anything and the missiles aren't wasting their time falling. If you run out of missiles of your own you're worm food. Everything will just speed up to crash into the city and then the screen will explode when it's game over. Not much else to say.

Pong: Good old Pong. Just a black and white screen with two paddles and a ball that goes back and forth. You win the game when you get the ball past your opponent either eleven or fifteen times depending on what you set the win score to. You can also set the difficulty in how fast or slow the computer and the ball will go. The higher up, the faster it goes giving you a new layer of difficulty no matter how good at the game you get. The only problem is the game was meant to be played with a joystick, so moving the paddle with the d-pad moves it too slow and the analog stick moves it way too fast.

Space Duel: Basically, Asteroids with color, not to be confused with the actual Asteroids with color. This time you play as a ship shooting a bunch of colorful geometric shapes like cubes, diamonds, and spinning pinwheels. You could also play with a second player making it the first and only vector game to be multiplayer. Similar to Gravitar and Asteroids Deluxe, you can activity a force field and thrusters to help you move about.

Super Breakout: You have a total of three stages in this game and take control of a paddle, one stage allowing you to control two. In each stage you have a stack of bricks you need to break by hitting the ball(s) into it and not allowing the ball(s) to reach the bottom of the screen. If they do then you lose a turn. The more bricks you break the higher the score it.

Tempest: A shooter that gives you a 3D perspective of the enemies coming up the tubes with the desire of killing you. It was also the first game to have a choice of difficulty when it came out determining on the starting level. Once you clear a stage you'll go down the tube and enter the next one. Some times they'll be spikes that are depicted as red lines in the tube you have to avoid or lose a life. While seeing things from a 3D perspective isn't a big deal these days, back then? It was an extremely big deal and it's still cool to see being done knowing how limited technology was back then.

Warlords: Play up to four players with a flaming ball between your bases, which are basically bricks. Think of it like a game of hot potato with a grenade, you want to pass it along to the next person before it explodes You can cycle between cool background art or turning it off for more of that classic Atari appeal. It's meant to be played with a spinner controller, so moving the paddles in order to hit the ball to the enemy's base is more difficult on the PlayStation controller.

In addition to the games it also has an archive for a lot of fun extras. I think the best bit is interviews with Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell which gives you a good glimpse of what developing video games were like during that time while also offering his point of view on the gaming industry. The game also comes with a gallery of logos and images used for advertising. You can also set each game to play with cabinet art that emulates the original arcade design so you feel like you're playing it on the arcade yourself.

First and foremost, the biggest drawback is what I've been talking about for most of the review. You cannot emulate the control scheme of each game properly with the PlayStation controller. The end result causes for the game to be more difficult to play than it should be and denies the player the overall experience of the arcade version. The back of the cover even says “each one is just as easy and fun to play” just as easy to play? Yeah right! Even during Nolan's interview he talks about how the interface on the controller compared to the arcade basically sucks, that says it all right there.

While the cabinet art is a fun homage to the original arcade, it's not like playing on the arcade. The cabinet art actually makes it a little harder to play because it frames up the whole screen on the border, except the ones that are just down at the bottom, and causes the screen to zoom out a bit so it's harder to see what you're doing. Most of the time you're better off just turning the cabinet art off.

If you're a big Atari mark or just like to collect mementos of retro games, then this is definitely a game worth picking up and playing despite the flaws with the control schemes. The games themselves are still simple, fun, and challenging to play so even if you're used to today's games you can still find some fun in them, unless all you care about is graphics, then you're not going to like it. If you don't like emulators, might I suggest tracking down the original arcades if you can and just playing on them? Call me if you do.

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