Atari legacy makes original Atari seem even better

Spoiler alert! The problem with legacy games is that once you play them, you remember why you abandoned them years before. Buying one is like the experience of finding the pacifier you sucked on as a child. Your mind fills with fond memories but you’re probably not going to put it back in your mouth.

For some reason, I got it into my head that we needed the original 128k Mac a few years back. It’s not as though it was even close to state-of-the-art. I mean 128k of RAM and 400k floppy drives? At the time we’d burned through a Mac Plus with 4mb and a 20mb external hard drive, a Mac IIci with 8mb and 100mb drive, and were working on a StarMax with 32mb and 1g.

Somehow I convinced myself it would be so much fun to have a 128k Mac.

Just to have the experience of working with the original MacPaint and MacWrite, swapping out system disk, app disk, and data disk. Joy, joy, joy. It may be still be sitting in our laundry room. I’m sure Carol will remind me what I agreed to do with it when she’s proofreading this post.

It’s tough to give something like that up, but in retrospect, how often did I really expect to use it?

Carol didn’t think it would be fun at all. Maybe I should have listened.

Players who are determined to have the original video gaming experience, Atari, can do so with Atari’s Greatest Hits, free from the App Store.

Well, not really free. Pong is free. If you want the other games you have to buy them in packs of four for a dollar each. But there’s a catch: you don’t get to choose the four games. You pay the dollar for the game you want and three other marginal games that download with it. Like Basic Math where you toggle the joystick to solve complex problems like “9+1=?”. Did anyone really buy the original version?

Or you buy all of the games for fifteen dollars (no discount that I am aware of if you already bought packs) and hope there are actually fifteen good games in the set.

Best of all, Gamestop will release an arcade cabinet with joystick and control button for only $99 at the end of May. You can slide your iPad in place, dock it into the console’s docking station and play just like you were playing in the arcades. Or playing the Leprechaun version at least. Total price? $115 dollars to be playing state-of-the-art games from 1978.

If you really want the feel of the old arcade style video games you can buy a cabinet to house your iPad and play Atari games. I will not be spending $100 to review it, but I would certainly welcome a review copy from Gamestop.

Now, I loved Pong. It was a great game to play while drinking beer with the guys and wishing I had the nerve to hit up the attractive girls drinking Mai Tai’s twelve feet away. I even got one when the home version came out. I had a used 25-inch black and white tube TV that I bought for $25 and the game was awesome on that screen. Bouncing a ball back and forth with a paddle and hoping the other player didn’t slide one past. What could top that?

So I invested in four Atari’s Greatest Hits game modules to get a fair sample for the review. And I downloaded the games I loved in arcades or on my own Atari at home. Surprisingly, my favorite game Space Invaders wasn’t an option. So I downloaded Night Driver, which came with three additional racing games, Super Baseball, which came with Super Breakout and Football, Missile Commander and Tempest.

There it is, Night Driver in all of its 4-bit glory filling literally half the iPad’s high def screen.

They played pretty much like they did when I was in my twenties and I stayed up till four in the morning, my eyes blurry from staring at the six colors and 60 by 80 resolution the console could display. My first wife would yell through the door, “For that much money you could at least turn the sound down.”

Playing Night Driver again brought back floods of memories, and I realized my life sucked back then. Broke and on the verge of divorce, desperate to get out of grad school and pissing away precious free time I could have used to finish my thesis. My life is so much better now.

And you know what? So are games. Way better. Like the difference between watching Alice in Wonderland in HiDef 3D with stereo surround sound verses listening to the Captain and Tenille on an eight-track tape player with the windows down in a Pinto without air conditioning.

Here’s the bottom line: Atari games were meant to be played on color TVs with 280 lines of resolution at a time when Joe Montana was still sitting on the Forty Niners bench bench behind Jim Plunkett. Were they cool way back when? You bet. Would we have played them if we had access to an iPad? Not for a second.

Hell, by the time our kids were playing Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog, our Atari consoles were buried underneath our cassette players, turntables and back issues of Readers Digest. Hell, VCRs were still competing with Betamax. Do you remember the quality of those?

I think most readers would agree, John Madden Football couldn’t hold a candle to this.

The visual impact of the games in totally lost on the half of the iPad monitor available for display. Why only half? Because rather than using the iPad’s touch and turn controls to emulate game features, Atari’s Greatest Hits create virtual digital joysticks and control knobs. Which would be great if they worked. They do, kind of. But quite often, by the time I got a handle on the controls for the game, I remembered why I outgrew it decades ago.

The virtual controls may feel reminiscent of those rubber joysticks, but the games would probably play far better using native iPad controls.

Just as often the controls didn’t work at all. Nor do the developers even bother to include instructions, other than scans of the original paper manuals from the original games. I can’t help but thinking I would be better off looking for the original system on eBay. Of course I would also have to buy an old TV that worked with those systems.

How awesome is this? They scanned the original manuals rather than including in-game help files. Nothing could make me feel a greater sense of nostalgia.

I’m not totally anti-retro. I have dozens of vintage films on Blu Ray. Real Vintage, not Tron. But these were resampled and remastered to achieve the highest quality output. Atari’s Greatest Hits look exactly like they did originally and don’t even play as well.

Jenny Manytoes rates Atari’s Greatest Hits

Jenny Manytoes would cover Atari’s Greatest Hits in the litter box. You may like it more so here’s the test: Download the app and play with the free Pong module for half an hour. If you can actually make it that long, and still want to play more, go ahead and download one dollar module. If you still want to play, then you might try some more.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone loves it. I would be less surprised if no one does.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 1 star - The Litter box, Arcade Games, Entertainment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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