The Atari Vault is as retro an experience as you are likely to find this year. Its games – all developed by Atari for its 2600 and arcade systems – pretty much all predate the release of games of Super Mario Brother for the NES or Metal Gear for the MSX. In some cases, they’re older by a good 10 years. To put things into perspective, most gamers who played these games when they were young are likely to be almost 40 years old – or quite a bit older than that.
In a period where even games that are less than two years old get brought back for another release (like The Last of Us), this makes the Atari Vault very different. It’s a collection of games originally published for the legendary Atari 2600, with a few arcade games by Atari thrown in to make for a total of no less than 100 games. At a price point of under 20 euros/dollars, that’s less than 5 cents per game!
At 36 years old, I actually played on an Atari 2600 back in the 80s. It was my uncle’s, and my first experience with videogames – as well as a bunch of good memories. Did this collection bring back those memories? No, but there’s a good reason for that. Some of the most memorable games for the 2600, at least for me, were Pacman and Space Invaders – neither one is present in the Atari Vault. That’s because those games were not Atari titles, and the Atari Vault merely brings together Atari’s own titles.
That personal note aside, there is still plenty of content here to enjoy – ranging from several hit games to a few obscure ones that most people have probably never played before. True classics include games like Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command and Pong – but other titles like Tempest, Super Breakout, Millipede and Crystal Castles are also fondly remembered by a lot of gamers.
The examples above are timeless classics, and although the visuals show their age they are still fun to play. The Atari Vault also showcases a relatively large number of sports games, and those haven’t aged as gracefully. The processing power of the Atari 2600 didn’t allow for extensive AI or tactics to be programmed in, making the games feel rather clunky and making it impossible to look past the dated visuals.
Still – in a set of 100 games, this is to be expected. There are plenty of quality games left that are important parts of videogame history, and they’re wrapped in a nice little package. Because these old games weren’t played on widescreen monitors, the display window is surrounded by game-specific artwork. The collection also features an ‘arcade mode’, which rocks the look and feel of a classic arcade where you can pick your favorite Atari arcade game from the included lot. You can also check out the side panel art of these arcade machines, many of which gamers nowadays have never seen in real life.
This is a nice little collection of Atari games and nicely delivered. If you have an interest in early video game history, then by all means pick up this collection. We’d love for a follow-up to appear as well – one that includes arcade games from the late 80s as well, since games like Super Sprint and Gauntlet didn’t make it this time. Until then, when it comes to videogame history, this is as good a place to start as any.