We’ve seen Atari tap into the past with their Recharged series of games for a while now, but their new release raises the bar considerably – for retro compilations in general. The Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is out now for all major systems and is a wonderful celebration of 50 years of Atari history – with an emphasis on the first half of that period. Here’s our look at the PlayStation 5 version.
What makes Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration such a joy to engage with isn’t the fact that it contains an impressive number of games – the Atari Vault collections previously did the same. It’s also not the fact that it contains a number of games that were previously hard to get hold of, or that it has a few reimagined versions of classics that are exclusive to this collection. While all of those are nice, it’s the way in which it all comes together here that makes this so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Sure, you can navigate to a list of games and pick your favorites by release date or platform, but there’s also a museum-like approach that lets you explore Atari’s story and history over the course of five decades, with video footage, rarely seen photos, design documents, manuals and interesting bits of trivia. And in a nice change of pace, they’re also not afraid to highlight some of the less successful parts of the company’s history.
It’s like strolling through a lovingly created video game museum, with the added bonus that the systems and games you’re checking out can also be played – this is miles removed from the usual bare bones approach we see in compilations. Per game, you’ll find manuals, the original ads for the games and whatever other associated things they were able to find. And if you feel nostalgic, then you can also try out a few visual filters that make the game look like they’re being played on old school monitors.
And while you’d expect to see a lot of games featured from the Atari 2600 era, the developers at Digital Extremes didn’t stop there. Lesser known systems like the Atari 800 are also featured with a few games, and they’ve even included a recreated handheld game that Atari produced that I had never even heard of before this collection hit.
One downside about the roster of games that was included is that you can see a gradual shift, where Atari developed fewer and fewer games with each hardware generation, especially within home computing. While both the Jaguar and Lynx are featured with a few nice games, the Atari Falcon and the quite popular Atari ST are only included from a hardware perspective, without any games to play. Sure, the top games for those systems weren’t published by Atari (and the Falcon hardly had any games), but it would have been nice if they had licensed a few highlights from the fairly successful ST period. Heck, not even the ST ports of Atari’s own Gauntlet games made it.
Other systems are also missing a few classics, and not having owned a Jaguar I would have loved to play Alien vs Predator, Rayman and Raiden here. There’s plenty left to enjoy though, even on the Jaguar, and with nine games for the platform you get a good sense of what “the first 64-bit console” was all about.
In addition to emulated classics (and a few obscure games you’ve never heard of), Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration also features six reimagined games crafted just for this compilation, including new takes on Breakout and Yars Revenge – which is different than the Yars: Recharged release we covered recently!
Of course, with a history that goes back 50 years, not all of the games on offer here have aged well and will feel more like interesting relics of a time gone by than games you’ll want to spend an evening or two with, but there’s so much interesting content here that Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is a must-have for anyone with an interest in video game history.