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Review: Retro Atari Classics (DS)
Here's a real blast from the past - admittedly the youngsters of today won't recognise any of these games and might even scorn the simple graphics, but for anyone over 35 these Atari games bring back memories of long evenings down the pub or student common room, sticking 10p coins into huge, hulking arcade cabinets. These Atari games are tuned for gameplay and, in some cases at least, this is undiminished, with the old adrenaline and concentration... Read on...
I guess I should take each game on its own merits - they're not all as strong as each other, but at least you get the lot for not very much, so it's churlish to complain. We'll start with my favourite: Missile Command. Each game in the pack is provided in 'retro' (original) and 'remix' versions, the latter sporting more, er.... interesting graphics, as shown here:
In truth, I preferred the original graphics in each case, but I suppose the remix versions might help a newer generation accept the games. Missile Command is, in my opinion, the jewel in the Atari pack and I loved the implementation here. Missiles are aimed and fired by simply tapping the touch-screen, the sound effects are totally authentic and within 10 minutes I was sweating my way past 30,000 points and had reverted to being 20 years old again. The only slight gotchas are that you can't aim missiles within the top half of the sky (obviously), though there's still plenty of room for wanton destruction, and the way missiles are auto-fired from the nearest missile base. This is a departure from the original gameplay but an understandable simplification. And, if I'm honest, I used to get the base buttons mixed up anyway, so having them handled automatically is OK by me.
Next up is Tempest, here shown in retro form:
Tempest also plays authentically but there's something not quite right with the controls. The original arcade machine had a rotary control and here it's emulated using either d-pad or a touch-screen roller, neither of which let you move fast enough around the grid in my opinion. This makes it hard to control your 'claw' ship accurately and the result is frantic but unsatisfying.
On to Sprint, one of the handful of games that even predate the pub arcade machines. What you see here is exactly what you get, although the track layout does change from time to time:
Sprint is fun to play in a minimalist sort of way, although you have to be VERY good if you're to make much progress on the fiddly tracks against the computer controlled cars.... Breakout is similarly basic, and the blocky graphics are possibly too rudimentary even for nostalgia freaks. Likewise, Pong is the old bat and ball game that started the whole video game, and neither of these last two games really make much sense in 2006, retro or no retro.
Onto happier affairs, with Asteroids:
This is very faithfully recreated and is very playable indeed, using the d-pad for rotation and thrust control. Even though the action only really occurs on the one screen and your space-ship is over-tiny, the gameplay's here by the bucketload, with the occasional hyperspace jump to get you out of sticky situations.
Of the rest of the games, Warlords is faithfully created, with fiery balls ricocheting around between four warring factions, although your deflector is controlled around its fort in a somewhat over-sensitive way with stylus or d-pad. tricky to get the hang of. Lunar Lander is more fun that it sounds, despite the rudimentary graphics. If you can't summon up the enthusiasm to play this, go watch the movie like Apollo 13 first and then you'll come back to the simulation with a fresh motivation.
Gravitar never really took off in the arcades, with a spaceship that's forever under the influence of gravity from stars and planets and you have to avoid crashing, complete missions and shoot enemies - all at the same time. Not easy and a game with surprising longevity for something so simple. Finally Centipede, a much-loved game from the arcades that doesn't quite feel right on the DS Lite. The mushrooms are the wrong size and the spider doesn't move quite right, although only old masters of the games would really know something was up, i suspect.
Although there are some multi-player options (apparently), you need a separate catridge for every Nintendo DS Lite, and I can't see this happening in practice.
Retro Atari Classics is a genuine curate's egg, I'd recommend buying it just for the two or three classics that will soak up hours and bring back memories.