REVIEW / Atari Flashback Classics (NS)

 

Since the 2017 release of Nintendo’s newest system, gamers have made their desires clear: we want to see as many games as possible on the Switch. The console’s hybrid nature makes it a lot easier to finish games, and lets us enjoy them in more situations. As such, the Switch has seen a number of compilations released recently. The latest of these is Atari Flashback Classics, which boasts 150 games. Granted, most of these are Atari 2600 games, but it’s still an impressive number. I ended up picking up this game after some unusual circumstances, and since there haven’t been many reviews of this version, I wanted to share my experience with you.

The name Atari Flashback probably calls to mind the less-than-stellar Plug & Play Atari 2600 systems released by AtGames, and their name is on this game. But this is actually a combination of all three Atari Flashback Classics collections previously released on the PS4 and Xbox One, hence the large number of games. As far as the content goes, the obvious standouts are the arcade titles. The collection features all time classics like Asteroids and Pong, games with cult followings like Tempest and Crystal Castles, and more obscure titles too. On the console side, most of the 2600 and 5200 games you’d expect are present. Most of them are either sports games or arcade ports, but you’ll also find popular nostalgic titles like Adventure, Combat, and the Swordquest games. There are also some really odd inclusions, such as a few unreleased prototypes, Hangman (a simple version of the word game) and Basic Math (literally just simple math problems.) It is an impressive collection and it’s nice to have all of these games on the Switch, but don’t let the box fool you: given that there are multiple versions of several games (including 4 just for Asteroids) and a lot of sports games, the number of unique titles is less than 150. Still, comparing the different versions can be interesting if you’re interested in the history of the games and consoles. I really only have one major gripe with the list of games included: it’s only Atari’s first party games. That means it’s missing the 2600 games released by Activision, leaving the library feeling somewhat incomplete. The latest Plug & Play version features third party games, so hopefully we’ll see an expansion or something adding them here. For a full list of the games that are included, check here.

A list of games can only take you so far, though. How do they run? Overall, pretty well. It’s not super difficult to emulate these games on a modern system, but the developers went the extra mile to actually make the games playable for a modern audience. You can customize the controls for each game, and adjust the joystick sensitivity for games that originally used dials or trackballs. There are clear and descriptive overlays for all of the hardware buttons required by some games (like the buttons on the 2600 console and the 5200’s numeric keypad.) And any modern gamer who’s tried to play 2600 games knows that setting the game modes can be a huge pain; fortunately, the collection’s UI spells out what each mode means very clearly, so you don’t have to keep consulting the manual. Unfortunately though, there is one emulation issue that couldn’t really be solved. Dials and trackballs work differently from joysticks, and emulating games meant for the former while using the latter doesn’t always work very well. Even adjusting the sensitivity doesn’t always help, as for some games doing so seems to limit how far the joystick can move your character/paddle. The good news is, you will eventually get used to these controls, especially if you treat the joystick like a dial itself by rocking around the sides. The D-Pad is available too, and when playing in handheld mode, you also have the option of using the touchscreen. The bad news is, it’ll still be hard to control these games. Having played dial and trackball-based games in arcades, I think that’s just how they play.

The last factor I would consider before buying a compilation like this is the extra features and inclusions. We’ve established that the games play as well as they can on the system, but there is a little more here than just emulated games. For one, all of the relevant arcade games have online leaderboards. I’m not sure whether these include scores from all versions of Flashback Classics or just the Switch version; there don’t appear to be that many spots on the lists. Just about all of the console games feature online multiplayer too, which is a neat touch. I wish I could test this out, but there’s never anybody online. That’s perfectly fine by me, but if you’re drawn to the collection for the online multiplayer, you better have a friend to play with. Finally, there are manuals for every console game, as well as for the consoles themselves. For most games these will be scans of the original paper manuals, but some of the unreleased ones have modern digital manuals. Not only is it helpful to have these (Atari games can be hard to understand), it’s also cool to see how the manuals were written back in the day. As a bonus, the comics that came with the Swordquest games are included too.

I would like to recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys retro gaming or is curious about this age of video games. The games run well, and having them on the Switch means you can play them any time. There’s only one problem, and it’s kind of a big one: the price. While the Switch version of Atari Flashback Classics is $20 cheaper than buying all three collections on the other systems, $40 still seems very steep for what we’re getting here. Most of the games aren’t going to keep you occupied for very long, and some you likely won’t play at all. Considering that the Sega Genesis collection on the Switch goes for $30, I’m not sure what they were thinking. I do really enjoy Atari Flashback Classics and I think it’s a great collection, but do yourself a favor and wait until it’s on sale.

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