[18 February 2008]
Retro gaming is all the rage nowadays, don’t you know. Compilations from the likes of Atari, Electronic Arts, Capcom and Activision to download services such as the Xbox Live! Arcade, the PlayStation Network and the Wii’s Virtual Console, gamers and companies alike are basking in the fruits of yesteryear.
And why not? After all, the film industry is raking it in with re-releases of older films that missed VHS and DVD, and of course many films are being re-issued for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. It’s not wrong to want to watch classics such as Al Pacino’s Serpico in a shiny new format, nor for that matter to want to play the original Super Mario Bros. as I did recently via my Wii. A sign of greatness, be it in films or in games, is that something is as enjoyable today as it was upon its initial release. The aforementioned are just two examples of titles that have survived the test of time.
Allowing the kids of today to experience what a generation before them enjoyed while also enabling said generation to relive some of their golden memories from when they were just knee high, is a profitable exercise for both consumer and business alike. Obviously a key factor in enjoying these golden oldies (other than that of the games in question still being of high quality) is of course nostalgia, an emotion that at times can blind even the most stable minded man.
You see, when Super Mario Bros. first came out, I was nothing more than a toothless baby, so in reality it holds very little nostalgic value. So Pong (one of eleven games included in this collection), for instance, which was released long before I was born, means squat all to me on a nostalgic level. You won’t find any rose–tinted glasses here, and thankfully so, because I am somewhat loathe to declare that this compilation contains quite possibly some of the most mind numbingly boring games in existence.
Nearly 40 years of Atari’s lineage are all contained in one tiny little UMD (I wonder if the kids of the ‘70s would have ever have believed that). I don’t mean to disrespect what are undeniably some of the most important titles in this industry that I enjoy both working and playing in, but truth be told, these games are awful.
Missile Command seems oddly relevant again…
The full list is as follows: Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, Super Breakout, Missile Command, Lunar Lander, Asteroids Deluxe, Tempest, Battlezone, Millipede and Warlords. Most are variants on the shooter genre, while Pong should be self explanatory.
Then we have the ‘Evolved’ option. This is quite possibly the most pointless update since Transformers’ Soundwave became “New Soundwave” (Transformers: Headmasters fans should agree). Evolved takes the original games and completely bastardises them with an unnecessary, generic graphical overhaul, which at times can actually make things harder to play. It also adds an embarrassing techno/rock soundtrack which serves to reinforce the stereotypical image of gamers as, well, techno-loving nerds!
In fact, most of presentation in the game just seems out of place. While the arcade cabinets at the main menu which grant access to each game is a cute touch, the overly sombre tone and the retro chic that Atari have gone for just comes across as passé. To heighten problems further, the controls for many of the games feel inaccurate and way, way too loose, with Lunar Lander in particular worse now than it was back in the arcades. To lay blame on the PSP would be unjust, and the problem should simply be put down to lazy programming.
...and the ping is back in Pong.
Funnily, though, the load times are pretty much the only aspect that this compilation gets right—well, half right. Whereas some games load in seconds, taking you to and from the main menu in a blink of an eye, others, namely the ORIGINAL Pong, can take up to 20-30 seconds to load! Think about that, it’s just three white lines for crying out loud!
Just as Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles proved, you can do all sorts of fancy graphic wizardry (or not so fancy in this case) and pack your package with loads of titles, but if you don’t go back and fix the core problem (i.e. the gameplay, you know, the most important aspect of any title) your game will simply crash and burn. The term Evolved applies so loosely here, you really wonder why they even bothered adding it, other than to dupe a couple of sorry souls into thinking they were getting something new.
These games were never that much fun to begin with and they’re just worse now; attempting to land a rocket ship on the moon wouldn’t even pass as a free flash game nowadays. Atari was undoubtedly one of the key players in shaping this industry and their problems today are well documented, but looking into their past isn’t the solution, looking and moving forward is. The sad truth of the matter is that their illustrious past isn’t so illustrious today.