Ah, the video game compilation. Every few years we see them, bundling games of yesteryear for a budget price. We’ve seen them for Mega Man, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros, and so on. Lately we’ve even seen Re-mastered collections for Uncharted, God Of War, Gears Of War, Halo just to name a few. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of collections centered around the Golden age of consoles. Especially the Atari 2600.
PROS: Online multiplayer. Content for enthusiasts. 100 games!
CONS: There could have been some better titles included. Limited controller options.
PADDLES: Sadly, nothing has compared to them in nearly four decades.
So what makes Atari Vault stand out from other Atari 2600 compilations that have come, and gone over the years? There are actually a few nice features here. This is one of the biggest compilations of Atari games yet. In the past we’ve seen a disc of 20 games or a disc of 80 games. Usually dumped ROMs in a sub par emulator for whatever platform. The game shows up in stores, you pick it up. Done. Every so often a better than average one would show up with nicer emulation, and maybe some historical backgrounds. Other times there would be a terrible remake bundled with the original game.
Atari Vault doesn’t feel slapdash at all. You get 100 games. Some of which are not Atari 2600 games, but Atari arcade games. Right away this shows that effort went in. Why? Because Atari actually had a complicated history after the crash of 1983/84. The company was originally founded by Nolan Bushnell. Eventually Time-Warner (Warner Bros.) bought the company from him. But when the crash happened, Atari was essentially broken up into two entities. Time-Warner sold the home division to Jack Tramiel. He had been ousted from Commodore, the company he founded. So from 1983 to around 1997 his family owned the half of the company that made the 2600, 5200, 7800, Lynx, and the Atari Jaguar. As well as a long line of successful computers 400/800, XE, and ST. Time-Warner still owned the arcade division which they eventually sold to Midway. When Midway exited the arcade business Atari Games became Midway Games West. In a bit of irony, when Midway hit hard times they ended up being bought out by Time-Warner. Of course after the Jaguar tanked, the Tramiel family ended up selling Atari Corporation to JTS, a hard drive manufacturer. JTS started to flag, and sold Atari to Hasbro. When Hasbro had no success with it, they sold it off to Infogrames, who changed their name to Atari.
In short, there were probably many months figuring out what Time-Warner has the rights to, what Infogrames/Atari has the rights to, and what may have slipped between the cracks. So it is pretty astonishing to see that this collection does give you both, arcade, and 2600 games to play. That being said, this is also the reason why you may not see some of your favorite games included. It’s disappointing. But at least it is understandable.
Still, with 100 games in the compilation you’re bound to find several you do like. There are the commons like Combat, Flag Capture, Canyon Bomber, Haunted House, Breakout, and Warlords. Interestingly, they also have a couple of prototypes, and unreleased 2600 games included here. There are even a number of uncommon games that came out near the end of the 2600’s long life cycle. Basically you have over a decade of 2600 history here.
But the inclusion of the arcade games is another big reason you might consider picking this collection up. You get a pretty good selection of them, and many of them were games that used a Trackball. Missile Command, Centipede, Millipede, and Crystal Castles are here in their glory. What’s really nice is that you can play these with the mouse. If you happen to have a trackball mouse you’ll definitely love playing these. The developers at Code Mystics have gone above, and beyond too. Because they retooled their emulator’s inputs to mimic the response time of the arcade machines’ trackballs. So if you have a high dpi setting, expect to see some lag if you spin your cursor around thinking you’re going to have an edge. You’re not. The games really do play pretty close to the original machines.
Only the players with an encyclopedic knowledge of how those games played will really see a vast difference. They play great. Every game in the collection does. On top of this, every game has the appropriate machine decals bordering the screens, and there are even start button models displayed below to make things feel as authentic as possible.
But the extra hard work doesn’t end there. They painstakingly tracked down Atari arcade cabinet art to scan in. The arcade manuals, and flyers are here to read. The arcade machines themselves, are modeled, and animated as you select what game to play. This carries over into the 2600 games too. Each 2600 game featured here has a box model textured with the original retail box art on it. Front, back, and spines. They also managed to track down every manual for every cartridge featured in the collection. So when you go to look at the controls, you’ll actually be seeing scans of the manual that came in the box when the game came out. They even have the original 1977 console manual scanned in here. They didn’t just dump ROMs into an emulator, and call it a day. They put in a lot of historical research, and time into getting a nice presentation down.
If all of that isn’t enough for you though, Atari Vault also has internet multiplayer. You can play all of the games in the collection against other people. For most of the games you’ll still prefer playing these games the way we did 30 years ago, computer hooked up to the Television, with controllers. But for some of the games like Combat, internet multiplayer can actually make things feel fresh. It’s pretty great, and in my tests I didn’t run into much in the way of lag. It’s really worth checking out.
If I had any complaints with the compilation it would have to be with the controller options. Every game will have different ways you can play depending on the title. Most of them will let you play with the keyboard, and the arcade trackball games give you the aforementioned mouse option, which again, works great. But Code Mystics doesn’t seem to like to put in options for a variety of game pad controllers. If you have an Xbox 360 controller, you’re gold. That controller works flawlessly. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the game to see my Steam controller, nor could I use my USB Retrobit controller, which is a perfect fit for collections like this one. These were the developers behind porting Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection to the PC, and I had the same complaint with that compilation. If you want to use a controller, you pretty much have to have Xbox 360 controllers.
The other problem, which I can’t really levy at Code Mystics, is that nothing compares to a paddle controller. You can play classic 2600 games like Warlords, and Demons to Diamonds with a mouse, keyboard, or Xbox 360 controller but none of them will give you the feel of a paddle. Paddle controllers had a dial that you would use to move your character, and it just has a spot on, responsive feel that nothing has replicated in almost 40 years. About the closest you can get is using the mouse controls, which I would implore you to do. These games simply don’t feel as responsive using a game pad or a keyboard. A mouse will give you the precision you need, even if it does come up a little short in the feel. If you played a lot of Circus Atari as a child, it is still a lot of fun to play here, but it might take you a few rounds to get accustomed to using something else.
Overall though, I highly recommend this collection. True, the selection of games could stand to be a little bit better. But considering the history of the company, and the rights hell some of those games may fall under it is understandable. There are a lot of good games here anyway. The internet play reinvigorates some of these titles, and finally having a legitimate way to play classic arcade games like Centipede is a boon. It’s a great bundle for older fans who might not have their physical 2600 collection anymore. It’s also a great bundle for younger fans who are interested in what came before.
While not every game featured here has held up, most of them have stood the test of time with their rock solid game mechanics. These games are fun. If you’ve played them before, revisit them again. If you’ve never played them because you weren’t around for them, have an open mind. Check them out, you might be pleasantly surprised. Just make sure you have some Xbox 360 controllers for the games that didn’t use a trackball.
Final Score: 8 out of 10