Atari Flashback Classics Review

Atari Flashback Classics is probably the largest game collection you'll find on any console, giving you 150 games drawn from the early days of arcades and the Atari 2600 and 5200 consoles, and with the Switch they're available to you on the go as well. Quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality, though, and while there are some true classics in this collection, there are far more games here that have aged terribly over the decades.

The arcade games included in this collection run the gamut from true classics to games that failed to stand the test of time by the time the mid-80s rolled around. The latter group includes games that you've probably never heard of outside of Pong, and a number of these are driving/racing games with touchy controls, blocky graphics, and rudimentary gameplay. They'll all likely be "one and done" games for you. While these games could hardly be called classics, you will find some arcade games here that are. Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, and Tempest are all included, as well as Lunar Lander, Super Breakout, and Crystal Castles, and sequels like Asteroids Deluxe and Millipede. The vector-based game Red Baron is included, but its more famous cousin Battlezone is not. All of these games are faithful recreations of the originals, and include the bezel art around the screens that appeared on the original cabinets. Those games that mounted their monitors in portrait orientation can be played in that format by rotating your Switch in handheld mode. While the gameplay has been successfully recreated in these games, the responsiveness of the controls varies widely between the games.

Atari Flashback Classics screenshot 2

Playing some games feels just like playing the originals - Asteroids and Centipede, for example. Others are nearly impossible to play because of the controls such as Missile Command and Red Baron. Missile Command was played with a trackball in the arcades and it just hasn't been replicated in any usable form in Atari Flashback Classics, which is odd since the trackball-controlled Centipede plays just fine. The Joy-Con stick pushes the cursor across the screen at a snail's pace, making it extremely difficult to make it past the third wave in the game. There's an on-screen trackball controller, but it works about as well as the thumb stick. Red Baron was originally controlled by a joystick which is essentially a large thumb stick, so the terrible responsiveness of the controls here is a mystery. There seem to be as many control issues as there are games here. Tempest, originally controlled with a spinner in the arcades is inexplicitly controlled by moving the stick left and right, which means when you reach the top of the screen on the game's circular levels the controls feel like they become reversed since you'll need to push right to move left when you're at the top of the screen. Letting you move the stick 360 degrees would have been a far better way to mimic a spinner.

The Atari 2600 games make up the bulk of this collection, accounting for 102 of its 150 games. These games don't suffer from control issues as the 2600 came with a single stick controller with one button and the Joy-Con can mimic that perfectly. The 2600 was an 8-bit console with 128 bytes of memory, so the graphics in these games are pretty primitive. Some of the more classic arcade style games hold up OK, although a number of these are just versions of the same games you'll find in the arcade collection. It's interesting seeing some of the imagination that went into crafting games made of primitive blocks and a handful of colors, and some are so esoteric that you'd be lost if were not for the inclusion of the original manuals for each of the games. The sports games are all throwaways, simply being too primitive to be fun unless you came of age during the 2600 era and are looking to revisit your youth. Many titles are simply here to pad out the collection's size - you're not going to spend any time playing Basic Math or Checkers.

Atari Flashback Classics screenshot 5

Also included are 16 games from the 5200 console, although a chunk of these are ports of the same arcade games you'll find in the other collections. The 5200 came with a controller covered in buttons, and these are replicated by buttons placed around the edge of the screen that can be touched in portable mode or accessed with the D-pad when the Switch is docked. I can't say that I found any of the 5200 games compelling enough to ignore, or at least tolerate, the awkward interface.

There are a few gems in this collection, and a few gems that have been roughed up by poorly implemented controls, but the vast majority of the games here will only appeal to those who have strong feelings of nostalgia towards them. It's nice that many games include achievements and support online multiplayer and leaderboards, but if you're not having much fun with the games, what's the point? Atari Flashback Classics would have been a stronger collection if it had fewer games and more effort could have been put into making them play as well as the originals. As it stands, though, this collection is strictly for the hardcore gaming classicist.

Final Rating: 65% - Quantity over quality makes this collection less classic than it could have been.


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