A couple of years ago, I was driving along Miami Beach in my day-glo pink convertible, machine gun on my lap and Bryan Adams blasting out of my speakers, when a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, an advert for a new toy crackled on to the airwaves. Guys, I laughed so hard, I nearly peed myself.
It went like this:
Are you tired of dad?
Dad, no one wants to hear your stupid Vietnam stories.
Are you tired of mom?
Hi angel, do you want to read a book or go outside?
The arcade comes to your living room, only without the creepy guys offering to show you puppies!
The Degenatron, you can play video games just like you are in the arcade!
Of course, that wasn’t the case. The Degen… err, Atari VCS 2600 was a console made in 1977 (the same year as Star Wars - nearly 30 years ago now kids), which had 128 bytes of ram (yeah really - that’s roughly two lines of text) trying to emulate early 80s arcade boards. Obviously it was always going to be a little bit rubbish (it had wooden panelling, for crying out loud) but we weren’t allowed in arcades on our own so we made the best with what we had, hounding our parents for ‘that cool new game’ in the same way that kids do now, although in them days parents really didn’t ‘get it’. The way you young guys will look at these games in disbelief is the same way grown ups looked at them 20 years ago, i.e. with considerable disdain.
The degenatron gaming system plays three exciting games including Defender of the Faith where you save the green dots with your fantastic flying red square.
The basic idea behind this Atari Anthology is I suppose more a history lesson than anything and for that it should be commended, but in longevity terms comparing these titles to their contemporary counterparts would be like comparing noughts and crosses to chess - no contest I think you’ll agree. These were games of their times and, to put it bluntly, they were the best we could get so we played them. Looking back it’s amazing what we tolerated. The pioneers of their time stick in your memory - Asteroids for example was ‘my game’ in the early 80s - but so much of what was available was such laughable rubbish that it’s often embarrassing to look, and compilations like this are good at reminding us of that.
In which case, it’s quite easy to predict how the majority of us will play Atari Anthology. Pioneering classics - mostly arcade originals like the afore mentioned Asteroids, Pong, Breakout, Missile Command, etc - will be treasured and pulled out once in a blue moon, just for old times’ sake. The so-so home versions, however, suffer a different fate.
Monkey’s Paradise where you swing from green dot to green dot with your red square monkey.
Take as a perfect example a ropey VCS title called ‘Dodge ‘Em’. You select the game, laugh at the amazingly primitive graphics and wince at the diabolical plink-plonk sound. When you’ve composed yourself it’s time to start the game, and enter the frustrating first couple of minutes of trying to work out what you have to do. Oh, I’ve crashed, into you, was I not supposed to do that? Right, I see, it’s called ‘Dodge ‘Em’, I have to dodge you - got it. How come I can’t collect the little dots, Pac-Man stylee, but you can? Oh I see, we take it in turns to collect the little dots. So let’s recap, I bomb round this very simple maze collecting dots until you manage to run into me. Then it’s your go to do the same. Right. Shall we play another game then?
And Penatrator where you smash the green dots deep inside the mysterious red square.
And that’s the problem with Atari Anthology - it just gets boring really quickly, which is no surprise considering how old the games are. All the games have been recreated as realistically as possible (except for the vector graphics titles - these all look a bit forced mainly because graphics chips aren’t designed to handle this kind of thing any more) and that’s all very nice but it doesn’t really detract from the fact that this era has long gone. It’s like watching a silent movie - they’re ropey as hell but they must have been popular at the time as so many people watched them.
But just because these titles ruled the world over 20 years ago, it doesn’t mean we should have to play them again. For full-on nostalgia fans or video game historians, this is a must purchase, hence the reasonably generous score below. For the rest of us, however, why not try this site instead - you get to play crap arcade games but you don’t have to pay for them…
The Degenatron brings arcade realism to your living room. It can even take quarters and a strange sweaty man comes by to empty the machine on Fridays.
Degenatron, fighting the evil of boredom.
I’ll never go to school again!
Incidentally, these are all the VCS 2600 titles on the disc…
Atari 3D Tic Tac Toe
Atari Air-Sea Battle
Asteroids Home Version
Atari Video Cube
Battlezone Home Version
Centipede Home Version
Crystal Castles Home Version
Demons to Diamonds
Atari Dodge ‘Em
Atari Flag Capture
Fun With Numbers
Gravitar Home Version
Atari Home Run
Atari Math Grand Prix
Atari Maze Craze
Millipede Home Version
Missile Command Home Version
Off the Wall
Super Breakout Home Version
Warlords Home Version
…And these are the Arcade originals.
Oh, and for the record I wasn’t really driving down the Miami Beach front and I don’t own a machine gun, but I think you get my drift…
Six out of ten