Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration Nintendo Switch Review

Atari 50 shows the beauty of the company's ugly truths in a lovingly produced package.

By Daavpuke, Posted 17 Nov 2022

In founder Nolan Bushnell's own words, Atari hasn't always been in the best hands. You could argue that with metaverse casinos or shady cryptocurrency projects, the current company isn't exactly in a great place either. Therefore, something called Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration has some weighted expectation hanging over it. With developer Digital Eclipse at the helm, however, at least this package can count on the reputation of the industry's best in conservation efforts. The result is a marriage of both legacies, as real and dirty as that gets.

There are two main components to this collection. The first part is the historical timeline, where the game starts. Every step Atari has taken is in this compendium, from its space cabinet start to eventually bowing out and skipping to the current day. You don't really want to know what the company was doing in those few missing decades. For what it's worth, I liked Asteroids: Outpost, as a concept. Anyway, what is there is a detailed look at almost every milestone, from game boxes to unreleased projects, backed up by a series of recent interviews with Atari alumni.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, Nintendo Switch, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed

There is enough material in this opening portion of Atari 50 that counting it as an online museum isn't an exaggeration. Digital Eclipse spares no detail in illustrating the history of the company. For example: At some point, they show a coupon that an employee was given, instead of a cash bonus, which led them to go off on their own. The actual coupon is in there! That's the level of burrowing that happens here. Digital Eclipse understands that fans, the ones who would buy this thing, literally don't need any curation on what's relevant. Show it all; it's all good stuff. Even after seeing every blip, I'd still happily like to know more, which speaks to the quality of this informational package.

There is a slight blemish in the entirety of the compendium, such as a crease in a scan or some video compression issues, but nothing egregious. The only standout is the unfortunate habit of arcade history to deadname their trans peers, who built their reputation under a different name. You could've just told me their current name and I wouldn't have blinked at the accuracy of this information, as no other part of this collection has any errors. The trans person in question is addressed correctly in every other mention, so Digital Eclipse clearly knows the ramifications, which makes this decision even more disheartening. It's a small misstep in an otherwise immaculate timeline, but it does need to stop happening.

The second part of Atari 50 is, naturally, the collection of over 100 notable games. Aside from the classics that everyone should know, some prototypes and homebrew stuff gets sprinkled in as well. Digital Eclipse even reimagined a handful of games.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, Nintendo Switch, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed

One of the biggest barriers Atari games face is that they're now too arcane to return to. At its best, a game is very rudimentary and, at its worst, even checking the provided manual isn't enough to get a handle on some of these brutal releases. As such, the enjoyment of this catalog can differ wildly. If anything, it may require a lot of patience to play some of these games. The staff was radiant about Star Raiders, but even after carefully trying it several times, this sci-fi simulation is still a mystery to me. Additionally, the manual being in a nested submenu isn't ideal. Luckily, you can get used to checking every menu first, which also counts for non-standardized controls, before diving in.

Not every game is a winner here, though that part isn't exactly a problem. In fact, it's kind of nice that Atari 50 includes absolute stinkers, particularly from later consoles. There is a basketball game that's clunky as a brick or a Jaguar game that is so incredibly bad that I can't believe anyone would admit to making it. The issue with this collection isn't the quality of the spread. Take in the good and the bad, to know what it was really like "back in the day." You got what you got back then and sometimes you got Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy; a side-scrolling shooter with so much garbage on the screen that it is an incomprehensible mess.

Rather, the biggest problem with Atari 50 is the same issue as all these collections run into: Licensing. While there is a fleeting mention that other games existed, most of what you'll get here is what Atari made in-house. This forceful focus presents two problems. For one, you won't see genuine classics like Pitfall or River Raid; names that are synonymous with Atari consoles. I understand not paying Activision for my personal favorite, Keystone Kapers, even though designer Garry Kitchen is prominently featured here. Not paying up for something like Space Invaders, however, makes this list feel incomplete. Hey, "you get what you get" goes both ways, apparently.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, Nintendo Switch, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed

The second, most annoying problem is that this absence is enlarged by the sheer amount of repeated content throughout systems. Not counting alterations like Space Duel or conversions like Liberator, Atari 50 lists:

5 of Breakout
5 of Missile Command
6 of Asteroids
6 of Centipede

Some, like Miner 2049er, even have ports that admit that they're inferior to another slot in the package. That also means that for the later consoles, the spread is pretty thin. The Lynx has only five games, with three of them being a port. The 800 also has five slots, with one sequel and an, admittedly awesome, homebrew release. It is incredibly deflating to find these gems buried within a mountain of the same games. It's understandable that Atari 50 wants to focus on Atari, the company, but for any enthusiast, that name stands for a console and not a brand. The extension shown here in iteration should've also included at least some versatility, if for no other reason than historical purposes. Locking a few titles behind a cryptic puzzle is equally confusing.

Still, what is there in the available selection is enough to keep anyone interested for ages. Some standouts include the unreleased color splash of Akka Arrh, Food Fight, Fire Truck,Tempest 2000 and the insane Ninja Golf. That game is exactly what it sounds like: You're a ninja and you're trying to golf. Video games used to be good.

Even the reimagined content tries its best to compete with the classics. A game like VCTR-SCTR attempts to recreate the magic of playing with simple vector lines, phosphorus glow and all, but through a current day lens. If anything, these few releases connect the feeling of games then to now, making it a bit easier to figure out how someone could have hours of fun with something as simple as Breakout.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, Nintendo Switch, Review, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed

Moreover, hopping in and out of a game is smooth as silk. Not one game has ever had as much as a hitch. Where applicable, the screen also gets enhanced with some helpful interface, like a gearshift or a button prompt. Atari 50 tries its absolute hardest to facilitate people to play some of these artifacts. This is particularly handy in the Swordquest series, where just emulation wouldn't be enough, as you'd need the comic that was complementary to the game. So, yes, of course the comic is included here, in a scan as high in quality as you could probably find it. The trilogy is still, as the creator says, audacious at best, but the comics are worth the effort by themselves.

As an archival effort, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration is, indeed, a joyous effort. In fact, it's arguable that this is the best that Atari has put out in recent years. The historical timeline alone is a pristine and impressive feature, as only developer Digital Eclipse can make it. And while the game selection has plenty of pitfalls, pun intended, there is enough to go around, both for classics as well as rare items. Once again, you could be playing Ninja Golf, legally, right now. Who doesn't want to do that? Alternatively, it's possible to find out that the Lynx version of Asteroids is, for some reason, the iteration that has aged the most gracefully. If you really, really wanted to, you could even play Fight For Life on Jaguar, though I strongly recommend against it. That's just what it was like sometimes, back in my day.

Daav Valentaten (@DaavPuke)
Editor-In-Chief, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC
Publisher(s): Atari, Inc.
Developer(s): Digital Eclipse
Genres: Fighting
Themes: Retro, Shooter, Platform
Release Date: 2022-11-11

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