If you think about it a bit too much, Fortnite is basically just a ripoff of Pong. Players competing head-to-head until the other is defeated? Projectiles flying (or slowly floating) across the screen? Sure, Fortnite has more players and a bunch of guns and gold karts and online play, but really it all started with Pong.
Pong was the big and popular heated competitive video game way before stuff like Fortnite. Not a lot of younger people will know that, though, because Pong came out almost fifty years ago. Atari isn’t exactly a household name anymore, but if you want to experience video game history for the first time or revisit some classics from your golden days, the Atari Flashback Classics collection has got you covered.
I didn’t grow up playing Atari games, but I’m a sucker for big classic game compilations. Atari Flashback Classics scratches that itch real good, packing 150 games across three different Atari consoles into one package. You probably know about Pong or Centipede, but have you heard of Steeplechase? Did you ever play Xari Arena? Atari Flashback Classics packs every Atari game you could possibly think of into one convenient package, and provides an incredible window into the earliest days of game design.
What makes this collection great is how much care was put into preserving and presenting every piece of the package when it comes to these Atari classics. The sharp, neon-rendered arcade classics display their arcade cabinet art around the sides of the screen as you play them, while home releases from the Atari 2600 and 5200 get their full box art on the main menu. You can even view the full manuals for each of these games, and while a handful of the scans are a bit too blurry to read easily, it’s still a great example of conservation that helps turn this release into an almost museum-like experience.
When you dive into one of these games, a display of the original Atari controller pops up at the bottom of the screen, showing you what each of the buttons on your Switch controller corresponds to from the original home device. While the games themselves are usually only controlled with a stick and one button, you have separate buttons that toggle different game modes, reset the “console” and can even alter the colour rendering. Every aspect of the experience is preserved and recreated here, and it’s a fascinating look into dozens of games that are basic or buggy by today’s standards.
To modernize the experience a bit, Atari Flashback Classics tosses in an achievement system and online multiplayer. The former is a wonderful way to add a bit more incentive to play these games for more than a couple minutes. Asteroids and Breakout can get old pretty quickly, but having an extra goal to shoot for was a nice way to keep me engaged with them for longer than I probably would have been without achievements.
The latter addition, online multiplayer, is an incredible feature that could spawn some truly memorable experiences. You can host or join sessions for any of the included multiplayer games through a lobby list, and customise the aspects of each game before you hop in. The one downside was that I couldn’t find anyone to play with during my time with the game, but with a similarly minded friend, having the option is great.
Obviously, a bunch of 50 year old Atari games aren’t going to have any issues running on the vastly more powerful Nintendo Switch. Once Atari Flashback Classics boots up, you can go through the menu of games and dive into or back out of any of them instantly, with no load times whatsoever. Considering the bite-sized nature of these games, it’s great to be able to hop in and out like that without being bogged down by wait times.
As great as the amount of options and features this package provides is, I wish the main menu was a little more robust. The games are presented to you with 11 scrollable pages, organized alphabetically, with arcade titles at the front and home releases at the back. I wish there were a way to sort the titles in other ways, like by year of release or by number of players. I also desperately wish I could favorite games, or see my most recently played, or do something to curate a personal list of my favorites. Most of these games have incredibly generic titles like Combat or Race or….Combat Two. Having a way to mark the standouts so I wouldn’t have to search through them all to refresh my memory would have really helped.
Many of these games were designed for vertical screens and arcade cabinets, and the collection actually lets you play these in vertical mode on your handheld Switch if you so wish to. It’s really great to be able to experience these games with the proper screen orientation (especially as a recent owner of the Fangamer Flip Grip) and it provides another way to mix up the experience and play these games differently.
Video games have been around for a while now, and they’re going to be around for quite a while to come. For many people, they’re a hobby and something to mess around with when they’re bored, but for others video games are an important part of their life. They’re an important part of my life, for sure. It’s important to know the roots of the bright and feature-rich games we enjoy today, and for many of them, those roots come from classic Atari games. Atari Flashback Collection is a wonderful way to experience gaming history for the first time, or reminisce over your favourites one more time.