Atari: Anniversary Advance - GBA - Review
The year was 1972; Atari was founded with the sole purpose of creating and delivering digital entertainment to hordes unsuspecting Pong and Space Invaders masters. Atari single-handedly reinvented electronic entertainment and the video game industry has never been the same since. I envision the founding of Atari to be like that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the primates realized that blunt objects could be used for purposes other then looking at. If it wasn't for Atari stepping in and taking the initiative there is no telling where we would be right now technologically and creatively. One thing is for sure though, Atari deserves props for jump-starting the video game revolution, and Atari Anniversary Advance is the perfect way to commemorate Atari's 30th.
This six game compilation packs more old-school entertainment then a potato-gun at a kegger, minus the cameo appearance from local law enforcement. The roster reads like this; Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Super Breakout, and Tempest. Digital Eclipse, the company charged with the development of these titles for the GBA, also included an exclusive Atari trivia game to put your classic arcade knowledge to the test.
To faithfully reproduce these titles of old, Digital Eclipse used what they are calling the 'Meta-Emulation" technique. Surprisingly every game on this cart is a near identical copy of the original. Even going so far as to include small program glitches and bugs that arcade veterans exploited in the golden age of gaming. It is a little ironic to see vector-based graphics on a system that can power over 3000 simultaneous polygons per second, but it goes to show that the GBA is a versatile system with the capability to render antiquated graphics based on mathematical coordinate equations. Most of these games were intended to be used on screens that are taller than they are wide, or for a more accurate depiction imagine a TV turned at a 90 degree angle. By hitting the select button during play the GBA display will rotate the screen so you can play these games in their original form. Holding the GBA at a 90-degree angle may look strange to unsuspecting bystanders, but this is actually the preferred method for some of the games (most notably Centipede).
All the games included on this cart were introduced between 1978 and 1980, and despite their vastly outdated graphics and sound, they still retain the same masterfully balanced gameplay that made them so fun to play. The included Atari trivia game is a fun diversion and offers 75 unique questions, each question that you successfully answer will net you a certain amount of points based on how fast you answer them. Get three questions wrong and you will have to restart. It's a nice touch and it offers a lot of interesting information.
Asteroids is a game that I'm sure most people are familiar with, or have at least heard of. You are a ship trapped in the middle of space with a perpetual supply of space boulders that you must destroy before they tear through your 3-sided space ship. As you destroy the asteroids they split into smaller pieces, until eventually, you completely vaporize the small pebbles. Every now and then a UFO or mini-UFO will appear and attempt to shoot you, killing these flying saucers can be tricky at times due to their maneuverability. At times, you may find it necessary to jet your ship around to get it out of the way of danger, but watch out, moving around too often or too fast will inevitably result in your demise. In desperate situations, you can use the 'hyperspace' button to transport your ship to a random location on the screen.
Battlezone is a game that is most known for its elaborate arcade setup. While the GBA version (obviously) lacks the snazzy arcade face-to-the-plate viewfinder and the color overlays it pulls off the look and feel of the arcade version nicely. This game uses vector graphics to simulate a 3D atmosphere in which you are a tank attempting to destroy other tanks. I didn't take much of a liking to the arcade game and I like this version even less. The action is simply too slow-paced and clunky to be enjoyable.
Centipede is perhaps the most exciting addition to this classic compilation and thanks to its intense action and the ability to turn the screen 90 degrees and play it the way it was intended it is one of the funnest games in the collection. The D-pad takes the place of the original's trackball but emulates the experience nicely. In this game your a dainty pod that is equipped with a zapper, only one bullet can be on the screen at a time. You have the ability to maneuver your pod around the bottom 20% of the screen while centipedes descend from above and various other bugs hop and fly around the screen. There are also mushrooms randomly placed around the stage that can force the giant centipede down the screen if it runs into one. The gameplay is simple, move your pod around and zap mushrooms and enemies with haste. Shooting a centipede will result in it splitting into individual sections, each one independent of the other.
Missile Command pits you in a situation where you must shoot down incoming missiles before they destroy your cities. Three turrets are under your control and you only get 10 bullets per phase. The only requisite that the creators of this game had before going into the development phase was that it be unwinnable, your cities will inevitably be blown up so its a matter of lasting as long as possible. Missile Command requires that you constantly target multiple missiles at the same time; with a trackball, this is doable. With a miniature D-pad, however, its nearly impossible to rack up a respectable score. It should be noted though that Digital Eclipse did a fine job of emulating the analog feel of the original game considering what they had to work with.
Super Breakout is a cool game, I remember seeing it in pizza parlors as a kid but never having a quarter to play it. The object of the game is to destroy rectangular boxes by bouncing a ball off them via a pong-like paddle, for each block you destroy 1 point will be awarded. Steve Jobs came up with the original concept for this game, which was obviously an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Pong. Three different play modes are included; Double, Cavity, and Progressive. These modes of play do extend the enjoyment of the game somewhat but do little to rectify the nagging control issues. The coolest feature of the arcade game was the spin-dial control knob that was used to move the paddle from side to side, so the absence of this feature relegates Super Breakout to nostalgia-only status.
Tempest was released in October 1981 and was Atari’s first demonstration of a graphics scheme they called ‘Technicolor’. Until Zaxxon came along Tempest was the most technically advanced arcade game. Atari 2600 and 5200 owners were clamoring for a port of this game on their home systems, but despite the fact that a straight port was finalized it never saw the light of day. Like Super Breakout, Tempest suffers from the absence of the dial-knob controller. Spinning around wire-frame tunnels and blasting baddies is nowhere near as precise as the arcade original but its still cool to see a perfectly emulated version of this game on the go. Tempest is one of the most sought after arcade cabinets and its not uncommon to see them selling on eBay for over $1000, plus $200 for S&H.
I’m sure tons of classic gaming aficionados will get a real kick out of Atari Anniversary Advance, and playing near-perfect emulated games on the GBA can be incredibly fun for anyone due to the rock-solid gameplay dynamics that these games offer. Unfortunately porting games to a handheld device that lacks the original controls was met with some unsavory results. Despite the control issues, this cart is still worth the price of admission, Digital Eclipse managed to stuff 2500lbs of classic gaming goodness onto one tiny GBA cart.
Back in the day of vectors and overheating PCB boards graphics left a lot to be desired. Luckily, gameplay is something that is not restricted by technological capability. These games offer the epitome of awesome gameplay, something in this day and age is far too easy to overlook.
I’m torn, on one hand the graphics are nearly identical to their 20-year-old counterparts, but on the other hand, the graphics are 20 years old and vastly outdated. If I were to score the visuals of this game against other GBA games currently on the market it would receive a 1.7. However, I’m not going to do that, the graphics score is based on how well they emulate the original arcade presentation.
As with the graphics the sound is nearly carbon-copied straight from the arcade. I’m not sure what kind of trickery Digital Eclipse used to so closely replicate the sound effects but suffice to say they are nearly identical.
Considering that some of these games are simply unbeatable the difficulty level can be incredibly high. The idea back then was that nobody would want to play a game after they beat it, so Atari created these games with that in mind.
Porting classic video games to new hardware is not a new idea and many companies including Namco and Sega have been doing it for quite some time. Rehashing old games is practically a genre in itself.
Some of these games offer 2-player gaming but is unfortunately relegated to using one system. Not to worry though, playing doubles in super breakout just ain’t that fun, single player is the best way to play these games.
If you’ve got a hankering to play classic Atari games on the go or the $200 price tag for shipping a actual arcade cabinet to your door seems a little too pricey then Atari Anniversary Advance is right up your alley.