Atari’s Greatest Hits [iOS] Review

Hot on the heels of my review of the somewhat disappointing Namco Arcade Classics, here’s another collection of retro games given their own app, this time making classic Atari games available to play on your iPhone or iPad.

Atari app game select screen

 

Any retro gamer will surely start salivating at the prospect of playing 100 classic Atari games on the go. And whilst that always remains an enticing prospect, there are a couple of issues that prevent Atari’s Greatest Hits from being the killer retro gaming app you might think.

But let’s start by looking at the positives. First of all, the basic app is free, although that only includes a single game. In fairness, it’s a classic – Missile Command – but if you want more, you’ll have to pay for it via the inevitable in-app purchases (more on this shortly).

There’s also a huge amount of content available, including titles from Atari’s early arcade history and some of its best 2600 titles (oddly, ET does not appear to be available. Perhaps he’s gone home?) True, not all of the titles are brilliant and some have aged badly, but that’s true of most compilations – for every bona fide classic, you have to accept 3 or 4 filler titles.

Presentation is good and the developer has done well giving the app a lick of 21st century paint, whilst leaving the games alone.  The game select screen takes the form of the arcade cabinet (if it’s an arcade port) or box art (it it’s a 2600 title), which is a nice touch that will bring the memories flooding back for those of us old enough to remember the games first time around.

Atari App - centipede

 

Emulation is also good. As you’d expect, there’s no screen flicker and everything runs smoothly. Unlike the Namco collection, the games fill the whole of the screen making them much easier to play and recreating that arcade/TV screen experience. It also means you admire those old graphics in all their 8-bit glory. Of course, viewed by today’s standards, they look a bit, well, naff; but mentally dial your clock back 40 years and they still look pretty impressive.

Sadly, now we have to come to the downsides and there are a couple of biggies.

The first is price, although whether this is a downside or not may depend on your perspective. If you want to pick and choose the titles you buy, you pay 79p per game (although in fairness, in many cases, 79p will buy you a pack of 4 related titles). Alternatively, you can just buy all the remaining 99 games for a one-off payment of £7.99.

I’ve kind of got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the miserly part of me thinks that £8 for a pile of 40 year old games is a blatant rip-off… On the other hand, for just £8, you get 100 games, which seems pretty good value – especially when you consider how much these games would cost if you wanted to buy boxed originals. So it might seem a bit of a cop out, but whether this pack offers value for money really depends on how much spare cash you’ve got and what you consider “reasonable”. The pricing structure is also a hell of a lot more reasonable that the Namco app, where less than a dozen games could cost you up to £25.

The other problem is more serious – the controls. Old games (particularly old arcade games) could be very, very challenging and often relied on fast reactions and a large dollop of luck. Sad to report, the iPhone’s touch screen is not up to the job and the controls prove frustratingly unresponsive. In Missile Command, for example, you control your cursor using a big red button (replicating the original’s trackball) but it’s too sluggish. Too often, by the time the game has responded and launched your missile, the base you are meant to be protecting has been destroyed. Sadly, the controls here render most of the titles I’ve tried unplayable. On the plus side, it is compatible with my iON iCade and other Bluetooth controllers, which improves things no end, but this only works if you already have one. Buying a £50 peripheral just to play these games doesn’t make any sense and it also robs the games of one of their most appealing elements – the ability to play classic Atari games on the go.

It’s a real shame that this app doesn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s a nice idea in theory and if you’ve got a Bluetooth controller, it’s well worth considering. However, the poor native controls make it a no-go if you don’t have an iCade or something similar.

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