With Atari’s 50th anniversary happening this week, the company has revealed Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration. This classic compilation of games stretches beyond the standard game-collection bundles we’ve seen in the past, with aspirations of serving as a virtual, interactive museum to paint a picture of just how influential and important Atari was, particularly through the nascent years of the video game industry. I went hands-on with Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration to see how well it accomplishes that lofty goal.
At its core, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration delivers more than 90 playable games in one $40 package. Players can expect classic and retro titles from six hardware platforms (Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, ST, Jaguar, and Lynx), all with emulation created by renowned retro revivalists Digital Eclipse; this is the first time Jaguar and Lynx games will be playable on modern consoles. The team at Digital Eclipse, best known recently for its work on Mega Man Legacy Collection, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, The Disney Afternoon Collection, and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, has plenty of experience bringing forward the classics of yesteryear.
Atari touts that Digital Eclipse will provide best-in-class emulation and modern quality-of-life enhancements for the enormous number of retro Atari mainstays present in Atari 50. “When it comes to emulation or bringing classics back or doing really any sort of remastering or reimagining, I don’t know if there’s anybody who does it better than Digital Eclipse, so they were always our first choice,” Atari CEO Wade Rosen says. “[Digital Eclipse president] Mike Mika is a savant when it comes to Atari history and gaming history in general, so they always take great care to not just provide the games, but provide a really innovative way to experience them and the history around them. For something as big as the 50th, it was the only studio that we felt could properly capture all of that.”
With so many games at your fingertips, trying to find the one you’re looking for (or even just browsing in general, for that matter) could potentially be a daunting task. Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration combats this by providing various sorting options. When you enter a game in the collection, you can choose to learn more about the title or jump right into the action. You can apply filters, borders, and different screen options, read the instruction manual, and even remap the buttons.
But the collection doesn’t stop there, as Digital Eclipse also created six new games that pay homage to or revisit classics from Atari’s past. For example, the developer created the fourth chapter of Swordquest, Airworld, and made a modern 3D isometric adventure based on Haunted House. Atari 50 will also include Vctr Sctr, a title that celebrates the vector era of gaming with combinations of various arcade classics including Asteroids and Tempest in one experience, Neo Breakout, a two-player competition that combines Breakout and Pong, Quadratank, a new four-player entry in the Tank series, and Yars’ Revenge Reimagined, which applies modern graphics to the best-selling first-party Atari 2600 game. Yars’ Revenge Reimagined is a ton of fun, and I love how you can swap between the original and modern graphics with a push of a button, but Vctr Sctr is perhaps my favorite new game of the bunch with how it seamlessly transitions you from one game style to the next.
On top of the playable games, Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration aims to give players unprecedented access to many of the people who helped Atari become one of the biggest names in gaming in the industry’s early days. Atari 50 includes more than 60 minutes of exclusive interviews with important people in the video game industry; Atari alumni like the creator of Pong Al Alcorn and Yars’ Revenge creator Howard Scott Warshaw are joined by other games industry members to give insight into the company’s biggest successes, struggles, and overall impact on the industry. You can also view other historical assets, like photographs from the early days of the company, design sketches and memos, and even ads that ran in magazines.
From my time sifting through the robust offerings of this new compilation, it feels like a fitting tribute to the importance of one of gaming’s most influential and important companies. It’s no secret that many of these Atari titles haven’t aged as well as games from the subsequent eras, but that’s perhaps the biggest reason why I’m looking forward to this collection: It provides small quality-of-life improvements to make these games slightly more enjoyable in 2022. I’m excited to dig deeper into the history and nostalgia when Atari 50: The Celebration comes to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Atari VCS, and PC this holiday season.