Atari Classics Evolved Review
We've seen tons of compilations of classic games on consoles big and small over the last decade, and Atari has been one of the most prolific publishers of their classic games. Their newest one is Atari Classics Evolved which gives us classic and "evolved" versions of some excellent classic arcade titles along with a nice selection of hits from the first massively popular home console, the Atari 2600.
The list of classic titles, all with original and "evolved" versions with new graphics and sound, goes like this: Millipede, Super Breakout, Battlezone, Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe, Pong, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Tempest, Warlords, and Centipede. Some of these have been seen before, with their updated versions, on Xbox Live Arcade, but several are new. Unfortunately, not all are really great games, and a different subset of them use that awkward vertical play style where you hold the PSP at a 90 degree angle. There's a bigger control issue, though, and that is with the number of arcade games that originally used a spinner knob or trackball for control. The analog stick just isn't enough of a substitute, so games like Centipede, Millipede, Warlords, and yes, Pong all suffer. One thing I found interesting is that Pong comes with four "skins" which fundamentally change the physics as well as the viewpoint, making it very different to play.
If I had to choose one game out of the main 11 that I enjoyed the most, it's probably the Evolved version of Warlords. As you progress through the levels your shields protecting your king are different, requiring different strategies, and your AI opponents get smarter in a way that doesn't just make it look like the game could always deflect the ball but is purposely letting it get past (it's probably bad form to pick on a 30-year-old game, but Pong is really guilty of this). It's fast and furious and it's one of the better conversions to the new graphics as the gameplay actually feels a lot better than the original. Others, like Missile Command with the colored sky background, seem to only get worse with all the graphics, and overall you'll find a lot of shininess and video game bling in these versions that can sometimes get in the way of the simplistic action.
My biggest issue with this Atari Classics Evolved, though, is that one of the bigger selling points - the 58 Atari 2600 games included - have to be unlocked by winning all 4 awards from each of the main games. This adds up to 44 total awards, some of which I have found to be really frustrating and tough to win, and you are totally locked out of all the Atari 2600 games until you complete all 44 of them. This would have been much better if each award unlocked one or two games at a time so that you can at least get something you can't get one of the awards. Even beyond the difficulty there's frustration, too, as there are challenges that ask you to do something like not die until you've gained a free life - and there's no "restart game" option in the menus. Instead, if you miss the chance for awards like this, you just have to just repeatedly die on purpose until you're back at the menu.
Once you do get the games unlocked, you'll find some excellent 2600 classics here. The highlights are Crystal Caverns, Yars' Revenge, Night Driver, Haunted House, the RealSports series, Combat, Adventure, and the 2600 versions of the headlining arcade games that actually got ports (which is most of them). The emulation on these is pretty much perfect, and while it's going to be tough for those that didn't grow up playing the 2600 to appreciate such simplistic graphics and gameplay, they still do have their charm.
From the multiplayer side of things, Atari has let us down a little bit. Only a couple of the games (Warlords and Battlezone) have ad-hoc wireless multiplayer, and a few will let you alternate to take turns in two-player action on a single PSP. Both of the wireless-enabled titles are also only two players (a shame for Warlords, which was designed for four-player action) and there's no wireless game sharing feature, so both people will need a copy of the game. On the upside, Atari Classics Evolved will only set you back $20, so it's not too bad. Overall, this game's got more than you might expect for the price, but it's still missing things that serious retro gamers on the go are looking for. Grab this one if you enjoy the main arcade games (or if you're a 2600 fan and are up for the pain of getting all the awards), but don't expect much out of the somewhat awkward controls or the multiplayer.