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Do you remember when games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, Breakout and Pong were the cutting edge of technology? Well, this new game from Jakks Pacific will take you back to those heady days!
The original Atari console came out around 1980, with its distinctive wood veneer finish fitting in nicely with the décor of the time. The games were available in cartridges, costing around £40 each. Bearing in mind the cost of inflation, this is quite a staggering amount. Now, Jakks Pacific have made a new version of the Atari console, which retails at just £24.99 from most toyshops and department stores, and contains 10 of the most popular games. There are no cartridges required, and not even a big, bulky console, wood veneered or otherwise. This ‘console’ consists solely of a replica of the original Atari joystick, a stubby stick, mounted in a square base, adorned with a few red buttons. All the games are stored within the joystick, which plugs directly into the television, so long as you have the appropriate input connectors (I am not sure what they are called, but there will be a yellow and a white socket next to each other if you have the right ones). If not, an adaptor can be purchased in order to connect to any TV.
The game loads as soon as you move the switch on the joystick to “on”. A welcome screen comes up, and then you are faced with ten games to choose from, which can be selected using the joystick to move around and the fire button to select. The games are:
Pong – an early take on tennis, where you control a paddle which moves up and down, and try to hit a ball back to your opponent.
Breakout – another bouncing ball is used to break through a wall of blocks at the top of the screen, and you control a paddle at the bottom to hit the ball up.
Circus Atari – a variation on the same theme, with a wall of blocks at the top, but this time you control a see-saw on which two clowns bounce up and down to remove the blocks.
Volleyball – self-explanatory, a game of beach volleyball where you control the players on one side of the net to try and score points (the scoring system is a bit of a mystery, however!)
Adventure – a small dot has to be moved through a network of mazes, collecting keys and moving bridges to gain access to different parts of the game.
Missile Command – you have to aim missiles to stop enemy fire and protect a number of cities at the bottom of the screen.
Asteroids – a real classic, you control a small triangle in the centre of the screen and have to shoot at asteroids which are coming towards you, making them break up into smaller pieces.
Centipede – this is similar to space invaders, but in this case your enemy is a centipede moving its way down the screen towards you, together with killer spiders and jumping fleas!
Gravitar – a space-based game where you have to shoot at enemies who are attacking you.
Yar’s Revenge – another space-based shooting game, the object of which I have been unable to fathom!
Unfortunately the classic Space Invaders is nowhere to be seen. This is perhaps due to a licensing issue, as I think it unlikely that the most popular Atari game ever would have been left out for any other reason. Most of the other classics are here though. Each game has an opening screen which explains the object of the game and sets out the controls (normally up, down, left, right and fire – in the absence of any other buttons!) All the games are quite playable at first, although with the lack of controls the majority are variations on one or two themes. Missile Command is my favourite, and the one that has absorbed me for the longest, and Circus Atari is the most amusing because of the little stick figures bouncing up and down, but most of the others become boring within 5 minutes or so, and it is hard to believe that people sat and played them for hours upon end in the 1980s. I suppose it just shows how times change and with the development of ever better technology we require more and more stimulation to interest us.
The graphics of the games are also laughable, as all the images are made up of coloured blocks, although for anyone who spent many a happy hour as a child playing Atari games, they will probably provoke a bout of nostalgia! The sound is equally basic, comprising a combination of beeps at different pitches, and fast becomes irritating. None of the games has any backing music, although a couple of them play you a little tune when you reach a significant milestone in the game!
The joystick is also hard to control. Its design is totally faithful to the original 1980s Atari, and in those days “ergonomic” was probably not even in the dictionary. After half an hour of gripping the hard plastic, my hand aches a bit. The controls are also “on/off” in other words, there is no middle ground where you can move the cursor slowly or move it a tiny bit at a time – it’s either moving or it’s not, leading to jerky movements and extreme frustration in games like Pong and Breakout where I tend to keep missing the ball by an inch or two! Probably when this was the only joystick anyone had ever been used to, it would have been fine, but now that most of us have tried analogue controllers, or joysticks with numerous buttons and functions, it seems basic and clumsy.
All that said, the point of these games, played now, nearly 25 years after their inception, was never really going to be playability, and most of the Atari’s disadvantages are part of its charm. For me, it’s more about nostalgia, and it certainly does take you back. Prior to owning this, my other half bought an original Atari on e-bay, and when we had a party last year, where most of the guests were in their late 20s or early 30s, we set it up on the TV, and it was one of the main attractions for the evening. I can imagine that the Jakks Pacific game would have similar appeal, and it is cheap enough that you could afford to buy it just for an occasion like this, or just to play it occasionally with like-minded friends, to remind yourself of days gone by, as an antidote to the ever improving generations of computer games that today’s children are faced with.
On the packaging, it says “A blast from Mum and Dad’s past” which suggests that it is being marketed at children, which I think is probably a mistake. Show it to your children and they will probably laugh in your face and lose interest within seconds, but buy it for someone who spent their formative years in the early 1980s and they will probably thank you for the reminder of a bygone era when the pleasures in life were much simpler!
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As much as I enjoy games now, part of me yearns for the days of these classics. Missile command....... I remember playing that for hours. Damn those smart bombs (or triangles as most would know them) Great op, that took me right back - David
AnitaM 01.02.2004 16:11
Breakout was one of my favourite games.
FrenchCancan 29.01.2004 12:56
Didn't have one as a kid, but you always knew somebody who knew somebody.. etc.. I do not think I would buy it, though a real Atari console might be appealing. Thanks for the review..