Miss the 80’s? Long for bygone days of gaming on your trusty Atari 2600? Have fond recollections of eagerly waiting to add the next arcade game translation to your collection of Atari ROM cartridges? No?! Me either. Those old game consoles made a ‘turbo-powered’ beeline for the scrapheap of history for a good reason: something better came along. So, why would you want to pay $29.99 for a collection of the old Atari games? You would because, despite the advances of gaming platforms, those old, simple games are still fun. You can also get seven of those games on an MMC (SD-compatable) card and you can play them anywhere your PDA goes. But best of all is that, this time, you won’t have to do your homework first.
The main launch screen showing the seven available games.
You get seven games with Mobile Digital Media’s Atari Retro: Adventure, Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Missile Command, Pong, and Yar’s Revenge. You don’t have to waste anytime figuring out the changes that occurred in the translation of Atari 2600 games to PDA format. There have been no changes. Everything is exactly like you left it on your 2600, except now your game system and TV display fit in the palm of your hand, and seven games fit on a card the size of a postage stamp. The fidelity of the translation, from the graphics to the movement to the game play, is impressive. This is good and bad. The good part is, for those familiar with the old Atari , playing will be intuitive. Those not familiar with the these classics can pick up the game play in about 5 minutes. There is a truly useful integrated on-screen help feature for each game if you have trouble. The bad part is the original Atari graphics. The graphics, to be frank, stink.. The title screen feature some nice artwork, but the game screens are much different. They were bad in the 70’s/80’s, they look primordial now. Suffice to say: they do not begin to push the capabilities of any color PDA on the market today. The only good thing that can be said about them is that the small screen size of the PDA is a mercy. The game play is very solid, however, and the action is challenging. Their disarming simplicity and demanding game play and makes them perfect distractions. The games are easy to put down if need be, and it is equally easy to waste some serious time staying alive and racking up points. In essence, they are easy to learn but harder to master. To make things more interesting, three of the games (Breakout, Asteroids, and Missile Command) have additional variations. Note that one of the games, Adventure, is not an “action/reflex” game like the others and thus the game play descriptions do not apply.
The on-screen instructions are useful and complete.
You shoot rocks into pixel powder until you clear the screen. The asteroids get more plentiful and faster as you progress. The goal is to destroy as many asteroids as possible without getting tagged by one. Players can maneuver their ship by rotating their ship left or right and using their rear thrusters to propel themselves. When an asteroid is hit by a shot, it may break up into smaller asteroids or it may be completely pulverized. In some game variations you’ll face additional space hazards such as satellites and UFOs both of which complicate your game by trying to shoot you.
Asteroids title screen (top screen), and game screen (bottom screen) showing the ship (center of screen, firing) surrounded by asteroids.
Move your paddle at the bottom of the screen to direct the bouncing ball that knocks out the bricks at the top of the screen. The goal is to knock out all the bricks at the top of the screen. If you miss hitting a ball, it disappears. You get a five balls per game. Multiple variations of this game allow for a stealth wall, steerable balls, and the ability to ‘catch’ the ball.
Breakout title screen (top screen), and game screen (bottom screen) with the paddle at the bottom, wall at the top and the ball in the middle.
Shoot the centipede, bugs and mushrooms to rack up points and to stay alive. The centipede flows down from the top of the screen each hit of the centipede will turn the hit section into a mushroom the the remaining sections will keep coming. For more fun various bugs bounce across the lower part of the screen trying to bite you or poison your mushrooms.
Centipede title screen (top screen), start screen (middle screen), and game screen (right screen) showing centipede (red) working its way through the mushroom (blue horizontal lines) field down toward the shooter (blue square) and the spider (green, screen lower right).
Use the cross hair (really a line) to direct your fire at the incoming missiles and destroy them before they destroy your cities. The goal is to preserve your cites for as long as possible. There two types of incoming missiles: ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’. The dumb missiles fall in a straight path, the smart ones will try to avoid being shot. You have 30 of your own missiles per wave for defending your cities.
Missile Command title screen (top screen), and game screen (bottom screen) showing incoming missiles and the anti-missile explosions above the remaining cities.
Players control a fly armed with missiles and trying to destroy the ‘Qotile’, screen right. The Qotile is armed with ‘swirls’ to destroy player’s flies. A neutral zone in the center of the screen provides players protection from destroyer missiles that move around the playing field but also prevents players from shooting missiles. Players can still be destroyed by swirls in the neutral zone. The object of the game is to penetrate the shield via missiles or contact and destroy the Qotile with a blast from the ‘Zorlon Cannon’ on the left side of the screen.
Yar’s Revenge title screen (top screen), and game screen (bottom screen) showing the protagonist fly (screen left), the neutral zone( screen center), and the Qotile (screen right) under attack.
Players acquire keys, open gates, slay dragons, navigate labyrinths, traveling between and in castles. The ultimate goal is to find the golden chalice hidden in the game and place it in the Golden Castle. Dragons, ‘bad magic’, and the gamescape work against players. Various objects (keys, swords), ‘good magic’, and player’s growing familiarity with the paths and labyrinths all aid in completing the task. There are three skill levels to provide players with additional challenges.
Adventure title screen (top screen), and game screens (middle and bottom screens) showing a castle and a nasty dragon.
An extremely basic game. You bounce the ball back toward the opponent (the computer). The object to get your opponent to miss the ball without missing it yourself. If the computer misses the ball, the player gets a point and vice versa. The the first to score 21 points wins. There are no variations or additional skill levels for this game.
Pong title screen (top screen), and game screen (bottom screen) against the computer opponent.
In summary, Atari Retro: game play good, graphics bad. Overall it is a worthy game package. My favorites were Missile Command, Asteroids and Centipede. Yar’s Revenge is starting to grow on me, too. These games are are fun to play, graphics or not. Least favorite were: Adventure and Pong. Adventure, without the action/reflex aspects, simple design, and poor graphics, really offers nothing to the modern gaming world. Pong is fun when played against another person, but there is no option for that here. You are stuck with a computer opponent. With the Atari Retro game pack, at least, you have seven choices and you can pick your own favorites. It would be nice if Atari Retro took advantage of the full screen option for Sony and PalmOne devices with virtual graffiti, as it does for the Tapwave. The actual game screen is smaller the full 320×320 window on PalmOS devices even with the virtual graffiti always on screen (see screen shots above). A full screen, wide version of the game would take full advantage of the available viewing area. I wrote to Mobile Wizardry about the possibility of making full screen versions of Atari Retro available for the Tungsten T3 and large screen Sonys. They said if there was enough demand, it could potentially be done. Although a modification was more likely possible on the current T3 than the current Sony models. They also mentioned there are more game packs in the works. So, if there’s a killer game title you’re hoping for, keep your eyes peeled.
-Good game play for the 6 action reflex games
– Choice: there are seven games to chose from
– Helpful, on-screen directions for each game
– Dead-on, faithful translation of the original Atari games
– Graphics are exactly like the original Atari games: bad
– no multi-player option
– no full-screen option for large screen Sony or PalmOne PDAs
Atari Retro is available for $29.99 at Handango for the Pocket PC, Symbian series 60, and Palm operating systems. As mentioned, an enhaced version is available for the Tapwave device. A free, downloadable evaluation copy is available for the Palm, Pocket PC, and Symbian Series 60 devices that allows 15 seconds of play time per game.