iTuesday Review: Atari Greatest Hits for iPhone

Video games have come a long way in the last thirty years. If you would have told someone three decades ago that in 2011 a popular gaming device would be a touch screen cell phone they wouldn’t have believed you. Actually they wouldn’t have even comprehended what you were trying to tell them. Despite these advances in technology many of these first video games are looked at as classics. They have definitely stood the test of time. A few months back, I was in San Francisco, CA and had the chance to visit Musée Mécanique, a video game museum. They had an old pong arcade game and I quickly geeked out and challenged my friends. Pong was  released over 10 years before I was even born and I still was willing to pay a quarter to play it. I think it’s fair to say these old games are timeless.

But what happens when timeless games meet new technology? Atari recently released Atari Greatest Hit’s for iPhone. The app is free and comes with Pong. It also features 100 classic Atari games available as in app purchases. The games are sold for $.99 for 4 packs, or $15.00 for all 100 games.

Obviously when these games where first developed no one would have dreamed they would be released in this way. These classics all rely on a physical controller, something that is absent from the touch screen iPhone (or iPod Touch). In this special addition of iTuesday I’ll be looking at a few of the game packs available and examining how they translate onto the iPhone.

First, a few notes on the app as a whole: The game selection screen is pretty cool. You scroll though pictures of the arcade machines or original Atari boxes until you find the game you want. Simply tap one to play it (or purchase it). My only complaint is that there is no “already purchased” section; making it difficult to find titles you’ve already bought. There is also a recently played list. This makes it a bit easier to find the games you’ve already purchased, but it certainly doesn’t look as cool.

Probably the coolest thing about the app isn’t a game at all, it’s the extra content included with each game. In the menu screen for every game there is a button that says either “gallery” or “manual”. These galleries are something that I’m sure many people have been overlooking. That’s a shame, because they are awesome. The galleries include advertisements and promotional materials for the games. The manuals are the original owner’s manuals for the home console games. For fans of old video games (or just old technology in general) these materials are almost more fun to look at than playing the game itself.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover stuff like this included in the app

Pong: For pong the controls are pretty simple. There is a slider on the side of the screen where you swipe your finger up and down to control your paddle. It works great and feels natural. It does get boring sort of fast though. Something about playing pong on my phone just isn’t the same as playing it in an arcade. It does support multi player through Bluetooth, which is cool, but doesn’t really seem like a game anyone will be spending a lot of time playing. Pong is free with the app though, so might as well check it out.

Asteroids: Asteroid is probably one of my favorite classic games, so it saddens me that it really doesn’t work on the iPhone. The controls just weren’t doing it for me. You have two options for controls. The first is a disc. Rotating your finger around the disc turns you and thrusts you into that direction. It is not easy to control. The other option is a roller. Basically you move your finger up and down the left side of the screen to aim and use a button on the left to move. This is a bit easier, but still too difficult to really enjoy the game. In addition to Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe and Asteroids 2600, the Asteroids pack also comes with Canyon Bomber. Canyon Bomber is not really fun, but its cool to look at it and say “remember when video games where like this?”

Centipede: Centipede is great on the iPhone! Once again there are two different control styles available. The first is a fire button on the lower left of the screen and a “trackball” on the lower right hand of the screen. You use the trackball as you would a joystick. The other control method is the bottom of the screen becomes a pad you can swipe your finger across to control what direction you go in. If you choice this option the fire button can go in the upper left of the screen or upper right. The pad is actually a bit easier to control than the trackball, but in order to comfortably hit the fire button you need to hold the phone sideways. This doesn’t really change the gameplay, but there’s something about looking at a classic game like this sideways that just doesn’t feel right. The pack comes with Centipede, Millipede, Centipede 2600, and Millipede 2600. All the games are essentially different versions of the same game. Since Centipede is the best, you probably wont end up playing the others… but its cool that they’re included in the price, especially because you can check out the galleries that go along with them.

Breakout: Breakout (and Super Breakout) is another one that works well on the iPhone. Just slide your finger back and forth at the bottom of the screen. Breakout is the kind of game I could see people using as a time killer on their phones. It also supports multiplayer via Bluetooth, which is cool. The Super Breakout Pack also includes Off the Wall and Circus Atari. The control for Off the Wall is fine, but the game isn’t something you’ll be spending a lot of time playing. Circus Atari is actually pretty fun. I had never heard of this game before and actually enjoyed playing it for a while. Overall out of the packs I played this pack delivers the most bang for your buck.

There are still 87 games available in this app that I did not play. I picked the ones that I remember playing when I was little, and as a whole I was not disappointed in what I got. Part of the fun of playing these games is that you are revisiting them as an adult. If you have a favorite old school Atari game I would recommend checking it out on the Atari Greatest Hits app.

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