Atari Flashback Classics (Switch) Review
With the announcement of the Atari Flashback Classics for Switch, I was split — it was either going to be the best value for money, or the nostalgia glasses would descend, and I would be trying to convince myself that the games still held up. Now that it’s here, I know where I land.
It is important to understand that whilst Atari claim there are 150 games on the collection, it is more accurate to state that there are 150 selectable listings, but only 125 unique games, as you can get doubles of Centipede and Asteroids, as well as ‘games’ like basic math. The collection does cover the Arcade releases, 2600, and 5200, which is why you get a few copies of the same game — their hardware differences aside, the core gameplay is the same. Thankfully though, discovering the games is easy, with it split into two distinct displays; the first is that all the arcade games are listed alphabetically, then the home console games in the same way, meaning that if you know your alphabet, you can jump to the right page without too much hassle.
Once you’ve highlighted your game of choice, you have several options available: you can jump into the game, view the manual, change options, or if the game supports it, connect to the online leaderboards to see who has the highest score around. None of the arcade games have manuals, as you might expect, but they do allow you to modify the game, to make things a little easier for you, usually starting off with more lives. Some games like Sprint 2 will allow you to remove oil slicks, increase play time, and more. It’s these modifications that make some of the older games fun to play today — even with the very basic options, removing some of the frustrating parts is a welcome change.
For the home games, there are no options in the main menu, but some games offer them in-game. For the most part though, you are not going to get anything special, just the usual console feature options. The home games do come with manuals and they are the complete manuals, even featuring the steps on how to connect your Atari to your TV, complete with antiquated 80’s connection methods. The problem with the manuals comes in two forms; the first is that whilst they contain all the pages, they are blurry if you zoom in, not to any sort of degree that it is hard to read, just annoying. The other issue is that they don’t maintain the zoom level between pages, so getting one page to the size you can read becomes undone the moment you flick to the next.
Playing the home games though, that is where the fun comes into effect. Some games, like Asteroid and Centipede, play just like their arcade versions, just with worse graphics, but it is the games like Adventure or Secret Quest, where the gameplay is king. The games are very basic by today’s standards, but both hold charms that make them easy to pick up and play, even if they are hard to decipher at times. Sadly though, the games are hard to enjoy for a simple fact — if you want to learn the controls, or check the manual, you need to pause the game and head out to the main menu, go into the right menu option, then reverse when you are done and head back into the game, not very friendly. One thing that the collection does well, is that it saves your progress, so even if you quit the game, turn off the Switch and come back a day later, you can pick up where you left off, so that is nice.
Another nice aspect is that some games support a portrait play-view, meaning you can rotate the Switch to play them the way they were meant to be played. Unless you turn it off in the general settings, the game will give you a prompt if the game supports the rotated view, which is nice, but playing in that way also unlocks a cool play option: digital trackball. The bottom of the screen has a digital trackball on it, which, for a game like Missile Command, is the best way to play it, as it gives the most accurate controls for it. Sadly, the controls are the most frustrating part of the collection, as not only are they inconsistent in how they behave, and no instructions are presented, unless you go looking, the vast majority just don’t work correctly.
In a lot of games, you use the stick or d-pad to move around, which make sense; the problem is that a lot of the games don’t react well to using the stick, instead choosing to go the extreme end of the movement scale right away. Using the d-pad is the way to go for most games, but as there were so many inputs over the Atari years, it does not quite cover all of them. The previously mentioned trackball is one such input that really does not work great with the d-pad. Games like Pong work best with the d-pad, even though the natural way of wanting to play it, is with the stick, so it takes some adjusting to get used to what works best for each game, but should you decide you want to use one method over the other, you can tweak the dead zone settings, making this less or more responsive, but it is a change per game, so you will be making a lot of adjustments.
The most disappointing feature of the collection is its presentation though — it is moderately barebones and covers the most basic of needs. When you are playing an arcade game, your display options are limited to the cabinet art appearing on the side of the screen, touchscreen controls (if they exist for the game), and a prompt or two. For the console games, there is no side art, nothing on screen at all, just the game — not even any controls — which again harkens back to the need to go in and out of the game to learn them. It does allow for filtering of the image and scanlines, which helps replicate that old school feeling, so that is nice. The menu, while arranged in a nice grid, has no display choices — the one you see at boot is the only one you get — no ability to sort them by release year, remove a platform, or even favourite the best ones. If you want to get to a game, you need to just remember where it is and flick to it each time.
Atari have a long and storied past in the world of videogames, from making it a business to almost destroying it, and while this collection is no-where near as bad as some of their other decisions, it is missing a host of parts. The lack of gallery is a real shame, given Atari’s history. The options for the games, whilst interesting, are not where they should be, especially given some of the more recent classic collections. And finally, there are the games. 150 games listed is technically accurate, but still factually wrong; whilst a lot of the games included are fun to play with still, there are a lot, mostly the sports games, that are not, so the overall collection just feels less. Fans of Atari, or anyone who grew up with those games, will find a lot of enjoyment in the collection though, so it is not all bad.
- Some real gems to be found in the collection
- All the games in one place, makes it the best way to experience the Atari legacy
- Online leaderboards, help make the collection feel more modern
- Discovering controls is a unique experience that is a little frustrating
- To many games repeat, one for each included platform, which reduces the overall impact
- Not being able to favourite your best games, makes navigating to them awkward