Atari, Commodore 64 and Arcade Packs
In the summer of 1978 my friend Pat and I were sitting in his basement watching a James Bond movie—one of the good old Sean Connery ones where he says something wryly British and pithy before sending each bad guy to his ignominious doom. Bond was about to turn the tables on the villains one last time when Pat’s mom came downstairs, offered us some chocolate chip cookies and told Pat that it looked like our game was ready.
Immediately we paused the movie and traipsed upstairs, munching on the cookies, to see that indeed the tape drive on Pat’s dad’s Commodore 64 had finished loading Zone Ranger, the quasi-3D title of which was now throbbing in 16 glorious colors across the 10" monitor. And it had only taken 45 minutes.
Now of course we all have stories like that—of the first generation of home computers, or quarters fed into the maws of the likes of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Missile Command at the local arcade. Most of us owned or at least knew someone who owned an Atari 2600 and can remember the thrill of clicking that new cartridge into the slot of that trusty old machine and tossing your friend a joystick so he or she could compete with you.
You could say those were innocent times, before drive by shootings and vapid talk shows became the dominant form of entertainment, and in many regards you’d be right. It is this nostalgia that the perennial arcade game makers are now seeking to cash in on—but that’s Chad’s article on gaming nostalgia. What I’m here to do is offer a comparison of the leading "nostalgia" packages on that market—to tell you what you get for your 1996 dollars and whether the 1976 reminiscences are worth your Andrew Jacksons.
So, on we go. First back to the Jurassic age of the Atari 2600 and Activision’s Atari Action Packs. There are, at press time, three on the market, but we only received two to review, so you can bet that number three is a kissing cousin of the first two. Here’s what you get:
Atari 2600 Action Pack
Boxing, Chopper Command, Cosmic Commuter, Crackpots, Fishing Derby, Freeway, Frostbite, Grand Prix, H.E.R.O., Kaboom!, Pitfall, River Raid, Seaquest, Sky Jinks, Spider Fighter
The anchors of this pack are, of course, Pitfall and River Raid—you don’t remember Cosmic Commuter either, do you? H.E.R.O. is an interesting title to note too, as it (or a near relation) became one of the better early titles on the C64 platform. Kaboom! and Chopper Command are also good for a minute of nostalgia as well.
Atari 2600 Action Pack 2
Atlantis, Barnstorming, Dolphin, Dragster, Enduro, Ice Hockey, Keystone Kapers, Laser Blast, Megamania, Oink!, Plaque Attack, River Raid 2, Skiing, Stampede, Tennis
Laser Blast, Megamania, and Atlantis make up the anchors of this pack, with such forgettable fillers as Plaque Attack, Dragster, and Oink! best left forgotten along with your second- grade crush on the little red-haired girl.
Overall, if you have an old Atari, dig it out—chances are the nearly indestructible old cartridges are still as serviceable as when you were 12. If you don’t still have the old set around, or if you want to take a trip down memory lane with your kids, these two collections are serviceable reminders of the glory days of the 2600, but you will not find yourself or your kids returning to these once the brief novelty has worn off. Sometimes, often, things are better the way you remember them than if you actually try to recapture something that has rightfully passed away.
Our next stop on the tour takes to the quarter-eaters—two 4-packs of the best standup arcade titles that the late '70s and early '80s had to offer. These are the games that truly launched the multi-billion dollar gaming industry we have today—the pixelated buzz-boxes that squatted and hummed in the nether regions of virtually every bowling alley, skating rink and convenience store in America in the early days of video gaming.
Microsoft’s name graces these packages now, but you’ll recognize the creative efforts of such early pioneers as Namco, Atari, and Taito—the folks who were making their billions while Bill Gates was still learning the alphabet, much less any computer code.
Here’s what you get:
These four titles really launched Atari and gave them the capital to bring us the 2600 and later home computers. If you were a kid in the '70s and early '80s, you will immediately recognize the music, the look and the gameplay of these four. The controls are a bit different now—I’d say for the worse—but these are all serviceable titles and are entirely faithful conversions. In fact, every one of the packs mentioned in this piece does an excellent job of remaining faithful to the original titles in look and feel.
Microsoft Return of Arcade
Pac-Man, Galaxian, Pole Position, Dig Dug
Pretty much the same thing can be said about this second offering—it’s a solid group of games and provides good value for the money.
It’s tempting to go for quantity in these arcade packs, as it may seem that among a dozen or so games there will be several good ones, but my experience is that buying the packs with a few titles you recognize and remember playing for hours on end will lead to greater satisfaction than going for the quantity packs. Both the MS packs are excellent in this respect—they each have only 4 games, but the 4 they chose are all solid hits even 20 years after their initial release.
Commodore 64 15-pack
Beamrider, Decathlon, Hacker, Little Computer People, Portal, Zenji, Top Fuel Eliminator, Alcazar, Toy Bizarre, Zone Ranger, Rock ‘n Bolt, Park Patrol, Web Dimension, The Great American Cross Country Road Race, Master of the Lamps
This package is interesting as it is the only one of these that offers old computer games in a new package—some of these you’ll remember from having played them, some you will have never heard of, but by and large this package is a worthwhile collection of old Commodore 64 titles and in some, such as Alcazar and Zenji, you can see the groundwork being laid for their far more technologically advanced successors like Quake and Tomb Raider.
The bottom line question is, are these game packs a good value for your gaming dollar? For me, they provided a fun couple of hours of reminiscence about games gone by, but the in-the-present gamer in me quickly turned back to the hottest current titles. I suppose it is inevitable to always want to move forward from where one is now, to see new innovations, mind-blowing advances—but it’s nice to look back every now and then and see where we have come from, so as to keep our perspective. For my gaming dollar, I’ll stick with the latest and greatest, but there are times when good old Pole Position or Tempest exactly fits the bill for a ten-minute hiatus from the workday.
Download Atari, Commodore 64 and Arcade Packs
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