Review by tgoldberg
"An exemplary collection of truly classic games."
When the phrase "retro games" is brought up in a conversation, most people will immediately think of the NES or Genesis, as we all know how much Nintendo and Sega love to remind us how classic Mario and Sonic are. Besides, those two series are now over 20 years old, so calling them retro isn't really so wrong anymore. However, if you were to come up to me and utter the word "retro", the first thing that would come to my mind would be the Atari 2600, a console which was something of an obsession for me not so long ago. I'm not what you'd call an old-time gamer, though; I was born in 1997, and only found out about Atari 2600 in 2008. Even though I discovered it decades after it died out and at a very young age, I was totally mesmerized by what I saw. The idea of a game console that old was just about the coolest thing ever to me, and after drooling over screenshots on this very website I set out on a quest to buy one. It took ages to find a working one, but with the help of my dad I finally managed to get ahold of a mint-condition console, one that lasted me until just last year (when it sadly broke). I got out of the Atari scene after that (partly due to the consoles breaking from old age and partly due to the horrible, horrible fanbase it has), but I recently purchased a copy of Activision Anthology from a thrift store, and my love is now rekindled.
Back in the late 70's and early 80's, Activision was known as the company that made really good Atari games. Their programmers were a group of people who knew the 2600 inside and out (which was due to most of them being ex-Atari employees), and it really showed in their work. Every year they would publish hits like Pitfall, Ice Hockey, Kaboom!, Megamania, and The Activision Decathlon, propelling them to the top of the industry alongside other greats like Imagic and Parker Bros. One of their trademarks was a colorful sunset that was featured in more than a few of their games, to the point where it's a little odd to see one that doesn't feature it. Activision also has the distinction of publishing perhaps the first direct sequel in video game history, Pitfall II, a highly innovative game that exudes quality in every aspect from the level design to the box art. They were also one of the only publishers to stick with the 2600 all the way into the late 80's, with their last game being a port of Double Dragon that was released in 1989.
Skip ahead to 2002 and here we have Activision Anthology, a large collection of games that features almost all of their works. Mega-hits like Pitfall and its sequel are on display, along with other true classics like Stampede, Fishing Derby, Enduro, Beamrider, and Keystone Kapers. The lesser-knowns get a showing too, with mostly unheard of games like Cosmic Commuter, River Raid 2, Commando, Robot Tank, and Crackpots. Better still, we are treated to two unreleased games, Kabobber and Thwocker. Obviously, this is a lot of games (the box boasts "Over 45 Radical Games in One"), and since so many of them are such a blast, this translates to a lot of play value. Even if you're not one to hit the reset button over and over again to try and top your previous high score, just flipping through everything here will keep you occupied for hours. Although, if you're a fan of arcade-style games, these ones will have you mashing away with reckless abandon. They have that unquantifiable addictive quality that separates the fantastic games from the okay ones; in fact, I would go as far as to day that they give the Pac-Man family a run for its money.
Activision didn't just stop at compiling a bunch of classics games in one place, though. They went the extra mile by including two things that make it feel all the more authentic; unlockable patches and a classic 80's soundtrack. The patches are little cloth emblems that were given out to players who mailed in photos of themselves getting a high score above a certain number, as a reward for being so good at the game. Here, they are unlocked from within the games for achieving those high scores, and you can view them on a tackboard in the virtual room that serves as the menu. It's a very neat feature, if I do say so myself. The soundtrack is a playlist of popular songs from the 80's that play over the entire game, with artists like Blondie, Twisted Sister, and Soft Cell featured. Unless you really dislike the sound of that era, you'll love this soundtrack; heck, I don't generally listen to that sort of music and I still loved it. Whoever they had pick the tunes here had really good taste.
In conclusion, if you have a fondness for this long-gone age of gaming or just want to see what people played back then, you owe to it yourself to pick up this collection. It's one of the best classic gaming compilations ever released, and a standing testament to the vast talent of the people who worked on these games. Sure, it's emulated, but it's done using a PS2 port of the excellent Stella program, which can emulate even the most complex of 2600 games with perfection. If you have fond memories of playing these games on the original hardware, then this will send you into a nostalgic euphoria that is nigh-unparalleled. Plus, now that it's 2012 this game can be had for a very low price, even brand new. So what are you waiting for?
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/03/12
Game Release: Activision Anthology (US, 11/19/02)
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