Review by Retro
"One of the best deals on the market"
The first time I saw Activision Classics in stores, I thought I was dreaming, but I wasn't. Needless to say, I bought the game the second I saw it after seeing the lineup of Atari 2600 classics and Atari 2600 unknowns that it had to offer.
I grew up playing the Atari 2600 and over 50 of its games. Up to when I was 8, it was the only video game system that I had to play. Over 13 years later, I still dust off the classic console and play the games for fun and for nostalgia's sake. To make the never ending nostalgia talk short, let's just say that I have A LOT of timeless memories from playing Atari 2600 games, and that it will always be one of my favorite systems.
At first look at the back of the CD case and the first time I played Activision Classics (the title means that the company Activision made all 30 of the games on the disc), I saw a few of the games that I grew up playing. And ironically, most of them were favorites of mine. The ones I immediately recognized were Pitfall!, Freeway, Megamania, Chopper Command, Ice Hockey, and Kaboom!
There were even a few games that I always wanted to own back in the Atari 2600's heyday, but that I could never find in stores, such as Stampede, Barnstorming, and Fishing Derby. The rest of the games were all a mystery to me, and I hadn't ever heard of most of them, but I was eager to play them nonetheless.
So how are they?
Atlantis - All you do is use three different cannons (one on the right, one on the left, and one in the middle) to shoot spaceships that are zooming across the skies above you. It's not all that addicting, but it's still good stuff. It has great colorful graphics (for the time of course). Grade: B-
Barnstorming - This is a real simplistic game in which you just use an airplane and use it to try and see how fast you can fly through all of the barns. Whether this is a personal goal of the pilot or what, one thing's for sure, the chickens won't be happy. Luckily, to keep this one from being real bland, there are a few different levels to choose from. Windmills and birds serve as obstacles whose sole purpose is to slow you down. Grade: B
Boxing - You and an opponent control two basic fighters and use each other's heads as a punching bag. I've never liked this game as much as the majority seems to. It's just a fight against time and your opponent to see who can get the most points before the clock's digits reach zero, or who can get a KO first. Grade: C
Chopper Command - Chopper Command is pretty much a ripoff of the classic arcade and Atari 2600 hit called Defender, and it's not really a good one at that, due to it being so simplistic. You must use a helicopter to shoot and destroy all of the enemy aircrafts before they destroy your truck comrades at the bottom of the screen. It's not really all that fun, unfortunately, but it does have great graphics. Grade: C
Crackpots - Crackpots is a great example of what Atari 2600-style gaming was like. There were several games for the system that were very strange, but were surprisingly fun or had some other redeeming quality. Crackpots is one of those games. Your job is to control a man at the top of the screen who uses flowerpots as weapons. There are endless numbers of ants or termites (can't decide which) that crawl up the building, trying to get into open slots. You must drop the flowerpots on top of them to exterminate them. If you don't destroy enough of them, they eat out part of the building and get closer to you. This game is weird, but it's fun and addicting. Grade: B
Cosmic Commuter - I haven't really ever understood this game at all. You use some robot-looking creature to pick up items and take them to a location. I don't know if there's anything else to do or not, but if that's all, then this game isn't that great. Grade: ?
Dolphin - Now this is a deep (not just water wise) Atari 2600 game. Guide a dolphin through the sea as it's being chased by a haunting squid. There are also a group of seahorses that serve as a blockade to slow the dolphin down, bringing it closer to the hungry jaws of the squid. But here's the thing: The dolphin can use a sonar call to see where the opening in the seahorses is and there are arrows in the water (waves) that can pull the dolphin closer or further away from the squid. Keep an eye out for something that makes the dolphin invincible and makes the squid vulnerable. Dolphin also has some of the best graphics of any of the games, complete with a scrolling sun and clouds. Grade: A
Dragster - Like real dragster races, all you do is race an opponent to see who can cross the finish line in the fastest time. This one is my least favorite game in Activision Classics. It looks the worst and it isn't fun in the least bit. Grade: F
Enduro - Another innovative title for the Atari 2600. In this one, you control a sort of vehicle that resembles a tank with a claw on the front of it. You start in a very low place (number wise) and try to pass all of your opponents in a race before 24 hours in the game is up. The racing is fast and engaging, and the days change from day to night to fog during the race for a nice effect. Grade: B+
Fishing Derby - A lot of people claim this to be a boring and not-so-fun game, but I beg to differ, somewhat. Either you and the computer or you and a friend can compete against each other in this short fun title. You each help out one of two fishers by controlling the end of their fishing line. You can move the tip of the line in any direction through the water. If you pester a fish enough, the fish will bite and you can reel it in for some points. The deeper the fish, the more points it's worth, and the first player to get 99 points wins. But watch out because there is a dark shark that is hungry for some fish. This would probably be one of my favorites if only there were more to it. Grade: B-
Freeway - Freeway was always one of my favorite games for the Atari 2600. You can play by yourself or with a friend and see how many times you can get the chicken to the other side of the road. That sounds easy, except that it seems to be rush hour and there are several cars and trucks of varying speeds that are crossing the road. To boost up the replay value, there are several different roads with different vehicle variations to choose from. But one question remains: Why did the chicken cross the road? Grade: A-
Frostbite - Frostbite is a chilling game that has elements of Frogger and Q*bert. You must control an Eskimo and help him build an igloo. There are four different levels of scrolling ice that you must jump on. When you hop on a white level of ice, it will turn into sky blue, and a block of an igloo will also be built at the same time. Once the igloo is built, you have yourself a new home. But there are geese, crabs, clams, and a bear to watch out for. Also, if the temperature reaches 0º, the Eskimo will get frostbitten and lose a life. Frostbite is TONS of fun and it has some of the best graphics, control, and sound. It's my favorite game on the disc! Grade: A+++
Grand Prix - A decent racing game in which you race using a colorful car, and pass as many of your opponents as you can. Memorizing the layout of a certain variation's car patterns can be a big help as you drive for the best time. There's nothing great or terrible about Grand Prix that's really worth noting. It's just a basic, solid title. Grade: C+
H.E.R.O. - An early action/adventure title in which you use a guy with a copter on his back to hover down into dark spaces, set bombs to destroy walls, shoot enemies, and dodge obstacles such as pits and lava as you try to find the trapped miner in each level. H.E.R.O. is fun and it seems like it was an extremely innovative game for the Atari 2600. Are we entirely sure this is an Atari 2600 game?? Grade: A
Ice Hockey - I own several of the original sports titles for the Atari 2600, and Ice Hockey was always my favorite by a long shot. It's a good ol' two-on-two game of ice hockey. You can play the game against the computer or against a real-life opponent. The one who scores the most goals before time runs out is the winner. There are two variations that involve the speed of the puck. This is another one of those games that's always fun and doesn't seem to know how to grow old. Grade: A+
Kaboom! - Now this is the epitome of addicting, on the Atari 2600. A crook drops bombs from the top of the screen, and it's your duty to catch them in one of three buckets of water. Anytime a bomb reaches the bottom, it sets off a chain reaction of explosions, and you lose a bucket. As you get further and further, the bombs fall faster and faster. No matter what, you know you can beat your personal best score! Grade: B+ for the Atari 2600 version (which used the paddle controllers), but a D for the Activision Classics version because of its poor control.
Keystone Kapers - Keystone Kapers is one of the classic Atari 2600 titles that I unfortunately never got to play....until now! You must guide a man and show him the way to track down and capture an escaping crook. There are several different floors in each level. To go up a level, there are elevators and my favorite of the lazy ways to travel inside buildings in real life, escalators. The crook has it the easy way, but you must keep from being hit by flying airplanes, rolling shopping carts, and much more. Not to mention that there is also a time limit and that you lose time when an obstacle touches you. Keystone Kapers is easily one of the best games on the disc. Grade: A
Laser Blast - Wow, now this one was a surprise for me. Unlike most of the other space shooters such as Space Invaders and Galaxian, in which you are the good guy and you use a contraption on the ground to shoot alien objects overhead, in Laser Blast, you get to be the enemy! You control a spaceship in the towering skies and shoot and annihilate cannons on the ground. Laser Blast is fun at first, but then you find out that you can only move horizontally and that it's the most repetitive video game in history. Grade: C-
Megamania - Here's another one of my all-time favorites for the Atari 2600. Like Space Invaders, Galaxian, Galaga, and other famous space shooters, you use a ship at the bottom of the screen to blast all the invading enemies above you. But it's not exactly like all the others that I just mentioned. Instead of aliens, you must shoot and destroy things such as irons, crackers, hamburgers, ants, diamonds, and more. As cutesy or strange as it might sound, this game is out of this world with how much fun it has to offer, and it can be played by up to two players. Grade: A-
Pitfall! - Pitfall! is not only one of the best Atari 2600 games of all time, but also one of the best video games (of any system) of all time. Pitfall! invented the genre of 2D side scrolling, even though it doesn't scroll. Pitfall Harry is wanting to get rich by finding money bags, silver and gold bars, and rings. But to find them, he must jump over lakes full of starving alligators, snakes, avoid quicksand, escape the wrath of a scorpion, and more. This is one game that every single video game fan in the world should at least play! Grade: A
Plaque Attack - I'm pretty sure that everybody will laugh at this game the first time they play it. There is a tube of toothpaste in the middle of a huge mouth. At any second, certain foods such as hot dogs, burgers, fries, and ice cream will start coming onto the screen and then move either up or down. You must use this tube of toothpaste to shoot away all of the foods before they touch a tooth and rot it. I hope you're not looking forward to getting false teeth. Plaque Attack is another strange, yet surprisingly fun game. Grade: B-
River Raid - This is an Atari 2600 game!? River Raid seems almost too good to have been an Atari 2600 title. You have to fly an airplane and use its ammo to its fullest. The levels slowly scroll upward, and there are enemies (such as helicopters and other airplanes) and closed bridges waiting to be shot down. Since you're using an airplane, you must also collect fuel in order to keep from running out and crashing. River Raid was ahead of its time and even though the airplane can run out of fuel, this game does not run out of fun. Grade: A+
River Raid 2 - It's somewhat like River Raid, except that it's not half as great of a game. The gameplay mechanics have been taken a bit further by including a thrust and speed gauge. However, the way the game is played has also changed a little bit and it's not as engaging as the stellar original. Grade: C
Seaquest – Seaquest is another surprising game in Activision Classics. I hadn't ever heard of it before seeing it in this collection, but this one is a prime example of a fun game. You get to control a submarine and use it to rescue transparent divers who are being terrorized by enemy watercraft and sharks. Your submarine can fry the fish and destroy the other enemies by using a projectile to shoot them. Not only can the fish and watercraft do you in, but oxygen is also a factor. To replenish your oxygen and release the rescued divers, all you have to do is surface. Seaquest is one of my favorite games on the disc, and I'm surprised a lot more people don't praise or know about it. Grade: A-
Skiing - In Skiing, you will be controlling a skier and you'll also be doing a lot of skiing. Now don't tell me you didn't already know that? That's basically all you do in this game, and just like in real life competitions, you must go between the flags and watch out for obstacles. Skiing (the game) is somewhat fun, but it gets old quickly. Grade: C
Sky Jinks - This one's a lot like Olympic skiing that you see on TV, where they have to go left and right to clear the flags, except that you fly an airplane and do that as the screen scrolls vertically. It's much more addicting than I would have thought. Sky Jinks isn't one of my absolute favorite Activision Classics games, but it's a very solid addition. Grade: B
Spider Fighter - A very strange-looking spider needs help defending his home, and it's your job to help him. This spider shoots super fast projectiles as his weapon against the not-so-welcome enemies. Enemies move around hyperactively and drop occasional fire, and, if you let them live long enough, they'll try stealing some of your food. Everything about Spider Fighter is just plain fast! That's what makes it great. Grade: B+
Stampede - When I was a kid, I looked to purchase Stampede for years, but I couldn't ever find it. Activision Classics gave me the opportunity to finally get to play it. To my surprise, it's really not as fun as I always thought it would be. You get to choose from one of a handful of levels and then you control a cowboy riding a horse. Your mission is to try and rope as many of the cattle as you can. Unfortunately, it's more frustrating to rope them than anything. Actually, roping them is easy, but you have to memorize exactly where certain ones are (they're color coded and some are faster than others). But the difficulty is what makes it rather addicting. Grade: C
Star Master - For the longest, I couldn't figure this game out. But when I did, its greatness shone through brightly. Packs of enemy spaceships are scattered about through outer space. You're flying quickly as hundreds of stars and light years pass you by. You can move in any direction and use a crosshair to pinpoint your shots. You have a few space stations to refill your power and weapons at any time. It's these space stations that the enemies are after! To even find the enemies or your space stations, you have to use a map, which was something you didn't see much back in the day. Grade: B+
Tennis - Tennis is, well, tennis. It's just a one-on-one tennis match in which you can play against the computer or a friend. The grading system (deuces, match points, etc.) are precise and the game itself is fast-paced and kinda fun, but not much. Playing the computer is just frustrating, due to the computer's impossibility. Grade: C-
Phew! From just skimming through my list, you should see that Activision Classics is an exceptional value. You get 30 Atari 2600 games for less than 30 bucks. As I mentioned before, it has a few of my favorite games that I grew up playing for the real Atari 2600 VCS (Video Computer System), a few that I always wanted to buy but couldn't ever find, and even more mysterious wonders that I knew nothing about.
I must say that I am thoroughly impressed with Activision Classics. Not only are most of the games fun to play, but they are also great ports for the most part. While playing the games I was already familiar with such as Megamania, Freeway, and Pitfall!, I saw that the games were just like the originals in terms of gameplay, graphics, and sound in almost every way.
Of course, there are a few discrepancies when you compare the games in Activision Classics to the ones on the classic and original Atari 2600. For example, the sound effects in Megamania have been changed a bit (and in a bad way), and Kaboom!'s buckets of water don't seem to move fluidly like they should. Another problem--it's not really the game's or the PlayStation's fault--but it sure is a lot different controlling some of these games (such as Pitfall! and especially Kaboom!) with the PlayStation controller when you're used to controlling them with the Atari 2600's joystick or paddles.
On a brighter note, Activision Classics does include some great and sorely missed features of the Atari 2600 console. The Atari 2600 has a Difficulty Switch on the console that allows you to make most of the games either more challenging or easier. It also has a switch that allows you to play the game in color or in black & white. In Activision Classics, you can opt to play the game in either color or black & white, and you can make the games harder or easier. Of course, since this is the PlayStation, there are a few new things you can do that you couldn't do on the Atari 2600, such as pause the game. Not to mention that you can pause and then restart or quit a game at any time you want.
Graphics wise, you really can't expect anything new from Activision Classics since it is a true trip to retro-gaming Atari 2600 style. The graphics are all identical to the Atari 2600 versions of the games. Some people may cry foul at that, but for me, it couldn't be better any other way.
The sounds and music are the same way. When you're playing one of the games, the original sounds are all you will hear (for the most part). But like the graphics, if you want to see anything new, you will just have to stay at the title screen or go to where you choose which game to play.
Like I already mentioned, one or two of the games in Activision Classics are horrid in the control department, but that's only because the Atari 2600 used joysticks, paddles, or keyboard controllers instead of directional pads. Even though this is the case, almost all of the games are simple to control with the PlayStation controller, and all of them with the exception of Kaboom!, can be gotten used to.
If you're like me and you played Atari 2600 games when you were younger, and you still have fond memories of them, then you'll like Activision Classics a lot. If you're somebody who is deeply interested in retro-gaming or video game history, you'll probably like it too. It's a win-win situation!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 12/28/01, Updated 02/04/04
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