Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration review: A retro collection done absolutely right

Atari /

Title: Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Publisher: Atari
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: November 11, 2022

As someone who was born in 1980, my newborn self was nestled into a bed in the hospital within a nursery nearby a newborn Pac-Man and Mr. Game and Watch. I grew up during a massive part of the evolution of video games where I had access to video games starting at around two or three years of age. I brought receipts too. Here’s me at about maybe three years old next to my younger brother and my dad in about 1982ish playing a Colecovision.

Screen-Shot-2022-04-16-at-11-31-41-AM /

I know. I’m adorable. You don’t need to tell me.

But my dad is a gamer just like me, as are my kids. And one of the biggest parts of my early gaming life involved the Atari systems.

Not to sound like an old man (but I’m an old man), but we used to head to this flea market all the time and I would use my allowance to buy out of package Atari games from vendors. Then I would come home and try and figure out what I had purchased, as some of them are baffling without an instruction booklet. I’m looking at YOU Riddle of the Sphinx.

So when I was approached to take a look at the game “Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection” I figured I was coming from a good place to appreciate some of this. But thinking I knew what I was getting into did not prepare me for how much of a treasure trove this game is.

Atari50-Timeline /

You can dive right into the majority of the games if you want, but you’ll want to hit up the timeline. Going through the timeline starts in 1971 and lets you read up and watch the history of video games change and evolve. When you encounter the games on the timeline you can then play them with new knowledge of what went into creating them. This helps provide some context for why some of these games feature some complex mechanics that have not aged particularly well.

And the interviews are astounding. In addition to having a couple of gaming celebrities talk about their memories, you actually hear from people that WORKED at Atari during that time. And they get absolutely candid — especially when you get to the video titled “Did They Do Drugs at Atari?” It’s a video that is basically six minutes of the answer YES.

Atari50-Tod-Frye /

You start in the 70s and go into the 1990s wherein you can play games you normally wouldn’t be able to find. Games from the Lynx, Jaguar, and Jaguar CD.  Finally, for the first time, I was able to live out my strange dream of being able to play Ninja Golf, the bizarre genre combination game where you, a ninja, play golf. Whenever you hit the ball you need to make your way back to it, fighting other ninjas on the way. It’s not great but it’s so weird that it’s fun.

One of my favorite features is that when playing the arcade games, they’re tied to an online server so the high scoreboards are actually real people’s scores. This makes getting your initials on there a real reward.

The programmers also have a big love for the Easter Eggs of yore — not only doing a full celebration of Adventure’s famous hidden room but also leaving secrets in the menu itself. There are sealed confidential folders in the game library where you have to achieve things in other games to get them to open. And, while a game telling you there’s a secret to find makes it more of a regular game mechanic than a secret, I don’t mind getting spoon-fed some whimsy sometimes.

Atari50-Secrets /

Atari 50 celebrates the rich history of gaming’s roots — and all the good and bad that came in the early pioneer days of gaming. Admittedly, not every game holds up to today’s standards, which might make them harder to appeal to a younger generation without the nostalgia factor. But as a whole, Atari 50 is something everyone can appreciate as an interactive museum that you can play through.

Due to licensing issues, not every game from Atari’s history made the cut. The infamous E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for Atari 2600 is noticeably absent. It wasn’t a good game so you’re not really missing out on much anyway, but it’s an important game in the console’s history.

Normally when Atari drops a collection or remaster like this, I’m hesitant. While it’s interesting to see the old games, going back and actually playing them for a while isn’t all that interesting. But having this timeline, listening for the audio quirks or specific game mechanics that you just heard their creators talking about struggling to make, takes these classics and puts a whole new level of appreciation on them. It was like I was seeing something in these things I’ve been familiar with for decades in an entirely new light.

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration (Nintendo Switch) Score: 9.5/10

Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration isn’t just a treasure trove of hard-to-find titles, it’s a love letter to gaming’s history. Besides simply playing these classics — some of which have been updated with improved graphics — you get a rich history lesson about the company. Candid interviews provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what it was like working at the company and give you insight into the development of these older games. This context allows you to view these classics in an entirely new light.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.