Atari and Vancouver developer Code Mystics have dropped a metric tonne of retro joy onto the Apple App Store with Atari’s Greatest Hits, for iOS devices. The app allows you to play up to 100 classic Atari games; a few of their most famous arcade entries, but the majority of games come from the catalog of games released for the VCS/2600 home console. Only a small sampling of games are available for free, with 4-pack game downloads available for .99 cents, or you can get the whole 100 game enchilada for 15 bucks.
The app is universal, and I’d recommend playing it on the iPad, as the arcade games feature a representation of the original screen bezel, which shrinks down the playfield a bit too much on the iPhone. The games offer both landscape and profile mode, but not every one has that option to switch. The control methods on offer vary as well, and some work decidedly better than others. On the whole, however, I find the sliding controls that invariably represent dials or trackballs to be too sluggish, and their speed is not configurable. This definitely needs to be addressed by a patch to make these games workable. As for joysticks, the small virtual button that stands in for the stick is small, and I find my thumb constantly sliding off of it, or worse: pressing a different direction or multiple directions as once, deadly for games like Asteroids that put different, drastic actions like thrust or hyperspace on the up and down joystick positions. Classic video game emulation is often slagged for missing that intrinsic satisfaction that comes from holding a joystick in your hand while playing. Since precise control is sometimes the only thing going for these games, in particular those for the VCS/2600, the sluggishness on offer here is pretty close to a deal-breaker.
Sometimes the controls work, however, as evidenced by the sliders that control the paddles in PONG. But if you really want to capture that arcade feeling, the iCADE, set for release in June, will scratch that itch. Originally a clever 2010 April Fool’s joke perpetrated by Think Geek, intense user demand has actually made the crazy idea reality. Greatest Hits has support for the iCADE built right in, and makers ION will be releasing an API that will allow other games to support the mini-cabinet.
Even without the iCADE, however, Greatest Hits is a wonderful app for classic video game aficionados. They will also be jazzed about the extras that come with some games, such as game artwork, scanned colour manuals, and more. Some, however, are concerned that the package is infringing on iTune rules about apps downloading and running external code, represented by the ROM code downloaded in the game packs in order to play these classic gems. A double-standard does seem to have been set with the acceptance of Atari’s Greatest Hits into the app store. So perhaps games looking for a little nostalgia had better grab this baby fast.