In 1979, I was five years old, living in a small suburb of Ontario, Canada where the neighborhood ethnic diversity was akin to a meeting of the UN or an episode of Sesame Street.
Of course, in those days the very idea of an Internet was barely the stuff of science fiction writing, KISS lunchboxes were the cool rebel kids’ most prized fashion accessory, Hot Wheels were our mode of transport, and kit-bashing Battlestar Galactica spaceship models was the source of all imagination.
Then, one day, Mike – the kid across the street whose dad drove a Trans Am (way cooler than my parents’ wood-paneled Bobcat – except nowadays a wood-paneled Bobcat would be the coolest thing ever) – got this new “home entertainment console” called an Atari 2600.
Portrait of the Indie-Game-Freak as a Young Man
No longer did we have to go to the smoky arcades at the closest mall to beg dad to buy another roll of quarters for us to waste in a stand-up Pac-Man machine – no, now we could actually play this stuff in Mike’s basement.
Look, it wasn’t EXACTLY like the version in the arcade; in fact, it was substantially lower rez, more pixelly, less colors, the music and sounds weren’t quite right, and the joystick was a stiff rod that barely moved the way the arcade version felt in your hand, more like a worn stick shift. But heck! It was FREE to play.
We tried to find any reason to get over to Mike’s shag-carpeted basement to play not just Pac-Man but also Adventure, Centipede, Tempest, Frogger…OMG, the whole fricken’ arcade was down there!
Of course, being only five, we usually got pushed by the face into the corner of the room while the older kids, who were cool enough to own KISS lunchboxes, showed us how it was done.
But one day I would own my OWN Atari 2600 and all the promise of those jaw-dropping adventures portrayed on the cover art would come alive in my own basement.
Well, that day never quite came, though my fam did eventually get an Intellivision for Christmas, and later a VIC-20 and even a Commodore Amiga (all of which were truly and historically incredible).
What Was Old Is New Again
Then 30 years happened and an Internet came and ROM emulators and all that rot. Cut to 40 years later, and Nintendo miniaturizes the console to a convertible handheld or large-screen HDTV device, and about a year and a half into their release schedule I can get all of my favorite Atari 2600 and 5200 games on it – looking, sounding and feeling just like they did in my very earliest days.
I can hardly contain my excitement at having this massive catalog in my paws. Ported over by Code Mystics out of Vancouver, BC Canada, Atari Flashback Classics features 150 titles and some rare gems, in addition to modern features like local achievements, leaderboards, and social features to “bring players together.”
For the most part, everything maps really well, and Code Mystics have done a great job at figuring out the many different configurations one may encounter from Atari classics. Unlike many emulators, the entry and exit of games is much simpler, and you can always hit the “+” button to get back to the main menu for any title.
You will also get overlaid on the Game Start state, the original console controls, and – where applicable – the original arcade panels to the left and right of the game action.
Nostalgia and Its Limits
That said, not every one of the 150 titles is truly playable (and it would have been great if the most infamously terrible video game of all time, E.T., was among them). In fact, some of them are so clunky, lo-fi and abstract that you have to reframe them as historic documents in the rocky history of game development to justify their inclusion, if nothing else.
But the sheer joy of having these at your disposal still justifies the cost of admission for any game enthusiast. For those expecting a giant bargain on 150 awesome Switch games, this is not that sale.
Crystal Castles and Adventure are particular standouts for me because the former is fast, stylish and unforgiving as hell, and the latter is the seed of all digital imagination and the origin of Easter Eggs in games (and a silent revolution of its own).
If you want to understand the history of electronic games, this is the easiest purchase decision you will make.
A must-have for game devs and arcade historians. 10 out of a possible 10 Lucky Strikes and Dr. Peppers.
Atari Flashback Classics is available via the Nintendo Game Store.
Watch the official trailer for Atari Flashback Classics below: