Now all you youngsters pull up a seat over here, and listen to an old fogey tell you about a wonderful, magical time called the 1980s.
Ah, the ’80s. A simpler time, it was. See, back then we didn’t have no Internet, no cell phones. Only the luckiest, most special among us had cable TV and PCs. And, for a boy of fourteen (believe it or not, I was young once too) that I was then, a wonderful new invention was about to change my world: Video Games.
Back then, a bunch of us’d gather all the quarters we could find and go to the arcade. Too short for sports and – allow me to be brutally frank here – too geeky for girls (no, I wasn’t always a ladykiller), video games were the perfect pastime for me. We played on the old games – great games, despite their imperfections of fuzzy graphics, wonky joysticks and fire buttons that worked about half the time. And when the Atari 2600 console came into our home, my kid brother and kid sister and I didn’t allow my parents to watch the five stations on our only TV for weeks. We had a crazy case of PacMan Fever (also Defender Delirium, Centipede Syndrome, etc).
Why all the reminiscence? Well, I’ve just rediscovered my first love all over again. Infogrames has released an amazing little CD-ROM entitled “Atari: the 80 Classic Games.” All the coin-op classics of the first dominant force in the industry are here: Pong, Asteroids, Crystal Castles, Missile Command, Lunar Lander – you know, the one in every movie theater lobby – and Tempest. (Oh, TempestÃ¢Â?Â¦) are among the notables, and Atari’s amazing originality (and therefore highly addictive nature) is displayed in Super Breakout and Warlords. From the 2600 gameset are a Heinz 57 of selections, though this is really just scratching the surface of the collection. How about a round of Circus Atari or Bowling? And trust me, one of the greatest video games of all-time is Yar’s Revenge. Play it once or twice and you’ll be canceling all appointments for a week.
As though all of this weren’t enough, bonus material aplenty awaits. There are shots of product art and nostalgic items (yes, we really did wear Space Invaders neckties, but only in class photos) along with instruction manuals for the 2600 games and the requisite Easter eggs. The real prize here, though, is the education. Check out the dozens of pages of “Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames” by Leonard Herman plus the approximately thirty minutes of interview footage with the coolest dude ever Nolan Bushnell and learn yourself some history, sonny. (Can you guess what Mr. Bushnell’s favorite game is? It may surprise you.)
Naturally, there are some faults, particularly with controls. Though some of the Atari gaming experience is improved through use of keyboard or control pad (Battlezone and Surround, for example) and some used buttons only (Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Breakout), a handful of great games positively suffer. How can you play Tempest without the dial control? And won’t the trakball be missed on Centipede, Millipede and Missile Command (Oh, Missile CommandÃ¢Â?Â¦)? For serious retromongers, accessorizing will be necessary.
Perhaps missing most, though, is the atmosphere. Perhaps the CD-ROM should come with a couple of guys to stand behind you, look over your shoulder and place quarters on the screen to reserve the game you will invariably lose via distraction. Maybe serious players should loosen a few keys on the keyboard and scratch up their screens a bit.
Yes, those were the days. Now if you’ll excuse me, kiddies, I’ll be traveling back to those innocent times once more. Aaaaah, good old CombatÃ¢Â?Â¦