I’ve sunk more time into other games, but Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration might be my favourite thing that I played this year. It’s a collection of over a hundred classic Atari games — from the company’s earliest arcade titles, through the 2600 and 8-bit computer heyday, up to the less than successful Lynx and Jaguar years. But it’s how the games are presented that really sets it apart.
You can dive in and quickly play any game you want like any classic game collection, but the best way to explore Atari 50 is through the timeline view. It presents each game in chronological order, interspersed with a trove of historical material and newly produced documentary-style interviews that puts everything in context. You can see Howard Scott Warshaw explain how he created Yars’ Revenge, watch an original TV commercial, read the comic book that was included with the cartridge, then play the actual game.
Atari 50 was produced by Digital Eclipse, which also created six new games for the collection inspired by Atari classics. One of the standouts is Vctr-Sctr, which is an amazingly well-crafted homage to vector-based arcade games like Asteroids, Tempest and Lunar Lander. Kyle Orland has an appreciation of it at Ars Technica. There’s also new takes on Breakout, Combat, and Haunted House that all feel just right, and an updated version of Yars’ Revenge that offers a graphical update but retains the exact gameplay of the original. They even finished the never-completed Swordquest: AirWorld, which provides a long overdue conclusion to the ambitious (if confounding) Swordquest series for the Atari 2600.