Retronomicon: Evercade #5: Atari Collection #2

The second Atari collection.

I figure by now the “there’s a lot of Evercade cartridges” joke has run its course, so let’s move on.

One thing I love about the Evercade is that the emulators are built into the cartridges, which means that anything the hardware is powerful enough to run it can probably play. This means that the folks at Evercade aren’t limited to the emulators that the console would have shipped with, nor do they have to deal with pesky firmware updates every time they want to include a new game system.

The Atari Collection #2 contains 20 games, 14 of which are from the Atari 2600 and 6 of which are from the Atari 7800. Now the Namco collection had a much smaller range of genres, but we’re going back to throwing everything at the fridge door this week. As usual I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who isn’t just here for the nostalgia but would like games they’d actually play.

I assume probably correctly that people looking to pick these up for the nostalgia just want to know how well they run. They all run fine, although you’re not playing with a joystick but a d-pad. Keep that in mind.

1. Air Sea Battle

One of the launch games for the Atari 2600, Air Sea Battle is the easiest thing I’ll review on this cart. It’s completely unplayable and I’m not sure why they had to include it on this cartridge. Air Sea Battle has you shooting down airplanes using artillery. It’s a strictly two player game with 27 game modes that are three variations on nine actual game modes.

There is a CPU opponent for each mode, however the CPU opponent takes the role of player 1 and simply holds down the fire button. The problem? You can’t be player 2, making this mode pointless. Even with the Vs. and a friend this doesn’t have much draw. Or any.

Verdict: Pass

2. Asteroids

There’s something special about the Atari 7800 that tickles my retro giggle stick. The console stuck with the Atari aesthetic and just improved on it, with games feeling like simply better versions of the 2600 predecessors. Asteroids requires no introduction, you fly around in a space ship blowing up asteroids, occasionally blowing up space ships, and trying not to die. Okay, there’s the introduction.

It’s a classic. I love the way the asteroids look.

Verdict: Keep

3. Basketbrawl

An Atari 7800 game, Basketbrawl is a shockingly good title to play on one’s own. To an extent. You have the option of playing one on one or two on two street basketball, which is like normal basketball except with a lot more stabbing and punching. It came out on the 7800 and the Lynx and has a very Atari aesthetic. In fact, let’s check if it’s on the Lynx cart.

It is, on the Lynx Collection #1.

My favorite game mode for Basketbrawl is to play two on two and just play defense, punching the opposing team in the face to get the ball to my teammate who seems to have much better luck at scoring than I do. All of this works pretty well up until match 10 when the game decides it’s time to knock your ass out and just cranks the difficulty up to 50. I was ending each match roughly 8-2 up to that point, and the enemy team dominated us 0-10.

I’m going to give this one a keep as an Evercade title with the added bonus of an extra keep for the Vs. when you can play with two real people.

Verdict: Keep

4. Bowling

Bowling was released in 1979, the creation of Larry Kaplan who many of you may know as a founder of Activision. In bowling you bowl. There are six game modes that boil down to three variations and a one and two player mode for each variation. The variations change how your ball moves.

It’s not a complicated game, but it’s pretty fun. The sound isn’t grating for an Atari 2600 game and I know I say this a lot but the quality will be improved when the Atari Vs. comes out and you can actually play with two players.

I’ll give this one a keep, but as a title you’ll boot up every once in a while. It’s an Atari 2600 game, it’s not a marathoner.

Verdict: Keep

5. Centipede

Didn’t I talk about this one already? The original Atari collection had Centipede from the 2600. Centipede on the Atari 7800 is everything the 2600 version is but better. Better sound, better graphics, smoother controls, everything. There’s even a two player simultaneous mode that to my recollection doesn’t exist on the 2600.

Centipede is a fun as hell arcade game where the goal is to shoot the centipede before it reaches you, shoot the other things, and obviously not die. The Atari carts are really the easiest for me to review because they’re such basic concepts at heart. The game is fast paced, hard, and the goal is to get your high score incrementally higher. Why? So that crush of yours will see the score and want to smooch you. Obviously.

Verdict: Keep

6. Dark Chambers

You might be shocked upon loading up Dark Chambers to see a very different game than you’d expect. Dark Chambers feels like a clone of Gauntlet, when in reality Gauntlet was a clone of Dark Chambers. Released for the Atari 2600, Dark Chambers is a re-release of the game Dandy. It’s a dungeon crawler where the player navigates mazes while collecting things and killing enemies. It looks like you’re shooting a gun, when really you’re apparently just throwing daggers.

Also there’s a gun.

It’s pretty neat to see in an Atari 2600 game, and you can eventually play two players simultaneously. It’s definitely not the arcade port you’d come to expect from the system, and the game itself is more engaging and meant for longer play sessions than the average Centipede or Asteroids.

Verdict: Keep

7. Demons to Diamonds


Demons to Diamonds is one of those 2600 games that looks deceptively simple. Oh I just shoot the things until I get the points, you think. Why are the enemies turning into skulls? Why am I not getting points? Turns out I do have to read the manual after all. Released in 1982 by Nick Turner and Alan Murphy, Demons to Diamonds needs some instruction that the manual sadly doesn’t provide. The most the manual has is “shoot the red enemies, avoid the white.”

Maybe I’m color blind, but the enemies in this game are clearly purple and black, not white and red. You’re supposed to shoot the enemies that correspond with your character color, because that puts diamonds on the field that you then shoot for points. Don’t shoot the off-color enemies because they turn into skulls and randomly shoot up and down. As you’re playing skulls will randomly appear.

It’s definitely a creative design, and I’m rolling over the oldies when I say it will do better with two player mode. Demons to Diamonds is a uniquely challenging game and one that will keep you glued as you try to get that higher score. There are six game modes, three variations with 1 and 2 players respectively.

Verdict: Keep

8. Desert Falcon

Desert Falcon is another one of those games that shows how much better the Atari 7800 was compared to the 2600. The game on the 2600 was nigh unplayable, and here it’s pretty good. I mentioned in my review for the 2600 version that the game had a neat idea but chose the wrong hardware to put it on.

The 7800 version is far more functional, given it has better perspective, more stuff on screen, and just all around feels better. There are less cheap deaths because the falcon’s position is better conveyed than it was on the 2600 version. You play as a falcon in the desert stealing treasure and shooting stuff. You know, like falcons do. It’s not important.

A good idea, with proper hardware.

Verdict: Keep

9. Human Cannonball

I’ve been having too much fun with this cartridge so far, so it was only a matter of time before we got back to a 2600 game that was just plain crap. Human Cannonball has you changing the angle of your cannon to shoot a stick figure into a basket. It isn’t fun. I’m not sure how else to put it. There isn’t a whole lot here, and what is here is frustrating. I’m sure it was technologically impressive for the time.

Verdict: Pass

10. Haunted House

Haunted House is another example of the failings of Evercade’s manual shtick. The manuals they provide with the cartridges are basically 90% useless and barely help learn the games, if at all. One of Evercade’s big selling points is that they include physical manuals, and nobody does that anymore. But Evercade’s manuals suck and you still need to go online to find the real thing.

Here’s what the Evercade manual says about Haunted House:

Surviving this house of horrors involves a good sense of direction and a lot of paying attention to where the ghost is. He is both relentless and determined as you will have to be to escape his clutches in this early survival horror that uses color and layout to distinguish one floor from another.

Great. Tell me from that description what you’re supposed to do. In Haunted House you play a pair of eyeballs that are actually a person in a very dark house. Creative use of thematics to make up for graphics. You have unlimited matches and the goal is to find various tchotchkes strewn about the multi-floor mansion while avoiding the creatures. You can only see the treasure when your match is lit. Points are based on how many lives you have upon escaping.

It’s a fun game once you know what you’re doing, not that Evercade is any help.

Verdict: Keep

11. Millipede

What is the difference between Millipede and Centipede on Atari? Millipede is Centipede but on crank. Faster, more enemies, more spiders, more creatures, more everything. Faster, faster, faster, faster, kill, kill, kill, kill, die, die, die.

Now I hated Centipede on the Atari 2600, and Millipede being that but tougher is even worse.

Verdict: Pass

12. Planet Smashers

Planet Smashers is a game that if you play it with the sound up in a room with another person, you will inevitably be murdered. A scrolling space shooter, Planet Smashers released on the Atari 7800 at the end of its life and it’s got some twists and curves to throw at you. First of all you have a few stats to keep track of including your shields, but there’s also the Earth shield. You can’t be some kind of coward that lets all the asteroids and ships past you to not get hurt, doing so depletes the Earth’s shields and if it goes down all the way you lose.

Thankfully Earth has a big shield.

Play this with the sound off. There’s no background music and only one shooting effect that sounds like an Atari 2600 game burrowing into your ear drum. It’s not good. The game itself is fine. Standard shoot em up flare with a little bit of a twist. Difficult, as you’d expect a game of this type to be.

Verdict: Keep

13. Radar Lock

Radar Lock is a fun but annoying game, a shooter from a time when creating a three dimensional area required a lot of tricks to be played on the screen. Radar Lock is effectively a demake of the arcade game Afterburner. The player takes the role of a fighter jet blowing up stuff and not getting blown up, on a field pretending to be a 3D fighting area.

The end of each level is where the game gets extra hard. Remember Top Gun on the NES and its terrible landing mechanics? In Radar Lock you have to sync up with a tanker to refuel. It’s fun, but it’s really hard to figure out the refueling. The perspective takes some getting used to if you’re not familiar with faux-3D games using 2D images.

Verdict: Keep

14. Real Sports Tennis

Real Sports Tennis is essentially advanced Pong on the Atari, which I say understanding that Pong is a deconstructed tennis, not the other way around. You can run around the area, controls are pretty tight, and the game has two modes; fast and slow, with one and two player variations of each. Obviously the second player mode won’t be available until the Vs. launches.

But does Real Sports Tennis hold up in single player? Yea, sure. The fact that your character hits the ball automatically on contact makes it easier to navigate, and prolongs volleys quite a bit. The CPU is functional and doesn’t make any obviously stupid moves to cheat you a win. As is usual with Atari 2600 games, the CPU opponent isn’t smart enough to be intentionally stupid for the sake of easing difficulty.

Verdict: Keep

15. Submarine Commander

Submarine Commander is technically impressive, but otherwise really boring. It’s an Atari 2600 game released in 1982 and puts the player in the unique perspective of a submarine, viewing ships through the periscope. You have to shoot down enemy ships to get points, while keeping an eye on your fuel and engine temperature.

For 1982 this was an impressive feat. For today it’s just not very fun.

Verdict: Pass

16. Sprintmaster

Bad game? Nah, bad you. Actually bad game. Bad controls, bad sound, bad graphics (even for the 2600), and ridiculously difficult AI all come together for a rough experience.

Verdict: Pass

17. Solaris

Solaris is one of those rare Atari 2600 games that has a victory screen. It’s a pseudo-3D title, and I have the strangest feeling I’ve already talked about this game. Maybe it’s because these games meld together into one incoherent memory. I actually went back and checked the older Atari cartridge because I was so sure I’d played a version of this. I didn’t.

It’s not bad, but it’s hard and confusing. One of those games you need to play a lot of and read the manual in order to get a handle on, otherwise you just die and not really understand why. You have a grid to navigate which in itself has enemy logos you’ll need to look up to figure out what they are and how you should tackle them. Once again, the manual is worthless.

Verdict: Keep

18. Street Racer

Street Racer is one of those 2600 games that would promise 27 games in one. Created by Jeff Kaplan, this is another one of those games that would have been better with another person. And in 1977 when the game originally came out. Nowadays? You’ll boot it up once. Maybe twice. The AI doesn’t work.

Alternately when the Evercade Vs. comes out I’m sure people will have a lot of fun trying to play it competitively while drunk.

Verdict: Pass

19. Wizard

Oh boy, it’s prototype time. Wizard is a 1980 title released in 2005 for the Atari VCS. How? Well it was prototyped by Chris Crawford and never published, and only came to light with the Atari Flashback 2 console. Wizard is a prototype game where the player takes control of a wizard…I think. Your job is to kill a monster that stalks you on the field and is mostly invisible unless shooting at your or being shot.

It’s an impressive technological feat, and unique for its time. The two player mode allows one player to take control of the monster, but obviously that version isn’t available at this moment until the Vs. comes out. Still, it’s an interesting piece of history and something that few have played.

Verdict: Keep

20. Yars’ Revenge

The actual game. The version included on the first Atari collection was Yars’ Return, a “sequel” released for the Atari Flashback 2 console. Yars’ Revenge meanwhile is the original beast, the creature from planet epilepsy coming to dose you with ten milligrams of vitamin seizure.

In Yars’ Revenge you have to whittle down the enemy’s shield while avoiding attacks, avoiding a thing constantly following you, and making use of the shield in the middle of the screen. Once you put a hole in the shield, you use yourself as a beacon for the big missile that blows up the enemy ship. Rinse and repeat until you run out of lives.

It’s fun, challenging, and there’s a reason this was a bestseller on the Atari 2600.

Verdict: Keep


I didn’t think I’d be this positive about the Atari Collection #2, but I was. Out of 20 titles on the cartridge, I give this system 14 keeps out of 20. That’s a 70% positive rating if I got my math right. I’m not sure why you’re reading this review if you’re not into 8-bit or 16-bit games, but it stands to reason that next to none of these games will hold your attention if you’re not into the arcade-style titles.

Next week? Namco Collection #2.

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