I have always loved collections of old games for new platforms — and I’ve always been especially fascinated by collections of really old games. And so, when Atari Flashback Classics released for Nintendo Switch in 2018, promising a full 150 games from across the classic Atari arcade, Atari 2600 and Atari 5200 libraries, I knew I had to have it.
Since I was just starting to get into making videos at the time, I thought an interesting project would be to go through each of the games in the collection one at a time and make a video about them. For some reason, 150 games didn’t feel like an insurmountable goal at the time, and so I kicked things off with a look at the arcade version of Asteroids on January 5, 2019.
As of December 25, 2021, the project is officially complete, so I’m proud to present to you the complete playlist of Atari A to Z Flashback, a series of explorations of the 150 games that make up Atari Flashback Classics for Nintendo Switch. (It’s also available for Vita, and across three separate volumes for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.)
150 videos. Over 2 full days’ worth of stuff to watch. A mammoth project, now here for your delectation. Please enjoy!
It has been a long and winding road, for sure, but I have learned a hell of a lot about classic gaming simply through exploring Atari Flashback Classics. Yes, it concentrates exclusively on Atari games — which means that other important developers from the era such as Activision and Imagic don’t enter the picture — but it’s fascinating and rather eye-opening to discover what an exciting place the video game industry of the late ’70s and early ’80s must have been.
There’s a lot to criticise about Atari — particularly with the baffling trajectory the brand has taken over the years since these games were current — but few can deny that the games across this collection provided some truly defining experiences. Developers of early arcade games and 2600 titles in particular were tasked with the unenviable job of inventing mechanical genres, determining what would work for future games and what wouldn’t. And in many ways the games that weren’t quite right are some of the most interesting titles in Atari Flashback Classics.
It’s especially pleasing to see some Atari 5200 games in the compilation, too; the Atari 5200 doesn’t get a lot of love for a variety of reasons, but it still plays host to some great versions of some classic games, as well as some wonderful original titles such as Xari Arena and Final Legacy.
Yes, the control scheme for the virtual Atari 5200 controller in Atari Flashback Classics is arguably even more awkward than the original console’s cumbersome analogue joystick-and-keypad combo, but a robust control customisation facility allows you to get most games working in a convenient way. (RealSports Tennis is beyond help, unfortunately, due to the fact that several of the keypad buttons are impossible to map!)
It’s a little unfortunate and surprising that the emulation of the 5200’s POKEY sound chip is a bit dodgy, however, particularly since several of the arcade games in the collection also used POKEY for audio and sound absolutely fine — and that Atari 8-bit home computer emulators have been happily emulating POKEY for 20+ years at this point. It’s a relatively minor niggle for the most part, but on the occasions when the 5200 attempts to play music, it’s quite obvious!
It’s fun to see some of the popular ROM hacks found on Atari Flashback standalone consoles make it into this collection. Titles like Adventure II, Return to Haunted House and Yars’ Return provide new twists on classic formulae and challenge you to use your existing skills in different ways. Meanwhile, previously unreleased prototypes such as the excellent Aquaventure for Atari 2600, Maze Invaders for arcade and a significant number of the Atari 5200 titles give us an idea of what might have been had the “great crash” of 1983 not happened.
All in all, Atari Flashback Classics is a great collection of some defining experiences from the early days of gaming. While you’ll get the most out of it if you look a little more into the history of the games yourselves — as I’ve done in Atari A to Z Flashback above — it’s also simply fascinating to jump into any of these games and contemplate how far we’ve come. For both better and worse!