Atari Mania is the latest game to show up as part of the ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations of legendary software publishers, Atari. We’ve recently seen Atari 50, a huge compilation spanning Atari’s time in the industry, and a whole heap of remastered games in their Recharged range, Atari Mania is something else altogether. Essentially, this game is a top-down puzzle-solving adventure game that acts as the framework for a heap of Warioware-style mini-games, all based on old Atari titles.
You play as the Janitor who is working at Atari HQ one night when there’s suddenly an invasion of black pixels. These errant pixels start dragging in the other staff at HQ and it’s up to you to stop them and figure out what’s going on. This generally means figuring out how to get to the next infected area and then dive in at which point you’ll have to get through a set number of mini-games without losing all your lives.
The mini-games are clearly the star of the show here but, before we get into those, the overall game that holds it all together is okay too. You’re slowly awarded new tools such as a hammer, a magnet and bridge thing and these are all used to solve puzzles and get to previously unreachable areas. It’s not too arduous and is generally easy enough to get through without you thinking ‘why am I doing this and not playing the fun mini-games?’
But, yes, it’s really all about those games. What Atari has been doing with this whole fifty year love-in is really diving deep into that fan service and that’s very much the case here. So many of their classic era games are represented here albeit in very bite-sized chunks. You get a quick instruction and then you’re thrown into the mini-game, trying to figure out where you are, what the controls are and how to beat the challenge.
The challenges can be quite straightforward, such as winning a point in a Pong match or shooting the cannon in Yar’s Revenge but the game is also happy to mash things up. So you might be shooting centipedes in a game of Asteroids or driving the tank from Combat through a game of Cowboy. From Circus Atari to Dodge ‘Em to Gravitar, there are so many games that Atari Mania can draw inspiration from and it does make for some really interesting and fun games.
However, not every combination is fun. Sometimes a combination just doesn’t work or is just dragged out too long by being part of a boss battle. While you do get better as a player and start learning and recognising games that were initially harder to beat, some of the harder boss encounters do spoil the fun a bit. And anything that uses Gravitar‘s controls as a base ingredient isn’t ever going to be super playable.
Another issue is that while there are arcade cabinets littered throughout the game, these don’t actually give you access to the full games that Atari Mania draws inspiration from. That’s not a huge issue if you’ve got Atari 50 but it does feel like a missed opportunity. Instead, this game just offers up scanned art and manuals as collectibles, which isn’t much fun at all.
What we really like about Atari Mania is that it removes itself from the style and aesthetics of the Recharged games. Where those are rather staid recreations of classic Atari titles, what you get here is a lot more silly and fun. And even though this game relies on a neo-retro 8-bit aesthetic, it elevates it a bit and injects some much needed personality into the whole thing. And this goes great with the mini-games themselves as this package feels like a triumph of creativity rather than just being a pedestrian retread of games that arguably weren’t all that fun 40-50 years ago, let alone now.
The biggest issue here though is that if you get stuck on a tricky boss, that’s it. There’s no way to use the exploration meta-game to find a different boss to challenge and so Atari Mania can get quite frustrating. And with the controls not always being the most intuitive, sometimes the game struggles to match the ultra-playability of Warioware. But that’s kind of the fundamental difference between classic Atari and classic Nintendo. The former always felt like it was trying to separate arcade players from their spare change while Nintendo did pride themselves on refined gameplay.
However, as an overall package, Atari 50 is a mostly fun, very creative and quite silly title. If you want quick thrills and instant nostalgia, this will suit you more than Atari 50 did but fans of Atari as a whole will be better served with that compilation than this one.
+ The overall meta-game is quite good
+ Lots of fan service for Atari die-hards
- Can't play full games
- Boss battles can be a chore