Atari Classics Evolved

Evolution Is Good

Atari Classics Evolved manages to successfully update some tried-and-true games without losing their charm.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: January 16, 2008
Though they've slacked off in recent years, the near-constant flow of retro compilations shows no real sign of slowing down -- especially if someone decides to offer a bunch of next-gen updates. Atari Classics Evolved doesn't exactly shy away from touching the hallowed ground of some of gaming's best-loved old-school hits, but in updating the games, developer Stainless Games has thankfully done little more than given them a fresh coat of paint.

That means Battlezone, Missile Command, Asteroids (in regular and Deluxe versions), Pong, Lunar Lander, Super Breakout, Tempest, Centipede and sequel Millipede, along with Warlords are all offered in their original form and updated with fancy-schmancy visuals, though fundamentally the games play exactly the same. In fact, Stainless did a hell of a job in essentially skinning the games, letting their rock solid gameplay shine through while giving the PSP a little something to chew on visually.

Better still, most retro compilations rely on cramming as many titles in as possible to add the overall value, but Atari Classics Evolved, perhaps fittingly for one of the best consoles ever created, sticks to just those 11 games to prop everything up, and for $20, it's actually rather solid deal. There is the promise of unlocking more than four dozen 2600 games, but to do it, you'll have to hammer through the Evolved remakes of the games and their four challenges to unlock the 2600 treasure trove.

These goals, along with the updates to the games, are likely going to be one of the few areas of contention among purists. The original versions do hold up surprisingly well, and I personally loved all the remakes (particularly Warlords), but things like requiring that you play the PSP vertically, hands at the top and bottom of the system for stuff like the 'pedes and parts of Pong are doubtlessly going to turn off some gamers.

Which is probably why it's a good thing that there are all the original versions, some of which do indeed play better than their Evolved counterparts. That you must complete each of the games' challenges in Evolved Mode means a bit of a headache, but none of the goals are so difficult (they range from scoring a certain number of points to getting an extra life and so on) that they can't be had with a little perseverance. In fact, one could rightly argue that they give the Evolved versions of the games a little more meat than just fancier graphics -- particularly because, again, the core gameplay is mirrored so perfectly.

Old-school emulated versions of 20+ year old games is a nice little bonus, sure, but many of these compilations also have relevance as a historical aid. Stuff like the original arcade cabinet sell sheets, or anecdotes from the original creators help give the games more weight, and for those of us old enough to actually remember these games in the arcades, it makes for a fantastic trip down memory lane. Evolved sadly doesn't offer anything of that nature, and it's a bit of a shame -- particularly because of the notorious flare-out of Atari during the first video game crash.

Still, what's here, is not only emulated perfectly (well, barring having the actual trackball and spinner controls of the arcade games), but the updated versions run terrifically as well. Stuff like being able to swap between skins for Pong even while playing the game is not only a nice touch, but actually helps you accomplish some of the challenges for that game. Tempest looks and plays beautifully in both modes and the multiple modes in Super Breakout give the game more depth. One thing to note, though: if you're not playing on one of the newer PSPs with its improved analog nub (and for some, even if you are), you'll want to go into the options and mess with the sensitivity a little bit. Given the speed of some of the games, it takes a bit of trial and error, but the payoff is well worth it.

Atari Classics Evolved's barebones offering complements its $20 asking price. Sure, there could have been a little more poured into the package, but for sheer accessibility (once you get past the admittedly lengthy load times for each of the games), and on-the-go ease, you could do far worse than to have one of the best retro collections on the PSP with you at any given time. Definitely give this one a look.
The Verdict

Atari Classics Evolved is a tight, concise little value-priced collection of honest-to-goodness great retro games. It's well worth the asking price and even offers a little more than you'd expect.


Modestly updated graphics don't do a whole lot to push the PSP, but at least they look nice.


Even the Evolved versions of the game don't boast much beyond simple sound effects and passable looping music. Not bad, mind you, but not amazing. Then again, these aren't super complex games.


The PSP's analog nub is neither a trackball nor a twister knob, but it gets the job done well enough (sometimes with a bit of sensitivity tweaking).


All 11 classic games rock to varying degrees, and if you want the real old-school stuff, it's there too in the form of 50+ Atari 2600 games, though not all of them hold up perfectly.