A month or so ago, Atari released the game Atari Mania to coincide with their 50th Anniversary. Developed by iLLOGIKA, the game wisely ignores the most recent years of Atari's history and instead focuses on the very beginning, back when the legendary developer was the ultimate pioneer and leader in terms of console gaming.
Now this is certainly not the first time that Atari has celebrated their legacy by repackaging their old games. But unlike Atari Hits 2006, Atari Powerpack, Atari Arcade 1, Atari's Greatest Hits, Atari: Anniversary Edition, Atari Flashback Classics or any of other the 798 game collections released during the years, Atari Mania doesn't just settle with polishing the games and reprinting them on a shiny new disc. Instead, iconic games such as Pong, Asteroids and Centipede are cut into tiny pieces and glued together in new, surprising configurations producing Frankenstein-like minigames.
The final game is a huge and varied collection of mini games that undoubtedly is heavily inspired by the WarioWare series, right down to the music that gradually increases in tempo as the games themselves become faster, while you are working your way through a playlist of typically 10-15 micro games. The games do not have the same wacky humour as say WarioWare: Get It Together! and sometimes it's too hard to discern exactly what you are supposed to do, meaning you have pretty much lost the mini game beforehand. But overall the quality is not that far behind it's main source of inspiration, though it varies too much.
Another game that is hard to ignore when talking about Atari Mania is NES Remix, as both games are not afraid to mix completely incompatible games and genres. What about winning at match of Pong playing as the cowboy from Stampede, or navigating the labyrinth in Adventyre with the plane from Canyon Bomber? The combinations are nearly limitless, and in many ways it works even better than in NES Remix, thanks to the simple Atari games being better suited to short bursts of play than The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros.
The irreverent attitude towards the Atari classics also manifests itself in the game's surprisingly fun story. You play as a janitor tasked with cleaning the dirty and derelict Atari building. When one day mysterious black pixels appear and swallow the classic Atari games and characters, the janitor must show that he handles a joystick just as expertly as his trusted broom. It's certainly not a masterpiece of a story, but the dialogue is filled with charming puns, and it's fan service of the finest quality seeing iLLOGIKA giving the normally abstract Atari-characters quirky personalities.
Your adventures with the janitor is much more than just being an interactive menu or a hub. Rather, it's laid out as a small adventure game with surprisingly fun puzzles and a "metroidvania-like" progression where you continuously unlock new tools that let you reach new floors and rooms. During exploration you will stumble upon collectibles in the form of box arts and manuals from classic Atari titles. Unfortunately, you can't play them in their "pure form" which is a bit disappointing considering the entire catalogue of about 50 titles probably wouldn't have taken up more than a couple of megabytes on your harddisk.
At least the games have received graphical improvements while retaining their pixel charm, and the game's adventure part includes many charming sprites. The developer even recreates the curved shape of a classic CRT-monitor which really underscores their deep love of the source material. In terms of sound design, the music is decent without being anything special, while the mini games themselves could have benefitted from more noticeable sound effects. That many of the musical themes loop probably won't bother you too much though as the game is very short. It didn't take me more than 3-4 hours to reach the credits. Considering the £19.49/20.99€ price tag, this is a little disappointing.
But to be honest, 3-4 hours is probably a lot more than most people would have spent on a traditional Atari collection filled with dozens or even hundreds of antiquated games. While Atari Mania has its weaknesses, it ultimately succeeds in resurrecting the classic games instead of the usual embalming.