Everyone's seemingly jumping on the bandwagon to bring back the classics, from those who've never abandoned them and are maintaining mailing lists and newsletters to the newer patrons buying up flea market cartridges and racing to be the first in line to pick up any of the serial PlayStation and Saturn releases that have come out in the last couple years such as Midway's Atari Collections and Namco's Museum lineup.
Now Activision, an obvious contender in classic titles, has entered the nostalgia ring with A Collection of Activision Classic Games for the Atari 2600. If this Activision collection does anything, it outnumbers the quantity of other compilations by including 30 Atari VCS games: Atlantis, Barnstorming, Boxing, Chopper Command, Cosmic Commuter, Crackpots, Dolphin, Dragster, Enduro, Fishing Derby, Freeway, Frostbite, Grand Prix, HERO, Ice Hockey, Kaboom!, Keystone Kapers, Laser Blast, Megamania, Pitfall, Plaque Attack, River Raid, River Raid 2, Sea Quest, Skiing, Sky Jinks, Spider Fighter, Stampede, Starmaster, and Tennis.
While this is a fairly extensive collection, there are really only a few games you'll likely get a lot of replay out of. Those, of course, being Pitfall, River Raid, Keystone Kapers, and Megamania. However, the other games offer the same value as any other retro product (insert name here), allowing you to boil in your instant recognition of and anticipation for the games you liked as a kid, and quickly simmer upon the realization that some of these games weren't really that much fun to begin with. I hated Dolphin in the early '80s, and I still hate it now. Some games seem fairly different today, however. For example, Cosmic Commuter has a whole new meaning being an adult who drives to work each day as opposed to a kid who walks. But outside of generating a few sparks off the sentimental value, you'll probably only occasionally return to most of these titles after the first time you check them out.
Another point is that as a compilation from Activision, you'd expect a better conversion. They are not direct ports, and many of the games are slower - showing signs of lag in the gameplay that didn't exist in the originals. In Keystone Kapers, for example, I had the timing down to a science years ago. But in this version, the cop runs a tiny bit slower, with short little bursts in his step. With some minor adjustments to my gameplay, I was up to speed in no time, but it was frustrating at first.
The load times, game menus, and interface were a bit frustrating as well. I liked the graphic on the menu screen that showed an illustration of the original cartridge being placed in an Atari system on top of a graphical TV, but that wasn't cute enough to make me forget that you have to exit the game and go back to the front end and select a new variation (they thought to put a color/b&w button on the controller but stupidly forgot to put game select and game reset buttons?) In Freeway, for example, you could start out on any one of a handful of variations, each with different difficulties. However, if you wanted to play "Game 2," you'd have to exit the game (complete with load time) and reselect Freeway and the new level you want.
Perhaps the best way to approach this collection is to consider what Activision has written on the back of the box: "At about a buck a game...." Considering you can pick up many playable 2600 cartridges at flea markets for about one dollar or so, if you just want to occasionally play some of your favorite old titles, without the commitment of collecting or even hooking up your 2600, this collection is worth it. But if you're a purist, looking for a 2600 experience that is unmarred by modern production, you might want to dust off your Atari VCS, because this collection is pretty fun, but it ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.