DSI Games has jumped headfirst into the growing retro game market by unleashing a pile of compilations for the Game Boy Advance that contain some of Atari and Midway's most beloved classics. The three-game pack containing Pong, Asteroids, and Yar's Revenge includes highly accurate conversions of those aforementioned games...and that's it.
Pong was the first game Atari ever produced and is widely considered the first commercially manufactured video game. Although conceptualized as a table tennis game, it actually has more in common with air hockey. Two players each control an onscreen paddle, which can only be moved up and down, and each tries to score points on the other by knocking the ball past the opponent's paddle. Pong was initially produced in coin-op form in 1972 and was so popular that larger coin bins had to be installed in the early machines to contain all the quarters players were pumping into them.
A few years and a couple of games later, Atari struck gold again with Asteroids. People were immediately drawn to the game thanks to its line-based vector graphics, which were brand-new back in 1979. The gameplay, although simple, wasn't bad either. Players control a wedge-shaped ship that can be rotated and flown around the screen, and they have to rack up points by shooting at and breaking apart the giant asteroids that are also floating around the same screen. When you shoot an asteroid, it'll break apart into smaller fragments. Therein lies the challenge, as ramming into an asteroid fragment will cost you a life. Asteroids was also one of the first games that let players enter their initials after setting a high score.
In the interim between Pong and Asteroids, Atari entered the home-console market with its Video Computer System--better known as the Atari 2600. Versions of Pong and Asteroids were released for the 2600, and they sold well. But the system's best-selling first-party title was a quirky space shooter called Yar's Revenge. Yar's Revenge was released in 1981. Compared to Pong and Asteroids, it's packed to the gills with "complex" gameplay. Players control a birdlike ship, called a Yar, which can fly around the screen and shoot tiny laser bullets. The goal of the game is to destroy the enemy ship on the right side of the screen by whittling down its force field and then finishing it off with a point-blank blast. That's easier said than done, however, as you have to watch out for the enemy ship's own swirly blasts, as well as a guided torpedo that's constantly chasing the Yar. A swath of colorful lines scrolling down the middle of the screen represents a safe zone where you can retreat to avoid the torpedo.
All three games on the cartridge are accurate reproductions of their arcade and 2600 counterparts. That's no miracle, considering two of the games are in black and white and that all three employ simple beeps and bloops for their sound effects. Yar's Revenge doesn't have the "author's initials" Easter egg, but the torpedo and enemy movement patterns and speed seem spot-on to the original game. Pong, in its original incarnation, featured a rotary dial controller. On the GBA, player one uses the directional pad to move the paddle up and down, while player two uses the A and B buttons. The D pad and button setup is fine, but player two is at a disadvantage since A and B are aligned horizontally and not vertically.
More annoying, however, is the lack of persistent high-score tables. Games like this are all about setting and beating your own top score. It's disappointing that scores are reset when the GBA is switched off, as, ironically, Asteroids was one of the first arcade games to let players record their initials.
Ultimately, while this compilation offers a marginally enjoyable trip down memory lane with three Atari classics, it's tough to recommend because the games are so ancient--not to mention that there's a total lack of any ancillary features. The inability to save high scores is particularly tragic.