Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 brings perfect emulations of six coin-ops from gaming's golden age together on one CD. Unlike many compilations, there isn't a bad egg in the batch. Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Tempest, and even Super Breakout are all testaments to the axiom: "Gameplay is where it's at."
In 1980, you had to suspend your disbelief a little when it came to graphics. You said: "Sure, that's a missile," when all you had on your screen was a pixelated diagonal line. Of course, each game on this compilation looks exactly like it did back then. With the technological limitations of the time, it's a wonder that the slow nocturnal rumblings of Battlezone were so eerie, that Super Breakout was fun, and that nothing before or after Tempest has ever looked...like Tempest.
It makes you wonder if designers spent a lot more time playtesting their games, or if, since coding was simpler, gameplay was easier to tweak. Missile Command is pure stress as you struggle against so many fragmenting ICBMs with your embarrassingly small supply of missiles. The rapid plummet of the Centipede when it hits a poison mushroom remains one of the more daunting and immediate dangers in video gaming. Tempest gets more mileage out of a simple X than Tic Tac Toe - once those critters reach the outer rim, unless you've got the superzapper, you can forget it. As for Asteroids, well, let's just say don't touch that Hyperspace button if you know what's good for you.
Unfortunately, the Sega Controller lacks the speed, versatility, and subtlety of response required for many of these games. In the original versions, Centipede and Missile Command had a trackball, which offered a full-range of angular motion, rather than the limited eight directions of the D-pad. The paddle controller on the original Super Breakout, with its variable response speed, allowed for rapid streaks across the screen, as well as minute, instantaneous adjustments made split-seconds before the ball hit the cursor. There are shots in the game you can't make because the D-pad is just too slow or unresponsive. Of course, the real tragedy is being unable to make the famous "Tempest Whir" by just taking the paddle and spinning it as hard as you can.
Control issues aside, this is by far the best arcade classic roundup to date. As in other volumes, the emulations are perfect. However, all, not most, of the games in this one are top-of-the-class. If you just can't look at a game unless it features fully rendered polygonal animations, or for that matter 2-D sprites, obviously, you should look elsewhere. For pure retro-gaming fun, this compilation can't be beat.