Monday, June 26, 2023

Atari Mania (PS4/5)


The only feeling about Atari Mania I’m 100A% sure about is “I’m glad I got this on sale.”

In theory, the idea behind Atari Mania is rock solid. “What if WarioWare, but Atari 2600?” is a great idea. The old 2600 games have nostalgia, but few have staying power. So why not take the core game mechanics of all of them and remix them into 5-10 second chunks, string them together, and wrap and wrap it all into a loose narrative? And it works! Sometimes!

A lot of very janky choices went into this game that make it more of a chore to play than it should be. The biggest one, for me, is the choice to take the very limited but very familiar Atari 2600 graphics, and redraw them in a Very Shitty 8-Bit Art Style. Meaning that it has all the big pixels and lack of anti-aliasing and contrast you remember from the 2600, but none of the actual sprites. So the Combat levels look like an ugly tank game, but it doesn’t look like Combat. Some of this is sort of necessary to accomplish the micro-game design goals, but a lot of it, well, ain’t.

That “clever but also a bit off” vibe permeates the whole package. There’s a LOT of dialogue in the adventure parts (where you play a caretaker exploring the Atari Vault where apparently a criminally insane Bentley Bear from Crystal Castles is creating monsters out of dead pixels), but it’s all in an ugly pixel font that’s difficult to read, and it’s not good enough to warrant the hassle. Some of the microgames last a little too long, too, which is weird for a microgame, but when you’re getting sick of it after 8 seconds, something’s wrong.

Difficulty is all over the place, but that’s inherent to the genre. The microgames are random and some are easier than others and some require more trial and error than others so you could die six in or you could run 11 straight without losing a single life, then get to the boss, then have the boss level glitch and not load, wasting your entire run.

And it’s all frustrating, because the core concept is so compelling that I keep wanting to play it. I love WarioWare, I love old Atari shit, and even with this mediocrity of execution, when it works, it fucking WORKS. When you can ignore the weird graphics, hit a microgame with an interesting challenge, successfully pull it off without the clunky controls or some contrast quirk fucking you over, it’s a great time! It’s just not a great time all the time, and it could have been.

So I’m glad it was only $17.49, bought with a wallet stuffed full of 20A% off PA money from Costco. At full price ($25) it would have been way more disappointing.

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