Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration – All of its racing games reviewed


Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration: All racing games in the test

Justin Towell finds some old treasures in the swamp of retro racing.

Wow. 50 years of Atari basically means our favorite pastime is half a century old.

To celebrate this incredible milestone in gaming history, over 100 games from the past have been compiled, from Pong to the 64-bit Jaguar console, to be released here on all modern platforms.

But what does the package have to offer us driving fans? Let’s find out…

square anchor

This is a four-player enabled version of the classic two-player game Tank, in which you use the two analog sticks to manipulate your tank’s tracks and then shoot at either human or AI-controlled enemies.

Successfully driving the tank through the arena is no easy task, and there are power-ups to collect as you fight. A Capture The Flag mode is also available to try out once the normal battle mode has run its course.

It goes really well with the Switch and supports up to four players – perfect for prop-up gaming on vacation.

Dodge them

This is technically a “driving” game where you play as a car but only control lane changing as two (or sometimes three!) cars automatically drive around in different directions in a maze on one screen.

A Pac-Man element sees you earn points as you drive, and you must earn all the points without crashing into the other car.

It’s simple throwaway fun, but it runs smoothly and requires constant thinking to avoid Crashin’ Clyde or his sidekick Smashin’ Sam. It’s very simple but somehow charming.

fire truck

The very first cooperative game (ever!) is available here for you to try with a friend. Oddly enough, the software insists each player has two Joy Cons on Switch, but once you’re sorted out, one player controls the cabin and the other controls the trailer.

The idea is to steer through the white outlines of the city streets and get as far as possible before running out of fuel. You never have to put out a fire and the second player has very little to do other than try to line up the back of the truck with the front.

Your life won’t be richer or poorer because you played it, so don’t bother trying. It’s pretty cute though.

sprint 8

Dating back to 1977, this is one of the most brutal racers you’ll ever play. You get at least two-speed manual gears to make things more interesting, and the cars turn better at lower speeds, so navigating the tracks requires some modern gaming skill.

However, the single-screen racetracks make it really difficult to avoid the other cars, and collisions will just turn your car’s steering hard to the right for the duration of contact, sending you into the white dots that act as armco.

Without the steering wheels and the built-in ashtrays (!), the core code is hard to sell on its own.

race 500

Originally called the Indy 500, this is essentially a home conversion of the above, but you’ll need to unlock it first: just click 100% of the branches of the five levels of Atari history (videos can be clicked and then skipped).

Once inside, the car turns in place to face the direction you’re pushing, then just accelerate to move.

At first glance, the game only seems to offer a single screen, but you can cycle through different game modes and tracks, including a two-player tag game, single-player time trials, and two-player 25-lap races.

There’s even an ice trail that adds some pretty sweet drift to the handling physics, and a collect game where you have to pick up randomly appearing dots.

Amazingly, despite the fact that it’s from 1977 and looks rougher than a bear’s butt, it’s perfectly playable and better than some racers on iOS. Imagine that.

Lethal Run (Atari 2600)

This driving game is all about saving the world as you fight against the clock against the people of different cities using anti-radiation drugs.

There is a combat bias as you take out other cars with criminals who would use the medicine on themselves. Being a 2600 game, the graphics are extremely basic, especially considering what else was available in 1990, but they run fast and smooth, with nice big, blocky auto-sprites.

Unfortunately, the limitations of the system are evident everywhere, with an extremely basic shop screen and very little to explain what’s happening without reading the instructions that are at least included here. Still, it’s a friendly game and fun just marveling at how far things have come.

Lethal Run (Atari 7800)

This souped-up version is also from 1990, but looks a lot more like a racing game as we know it and is more sophisticated all around.

Your weapons include a machine gun, missiles, a smoke screen and an oil slick, and you must take out enemy cars while driving hills and turns with reasonably impressive waves and pulling distance.

After each race, you can see how many people you’ve saved from radiation poisoning when you look out the car’s side window as they either wave as you drive past or turn into a tombstone, which would have looked pretty spectacular for the time.

Today, however, the game hasn’t aged well at all. The track is very easy, explosions are weak, and weapons are imprecise. Nostalgia notwithstanding, there’s not much reason to play this today.

Atari Karts

This 1995 kart racer was Jaguar’s answer to Mario Kart, but it wasn’t particularly compelling. The 60fps motion is super smooth and the game somehow manages to make the flat track visuals appear wavy in places, which is cool.

The motley racing crew of Bentley Bear from 1983’s Crystal Castles is cited as the most recognizable character, which speaks volumes for the cast.

Collisions are a bit buggy, and the farthest parallax layer in the background literally never moves, so you’re always looking at the same clouds no matter what direction your kart is pointing on the track. Very strange.

Still, it has a two-player, split-screen, 30fps mode that’s pretty solid, and this is easily the most modern-feeling hit of the entire collection.

Club Drive

This is an open-world (similar) driving sim with flat-shaded polygon graphics that was pretty ambitious for the time. But when you consider that 1994 also saw Ridge Racer released with PlayStation, it’s easy to see why Jaguar’s days were numbered.

This looks and plays like a 3D tech demo, and there’s practically (aha!) no fun at all.

Occasionally you’ll drive past a blocky dinosaur or find a warp point to help you in your quest for the fastest time, and driving around a rough rendering of one of the programmers’ homes is new for about 20 seconds, but by today’s standards it is objectively hideous. What a shame.

***

And this is your lot! While the non-racing games on the pack still have some great offerings and the historical content is presented really well, in our view today this has little to offer other than a nostalgia hit for those in their 50’s and up.

If you want great retro racers, then maybe a real Sega Saturn is your best bet.

Either way, too bad.

The Traxion.GG Review's Verdict: Avoid
Developer: Different
Release date: 11th November 2022
Available platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC
Tested version: Nintendo switch
Best played with: Any stock controller