Flashback Post! Review of PS2 Activision Anthology (2003)

Activision Anthology PS2 By Steve Fulton 

For A Change, Nostalgia Is Done The Right Way…But Will your Kids Care?

The name “Activision” means more to me than it rightly should, and far too much than I can ever admit to

my wife.  To me at age 11, the fab-four were “David Crane, Alan Miller, Bob Whitehead and Larry Kaplan”. I knew the names of the founding fathers of 3rd party video games better than the authors of Declaration Of Independence, or the U.S. Constitution.  Activision games were so well-crafted, they made the majority Atari’s own 2600 releases look silly by comparison.  They continually released high-quality (if sometimes shallow) games, up until the end of the first great video game boom.   After changing their name to the obviously focus-group friendly Mediagenic and then back again in the early 90’s, the company started to dig into it’s own history for ideas.   In 1995 they, released three Atari 2600 Action Pack titles for the PC. In 1998 they released an Activision Classics collection for the PS1.   All of these early efforts suffered from an incomplete selection of games, and poor game emulation.

With Activision Anthology, the publisher tapped Contraband Entertainment to create the ultimate classic Atari 2600 emulated game collection.  45 game are included covering the entirety of Activision’s Atari 2600 output, plus several Imagic titles and couple unreleased (for good reason) games.   The emulation is near perfect, with few if any visible differences from the cartridges.  For example River Raid, which was dreadful on the earlier compilations, looks identical to Carol Shaw’s masterpiece.  The analog controls make it a bit hard to steer out of tight spots, but the sound, pacing, and graphics are the most accurate I have ever seen in an emulated compilation. 

Receiving a high score in most games unlocks extras such as Activision patches, television commercials, and new play modes.  The interface is themed like a teenager’s bedroom, with a Cartridge Rack, Game System, Scoreboard, and a Boom Box.  The Boom Box plays a dozen 80’s songs (mostly New Wave), which help to set the mood for this gaming time warp.  

While the interface can be a bit difficult to navigate, and the extra play-modes are really little more

than effects-overlays on the classic games, this collection should not disappoint the adult gamer who

wants to re-live some vintage Atari VCS gaming goodness.  Activision Anthologyshould be the yard-stick all forthcoming classics collections are measured by.

The question then is “will your kids enjoy it with you?”.  I originally got this title for Christmas.  At the time, I attempted to get my 4-year old daughter to play it, but she was not far advanced enough with a game pad to do anything but get frustrated.  I played with it a bit more, but without family involvement, I felt a bit selfish monopolizing the TV.  I could still play after everyone fell asleep, but the intermittent bitter pangs of nostalgia this collection can generate are better shared with a loved one than faced alone. (“Oh yeah, Star Master.  I was playing that the day in 8th grade I decided to become a break-dancer.  I need a hug.”)

Six months later my daughter is now 5 years old and eons more advanced at everything including game pad usage.  We tried this game again last night, and here now, is a partial transcript of the session:

Setting: Living Room.  Wife on the couch reading new Harry Potter book.  Baby asleep.  My daughter and I are2 feet from the TV, huddled around the PS2, as if it is a  simulated wood-grain Atari console.

Me: Honey, why don’t we trying Skiingfirst.

(“Metro” by Berlin starts playing on the in-game Boom box)

Daughter: How do I do it?

Me: Push down to start…no don’t press the (x) button, it will start the game over…no…wait…ok, push down to start…no don’t press the button it will just start…ok now go down…no don’t press the button.

Daughter: You do it.

Me: This is too hard, let’s try something else.  How about this one?

(I select one of my all-time favorite shooters, Demon Attack.  I start it without scaring her with the title of the game. Appropriately enough it seems, “Were Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted sister starts playing on the boom box. I instantly slip into a “Demon Attack” blasting trance, self-developed 20 years ago)

Daughter: Daddy, why are you shooting the birdies?

(Suddenly the trance is shattered. )

Me: Well, they are shooting at me, I’m just defending myself.

Daughter: Birds can shoot?

Me: Umm, well, they are robotic birds.

Daughter: I’m scared.

(I decide to choose something that might be “cute”.  I’ve never played Oink! but it couldn’t be scary, .could it?)

Me: Ok, this one has pigs, Pigs aren’t scary, right?

Daughter: Is that the “big bad wolf?” What is he doing with his tongue?

(In the game, you must replace bricks in wall before the wolf can get his tongue through to sap your energy. The whole thing does seem a bit on the “rude” side.  “Tainted Love” by soft Cell starts playing on the boom box.  Thank the Lord it wasn’t “Sex Dwarf” ).

Me: Ok, let’s try one more.  How about H.E.R.O. ?

Daughter: Hero! That sounds great!

(I don’t recall if H.E.R.O. is safe choice or not, but I do remember it as being one of the later, more finely detailed Activision games, and hopefully easier to explain than some of the earlier ones).

Me: See, you are a hero.  You can fly, shoot, drop bombs to blow-up walls, and rescue these poor guys with bad backs who can’t get out the cave.

(“Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash starts is on the Boom Box)

Wife: (looking up from her book for the first time) Why this horrible song is etched in my mind, I’ll never know.

Me: Memories of a soul-scarring Junior High Dance perhaps?

Wife: (no answer)

(I show my daughter how to play H.E.RO.  It’s a very cool little puzzle/adventure with surprisingly detailed graphics.)

Me: Do you want to try it?

Daughter: Yes!

(She plays for about 20 minutes.  I’m surprised at how good she has gotten with the game pad.  I have to instruct her a bit on what to do, but she catches-on pretty quickly. I was never a fan of H.E.R.O., but I’m starting to come around.  It really is a cool little game.)

Kid Factor: Will your kids enjoy it? Probably, but don’t expect them to share your feelings for certain titles just because you enjoyed them in your gaming halcyon days.  Instead, they can serve as valuable human garbage detectors, using their un-biased eyes to either validate, or eradicate your memories of what you once thought were great games.  It is possible that some of the classic genres (i.e. pure shooters like Demon Attack) will simply not translate to kids who have been raised on mouse driven, web-based and CD-ROM games.  The best scenario may be that you and your child discover a game you missed in the classic era (i.e H.E.R.O.) that you can play and discover together.

Score: ****

Age: 5+
ESRB: E – Everyone
Producer: Activision

Developer: Contraband Entertainment

(Note: This review was published on Andrew Bub’s Gamerdad.com in June 2003.  It was my first attempt to write a game review with some kind of “style”.  Bub  was not a huge fan of the style , but to be nice, he published it anyway.  I like this one because it featured my then 5-year old daughter, who is now going away to live at college…and taking her Xbox 360 with her.  See, I didn’t mess her up that bad by making her play these games).

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