It’s crazy (for me, anyway) to think that “The Great Atari Vs. Intellivision War” was over 30 years ago. 30 years. Some of you folk weren’t even born yet, and video games were out and about, fighting for living room dominance. You’ve probably seen or heard of some of these games. They look like cave paintings in comparison to today’s games, or a basic Lego set.

And yet, they are still fighting it out.

There have been two volumes of Atari Greatest Hits and one Intellivision Lives! – The latter had lived in “Development Hell” for the longest time, yet saw the light of day last Fall. These games were all recently released on the Nintendo DS for about $20 a title. Atari games are easy to port (usually, depending on who is developing it). Intellivision games usually come across as a nightmare, save for the excellent PC/Mac versions of the Intellivision Lives!/Intellivision Rocks! compilations. I’ll get to that in a moment, but if you like “The Old Days”, or wanted to see what the fuss was about, these three titles are really good examples.

The Atari Greatest Hits collections combined offer a huge amount of titles, both 2600 and arcade. Some of these titles are still as catchy and addictive as they used to be. Some are worth’s a few minutes perusal and at least one playthrough. Other titles were dated and never should have been released even back in the 1980’s. The arcade games are an excellent collection of titles (no Food Fight, disappointingly), but a lot of the “Old Atari” games (The current Atari was a company known as Infogrames, who bought out and uses the familiar name and logo. “Old Atari” is long since dead) are gone. Most of them went to Midway (now owned by Warner Bros. Interactive), so classics like Paperboy, Gauntlet, Marble Madness, Klax, and others are no longer truly “home”.

With the last few year’s stance of “New Atari” wanting to be more like “Old Atari”, it’s a shame that they haven’t bought their full stable of titles back, but what they have is still solid. The “Extras” on these two titles are also impressive, ranging from numerous manuals reprinted in their entirety, to a Atari 400 emulator, the declassified military version of Battlezone, to video interviews from “Old Atari” founder Nolan Bushnell (who now is on the board of “new Atari”, by the way). The compilations even attempt to recreate some of the more unique arcade and console interfaces (made good on the DS’ touchscreen). There’s even a homebrew sequel, Return To Haunted House, which was a great concept in the ideas they attempted to excecute, but near unplayable due to the unforgiving difficulty.

Intellivision Lives finally fixes the one vital thing that every console, from Playstation 2 to Game Room on the Xbox 360, has suffered through: Terrible controls. The Intellivision controller was incredibly complex, even by today’s standards, and without the touchpad, every attempted compensation… still sucked.

The DS, with its touchscreen, finally addresses this, and the games play so much better for it, finally playing the way they were supposed to, without the misery of fighting whatever attempted configuration workaround only to die time and time again. I can’t totally blame the other developers; you can only work with what your given, and unless someone wanted to pony up and make new console compatible Intellivision controller, they were stuck.

There are a few fun games in there: Thunder Castle, Thin Ice, Snafu…. The games looked worlds better than Atari’s offerings, with better animation and music, more detail. They were still blocky, but some games just couldn’t compare to Intellivision (Fun Fact: Intellivision is actually considered an 8-Bit system, and lasted all the way into the 1990’s). But the bottom line is that the games are playable here, and if you ever get any version of Intellivision related games, this is the one to get.

And yet, all of these versions suffer two major flaws that doesn’t really paint an accurate picture of why these systems were “the big deal” back then: No licensed ports, and no third-party titles. Intellivison did Tron and Dungeons & Dragons, and a number of arcade ports. Atari had a wide variety of movie, television, and cartoon fare, in addition to arcade games. It even had those infamous E.T. and Pac-Man games that without these oddballs, just doesn’t seem the same.

There’s also the lack of the third party games, notably Activision and Imagic (Interesting but true: Imagic’s titles are now all owned by Activision). Activision has put out their 2600 fare in the past, and Intellivision Rocks! brought all the Activision/Imagic titles home, but without them…. Imagic’s titles really maximized the use of the controller, bringing some creative and unique ideas to the table. Activision did things for the 2600 I don’t think the system was ever intended to do. If the visuals of these early titles make you shudder, Activision and Imagic’s titles were a lot gentler on the eyes.

But the three games, in their portable form, are about as good as it gets. Someone had asked how these titles look/play on the 3DS, and they look slightly better (I’m trying to see if there’s any differences in sound), and the analog control is very nice (and more accurate for the overall feel of Intellivision titles – Cutting edge technology to finally properly play over 30 year games.

This is all much cheaper than plunking out money for the individual titles in the “Let’s just go ahead and call it abandoned” Game Room, so if you want to get a feel for what these games are about without mass amounts of Microsoft points, the DS is most definitely the way to go.

There are total “duds” in all of these collections, but there are some titles that are still addicting as ever. And there are some previously unplayable titles in other versions that are now made playable. For the price of one new Xbox game, you can have around 200 titles for your DS, and if anything, it’s a good and cheap history lesson for those avid gamers who want to learn more about the history of video gaming, and the first “Great War”.

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Filed under: 2D gamingatari gamingintellivision gamingretro gaming