Activision Anthology


Review by Matt "Tempest" Reichert



Graphics: 8

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

When I first heard Activision planned to release a collection of their 2600 games I was skeptical. Projects like this had been announced before and gone nowhere, and those that had been released for the Playstation and PC were such a disappointment that I was beginning to think that it was impossible to capture that "2600 magic" on a modern system. However upon seeing the Anthology sitting on a shelf at the local game for $30 I decided to give it a shot (how bad could it be?). I'm happy to report that Activision got it right this time. As soon as I slipped the disc in I was magically transported back to the 80's (and this time I wasn't hallucinating!).

The whole setup is very nicely done; everything from the cart selection to the sound options has an 80's feel. The whole selection screen takes place in a virtual room with a little cart carousel for selecting carts, a big old boom box in the corner for your sound and music options, a board for your patches, and of course a 2600 with a TV for the games. Once you select a game from the carousel you can view the cartridge, instructions, box, and a commercial if you've unlocked it. This is probably a good time to mention the "Unlocks List" which can also be viewed in the room. The "Unlocks List" shows you how many secrets there are to unlock for each title (most have two, some have none), and what you've unlocked so far. Usually you unlock patches for getting certain scores (I'll talk more about this later), but you can also unlock play modes and commercials for obtaining a certain score or time. Unfortunately the requirements are listed anywhere so you sort of have to guess what unlocks what. Normally you'll unlock a play mode or commercial before unlocking the patch though (they're usually a bit easier).

Once you've selected your game you put it in the virtual 2600 and play away. Thankfully the games are emulated this time not reproduced. What this means is the original game code is being played, someone didn't try and reprogram the game for the PS2 (like the PS1 Activision Pack). This means the gameplay is true to the original and all the funky bugs and tricks are still there. While the emulation is very good, it's not 100% perfect. Some games such as Kaboom! feel very strange and don't play exactly right. Kaboom! is probably the worst game in the Anthology because of this; other minor emulation quibbles include Pitfall II (the music pitch is too high), HERO (there's a bug that can cause fake walls to appear), and Chopper Command (the firing rate and sound aren't quite right). However the biggest bugs occur with the "unlocks" system. For whatever reason Activision decided to lower the point requirements needed to get most of the patches. Usually it takes less than half the points it normally did to earn a patch back in the 80's (the points needed are not listed in the instructions anymore). Not all the requirements were changed (Pitfall II's requirement is still the same), but most were. Oddly the games were a certain time was needed such as Barnstorming, Sky Jinks, and Gran Prix all seem to be harder to earn a patch in than they used to be. It's almost as if the timer is counting too fast (which is actually a possibility), but then again it might just be that I suck at them. However some of the unlocks are just plain bugged, as some games refuse to reward patches even if the requirement has been met. Spider Fighter and Barnstorming have yet to reward me patches even though I beat the required time and score several times. However on the other hand Space Shuttle and Private Eye rewarded me patches for doing nothing more than starting the game. Very strange indeed...

As I mentioned earlier you can unlock certain play modes in some of the games. These play modes aren't really all that useful, but they're kind of interesting. The play modes are all visual "tricks" that make the screen do odd things while you're trying to play the game. For instance there's one mode that simulates your vertical hold going out of adjustment (something I'm sure we've all experienced), another mode breaks the screen into tiny cubes with part of the action taking place on each one, while another simulates clouds moving over the screen. Each mode is fun to look at once, but I can't actually see playing with any of them unless you feel the need for a challenge. It almost seems as if these modes were added at the last minute to pad the Anthology out a bit. By far the most interesting things to unlock are the commercials. All of Activision's game commercials are here, and considering that they're over 20 years old the quality is amazing. Personally I don't remember any of these commercials (then again I was only 5), but they're a blast to watch. My personal favorite is the Megamania commercial which looks more like a drugged out rock video than a video game commercial. One of the first commercials you can unlock (just beat the computer at Boxing) isn't really a commercial at all, but almost a mini promotional video showing some of the game designers and several game commercials. I'm sort of curious as to where this was used, because it seems too long to be a regular TV commercial.

Most of Activison's games are represented on the Anthology, but there are a few exceptions. Due to copyright problems Ghostbusters, Rampage and Double Dragon were all left off. Activision had actually considered changing the names and some of the graphics for Ghostbusters and Double Dragon to make them legal, but in the end these modified versions were left off too. Activision also chose to include three Imagic titles they re-released in the late 80's: Atlantis, Moonsweeper, and Demon Attack. There are empty slots in the game carousel for some missing titles (the three Activision titles, and several Imagic games) which were supposed to be downloadable over the net. Sadly this feature was nixed for unknown reasons just before the game was released. However as a big bonus they included two prototype games: Kabobber and Thwocker! While Kabobber is fully playable (and quite fun), Thwocker is only partially playable due to the original prototype being unfinished. You can only complete one board before having to reset due to the game not recognizing the room exits (oh well, it IS a prototype after all). Thankfully the manual explains all of this, although I'm not sure many casual fans will care.

The PS2 controller works fairly well for most games and you have the option of using the control pad or the analog stick. I found myself using the control pad more often because the stick felt too imprecise. However the analog stick worked very well on certain games most notably Decathlon in which I was able to earn a gold medal for the first time after figuring out the right way to hold the controller. One of the best features of the Anthology is the 80's soundtrack that is constantly blaring in the background (you can adjust the volume of both the game and the music for just the right mix). Several well-known 80's hits such "Tainted Love", "Take on Me", and "There is Always Something There" are included along with some not so well known "hits?" ("Walking in LA", "Pulling Mussels", "The Tide is High", etc). It's a good mix of tunes, but you have to wonder who chose such an eclectic mix and why some of the best known tunes of the 80's were left off. However after playing the games for several hours the 12 song soundtrack starts to wear a little thin and you'll be praying for new tunes.

Overall I must say I'm very impressed with the way the Anthology turned out. I was expecting a simple compilation of games I already had that wasn't going to hold my interest. Thankfully I was proven wrong. A few minor emulation bugs aside, it's fun to play these games to see what I can unlock and if I can earn a patch. However I find my interest waning after unlocking just about everything, although some of play modes keep it fresh. At $30 I'd say buy this even if you own all the games (like I do), if only for the commercials and those cute 80's tunes. Now if only they'd make another Anthology with those long lost unreleased games we keep hearing about...


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:15 PM