Atari XP Unreleased Edition Games
Earlier this week, Atari announced that they were releasing official Atari 2600 cartridges for games that never received an "official" physical release on the console.
The three games that are included in the initial AtariXP lineup are Aquaventure, Saboteur and Yars' Return. Each of these games have been included in officially released products in the past, including Evercade, Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles, and in compilations available for recent consoles, such as Atari Flashback Classics, which was released on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation Vita and Nintendo Switch.
Aquaventure is a game that I've never played before, but I've read a few highly complementary reviews. Here is the description of the game from AtariXP:
The goal of Aquaventure is to dive to an undersea cavern and retrieve a treasure before running out of oxygen. As you make your way downward you must either avoid menacing sea creatures that harass and delay you, or kill them with your speargun. Killing them spawns replacements that are faster and stronger, so you need to pick your moments.
Sounds like fun.but hold on to your wallet until you get to the end of this post.
The second game is Saboteur, which was designed by the great Howard Scott Warshaw. I first played this on the Atari Flashback, so I have a little experience with it, but I'm far from an expert on its gameplay. I am told that the storyline takes place in the same universe as Yars' Revenge. AtariXP had the following to say about it:
Saboteur is a creative, multi-level shooter developed by Howard Scott Warshaw in 1983 but never released. You play the game as a robot named Hotot. A strange race of blue aliens is using your planet to launch a galaxy-destroying warhead. With the help of a yellow birdlike race, you must destroy the rocket, disarm the warhead, and prevent your planets’ destruction.
To say that it was never released is a half-truth at best. While it was not released as originally scheduled (in 1984, as The A-Team), a full cartridge release with box and instructions has been available for the past ten years on Atari Age with permission from its creator. Frankly, the box art on the Atari Age release is much nicer, in my opinion.
Yars’ Return was created as an unofficial sequel to the Howard Scott Warshaw 2600 classic, Yars' Revenge. It's the same style of game as its predecessor, but it significantly expands the playing field.
The official description on the AtariXP website currently describes the game as "invading alien insects that shoot at you from behind a barrier, and periodically dash across the barrier to nibble at your defensive shield". The folks who wrote this are a little confused about the protagonist/antagonist relationship, because you're playing as the alien insect, and the object of the game is to nibble away at the defensive shield and destroy the ship inside.
Unfortunately, that's not the only thing that the website has gotten wrong. They credit the design of Yars' Return to Howard Scott Warshaw and say that it was created and intended for release in 1983. In fact, Mr. Warshaw confirmed that there was no Yars' Revenge sequel written or planned in 1983, and he had no role in the development of Yars' Return. It was created two decades later by the late Curt Vendel as a rom hack of the original game, which was featured in the Atari Flashbacks consoles released as of 2005. So, essentially, what AtariXP is doing here is slapping their logo on a rom hack from the 2000's with no credit to the person who did it and pretending that it's a long lost classic from the early 80's, while using the name of an iconic programmer to market it when he had nothing to do with it.
Each game is now available for pre-order on AtariXP.com. There are two versions of each title: a standard edition for $49.99 and a Limited Edition for $149.99. The website doesn't make it clear if the standard edition comes with anything other than the cartridge itself (no mention of box and instructions), but the Limited Edition will include a premium poster, a printed instructional manual with bonus material, a collectible pin and collectible badge, a certificate of authenticity, and a digital copy of the game playable on the Atari VCS.
Personally, while I loved Atari when I was growing up and still love the Atari games of the 70's, 80's and 90's to this day, I'm not at all a fan of the things that have been done under the Atari name over the past decade. I will absolutely support the original designers of games who release cartridges of their work for vintage consoles, but I don't feel that this is what is going on here. It feels to me like just another in a long line of shady practices from the current holders of the Atari IP to cash in on nostalgia.
As much as I love to play games on the original hardware, my recommendation is that you skip this entirely and get an Atari Flashbacks plug-and-play, or the Atari Flashbacks Classics on Switch (or whatever your primary console is). Not only will you get all three of these games, but you'll get dozens more to play, and you won't break the bank on a "collectible" from a company that frankly doesn't deserve your money.