There should be more games like WarioWare. Nintendo's microgame collections are effortlessly innovative, and few games can even approach the garlic-loving developer's gameplay madness. Perhaps this isn't due to lack of interest but difficulty in execution, as proven by new contender Atari Mania from developer iLLOGIKA Studios. Attempting to mix the rapid-fire minigames with the gameplay hybrids of fellow Nintendo inspiration NES Remix, Atari Mania ends up with a fun concept let down by lackluster gameplay and bafflingly poor callbacks to 2600 favorites. Even if you are the biggest fan of Bentley Bear and his cohorts, this isn't the nostalgia trip you're looking for.
You play as a caretaker to the Atari Vault, where the many stars of whatever franchises Atari still own from their glory days live out their digital retirement. There's very lite RPG exploration around this location between bouts of mini-games, complete with pun-filled dialogue, easy puzzles, and a smattering of collectibles. It's the closest Atari Mania comes to hitting the nostalgia it needs for true success, but the whole setup also feels like a blockade impeding me from playing the minigames. Players are not coming to a game like this to push blocks around and unlock doors, even if the meta-humor occasionally hits the mark.
Once you get into the mini-games, Atari Mania shows its true colors. The most promising bit of this minigame collection is the idea that many of Mania's experiences mix and match mechanics from different Atari games. You could have Pong paddles mixing with the crew from Atari Circus and tanks fighting fantasy warriors. This is all here, and there are some fun mixtures to dig up among the more generic challenges.
However, it's all for naught due to the simple fact that none of these games feel like they're supposed to. Arcade games are all about reflexes and tight controls, especially in the first years of gaming's long history. From Pong to Marble Madness, almost every Atari classic that Atari Mania draws from relies on split-second decision-making and skillful play. The versions of these games, whether original or brand-new hybrids, do not rely on these fundamental traits.
You first notice how floaty Atari Mania's controls feel as you break out into your first round of Breakout. Paddles slide past your thumbstick, characters stumble into laser barriers, and shots miss the mark by inches. Instead of an official Atari game made for their newest console, Mania's sampling of Atari classics feels like a collection of Flash remakes you might have found on Newgrounds decades ago. You have to adjust your thinking constantly as you switch between the dozens of different games, and very few of them work as you expect on the first try.
In a way, this is keeping with the WarioWare tradition, but that argument falls apart as soon as you think about it for a second. WarioWare's fun comes from trying to figure out what the game is asking of you, and that requires the same tight controls that all these Atari games shipped with back in the 80s. Atari Mania requires you to figure out what the developers want you to do and if your character ends up going precisely where you want as the clock ticks away toward the punishingly quick time limit.
This leads to abundant cheap deaths and repeated runs through each minigame gauntlet as you slowly acclimate to Atari Mania's broken versions of gaming greats. Progress comes not from getting better at these minigames but simply waiting for the RNG to send you the less broken ones and hoping your lives can hold out until the boss fight. These final battles are usually significantly more straightforward than the gaming hybrids, although they still suffer from the control issues that infest the whole package. The big enemies are also a letdown, mainly consisting of masses of corrupted pixels rather than going up against dark versions of the notalgic characters players might expect from a game like this.
Speaking of expectations, Atari Mania wouldn't be a nostalgic homerun even if it nailed the gameplay due to an art style that I can only charitably call inspired by the days of the Atari 2600. Understandably, the decades-old pixel aesthetic might turn away potential customers in 2022, but I have to believe there are better alternatives to the blocky, stiff characters presented here. Instead of embracing the past like the aforementioned NES Remix, Pac-Man Championship Edition, or even Atari's own Pong Quest, Atari Mania produces characters that look like they belong in a Gamestop commercial rather than a commercially released video game.
If you can overlook the shoddy controls and unfortunate graphics and hope to play Atari Mania on your Steam Deck, it's also worth noting that the game lacks cloud saves. WarioWare-type games are perfect for portable because of their pick-up and play nature, and Atari Mania should be a decent distraction on the road for Valve's new handheld, even in a less-than-optimal state. However, because of this oversight, whatever platform you initially play on will be your Atari Mania home. Trust me, you won't want to replay many of these games past their initial appearance, so the prospect of starting over on the home PC after an afternoon of gaming on Deck is a non-starter.
Atari Mania Review | Final Thoughts
Atari Mania is the type of game Atari should be making in this day and age, which makes the failure of this release all the more frustrating. This game fails as a nostalgic throwback because of its graphical style and poor controls, and anyone just looking for a minigame collection won't understand many of the game's references to ancient Atari properties. The only people who might celebrate this release are people who rely on the Atari VCS for their gaming needs, but even that statistically minuscule crowd will have better options among the better-polished Recharged series of retro throwbacks. Stick to everything else Atari has been doing if you need a dose of video entertainment and leave Atari Mania as a manic fever dream best left forgotten.
TechRaptor reviewed Atari Mania on PC via Steam and Steam Deck with a copy provided by the publisher. The game will also release for Nintendo Switch and Atari VCS.
- Excellent concept for a minigame collection
- Bentley Bear
- Controls feel floaty and unreliable
- Graphics fail to capture any nostalgic charm
- RPG overworld gets in the way of gameplay