Towards the end of the Dreamcast’s lifespan, when those in charge at Sega knew things were unlikely to go well, one of the most unusual firstparty games in history was commissioned: Segagaga. This was a game where you controlled Sega and, playing through its classic titles and managing the Dreamcast’s fortunes, could change the world and ‘defeat’ a poorly-disguised Sony Corporation and its PlayStation.
There’s something undeniably melancholy about Segagaga. The collapse of the company’s hardware business was existential for Sega, as well as humiliating, and this love-letter to its own history and fans felt like the ultimate ‘what if’ scenario, a parting gift to remember what might have been.
Sega has obviously reinvented itself as a major publisher and is now in rude health. The same can’t be said for another of the old giants, Atari, which has gone through various hands over the last few decades, few of which have done anything interesting with the once-great company.
The current lot do, at least, seem to have some ambition: Even if it’s all a bit too blockchain-y (opens in new tab) and pie-in-the-sky at times (nevermind the nonsense over SouljaBoy claiming he owned the company (opens in new tab)), it has managed to develop several new versions of classic titles as well as release a new piece of Atari hardware. And now, it’s doing a Segagaga.
Atari Mania (opens in new tab) is essentially a huge collection of minigames, based on classic titles from the company’s history, framed by an RPG-lite structure where you play as the caretaker of the Atari vault. The vault is a storehouse for old Atari games until one night “a dead pixel appears and soon enough, all heck breaks loose!!”
It promises over 150 minigames showing the range of Atari’s back catalogue, and that it’ll be mixing and matching them up. “You’ll fight back Centipedes with a Pong paddle while the iconic Adventure dragon hunts you down!”
The caretaker side of the game sees you solving puzzles as well as playing the minigames, while the game is as you might expect stuffed with easter eggs (Atari’s Warren Robinett is generally considered the first developer to insert one of these in a game with Adventure), trophies, collectibles including vintage art, posters and manuals. In addition you’ll unlock remastered versions of the games by playing.
I don’t really know how to interpret this bit of the PR fluff though, about characters like you’ve never seen them before: “Go face to antennae with some of the greatest games and characters in videogame history. Trust us: you’ll never think of Bentley Bear the same way again!” Oookay.
Atari’s story is a tragedy. It’s not that the company went down or stopped being a key player, so much as it became little more than a t-shirt seller for a long time, seemingly unable to do anything interesting with its properties, whether that means reinvention or simply releasing decent versions of them.
I’m interested in Atari and under the current ownership, the games have been better than they have in a long time. Pong Quest, for example, made Pong into an ‘RPG’ and, while I wouldn’t call it a classic, I respected it having a good crack at reinventing one of the simplest (and most iconic) games on the planet. I’m not saying Atari Mania is gonna be great. But by god it’s good to live in a world where Atari might be making something half-decent.