Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration – All of its racing games … – Traxion

Justin Towell finds a few old gems in the retro racing quagmire.
Wow. 50 years of Atari basically means our favourite pastime is half a century old.
To celebrate this incredible milestone in gaming’s history, 100+ games from its past have been collated, all the way from Pong through to the 64-bit Jaguar console, here released on all the modern platforms.
But what has the package got to offer us driving fans? Let’s find out…
This is a four-player enabled version of the classic two-player game Tank, in which you use the two analogue sticks to work the caterpillar treads of your tank, then firing at either human or AI-controlled enemies.
Driving the tank around the arena successfully is no mean feat, and there are power-ups to collect as you fight. A Capture The Flag mode is also available to try when the normal combat mode has run its course.
It suits the Switch really well, suporting up to four players – perfect for prop-up play while on holiday.
This is technically a ‘driving’ game in that you play as a car, but you only control lane switching as two (or sometimes three!) cars automatically zoom around a single-screen maze in different directions.
A Pac-Man element sees you collecting dots as you drive, and you have to collect all the dots without crashing into the other car.
It’s simple, throwaway fun, but it runs smoothly and does require constant thought to avoid Crashin’ Clyde, or his sidekick, Smashin’ Sam. It’s very basic, but somehow charming.
The first ever co-operative game (ever!) is available here for you to try with a friend. Weirdly, the software insists every player has dual Joy Cons on Switch, but once you’re sorted out, one player controls the cab and the other controls the trailer.
The idea is to steer through white outlines of city streets and get as far as you can before your fuel runs out. You never have to put out a fire and there’s very little for the second player to do except try to keep the rear of the truck aligned with the front.
Your life will not be richer or poorer for having played it, so don’t go out of your way to have a go. It is quite cute, though.
Hailing from 1977, this is one of the crudest racers you’ll ever play. You do at least get two-speed manual gears to make things more interesting, and the cars turn better at lower speed, so navigating the tracks demands some modern-day gaming skill.
That said, avoiding the other cars is really difficult on the single-screen raceways, and collisions simply turn your car’s steering hard right for the duration of contact, sending you into the white dots that serve as Armco.
Without steering wheels and the built-in ashtrays(!), the core code is a hard sell on its own merits.
Originally called Indy 500, this is essentially a home conversion of the above, but you’ll need to unlock it first: just click on 100% of the branches of the five tiers of Atari history (videos can be clicked then skipped).
Once in, the car rotates on the spot to face which ever direction you’re pushing, then you just accelerate to move.
At first glance, the game appears to only offer a single screen, but you can cycle through variations of game modes and tracks, including a two-player game of tag, single player time trials and 25-lap two-player races.
There’s even an ice track which introduces some pretty sweet drift to the handling physics, and a collection game where you have to pick up randomly-spawning dots.
Amazingly, despite the fact it’s from 1977 and looks rougher than a bear’s behind, this is perfectly playable and better than some racers on iOS. Go figure.
This driving game has a ‘save the world’ slant as you race to get anti-radiation medicine to people in various cities, against the clock.
There’s a combat slant as you take down other cars carrying criminals who would use the medicine for themselves. Being a 2600 game, the graphics are extremely basic, especially considering what else was available in 1990, but they run quickly and smoothly, with nice big, blocky car sprites.
Unfortunately the system’s limitations are evident everywhere, with an extremely basic shop screen and very little to explain what’s happening without reading the instructions, which are at least included here. Still, it’s a friendly enough game and fun to play if only to marvel at how far things have come. 
This souped-up version also comes from 1990 but looks much more like a racing game as we know it, and is more sophisticated all-round.
Your weapons include a machine gun, missiles, smoke screen and oil slick, and you must take down enemy cars as you navigate hills and corners with some reasonably impressive undulation and draw distance.
After each race, you get to see how many people you saved from radiation poisoning with a view out of the car’s side window that sees them either waving or turning into a gravestone as you pass, which would have looked pretty spectacular for the time.
Today, however, the game hasn’t aged well at all. The track is very basic, explosions are weak and the weapons are imprecise. Nostalgia notwithstanding, there’s not much reason to play this today.
This 1995 kart racer was the Jaguar’s answer to Mario Kart, but it wasn’t a particularly convincing one. The 60fps movement is super-smooth and the game somehow manages to make the flat track graphic appear to undulate in places, which is cool.
The motley crew of racers is headed by Bentley Bear from 1983’s Crystal Castles as the most famous character here, which says a lot for the cast.
Collisions are a bit glitchy, and the furthest background parallax layer literally never moves, so you’re always looking at the same clouds, whichever direction your kart is facing on the track. Most odd.
Still, it has a 30fps split-screen two-player mode which is pretty solid, and this is certainly the most modern-feeling racer on the whole collection. 
This is an open-world(ish) driving sim with flat-shaded polygon graphics, which was reasonably ambitious for the time. But considering 1994 also saw Ridge Racer launch with PlayStation, it’s easy to see why Jaguar’s days were numbered.
This looks and plays like a 3D tech demo, and there’s virtually (aha!) no fun to be had at all.
Occasionally you’ll drive past a blocky dinosaur or find a warp point to aid your quest for the fastest time, and driving around a crude representation of one of the programmers’ flats is novel for about 20 seconds but, by today’s standards, it’s objectively awful. What a pity.
***
And that’s yer lot! While the non-racing games on the package contain some still-great offerings and the historic content is presented really well, from our perspective this has little to offer today besides a nostalgia hit for those in their 50s and above.
If you want great retro racers, then maybe an actual Sega Saturn is your best bet.
Either way, what a shame.
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