Gaming preferences have many different origins – the games you played as a kid at your neighbor’s house, the games you got for Christmas and birthdays – but since I was born in the late ’90s, Atari games were never in my rotation. This is probably because the company’s production was relatively low for what felt like years compared to the beginnings of the traditional company. However, their franchises remain iconic; I would bet that at least almost everyone knows what pong is Is, even if they’ve never played it before. This inherent familiarity is powerful, and Atari’s upcoming games capitalize on it; They take old favorites and find ways to refresh them into something exciting for modern audiences.
Some of Atari’s most notable recent releases have come from the “Recharged” series, in which indie developers work on reimagined and extremely stylish versions of classic Atari games. You’ve already met many of the big names like Breakout and Missile Command; As this series continues, Atari’s other projects follow this idea of ”making old things new” in what I think are more interesting directions. I was able to try out some of their upcoming games at PAX West 2023 and really loved what I played.
In 2021, Atari released a small indie project called qomp that asked the question: What if Pong’s ball escaped the confines of its single-screen playing field? What followed was a short but well-received precision platformer controlled with a single button. In qomp, players would navigate a digital world that appears to reach deep into the circuitry of a Pong-inspired arcade game, trying to control the ball’s trajectory as it bounces through increasingly challenging levels.
Now an expanded version of this game – qomp2 – is being developed by Graphite Lab, a small studio that has worked closely with Atari on other projects such as the recently released Mr. Run & Jump. This sequel adds new levels, of course, but also new mechanics – in addition to controlling the ball’s trajectory, players also have a sort of air dash ability that gives the ball a speed boost and lets it interact with obstacles. It’s all pretty simple on paper – fitting for a game with a love for Pong – but don’t let the simple premise fool you into thinking this is going to be a breezy experience. Early in the game I found that I had to be pretty precise about the angle at which I approached a wall, for example, otherwise I risked bouncing back in the other direction and having to re-traverse the section or perhaps myself burn in a laser beam. Luckily, checkpoints are so frequent that the trial-and-error elements of the gameplay loop were never so frustrating that I wanted to give up on the game.
The presentation of the packaging is very close to what I imagine an expanded, inspired version of Pong might look like if it were in an arcade today – there’s even a subtle curve in the image, as if it were being displayed on an old CRT . The music is short-lived and vague at first, but slowly seems to build as the game progresses. There are scattered little effects – like the blue light trail the ball leaves behind as it races across the screen – that add pops of color and flair to this otherwise simple-looking world. While I’d be surprised if there were a significant amount of surprising mechanics or innovations in this title (although I’d love to be proven wrong!), this seems like a solid learning experience for people looking for a challenge . qomp 2 does not have a release date, but is expected to arrive on Switch at some point in the future.
The original Haunted House was released in 1982 on the Atari 2600 and, while rudimentary by today’s standards, was one of the earliest attempts at a horror game at the time. Set in a dark mansion (which in the original was just blocky walls against a black screen), the player’s goal was to navigate the building’s various floors and rooms and collect pieces of an urn while avoiding supernatural creatures, who would pursue him players. With locked doors, players had to search for keys to progress, and random selection ensured that objects appeared in different locations between playthroughs. The game has been remastered several times over the years, but there’s a new entry in the franchise coming up – simply titled haunted house – is perhaps the most complete interpretation of the original game’s ideas that we’ve seen to date.
This new version of Haunted House is focused on stealth. As players explore the sprawling mansion, they encounter watchful ghosts and monsters patrolling the area. The goal of escaping the mansion is made more difficult by the fact that you have to move through the maze-like environment without attracting too much attention. If you run too fast, leave your lantern burning in close proximity to enemies, and accidentally knock over breakable objects, you will be chased by enemies. Some of the creatures can be dispatched quietly by sneaking up behind them, but many can only be temporarily distracted. This highlights the importance of thorough exploration, as valuable consumable tools can be hidden in chests that can mean the difference between a smooth escape or death. I’m told the game isn’t a full Rouge-like game, but the Rouge-like elements seem to make the gaming experience quite dynamic. Protagonist Lyn also has the opportunity to improve some of her skills to make further attempts a little easier.
The game is played from an isometric perspective and looks beautiful in motion. The art design contains whimsical elements that, when combined with the game’s muted but colorful palette, result in a world that feels a little creepy, but never goes so far as to be a pure horror game. There is a story that provides context for why Lyn is in the haunted house and what part she has in the situation, but from what I’ve played so far it seems light and airy and I don’t understand how continues to be the driving force of the experience. It’s all a nice counterpart to the mild tension that comes with sneaking through an unfamiliar environment. Haunted House is set to release on Switch; A release date has not yet been announced.
Atari had other projects at PAX that I saw but didn’t get to play, namely RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures Deluxe and a fascinating new tactical RPG called Days of Doom – both planned for Switch. As someone with little nostalgia for Atari games, I’m really intrigued by their approach to working with indie developers and transforming some of their older gaming brands with new concepts and styles. We’ll be sure to provide updates on these titles as we learn closer to release.