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Holy joystick! Atari classics land on iOS devices

Atari is offering 99 classic games on the App Store, but the gameplay experience differs greatly depending on the device.

Counter an endless hail of ballistic missiles in Missile Command, one of the classics that can now be played on iOS devices.

Say goodbye to jean pockets full of quarters. A massive collection of coveted classic Atari games--including old familiars such as Pong, Asteroids, Missile Command, and Battlezone--is now officially available for iOS devices.

Atari's Greatest Hits features a mesmerizing amount of nostalgia in one app. One hundred classic games are available, grouped in packs of three and four that are available as a 99-cent in-app purchase.

For those of you suffering from a severe 8-bit addiction, a $14.99 package contains 100 classic arcade and Atari 2600 titles. You'll squeal when you see the retro-riffic black-and-white option for the Atari 2600 games, which transports you to the glory days of gray scale.

If only I could go back in time to the mid-'70s and show this to someone waiting in a 60-person line to play Pong.

Born nearly 40 years ago, Atari became a true pioneer in the arcade and home video game industry and sold tens of millions of Atari 2600 consoles worldwide. Anything Atari is retro gaming goodness, and naturally the name carries above-average expectations.

I gave the game collection a spin an iPhone 4 and iPad 2, and the experience differed greatly depending on the device.

When you first enter the virtual lobby, you can view a list of titles or swipe between actual images of the arcade consoles and box art to select your game. Pong is included for free. Making purchases is simple, and the games download quite quickly; they are very small in size, with the average pack of games is a mere several megabytes.

On the iPad, Atari's Greatest Hits truly shines. Each game takes up the majority of the real estate space on the screen, and the controls are off to the side or below, depending on the game. Unfortunately, a rather measurable amount of space that could be used to display the game instead has an overlay to house the controls. This isn't a big problem on a 10-inch screen, however.

Black-and-white option
Click to see a larger version of the slammin' black-and-white option for Atari 2600 games. Video screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Many other games from other developers use semi-transparent button overlays to maximize viewing space, and Atari needs to adopt this practice as soon as possible.

So take a somewhat minor flaw of space optimization on the iPad, and then think about how that would translate to the iPhone. The control buttons are too small and the GUI just takes up too much space over the actual game. This is a big problem on a 3.5-inch screen.

One other thing I found missing was a list of games I bought. There is a "recently played" list, but it would be nice to have the option to see only the games I have purchased instead of navigating through the categorized lists. There is no retention of high scores and a lack of Game Center support. But these are the only additional problems I could find with the the anthology of antiquated 8-bit adventures.

Everything else about Atari's Greatest Hits is just pure fun--as long as you're playing on an iPad.

Red Baron is one of the many games available in a new greatest hits collection by Atari. Unfortunately, I got owned by this plane a few seconds after taking this shot. Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET