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Mobile Games Roundup

Atari! Racing! Mercs! Backstab! More Atari!

You lot owe me big time. While most of you have been outside enjoying this unfeasibly unseasonal hot weather, I've been slaving away over hot gadgets to seek out all that's important in the world of mobile gaming. It's a dirty job, but someone's go to do it.

This week's a little on the disappointing side, though, with most of the high-profile releases proving to be a bit of a waste of everyone's time. As usual, some are looking to tap into the bottomless well of nostalgia, while others are desperate to lead the race to be cutting edge. Can you guess who wins? There's a pocket-soiled piece of Extra in it for you. It's the least I can do.

Game Room: Centipede / Asteroids Deluxe

  • Windows Phone 7 - £2.49 each. Free trial available.

Having already made a proper pig's ear of the ill-fated Game Room service on the Xbox 360, Microsoft has come up with the brazen idea of selling individual titles on Windows Phone 7 for the princely sum of £2.49.

First out of the blocks are two bona fide Atari classics, in the shape of Centipede and Asteroids Deluxe: simple but brutal shooters that anyone over the age of 35 will probably have fond memories of from their formative dabbling with the arcade scene.

Asteroids: probably a better name for piles when you think about it.

Since they're fully Xbox Live-enabled, you benefit from the dubious privilege of gunning for achievement points, as well as online leaderboards and notifications when your friends top your score. All reasonably standard features these days, but nice nevertheless.

On the other hand, there's the absurd pricing to consider, and the fact that neither game is even remotely enjoyable when played on a touchscreen device. The controls are fiddly, imprecise and plainly not suited to the system.

Also, as per bloody usual, you can pick up either game on iOS platforms for a tiny fraction of the price. Fortunately you can save yourself shelling out anything at all by just downloading the free trial. See for yourself what a pointless exercise this really is.


Atari's Greatest Hits

  • iPhone/iPad - Free. Games £0.59 each, or £8.99 for all 100.

If Microsoft's Game Room was an object lesson in how not to repackage retro games, then Atari's Greatest Hits does a rather better job at peddling teary-eyed gaming nostalgia.

For a start, most of the company's early arcade classics make the cut, including the daddy, Pong, alongside other seminal greats such as Super Breakout, Asteroids, Missile Command,Tempest, Battlezone, Centipede/Millipede, and Lunar Lander. So far so good.

For the committed arcade aficionado, it doesn't hurt to also have the likes of Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Liberator, Major Havoc, Black Widow, Space Duel, Warlords, and Red Baron to keep you warm at night. Not many of them stand up today, of course, but there's a certain amount of curious satisfaction to be gained from poking around in retro gaming's darker corners.

Living in the past.

Developer Code Mystics deserves credit for not simply shovelling them onto iOS, either, and many of the paddle-based titles (such as Super Breakout and Pong) actually play brilliantly via a touch screen interface. Trackball games (including Centipede, Crystal Castles and Missile Command) don't fare quite as well, though, while others, like Asteroids, feel like too much of a compromise to be truly enjoyable.

The presence of 82 Atari 2600 games, mind you, is wholly questionable. Unless you have a finely tuned fetish for specific titles from your long-lost youth, their appeal is almost certain to be lost on you. (Full disclosure: I owned an Atari 2600 back in the day, and even I struggle to find a flicker of interest in these garish relics.) Again, their suitability for touch screen play appears to be governed by the same principles as the arcade collection: paddle controls, yes, joystick control, probably not.

But even with the 2600 stuff taken out of the equation, nine quid for the whole lot is reasonable value, and if you're only interested in certain titles, you can buy each one in 59p packs.

The only annoyance is that some of Atari's most celebrated arcade titles are missing - presumably because Warners now owns the rights to Atari Games' catalogue (as opposed to Atari Inc.). One day we might see the full Atari set reunited with the likes of Gauntlet, Super Sprint, Paperboy, Marble Madness and Empire Strikes Back, but don't hold your breath. Until then, enjoy this serviceable Volume 1 of Atari's Greatest Hits.