Art of Atari Book Review

A work of art



Ah, Atari. My first love! My first video game experience! My gateway drug to the medium that would shape who and what I am today! I can vividly remember the day my Pop-Pop dug his 2600 console out of the closet along with a shoe box full of the iconic black cartridges, prompting me to choose a game that I thought looked interesting. I sifted through the carts in the box, quickly glancing over the games that had text-only cover art, and ended up grabbing the game that had the most glorious sticker on the front, “Night Driver”.

As most young lads growing up in the early 80’s I was a fan of anything that had wheels and moved, so seeing a game where the art depicted several race cars, a helmeted race car driver, and a checkered flag; there was no doubt this game was the game for me. If you’re unfamiliar with Night Driver and decided to take a glance at a gameplay video on YouTube, you’ll probably chuckle at the shape of the car and the large Christmas trees that are scattered to the left and right of the track, but young 80’s me was blown away with what I was witnessing. I WAS the driver that was on the cover art of the game and I WAS driving the exact car that is predominantly featured in the center of the cart. Seeing that beautiful art before inserting the game in the cartridge slot helped me imagine that the blocky graphics that the Atari was pushing to the television was, in my mind, a 100 MPH heart-pounding race to the finish line!


You must admit that the graphical prowess of the Atari 2600 leaves much to be desired when compared to even Nintendo’s NES, and because of this young gamers of the 70’s and early 80’s had to have a really good imagination. The artwork featured on most Atari 2600 game boxes and cartridges were ultimately what players had to visualize themselves seeing when playing these classics. Seeing Berserk’s artwork of the protagonist blasting away a gigantic robot was what those playing the game determined was happening in-game when in actuality it was a little stick figure running around awkwardly while fatter stick figures aimlessly patrolled around the screen.

Another good example is the artwork featured on the box for the game Casino. A game that primarily was just a bunch of blocks and numbers on a green screen, but the cover made the player out to be a James Bond like character who’s surrounded by beautiful women and palm trees. The artwork wasn’t there to make you believe the graphics were that good, but just to help push your imagination, similar to the cover of a romance novel.

Some may know that early Atari game creators didn’t get credited for their work due to Atari fearing that their creators would be stolen away by competitors. What I wasn’t aware of is that the artists who put all of their blood, sweat, and tears into the cover art also never received any type of credit. Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One & Armada) provided the beautifully written forward for the book and goes into this tidbit of information.

The author, Tim Lapetino, took on the task of locating all the illustrators, designers, art directors, industrial designers, & others in which they provide information and share stories on the work they’ve done. An amazing inclusion is all of the unused cover art scattered throughout book that’s never even see the light of day. I have to hand it to Lapetino, taking on this task must have been quite the labor of love and I can respect anyone who puts in this much effort into any video game preservation. Lapetino mentions all of the planes, trains, and automobiles that he’s had to frequent in order to get all of this information, and it all clearly has went into the amazing quality of this book. From the front cover to the back, Art of Atari is no doubt one of the most beautifully crafted books that I’ve ever laid eyes on.


Besides all of the stunning artwork and quick blurbs about the games, Lapetino has made sure to include detailed features on the history of Atari (including home consoles), advertising strategies, prototypes, the disaster that was E.T.(and the landfill story), and last but not least, profiles on several artists who have provided their craft to the many beautiful works of art we know and love today. I was taken aback by the wealth of content crammed in the pages of this book. I was mostly expecting an art book with pages upon pages of the cover art I grew up with, which I would have been completely fine with. But Lapetino has went above and beyond my expectations and because of that my knowledge of Atari has increased tenfold.


Art of Atari is 354 pages of history that I’m proud to have on my coffee table. If you’re passionate about video games (and I’m guessing you are considering you’re on you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not getting this book. Video game preservation is very important to me. If you feel the same way you too will be proud to have Art of Atari on your coffee table.


Final Verdict: 5/5


Art of Atari, written by Tim Lapetino, is published by Dynamite Entertainment. It is available now. MSRP: $39.99. 

Full Disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Art of Atari purchased by the reviewer.

Mike Vito has been a slave to gaming ever since playing his grandfather's Atari 2600. A collector of all things retro, his main focus is obtaining a full NES collection. Being a father has rekindled his spirit for Nintendo and he now spends most of his time teaching his daughter about the games of yesteryear. Check out his other work in Pat Contri’s Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the SNES Library. Follow him @veryevilash on Twitter Current favorite games: Air Zonk, NHL Hitz 2003, Castlevania Symphony of the Night, & Super Dodgeball.

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