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Can the Atari 2600+ reignite the magic?

Atari's new revival is a flawed but exciting proposition

There’s really nothing quite like playing an Atari 2600 game, and The Atari 2600+ is coming to capitalize on that. The technological restraints of the 1970s forced the Atari 2600’s games to be simple and addicting. In so doing, the library would go on to become iconic, instantly recognizable, and timelessly fun. Somehow it even managed to hang on to some relevancy well beyond the NES era. Even today this library holds a special place in the hearts of gamers and technology buffs of all stripes.

Atari is no stranger to revivals either, with countless collections of old games repackaged for modern systems being released over the decades. We’ve also seen plenty of console emulation boxes released under the Atari name with varying results. Most of these attempts were marred by limited functionality, poor emulation, or some combination of the two. Now, however, a new kind of revival is underway. The Atari 2600+ has emerged and seems to be hitting a lot the right notes. If handled correctly, this could very well be the ultimate revival for the undisputed golden era of gaming. Here’s what we know so far.

Identical form factor (80% scale)

Atari’s official mini/classic console launches on November 17th, 2023.

Wood grain, ridges, switches and all. The Atari 2600+ is not trying to modernize the design like the baffling VCS. This is a plain and simple miniaturization of the original machine, like the NES classic. Perhaps a bit more in line with Konami’s Turbografx-16 mini, as it won’t be that much smaller than the original. The original stylings of the switches are the most interesting part of this. That particular design language is so alien today, and will certainly stand out in modern living rooms.

Compatibility with original 2600 and 7800 games. 

This is wonderful news, and instantly sets the 2600+ apart from nearly every Atari clone console before it. The majority of Atari clone consoles that have emerged only contain whatever AT Games felt like including. Also including the small-but-excellent 7800 library is a nice tough. How the 2600+ runs the games is a big question, though. Latency, compatibility and accuracy are big sticking points for much of the community. However, generally speaking, being able to pop in my own copy of Spider Fighter and play it on my TV from the sofa is alluring. That said, compatibility isn’t perfect, as Atari reveals on their website. More on that later.

Will Yars Ever Get His Revenge?

New Joystick and Paddles

Seemingly identical in form, and hopefully at least equal in build quality. These new controllers seem to be aiming to look, feel, and function just like the originals. However, weight could be an issue, as light controllers can feel cheap and unsatisfying to use. The paddles in particular need to be well-made, as most original paddles today are not working well. The Atari 2600+ only comes with one joystick, though, so others will come at an additional cost. This is a bit of a letdown considering the $129 price tag. Although given the connection type, you should be able to use your original controllers as well. Atari’s website does confirm that the new controllers will work on the original 2600. It’s fairly logical to assume the inverse is true as well.

10-games-in-one Cartridge Included

This cart includes Haunted House, Adventure, Dodge ‘Em, Combat, Missile Command, Maze Craze, Realsports Volleyball, Surround, Video Pinball, and Yars’ Revenge. Any compilation of Atari games will feel like it’s missing something, but overall these are great choices. The major genres of the era are represented here. Combat on its own has several modes and difficulties that can easily provide many hours of single or multiplayer mayhem. Compared to the 20+ games Nintendo, Sega, and Konami offers on their mini consoles, though, 10 is less than impressive.

A 10-games-in-one-cartridge is included. So only 10 games are included.

HDMI Output 

This is essential in today’s world. Most of the clone consoles and emulation boxes released under the Atari name have been composite (red, white, and yellow cables) only. Having HDMI immediately puts the 2600+ in the upper-echelon of ways to play these games. Whether we’re going to get 1080p or 4K remains to be seen, but ultimately might not matter. Most modern displays still recognize 720p today. For the sake of future-proofing though, the higher resolution we can get, the better. Extra points are up for grabs if Atari can throw in some display options. Scanlines, screen curvatures, or other filters would be welcome. No word on anything like that yet, outside of the Black and White switch anyway.

Sold separately

The 2600+ is going to launch alongside some companion products. Mr. Run and Jump, a new game designed for the 2600. A so-called enhanced edition of Berzerk. An additional compilation cartridge focused on paddle games Breakout, Night Driver, Canyon Bomber, and Video Olympics. This appears to come with a new set of paddles as well, which is great. Most of the original paddles hanging around today are barely working – if at all. An additional joystick is also going to be available, and should be an easy upsell. The 2600+ only comes with one, after all.

Potential pitfalls

Pitfall will work on your 2600+, but not everything will.

Before throwing down your hard earned money, there are a couple byte-sized issues to consider. First, the $129 price tag itself. You could buy Atari 50 today for significantly less and play it on the modern console you already own. In so doing you would immediately have access to exponentially more games than the 10 included with the 2600+. $129 vs $30. 10 games vs 90 games. Also, the inclusion of only one controller almost certainly means you’ll need to buy another. This drives up the price even more. Do with this information what you will.

Secondly, hardcore enthusiasts might be left wanting with the 2600+. Atari confirms on their FAQ page that the 2600+ is using emulation to run the games. This isn’t inherently problematic, but it could spell trouble for rom hacks and homebrews. Also, the compatibility list on Atari’s website confirms several official games will fail to work. Super Cobra, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Real Sports Boxing are among them. Many more are listed as “untested” which is frankly bizarre. I know it’s no small task, but if Atari is serious about this, why not test all the games? This makes the “No Cartridge Left Behind” moniker on the webpage ring more than a little hollow. A potential saving grace here is the USB-C port. This will almost certainly be utilized by the community to improve compatibility. For now though, the incomplete compatibility is a notable red flag. I highly suggest all Atari enthusiasts take a look at the list before claiming a pre-order.

Flawed or exciting? Depends on the beholder

These issues aren’t huge ones, but they do muddle up the deal a bit. Casual players who want a quick nostalgia trip could understandably be put off by the price point. Conversely, hardcore enthusiasts may balk at the emulation and incomplete compatibility. The perception of a high floor and low ceiling could threaten the appeal of the 2600+. That said, there is certainly value here. Between the nostalgic form-factor, HDMI, and generally solid compatibility with games and controllers, the 2600+ makes a decent case. Hyperkin’s Retron 77 may have it beat with price, but there is something to be said for an official Atari product. The hassle of converting the video signal of an original 2600 is arguably worth paying $129 to side-step. Yet the phoniness of emulating Atari games on a computer undercuts the entire experience. You could certainly look at it either way.

The 2600+ may not be for the super fanatical or the super casual. This is a bit of a shame, as it comes quite close to being an ideal solution for everyone. Still, here are more comprehensive and cheaper solutions for those two extremes. Are there millions of people who would pay a premium to play the vast majority of their Atari games in a modern, yet authentic way, though? Absolutely. It’s just going to come down to whether or not Atari can get them to do it. If marketed well, and supported with some post-launch firmware updates, the 2600+ could easily soar to great heights.

Atari 2600+ releases this November

We won’t be waiting long to get our hands on this thing. The 2600+ launches right before Thanksgiving. This might just prove to be perfect timing. Whipping an Atari out after Thanksgiving dinner for a few rounds of drunken Missile Command with the family sounds like an excellent way to wrap up the Holiday. If nothing else, it could at least distract everyone from whatever arguments transpired during dinner.

Atari 2600+ releases on November 17. Do you plan to jump back into some retro favorites? Or do you prefer more old-school ways to enjoy old-school games? As always, let us know what you think down in the comments!

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