Nostalgia-Fueled Retro Gaming For Better Or Worse

There’s a new retro console out just in time for the holidays. The Atari 2600+ ($129.99 on Amazon) is the most retro of retro consoles—so retro, in fact, that it’s actually compatible with original Atari 2600 and 7800 cartridges should you have any of those lying about and still in good working condition. The future is future-proof, or something.

That’s one of the positives of the new system. Others include:

  • Backward and forward compatibility with the joysticks. You can use an original joystick with this model or use this model’s joysticks with your old Atari. That’s neat!
  • It has a USB-C power cable and an HDMI port so that you can plug in to your nice big 4K TV.
  • The little Atari logo lights up. It all looks very retro and sleek and is sure to catch guests’ eyes when they visit. Nobody would be blamed for thinking it’s just an original Atari console.

Unfortunately, these nice features are not enough to justify the Atari 2600+’s price-tag, or make it that compelling of a system for someone like me. While I can see diehard collectors, Atari fans and anyone who might take comfort in the nostalgia of Atari-era gaming enjoy this as part of their collection, it’s a much tougher sell for the rest of us.

Unlike other retro consoles from Nintendo and Sega and so forth, these games are genuinely old. I can still enjoy the original Mario, maybe because it’s the first console game I ever played, but also because it still plays pretty well. Atari games are so old that, at least for me, they’re just not very fun. The joysticks are stiff. Controls are clunky. In fact, I’m pretty sure the word clunky was created to describe how these games play.

The system comes with a 10-in-1 cartridge that includes Adventure, Combat, Dodge ‘Em, Haunted House, Maze Craze, Missile Command, Realsports Volleyball, Surround, Video Pinball, and Yars’ Revenge, all of which can be selected using a frustrating dipstick system on the cartridge itself. There is no built-in menu for the console. No ability to save or rewind games. None of the modern conveniences added to other retro consoles are present. You trade those for the ability to pop in your old Atari cartridges, for better or worse.

My review unit also included other games like Berzerk and Mr. Run & Jump as well as an extra joystick (the base system only comes with one) and two paddle controllers. As someone who only played the original Atari a couple of times—I was born in 1981 and by the time I was playing video games that weren’t on my family’s old Mac, I was playing on an NES, not an Atari—the games and joysticks and paddles just don’t feel good at all, which I guess makes them authentic if nothing else. After a few minutes with any of these titles I get angry and irritable and quit. Maybe I’d feel differently if this tapped into my nostalgia brain centers, but I have no Atari nostalgia. Most modern gamers are in the same boat and I suspect will feel similarly.

The games also look weird on my 65” OLED. We’re talking about some of the most high-definition pixels you’ve ever seen. Big, oppressively bright squares. There’s no option to really make the games look like they did back in the day—no blur or scanline option. I get the feeling that the 160×192 resolution would just feel more at home on an old CRT monitor, but I got rid of my last CRT many years ago (I’m sure I could find one but my god they take up so much space, though I do miss it because I have nostalgia for old CRT monitors).

My final gripe is one I remember making about the first NES retro console Nintendo released way back in 2016: The cables just aren’t long enough! 1.5 meter joystick cables might have worked back in the day when you had a 15” boxy TV that you sat in front of on the carpet since you had to change channels down there anyways, but most of us are now sporting big HDTVs with remotes positioned much further away from our couches. We use wireless controllers with our PS5s. You’ll want a very long HDMI cable so you can have this closer to you while gaming, especially since you’ll need to use the switches on the console itself fairly often.

Ultimately, while I appreciate the attempt to make a cool, vintage console that works with the older joysticks and cartridges—but can hook up easily to a modern TV—it just ends up feeling like a console lost in time with no real modern features to make it more user-friendly and games that are just too antiquated for most gamers to enjoy. If you’re an old-school gamer and have fond memories and heaps of nostalgia for the Atari days, I think you’ll dig this groovy little machine. Just pick up a longer HDMI cable. For everyone else, well, I suppose your mileage will vary. It’s not my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t yours.

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