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My history with the Atari 2600

2600boxWhen I get bored of a particular console, I tend to go back in time. That, and I have a rather extreme form of ADD so I’m CONSTANTLY picking up new games and gadgets. As I’ve said before, I’m on a PS2 kick. But then I got this little device. It’s the Atari Flashback 2. Now I’m not going to get into the hardware itself too much just because it’s been out for a while, and if you’re reading this you already know what it is. For those of you who don’t know, this thing is basically a reproduction Atari 2600 sans the cartridge slot (which can be added by someone who is comfortable with a soldering iron). It’s about 2/3 the size of the original system, and instead of switches for things like the power and reset, it has big ugly orange buttons … which is my only big beef with it.

I’m just going to talk about my personal feelings about this thing having played on a 2600 when I was a kid, and emulating it in various forms since then. Back when I first got into emulation, aside from using the famous NESticle emulator to play what few games it could run, I played Game Boy and Atari 2600 games because I was on a 486DX2/66 at the time and that was really all I could do. The beginnings of Super Nintendo emulation was completely out of the question and Sega Genesis just kind of “ran” … good enough to play Phantasy Star or something like that but hardly suitable for something like Sonic the Hedgehog.


Then recently I got into those little TV plug & play games. You know the kind. Just a controller that you put batteries in, plug it into the TV, turn it on and play. And one of the first ones I got was, naturally, the Atari 2600 10 in 1 controller, which has a major flaw. It’s not a REAL Atari 2600 on a chip, it’s merely an NES on a chip with pathetic mapper support with 10 Atari games merely ported to it. While it DOES use the extra power of the NES to fix the flicker that plagued some of these games, because they’re rushed ports, they don’t exactly play the same way. In Asteroids, the asteroids themselves fly a little weird making the game much harder than it originally was (which I honestly kind of like) … Adventure doesn’t have the famous easter egg, though the screen is still there. Millipede is almost unplayable in it’s speed. Which, again. I actually kind of like. They’re surprisingly good ports which play similarly, but the purists would definitely be disappointed in this. Especially the sound. The Atari 2600’s famous low tech sounds are only recreated with the NES sound chip. So nothing ever sounds quite right. The Atari 2600 sounds like a man who’s been smoking for 50 years (think Christian Bale’s Batman) and the NES sound chip sounds like an 8 year old girl by comparison.

Then I got the Paddle Controller TV game, which has a number of games that used … well … the paddle controller. It has the same problems. NES on a chip. Good ports, and if you get the two player version of it Warlords is a BLAST to play with someone else. Port or not. Then came the original Atari Flashback … more NES on a chip nonsense, but it has Atari 7800 games on it, which was kind of a new thing for me. And being able to play Solaris on my TV was a trip. But the unit itself is hideous looking, and the controllers are utterly worthless.

When I was a kid, I had HUNDREDS of games for the 2600 because I wasn’t able to get ANYTHING like that until people already got the Nintendo and was getting rid of all their old games via yard sales and whatnot. That’s how I got literally ALL my games. I’d just buy them up every time I saw them. And played the HELL out of that thing. I easily got hooked on Asteroids, Missile Command and Millipede. And remain to this day 3 of my favorite games of all time. And I’m not even talking about the arcade versions of them because up until the emulation days, I had never played them. I’m probably one of the few people who likes Defender and Donkey Kong on the 2600 because I had never experienced the superior arcade versions of them. For me, those WERE the games. And even to this day I STILL can’t do worth a damn with the arcade versions of Defender or Asteroids. Though I still play them and get my ass stomped every single time.

thumb_atari2600Missile Command, I kind of regret never playing an actual machine for that game and experiencing the track ball control style. The same thing with Millipede. Though I have played the arcade versions of both. And, honestly, I like the 2600 version of both of them BETTER than the arcade. Especially Millipede, which, even on the 2600 does the “enemy hell” style play better than even Geometry Wars. Fast paced insanity at it’s best and really showed what the little system was capable of doing.

And of course I got the Atari Anthology on the PS2 … which is great due to the sheer NUMBER of games on that thing. But it just doesn’t feel quite right playing them with the PS2 control pad.

Then I finally recently got the venerable Atari Flashback 2. This thing is perfection wrapped in plastic, though it doesn’t do much with the nostalgia factor. I don’t have the Flashback 2+, which replaces some of the games with sports titles due to licensing issues with Activision (gee … what’re the odds of that). So I get to play Pitfall! and River Raid, two of the best games for the system with Pitfall! being well ahead of it’s time for the home console market.


But I can still fire up Asteroids on this thing and play it until I see the game over screen … which takes me a while because I tend to roll the score over 6 or 7 times before I inevitably lose all my lives. But this one is slightly different than the original. Instead of the huge multi-colored popcorn looking asteroids flickering their way across the screen, they resemble the arcade version slightly more being “vector like” … which I’m thinking is just a homebrew hack of the game. But I could be mistaken. But yeah, every time I fire this up I get that same shit eating grin on my face I had when I was 6.

I got one of the writer’s for this site to play it for a short time … and it amazes me how bad she was at the game. Now, I can fully understand not being particularly GOOD at the game. I fall into that category. But, despite the fact that I think she’s level 50 in Gears of War 2 she couldn’t even hardly land a shot on the initial BIG asteroids and ended up losing all her lives in around 1 minute. Even less for Asteroids Deluxe, which is one of the exclusives for this thing … which, this has some of the more impressive “vector like” graphics I’ve seen pumped out of the 2600. And the flicker actually HELPS the effect somewhat. Unfortunately for me, it also retains that balls hard difficulty of the original arcade version. But I keep trying. The only problem I’ve had with this game, and no other game on the system, is that it seems like the vertical hold just freaks the hell out after a little while of playing for a second. Just long enough for one of those damn aliens  or an asteroid to get me.

The 2600 was also more or less my introduction to the arcade games of the day. At the time, I had never played games like Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede or Defender in the arcades. All the experiences I had with those games were the home versions on the 2600. Defender on that system, while yes … it’s a brutally pathetic arcade port, was and still is a great game to me. I didn’t even know it WAS an arcade game when I was a kid, so when I played and talked about Defender, I was referring to the home port. I used to play that sucker for what seemed like forever. And looking back on it, considering they managed to fit Defender in ANY form onto the 2600 with it’s one fire button is simply amazing.

Donkey Kong on that system was another one. Alright, yes, it’s missing an entire SCREEN, the sound is terrible and Mario looks like a bean when he climbs up and down ladders. But for someone who has never played the arcade version before at the time, it’s a great little game. BurgerTime is another case like that. Then some of the 2600 games that weren’t arcade ports like Adventure, Pitfall!, River Raid, Stampede.

donkey_kong Go ahead and pick one of the Atari Flashback 2 systems up, you may be surprised at the quality of the games on there. Now, sure. 3D Tic Tac Toe and Hangman are bullshit. I don’t know why they stuck those on there. They were terrible then, and they’re terrible now. And other things like Video Checkers and Video Chess, please. But for the most part, this has winning selection of games, even though the nostalgia factor isn’t really there. There are a lot of prototypes and homebrew games, and how the hell can you feel nostalgic about those?

But try out Arcade Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Centipede, Millipede, Adventure, Battlezone, Maze Craze … and there are more. You may be surprised at what you find. If you want a somewhat cheaper alternative, Atari Anthology on the Playstation 2, Xbox … and I believe it was released on Gamecube as well has 80 friggin’ games on it. As well as arcade versions of a lot of games (though they aren’t exactly perfect versions. Some of the sounds are off, the graphics are a little off etc etc) … and it’s obviously not the same playing these with the controllers of the systems. It just feels weird to me playing these with, say, a PS2 controller. But that’s not the pack’s fault. But there are advantages to playing these with the Anthology set in the fact that you get simple, easy to understand selections for the different game variations.

I would say the 80 in 1 Atari Classics pack on Steam … but that thing isn’t very friendly to modern operating systems.

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