Gen X-ers and Boomers will Love The Atari 2600+ — If they have a boxful of Atari games in the attic

My latest video is a review of the Atari 2600+, a replica of the original beloved gaming console that works on modern HD televisions. It’s designed for those who still have a collection of Atari cartridges, offering a way to play these classic games on modern televisions.

The Atari 2600 Plus is about 80% the size of the original console, featuring a similar build quality with the characteristic fake wood paneling and stiff switches that are reminiscent of the original. It comes with an HDMI output, replacing the RF output of the original, and includes ports for original Atari controllers, including paddles. The package includes one controller in the box that’s a replica of the original 2600 version that also works on the original console too. The system outputs at 720p and includes switches to go into black and white mode along with a widescreen mode.

The console operates via emulation, using Stella for Atari 2600 games and ProSystem for Atari 7800 games. The emulation quality is high, with seamless controller compatibility and no need for button mapping or menu navigation. The system takes a little longer to boot up vs. the original console as it has to boot its OS, dump the ROM off the cartridge, and then load up the emulator.

Playing a game like “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” a cartridge from my childhood, on the Atari 2600 Plus was a smooth experience. The sound and visual quality were impressive, capturing the essence of playing on an original Atari, albeit with the modern convenience of HDMI output.

However, the console does have its limitations. It requires original cartridges to work, and there’s no option for loading games via SD card or USB. This means that for those without a collection of Atari games, the Atari 2600 Plus might not be the best choice. Additionally, flash cartridges like the Harmony cart are not compatible with this console.

Despite these limitations, the Atari 2600 Plus stands out for its authentic replication of the original console’s feel. The tactile experience of inserting a cartridge, flipping the switches, and using the controllers is remarkably close to the original. This makes it an excellent gift for someone who cherishes their Atari memories.

The Atari 2600 Plus is a well-executed blend of nostalgia and modern technology. For those with a trove of Atari cartridges, it’s a fun way to rekindle childhood memories. But if you don’t have a collection already there are far better ways to explore what the 2600 had to offer.

Retro Review: The Atari 50th Celebration Compilation & My Favorite Atari 2600 Games!

Every year around the holiday season I like to do a retro review looking at some old technology in my collection. This year we look at an AV modded Atari 2600 that I picked up recently.

I begin the video with an overview of the great Atari 50th Celebration compilation (affiliate link). The compilation is a virtual museum of all things Atari including their arcade games, computer systems and all of their consoles (including the Lynx & Jaguar!). There are dozens of playable games on the compilation but many of my favorites didn’t make the cut primarily due to licensing issues.

There are lots of great videos on the Atari 2600 on YouTube so I focused on a few favorites from my childhood collection in the second part of my video. Most of the games featured are my original 2600 cartridges! Surprisingly they all booted right up.

For the games I couldn’t find cartridges for I was able to play them using a flash cart called the Harmony Cartridge. The Harmony cart can play just about every game ever released for the 2600 including some titles that make use of special chips like Pitfall 2. One of the things that I love about living in the future is that we have great new hardware for legacy systems!

The Atari 2600 era was a time of great experimentation where every idea was made into a game. Many of these experiments fell flat but many others became timeless classics that influence modern game mechanics.

In a comment, viewer Yuan Chang best summed up the 2600 : “Gaming distilled down to its purest elemental form and even in that form, it provided countless hours of fun.”

I definitely agree.

The Atari 50th Anniversary Celebration is a Fun, but Incomplete, Exhibit of Video Game History

I picked up the Atari 50th Celebration collection (affiliate link) the other day and found it to be a wonderful tribute to Atari’s contributions to video game history. It has a mixture of emulated games along with documentary material presented in an easy to follow timeline.

You can see it in action in this livestream I did on Amazon. The gameplay starts around the 13 minute mark. I am playing the Switch version but it’s also available for just about every current gaming platform.

The games and documentary materials are organized into eras that take the user step-by-step through the development of Atari’s arcade games, home consoles and computers. It keeps track of progress as the user works through what feels like a museum exhibit. They produced some videos specific for this release along with additional archival footage and documents from Atari’s archives.

The game emulation feels pretty solid. Digital Eclipse, the developers of the collection, added some really solid filters to the emulation that come very close to capturing the look and feel of CRTs of the era on a modern television.

I was especially impressed with how they depicted the arcade version of Breakout. The original game used a black and white CRT but had a colored overlay placed over the picture tube to add color. Digital Eclipse’s depiction of it looks pretty spot on – note how the blue band runs through the borders of the play area on the bottom:

Unfortunately some of the games that were designed around specific control surfaces (steering wheels, spinners, etc) don’t translate very well to modern game controllers. Analog sticks work well with games that originally used joysticks but Breakout is pretty hard to control without the precision of a spinner or paddle controller.

But to add some additional value Digital Eclipse and Atari did produce six modern interpretations of 80’s era games, including Breakout. They’re all a lot of fun and capture the feel of vintage games while being much more friendly towards modern controllers. I especially liked VCTR-SCTR which is a modern homage to the vector games of the early 80’s that plays like a medley of Asteroids, Lunar Lander and more. These definitely add some value lost by control issues on some of the vintage titles.

A bigger shortfall is that the history feels incomplete without Activision games like Pitfall, the 2600 ports of Pacman & Space Invaders, and of course the infamous ET game that some credit with causing the 1983 video game crash. While most of these important milestones get mentioned in the timeline, the games are missing due to licensing issues.

Atari is a shell of the company that dominated the video game market in the 80’s so they probably couldn’t come up with the budget to license the Atari ports of other popular games.

Activision gets a mention in the collection, but no games can be played due to licensing issues.

But the collection does manage to deliver a nice sampling of popular games across every console Atari released including the 2600, 5200, 7800, the 800 home computer, the Lynx handheld and the Jaguar. All in there are 103 games in the collection with five 2600 games that are unlocked by achieving certain milestones in the other games. There’s a full list and unlocking instructions over at IGN.

There’s definitely something for everyone but I would have liked to have even more games included even if they didn’t make it to the historical timeline. For example my Dad and I used to play Atari bowling quite a bit when I was 3 or 4 years old and it would have been great to have that included here even if it wasn’t historically significant.

The bottom line? The Atari 50th Celebration is a lovingly curated exhibit of video game history that ends up a feeling incomplete. The six new games included do make up for that a bit but it’s a shame that the full Atari story can’t be told due to licensing restrictions. Hopefully I’ll live long enough for all of this stuff to find its way into the public domain so we can get a full collection for the 100th celebration!