If you’re less than thirty years old, you could be forgiven for thinking that the video gaming console wars have always been fought between Sony and Microsoft. The two massive tech companies have certainly been at loggerheads with the various versions of the PlayStation and the Xbox for the past twenty years. Go back a little further in time, though, and you’ll find that there were once a few more companies involved.
One of the most prominent of those companies is Nintendo, which is still around today with its Switch consoles. Go back a little further into the 1990s, though, and you’ll find Sega with its Master System, Genesis, and Dreamcast. Go back further still, and you’ll find Atari. The name of the American company might not be a household one today, but back in the 1970s and the 1980s, they were just as popular as Sony is today. In 1977 they released the Atari 2600, which is regarded by many gaming fans as the first genuinely outstanding home video gaming console. The company’s success continued through the 1980s but came to a crashing halt in the 1990s.
After designing and then cancelling a proposed new console called the Atari Panther, Atari instead released the Atari Jaguar in 1993. It was a disaster. The controller was too big and heavy to be practical, video game developers weren’t interested in it, and the technology in the box was dated by the time of its launch. The console couldn’t do anything the Super Nintendo couldn’t do and was rendered effectively obsolete by the release of the first PlayStation in 1994. Atari sold fewer than 250,000 units of the Jaguar and lost so much money that they withdrew from the console market altogether. The failure of the Jaguar effectively killed the company. The Atari name was sold to investors in 1996, but the original business was finished.
For almost two decades, that appeared to be the end of the Atari story. Ten years or so ago, though, Atari-branded video game collections began to appear as cheap downloads for the PlayStation and the Xbox. That got the Atari name back into the public’s consciousness and reminded everyone how much fun Atari used to be. More recently, Atari-branded games have started turning up at online slots websites. As bizarre as that might sound, you can now play an official online slots version of “Star Raiders” at websites like Rose Slots CA. It’s not the only Atari-themed casino attraction out there either – there’s said to be an entire Atari casino in the works thanks to a partnership between the current owners of the Atari trademark and an online slots company called Pariplay. Piece by piece, Atari has come back to life in front of our eyes. Now they’re taking the final step by returning to the world of video gaming consoles.
If you’re expecting Atari to come out with something capable of competing with the latest PlayStation or Xbox, you’ll be disappointed. Such an enterprise would involve billions of dollars worth of investment, and even then, it might not be a success. Amazon and Google have both tried to break into the video games market recently and found that it’s much harder than they probably expected it to be. Atari’s current owners are smart enough to know that they can’t beat the big boys at their own game – so they’re playing a different kind of game altogether. Instead of offering us cutting-edge games, they’re going for the retro end of the market – with a familiar-looking console.
Effective immediately, customers in the United States of America can now get their hands on an Atari VCS retro console. The console’s release had been anticipated for some time after launching as a crowd-funded IndieGogo project in 2018, but news about its development had gone quiet recently. Investors and fans had begun to fear that they wouldn’t see the finished product this year, but then on June 16th, everything changed. Rather than posting an update, the development team behind the “new” console confirmed that they’d finished their work, and the product is available to ship. To say that fans are delighted would be an understatement. For the first time in more than forty years, it’s possible to buy the Atari 2600 again.
We’re probably not being fair by referring to the Atari VCS as a clone of the Atari 2600. It looks identical in every way, but that’s deliberate. Beneath the casing, the technology in the Atari VCS is vastly superior to its predecessor. Aside from working as a perfectly acceptable video games console – complete with an Xbox-style controller if the joystick is too retro for you – it’s also a desktop PC. That allows it to do quite a few things that the Atari 2600 wasn’t capable of. If your primary concern is retro games, you won’t be disappointed. The console comes with 100 Atari classics pre-installed. If you’d like to combine those old games with something newer, you can download newer (non-exclusive) games through a dedicated app store. You’ll obviously need an internet connection for that – something that the owners of the original Atari 2600 could only dream of.
If the Atari VCS has a weakness, it’s the fact that it’s not truly one thing or the other. It’s not quite powerful enough to be a fully functional modern-age gaming PC. You’d have to modify it significantly to get that level of performance out of it – something you shouldn’t be expected to have to do after spending three hundred dollars on the unit. It’s also not quite a games console. It looks and feels more like playing games on a PC than playing them on an old console, and the selection of modern games doesn’t offer you anything you won’t get elsewhere. You might even find that you’re disappointed by the retro games when you come to play them. The games of the 1970s were incredibly basic. You may not recall just how basic they were until you try to play them – at which point you’ll find them unplayable.
Atari never claimed to be making anything revolutionary with the VCS. This is an old-school machine designed to appeal to old-school fans. If you’re one of them, you’ll probably love it. If you’re not a dedicated Atari fan, though, this is probably better left as a pass than a purchase.