Retro tech meets geek chic
Among other things, 1977 marked the beginning of (in my humble opinion) two of the largest entertainment franchises: war of stars and Atari. Needless to say, the former is alive and well. And until recently, the latter lived on through the sheer persistence of its legendary gaming legacy. Now, three years after its hugely successful Indiegogo campaign, Atari has finally quenched the thirst of retro gaming fans by finally releasing its brand new console. Officially known as the VCS 800, this truly multifunctional hybrid gaming, entertainment and computing device is an amazing time machine for the past and the future.
The Atari VCS 800 connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi or its Ethernet socket. It has two USB ports on the front (for controllers) and two more on the back (for loading multimedia content and operating systems) as well as an HDMI port for connecting the system to your current television or monitor. It can stream movies and shows through Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Plex, and other native apps. It can become a PC. And it can play more games than you can count, including some new ones (for this system) that Atari is officially announcing today.
Flashback on Fridays
From today, Basket fight and Desert falcon can be purchased ($ 2.99 each), downloaded, and played using native Atari 7800 system emulation. (This all happens in the background as the Atari operating system has already built in some emulators that allow the VCS 800 to play tracks from various gaming systems, and others can be added through future firmware updates.) It’s the first in a series of weekly Drops or Flashback Fridays featuring both first and third party titles drawn from a rich history of arcade, console and computer formats. While we can’t reveal which other games will be released when, we can say that in a week’s time, two very popular and beloved retro favorites will be released that are compatible with both the Atari VCS Classic Joystick and Modern Controller. And Atari will be releasing more titles each week to give the VCS the ability to play additional game system emulators along the way.
Before I even heard of all the other features this system had, I was pretty addicted to being able to access the 100 games in the Atari Vault. Yes, it is possible to play it elsewhere. But to be able to like pre-loaded Atari arcade classics Asteroids, centipede and Missile command, along with dozens of other Atari 2600 system favorites on an actual Atari system is sheer game-geek luck. On top of that, there are around 30 additional games available for purchase, including fun but challenging new releases such as: Guntech 2.0, jetboard tournament and Thrustlander, each optimized for the Atari VCS controller. And that’s just the tip of the video game iceberg.
The VCS Store offers several free apps that link to popular game services. For example, Antstream Arcade offers over 1,000 titles for free (instead of posting in-game advertisements). You can also play against other people on different platforms via AirConsole. And you can also download GeForce Now, Luna, and Stadia if that’s your preference for those gaming services. In other words, especially with Atari releasing more emulators and titles, and independent developers targeting this platform, it’s unlikely that even the most active gamer would ever run out of great content to play with.
How was the gameplay itself? Mostly delightful. For better or for worse, I found the action in the older titles pretty much as I remembered it. I just had to reconfigure my expectations back to 8-bit. (Some of the games even offer a choice between color and black and white.) Without the trackball, I was a bit disappointed with the feel and control Crystal locksthat I used to like to play in the arcade. but centipede (another trackball favorite) and everything else I tried played great via the classic joystick. When it comes to sports games, I prefer to play against a human opponent, as I did in my formative years. But in general, it was great to be able to explore a lot of titles that I hadn’t played before but that I was always curious about.
The Classic Joystick plays out the nostalgia of the original Atari joystick, mimics the iconic form factor and brings functionality light years further than that of its heartwarmingly simple one-button predecessor. For starters, it can be used either wirelessly, via Bluetooth, or wired by connecting the 3 m charging cable to one of the system’s four USB ports. It has a second red fire button just below the main one that comes in handy in many games. A few additional buttons on the top make various menus, dashboards and navigation in the game easier. Orange lighting around the joystick and integrated rumble effects create a modern flair. And in a literally clever twist, panning the stick (without turning it in any direction) turns into a paddle controller, perfect for games like Atari circus, storm and Great breakout.
The Modern Controller – also rechargeable, wireless, and wired – offers the ergonomic feel that modern gamers are probably more familiar with. It’s light and agile. And even if it’s necessary for a few games and functions, as a nostalgic purist I pretty much stayed with the Classic Joystick, which is wired to the console. It is worth noting, however, that the Modern Controller is also compatible for (non-Atari) games on PCs, mobile devices and other consoles.
The third controller is more virtual, but just as clever and handy as the other two. You can download the Atari VCS Companion App (in the middle area in the picture above) onto your Android or iOS phone. It’s really more of a navigation tool than the actual gameplay. Once your phone is paired and connected to the VCS via Wi-Fi, you can use it to enter characters (for usernames and passwords), tap the four virtual directional buttons, or switch to a scroll wheel and trackpad. This makes shopping, digital contacts, and browsing the web using Google Chrome easier. In addition, you can access the rest of Google Workspace, including Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides, which are available as free apps to download onto the Atari system.
If you want to be even more productive, you’ll appreciate the Atari’s ability to turn into a fully functional PC. While I’m curious about this functionality and appreciate its availability, I haven’t really experimented with this mode. But I could see how others – maybe application developers or families in need of an extra computer that doesn’t have to be portable – would find it handy. To activate PC mode, all you need to do is connect a keyboard and mouse (either via USB or Bluetooth) and then boot the system with an external drive that loads either the Debian (Linux-based) or Windows operating system . Hardcore users will appreciate that RAM and storage are upgradeable. And Atari is further refining the PC mode and is planning to offer a simplified USB plug-in for purchase this year.
Should you buy the Atari VCS All-In Bundle?
Right from the start, this is an amazing system. Not only is it reminiscent of the early days of home consoles, with retro goodness oozing out of its pores, but it also offers a modern user interface with an ever-evolving feature set. The already huge game library will continue to grow, along with features such as additional game system emulators, user interface improvements, 4K graphics and online multiplayer games. The Atari VCS already feels as if it is worth the asking price. And it will only scale in value over time.
Buy from GameStop or Atari for $ 399.99.
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