So, this morning I had a breakfast of Scotch eggs on pan-grilled sourdough bread. My Scotch eggs were supposed to be wrapped in bacon; however, the process of peeling my soft boiled eggs and covering them in sausage/flour/egg wash/panko took too long, and I was rushed by the rapid heating of my deep-fryer. They turned out alright although I think my eggs could have used a bit more cooking time.
But I digress; the prominent thing on my mind today was purchasing an acceptable Atari 2600 emulator. I watched a video of someone who made a lot of key criticisms of the current Atari VCS effort, and that video has been running through my mind all day. So I decided to spend some time doing more research on two other candidates that I am considering, the Atari Flashback and the RetroN 77. For today’s overly-nerdy, classic video gaming post, I am going to give a quick but detailed of the pros and cons of the Flashback and the Retro N and make a recommendation on the (somewhat) doomed Atari VCS.
As of this moment, my first choice will be the Flashback X ( Flashback 10, which AtGames will probably call it). The latest version, the Flashback 9 Gold, has 120 games embedded on the Flashback’s “hard drive”/ROM chip or whatever they are storing the Atari 2600 emulator on board. My old VCS carts are lost to history, so that is a boon right there. AtGames has also published a firmware update that will let you plug in a 16GB SD card that can load a ROM program with up to 1,100 2600 game ROMs. In theory, I can have the entire classic 2600 library for the $60 Flashback plus whatever a good SD Card costs. The Flashback comes with two hardwire controllers, and the unit can also use Atari’s original joysticks and outside third party peripherals. Right now, however, there is an issue using the original paddles or Indy 500 driving controllers.
Although the SD card option makes the software issue sort of moot, I really hope ATGames takes stock of the onboard software for this year’s version No.10. While ATGames has offered a better mix of Atari software and third party games from Activision and Parker Brothers, I estimate about ten percent of the games from Flashback 9 Gold could have been substituted for much better games. Finally the Flashback did NOT come with an HDMI cable to plug into the TV. It is not a bright idea for ATGames to assume the consumer has a spare HDMI cable at home; hopefully they correct this issue next year, along with rectifying the paddle situation.
The RetroN 77 is a close second, but a second place nonetheless (and not really the first loser). It costs about $10 more than the Flashback and is only available via mail order, but you do get a bigger bang for the buck. RetroN 77 will play about 98% of the current library of 2600 cartridges and use most of the Atari and third party peripherals and controllers. It comes with one controller with two improvements to the original Atari joystick: smoothed out edges that make for a more comfortable grip, and two fire buttons to accommodate left and right handed players.
RetroN 77 has plenty of cool features. It has an option to display games with a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ration. You can save and load games to the hard drive or a microSD chip (sold separately). There is a “fry” button that lets the user mimic the action of removing the cartridge from the unit with power on; this helps you access some “Easter eggs” and other cool effects on the games. Lastly there are four “home-brews” embedded on the RetroN 77.
The “77” isn’t perfect. Not all of the third party peripherals will work on the system; for example, the Arcadia Starpath Supercharger won’t work, so you will need ROMs to play those games. Other game-essential controllers like the Power Booster (Omega Race) and Touch Pad (Star Raiders) won’t work. The MicroSD slot only allows up to 18 ROMs at a time, am I am not a fan of that medium (too damned small!). Lastly, what I have seen of the on-board ROMs wasn’t pretty.
All that being said, the Flashback and the Retro N are actual, existing systems that you can purchase and play right out of the box. That brings us to the strange case of the Atari VCS, which is pretty much vaporware at this point. The issues…oh, Lord the issues:
- The base unit being offered, the Atari Onyx, is $239, with NO CONTROLLERS. If you don’t have any current PC controllers handy, you have to purchase either the Updated Joystick or the Modern Controller (which looks like the PS4/Xbox controllers), at $29 and $49, respectively.
- All of the games content is the Atari Vault, which is 2600 games plus Atari’s arcade archives. There are supposedly software developers, but no actual announced list of games that will be available at launch.
- The IndeGoGo campaign claims to have raised $3M, but has only sold a few hundred dollars’ worth of the controllers. ???
- “Atari” has not been forthcoming on the progress of the actual hardware. The IndeGoGo site and the last of the nine updates (dated over a month ago) says that the VCS is in the prototype stage. According to the delivery timeline, it’s supposed to be in the manufacturing stage right now.
- The public relations campaign is unsatisfactory, especially YouTube. Gaming enthusiasts on YouTube have complained of hostile treatment by Atari, and the VCS channel on YouTube has not had a new video in seven months…last July by my count.
I am just scratching the surface, but what my cataract-infused eyes are seeing is not pretty for the VCS. Right now, the best hope is for AtGames and/or Hyperkin Lab (the makers of RetroN 77) to offer “Atari” cash on the barrelhead for whatever designs, drawings, etc. they have for the VCS, then go ahead and subcontract Atari Age to make software, then build the damn thing and get it out there.
Sooo…right now if I wanted to tell someone to SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY, it would be AtGames for their Flashback X (or 10, because its asking too much to be cool). The Flashback is less expensive, has a substantial games library onboard, and is commercially more accessible. The RetroN 77 would be a cool idea if I had my old 2600 games handy. My mental shelf life for the Atari VCS ends at 2359/11:59 p.m. EST on Veterans’ Day.
For a blog that’s supposed to be about running marathons that’s a lot of bandwidth and keystrokes for some old-ass video game system.
Song of the Day: Over a month ago, the local classic rock station did a midday switch of its format to what I would call classic pop. The classic rock staples have been reinforced with a mix of 70s and 80s lite rock and 80s radio/MTV hits. I’m not too thrilled about hearing Laura Branigan’s “Gloria”, anything from Wham!, or Michael MacDonald mixed in with rock music from Guns N’ Roses, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin. However it’s not all bad. Every now and then they’ll put in something I can appreciate.
Boz Scaggs: The Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Boz Scaggs was a successful 70s producer who tried his hand at recording his won hits; you could say he one what he was doing. Also, who is is this Lido fellow and how do I get in touch with him? I wanna hang out.
Earth, Wind and Fire: September.This is what rhythm and blues sounds like. Discussion over.
Club Nouveau: Lean on Me. This cover of the Bill Withers classic just came on the radio. Okay, not all 80s pop was bad.
Now I gotta hyperlink all this stuff. Wheeee.