The Second Coming of Atari
By James Grahame
[Ed. Note: We seem to be in an Atari phase this week] The recent wave of emulated classic video games makes me nervous - they're not the same as the originals. That's why I didn't bother to mention the original Atari Flashback, which "emulated" twenty classic Atari VCS games and featured a rather tacky case and controller design modeled on the ill-fated Atari 7800 (why?). Even with its flaws, they sold over 500,000 of the little suckers.
Now Atari is back with the $30 Flashback 2.0, and everything is different. The new unit features a single-chip recreation of the original 2600 hardware, so it runs exactly like the original. The controllers are modern versions of the old spasm-inducing 2600 joysticks, too. You can even attach real Atari paddles and other accessories.
The Flashback 2.0 includes 31 games drawn from the old Atari library, plus two Activision favorites (River Raid and Pitfall!), and seven brand new games. Popular classics include Yar's Revenge, Missile Command, and Combat. No space invaders, though (licensing issues?). Rumor has it there are two bonus "Easter egg" games as well. The console design is a miniature faux-wood version of the original, except for round push-buttons that replace the original switches.
The truly awesome part? The Flashback 2.0 kinda supports old (and new) Atari VCS cartridges. You'll notice that it doesn't have a cartridge slot, but if you open the case (voiding your warranty, of course), you'll discover the appropriate circuity already on the circuit board. Apparently, all you have to do is cut a couple of solder traces, wire in a suitable cartridge header, and add a switch to let you select between internal games or the cart. I won't be surprised to see Make magazine run a how-to article in a future issue. Mark my words! [update: atarimuseum.com beat them to the punch - Here's their online how-to guide for the cartridge hack.]
The Atari press release mentions an "under $30" price tag, which I think is solid value. One of my friends picked up an original 2600 VCS and a box of carts for a few bucks at a garage sale a couple of years ago. You may get lucky, too.