So you’ve gone full retro this time, to the point that this console has actual woodgrain.
It does scream 1970s – but that was the point. This was home gaming, so it was decided the VCS (renamed the Atari 2600 in 1982) should work with your home decor. It was pioneering in other ways too, with external cartridges killing off the standalone TV games that had until then been popular. And, despite a lacklustre start, Atari stuck with its console – unlike rival Fairchild, which quickly dumped its Channel F system thinking gaming would be a fad. Whoops.
And that left us with countless terrible Atari takes on cherished arcade games.
Be fair. The console was primitive – largely based on hardware designed for playing Pong. But in the right hands, great things happened. Sure, there were bad conversions – hello, Pac-Man’s migraine-inducing flickering ghosts – but Space Invaders for the VCS is often dubbed the first ‘killer app’ for good reason, improving on the one-note original through dozens of variant modes. And game creators later weaved all kinds of magic, even managing to extend the console’s capabilities through custom chips, as with Pitfall II.
So if it was so great, why isn’t a new Atari console battling it out with the PS5?
The videogame crash of the early ’80s left Atari burying surplus consoles and 700,000 carts in landfill. That’s got to knock the confidence. But focus was the main problem. Although the VCS limped on into the ’90s, eventually selling over 40 million units, Atari never produced a successor of note… and eventually, the brand fizzled out. Still, the console lives on in cheapo TV games, in a terrifyingly expensive Lego kit, and in nostalgic form as a new VCS launched in 2021. Some things never change…