Sunday, January 13, 2013

Atari Flashback 4: Nostalgia in a Box

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we're taking a little break from the kitchen to review my newest toy, the Atari Flashback 4 by At Games.

Honestly, it is what it is... a nostalgia-based console for less than fifty bucks. And if you see it for fifty bucks, that's too much. The console is really only worth $30-$40. It does its best to marry modern convenience (wireless controllers) with the vintage design of the console and the original, retro graphics but fails in a few key areas. And maybe it's because I'm spoiled with the precision of other consoles and their wireless controllers and smooth menu navigation, but it just seems like the developers could have done...more.

When I opened the box, there was a general sense of disappointment about the size of the console (a feeling most women can understand). The Atari Flashback unit itself is roughly the size of a Nintendo Wii console. Anyone who remembers the original Atari, probably holds just as dear as I do, the memory of its enormous clunkiness. The console was huge...and so was almost everything in the 80's. So the tiny scale of the Flashback console only served as a harsh reminder that what I was playing was nothing but a tribute...a cheap, modern adaptation scaled for convenience of storage and mockery of the young.

My first issue arose with the wireless controllers. It felt awesome to hold that joystick in my hand again (that's what she said) but when I flipped it over to install the batteries (not included), I was greeted with a teeny little screw holding the battery cover in place. At this point, if you've already had a couple of cocktails in aticipation of playing a little drunken Asteroids, you're just screwed (no pun intended). So, then I had to set off in search of a tiny little phillips head know, the kind they specifically manufacture for these annoying battery covers. I rummaged through an old toolbox and managed to dig out an ancient, rusted screwdriver with a small enough tip to do the job. As a bonus, I discovered the screwdriver had somehow become magnetized and when I unscrewed the ridiculously small screws, they clung to the screwdriver and I managed not to lose them forever.

So with the batteries installed in the controllers and the console hooked up to my LED television, I fired it up. When you turn on the console, it takes you straight to the game menu. All 75 games are listed in alphabetical order and you navigate the menu using the joystick to scroll down and to the side and the "fire" button to select the game. Naturally, I went straight for Space Invaders. The game actually loaded very quickly and without issue. Of course, there were none of those pesky 3D graphics for the processor to prepare while you stare blankly at a "LOAD" screen, reading some tip about how to reload your weapon or blow something up over and over. So that was nice.

My second issue arose ...with the wireless controller! As I began to play the game, I quickly became frustrated as my little ship wouldn't budge or fire as the alien invaders descended ever closer to the earth. The ship would jerk and occasionally fire off a shot but I lost two consecutive games before I finally figured out the problem; I was sitting in a chair and the console was on the floor. I moved a footstool in front of the television and placed the console on top. I discovered that if the sensors in the wireless controllers are not perfectly on level with the tiny sensor in the front of the console, you will not be able to play. You can hook up wired controllers, but they are not included in the set. If you plan on buying this console, I recommend picking up the wired controllers. Although moving the console did a lot to improve the wireless controller's capabilities, the controllers still seemed to fall in and out of contact with the console way too frequently. As I would try to move from one side of the screen to the other, the ship would stop suddenly or I would try to fire and it wouldn't. When I tried to play Asteroids, the controller's failings became a little too annoying and I gave up.

I was extremely disappointed that Pac-Man and Frogger weren't included in the game bundle. It seems strange to me that a company would go to the trouble of creating an Atari console and  not spend the money to license two of the most popular games of the era. I would happily shell out the money for a scale replica with preloaded games and the ability to download more games to an internal drive. Unfortunately, the Flashback lacks that ability and will only ever have the 75 games already loaded. But, as I said, it is what it is. Nothing will ever truly recapture the original Atari 2600. But with some wired controllers and a few friends, this Atari Flashback will provide you with a great night in!

Full List of Games:

3D Tic-Tac-Toe
Adventure II
Air·Sea Battle
Black Jack
Canyon Bomber
Championship Soccer
Circus Atari
Combat Two
Crystal Castles
Demons to Diamonds
Desert Falcon
Dodge 'Em
Double Dunk
Fatal Run
Flag Capture
Frog Pond
Front Line
Fun with Numbers
Grand Prix
Haunted House
Home Run
Human Cannonball
Jungle Hunt
Maze Craze
Miniature Golf
Missile Command
Night Driver
Off The Wall
Realsports Baseball
Realsports Basketball
Realsports Soccer
Realsports Volleyball
Return to Haunted House
Save Mary
Sky Diver
Slot Machine
Slot Racers
Space Invaders
Space War
Star Ship
Stellar Track
Street Racer
Submarine Commander
Super Baseball
Super Breakout
Super Football
Video Checkers
Video Chess
Video Olympics
Video Pinball
Yars' Revenge

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