Atari’s Resurrected 2600+ Console Showed My Dad the Magic of Video Games
I had an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old try out Atari’s reissued 2600+ console. Guess which one had the most fun?
I shouldn’t be writing this review.
When the Atari 2600 was first released, I was still 15 years away from having a mortal coil to call my own, and playing the resurrected Atari 2600+ — a now-purchasable simulacrum of the original console that revolutionized gaming back in 1977 — isn’t a hit of nostalgia for me. In fact, the mere act of playing an Atari game borders on academic.
But maybe that’s the point. There are, of course, plenty of people who might still revel in the nostalgia of putzing around with the original Atari hardware, but I am not one of them. And, to be fair, there are plenty of me out there.
So, to put myself in the right mindset, I donned some bell-bottom jeans, put on some Zeppelin, rolled a doobie of the weakest grass I could find, and tried really hard to imagine sitting cross-legged in my theoretical parents’ finished basement in 1977 and gazing with awe into the depths of a CRT television.
Just kidding — I did play some Atari, though. And beyond that, I let my family (from ages 8 to 80) get in on the action. The results? Kind of magical.
So, what is the Atari 2600+? If you’ve seen the new wave of old consoles-turned-new (PlayStation, SNES, and Sega all have their own at this point), you’ll know exactly what the 2600+ is. It’s a very faithful recreation of the original console from back in the day.
And outside of being a decent deal smaller than the original, it looks pretty much like the real deal. It’s got the iconic woodgrain, the original joystick with a singular mushy red button, switches for turning the console on/off, toggling between black and white and color, and resetting. It even uses cartridges!
The version I was sent comes with three different cartridges. One with Mr. Run and Jump (a new game that was ported to an Atari experience), Berzerk (a multi-directional shooter that was refreshed), and then a third cartridge with 10 classic games in total. This last one even has a dipstick for selecting which game loads up when you pop the cartridge in. Groovy.
One thing this console does not come with, however, is Pac-Man. I know, I know... How could they? The answer for why Pac-Man (possibly the most iconic game Atari ever made) is not included is unclear, but if I were to guess, it has to do with licensing (Pac-Man is a property of Bandai Namco). Speculation aside, if you were hoping to gobble up some ghosts with this thing, you are sadly S.O.L.
But no matter, because when you set up the Atari 2600+ — a process that involves a combination of HDMI (included) and a USB-C to USB-A for power (cable included, but no adapter) — the fun tends to just flow.
The great thing about Atari games is that they’re simple. Pop in a cartridge, mush the red button to start, and boom — you’re in it. This was a simple time for games, so there are no tutorials, no storylines, no connecting your Epic account to your email, and then scanning a QR code to go to an online vortex that seems specifically designed to suck the fun out of existence. Pop the cartridge in, power up, and play.
The objectives are simple. Shoot, jump, run, repeat. It is video gaming entertainment at its most primal form. And sure, I could give you my impressions, but this is the holiday season and there’s a decent chance you’re giving this console as a gift. So, I kept my testing in the family and decided to give my niece (age 8) a whirl along with my dad (age 79). The reviews were both surprising and not.
An 8-Year-Old’s Review
My niece, Aurora, has an Xbox available at home. She plays mobile games on iPad and loves, loves, L.O.L Surprise (mystery box dolls that kids can dress up in different glitter-clad outfits). That’s just setting the stage.
And Atari, needless to say, was not in her vocabulary. So when I enlisted her help to test the Atari 2600+, I had to start from square one. I showed her the cartridge. “Those are like those circle things, right?” she asked.
I explained that CDs (and DVDs) are actually newer than these. These plastic rectangles are the real old-school. She was unimpressed; I couldn’t blame her. So I popped in Mr. Run and Jump, a game I thought might capture her attention most readily, and gave her a demo. When she got the point (quickly I might add), I handed the joystick over.
She was pretty much zooming through levels before I knew it. Simple though the games may be, Atari originals are not easy. As the levels got progressively harder, I saw her getting more easily frustrated. I decided it was time to switch gears and try some Berzerk.
Shooting games are not exactly in her repertoire, so this one was a bit of a stretch. But again, the premise came pretty naturally. The proficiency? Well, not so much. We took some turns getting our butts kicked by electric walls and blocky monsters with ray guns, but after about 15–20 minutes, I saw her attention fade.
She’s eight, after all, and 8-year-olds aren’t exactly known for their long attention spans, but I decided to ask her to review her experience anyway. Her take? She’d rather be playing Xbox or baking cookies. Fair enough.
An 80-Year-Old’s Review
Let me start by saying that my dad has basically never played a video game in his whole life. I asked him, actually, and one of his last known memories of playing a game was Pac-Man... at an arcade.
But close-minded he is not, and when he saw everyone playing Atari, he was game. He started with Mr. Run and Jump, and — despite never really having played a video game in his life — was quickly up and running (and jumping).
I could tell his attention was piqued, so we tried Berzerk. This is where the magic happened. After nailing the basics (don’t touch the walls, don’t get touched or shot by monsters, kill everything), he was fully in it. My dad is nothing if not determined, but I was surprised at how easily Atari grabbed his attention.
I even shut the console down thinking we were done for the day, but the minute I did, he was back in the living room asking me to fire it back up. An hour later, as I sat and wrote down my thoughts, he was still playing.
I never thought that I’d see my dad fully engaged in a video game, but there I was watching him live an experience I had over and over as a kid — fully mesmerized by the thrill (and paradoxically tedium) of killing monsters, stacking numbers, and trudging from level to level.
Call me sappy, but in that moment, I was grateful to have a tool that bridges that gap between us. There’s a simplicity to manipulating a bunch of archaic pixels on a screen, but also a beauty. And without the Atari 2600+ I don’t think I’d have ever seen that side of my dad. A nerd and determined gamer, content to pew-pew an hour of his life away in pursuit of good, old-fashioned video entertainment fun.
I don’t know what I was expecting from the Atari 2600+ but whatever expectations I had were shattered when I got to see the experience of a retro game console remake through the eyes of people I love.
Say what you will, but there is something special about emulating not just the games, but the entire experience of having an Atari console. The action of the joystick, the feel of the cartridge, the thrill of mushing a big, shiny, red button. Unlike a regular emulation or a mobile game, the Atari 2600+ offers the full experience.
I’ll never know what it’s like to be wowed by an at-home game console with no prior context (the first console I had as a kid was the SNES), but after using the Atari 2600+, I have an educated guess. Frankly, that’s all academic, and I’m no historian. I can’t say for sure if this type of convincing nostalgia is right for you, but I can say this: If one of these were to find its way to a TV set near you, you might just be surprised by how much joy a bunch of pixelated blocks can bring.
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