It’s an interesting time to be an old middle aged guy who still loves ancient video games. 45+ years on from the launch of the Atari 2600, the console still remains culturally resonant, at least with my generation, and maybe some younger people as well.
There are two new mini consoles coming out in quick succession this fall, both aimed at our demographic: Atari’s 2600+ and MyArcade’s Atari GameStation Pro.
Both are very similar in capability, but differ in features. So which is the better buy?
The MyArcade Atari GameStation Pro is a pre-loaded system, similar to the AtGames Atari Flashback consoles of the past, but this one blows those systems away: with over 200 built-in games, HDMI output, wireless joysticks, and includes games not just from the Atari 2600’s library, but the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and arcade as well. It is available for pre-order, with the shipping date now set at Oct 31.
The Atari 2600+ is a mini Atari 7800/2600 SOC-based emulation console with a cartridge slot and HDMI output. It’s available for pre-order now, but it’s unclear when they will start shipping. Probably in time for holidays, assuming it doesn’t get delayed.
Which one provides the better value? That’s tough to say, but on paper at least I think I’ll give the edge to the MyArcade system. It’s considerably less expensive, at $100 for the console plus two joysticks, plus all the included games.
MyArcade GameStation Pro: $99
Atari 2600+: $130
The Atari 2600+ is 130% more expensive at $130 than the GameStation Pro, and includes just one controller, and only 10 games. The GameStation pro includes 200+ games, plus two controllers.
GameStation Pro: 200+ built-in games from the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and arcade titles.
Atari 2600+: cartridge slot, including a 10-in-1 cartridge. The compatibility list promises over 500 compatible cartridges from the 2600 and 7800 library.
One advantage of the 2600+ is that it has a cartridge slot, and if you have a large collection of cartridges, it’ll be the system that can play them — if they’re compatible with it. Having to buy cartridges separately only adds to the cost of owning the 2600+, but if you already have a collection of old games, that cost is already paid for. And if you don’t, the games are common and usually pretty cheap.
On the other hand, the GameStation Pro’s 200 games probably include most of the popular games you’d ever want to play from these systems, but if one of your favorites is missing, you won’t be able to play it. It also supports a broader range of games, considering that it includes titles from the Atari 5200 library, and even arcade games.
It ultimately depends on what you have and what you want. If you have a large collection of games for the 2600 and 7800, the 2600+ might be better for you. If you don’t have a collection or don’t like to swap out cartridges, and are satisfied with the selection of the built-in games of the GameStation Pro, or like the idea of having access to the arcade and 5200 games, then those advantages are certainly attractive. On the other hand, if your favorite game(s) are missing from the built-in selection, you’re out of luck.
Atari GameStation Pro: 2 joysticks, 2.4GHz wireless, 2-button, plus paddle dial.
Atari 2600+: 1 CX-40 joystick; additional joysticks, CX-30 paddles sold separately.
A great advantage of the Atari GameStation Pro is that the controllers it comes with feature a dial which provides built-in compatibility for paddle games. The joysticks also feature two buttons, a necessity for playing many of the Atari 7800 game titles.
The Atari 2600+ can support paddle controllers, but you have to buy them separately, adding still more cost. If you do, they’ll be real paddle controllers, the same design as the original Atari 2600’s. And they should feel the same as the original controllers, providing the most authentic experience. It remains to be seen how good the manufacturing quality is for these new sticks, and whether they’ll truly measure up to the original sticks from the 70s and 80s.
But Atari do not seem to be selling 2-button controllers to fully support the 7800’s library. If you have an old 7800 Proline controller, it should work with the 2600+, though. Of course those old sticks can be worn out or unreliable.
So it remains to be seen, but if the GameStation Pro joysticks feel good and don’t have a lot of lag, they might be better. If on the other hand the authentic feel of the original style controllers matters most to you, the 2600+ is better, assuming the modern build quality measures up. But the lack of 2-button options and including only a single CX-40 joystick are disadvantages.
Advantage: To be determined.
A big part of what will determine which if either of these systems is worth owning will be how well they emulate the games. If they don’t feel right due to imperfect emulation or input lag, that can be an insurmountable dealbreaker.
The GameStation Pro’s joysticks have some advantages, though. They do support two button input, and they even have a built-in knob that serves to provide paddle game support. So it should support the full library of all the games that are included with it. Early reviewers have reported that these controllers feel well built, solid, and heavy, not cheap or junky.
Although neither system hits all the checkboxes that I would have wanted on my perfect system, I think I’m leaning slightly toward the GameStation Pro. The big unknown that I have been unable to find any answers to is what are the 200+ titles that come built-in? It likely has enough built-in games that I would like to play, and I think the fact that they are built in is an advantage, since I don’t have to switch cartridges to play a different game. But if it doesn’t have some of my favorite titles — which is probable, given that many of my favorites are third-party games — then the advantage goes to 2600+ for its expandability offered by having a cartridge slot.
Either system including a SD card slot or a cartridge slot would make them much more attractive. As would being FPGA-based rather than SOC. Even if an FPGA system doubled the cost, it would be worth it to me for the greater fidelity to the original hardware, which would mean full support for the entire library of games produced for the system.
I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to pre-order either system. It’s best to wait and see what the reviews are like after they’ve hit the market. Likely both systems will have drawbacks and disadvantages that will bring down the recommendation rating.
For enthusiast gamers who already have a means to play their Atari games, whether on a PC through an emulator, or through original hardware, I think it’s tougher to recommend either system. Unless your old systems are not working reliably any longer, and are too much of a pain to keep in repair, stick with them for now. If you enjoy the advantages of emulation, you can run an emulator on any PC, and there are adaptors that allow classic controllers to be plugged into a USB port.
We can hope that eventually in the future a proper FPGA-based system will be released that offers full compatibility with all games, HDMI output for modern HDTV, high quality joysticks, and a cartridge and/or SD slot to allow access to the entire catalog of games.
For casual gamers who aren’t as concerned about perfect gameplay, or nostalgic gamers who are looking to get back into retro systems, it’s easier to recommend either system. Either is also a reasonably good starter system for a younger gamer who never had the opportunity to play these systems in their heyday.
Ultimately, both of these systems are going to appeal mainly to a casual, nostalgia-driven consumer audience, rather than the enthusiast gamer who never quit playing their original systems, and learned to do field repairs on them to keep them in tip-top working order for decades, and modded them for superior TV output.