I pre-ordered the day it was announced, 7/31/2023. The original ship date was supposed to be 10/1; this was quickly moved up to 9/1. My delivery date was supposed to be 9/5. 9/5 came and I still didn’t have a shipping number; Amazon finally acknowledged there was a delay. The listing on amazon.com went offline for a few weeks, then came back, with a new launch date of 10/31.
I started hearing a few weeks ago (early October) that units had showed up in Costco and were selling for 20% off. I still didn’t have a shipping number from Amazon. I don’t have a Costco membership, so it didn’t do me any good, but then I heard that these were at Target retail stores, so I went to my local store and they had them. I canceled my order with Amazon, who were still telling me that they were delayed in shipping these and couldn’t tell me the truth about a shipping date. Always 2-3 days from the point I contacted customer service to ask for an update on when my order would ship.
I bought one at Target, and played it a bit today, and I’m not as impressed as the reviewers who received advanced copies of the system were. In fact, I’m totally disappointed.
The main problem seems to be with the controllers. They do not feel good.
Previewers said that they had some weight and felt like quality sticks, and gave me a false hope that this system would be worth buying. I don’t agree. The joysticks are lightweight and while not exactly flimsy, they don’t feel robust, either, and the joystick switches do not have satisfying travel, and buttons do not have satisfying click. The joystick sensitivity felt off, and I didn’t feel like I had the fine control that I expected — and received — from original hardware.
Worse, the tiny buttons on the base of the stick which are used for menu, game select, and start, are prone to accidental presses, which can abruptly end the game in progress and restart it or return you to the main menu. This is a disaster for user experience — a game should never be one easy accidental button press away from being abruptly ended.
And many of the games MyArcade picked to include in the system’s built-in library simply are not well suited to the controller.
All of the Atari 5200 games are seriously compromised by the fact that the GameStation joystick doesn’t have a 10-key pad like the original 5200 joystick, nor does it have an analog joystick. You can’t play a game designed for play with an analog stick with a digital joystick worth a damn. And any functions that depend on the 10-key pad are simply not supported at all. RealSports Baseball is a decent game on the 5200, but on the GameStation Pro it’s terrible — batting relies on the analog stick, and the 10-key pad is critical for pitching and fielding. It’s a tragedy — the Atari 5200 had a decent library of games, and most people don’t know it because the original console didn’t sell well.
The original joysticks for the 5200 were pretty terrible, too, but mainly that was due to being engineered to be cheap, which meant they were fragile and broke easily. The non-centering analog stick was also not a good design choice, but could be overcome through practice or by buying a 3rd party controller with a self-centering stick. The sticks included with the GameStation Pro just simply aren’t the type of controls that the games for the 5200 were designed to be controlled by, and that entire section of the game library is basically unplayable. I mean, you can start a game, but you’ll be frustrated, denied the real experience that the game’s original development team delivered to the original platform it was built for.
The menu screens are inadequate as well. The thumbnail images of the game box art are terrible low-res images that are just barely readable. The “About” info on the screen is just a brief paragraph of some 25-50 words or so, and not complete instructions. Many of the games are simple enough that you can just figure them out by playing, but that’s no excuse. Storage is cheap, and MyArcade easily could have included full manuals for each game title. But they didn’t.
The tiny dial for controlling the paddle games doesn’t feel good — I tried a game of Super Breakout, but the paddle wasn’t smooth, and I lacked fine control. The experience is terrible compared to how the game played on 1977 hardware, and it’s a travesty.
Tempest, an arcade game controlled by a spinning knob, doesn’t use the paddle dial, it uses the joystick, and it feels completely off, and basically unplayable.
And there are trackball games on this system, which just don’t play well with the substituted joystick.
I’m not sure how many of the 200 built-in games are actually playable, as in designed to be played with a digital joystick with up to 3 buttons. But whatever fraction of the built-in library does, pretty much most of them will simply not play as well as they did on original hardware.
I have to wonder if anyone who was involved in the design and engineering of this product ever played the games on original hardware. They picked too many games (even one is too many!) that weren’t supported by the input device the provided, and it just screams WHY.
Why pack in 200 games and give such a terrible experience of them? Even the games that nominally do play with a digital joystick don’t feel very good due to the travel and click characteristics of the hardware MyArcade provides.
The games from the Atari 2600 and 7800 libraries are a lot more playable. Both systems used a digital joystick, no 10-key pad, and 1 or 2 buttons, which will work with the included sticks. But even then the included sticks don’t feel as good as the original CX10, CX40, or Atari 7800 Proline sticks did, and you’ll be frustrated by how imprecise they feel.
The Arcade library will be a mixed bag as well. Many of the Arcade titles are obscure, black-and-white era games that are really interesting as historical artefacts, but they deserved better treatment than they receive, thanks to the poor feel of the joysticks.
Verdict: D. Do not buy.
Even for $100 it’s just not worth it for the experience you get. It would have actually been better if they had not included the games that wouldn’t play well with the included joysticks.
Maybe a fun device to “hack” with a sideloaded SD card, but even then it’d be better to pick one up secondhand or on clearance.