After 30+ years, I recently played an Atari 5200 once again at an arcade expo and since picked one up along with many carts. This was the first home game console I ever owned. I took quite a few years hiatus on playing video games of any sorts and then got back into it about five years ago collecting and restoring classic arcade machines. My first goal was to get all the arcade games that I had cartridges for on the 5200 growing up. Now that I’ve played the 80s arcades again for a few years, it has given me some new perspective on the 5200 Super System from how I saw it then and how I see it now.
Design and presentation:
I always thought the marketing materials/art and the cartridges themselves looked nice and were very robust, still do. I have never used another console that has such reliable cartridges as the 5200. You plug them in and they work. Immediately.
Yes, these are a bit of an odd ball, the joystick itself is nice to move, but it does make the games more challenging to play. The real issue is the soft buttons. Back in the 80s I remember squeezing the buttons so hard to make them react, and also taking them apart several times to repair them. With the internet age it is fun to read/hear about people who had the same experiences as you did. I’ve now picked up one of the official 5200 Coin Controls Pro joysticks which works quite well as it actually uses arcade switches and parts.
I never had this accessory growing up but remember reading about it in the brochures that came with the games. This accessory is a must and a superb controller. The buttons could be a bit better but they are much better than those found on the joysticks. Centipede and Pac-Man were my two favorite games and I always wanted to try the trackball with Centipede, it was just too expensive back then. Now that I own several real Centipede arcade machines, I feel the 5200 version when using the trackball really is every bit as good as the arcade version. The trackball is the same mechanism and 2.25″ that the arcade uses. The sounds are essentially identical due to the hardware. I would actually say the 5200 is more challenging due to it being horizontal as there is seemingly less time to react/less lines before the centipedes get to the bottom of the screen. I scored 39k countless times on 5200 growing up, but never achieved 40k. Time to break that personal record.
The 5200 essentially is a system of arcade ports which I find quite polished and still fun to play. Most of the graphics are simply blocky versions of the arcades. Moon Patrol and Mario Bros are especially good games on the 5200. Look at that great parallax scrolling on Moon Patrol. Not even the NES version of Mario Bros has all the animation of the 5200, and the sound effects of the 5200 are more accurate to the original than the NES version.
Jr Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr are also especially good games. I am looking forward to picking up a copy of Tempest and Track & Field. Brutal hard game play, which is on par challenge-wise with the arcade. Many times home versions are made easier than the arcade versions, but the games on the 5200 will absolutely school you. Brutal.
It’s fun to once again crank up the 5200 connected to a wood grain CRT and rotate through the carts playing a game or two on each, just like back in the day. After having obtaining a pretty decent sized arcade machine collection, I thought I may not have as much desire to revisit classic consoles again, but I have found in fact that I am enjoying them as much as ever and it has only enriched my appreciation for their charm.
Looking forward to playing Robotron and Space Dungeon next…
Car driver, ostrich rider, space pilot, street fighter, burger chef, and occasional plumber.