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Atari Flashback - The Atari Times

Atari Flashback

Atari's Present to Retro Gamers a Mixed Bag
by David Sherwin

May 26, 2005
Atari provoked the classic gaming community in 2004 when it announced that the Flashback, its new is it-or-isn't it console, would faithfully reproduce many games from the beloved VCS/2600 line (and largely forgotten 7800 system) in one convenient package for the modern gamer. By now, we've all waded through the endless threads and commentaries on on-line gaming sites, the feature articles in magazines ranging from Newsweek to Time, and can state unequivocally that Atari's won the marketing war. But what about the actual unit? Is it worth buying for the average gamer? Or, even better for the countless gaming purists out there, is it as bad as reports have stated as they attempt to justify playing the original units?

Well, like many things in life, the answer to both these questions is a very ambiguous "maybe", and will likely reveal more about the gamer than the game unit. While the Flashback has now attained a place in Atari gaming that is probably beyond useful criticism, analysis of the actual unit reveals a mixed bag of the good -- and terrible.

The Flashback features an array of "quickie" 2600 ports that have been heaped with scorn by many enthusiasts in the classic gaming community. Unfortunately, much of this criticism (well-intentioned or not) is well-deserved. Many of the 2600 ports featured here are quite glitchy, and feature blocky graphics and awkward colour schemes that do actually distract from gameplay. While all ported games are playable, the selection scheme used here wasn't very good. A number of games (Warlords, Breakout) do not respond well to joystick play, and should have been omitted from this package. Worse, many titles have dated poorly and feel sluggish and primitive, and this emphasizes the games' various problems. Call me a heretic, but I simply did not find Adventure to be much fun to play, and fond memories of Castle Crisis soured my playtime with the 2600's very average Warlords port. In addition, the omission of Combat, which is perhaps the 2600's most famous game, is frankly puzzling here. What could Atari have been thinking?

Despite noted problems in the 2600 mode, I did, nonetheless, enjoy spending some quality time with such perennial favourites as Gravitar and Solaris, and the inclusion of the prototype game Saboteur is a very nice bonus for collectors.

The Flashback's 7800 mode fares much better in imparting the general feel of Atari's ill-fated ProSystem. Yes, Food Fight is blocky and blurry, and Desert Falcon is just plain ugly, but few players but 7800 purists (yes, I know you are out there) are going to be bothered by these less-than-perfect ports. I was delighted to find the little-seen Planet Smashers on my Flashback unit, but none of Atari's other "third-generation" 7800 games are otherwise in evidence. I will always enjoy Centipede, but it hardly pushes the 7800 to its limit, and was a rather timid choice for 7800 representation in this package.

The Flashback unit itself has been harshly criticized for stealing old design elements without improving unit design to appeal to today's more saavy (and fickle) gameplayers. Here too, though, the Flashback is hardly an unmitigated disaster and does have several nice design features that are novel and (much appreciated) in Atari consoles. Many gamers have complained that the paperback-sized footprint of the Flashback is too tiny to be usable, but I actually quite like it. I also appreciate the fact that the Flashback uses an AC adapter, which has saved me a large number of batteries that I've had to plug into my other battery-draining TV Games devices. And the Flashback's joysticks will be an absolute delight to anyone who has endured years of torture induced by the 7800's Proline nightmares; I can see the Flashback becoming a modder's delight once it inevitably hits department store bargain bins in a few months.

Most classic gamers have probably long since decided their opinion of the Flashback, and aren't likely to change their minds if given a chance to do so by actually plugging the thing into a TV. The non-committed or indifferent are best advised to view the Flashback as a 2600/7800 multicart with a variety of mediocre ports in some pretty nice packaging, and leave it at that. Given the fact that individual cartridge copies of the system's two standouts -- Saboteur and Planet Smashers -- are likely to equal the cost of the entire Flashback system, gamers can feel justified in purchasing the Flashback on an economic basis -- and leave those heated debates to the legions of armchair critics out there.

Atari Flashback

(c) Atari

Are flashbacks GOOD things to have?
7800 Desert Falcon
7800 Planet Smashers
Here's Charley Chuck's Food Fight.
Atari Flashback
System: Other
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: %
Sound & Music Score: %
Gameplay Score: %
Control Score: %

Final Score: 70%

Reader Comments for Atari Flashback

This was a great Idea!!! by Pete on 2006-11-15 18:25:25
I very much liked the fact that I could go back down memory lane and actualy play Atari games using an Atari Joystick. I think the only thing that does hurt this system is 2 things, selection of games, this is in no way the games I would of picked if I could pick 20 or so games out of the Atari 2600/5200/7800 library. Where are the Pacman games, Combat Games, Choplifiter, Pole Position etc. Also their should of been some sort of cartridge slot even an SD Card reader so that they could release another 20 games or so. Because the problem w/ these TV games is that they take up to much room in the living room, Now that they make 40+ of these units it is hard to justify the space for mare than 3 in 1 house. A cartrige slot would of aleviated this problem.
Because... by Darryl B. on 2006-11-15 19:49:14
Well, they couldn't do any Pac-Man games or Choplifter because they would have to pay for the licensing fees again, since they weren't Atari games originally (Pole Position was actually Namco as well, Atari just distributed it). Granted, there's been problems and all kinds of debates all over the internet over disgruntled Flashback owners, so welcome to the club! ;)
What? 70% by Funkamster V on 2007-01-26 05:22:17
This thing is a train wreck! Did whoever play the Flashback and review it ever play any of the other games on original hardware? The emulation is TERRIBLE! Desert Falcon looks like a damn travesty... the games don't play right at all... I swear I'm not crazy. The Flashback 2 was much better. Cousin Vinnie
Not that bad... by Guitarman on 2007-08-18 20:59:30
I just bought one of these and some of the games suck but some are really good. Planet Smashers, Centipede, Milipede, etc. are good........I believe half really suck and the other half sweet.........80%!!!
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