Almost two weeks ago, Gamestop in their infinite wisdom decided to blow out the $399 Atari VCS 800 Onyx bundle for $99. Because I’m a sucker for all things Atari, I’ve wanted a VCS for awhile but I wasn’t going to spend so much money on one so I bided (bode?) my time. My patience paid off and by Friday I had my own VCS!
I decided to unbox the VCS for the first time on my stream and boy was I in for a treat.
You get an update! YOU get an update!
On it’s first start up, it went to update the Atari OS.
Much to the excitement of my viewers, that process took about 7 minutes. But, we were done? Nope! The VCS needed to update its BIOS.
First suggestion to Atari, DO NOT SHOW a scary screen like this to your user. Imagine a parent seeing this on their TV as the 10 year old sets up the VCS for the first time. A lot of them would freak out!
It’s on like Donkey Kong
Well, it would be in Donkey Kong was available. I started with the built in Atari VCS Vault. It has a bunch of arcade and 2600 classics.
First up was a game of Tempest. I played with the CX40 replicated joystick that comes with the bundle. What separates this joystick from the original (besides BT capability) is the ability to twist the joystick itself as a spinner. This mechanic lends itself to a pretty nice game of Tempest. Not the same as in the arcade, but a passable facsimile.
After Tempest and Asteroids, I tried a few 2600 games. Circus Atari was still as fun as I remember, along with Super Breakout.
The console is quick for what I used it for, although I didn’t try to purchase any games. There is a PC Mode which allows the user to boot off of the USB stick or an added SSD drive. I’m going to try this out later. Unfortunately, the BIOS complains about secure boot with my Batocera drive I made, so I couldn’t try out a bunch of other retro games. From my research I will have to downgrade the BIOS before I can set up Batocera.
The controllers are pretty good, I’m happy with them. The joystick could use some added weights which would make it feel more high end, but that doesn’t affect the game play.
Besides the messy BIOS upgrade screen, there are several other screens that need some polish. For example, what is the selected choice in this menu:
The games in the store also could be better. Why are the app icons superimposed on colored squares instead of graphics of 2600 cartridges?
Am I glad I bought it?
For $99, yes I am. It will be a fun box to play around with, especially once I get the BIOS unlocked and have more freedom to install things. I don’t know if Atari is going to continue to update the OS or let it flounder, but since the machine is designed around an AMD Ryzen embedded board, it should continue to be pretty hackable.