Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!

Atari Flashback 1, a review…

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It may seem kind of silly to review a system from 2004 that is no longer being produced, but I think it is worthwhile as a base of comparison to the newer units.

I was able to purchase my Flashback 1 for less than $10 and it came complete with the base unit, power supply, two controllers, box, and a manual.  Having only seen pictures of these until this unit arrived, I was surprised at how small it is.  The Flashback 1 looks like a miniature Atari 7800 and is about half the size of the subsequent Flashback units.

The Flashback concept was developed by Curt Vendel of Syzygy (formally Legacy Engineering).  Atari agreed to produce the unit, but wanted to have it ready for the 2004 holiday season.  This only gave Curt about ten weeks to design the unit and he went with a design that is based on a ‘NES on a chip’.  Since the system is based on a NES chip, all games had to be ‘ported’ and a mixture of 2600 and 7800 games are included:

2600:  Adventure, Air-Sea Battle, Battlezone, Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Haunted House, Millipede, Saboteur, Skydiver, Solaris, Sprintmaster, Warlords, and Yars’ Revenge

7800:  Asteroids, Centipede, Desert Falcon, Food Fight, and Planet Smashers

At first I thought it would be cool to see how the five 7800 games translated, but I was soon disappointed.  Centipede isn’t too bad but Asteroids didn’t make the transition well at all.  Also, I find the 7800 game selection puzzling…Asteroids, Centipede, and Food Fight are popular titles, but Desert Falcon and Planet Smashers are less well known.  In fact, Planet Smashers is one of the rarer 7800 titles and, also, one of the poorest rated.  Given the quality of the 7800 ports, I am not sure that it would have mattered, but Dig Dug, Ms. Pac-man, or Pole Position II would have been better choices.

I am happy to say that the 2600 ports are much better.  Of course, more effort has been put in over the years to port and emulate the 2600, so I guess that this should have been expected.  The exception is Battlezone…this port is horrible and hardly worth playing.  Millipede, on the other hand, is a blast to play on the Flashback.  Also, the Flashback 1 introduced the concept of releasing prototype games and included the previously unreleased Saboteur.

Breakout and Warlords had to be modified to use the Flashback joysticks and I wasn’t expecting much.  These were a pleasant surprise and are very playable.

It should be noted that the Flashback 1 joysticks are not usable with standard Atari (or other Flashback units) as they are wired differently.

Given that we know that the Flashback 1 was a ‘rushed’ effort, I guess it would be a cliche to say that it seems half polished.  Unless you are an Atari collector and need to have one of these, I would recommend skipping the Flashback 1 in favor of a Flashback 2, 2+, or the newer Flashback 4.

The Flashback 1 is an important piece of Atari history in that it marked the return of Atari to the console market.  It also sold well enough to convince Atari to proceed with the Flashback 2.  As I will discuss in a future post, the Flashback 2 is the system that Curt really wanted to build in the first place.

Speaking of Curt, he is going to have a significant surgery this week and I want to wish him the best of luck and a speedy recovery!

Atari Flashback 1

Atari Flashback 1

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