Retro Game Guy

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Hardware Happenings…

2014 is the 30th anniversary of the Atari 7800’s release and there are some amazing things happening…

AtariAge member CPUWIZ has been busy developing new cartridge boards for 7800 games. He has developed a board that can hold up to 1MB of memory, which will allow for some amazing new games to be developed.  He has also teamed up with RevEng (another AtariAge member) to develop some cool multi-carts for the 7800’s.  One of these has a new bankswitching scheme to allow 8 128K games to live on the same cart.  He has also gotten the green light from Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo to develop a limited edition multi-cart with 8 of Bob’s 7800 ‘homebrew’ games on it.

Curt Vendel has been working on the Atari 7800 expansion module for over three years and hopes to release it soon.  This expansion module contains both Pokey and Yamaha audio chips, expanded memory, and high score keeping.  At the Portland Retro Game Expo last October, AtariAge had one of Curt’s prototype units in operation showing off the unit’s capabilities.  It was amazing to hear the difference that Pokey sound made for Donkey Kong!

Fred ‘Batari’ Qimby has also been hard at work on a new SD multi-cart for the 7800.  Previously known as the H2, Fred’s new cart will now be called the Concerto cart and he hopes to have it ready by the Portland Retro Game Expo this fall.  Fred hopes to be able to have the Concerto be able to host and play any 2600 or 7800 game on an Atari 7800.

With all of these new hardware developments, 2014 may shape up to be the best ever for the Atari 7800.  Amazing for a 30 year old system!

Flashback Fever…

ATGames will be releasing the Atari Flashback 5 in October.  Hardware wise, it is expected to be similar to the Flashback 4 with wireless controllers.  This time around, it will have 100 games built in.  The final game list has not yet be released, but let’s hope it now also includes games like Berzerk, Defender, and Midnight Magic!

ATGames has also announced that they will produce both an Intellivison and ColecoVison Flashback unit.  Both of these units with feature 60 built in games and overlays for the controllers, but the game list has not yet been released.  It is probably not likely, due to Nintendo’s licensing practices, but the ColecoVison Flashback with Donkey Kong built in would be killer!

As soon as more is know about the details of these Flashback units, I will be sure to post an update!

@Atarigameguy

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Atari Flashback 2, a review…

The Atari Flashback 2 is the system that Curt had in mind when he approached Atari about the Flashback concept.  In 2004, not enough time was available for development, so Curt went with the ‘NES on a chip’ design for the Flashback 1.  When he was done with the Flashback 1, he returned to development of what is now known as the Flashback 2.

With plenty of time for development, Curt designed a custom chip to produce an ‘Atari 2600 on a chip’.  Curt also included provisions on the motherboard for adding a cartridge slot.  A modified Flashback 2 can play most games designed for the 2600.  Taking a page from the Atari playbook, the name for the FB 2 project was ‘Michelle’ for Curt’s wife.  Her name is printed on the FB 2 motherboards.

The Flashback 2 looks like a small Atari 2600 and has two joysticks that are compatible with the original 2600 and, also, supports the use of original Atari paddle controllers.

Forty two games are included on the FB 2:

Arcade Favorites:  Arcade Asteroids, Arcade Pong, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Missile Command, and Space Dual.

Adventure Territory:  Adventure, Adventure II, Haunted House, Return to Haunted House, Secret Quest Wizard

Space Station:  Caverns of Mars, Quadrun, Saboteur, Space War, Yars’ Return, Yars’ Revenge

Skill and Action:  3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Aquaventure, Atari Climber, Combat, Combat 2, Dodge ‘Em, Fatal Run, Frog Pond, Hangman, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Pitfall!, Radar Lock, River Raid, Save Mary, Video Checkers, and Video Chess

Paddle Games:  Super Breakout and Warlords (hidden from the main menu)

The hidden paddle games can be reached by pushing the joystick as follows:  up 1 time, down 9 times, up 7 times, down 2 times (for 1972, the year Atari released Pong)

There are a few cool things about the Atari FB 2:

  • since it is a ‘2600 on a chip’, the games work just like they did on the original hardware
  • supports the use of original Atari joysticks and paddle controllers
  • a cartridge port can be added (takes electronic knowledge)
  • includes hacks and homebrews (Asteroids, Atari Climber, and Return to Haunted House)
  • includes some exclusive games (Asteroids Deluxe, Lunar Lander, and Yars’ Return)
  • includes some previously unreleased games (Combat 2, Frog Pond, and Save Mary)
  • includes two Activision games (Pitfall and River Raid)

There also a couple of things to be aware of:

  • If you add a cartridge port, it does not support all 2600 games (due to some missing bankswitching and opcode capabilities)
  • the joystck ports are on the back of the unit, similar to the original 2600
  • It does not work with all TV’s

The FB 2 is an amazing console.  Although the last production run was in 2009 (with the Flashback 2+), they are still relatively easy to find second hand.  I paid about $20 for my FB 2, but consider it a bargain if you can find one for under $30.  With 42 games and a set of compatible joysticks, it is really a steal.  The only thing to be aware of is that it doesn’t work well with some ‘modern’ TV’s.  It worked great on my non HD TV, but some games did not display correctly on my Vizio HD TV.

At this point I have tested and written about all four Flashback units.  If you are looking for some Atari retro game fun, you can really not go wrong with either the FB 2, 3, or 4.  Due to it’s excellent emulation, 75 games, HD TV compatibility, and wireless controllers, I give a slight edge to the FB 4.  If you want to play games as Atari originally intended, then I highly recommend the FB 2!


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Atari Flashback 1, a review…

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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Atari Flashback the series…

To date, there have been five Atari Flashback models.   In this post, I will give the general background on these units and go into more detail in future posts.

Flashback 1:

The Flashback concept originated with Curt Vendel of Syzygy (formally Legacy Engineering).  Curt pitched the idea of a Flashback unit to Atari who 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 Curt went with a design that is based on a ‘NES on a chip’.  Outwardly, the system looks like a small Atari 7800 and includes twenty games.  Since the system is based on a NES chip, all games run in emulation 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

The Atari Flashback 1 met with mixed reviews, primarily due to the emulation.  Also, Breakout and Warlords had to be modified to use the Flashback joysticks.  The system was however, successful enough to convince Atari to proceed to with the Flashback 2.

Flashback 2:

In 2005, Atari again turned to Curt to develop the Flashback 2.  This time around, the system would include 2600 games only.  With more time for development, Curt designed a custom chip to produce an ‘Atari 2600 on a chip’.  Curt also included provisions on the motherboard for adding a cartridge slot.  A modified Flashback 2 can play most games designed for the 2600.  Taking a page from the Atari playbook, the name for the Flashback 2 project was ‘Michelle’ for Curt’s wife.  Her name is printed on the Flashback 2 motherboards.

The Flashback 2 looks like a small Atari 2600 and has two joysticks that are compatible with the original 2600 and, also, supports the use of original Atari paddle controllers.

Forty two games are included on the Flashback 2:

Arcade Favorites:  Arcade Asteroids, Arcade Pong, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Missile Command, and Space Dual.

Adventure Territory:  Adventure, Adventure II, Haunted House, Return to Haunted House, Secret Quest Wizard

Space Station:  Caverns of Mars, Quadrun, Saboteur, Space War, Yars’ Return, Yars’ Revenge

Skill and Action:  3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Aquaventure, Atari Climber, Combat, Combat 2, Dodge ‘Em, Fatal Run, Frog Pond, Hangman, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Pitfall!, Radar Lock, River Raid, Save Mary, Video Checkers, and Video Chess

Paddle Games:  Super Breakout and Warlords (hidden from main menu)

The Flashback 2 broke new ground as it included homebrews, hacks, unreleased prototypes, and two Activision games.  With a great game selection, new 2600 hardware, and the ability to add a cartridge slot, the Flashback 2 was popular with both the general public and the Atari community and sold almost one million units.

Flashback 2+:

Released by Atari in 2010, the Flashback 2+ is, essentially, the same as the Flashback 2. Atari Climber, Caverns of Mars, Pitfall!, River Raid, and Wizard were removed from the game selection and a sports section was added that included:  Realsports Boxing, Realsports Soccer, Super Baseball, Super Football,  and Double Dunk.  Also, Circus Atari was added to the ‘hidden’ section for a total of forty three games.

Flashback 3:

For 2011, Atari licensed out the Flashback concept to AtGames.  AtGames developed the Flashback 3 around an ARM processor and included sixty games.  They originally did not include Curt in the design, but ended up bringing him in as a consultant when they ran into some technical issues.  The Flashback 3 included two joysticks that are compatible with original Atari systems.

Games included on the Flashback 3:  3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Adventure, Adventure II, Air-Sea Battle, Aquaventure, Asteroids, Backgammon, Basketball, Battlezone, Bowling, Canyon Bomber, Centipede, Championship, Soccer, Circus Atari, Combat, Combat 2, Demons to Diamonds, Desert Falcon, Dodge ‘Em, Double Dunk, Fatal Run, Flag Capture, Frog Pond, Fun with Numbers, Golf, Gravitar, Hangman, Home Run, Haunted House, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Minature Golf, Missile Command, Night Driver, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Realsports Baseball, Realsports Basketball, Realsports Soccer, Realsports Volleyball, Saboteur, Save Mary, Secret Quest, Sky Diver, Space War, Sprintmaster, Star Ship, Steeplechase, Submarine Commander, Super Baseball, Super Breakout, Super Football, Surround, Swordquest: Earthworld, Swordquest: Fireworld, Video Checkers, Video Chess, Video Pinball, Wizard, and Yars’ Revenge.

Flashback 4:

AtGames released the Flashback 4 in late 2012 with several improvements over the previous model.  It features new wireless controllers, support for paddles, and improved emulation.  It also includes seventy five games.  Secret Quest was removed from the game selection and sixteen games that were added.  The added games over the Flashback 3 are:  Black Jack, Breakout, Crystal Castles, Football, Front Line, Jungle Hunt, Polaris, Pong (Video Olympics), Return to Haunted House, Slot Machine, Slot Racers, Stellar Track, Street Racer, Space Invaders (special FB 4 edition, not 2600 version), Tempest, and Warlords.  Read more about the Flashback 4 in my previous posts.


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An Atari Flashback 3 or 4?

I have written a couple of posts about this year’s Atari Flashback 4, but some retailers still have Flashback 3’s for sale.  I have had a few questions about the differences between these models and which one is better.  So…let’s take a look…

Atari Flashback 3…

I purchased my Flashback 3 (FB 3) at a local retailer last year and, as of today, they still have these for sale for under $30.  The FB 3 comes with 60 built in games and two wired joysticks.  These joysticks have a softer feel than the original Atari CX-40’s, but have become my favorite for playing ‘one button’ games on my 7800.  In fact, the main reason that I purchased a FB 3 was to get a set of these joysticks.

As for the game selection on the FB 3, there are several classic games, including:  Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Circus Atari, Gravitar, Missile Command, Video Pinball, and Yar’s Revenge.  It also includes several ‘prototype’ games not originally released by Atari:  Combat 2, Frog Pond, Saboteur, and Save Mary.

Wild for the FB 3!

Wild for the FB 3!

Atari Flashback 4…

I paid $40 for my Flashback 4 (FB4) the first week that it was available.  These were on sale for under $30 just before the holidays at a couple of stores in my area.  They are still available at several on-line merchants for between $40-50.

The FB 4 includes 75 games versus 60 on the FB 3.  The additional games are:  Black Jack, Breakout, Crystal Castles, Football, Front Line, Jungle Hunt, Polaris, Pong (Video Olympics), Return to Haunted House, Slot Machine, Slot Racers, Stellar Track, Street Racer, Space Invaders (special FB 4 edition, not 2600 version), Tempest, and Warlords.  I am not sure why, but one game that was included on the FB3, but not on the FB  4 was Secret Quest.

The addition of Front Line, Jungle Hunt, Pong, Space Invaders, and Warlords  justify the purchase of the FB 4 instead of the FB 3, but there are also a few other reasons to consider the FB 4. First, the FB 4 has wireless joysticks.  Although they are IR based, they work well and it is really nice to be able to sit across the room and be able to reset or change games.  The second reason to consider the FB4 is the ability to use paddle controllers.  Have you ever tried to play Super Breakout or Warlords with a joystick?  Third, the emulation is improved versus the FB 3.  It wasn’t too bad on the FB 3, but the emulation is ‘pretty darn good’ on the FB 4.

Wild for the FB 4!

Wild for the FB 4!

Recommendations…

Given the fifteen additional games, the ability to use paddles, and the wireless controllers, I would give the FB 4 a solid recommendation over the FB 3.  If you need some replacement joysticks for your classic Atari 2600 or 7800 and can find one for under $30, the FB 3 is still a great buy.

There is also a ‘Deluxe Edition’ of the FB 4 available for around $80.  For the extra $40, you get a set of paddle controllers and four additional posters.  If you can find one of these on sale for under $60, I would say that it would be worth the extra $$$ to get a set of paddles.

If you enjoy classic Atari 2600 games, both systems represent excellent value.  With that being said, the FB 4 gets my recommendation as a better system and a better value.


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Atari Flashback 4…a second look!

I have had my Atari Flashback 4 for a few weeks now.  I posted a review on this unit a couple of weeks ago, but though it was time to post some additional insight…

Let me start with the wireless controllers.   As I stated in my first post, these are infrared and require a line of sight to the base unit.  I continue to read posts on forums that bemoan infrared controllers, but I wonder if they have actually tried a Flashback 4.  Yes, you need a line of sight, but I really like these controllers.  They have a good feel to them and work well with no lag.  The new wireless controllers are one of the selling points of the Flashback 4 versus previous units.

The second thing that hard core gamers complain about is that these systems use emulation.  In the case of the Flashback 4, the system actually runs on an ARM processor.  In the past these emulations were a little glitchy, but AtGames seems to have gotten it right with the Flashback 4.

With 75 games included on the Flashback 4, it is worth reviewing my top ten:

Asteroids-an absolute Atari classic!  Asteroids plays just as I remember it back in the days that I had a 2600.  The 2600 version was not arcade perfect, but was a blast to play and it still is on the Flashback 4.  If anything, Asteroids plays a little better as there is almost no flicker in this version.

Battlezone-the arcade version had vector graphics, but I always liked the colors in the 2600 version.  This game gets real hard after a few rounds and will keep you coming back for more.  Still a blast to play and well implemented on the Flashback 4.

Fatal Run-this game was developed late in the life cycle of the 2600 and was only released in Europe.   Needless to say, this is a game that I hadn’t played before.  I used to really like driving games like Pole Position and Enduro, so that is probably why I like Fatal Run and it is neat that it is included on the Flashback 4.   Follow this link to read more about Fatal Run and also, see AtariAge for a copy of the manual.

Gravitar-here is great game that I did not have for my 2600 back in the day.  Gravitar has good graphics and great game play.  This is not an easy game, so it should hold your attention for hours.  See if you can protect your galaxy from the evil Gravitar!

Jungle Hunt-a 2600 classic that is well executed!  It plays just as it should on the Flashback 4 with outstanding graphics and gameplay.  You will have hours of fun with Sir Dudley and his jungle adventures!

Missile Command-another all time Atari classic!  This is one of my favorite 2600 games and looks and plays great on the Flashback 4.  I would probably be rich had I not spent so much time playing Missile Command!

Space Invaders-as I mentioned in my previous blog, AtGames included a new version of Space Invaders that looks almost arcade perfect.  I wish that they had also included the original 2600 version, but this version is lots of fun to play and looks great.  It is a little too easy, so I always start my games on the 3rd or 4th level.

Super Breakout-I have always enjoyed paddle games.  I am not particularly good at them, but they provide a nice relief from the ‘standard fare’.  Super Breakout is a simple game, but is still a lot of fun to play.  You need to get a set of paddles to really enjoy this game, so it is nice that the Flashback 4 supports them!

Warlords-you need a set of paddles to play Warlords, but they are worth the investment.  The paddle input is converted from analog to digital, so they have a different feel than ‘normal’, but you will adjust quickly.  Warlords is just as much fun to play now as it was thirty years ago!

Yar’s Revenge-this was an original game developed for the 2600 and is a nice addition to the Flashback 4.  So many 2600 games were conversions of arcade classics that struggled with execution on the VCS’ limited hardware.  Yar’s Revenge provided a refreshing new game and is a still blast to play!

In addition to my top ten games, I would like to highlight a couple of others.  Both Saboteur and Save Mary were prototype games that were not released when the 2600 was in production.  I haven’t played either of these games enough for them to make my top ten list, but they are great additions to the Flashback 4 system.

Other great games on the Flashback 4 are Combat, Centipede, Off the Wall, Polaris, Pong, and Video Pinball.

Upon a second look, I still highly recommend the Flashback 4.  The emulation and the wireless controllers are a dramatic improvement over the previous edition.   If you are looking for some Atari fun at low price, you really can’t go wrong!


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Sega Genesis Classic Game Console…a review

Up until now, all of my blogging has been about Atari 8-bit systems, but I also want to cover other retro game systems in this blog.  One of the most popular 16-bit systems was the Sega Genesis.  The Genesis was originally released in 1988 and, almost singlehandedly, caused the end of the 8-bit era.  Sega sold more than forty million Genesis base consoles between 1988 and 1997.  Outside of the US, the Genesis was known as the ’Mega Drive’. The top selling game for the Genesis was ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, which also became the ‘pack in’ game for systems sold in the US, starting in 1991.

Recently, I picked up the new Sega Genesis Classic Game Console from AtGames.  The system includes 80 built in games, but only 40 of these are ‘original’ Sega games.  With that being said, some all-time Sega classics are included on this system such as: Altered Beast, Ecco, Golden Axe, Jewel Master, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Streets of Rage.  Additional versions of these classics are also built in including Ecco II, Golden Axe II, and Sonic II.

I haven’t had the time to play all of the games on this system, but the ones that I have tried, seem to play as Sega originally intended.  Like the Atari Flashback 4, all games run in emulation on an ARM based CPU.  The emulation seems to be very well executed on this incarnation of the system.  I am not as familiar with Sega games as I am with Atari games, but I didn’t notice any significant play or sound issues.  In my opinion, the emulation is nicely done and will satisfy all but the hard core Sega Genesis gamers.

Like the Atari Flashback 4, AtGames includes two wireless controllers.  These ’six button’ controllers are infrared based and required a line of sight to the base system, but seem to work really well.  The controllers take two AAA batteries each and have a cool auto off feature, so that you can’t accidently leave them on.  There are also two ports included if you prefer to use wired controllers, but I think that you will really enjoy having wireless controllers.

The biggest difference between this system and the Atari Flashback 4 is the inclusion of a cartridge port.  This allows you to play almost any Sega Genesis cartridge based game.  When the cartridge is inserted, the system simply boots to that game.  When there is no cartridge in the system, it boots to the internal game menu.  I played Madden ’97 for over an hour and was not able to detect any issues or ‘glitches’ in the game play.

Hard core gamers seem to be opposed to these ‘flashback’ type systems.  In some of the earlier versions of these systems, the emulation was a little ‘glitchy’, but seems well executed in this version.  I was able to buy my system at a local retailer for under $30.  For a base system, 40 classic Sega Genesis games, and wireless controllers, I think it represents an incredible value.  Having a cartridge slot and being able to play hundreds of additional games is a real added plus.  If you are a fan of the Sega Genesis and are looking for some retro game fun at a great price, get yourself a Sega Genesis Classic Game Console!

Wild for Sega!

Wild for Sega!