|Simple things make me happy. You know, the non-complicated,
no drama, no fuss, no extra time or brain power required, right there
ready when you need it stuff. Kind of like microwave meals, only with
better taste. Well, one particular item, which my brother-in-law Stephen
pointed out to me, has been floating around for a number of months now and
fits that simplicity bill quite nicely. Who says in-laws are a bad thing?
present for your perusal the Atari 10-in-1 TV Games joystick
controller by JAKKS Pacific, Inc. Some of you have probably heard of it by
now or even purchased one for yourself. But if you're reading this column
and not one of my relatives or close friends, then I suspect you actually
do have a time issue on your hands and need some suggestion on how to get
that gaming fix back into your everyday life. Well, this all-in-one game
system may just be that remedy to bring pixelated joy back into your life
without having to spend hours on perfecting fighting moves, looking for
message board support, or seeking cheat codes to complete the game.
The first thing you may notice is the packaging, or more specifically the
boy on the back of the box. Looking at it more closely now, it begins to
frighten me. But true to classic 80's video game related advertisement
fashion, the boy is standing, hands sticking outward, and face illuminated
in a greenish yellow glow. His expression is that of a kid just struck
dead on in the gut with a baseball bat, mouth hung open like a freshly
caught bass and eyelids superglues to the top of his head. He looks like
he is in shocking and agonizing pain. And magically the 10-in-1 controller
hovers over his outstretched hands. A greenish-yellow tornado of stringy
electronic goo, perhaps, shoots out from the controller and screen shots
of ten classic 2600 games come twirling around for our enjoyment. I think
some of the old Atari marketing department folk would be proud.
The system itself is essentially your standard Atari CX 40 controller
with some minor differences. It is slightly bigger than the original and a
bit deeper at the base to make room for the 4 AA batteries it requires to
work. You still have your big red fire button and your stick, obviously.
The system also includes on the front of the base an on/off switch, a
power light, and three additional red buttons which are your reset,
select, and start switches. Lastly it has the cord which has your
Audio/Video jacks. Grab those batteries and you're all set!
The ten games included with the system are: Asteroids, Adventure,
Missile Command, Centipede, Gravitar,
Revenge, Breakout, Pong, Circus
Atari, and RealSports Volleyball. A fairly decent collection
for gamers on the run and not a bad effort for the company on this
particular system. These are all based on Atari produced games for the
Atari 2600 system and are overall similar to the originals, but not
exactly the same. One of the main differences being that Pong, Breakout,
and Circus Atari were all paddle games and you have to adjust to
using the joystick instead. This in particular had caused me a small
amount of frustration in the beginning, but it doesn't take long to get
used to it and find that right amount of push and pull to be able to play
the game well.
Let me look into my crystal ball and guess what some might be saying right
about now. It is true that these games aren't difficult to find by way of
MAME or even the Atari 2600 cartridges themselves. But what makes this
pretty cool is that everything you need is right there in the controller.
Well, you have to buy your own batteries first and put them in, but aside
from that all you need is the TV or VCR or adaptor to plug in your A/V
jacks and you're done. You don't have to change out cartridges or boot up
a computer and it is extremely portable.
This by no means is the first all-in-one portable gaming system. In
fact, Toymax released a similar 10-in-1 system under the TV Games label
for Activision games, but with a more modern controller. Not to mention
numbers of Famicom clone all inclusive systems that offer you some
Nintendo based play. However, JAKKS Pacific's release is one of the first
systems I've come across that actually feels like the real deal. OK, it is
somewhat different in that it's a tad heavier due to the bigger base and
like any new controller it may take some time to break it in until it
feels as comfortable as the one currently hooked up to your VCS. It does
feel a little stiff (oh so many puns I can think of for this article, but
I'll refrain in the guise of good taste) and if you are a real stickler
for authenticity, the texture of the plastic isn't entirely the same.
Compare that to attempting to get a genuine feel on a PlayStation
controller for similar games of the era and I still prefer the authentic
design of this joystick.
Let's get on to the crux of the matter. Time and speed. There are some who
complain that there isn't a cartridge port on the controller. I find this
to generally defeat the purpose of the system. Man, when I want to get in
a quick game and go, I don't want to put forth any effort other than
sitting on my rump and flipping the power switch to "on." I have
managed to get in multiple games of Asteroids and Missile
Command as I wait up until the very last minute to head out the door
for work and gargling the last bit of mouthwash. Switching out carts isn't
mind numbingly slow, but if I'm grabbing the game system to take with me
somewhere, the less clutter the better. And although I do agree that I
would have liked to have seen more games included in the package, maybe
leaving it at ten games wasn't such a bad idea. For me personally, when
I'm faced with a lot of choices it takes me longer to pick something. If
you had seen me as a kid on the days I was allowed to pick out a single
candy bar from the store and it took me 30 to 45 minutes or longer to
decide on just which one I wanted, then you would probably understand my
less is more theory.
Back to the simplicity issue. When you flip on this game system, there
aren't any splashy screens, long drawn out movies, nor shot after shot of
the company's logo which on current games of today seems to be the rule of
thumb (and there is no getting out of them by hitting the fire button or
start which I hate!) Instead a brief few second flash of the
Pacific along with DC Studios, Infogrames, and Atari presents screen pops
up and takes you right to the main menu of choices for your gaming
pleasure. Pick and play. Such a rare and guilty pleasure to not have to
deal with more than a single fire button or memorize any special moves.
One of the most frustrating things I find that I deal with on the current
systems is the constant training I have to put myself through just to get
started on a game and die shortly thereafter.
Now if you feel you need some level of choice in your game play, there are
some different modes you can pick depending on the game. Some offer two
player game play, although it was hard for me to tell the difference from
the one player games and it was easier to just hand off the controller to
my husband to play for a while without switching modes. Some have more
challenging levels or changes in the way the game is played. Breakout,
for example, does offer you the choice to play a timed game or a standard
scored game for every time you hit the brick off the wall. Yars' Revenge
also allowed for multiple variations of game play, but I either am just
too slow to see the difference or I am not familiar enough with Yars'
Revenge to know better. Circus Atari includes more challenging
variations, as well, but this is the one game that really bugged me not
having a paddle to play with and was challenging enough as it was. I
killed more innocent clowns that first day than I have in years of playing
it. Cirque de Soleil would not approve.
from the paddle issue, the only other two things I could see some room for
improvement were the following. First, this system only runs on batteries.
There isn't an option to use a power adaptor. This isn't a huge concern to
me since I've been running just fine on the same set of store brand
batteries for weeks now, but it might be a good feature if there are
future advanced releases. Secondly, there is a distinct lack of
instructions to assist in how you actually play the game. If you've played
it for years, you'll probably make out just fine. But if you are new to
the classics, then you may find yourself occasionally confused.
Fortunately, there are plenty of links to sites which have reproduced or
scanned in the original instruction manuals. You can find links to Atari
related sites HERE.
Overall, this is quite the handy dandy little time saving toy and I
plan on getting some more to eventually give out as gifts. For an average
cost of $20.00 or less, it isn't a bad deal. I would most likely support
the cost of it if more games were included, especially if it focused on
less paddle games and included other classics such as Pac-Man or Frogger.
One of the original press releases indicated that this product was at
first going to be available in multiple colors, but I have only seen the
traditional black controller and hope that it remains as such. Perhaps in
the future we will see other releases with some enhancements. It wouldn't
hurt to have the ability to hook two of these babies up together to give
it a more genuine two player feel and, again, a power adaptor option may
So there it is in all of it's spritely glory, lightweight and easy to
carry. Little time, little effort, still fun for all even if it isn't the
"real thing." Even my very own CowCat gives the paw stamp of
approval. This system will be out and ready to play in my home for a long
time to come. I think folks crunched for time like me or just looking for
a fun distraction will get a lot of enjoyment out this one. It's as easy
as hitting the Fire button to start. Game on!