Atari 5200, Eh?

by Al Backiel

Topic A : THE JOYSTICKS - This is considered to be the major drawback with this system. Many gamers consider it to be the bane of its existence. These non-self- centering-hard-to-be-accurate monsters. A person can usually get used to anything, but I canít think of a single game where it would be considered an advantage. A few third party companies strived to come up with a better way and even Atari itself was reportedly working on a replacement. There are at least 4 existing alternatives. Unfortunately, all of these additional peripherals are rare. The first and foremost is the MASTERPLAY 5200 INTERFACE by Electra Concepts. This device enables you to play any 5200 games with the marvelously simple 2600 joystick. Now you can easily negotiate turns in maze games. The second choice is the WICO 5200 JOYSTICK, which is good, but perhaps too bulky. There are two large side-by-side fire buttons to accommodate both lefties and righties. The third choice is the COMPETITION PRO JOYSTICK by Coin Control which I havenít seen yet so I canít comment. All of the above still allow for simultaneous use of the regular joystick. After all, you still have to input things from the keypad like reset, pause, game options etc. The final option which I recall seeing in old video game magazines, was a clip-on centering guide which fit over the regular joysticks and forced it to center when it was released. Even if you are forced to use the regular joysticks, it does not mean the game is unplayable. Not by a long shot. Just consider yourself to be playing at a higher, more challenging level. You are therefore playing the game as it was intended to be played and not seeking any additional advantage.

Topic B - The 5200 vs. Colecovision. Who won? Coleco hit the store shelves first and gained the initial advantage with graphics that were far superior to the existing Atari 2600. Atari fought back months later with the release of the 5200. Most of their titles were upgrades of games that were already out on the 2600. There were a few noteworthy exceptions like: Space Dungeon, Countermeasure and Qix. Coleco garnered more third party support and wound up with a larger library of games. The later releases for the 5200 were able to match Coleco as far as graphics and game play were concerned. Games like Rescue On Fractalus, Bounty Bob Strikes Back, Gremlins were state-of-the-art. Overall, I have to proclaim Coleco the unofficial winner in both quality and quantity.

Topic C - All of the games can be played on the 4-port model. A few of the games will only work on the 4-port model. The 2-port model replaced the original 4-port model. Probably to cut costs. The extra joystick ports were not being utilized anyway. Some third party software was programmed on the earlier model. As a result the following games will only work on the older 4-port system: Pitfall!, Mountain King, and K-razy Shoot-out.

Topic D - Game Saving. There are no game save options for 5200 games that I can recall. Once you power off, you must start all over again. There are no passwords or memory backups. This makes it tough to play games consisting of progressive levels that are impossible to finish in one session. Say for instance, Pitfall II. You must complete the first adventure to even start playing the second. There is a trick you can use. You can shut off the TV. But, do not unplug the adapter or remove, shut down, or reset the game. When you turn the TV back on you will be where you left off. You can even switch switched channels as long as you come back. This will work with most games and systems. I found it especially useful for Solomonís Key on the NES for example. I donít however recommend leaving the adapter in all the time. I tends to heat up and I believe this makes it wear out faster.


Electronic Games Monthly really got me ticked off. They recently celebrated their 100th issue, The feature article was "The 100 Best Games of All Timeí. Unbelievably they threw out everything that was older than the NES. Thatís right. There were no classic games mentioned. No Pitfall, River Raid, Robotron. No Coleco., Intellivision, period!

Their rationale was " Sure, we could have included Pong or Asteroids, but would you rather play those instead of Goldeneye 007 or Sonic CD?" The answer is YES! with an explanation. Ok, maybe not Pong. That would be too extreme, but I still enjoy the Asteroids-like Minestorm on the Vectrex. Or Shark! Shark! (INTV) or Tarzan on the Coleco. I could go on and on. The point is that a good game is still a good game even years later. A game doesnít need to have eye-popping graphics to be fun... they could still suck. They do qualify their list by saying they were not considering the most influential games. But, in the same breath they say their list was based primarily on game play and the ones they considered to be the most fun. Well doesnít that sound like some of the classics? I would definitely think so. I also question some of their choices. Adventures of Lolo (NES) , Chew-Man-Fu (TG16), Rygar (NES) seem to be glaring omissions. How much better can Qix be on the NES than on the 5200? Tetris, no problem. But, doesnít Kirbyís Avalanche and Tetris Attack seem a little redundant? For the same reason I wouldnít have picked Linkís Adventure if I had already picked Zelda. Enough nitpicking already!


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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:01 PM