Atari 5200: B. F. D!
by Mark Terry

atari 5200.gif (51575 bytes)The 5200.

I don't get it.

To me the 5200 represents a company's mad rush to bring a bigger and better system to the market. They were only half right. The system was only bigger. Other systems were better and the 5200, in comparison, becomes a half thought of, half assed idea. A system that Atari itself deemed a failure. A veritible Hindenburg of a unit that parallels both it's size and tragic outcome.

I have no love for the system. I was a late bloomer on the 5200 One Man Bandwagon. I picked one up back in "94 or so when my gaming counterpart Scott Stone and I were enjoying our reborn exhilaration with classic games. We started an unspoken collecting competition among ourselves that still continues today. I grew up a poor but happy kid who couldn't really afford games for the 2600 much less the high cost of a new system or metaphorically put, "Another mouth to feed." The 2600 was a treasured luxury made possible by a mother's love for her sons and her own enthusiasm for playing. (Mom's favorites are Air Sea Battle, H.E.R.O. and Astroblast.) Maybe , at the time, I couldn't allow myself to like the 5200 because again, at the time, it wasn't affordable. This I consider a blessing in disguise. Let's take a look at the hardware, shall we? First off.... Joysticks that when the did function and weren't disintegrating in your hand, still did not self center making gameplay difficult. The challenge of plaing the game should be the focus. Not the challenge of playing a game with an inferior stick. This is not to say that the concept behind the stick wasn't revolutionary. A stick equipped with dual firing buttons on both sides that made for easy access with both the thumb and the index finger. The addition of a numerical keypad for direct access to difficulty levels, number of players or even incorporated into gameplay, i.e. choosing a football play. But the execution of the physical mechanics of this innovative design brings up but one question. What were they thinking?

Secondly.... A power transformer that was so big that it would have helped David take out an army of Goliaths. Couple that with a complex RF adaptor that also serves as the systems power cord. I will again admit genius in it's capability of "Automatic switching" between TV signal and game signal and again berate the execution of the idea by turning it into a complicated hookup with an extraneous piece of hardware. This brings me to the same unsolved deducement. What were they thinking? Here's my take on that.

Perhaps the 5200 design was to announce it's presence with authority. Bigger is not better. I understand the hypothesis of more memory, more chips, more power can equated to more size. But the console seemed to be devised to be a bright, boldly lit neon slap in the face reminder that Atari was king of home gaming. A symbolic monolith that was to show itself as the focus of the home instead of the fun family togetherness that can be derived from the simplistic act of the gaming experience. As we all know, Atari was king! Not with the 5200 but with it's half powered, half sized, half numbered predecessor - The 2600. Let's face it. Even with the birth of newer systems in the 1980's the preverbial cord was never cut.

The 5200 had an 2600 adaptor.

The Colecovision had a 2600 adaptor!

The 7800 was designed to pre-accommodate the library of 2600 games!!

Intellivision, under the M-Network label, made games for the 2600!!!

No adaptor. But an obvious reliance on what was the mother, father and nanny to a decade of system.

I don't want this article to become an all out 5200 slamfest. There are good points to the 5200. Games like Missile Command and Centipede when played with the Trakball controller were sensational. It was by far the closest home/arcade experience the system could offer. What the 5200 did achieve was bringing us more accurate versions of the current arcade favorites. Qix, Jungle Hunt, Pengo, Berzerk, Moon Patrol, Pac-Man and Kangaroo. These are great games but the hardware obstacle made these games less enjoyable. Conversely, Robotron 2084 plays flawlessly with the dual stick holder. However, I feel the game mechanics itself overcame the poor hardware construction. A stumbling block that with some engineering forethought could have been avoided.

For a moment let's step back and take a look at the Colecovision. Arcade translations for that system also brought us great graphics and sound. It also gave us a playable joystick that made the whole system more enjoyable. The focus was games, not image. I love the near perfect versions of Frenzy, Bump-N-Jump, Turbo, Tapper, Congo Bongo, Ladybug, Spy Hunter and Mr. Do!. Even the versions of Centipede, Defender, Galaxian and Jungle Hunt by Atarisoft were superior in all ways to their 5200 brothers. No grey area for me as to which system is better.

I do not and would never consider to take away from any ones enjoyment of the system, it's games or the warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling one might have when reminiscing about times spent with this friend. These are only my opinions based on my observations and personal experiences. After all I an only a fanatical lunatic. Ask around.

A wise man once said, "Haste makes waste." Or was it, "Don't waste paste." Perhaps it was, "The Space Case needs more mace." Well it doesn't really matter. The point is the same. The 5200 didn't make sense. and I again state........

I don’t get it!

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