Review: Atari Flashback 8 Gold (2017)
After more than a decade of Atari Flashback releases, we finally have a true next generation hardware update with the Atari Flashback 8 Gold, which will be available at retailers everywhere by the middle of November (Amazon, AtGames Flashback Zone). Two of the most important upgrades are true high definition 720p output optimized for today’s TVs and proper 2.4Ghz wireless controllers that no longer require line of sight with the console to work. As you’ll read a bit later on, though, the feature-list doesn’t end there.
A few months back, AtGames released early review units that had some minor, but annoying performance issues. Fortunately, AtGames has used the time since to tweak overall performance and revamp the user interface. The original list of 120 games, which includes Activision favorites like Pitfall!, remains the same.
In the box you get the console, two wireless controllers, AC power adapter, HDMI cable, and a folded poster that doubles as the instruction manual. The console has its HDMI port on the left side, AC power port on the right rear, and two wired controller ports on the front for either joysticks or paddles, each of which is sold separately by AtGames. You can also of course use original wired joysticks or paddles.
The console is loosely modeled on the design of the original Atari VCS console, but smaller, lighter, and with colored buttons instead of switches. The console buttons include POWER, START (works like RESET on the original Atari 2600), LEFT DIFFICULTY, RIGHT DIFFICULTY, and SELECT.
The joystick is modeled after the originals, although the action on the stick is considerably looser. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s more friendly to what we’re used to these days than what we had in the past, which was much stiffer. On the player one joystick, there’s RESET, SELECT, START, and REPLAY buttons. The player two joystick is just a regular single button wireless controller. The required two AAA batteries for each controller are not included.
In addition to what I’ve already discussed, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold has several other notable features:
- Ability to rewind in any game for up to seven (7) seconds and resume at any point therein. Think of it as a way to re-do a bad move or two. NOTE: This feature does not apply to the custom AtGames versions of Frogger or Space Invaders that are included.
- Each game has up to 10 save slots available and can be resumed at any time. Think of these as save states, creating a snapshot of exactly where you are in a particular game. NOTE: This feature does not apply to the custom AtGames versions of Frogger or Space Invaders that are included.
- Ability to add scanlines to a game via the in-game pop-up menu. This is a display effect that simulates how these old games look when played on vintage CRT (tube-based) TVs and may make the visuals more appealing on a modern display.
Here are some sample gameplay videos from various built-in games:
(played with wired paddle controllers)
As you can tell from the videos, there are no real performance or other issues. Everything looks and sounds great, with only relatively minor differences from how the games play on the original console. When played in person, there is no noticeable lag from either the HDMI connection or from the wireless controllers.
Finally, as a nice addition to this excellent hardware release, I had the pleasure to work on an official paperback book for Prima Games called, Atari Flashback: The Essential Companion. While it contains plenty of information on the latest AtGames Atari Flashback products, it’s actually a great general Atari 2600 resource as well, acting as a type of missing manual for over 65 Atari games. Of course, there is a lot more to this highly visual book, including Tips & Tricks and Fun Facts. It’s priced at just $19.99, which includes a mobile-friendly eGuide version for a second-screen experience.
- Large selection of built-in games
- Activision games!
- Great 720p display with games in their correct, original 4:3 aspect ratio
- Proper wireless controllers
- Rewind and save state functionality
- Scanline display option for more of a CRT look
- Instruction summary at each game’s landing page
- Legacy controller ports
- Paddle games also work with joysticks
- Awkward placement of the HDMI port
- Controller batteries are not included
- No dedicated in-game pop-up menu button (have to use a joystick combo)
- It can be tricky rewinding to the spot you want
- Some games exhibit minor differences or glitches versus play on an original console
- Full game manuals are not included
- Access to many of the console’s special features requires use of the included player one wireless controller, so keep it handy
AtGames brings a large selection of plug and play Atari 2600 games into the modern era with impressive results.
Thanks to AtGames for providing the review unit.
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: I advise AtGames as an Independent Contractor. I provided design and other feedback, as well as documentation, user interface support, and testing throughout this product's development. Opinions expressed in this review are solely my own, with no external approval.