If you read about Atari issuing a new cartridge of a new Atari 2600 game and your first thought was, “What am I supposed to play this on?” there’s an answer for you. Today, the company announced the Atari 2600+, a $130 retro console with a cartridge slot that can accept vintage and modern Atari 2600 and 7800 cartridges, plus a $25 CX40+ joystick and $40 CX30+ paddle controller bundle that appear to more-or-less faithfully re-create the originals.
All items are currently available for pre-order and will ship in November 2023. The console includes a 10-in-1 game cartridge with Adventure, Combat, Missile Command, Haunted House, Yars’ Revenge, and a few other 2600 games.
The Atari 2600+ takes its design cues from the early-1980s revision of the original console, with fake wood grain on the front and four control switches. But Atari says the console is only 80 percent as large as the original console, “making it easier to fit into modern living spaces.” The console also has an HDMI output and uses USB-C for power.
The thing about the 2600+ that may turn off some retro-gaming enthusiasts, however, is that it uses a software emulator to play games on a Rockchip 3128 Arm SoC. This is the same approach taken by some aftermarket consoles that take the “hardware cartridge, software emulator” route, like Hyperkin’s RetroN 77, which runs a version of the Stella emulator.
Software emulation can add input lag and introduce inaccuracies that weren’t present on the original hardware, and Atari’s compatibility list for the 2600+ (PDF) lists a handful of unplayable games and many more untested ones, despite the “no cartridge left behind” marketing copy. That said, there are several games marked as playable on Atari’s compatibility list that aren’t compatible with the RetroN 77.
Without using the original hardware, the best way to get close to 100 percent compatibility is to use a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), which is a modern chip that can be used to emulate the original hardware with all of its flaws and quirks intact. Using software emulation and a commodity Arm processor likely makes the system cheap and easy to produce, and at $130, it’s certainly less expensive than the $500 Analogue Nt (which used chips harvested from “undesirable” or non-functional NES systems), the $190 Super Nt, or the $220 Analogue Pocket (both of which use FPGAs).
The system also includes 256MB of RAM and 256MB of storage, enough to open the possibility that the device may be hackable and usable to run other kinds of games, as both the NES and SNES Classic Editions were.
The Atari 2600+ is not to be confused with the Atari VCS, an AMD Ryzen-powered (but aging) mini desktop PC that also emulates old Atari games but does a few other things on top of that.
Listing image by Atari