The Video Game Critic's Console Reviews
Atari 7800 (1986-1991)

Manufacturer: Atari
Format: Cartridge
Controller ports: 2
Save Capability: None
Number of Games: Over 75
Video Output: RF
Original Price: $140
system
This ill-fated system was originally developed by Atari in 1984, but at that time Atari's incompetent management was intent on concentrating on the home computer market. As a result, the 7800 rotted on a shelf until 1986. Sensing a revitalized home video game market about two years too late, the Atari 7800 was released to a tepid reception. With no perceivable innovation and a library of old games, even Atari-themed magazines questioned the system's timing and viability. Its main selling point was backward compatibility with the Atari 2600 - not very appealing to hardcore gamers of the time. In terms of technology, the 7800 was actually a small step down from its predecessor, the Atari 5200.

Console design: C+. Constructed of black plastic with silver trim, the 7800 has a sleek, streamlined look that resembles a miniature 5200. The front of the unit has three buttons: power, pause, and reset. There's also a red power light, two controller ports, and a pair of difficulty switches. Note that although the 5200 featured a pause button on the controllers, the 7800 moved this function to the console itself. The poorly situated difficulty switches are well hidden under the front, and making it hard to determine their current settings. Another issue is the narrow cartridge port, which can't even accommodate several third-party 2600 cartridges.

Console durability: A. Lightweight and solid state, the 7800 tends to age well and does not break easily.

controller Controllers: D. The standard 7800 controller feature a knob joystick and one large orange button on each side. Atari historians may recognize the design as one originally proposed as a special controller for the 2600. The joystick is tight and auto-centering, unlike the ill-fated 5200 controller. Unfortunately, it still has the uncomfortable, 5200-inspired shape, and playing any button-tapping game for an extended period of time can be a painful experience. Fortunately, the 7800 supports Atari 2600 joysticks, and most 7800 games work fine with them despite the single button limitation.

game Media: B-. 7800 cartridges are of the exact same size and shape as those for the 2600. Unfortunately, in a move to minimize expenses, the labels are printed gray and black, making all the 7800 cartridges look pretty much the same - boring!

Packaging: B. Atari 7800 games were packaged in the same style of boxes as the Atari 2600 and 5200. Silver in color, the boxes feature red lettering on the sides and colorful, stylized artwork on the front.

Games: D. The 7800 library is loaded with rehashes of old standbys like Galaga, Asteroids, Pole Position, and Ms. Pac-Man. Compared to the innovative titles coming from Nintendo, Atari's lineup looked tired. On a positive note, the 7800 did offer some definitive versions of several old classics, including outstanding two-player simultaneous versions of Centipede and Asteroids.

pole position 2 Graphics: C-. Compared to the NES, the 7800 graphics look less sharp and the colors not nearly as vibrant. Then again, few of its games truly pushed the system's graphic capabilities.

Audio: D. The 7800's sound capabilities are meager at best, probably comparable to the Atari 2600. The 5200 was far better in terms of audio.

Collectability: C. The Atari 7800 isn't the most exciting system to collect for, but most of its games are cheap and readily available - some even brand new. In addition, it's feasible to collect practically the entire system library. The fact that it plays 2600 games won't matter to most collectors who probably already own one or more 2600 consoles.

Innovations: First system to be backward compatible.

Pros and Cons:
+ Backward compatible with Atari 2600 games and controllers
+ Some nice arcade conversions
- Uninspired game library
- Mediocre graphics and sound
- Poorly designed controller

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