Atari Flashback 3
The Video Game Critic Review
In terms of appearance, Flashback 3 looks suspiciously like the Flashback 2 model, except the two controller ports have been moved from the back to the front. These replace much of the fake wood grain but from a practical standpoint it's probably for the best. The black/white switch has been eliminated which is unfortunate. I realize it doesn't play a major role, but at the very least it would have "evened out" the number of buttons across the front. Like the Flashback 2, this console still features those goofy orange buttons and a red one for power. While easy enough to press, these big, round, candy-like buttons are a poor substitute for switches. It's really hard to tell if the difficulty buttons are in their A or B positions. That's a problem because they can dramatically alter the gameplay. It's even hard to tell their position by feeling them (B is pushed in, apparently). I'm not crazy about having to turn the system off and on to switch games. These oldies tend to be short and sweet, so a "system reset" button would have come in handy. Better yet, an additional button on the controller for that purpose would be ideal.
The Flashback 3 connects to your TV via a composite/RCA cable (yellow and white plugs). This delivers a far better signal that the original RF connector which was subject to heavy electromagnetic interference. Playing these oldies on a crystal-clear screen is a real treat. Even games with rudimentary graphics (like Golf) looks great with their sharp edges and vibrant colors. I prefer playing Flashback 3 on an old-fashioned (CRT-style) television, but these games also look fine on an HDTV. Just be aware that there may be a slight control lag. As for the power adapter, the new "brick" is smaller and lighter than the previous model which probably a good thing.
The Flashback 3 includes two lightweight but highly responsive joystick controllers which are probably more durable than the original 2600 controllers (they have to be). One minor drawback is that these controllers are slightly smaller, so if you have large hands you might find them cramping up during extended play. Classic gamers should be aware that the controller ports are also slightly smaller than the original versions, so you can't use your old controllers.
Which brings me to the games. I have been informed that these titles are emulated which means they aren't 100% faithful to the original cartridges. This made me nervous because the emulation on the Flashback One was horrendous. Fortunately the emulation here is spot-on, except for the occasional sound glitch. The first one I noticed was the roar of the dragon in Adventure which has a strange echo to it. A more severe example can be heard with the thunder in Haunted House, which sounds absolutely terrible. Flackback 3 seems have trouble with some fuzzy sound effects, but the beep effects used in most of these games sound perfectly clear.
The games themselves have held up surprisingly well over time, mainly because their programmers originally focused on the gameplay over razzle-dazzle. Any doubts will be erased when you experience the frantic racing of Dodge Em, the strategic first-person action of Battlezone, or go head-to-head in Combat. We're talking easy-to-play, hard-to-master, back-to-the-basics fun.
The complete game list is: 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Adventure, Adventure II, Air-Sea Battle, Aquaventure, Asteroids, Backgammon, Basketball, Battlezone, Bowling, Canyon Bomber, Centipete, Championship Soccer, Circus Atari, Combat, Combat 2, Demons to Diamonds, Desert Falcon, Dodge 'Em, Double Dunk, Fatal Run, Flag Capture, Frog Pond, Fun With Numbers, Golf, Gravitar, Hangman, Haunted House, Home Run, Human Cannonball, Maze Craze, Miniature Golf, Missile Command, Night Driver, Off the Wall, Outlaw, Realsports Baseball, Realsports Basketball, Realsports Soccer, Realsports Volleyball, Saboteur, Save Mary, Secret Quest, Sky Diver, Space War, Sprintmaster, Star Ship, Steeplechase, Submarine Commander, Super Baseball, Super Breakout, Super Football, Surround, Swordquest: Earthworld, Swordquest: Fireworld, Video Checkers, Video Chess, Wizard, and Yars' Revenge.
Flashback 3 offers 20 more games than the previous edition, but at first glance it's hard to tell what's new. After comparing the game listings I discovered that the extra games in Flashback 3 were mainly comprised of sports and paddle games.
Incorporating the sports titles makes a lot of sense considering two controllers are included. The Realsports games are pretty sophisticated, but even the older titles like basketball and Golf deliver fun head-to-head action. The sports line-up includes:
Including paddle games was a riskier proposition considering they were designed exclusively for use with analog "paddle" controllers (packed in with the original Atari 2600 system). The games are playable with joystick but lack precision control, making old favorites like Circus Atari and Night Driver less satisfying. It's a shame they couldn't include a pair of paddles with the system. The paddle games include:
Demons to Diamonds
Flashback 3 offers several additional games not available in Flashback 2. Gravitar and Video Pinball are addictive, but Fun with Numbers and Space Ship are throwaway titles. The Swordquest adventures are incomprehensible without manuals, and frankly they were pretty incomprehensible even with their manuals. Here are the titles new to the Flashback 3:
Fun with Numbers
Perhaps most surprising is what's not in Flashback 3. The following ten games appeared in Flashback 2 but didn't make the cut this time:
Return to Haunted House
Caverns of Mars
I can understand the ommission of River Raid and Pitfall due to licensing issues (they were published by Activision), but the others are hard to explain. Even more inexplicable is how many other major Atari games have yet to appear in any Flashback system, including Space Invaders, Berzerk, Defender, Dig Dug, Football, Kangaroo, E.T. and Warlords. You'd think it would be possible to round up most of the first-party properties in one package.
None of the original manuals are included. That's a problem because many of these games offered dozens or even hundreds of game variations. The original manuals included colorful charts which let you to customize your game based on any number of factors. Without this reference I suspect most people will just play the default variation (number one), which is usually the least challenging (and lamest). Had Flashback 3 included a thick booklet compiling all of the original manuals, it would have been worth its weight in gold. Not only would its contents be useful, its nostalgia factor would be through the roof!
For what it is, Flashback 3 is a pretty nifty package. The system is compact and the video output is crisp and clear. The controllers are arguably better than the originals. Flashback should appeal to older games who want to relive the thrills of their childhood, or younger gamers who want to experience video games in their purest form. Classic game collectors will be interested in some of the more obscure titles like Adventure 2, Aquaventure, Frog Pond, and Realsports Basketball. Flashback 3 may only be an incremental step forward for the series, but it's always great to see old games brought back for a new generation to enjoy.