The Video Game Critic's Console Reviews
Atari 5200 (1982-1984)

Manufacturer: Atari
Format: Cartridge
Controller ports: 4 (early model) and 2 (later model)
Save Capability: None
Number of Games: Over 45
Video Output: RF
Initial Price: $330


Largely a victim of Atari's inept management, the 5200 was a decent system with a fatal flaw. As the successor to the 2600, it was aimed toward high-end gamers, boasting near-perfect translations of high profile arcade hits like Pac-Man, Centipede, and Galaxian. Unfortunately, the system was crippled by a lack of original titles, fierce competition by the Colecovision, and first and foremost, its ill conceived, poorly designed controllers. The crash of 1983 proved to be the nail in the coffin for this system, although ironically the system it was meant to replace lived on.

Console design: B-. The Atari 5200 console itself is HUGE - easily the biggest video game system ever made, partially because it includes a large storage area in the rear to store the controllers. Two versions were released, both of the same immense size. The first version was equipped with four controller ports, but few games utilized these. It also had a bizarre wire configuration that used a switchbox to connect both the video signal and power, apparently in an attempt to reduce wire clutter. Later, a two-port 5200 with a separate power cable was released, but inexplicably, several games proved incompatible with it, most notably Activision's Pitfall.

Console durability: C-. I've had my share of issues with this system's reliability. The switch box for the four-port model is prone to breakage, and controller ports are also known to malfunction.

controller Controllers: F. The most infamous aspect of the 5200 is its much-maligned analog joysticks. The sticks themselves lack a self-centering mechanism, making them difficult to use with arcade titles like Frogger or Pac-Man. They also have an odd, squishy feel, and many new owners actually thought they were broken straight out of the box. The controllers feature a little-used keypad and two buttons on each side. The mushy buttons are almost as bad as the joysticks. Carbon build-up tends to occur on the circuit pads, causing the buttons to become unresponsive over time. Even today, these joysticks are viewed by collectors with much consternation. It's difficult to find one in working condition, and they are expensive to repair. Making matters worse, few third-party alternatives are available. A track-ball was also released for the 5200, which like the console is also a gigantic beast. Although mainly intended for Centipede, it can be used with a number of other games as well. Atari also produced a joystick "coupler", allowing you to fasten two controllers side-by-side for dual-joystick games like Robotron and Space Dungeon.

cart Media: B-. The Atari 5200 cartridges are sturdy, heavy, and almost twice as wide as the 2600 cartridges. Cool looking ridges line the edges, but unfortunately, these preclude the possibility of end labels, making the games hard to pick out of a drawer.

Packaging: B. Atari 5200 games were sold in the same style of box as the 2600, using an attractive "silver with blue trim" color scheme.

Games: B. Despite its modest library, the 5200 had some superb versions of genuine arcade classics, and its baseball game is absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, most 5200 titles were not innovative, with most being upgraded versions of those previously available on the Atari 2600. Atari had a silly policy that all games had to come with overlays, whether they needed them on not. As a result, it's not uncommon to see nearly blank overlays with only one or two buttons labeled. Few games require these overlays, and most play better without them.

galaxian Graphics: B+. Like the Colecovision, the 5200 had some impressive versions of arcade hits, but the 5200's graphics look slightly less flashy and detailed than the Colecovision.

Audio: A. Besides being able to nicely replicate the sound effects of its arcade translations, the 5200 also had the capability of performing voice synthesis without added hardware (see Atari Baseball).

Collectability: B-. For collectors, the 5200 is a double-edged sword. The availability and relative cheapness of the systems and games is offset by the aggravation of dealing with the controllers. Still, the system has some fun games, along with a few titles you won't find for any other console.

Innovations: Four controller ports, pause/reset/start buttons on controller, largest console EVER.

Pros and Cons:
+ Nice versions of arcade classics.
+ Games easy to collect.
- Awful controllers.

Next Page: Arcadia 2001 Review

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