27 December 1996

How to Start a Classic Video Game Collection Part 2: The System Choices - The Atari Trio (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

In this article I'll start discussing and comparing the major classic video game consoles. If you are still undecided after my last article, this should help you decide which one you would like to start collecting. Your best bet is to start with the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari 5200, Magnavox Odyssey², Mattel Intellivision, or Coleco Colecovision. In this article, I'll discuss the three Atari systems. Next time I'll cover the latter three.

I'll start with the Atari 2600 and use it as the yardstick by which to measure the other systems. The reason I’m choosing the 2600 is because it was the world’s most popular video game console up until the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and it remains the favorite of classic collectors. You should have no problem starting a 2600 collection, as 2600 consoles and games are by far the easiest to find. Early 2600 games have primitive graphics and sound, but many later games pull off some amazing graphics feats, particularly considering what the programmers had to work with. The 2600 also had a variety of controllers available for it that gives it a larger variation in types of games than most other systems. The controllers are fairly sturdy, although paddles are known to deteriorate with time. This can be fixed, however. All in all, the 2600 is an excellent choice for a beginning collector.

The Atari 7800 is another excellent choice because it can also play 2600 games (with a few exceptions). The 7800 does nothing to improve the 2600 games, but having a 7800 would give you a slightly larger base of games to collect. Atari 7800s are rarer than many of the other systems discussed here, so you might want to pick up a 2600 until you find one. 7800 games have excellent graphics (on par with the NES), although the sound is generally little improved from the 2600. The 7800 joysticks are notorious for giving hand cramps, but 2600 games and many 7800 games can be played with 2600 controllers.

The Atari 5200 was released between the 2600 and 7800. It's generally not too difficult to find one or games for it. Its graphics ability is between the 2600 and 7800, but its sound is generally better than both. An adapter exists which allows you to play 2600 games, but it is hard to find. The main downfall of the 5200 are its controllers. It comes with a pair of joysticks that are notorious for being worn out and very hard to fix. Furthermore, unlike 2600 and 7800 joysticks, they can act as both joysticks or paddles and they do not automatically return to the center position. This makes some games more difficult. Although some alternative controllers exist that are better, they are quite rare.

By now you should have a handle on the Atari systems. Of the three, I'd recommend starting with a 2600, or a 7800 if you can find one. They offer the most variety, larger game libraries, and easier to find alternative controllers. Next time we’ll see how the major non-Atari systems stack up.

Copyright 1996, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

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