With the 27th anniversary of the proper launch of the Atari 7800 this month, here is a little retrospective on the console.
While the Atari 7800 might be historically viewed as a misfire on Atari’s part, we can at least appreciate the console for what it is. The console was intended to get a headstart on the NES as Nintendo had already approached Atari and asked them if they wanted to handle distribution rights in North America for the console for them. While in retrospect this was a boneheaded move times were different and Atari was a self sufficient company who wanted to remain that way.
After some legal tussling the proper launch of the console was delayed until 1986 and in a somewhat questionable strategic move the 7800 launched with games that were developed 2 years before and as such seemed dated.
|The POKEY poking around.|
What about the console itself? It’s an interesting beast being capable of playing 2600 software in addition to 7800 games. The hardware was similar to Atari’s earlier systems in that it rendered in between scanlines. The audio hardware was also identical to the 2600 in the console itself but developers could include a POKEY sound chip in the cartridge to enhance the soundtrack of a game. The POKEY was a flexible chip that could be used for a few different things but was mostly used for music generation in the Atari 8-bit family.
What about the games? Unfortunately due to limited developer support the 7800 library pales in comparison to the Master System and NES. That isn’t to say the console doesn’t have its fair share of great games though! The console featured a brilliant conversion of Commando which used the POKEY chip to enhance the sound. This game really stands out as one of the best on the console.
|Screenshot of Commando.|
Another great game that used the POKEY was Ballblazer which was a fast paced 3D tank shooter with a great soundtrack.
|This doesn’t look like much here but it’s actually quite amazing.|
Other beloved games in the Atari 7800 library include the brilliant Ninja Golf which incorporates ninja combat into a traditional game of golf, Midnight Mutants, Desert Falcon and even Xevious!
|Ninja Golf being both brilliant and incoherent.|
The Atari 7800 really is a great little console. It’s sleek, has a well designed controller and for collectors the library of games is definitely one that is within the realm of completing. The games themselves are fun to play as well with Atari staples like Joust and Centipede rounding out some great third party efforts. In honour of this somewhat forgotten gem from gaming past I highly recommend you pick one up on eBay as the 7800 really deserves another play for its birthday.
Any Atariphiles out there want to weigh in on the 7800? It’d be great to hear memories from when you were younger or just some nice thoughts about the console! For more information on the Atari 7800, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.