Atari 2600+ Review

I think I started my last article with a statement like this, but let's just go with it: folks, I'm old. I mean, really old. Not boomer old, but I'm old enough that I grew up with the first generation of game consoles that actually took cartridges. Yep, that means the late 70s and early 80s, and the biggest console of that era was the  Atari VCS, later known as the Atari 2600. 

This is back when the graphics were often bad enough that we really had to use our imagination to bridge the gap between what was happening on screen and what was supposed to be happening in the game world, because simply put, the graphical capabilities of these gaming machines, designed in the mid- and late- 1970s was at the very dawn of the home computing age. We weren't even in the home computer era yet, and Atari was out here making cost-effective game consoles. 

Honestly, it's pretty impressive what they could deliver. Everything runs at 60 frames per second (certainly can't say that nowadays!) and for those games that demand it, the action is blisteringly fast and requires intense, otherwise your session will last mere seconds. 

Enter the 2600+

Other game consoles by third parties - and the resurrected Atari - have come out to play the old Atari games, either via a fancy interface and pretty obvious emulation or by allowing you to use your classic game cartridges, but the Atari 2600+ is unique in that of all the products like it so far, this one is the closest to the original. It focuses on authentic looks, simplicity, combined with just a minimum of modern functionality and just enough compatibility with the classic cartridges and accessories to make the old-heads who kept all their original stuff happy to consider dabbling (even those who still have their classic hardware!). Now, that's a tough balancing act to try and maintain, so we'll see how that goes.

The Atari 2600+.

Classic console look and feel 

Straight off the bat, the Atari 2600+ resembles the design of the old "Light Sixer" 2600, with a smaller overall casing that necessitated moving a couple of the switches moved to make the whole thing feel like it's not cramped. In the box you'll get the console, with two joystick ports along with an HDMI output and a USB-C power input (a cable is included but a wall plug is not), an HDMI cable, a cartridge with 10 included games, and a single joystick mimicking the old CX40 classic.

Graphics with HDMI

What you'll get when you plug this system in is crisp and clean pixel-perfect graphics over HDMI to a modern TV, with only a couple of switches on the back for 4:3 or 16:9 (for the love of all that is holy, just go with the 4:3) or black & white or color (if you played on an old black & white TV, this can be fun to set in that mode just for the nostalgia), and not a lot else. Note, there are no graphical effects being added to simulate the scanlines or curve of the old CRT TVs - it's just raw pixels.

The good part is that even if your TV doesn't support forcing an incoming image to 4:3 resolution (I'm looking at you, Vizio), the console itself has you covered, allowing you to output a proper 4:3 image with the black bars that will show on a 16:9 TV in the correct aspect ratio. 

The Empire Strikes Back was good if repetitive.

What's happening inside

So this is a classic-looking console that takes the old-school carts, has no real fancy or modern interfaces, takes the old controllers, and just outputs its video over HDMI - so is it really just an old system with new video? Well, no. It's all new parts, and contains a modern but simple system-on-a-chip device that starts up super-fast and runs the Atari 2600 emulator called Stella seamlessly, without telling you what's going on. When you insert a game, it reads the entire game and "dumps" it into memory - an easy feat considering the mere few kilobytes these games occupy - and then Stella fires it up.

This does lead to a few very obscure compatibility issues that most people buying these systems, even old seasoned Atari veterans, will never see. Flash cartridges and a few games that used fancy memory-switching techniques are incompatible, but nearly every retail-released game works just fine. 

The classic Pitfall.

And yes, the standalone version of the Stella emulator includes many options for compatibility and such, but on the Atari 2600+, users are not given access to nearly a single one of those - this system is mostly meant for simplicity, to mimic a classic console just with modern connectivity. If you want more tweakability, the Retron 77 from Hyperkin can be loaded with a custom firmware that can give you more options, but they never really got the paddles working there in a smooth way, so I can't get behind that hardware.

Latency-wise, I can't tell a difference between the Atari 2600+ and what I remember from real hardware (or FPGA-based hardware recreations that also run without additional latency), nor does it seem people who are more serious about Atari stuff than I am seem to have any real problems.

Included Games

While the 2600+ does include a decent little starter set of 10 games, it's definitely not meant to be anything like a complete library, and the games aren't loaded directly into the console - they're on a cartridge. Additionally, you have to pop out the cart and flip little dip switches to change which game is played, because the 2600+ isn't built to work with fancy menu systems or do any advanced work - it only works with the basic carts from the old days, so this dip switch workaround ensures that the pack-in cart acts like the old stuff.

Yars' Revenge, one of the 2600's best games.

The included games are Adventure, Combat, Dodge 'Em, Haunted House, Maze Craze, Missile Command, RealSports Volleyball, Surround, Video Pinball, and Yars' Revenge. So, while some of the classic consoles have gone ahead and licensed games from other parties, Atari seems to have stuck with their own originals, but even then I'm not sure I'd have gone with these ten specifically. Adventure, Missile Command, Yars' Revenge, and Haunted House - those are all winners, for sure. The rest, I could probably have done with other selections. The good part is that building a library of classic Atari games, even today, is honestly not terribly expensive, which we'll get into more later.


This is where the Atari 2600+ probably struggles the most, and I think it's largely because of its insistence on authenticity. Simply put, I can't stand the classic Atari joysticks, a mushy affair where you've got to hold the body of the controller in your left hand using the meat of the thumb and four fingers to hold it in place, reserving the tip of the thumb for nimbly pressing the button, while your right hand grips the joystick and winds up wrenching the whole thing out of your left hand as you frantically fight to keep the joystick seated between your hands. Where's the activation point on the stick? Who knows? 

Some folks love this thing. Not me.

The Atari 2600+ ships with one of these joysticks, and you can get additional sticks if you really want them. Unfortunately, my favorite joystick of that era, the Epyx 500XJ, is in rather short supply - although still kicking around on eBay - so it's possible that the next best thing to use is controllers from the Sega Genesis era which can work in Atari and Commodore computers, but if you do that you may also need to get an adapter (others exist as well) that handles an issue with different voltage in some of the pins on the port.

Otherwise, Atari does have a recreation CX78+ controller coming soon that you can pre-order for $25, and that has the feel of an NES-type gamepad. I haven't tried one myself, though, so maybe watch out for reviews or videos on it before buying into one.

The CX78+ gamepad mimics one they made
for the Atari 7800 but works with the 2600+.


One of the joys of playing on the Atari 2600 was games that used the paddle controllers, a control method that few other console platforms have ever even attempted. Simply put, you get that nice analog spin that's perfect for Breakout, but there's plenty more - Warlords, Circus Atari, Night Driver, Kaboom!, and more all feel wonderful, and it's an experience rather unlike anything else in the 8-bit gaming era.

The Paddles, however, are a must.

Paddle controllers don't come packed in with the 2600+, but Atari is selling a separate, reasonably priced little kit with a pair of paddle controllers and a cartridge, much like the pack-in cart, with four paddle games: Night Driver, Canyon Bomber, Video Olympics, and Breakout. It's not the best paddle game lineup, but it's fine - but keep an eye out for some of the more celebrated paddle games on eBay or the like. All in all, if you're going to jump fully into the Atari 2600 experience, I consider some paddle gaming a must.

Buying Atari Games in 2024

What I'm consistently surprised by is just how reasonably priced so many classic Atari 2600 games still are even over 40 years later. Sure, you won't likely be getting many CIB (Complete in Box) games for under $20, but many of the decent classics in cart-only form are well under $10 on eBay or in local shops. When you look at other systems, rarely do the non-sports games get this cheap. 

Would love if someone made new versions
of these perfect-fit cartridge caddies!

OK, many of these games will likely need a little cleaning up, but you rarely need much beyond some isopropyl alcohol, some cotton swabs, and a flathead screwdriver to pop open the little dust-cover door on the Atari-made cartridges. And I guess due to how they're built, these carts seem to have fewer issues working first-time, every-time than the NES carts have these few decades later.

Are these worth playing, though?

Simple question: But is any of this stuff worth playing? Sure, something like Super Mario Bros. is a legendary title that every retro gamer should try at some point or another, but is there anything in the Atari library that is remotely worthy of such praise? Well, I'd say yes. Classics like Yars' Revenge, Kaboom!, Fast Food, Keystone Kapers, and Warlords are right up there, but admittedly not that many voices will be putting those games on the same pedestal as Nintendo's biggest 80s hits. 

Sure, the Atari 2600 is the console infamous for Atari's lax legal presence, causing a glut of terrible games and the infamous video game crash of 1983, but there are some real gems out there, no doubt.

Putting it all together

Compared to the NES Classic or many other "mini" consoles we've seen over the last 5-6 years that include a selection of games but were never intended to do any more, the Atari 2600+ represents a very different approach. Of course, Atari has also presided over the release of similar mini-consoles, but the 2600+ is an interesting product with one foot in the future, one foot in the past - and its best use does involve scouring garage sales, game trading stores, and auction sites to build a proper collection of real cartridges, the experience of which puts you into the classic experience better than a little box that just has the games built into it.

Just don't get this awful version of Pac-Man.
Trust me. Get Mouse Trap instead.

For that reason, and others I mentioned here, I have to recommend the 2600+. Just keep in mind that these graphics are beyond basic, the gameplay meant to be simple but addictive, and yes, you will need to buy some additional stuff to get the most out of it. But having the real feel of swapping cartridges and sitting on the floor in front of your TV, like we did as kids, well - you can't beat that, and the 2600+ is one of the few newly-made retro game offerings that allows for it.