There aren’t very many consoles in my collection that I’ve ignored in the manner that I’ve ignored the Atari 7800 ProSystem. I’ve owned Atari’s 3rd (2600 x 3 = 7800) foray into home console gaming for many years but after my initial purchase along with a handful of games in the early 2000s, I’ve probably played my 7800 only a few times since. This is largely due to lack of nostalgia or any viable memories of the 7800 when it was released.
Officially released nationwide in 1986, the Atari 7800 had been in development since 1983. Atari wanted to quickly release a successor to the poorly received Atari 5200, correcting two of that console’s biggest mistakes. Lack of backward compatibility with the 2600 games and fragile analog controllers. Unfortunately, the video game crash of ’83 occurred and Atari began bleeding money left and right. Atari’s Consumer Division was then sold to Jack Tramiel and all of the subsequent legal battles with GCC (General Computer Corporation), the manufacturer of the 7800, delayed the release of the console for 2 years. The test launch of the 7800 in 1984 showed promise but by the time the system was finally released, the same old, same old arcade ports being offered seemed crusty and mothballed compared to exciting titles such as Super Mario Bros for the NES.
The 7800 was marketed as a budget console, which was smart considering it was never going to be able to compete with the buzzworthy Nintendo and to a lesser extent, Sega. This helped it to be somewhat profitable but it never made a cultural dent. As I alluded to earlier, I had no distinct recollection of the 7800 existing in the late 80s. Atari had repackaged and re-released the 2600 around this time as the 2600 Junior, so I do recall seeing Atari 2600 Juniors in stores at the same time as the NES. Despite being a kid, was no dummy and I recognized that it was just an ancient console with graphics and games that could no longer compete being repackaged as something cool and new so I promptly ignored it. I’m certain that in my sub consciousness, the 7800 was wrongly lumped in with the 2600 Junior when I saw them on the shelves. There just wasn’t enough to distinguish the two of them besides the number used behind the brand name. Honestly, when you look at the 7800 console and game boxes, they don’t do a very good job of selling themselves. The game boxes in particular were very bland and monochromatic silver/gray. The lack of colors for the packaging was certainly a cost cutting measure and flipping the boxes over to see one or maybe two barebones screenshots had minimal impact. Yes, the games were significantly cheaper than NES titles, but that wasn’t a motivational factor for me. No one I knew growing up owned a 7800 so I didn’t have a chance to play it nor did I care to. Backward compatibility also meant nothing to me, not having owned a 2600 prior. I’m sure that a huge portion of the sales of the 7800 were by previous 2600 owners as I cannot see how Atari’s marketing (or lack thereof) was going to sell a potential new video game console owner on their console in a sea of “Now You’re Playing With Power” ads.
By highlighting the 7800 ProSystem this month, my hope is that I can earn an appreciation for the games that I do own, many of them arcade and computer ports. If the 7800 was not able to offer gamers the best home versions of arcade titles by 1986-1987, then I am not certain where this system’s niche lies. Also, there are a few 7800 exclusives out there, released later in the console’s lifespan, that I will be looking to pick up this month as well. The problem is that these games are hard to come by due to low sales figures and lack of titles out there in the wild. In the spirit of Christmas, I will be playing my 7800 with an open mind (and open wallet) but only in short bursts thanks to the ergonomically challenged Atari Proline Controllers.
Currently in my collection:
- Console with original AC adapter
- 2 Proline controllers