My Atari 7800 month has come to an end and its time for me to consolidate my thoughts on the somewhat ignored and forgotten entry into the late 80s console wars. I ignored this console for many years as well so I can understand why it never gained a true foothold in the mind of gamers when it was released. With a dated launch library filled with aging arcade ports, it appeared as if the 7800 was just a slightly improved version of the 2600, which was also still in stores at the time along with the XEGS. Maybe there was a case of consumer confusion with too many consoles available at once? Nevertheless, the Atari 7800 soldiered on and ultimately offered gamers more choices than just arcade ports but it was too little too late. The later released 7800 games such as Ninja Golf, Midnight Mutants, Basketbrawl, Mean 18 & Motor Psycho were just some of the titles available for the 7800 that can’t be found on other consoles of the era but never captured the hearts for many gamers.
I had every intention of adding one or two of the above titles to my library this month but then I realized two things. One, those games are not that common and show up online very infrequently and two, when they do show up on sites like eBay, they often are sealed copies and pull a premium. For some reason, there are a lot of sealed 7800 games floating around and especially for the common early titles, these sealed games don’t cost significantly more than previously opened and complete copies. Sealed games are interesting to own from a collector’s standpoint but serve very little purpose for someone who intends to actually play the games (i.e. me). With that said, I managed to procure 4 sealed games in a larger 7800 game lot I won on eBay this month. I originally assumed I would open them to play since they were all titles I didn’t already own but I ended up keeping them sealed (for now). Since all 4 of the sealed titles I bought were commons (Touchdown Football, Dig Dug, Dark Chambers, Jinks), I figured I could just find loose copies of these same games if I wanted to have playable versions of them in my library. This is exactly what I did by picking up a loose copy of Dig Dug.
Besides the 4 sealed games I mentioned and the loose Dig Dug, I also picked up complete in box copies of Ballblazer, Crack’ed, Joust, Mario Bros & Winter Games as well as the manual for Centipede. Joust is stellar and Mario Bros is solid but not as good as the NES version in my opinion. The rest I haven’t spent enough time with to fully assess. My copy of Ballblazer, which sounds amazing thanks to the Pokey chip, included a cool poster indicating the available games for the 7800 at the time it was released along with a contest of sorts where you could collect 7800 games (as if they were baseball cards or Garbage Pail Kids) and submit proofs of purchase to get another free game. On the other side of the poster, there is a sweet looking animated collage titled “The Atari Advantage” that includes drawings of the 7800, XEGS & 2600 Junior consoles as well as characters from the various games available on those systems.
If I was to look at the pros and cons of the Atari 7800 console both from a player and collector’s standpoint, it would look something like this:
- Collecting a large library is relatively cheap, especially if you like to own boxes and manuals. Lots of sealed games out there for sale, which is odd but nice.
- Very few expensive games if you’re collecting a complete 7800 library.
- Some of the best versions of classic arcade titles are available on the 7800 (e.g. Asteroids, Dig Dug, Joust).
- Lots of support from the homebrew community and after market peripherals and controller manufacturers.
- Console is sturdy, sleek and attractive.
- Natively only allows RF output, which seems to be worse than most console’s RF output from that era. Requires modding for composite video/audio.
- Original ProLine controllers are some of the worst in terms of comfort and responsiveness.
- Games can be hard to find in both the wild and online due to low sales numbers.
- Game library is short on must own exclusives.
- Early game carts are dull looking and without color, likely as a cost saving measure.
I’m a purist at heart and typically don’t like to modify or tweak my consoles in any way but my original 7800’s RF port is failing. I tried several RF connections and the end result was the same so I have to assume that it’s the console itself. The picture has way too much snowy static for my liking and on top of that, my pause and select buttons no longer work. So I bit the bullet and bought a composite AV modded 7800 that will arrive after the new year. Now that I’ve addressed that issue, the next issue I need to address are those damn ProLine controllers. Dear lord do they suck. People complain all the time about Intellivison, Colecovision and Jaguar controllers but I find the ProLine controllers to be the worst of the bunch. I absolutely need to either buy the adapter that allows Genesis controllers to be played on the 7800 for 2 button games or else pick up a couple of the European Joypads Atari was so keen on showing off on their North American advertisements even though they were never for sale over here. Between these two limitations, my enjoyment of the 7800 this month was certainly hindered.
As far as Atari consoles are concerned, the 7800 is probably the second best after the VCS/2600 in my opinion. Yes, I understand that the 7800 plays most all 2600 games so by default, it should be the best Atari console to own, unless you’re a huge Jaguar fan. However, I reject that notion as a reason to call the 7800 the best Atari console since I look at each console in a bubble when I’m assessing them. The 2600 was a juggernaut in the early 80s and if backwards compatibility wasn’t an option, it wouldn’t be a contest between these two. If I had to grade the 7800 based on my experience with the original console and controllers, I would give it a C. However, I’m going to make an assumption that my enjoyment would be increased significantly to a B- as long as I add some after market goodies so that averages out to a C+.