The inimitable Paddle controller is also getting the ‘+’ upgrade alongside the new Atari 2600+
On Tuesday Atari announced a new Atari which is just the old Atari, only it now plays carts from two different Ataris. Quick take: it looks neat but feels a little like they fell back onto fan service after the disaster of the VCS.
But all of the headlines that I’ve spotted have glanced over a major selling point, at least for me. See, emulating vintage Atari consoles is trivial nowaday but there’s a reasonably sized sub-set of games that have always felt off to me without the original hardware. I’d even say that several childhood favorites have been ruined by emulation, and those are the games that rely on the classic Atari paddle controller.
There’s just something special about that thing that emulation has never been able to recreate. The twisting motion that has no snapback or spin is unlike any modern analog stick. The springy, chunky button on the side doesn’t match how we hold any controller that’s come along since that era. I personally have never been able to acclimate to playing these games with a D-pad or analog stick in a way that feels like I can actually enjoy any of the nearly thirty paddle-based titles.
So my first question when seeing that the new Atari 2600+ console will support real cartridges was, “yeah but what about Circus Atari?“. I’m happy to see that they thought of that too, revealing at the end of their announcement trailer that the CX30+ Paddle Controller Bundle will launch alongside the new console in November. It even comes with a combo-cartridge of four paddle-based games, but sadly Circus Atari isn’t among them. The paddle bundle does add an extra $40 on top of the new console’s $130 price tag but to me it would be indispensable to once again play these games the way they were intended. Ya know, without having to drag out my original hardware and set all that up every time. An HDMI port really makes things terribly convenient, and tempting.
It’s great to see the paddle controller represented in this new offering but my next highly specific thought wound up being about the Atari Kid’s Controller. I’ve just recently been reminded about the unique 12-button pad and while I can kind of struggle through Circus Atari and Kaboom! without a paddle, the likes of Cookie Monster Munch and Alpha Beam with Ernie are completely unplayable on emulators. At least on all the ones I’ve tried over the years. I’m not holding my breath for a CX23+ model but it’s nice to know that if I track down an original it should work on the 2600+ as it uses the same DB9 controller connectors as the original. One day Cookie Monster, we will count numbers and eat cookies once again!
Elsewhere on the site is this comprehensive list of Atari 2600 and 7800 titles that are compatible (or not, or maybe not) with the new console. There are only three titles listed as incompatible but there are over 100 at this point that remain untested. Hopefully that doc gets updated over the next few months with more green highlights than red highlights.
Like most folks reacting to the reveal, I was surprised to see a new Atari offering that wasn’t something chintzy like a speaker hat or outlandishly improbable like a line of hotels. The original 2600 is the first video game experience I remember and as we both hail from 1977 I feel a little kinship with it these days. So yes, the 2600+ is quite a temptation and the paddle controller update makes it doubly so. But at around $200 for the whole package I’m having a hard time jumping on the pre-order button right now. What about you?