This review has taken me longer to write than my other reviews. It's hard to write about a console when you know other people have dogged it for different reasons. From sparks coming from the automatic switchbox when connecting the power supply to the controller issues makes it a challenge to review. Because, unlike those types of reviews, I am wanting to express the good points of owning an Atari 5200 SuperSystem. So, this review has put me a bit behind my usual one-week review schedule. And I hope that by the time you finish reading this the 5200, and everything that makes it worth owning, will finally pull the system out of the "worst" category by so many other reviews I've seen before.
Many current generation gamers will not understand what it was like to be a kid (and I mean age-wise) and wishing for an Atari to play at home. And "Atari" was used mostly to describe the wood grain console most of us Atarians know and love...the VCS or 2600 whichever you prefer. So when I woke up one Christmas morning to a shiny black and chrome 5200 in front of the family TV I was more than excited. And I never played Super Breakout so much in my life. I loved everything about the 5200; its looks, the games, the cartridge designs, the controllers, everything! The graphics and sounds rocked, and not only could one other player join in but so could another and another. Mom, her then-boyfriend, and myself could all play a game together and not worry about who got to play first. And I could pause the game and come back to it later. Nice for those annoying bathroom urges that only seem to happen when your game playing skills are at their best.
But there was a downside to owning it as well other than issues others have mentioned already. In my area I was the only kid at school who got an Atari for Christmas that got the 5200. The other kids that got an Atari got the 2600. The plus side was that I didn't have to worry about kids wanting to borrow my games they didn't have. My games wouldn't work on their system. The downfall? The 5200 couldn't play 2600 games at time and the 2600 was getting games that the 5200 would never see. So while my friends were getting lots of games to choose from I was stuck with games Atari chose to make which was mostly arcade ports. Granted the games were solid and better than the 2600 ports but I was missing games from Activision, Imagic, Epyx, and other companies supporting the 2600 full force.
By the time Atari faded away from my area it would be three years before the likes of another game machine came to my area. As a matter of fact I still remember the last Atari 5200 game I would receive from my Mother. It was my 11th birthday and she found Moon Patrol for my 5200...one of my favorite arcade games of all-time. As time moved you would think the 5200 would be ignored. Not true. It remained in use even during the NES phase.
So what makes the 5200 worth owning? Easy...the games! The 5200 is a shining example of a time long gone. It gives a great insight at what the arcades might have been like during the early 80's. It certainly reflects what games were going strong for the time. The 5200 is everything that Atari set out to make...an at-home arcade machine.
If those reading this have tried a 5200 and didn't like it only because the controllers didn't work right or at all then those same readers have not given the 5200 an honest try. The 5200 is a delicate beast...more delicate than any other gaming console released before and after it. Yet, that same delicacy can not be left unused for weeks on end. Taking care of an Atari 5200 while using it on a regular basis will keep a 5200, and its controllers, in tip-top working condition. By now the technology is well over 30 years old so wear from age is to be expected. Wear from any previous owner's care, or lack thereof, should also be expected.
When well maintained the 5200 controllers are not all that bad. Replace worn parts with new ones which can still be obtained and rebuild those controllers. You will notice the difference in game play with a controller that acts just like it was taken out of the box for the first time...in 1982. Doing so now a new controller would most likely need a rebuild as well from not being used and aging in darkness. Once you have a working controller the 5200 is best approached by learning the system and controls on a per game basis first...then work on learning the games. Each game is unique to the 5200 in how the controls work. That is the real learning curve of going from the 2600 to the 5200. You see...you don't play Galaxian like Space Invaders on the 5200...you play it like Breakout because the ship in 5200's Galaxian moves just like the paddle in Super Breakout. Other games vary so take the time to learn them. Manual's for most games are a must so try to find those.
I personally consider the 5200 to be one of Atari's better achievements since the 2600. It has remained my all-time favorite console for so many reasons but mostly because of how unique it is compared to other consoles before and after it. No other console I've ever owned has captured my attention as easily as this behemoth of a system. The 5200 is a must own as far as I'm concerned and should not be as misunderstood as it is. Clean it up, repair the controllers, and learn how to use it. Then enjoy the games on it that are a true blast to play. Seriously...check out Space Invaders! The only port of this iconic game that introduced aliens that morph. It really is a Supersystem!