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Doctor Octagon

Atari 5200 Console Overview

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As my brother in law says about the Dallas Cowboys...there's going to be haters.  And it looks like the 5200 is in that same boat.  For what it is, though, I will still defend this console in every way...controller issues and all.  It's not as bad as some say it is.  I've been playing one since 1982 so that ought to account for something.  Yes, the controllers can break easily.  What game system doesn't have controller issues, though?  Granted not on the same scale as the 5200 but they still have issues.  The system has aged so there are going to be issues and if you are late to the game then be prepared to go through issues others have already faced before.

 

You also can't expect to treat the 5200 like a 2600.  It's not going to work and will cause more frustration than anything.  Each game has to be learned individually.  I'm not talking about how to play the game by its rules, but by the 5200's rules.  Those analog controls if not given the time to learn them throws an unexpected curve ball.  And, as I have said numerous times before, the 5200 has to be used regularly or it will fail again.  It was not a system meant to be sitting on a shelf month after month, year after year, without using it.  

 

Learn the system first, then learn the controllers, and then learn the games and you will find that the 5200 is actually a rather enjoyable system.  If you have non-working controllers get them rebuilt.  Trust me on that...it makes a difference.

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I use to have a trak-ball controller decades ago.  It got lost in a move.  I tried playing Pole Position with it once and that was interesting.  If I find one again I'll have to try it with Tempest.  I have the game and like the controls with the original joysticks so far.  I just don't like the quality of the cartridge itself.  It's horrible and doesn't seat in the console well.  I've had mine pop out a few times during game play.  The game itself is perfect!

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I owned a 5200. Actually, I ended up owning about 6 of them in total because some local couple that ran a flea market booth had a bunch of them and a ton of other Atari items for sale for dirt cheap. I only assumed something to be wrong with the units at $4 each but decided to get them anyways. Such huge beasties with not a single controller to be found for them locally and the ones that eventually did pop up years later simply did not work. Plus, the sellers always wanted $20-$25 for one controller because they were so rare and the same applied, something was always wrong with the controllers.

 

Meanwhile, I also picked up the almost as big as the 5200 trakball controller and played the living daylights out of Super Breakout. I loved the styling of the console and the games and continued to slowly collect games over the years until I finally made the mistake of landing a pair of actual, working controllers.

 

By this time, I had quite a large and well rounded Atari collection which consisted of multiple Atari 800 and XL computers, 7800, etc. and learned that the 5200 was basically a repackaged 800. The controllers destroyed any hope of keeping the system around as a real console for me when I could just play most of the games I had slowly collected on the 8-bit computers anyway. So it didn't make sense to keep this huge console around, let alone six, to play identical games with inferior controls. I ridded everything I had very shortly after and even to this day with little regret, with the exception of keeping a trakball and Super Breakout, best version I've played and it was a ton of fun!

 

If Atari had packaged the 5200 in the smaller size that of the Atari 2700 and included the well known joysticks with it, having the option to upgrade to analog controllers for specific games later, then the machine may have done well. Maybe not, I don't know.... but I do know I would have certainly kept one had that been the case.

 

As cool as the system was or had hoped to be, I doubt I would ever go out of my way to own one again unless I just so happen to run across a cheap unit with trakball and super breakout. I was always fond of the Atari logo, copyright year and name of the game on bootup though.

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Between the 2600, 7800 and computers I never felt like the 5200 was really worth anything to me. Most of the games were pretty muddy looking, and between the archaic graphics of the 2600 and the cartoon-like graphics of the NES it was neither here nor there.

 

And who releases a new Atari system without a new Yars' Revenge? Dumb!

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The 5200 is a great console on its own right.  I didn't get one until about 10 years ago but I have to say that have really enjoyed playing its games.  In fact, it is impressive as the game library for the system is rather excellent.  The majority of the games are very good to excellent.  I know some people will hate on the system because of the controllers and the lack of self-centering but there are alternatives.  I use with Wico controller to address that issue for games like Pac-Man that require more precise control.  Overall, though, this is a fun system with a great library of games.

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