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Atari Flashback versus Commodore 64 30-in-1

Atari Flashback versus Commodore 64 30-in-1

 

Author, Screenshots and Online Layout: Bill Loguidice
Editing: Matt Barton

Special Thanks:  Evan Koblentz of Computer Collector newsletter for providing the systems for and participating in the brief, but intense, hands-on review process

Special Notes: A version of this review appeared in the Computer Collector newsletter, Vol. 3, Issue 46: Dec. 20, 2004


The popularity of "TV games", which are the class of devices with a fixed number of built-in videogames that plugs directly to the inputs of a television set, has exploded over the past couple of years.  TV games have a simple plug-and-play appeal and often impulse purchase price point.  The obvious mass market appeal of these devices has left manufacturers looking for ways to either outdo one other in value or to appeal to a niche audience with nostalgia.  Two of the latest such devices, the Atari Flashback and the Commodore 64 30-in-1, try to do a little of both, with varying degrees of success.

 

The Atari Flashback comes in a colorful, oversized box, but the system itself and the two detachable controllers are surprisingly tiny.  The device features a nice selection of not only 15 Atari 2600 games, but also as befits the obvious inspiration for the design of the unit and its controllers, five Atari 7800 games.  Since this is a review of the hardware and implementation, the individual games will not be specifically reviewed.  Instead, this unit, as with the Commodore 64 30-in-1, will be analyzed in several key categories, including the way the games are implemented. 

 

The 20 games for the Flashback are as follows, listed with their original publisher and release date, as well as with AtariAge's original cartridge rarity scale of 1 - 10, with ten being the hardest to find:

 

Atari 2600

Adventure (Atari, 1980, Rarity 2), Air-Sea Battle (Atari, 1977, 3), Battlezone (Atari, 1983, 2), Breakout (Atari, 1978, 2, Paddles), Canyon Bomber (Atari, 1978, Rarity 2, Paddles), Crystal Castles (Atari, 1984, 2), Gravitar (Atari, 1983, 2), Haunted House (Atari, 1981, 2), Millipede (Atari, 1984, 3), Saboteur (Atari, 1984, Officially Unreleased), Sky Diver (Atari, 1978, 2), Solaris (Atari, 1986, 2), Sprintmaster (Atari, 1988, 4), Warlords (Atari, 1981, 1, Paddles) and Yars’ Revenge (Atari, 1981, 2)

 

Atari 7800

Asteroids (Atari, 1984, Rarity 1), Centipede (Atari, 1984, 1), Desert Falcon (Atari, 1987, 2), Charley Chuck’s Food Fight - originally just Food Fight (Atari, 1984, 2) and Planet Smashers (Atari, 1990, 5)

 

As can be seen from the list above, all 20 games are originally Atari properties, so no other manufacturer is represented in this collection.  Further, most games are generally of the commonly collectible variety and developed fairly early on in each system's lifecycle, with the exception of the 2600's Sprintmaster and the 7800's Planet Smashers, which are both notable for being among the last games officially released for their respective platforms and relatively unknown to even hardcore gamers.  Saboteur is also notable, because it's not only programmed by the infamous Howard Scott Warshaw - developer of games like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari, 1982, 1) and Yars' Revenge (included) - but also boldly listed as "unreleased".  While this is technically true as the game was never released by Atari originally, AtariAge had recently worked with Warshaw to create a full color boxed cartridge version complete with manual.  Warshaw was even at AtariAge's booth at Philly Classic 5 signing copies of the game.  Unfortunately, with the pending release of Flashback, Atari felt it was in their best interest to have AtariAge remove all copies of Saboteur from their sales channel, so Flashback is presently the only way to play the game, which, as will become clear later, is not necessarily ideal.

 

It is important to note that while the original Atari 7800 had superior visuals compared to the Atari 2600, they both shared the same sound chip.  In fact, the Atari 7800 was almost completely backwards compatible with the Atari 2600, hence the logic behind modeling the system design on the 2600's lesser known sibling and including games for both. 

 

In a rare move for a TV game, the Flashback does not have the ability to run on batteries, only with the included AC adapter, limiting its immediate portability.  After plugging in the AC adapter, the composite video and mono audio cables, and one or two of the joysticks, the unit is ready to be powered on.  After a short intro screen, the game selection menu is displayed.  Any of the alphabetically listed 20 games is selectable, or, by highlighting the on-screen system's cartridge port, a very brief textual history.  The menu, while attractive, does not display the name of the game on the virtual cartridge until you highlight it, and the menu must be browsed sequentially by moving the joystick up or down, not left or right.  The included manual does a nice job of explaining the operation of the unit and how to play each game.

 

After highlighting the game of your choice and pressing the joystick's fire button, the game begins.  When holding the diminutive joystick in your hand, you will be surprised to notice how well it seems to fit.  Unlike the Atari 7800's somewhat bulky controller, the Flashback's feels just right.  Also, unlike the 7800 controller's awkward stick and stiff fire buttons, the Flashback's is highly responsive, which is practically a revolution in the world of TV games, where overall controller quality is often overlooked.  In fact, even those games that originally required Atari's paddle controllers, like Breakout, Canyon Bomber and Warlords, work as well with the included controllers as could be reasonably expected with a joystick, save for the paddle's unique ability to accelerate quickly.  Despite the joystick connections externally looking the same as the original systems, the internal wiring is different, so the included controllers are the only option.  One upside to the proprietary nature of the controllers is the fact that the 'Pause' and 'Select' buttons are now on the front of the joysticks rather than the console itself (sadly, the reset button to return you to the main menu is still on the console).  Finally, unlike the normally single player nature of other TV games, the Flashback's two controllers are refreshing, delivering authentic multiplayer gaming for every game that supports it, save for Warlords unique ability to originally support four simultaneous players with two sets of paddles.

 

Sadly, where the Flashback fails is also where other TV games have failed—the quality of the emulation of the original system's abilities.  Whether it was the rumored short development cycle, insufficient processing power (apparently based off of a NES/Famicom-on-a-chip!) or some other reason, the fact of the matter is these games are markedly different than their original 7800 and 2600 counterparts.  The Flashback version of Asteroids for instance, has washed out colors, elongated (almost oblong) graphics and poor sound.  Add to this the fact that the player's ship moves too fast and the asteroids move too slow, you have a recipe for disappointment whether you're aware of how the original is or not.  The Atari 2600 games on the Flashback seem to fare a little better, but overall the presentation of all the games leaves something to be desired.

 

The Commodore 64 30-in-1 Classic Plug & Play Video Game or simply Commodore 64 30-in-1, comes in a pyramidal plastic housing for packaging, which, while nice, is not nearly as slick as Atari's standard box for the Flashback.  The same can be said for the included manual, which, while not as professional as Atari's version, nevertheless describes the system and games in some detail, albeit in very tiny print.

 

The 30-in-1 runs exclusively on four AA batteries, which make it more portable than the Flashback, but nevertheless requires the use of a screwdriver to access the battery compartment.  After placing the batteries and connecting the included composite video and mono audio cables, the unit is ready for action.

 

When the 30-in-1 starts, after a few credit screens, the Commodore 64's (C-64) familiar blue basic prompt screen appears and the classic 'Load"*",8,1' and 'Run' commands are automatically typed and executed.  This is clever the first few times, but every time the unit is reset so another game can be selected from the menu, this screen and sequence is displayed.  Regardless of whether this is a necessity or just something the developers thought of as a clever trick, it does get repetitive after a short while, even though it can be bypassed each time with a button press.

 

The 30 games are as follows, listed with their original publisher and release date based on information available from Lemon 64:

 

Bull Riding (Event from World Games, Epyx, 1986), Championship Wrestling (Epyx, 1986), Cyberdyne Warrior (Hewson, 1989), Cybernoid (Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine, Hewson, 1988), Cybernoid II (Cybernoid II: The Revenge, Hewson, 1988), Eliminator (Hewson, 1988), Exolon (Hewson, 1987), Firelord (Hewson, 1986), Flying Disk (Event from California Games, Epyx, 1987), Gateway to Apshai (Epyx, 1983), Impossible Mission (Epyx, 1984), Impossible Mission 2 (Epyx, 1988), Jumpman Junior (Epyx, 1983), Paradroid (Hewson, 1985), Pitstop (Epyx, 1983), Pitstop 2 (Epyx, 1984), Ranarama (Rana Rama, Hewson, 1984), Silicon Warrior (Epyx, 1984), Speedball (Image Works, 1989), Summer Games (Epyx, 1984), Super Cycle (Epyx, 1986), Sumo (Event from World Games, Epyx, 1986), Surfing (Event from California Games, Epyx, 1987), Sword of Fargoal (Epyx, 1983), Tower Toppler (Hewson, 1987), Uridium (Hewson, 1986), Winter Games (Epyx, 1985), World Karate Champion A (World Karate Championship, Epyx, 1986), World Karate Champion B (World Karate Championship, Epyx, 1986), Zynaps (Hewson, 1987)

 

While technically, the list does total 30 games - mostly from Epyx and Hewson - some unusual decisions were made to reach that total.  Bull Riding and Sumo are events from within World Games, and Flying Disk and Surfing are events from California Games.  Neither World Games nor California Games are included in their entirety, but Summer Games and Winter Games are.  Finally, there are the variants of World Karate Championship, World Karate Champion A and B.  However the total was achieved, it is nevertheless an impressive number of games for a device of this type.

 

The controller itself is self-contained, with all functions on the same device.  There are two large main action buttons (C-64 joysticks always had one), a smaller reset button and four auxiliary buttons, labeled A - D, intended to help replace the C-64's keyboard functions for certain games.

 

When the game selection menu appears - in what is surely another nod to original C-64 fans - the list of games appears on a moving star field with energetic background music and scrolling credits at the bottom, bringing to mind the demo screens pirates and hackers of the day would develop to try and outdo one another in demonstrating their mastery of the hardware.  The games are listed alphabetically and highlighted sequentially by moving the stick up or down.  A game is selected by pressing the action button.

 

After a game is selected, it quickly starts and you're ready to begin playing.  If you're familiar with the original games, you may be surprised at what appears.  For instance, with Impossible Mission, after the title screen, the famous elevator sequence displays with your nemesis Elvin's voice saying, "Another visitor.  Stay a while, stay forever!"  What's surprising is that everything looks and sounds almost exactly like the original, certainly better than any other TV game to date.  I'm sure a lot of this has to do with Jeri Ellsworth's - of C-One fame - intimate involvement in the project, since it was one of her goals to accurately recreate the C-64 on modern hardware.  I'd say based on the accuracy of the emulation in this low cost consumer product, that's a realistic goal.

 

With a large and diverse selection of accurately presented games, what's not to like?  Unfortunately, a classic TV game Achilles' heel has found its way into the 30-in-1 as well.  The control stick, the heart of the unit, has a far "throw" (or lots of "play", the distance the stick has to travel to interpret a direction) and does not accurately register directions.  For instance, in Sword of Fargoal, moving diagonally, left or right, up or down, was often an exercise in frustration as the character would be moved left into a wall rather than up as intended.  This movement inaccuracy is present in every game, though some games are slightly more forgiving of this flaw due to their basic design, such as the racing game Pitstop.  Nevertheless, with everything else that's so good about the unit, including the action buttons, this is a serious let down.

 

An interesting note about the 30-in-1 is that it contains the complete original C-64 BASIC ROM, so the device can be hacked to work just like an original Commodore 64, with an ability to use add-ons like keyboards, disk drives and even joysticks.  Also contained within the unit are interesting Easter Eggs, or hidden surprises that need to be unlocked, like developer photos and more games. 

 

The Commodore 64 30-in-1 is available exclusively from QVC and is priced at $30.00 for one unit or $52.00 for two.  The Atari Flashback is available at many major retailers and priced as low as $39.99 (sale prices can be even lower).

 

 

Price: The 30-in-1 is usually at least $10 less, but also lacks direct support for two simultaneous players that the Flashback has.  Winner: Draw

 

Number of Games: The 30-in-1 has more games, even though it's debatable if there are really 30 (not counting hidden content).  Winner: Commodore 64 30-in-1

 

Features: The Flashback features detachable controllers, AC power and two player simultaneous support.  The 30-in-1 features an all-in-one unit, battery power, hidden content and the ability to hack the unit for expanded functionality.  Winner: Commodore 64 30-in-1

 

Playability: The Flashback features a simple and quick-to-access menu system and excellent control.  The 30-in-1 has a slow-to-start menu and poor directional control.  Winner: Atari Flashback

 

Hardware Construction: The Flashback, despite its small size, feels solid and works well.  The 30-in-1 feels solid but the control stick lacks precision.  Winner: Atari Flashback

 

Graphics and Sound: The 30-in-1 emulates the original games almost perfectly.  The Atari Flashback fails to properly recreate the graphics, sound and speed of the original hardware.  Winner: Commodore 64 30-in-1

 

Overall: The 30-in-1 contains almost 30 full games whose depth benefit from originally being on a game-centric computer.  The Flashback contains 20 full games that err on the simple pick up and play side as befit their console origins.  The Flashback supports two players at once on certain games, while the 30-in-1 does not.  The 30-in-1 will be of particular interest to those who wish to hack the unit.  The major downside to the 30-in-1 is the control stick, while the major downside to the Flashback is the emulation.  Final Verdict: While the Flashback controls better, the actual games are so poorly implemented that most of the fun is diminished.  Alternately, the 30-in-1 controls poorly, but the games are presented basically as they were meant to be.  With more games that are rarely available elsewhere, a price point that's usually at least $10 less and bonus content, the Commodore 64 30-in-1 edges out the Atari Flashback.


 

The Atari Flashback console, detachable controllers, audio-video cables and manual
The Atari Flashback unit, detachable controllers, audio-video cables and manual

 

From top to bottom, consoles: Atari 7800, Atari 2600jr and Atari Flashback
From top to bottom, consoles: Atari 7800, Atari 2600jr and Atari Flashback

 

From left to right, pack-in controllers: Atari Flashback, Atari 7800 and Atari 2600
From left to right, pack-in controllers: Atari Flashback, Atari 7800 and Atari 2600

 

Atari Flashback screenshot of main menu from television
Atari Flashback screenshot of main menu from television

 

A look inside the Atari Flashback manual
A look inside the Atari Flashback manual

 

The Commodore 64 30-in-1 with audio-video cables
The Commodore 64 30-in-1 with audio-video cables

 

A look inside the functional Commodore 30-in-1 manual
A look inside the functional Commodore 30-in-1 manual

 

The Commodore 30-in-1 startup sequence, sure to look familiar to any C-64 fan
The Commodore 30-in-1 startup sequence, sure to look familiar to any C-64 fan

 

Commodore 30-in-1 screenshot of main menu from television
Commodore 30-in-1 screenshot of main menu from television

Also see:

Extensive Commodore 64 30-in-1 photos and a detailed review of the Atari Flashback with photos



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Rating
This article has been rated:  9.5 - 2 votes
Comments ...
bullet Bill Loguidice | 28 Dec : 01:25

Comments: 307

UPDATE: QVC now seems to be charging $33.00 for one Commodore 30-in-1 unit and $57.00 for two, not counting shipping/fees. Interestingly, the price seems to be creeping up, as I first saw it offered at $27.00/$47.00, then up to the prices indicated when the article above was first written. It seems if you want a Commodore 30-in-1 for a decent price, particularly with the possibility of future revisions dropping the hacking options, the sooner a purchase is made the better.

I have also seen the Atari Flashback for as low as $29.99 - $35.99, not counting additional fees. As the article indicates, your mileage may vary, especially since the Atari Flashback is available from a wide variety of retailers who often discount their prices or have sales. At a sub-$30 price point, the unit may be worth owning, even with "broken" games. In fact, the price inbalance that still exists between the two systems may eventually tip fully in the Flashback's favor. Nevertheless, the overall winner still stands as the Commodore 64 30-in-1, particularly if you can find a good way to tweak the joystick's responsiveness.

bullet PoloPlayr | 08 Jan : 07:39

Comments: 19

Registered: 29 Mar : 07:32
Thanks a million for this review, Bill!!! Have been very interested in both of them - especially the C64 one - great for travels and boring hotelrooms.

bullet Dragon57 | 08 Jan : 12:31

Comments: 8

Registered: 23 Mar : 00:05
Thanks for the review Bill. You have convinced me to not buy either!

I emulation issues with the Flashback are what killed that one for me and the joystick direction issues are what killed the 30-in-1. If they fix these issues with later releases, I will pick them up. Until then...it is emulation and playing on actual ancient hardware for me.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 08 Jan : 13:41

Comments: 307

It's my understanding that there's a way to make some minor adjustments to the C-64 30-in-1 joystick to make it a touch more responsive, but apparently it still doesn't actually FIX it. If I didn't have a massive C-64/128 collection of hardware and software, I would probably get a 30-in-1 and modify it to use standard Commodore peripherals, but you're STILL better off with the real thing. With that said, if they do a second revision with a better joystick, it would make a damned fine TV game.

Alternately, if there's another Atari Flashback with accurate emulation, there would really be nothing else to hold one back from getting it. Pity each gets wrong what the other gets right. It's always something though in the world of necessary cost-cutting in the manufacturing process or trying to hit an uncomfortably tight release window.

bullet joe_jet | 08 Jan : 19:20

Comments: 11

Registered: 29 Mar : 14:08
Bill, thanks for the review. I have the 30 in 1 but not the Flashback.

I dont know why your review would be one "versus" the other however, since they really dont compete with each other, in my opinion, unless you think kids are buying these and are looking for value in a impulse purchase. If you are an atari fan, you buy the atari product, a C64 fan, you buy the C64 stick.

I am very impressed with the 30 in 1. I do notice problems with control, and i am going to make the suggested adjustments (sanding down the joystick points) that i have read fix most of the problems, when i get a chance.

Basically, i dont see how ANYONE would by the flashback with the poor emulation stated in your review. Cmon, how HARD is it for a multimillion dollar company to emulate the 2600?? the C64 is exponentially a more complex system and yet the emulation is PERFECT. This trash-in trash-out method of production by Jakks and Atari is going to kill a potentially huge market. Instead of getting it right and spurring repeat purchases of additional systems, they are souring buyers with the crap they are putting out and ruining future sales. Too bad this will be just a fad as a result instead of a legitimate way for people to easily enjoy the games of thier childhood and claim more fans of the genre.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 08 Jan : 19:52

Comments: 307

Well, first, let me answer why this is a "versus". First off, the Atari/Commodore rivalry is a classic one. The companies are different now, but the names still evoke that silly "my system is better than yours" battle from back in the day. The names Atari and Commodore invoke something basic in people, much like Sega versus Nintendo did years later. Finally, it's a versus because I got the surprise opportunity to review both at the same time when Evan brought them over (I thought initially I was just going to look at the Flashback). They're both TV game products, they're both hypothetically going after the same type of buyers. Finally, I think the "versus" part works because each gets something wrong the other gets right, so it's an interesting contrast. And on a side note, I always like to put some different spin on typical reviews whenever possible, so you may see stuff like this in the future.

As for the Flashback's emulation, it's my understanding that the whole system had to be designed, developed and brought to market in less than 10 months, so the emulation suffered. It shouldn't be a major deal to the "casual" gamer, because they wouldn't necessarily know how truly broken games like Asteroids are. If anything, it will make these casual buyers think worse of the original products than of the Flashback, which REALLY is not fair. Products like the Flashback hurt perceptions of classic hardware and games, nothing else. On the flip side, the poor control on the 30-in-1 may have the same effect for perceptions of the C-64. Something like, yeah, the games look, sound and move good, but boy the control sucked. Again, obviously not true. It's up to us to set the record straight whenever possible if we truly believe in our hobby.

bullet Gunstar | 09 Jan : 00:30
Comments: 3

Registered: 08 Jan : 23:39
I really appreciate this review. While I hadn't even heard of the C64 30-in-1 TVgame until just recently (I had heard of a project to put the C64 on a chip), I had been mildly excited over the announcement of the Flashback. I wasn't sure if I would actually buy the thing or not, I just liked the idea of a company named Atari releasing hardware again. I grew up with mainly Atari, so it's the focal point of my collecting. This review sort of goes hand-in-hand with the emulation vs. real hardware column too, since this is EMULATION ON HARDWARE...let me think about that for a second...still thinking...hmm. Anyway, I own an Atari 7800 and I also own the majority of the games on the Flashback, save for Sabetuer and Planet Smashers. So if I purchased the flashback it would be more just for the support of Atari and looking to the future with new hardware releases from them; God forbid I should dream of the possibility of them one day releasing a NEXT GEN console again! But I am a hardware guy, I HAVE to have the real thing, I've never been big into emulation, never used it on the PC at all. I have, however, used Atari 800 emulation and SMS emulation on the Dreamcast. O.K. back to the point...so a big issue with me and the Flashback was whether it was TRUE atari hardware or emulation, and of course now that I know it's emulated AND not even all that well, AND on, GOD FORBID, The hardware (NES on a chip) of Atari's old console-arch-rival (I am an AVID BIG N hater), I'm definately not going to buy it, I don't care if it has the name 'ATARI' slapped on it or not. These guys at the "new" Atari promised that they "get" the retro scene and what classic gamers/collectors want and then they go and commit sacrelig like this! How DARE they implement the games badly and on NES hardware! Shame on them! It SHOULD have been real 7800/2600 hardware with the original roms! I'm Glad I still have my 7800 and games (and I recently did an A/V mod on it: S-VIDEO, so the Flashback's got nothin' on me)! LONG LIVE REAL ATARI HARDWARE.
The C64 30-in-1 seems like more of a success, but then, I was always a Commodore hater too, back in the day, so I'm not interested in it (although at LEAST Commodore was a propriatary U.S. company-I own an Amiga 2000 now, and no longer hate Commodroe, if they were still around, I'd buy their Amiga's today over a PC)), no nostalgia ther for me and the C64, I'm an Atari 800 man. Atari desperately needs TRUE classic gamers who LOVED ATARI working for them, these guys said they were (classic gamer/retro fans), but to put out something like this, as far as I'm concerned is the equivelent of being the Anti-Christ of Atari! Sorry if I'm a bit too passionate about this for you guys, and sorry if I offended any Commodore or Nintendo fans, your all right, I've just no nostalgia for any of that stuff, I'e always love the underdog: ATARI.

bullet Gunstar | 09 Jan : 00:35
Comments: 3

Registered: 08 Jan : 23:39
It's a shame they went through all the trouble of "getting it right" with the look and feel of the Flashback only to make it a frankenstien with the emulated games...on NES hardware! Sacrelig!

bullet forcefield58 | 09 Jan : 10:06

Comments: 34

Registered: 23 Nov : 22:54
My son got the Sega Genesis "6 Games in One" TV system for Xmas, made by Radica USA. It has Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Kid Chameleon and Flicky. Plays all 6 games as if you were using the original Genesis system. No control issues at all. It actually plays the original Sonic game better than the Xbox CD I have. Playspeed is an issue with the Xbox version, for some strange reason.

The only thing you have to be concerned with is the batteries..it takes 4 AA batteries and they have to be fresh. I put some rechargeables in it at first and had no audio and the video sucked. Fresh batt's did the trick. Cheers

bullet davyK | 10 Jan : 05:08

Comments: 76

Registered: 19 Jan : 08:40
It amazes me how they can't get accurate 2600 and 7800 emulation in this day and age....until I think about economics - the NES-on-a-chip must be very cheap - pity there's doesn't seem to be any dev-expertise for it, which given the number of NES games produced ,is itself amazing.



bullet Bill Loguidice | 10 Jan : 11:06

Comments: 307

I have heard that if the developers were given more time, they believe they would have gotten almost perfect emulation from the NES-on-a-chip. I could see good Atari 2600 emulation, but I personally believe the Atari 7800 would still be a struggle for technology that is basically a contemporary, not a superior. The point is moot right now, as we ARE stuck with sub-par and frankly unacceptable emulation for all but the least discriminating. What's sad is that you have to read ALL the reviews and be VERY careful when buying ANY TV game to know what you're getting into--the quality of everything from the emulation/simulation of the software to the quality of the hardware (controls) vary SO much.

bullet Matt Barton | 10 Jan : 12:37

Comments: 169

Maybe we should consider adding a "Buyer's Guide" to Armchair Arcade. Or at least expand the matrix to include these games-in-a-stick.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 10 Jan : 14:57

Comments: 307

We'd need to make a separate second matrix to include TV games, Matt, just like we'd need a third matrix if we wanted to include controllers or anything else that is not a games-capable device that uses interchangable software, like the current requirements of the matrix. As time permits, I have to make several additions to the current matrix and update the photos.

bullet geogray | 10 Jan : 19:44
Comments: 9

Registered: 10 Jan : 19:19
Include me in the least discriminating population. While I absolutely love 'retrogaming', I'm not all that particular about how closely new renditions of the games are (compared to the original) as long as the 'feel' and gameplay are not altered significantly. That said, I think Atari came close with the flashback. Half of the games are still very enjoyable and, in a few cases, I prefer them to the original. Planet Smashers is my favorite flashback game. I also think it is better than the 7800 version (which, honestly, I have only played via emulation anyway.) Five more are ok and the remaining five are turkeys. Battlezone takes the prize for worst game on the unit. A truly pitiful implementation.
I've got several of these things now: the first Activision unit, the PacMan unit, Intellivision 25 in 1 (most of the games are shadows of the originials, but the play is ok,) Space Invaders and the Flashback unit. The Flashback and the Space Invaders are the best looking with an edge to the Space Invaders in overall coolness. I think it is also the most faithful. I bought it at Target after Christmas for ten bucks. If the Flashback were a tad bigger, one could put a VIA Nano-ITX in it and make a 'real' flashback...alas, it is too small.

For me, the biggest advantage these things have are: I don't have to buy the real things since I don't have the time or resources to do so; they are ultra portable; my 7 year old loves most of them; they are still fairly faithful to the gameplay and most are just fun to play. I know to those who truly LOVE the originals, nothing else will suffice. But then, why would you buy these if you have the original anyway?

One comment about the commodore thing...it's the real deal, is'nt it? No emulation anywhere, just a tiny board. There is a website (http://www.orrville.net/dtvhacking/) devoted to hacking it. I don't have one, I was never a big Commodore fan, though I did have a Plus4 and Vic 20.

Sorry if I offend anyone with my opinion, it is not the intent. I just think the units should'nt be compared to the 'real' things and people are quick to do so. I dunno...maybe I am missing something.

Great site, by the way.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 11 Jan : 00:05

Comments: 307

First off, "geogray", opinions are welcome, dissenting or otherwise. Always speak your mind! Anyway, ironically I thought Battlezone was acceptable on the Flashback. It was the Atari 7800 games that I had particular problems with. Purist or not, fair to compare to the original or not, the 7800 games in particular have major speed, color and sound issues. On their own, it may not be that noticeable (though frankly I noticed right away BEFORE the 1:1 comparison), but a quick comparison with the original and the SIGNIFICANT flaws are clearly unacceptable. These aren't even close to matching the originals. Of course these devices have their places, but they don't have to get the emulation/simulation THAT bad, right?

The Commodore 30-in-1 is basically the real thing, yes. There are some minor differences, but for all intents and purposes, it's almost perfect.

bullet davyK | 11 Jan : 04:41

Comments: 76

Registered: 19 Jan : 08:40
Thinking about it (which I seldom do) attempting 7800 emulation on a NES is just silly - as Bill says it was a contemporary of the NES (even though it sat on the shelf for years before being released against the NES) and it was in its day a fairly powerful sprite shifter - which the NES wasn't.


bullet geogray | 12 Jan : 17:02
Comments: 9

Registered: 10 Jan : 19:19
Bill, I understand what you are saying. Admittedly, I have never played the games on a real 7800, so I had no true frame of reference. You are right...the ones that are bad should not be THAT bad.
As for Battlezone, it was one of my favorite arcade and 2600 games so was very excited to have it on the flashback. Unfortunately, it does'nt come close. NONE of the obstacles are present. The control is bad. The ufo's are far too easy to shoot. The background is wrong. The sound is bad. It is by far the worst of the lot.

And are'nt these games rewritten anyway? There's no emulation going on at all, as far as I know. That would explain why the games are different. I would suspect that the programmers probably did'nt play the originals or, at least, had no real appreciation for what they were churning out.

Cheers and happy gaming!

bullet number6 | 12 Jan : 22:44

Comments: 5

Registered: 16 Jan : 06:33
Great article Bill. I got the C64 30 in 1 as a Christmas present and I have really enjoyed playing it. I did have some trouble playing Jumpman Jr. because of the joystick I think, but I had no problem with Impossible Mission (of course this game is still impossible for me to beat).

On a side note I noticed that K-Bee toys stores are going out of business where I live and they had the C64 30 in 1 heavily discounted. I picked up another one for only $10! I was half tempted to buy 2 more at that price.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 13 Jan : 00:07

Comments: 307

Wow, I didn't realize Kaybee Toys also was allowed to sell the Commodore 30-in-1 along with QVC, number6. This is the first I heard of such a thing. Heck, at $10, I'd pick up two and experiment on one of them, even though I need neither, since I have all the real stuff and access to all of the software on it and more. I'll try my local Kaybee's and see what I can come up with.

Geogray, there definitely were noted Atari people like Curt Vendel who at least "advised" on the product. Again, it's my understanding it was mostly a time issue, which is why the hardware in question was utilized and certain games are very off. If we didn't have these companies trying to hit these ridiculous holiday windows, we'd all have better products for it. They got the controls right, so there's always hope for another iteration of the device.

bullet geogray | 13 Jan : 02:27
Comments: 9

Registered: 10 Jan : 19:19
Bill, you are right...I completely forgot about Curt Vendel. I think he is the one who advised others on the Atari Age forums to wait til june, I think. Should be interesting to see what Atari does next. A 'real' console would be nice, but I won't hold my breath.

Looks like I'll make a trip to my local Kay-Bee too. I don't recall seeing the Commodore thing there, only Inty 25 and the two Namco units.


bullet Bill Loguidice | 13 Jan : 10:22

Comments: 307

Indeed, geogray, a real console would be very nice. They should develop a device that does one of two things. A, either take real cartridges and start re-releasing them again, or B, take flash cards with game bundles on them. It would be interesting to see if the market could handle a classic console re-release that actually takes some type of removable cartridges. After all, that really is the next logical step beyond what the Atari Flashback has done.

It's obvious that there's a HUGE market for TV games devices, so maybe nostalgia/interest will also drive the re-emergence of the classic console. It would be nice, as there would immediately be a bigger audience for all those wonderful new homebrew games (assuming Atari chooses a compatible option).

All speculation of course. In other news, it looks like a Coleco TV game is possibly in the works, potentially ticking off yet another piece of classic technology getting the nostalgic re-release treatment. It will be interesting to see what they do with that (a new company apparently bought the rights to certain Coleco and third party properties).

bullet Bill Loguidice | 13 Jan : 13:21

Comments: 307

Well, here's another state (NJ) checking in that indeed Kaybee Toys is selling the Commodore 30-in-1's for $10 each! I bought two: one to use and one to hack. For that price, why not? I certainly don't need either one, but a good deal is a good deal. There were plenty in stock too. Plenty.

Thanks, number6, for the heads-up, and to the other people for checking in saying that they got theirs too.

They have other things deeply discounted too, including board and video games. Check it out while there's still time!

By the way, as of today, QVC STILL has the 30-in-1 for $33 or $57 for two. So I guess right now you can buy THREE for less than the price of one at Kaybee right now.

bullet geogray | 13 Jan : 16:28
Comments: 9

Registered: 10 Jan : 19:19
I was wondering how long it would take for a Coleco unit to come out. I'm sure whomever bought the properties will see how well the Atari and Inty sticks did and decide they want a piece of the pie too.
Now, where's the Odyssey 2 and Fairchild Channel F units?
: )

bullet CartCollector | 21 Jan : 17:48

Comments: 2

Registered: 10 Jan : 21:43
Another thing against the Flashback is Atari Anthology for PS2 and Xbox. $20 = 67 2600 games! 67. There's also 13 classic Atari arcade games in there, too. Over 3 times the games on the Flashback for half the price! (If you own a PS2 or Xbox.) I wouldn't know about the emulation/control, though. But it looks like a good deal.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 22 Jan : 23:58

Comments: 307

Just another update to the article, I've been using additional Commodore 30-in-1's and the control issues don't seem as bad as with the unit I initially reviewed. Still not where it should be, but not bad. However, the one I have been using may have a slight video issue. I guess manufacturing quality varies a bit on these. Nevertheless, I'm going to try another unit and see what results I get with that one.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 23 Jan : 02:46

Comments: 307

UPDATE, Final Statements on the Commodore 30-in-1: Well, counting the review unit, I've now used three different Commodore 30-in-1's. The Commodore 30-in-1 I reviewed was previously opened, so that may have contributed to the extra control issues (making a bad situation even worse), so take that as you will. As for the other two units, the control stick seems improved, but the video quality has a slight shimmering effect that is a bit disconcerting. For what it's worth, the latter two units were the ones purchased recently at a Kay-Bee toy store for $10 each, while the review unit was purchased by Evan Koblentz through QVC at full price and soon after the devices were made available. I'm sure I would have noted the display "shimmer" during the review for the article if it was present, but since I do not presently have access to the original device, I can't confirm. Either way, this is yet another caveat in making an informed decision about the purchase of this device. If you can get past any control or video anomolies, the games themselves are indeed fun.

bullet Mark1970 | 23 Jan : 18:34

Comments: 114

I am curious after the PAL version of the cbm 30-in-1 device.

bullet forcefield58 | 23 Jan : 19:04

Comments: 34

Registered: 23 Nov : 22:54
Ahhh, just saw the Atari Anthology for Xbox on the web so will be heading to Best Buy to pick that up. Interesting how the CBM 30 in 1 performance changes with the unit...seems like a lack of quality control somewhere.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 23 Jan : 20:10

Comments: 307

The most interesting thing about Atari Anthology for Xbox (it's also available for PS2 and I believe the PC) is that it is one of the few games (Dragon's Lair 3D being the other) to run in the highest defintion HDTV can handle, 1080i. Funny playing classic games in hi-def, but I love that they could do that! I'll definitely be getting it eventually.

bullet forcefield58 | 23 Jan : 20:33

Comments: 34

Registered: 23 Nov : 22:54
Just checked the Atari site and it's only avail for PS2 and Xbox. The Atari anniversary edition is avail for PC and has 12 classic games on it.

You mentioned the HDTV capability...I just figured out that's what all the Xbox games reference is the different HDTV resolutions they can handle. Haven't hooked up the system to the wide-screen TV yet...guess I'll have to try and see if it makes a diff.

Actually, the Sega TV system we got over Xmas might be interesting to watch on the big screen...Sonic III and the others. I'd probably end up with a major headache though.

bullet Bill Loguidice | 23 Jan : 22:02

Comments: 307

If you do hook up your Xbox to an HDTV, be sure to go into the control panel and configure the resolutions that your television supports (480p, 720p or 1080i). Of course you also need the correct cable, otherwise it won't work. Same goes for the sound configuration, which needs an optical audio cable and control panel configuration for up 5.1 DTS Dolby Digital. The good thing is you set it once and forget about it.

Now obviously TV games use just about the worse possible connection, but they're lowest common denominator devices anyway. Hopefully eventually these things will at least give the option for component video, though of course even SVIDEO would be better than the standard composite.

bullet davyK | 24 Jan : 05:24

Comments: 76

Registered: 19 Jan : 08:40
The PC has "Atari 80 Classic Games in One" released in PAL land in 2003. Its very good - check out the AA review section for more info on it.

bullet geogray | 25 Jan : 22:43
Comments: 9

Registered: 10 Jan : 19:19
The company that now owns the Coleco name (and, presumably, IP rights) is Techno Source - the people behind the Inty 25 in 1 'console.' http://www.technosourceusa.com/products.htm
nothing on the site about a video game though. they do seem to be bringing out the hand helds later this year.

bullet kirin jensen | 01 Mar : 20:41
Comments: 8

Registered: 12 Nov : 03:10
Having read through both the article and the resulting comments, I have to say I'm surprised noone mentioned the major minus of the flashback: no catridge slot. Now, given that they seemingly aren't really emulating the 2600/7800 but merely giving you asimulated version of the games(if I undserstand these things properly) that's understandable, but... how many new homebrew games are there out there foor the 2600? How many carts are there floating around thrift shops? If they do a second release of the flashback they should really consider a cart slot.
Oh, and I know the person who suggested a new plug'n'play O2 unit was only kidding; still, I sure would buy one if it included the following:

1) K.C. Munchkin
2) K.C.'s Crazy Chase
3) Pickaxe Pete
4) UFO
5) Killer Bees
6) Attack of the Timelord
7) Freedom Fighters
Turtles
9) Super Bee
10) Shark Hunter
11) Robot City
12) Flashpoint (which means you'd really be getting an O3)
13) a cartridge slot (so I could play KTAA!)
Now, I know that ain't never gonna happen- you can buy an O2 plus games on e-bay for between $10-$20- but I can dream, can't I?

bullet Bill Loguidice | 02 Mar : 09:35

Comments: 307

Well, of course the next logical step for these TV games type of devices would be to have a type of cartridge slot to plug in additional games, original or of a new slot design. However, the issue, particularly with the Atari Flashback, is that it is nowhere near an acceptable recreation of the architecture of a real Atari 7800/2600, merely a poor emulation via a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) "on a chip". With that said, there's no telling what the second iteration of the Atari Flashback will be. You just know that at some point someone will try to create yet another videogame paradigm and re-introduce a low cost "retro" game system that accepts cartridges. As you pointed out, the Atari 2600 is one of the best to target, since new cartridges are being created all of the time. However, without the ability to act as gatekeeper, companies will be resistant to making a standards compatible slot, so likely the only way we'll see it is with a proprietary connector.

In actuality, the Commodore 64 30-in-1 is already capable of running original C-64 software, so creating a device with a standard cartridge port for that would not be as big of a deal. The odds are against it though from a business standpoint.

bullet Fractalus! | 02 Mar : 10:53

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
You just know that at some point someone will try to create yet another videogame paradigm and re-introduce a low cost "retro" game system that accepts cartridges.


I've seen several of these in Japan for the Snes, NES and Sega systems (SMS and Genesis).

bullet Bill Loguidice | 02 Mar : 11:51

Comments: 307

" I've seen several of these in Japan for the Snes, NES and Sega systems (SMS and Genesis)."

Those wouldn't be official, obviously, correct? There are a lot of things that can be done/are done when there is no regard for copyright, whether the ownership if actively benefitting from the product or not.

The big problem with the current batch of TV games is that each device is just as bulky and physically space-consuming as the last. The only defense of this new device for every few games is that these - due to their relatively low prices - are classifiable as toys and therefore "disposable". Of course advantages are that each device can have its own specialized controller and they really are plug and play.

There are many ways to create a new market with an official device that accepts interchangable games, including a type of subscription-based service where you download what you pay for to a device's flash memory all the way up to accepting standard cartridges. I see the former happening long before the latter and most likely from a company like Atari/Infogrammes rather than a Jakks or a smaller producer of these products.

By the way, I think the biggest offender of the TV Games concept is the Frogger plug and play, which only has the one game - arcade frogger - on it. It also tends to cost as much as or more than even the multi-game TV games. Bizarre that...

bullet Fractalus! | 02 Mar : 12:01

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
Actually they were sold in legitimate stores. I posted several links before in my "Japan" thread. Here's the post:

"Cool stuff i saw today; the company "Gametech" has this new console that lets you play old famicom cartridges! And the best part, it retails for about $35. It comes in two colors.

Black model:
http://www.gametech.co.jp/products/catalog/2226/2226_1.html

White and Red
http://www.gametech.co.jp/products/catalog/2226/2227_1.html

And they also have this one...
http://www.gametech.co.jp/products/catalog/2215/2215_1.html

The ad says it plays 8-bit cartridges... but doesn't seem to specify which system. Looks like Sega tome... "


bullet Bill Loguidice | 02 Mar : 12:11

Comments: 307

Yeah, but even the grey market 50-in-1 Famicom/NES systems were sold at legitimate retailers in this country as well. Doesn't mean anything. I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm not talking about clone systems, but legitimate releases...

bullet Fractalus! | 02 Mar : 12:16

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
Yeah, you're right.

I wouldn't mind getting my hands on one of these device though:

The 8bit game adaptor for GBA SP:
http://www.gametech.co.jp/products/catalog/2332/2332_1.html

bullet Fractalus! | 02 Mar : 12:19

Comments: 76

Registered: 26 Mar : 11:41
I think since they're not offering any games they might be able to get away with it, in the same way the Coleco Gemini was able to co-exist with the Atari 2600.

bullet kirin jensen | 02 Mar : 15:38
Comments: 8

Registered: 12 Nov : 03:10
Actually I'm just waiting for the release of the all-new color Vectrex. You know, like, forever....

bullet six | 11 Mar : 18:02
Comments: 1

Registered: 11 Mar : 17:44
Ok, the control stick of the 30-in-1 might not be the best but now we have this coming up: Speed-link SL-6602 Competition Pro USB.

From rewievs I belive this definatly has the right feel. It seems to be the the genuine thing in a new version.

So I see a possible mod project here. Merge the control stick of the Competition Pro with the hardware in the 30-in-1 and your gaming experience would be optimal


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