by Mark Michel
As a video game collector, I’m always on the lookout for new acquisitions for my extensive collection. While I am largely an Xbox gamer nowadays, I still enjoy playing games from my youth; especially my beloved Atari 2600. The Atari was a fantastic 8-bit system that had a plethora of titles to its library and some of the most beloved games of all-time to boot.
But while I have a working Atari 2600 tucked nicely away in its hard-plastic carrying case, I have not been able to play it due to the fact that the newer HD TVs don’t generally support the hookups for the Atari.
Imagine my surprise and joy at finding out that Hyperkin – a company that specializes in bringing old console systems to the new HD format, recently released a new Retcon console that allows users to play their original Atari 2600 cartridges once more. Hyperkin’s previous entries into the retro console arena have all been well-received. Their most-recent console, the Retcon 5 (which allows gamers to play nearly every Nintendo-based cartridge along with Sega Genesis cartridges) was so popular when it came out that it became hard to find for a while. But that system would set the stage for their latest endeavor, their Atari console, the Hyperkin 77.
The Retron 77 is one sleek, smooth and eye-catching little console that has a pretty small footprint on my entertainment deck. The console has a sticker which wraps around the top of it which gives the look and feel of a “Heavy Sixer”- a woodgrain look for those who can appreciate the nostalgia of the original Atari 2600 console. The front of the console has a more modern look to it with six steel-looking buttons and one switch. Two of the buttons allow features never allowed on the original Atari; a button to save a game in progress, and one to load a saved game. Another button allows you to cycle through the various game modes, and then the standard “reset” button which starts the game into action. Two buttons directly over the controller ports, allow the user to select the player difficulty.
The controller ports support both the included Atari 2600-style controller – which has fire buttons on both the left and right. The original controller only had 1. A nice change for those who are lefties, like me. They also support the original Atari 2600 stick controller and the various paddle and trackball controllers. This feature was one of the key points I felt made this a must-have system.
If the front of the system was revolutionary, the back was even more revolutionary! The back has 2 ports; one for the included HD USB cord, and a micro power cord which can be hooked into the included adapter which will fit every standard electrical outlet. But the new features don’t stop there. There are also several switches that will enable you to take your Atari gaming to new levels. One of the switches allows you to designate which aspect ratio your TV has the other buttons allow you to switch from color to black and white viewing. The final button is one of the most unique features I’ve ever heard of on a console – it allows you to play the games in a way that you can experience glitches or levels you never thought you could reach.
There is also a tiny 128MB memory card stored in a small slot along the back of the console, so you can store games already in progress – something the original Atari 2600 never had.
When I turned on my system for the first time, I felt as though I was transported back in time to 1978, when my best friend John had gotten his own Atari 2600 for Christmas. Seeing Pac-Man for the first time in HD, reminded me of what it was like back in 1978 when my friend first introduced me to the Atari over that wonderful gaming Christmas.
The games in HD are considerably more sharp – and crisp than they were in 1978, but they played just the same as the original console. The controller felt similar to the original stick controller, but with the added benefit of having a “fire” button on either side of the joystick.
The sounds were quite a bit better than on the original system, largely because the sound in an HD TV are better than an old tube-based TV.
And for those of you who find you have a limited amount of console space in your entertainment unit like I do, fear not. The Retron 77 utilizes the same power cord and HD cord that the Retron2 HD system (NES/SNES console) uses. Just swap consoles and re-use the cords and presto! You are ready to play Atari games.
At the time I write this, I have so far tried 15 titles, and all have worked. One of my most favorite carts from the late 70s that is now in my current Atari 2600 collection is Donkey Kong, and when I initially booted it up, it wasn’t initially reading it. I thought there might be a license issue, because my Retron 77 gave me a screen for utilizing licenses. But it turns out the cart just needed to be blown free of dust; a typical issue with the older cartridges. I’m sure many of my fellow retro gamers can relate. I was able to get to the 2nd screen in Donkey Kong before losing my last life but hearing the sounds and seeing the graphics for Donkey Kong on my Retron 77 brought back so many memories of my early gaming days.
I was eager to test out one of my more prized cartridges – a Xonox Double-Ender cartridge. I was fortunate enough to locate one of these gems at a flea market a number of years ago but hadn’t tested it since I put my 2600 into its carrying case and into my game “Vault” – otherwise known as my bedroom closet.
I made sure the ends were both clear of dust and plugged-in side 1 of the card, and sure enough, Spike’s Peak came right up. I tried the game, even though I had never played this particular title. I couldn’t get past the first screen, because I didn’t know the mechanics of this game. But undeterred, I flipped the cart around and tried Ghost Manor. It looked just as interesting as Spike’s Peak, but alas, I was even less adept at this title.
Nonetheless, I know the Retron 77 will be a staple in my retro gaming from here on out. It lets me play some of my favorite games, in their original cartridge format. I have to obtain a new set of paddle controllers, since my originals are pretty well worn-out, but that’s an easy find. The most difficult thing I need to worry about now is which of the over 100 cartridges I will want to play from my Atari library.
From a classic 8-bit gamer’s perspective, the Retron 77 will be well worth the money spent on it (around $80 on Ebay currently – with 1 controller). If you have a large collection of Atari cartridges, you’ll have plenty of fun re-living your vintage gaming.