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CROWE giant review of FB2

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Hey everybody. Here's the article/review I wrote for my own indie mag about the FB2 :)


A lot of it mentions stuff you're already familiar with, so here's my short version, first:


Curt delivered, others failed a little.


The unit is a real Atari playing real Atari games, which beats the snot outta previous versions. I ran it through a 10 year-old, 20" Zenith, and all the old games were rock solid...while a few new games shook about a millimetre...barely noticable. I was surprised that the printing around the buttons was on a STICKER..but what the heck? The sticks were a little loose, but I just tightened them up.


$46 Canadian with tax...about a buck a game :)


The box SUCKS. I could have done a better job in 2 full days. Some screenshot pics aren't centred, the screenshots of Lunar Lander do not match the game...the copy is silly...the front of the box shoulda had two rows of people, and more girls.


The manual is passable, but HOW COULD THEY omit all the game variations? We don't know what we're selecting! How to solve the problem? Lose the full colour manual cover, and lose the glossy. That'll give you several more black and white normal paper pages to get into the variations. Print them in a small font, but PRINT THEM.


Some games BLOW. 3D tic tac toe? Hangman? Video checkers? Come on! Why not Night Driver or Circus Atari? Or the funny Basketball? Some are BAD CHOICES :x


Lunar Lander sucks. Space War is more fun, for crying out loud. The games that were developed really quick? Hmmm....I don't know. I'd rather have one good new one than lots of weak ones. I do like some new ones, though. The Asteroids hacks don't impress me...I wanted the original cotton candy Asteroids. As for a hack, my Stella is fucked at the moment, but I do recall an Asteroids made by somebody here that was all white dots. It was GREAT! I'd rather have the old Asteroids and the white dotted one as a bonus. There's a lot of talent here; it's a shame those games weren't included, but I have no info on that process, and I can't comment on it. I just wish some MORE of the awesome brews had've been included.


As for the MANY other amazing 2600 games, I know the licensing gets in the way. No Pac Man, no Space Invaders...no Berzerk...no Empire Strikes Back...damn. But maybe they shoulda included that old dog Custer's Revenge as an egg...maybe not...but there have gotta be some old weird games out there that could've been picked up for next to nothing as an egg. Don't get me wrong, I'm GLAD they included Breakout and Warlords–I just wish they coulda dug up an old thing like Mangia? Who owns Spectravision or Tigervision these days? Who cares? Why not?


Other than those issues, nothing alters the fact that this is a great unit. Curt delivered the real deal. My quibbling is about games choices, other crap, and things I can't comment on because I wasn't on the team.




The Atari thing is like throwing a handful of colured Chicklets on the screen, with an 80s Casio keyboard providing the bleeps and boops. I WANT MORE NEW GAMES! WOO!


Here's my giant review. Some parts are squished, but I only had two paper pages for the mag:


You think we at CROWE care about the XBOX 2 (360)? Hell no!

All that crap means is more bad games presented with photorealism, at the price of close to a grand for the machine and a few clumsy, first-gen games. This is where it's at, kids! The new Atari retro console.

But is it just a geezer pleaser? No, it's still fun today. We'll fill you in, but first a little backstory.

The Atari 2600 debuted in 1977. It was in production until 1989, and then a little longer outside of America. No other console has had such a long history spanning three decades, or sold as many systems in America (over thirty million). New games are still being produced for it to this day by hardcore hobbyist fans. The first Atari 2600 shipped with two one-button joysticks, two paddles and one game, Combat. There were eight other titles available separately.

Atari steadily built up its popularity and library of games, and it was well positioned when the arcade smash Space Invaders hit in 1980.

This was the first "killer app," as people would buy the system just so they could play that one game at home. From there onward, Atari went from success to success, even beating the technically superior Intellivision in sales. Atari also spawned the first 3rd party software house, Activision, as a few employees, upset that they weren't allowed to have their names credited on the games' instruction manuals, left and started their own company. The Activision games were surprising good, and the competition and added quality only made the console itself even more popular.

Things went to shit in the winter of 1982, as Atari released the terrible (yet super-hyped) E.T., a game rushed to market to be delivered in time to cash in on the movie that Christmas. They also released the incredibly popular Pac Man, but even though the game sold well, it was a lousy translation of the game, and it damaged customer loyalty. This was a shame, as the sequel, Ms Pac Man, was released shortly after, and it was a great translation. During this time, Atari settled their lawsuits with 3rd party game makers, and agreed to just take a percentage of the sales. This led to an explosion of 3rd party developers, all looking to cash in. Although great games continued to be made during this golden era, the market got flooded with crap throughout 1983.

Stores were overwhelmed with bad games at low prices (you get what you pay for). In 1984 Atari sold their home video game division to an asshole named Jack Tramiel, who believed that home computers would replace video game systems. No further mention of the 2600 or the replacement 7800 was made that year. 1985 saw the release of only a few games from 3rd parties. By 1986 the market was thought to be dead, but then Nintendo walked in from Japan with a better management system, and took over everything. Atari released the newer 7800s they had in storage and lowered the price of the 2600 to less than $50, and although they rode Nintendo's coattails for a time, they had dropped the ball. In about three years the 2600 was toast, and so was Atari, as far as the home console market was concerned.

The Atari name was then sold and resold many times over the coming years, and driven into the ground, finally being picked up by a nondescript disc drive manufacturer. It was then sold two more times, now being owned by Infogrames. Last year, Infogrames released the Atari Flashback, but the unit didn't deliver the classic Atari games it promised, as the technology used was really a Nintendo system on a chip, and the game translations were not authentic, to say the least. Fans of the Atari legacy demanded a true recreation, and now, with the release of the Atari Flashback 2, they have got it. The FB2 is essentially a 2600 on a chip, running carbon copies of real Atari games. The joysticks are the same, too. No, there are no paddles, but since the inputs are the same, you can plug them in if you have them lying around. The console itself is less than half its original size, and has no cartridge slot. It does, (continued from previous page) however, come with 42 built-in titles.

So, the question is: Are they any good? Are they still fun? Do they all live up to the boast "The games that defined a generation?" Some do.

Here's the list, and our ratings, with special treatment for the fist game reviewed here:

Adventure, 1980: Still fun.

This game was the first graphical adventure, the first game with an Easter Egg (hidden thing), and it sold over a million copies at about $25 per copy. For his trouble, the programmer, Warren Robinett, received his regular annual pay of 22 grand. Genius goes unrewarded.

Adventure II, NEW GAME: Fun. A fine follow-up to a great game.

Haunted House: Still fun. Give it a chance on Halloween. Thunder and lightning and bats and ghosts and spiders.

Return to Haunted House NEW GAME: Fun. Harder, with scarier and faster ghosts.

Secret Quest: Fun. From 1989, and new to me, as it likely didn't make it to the old Consumers Distributing catalog before the market soured. Fast action.

Wizard NEW GAME: Undecided. Too early to tell, but I'm not crazy about it. Probably much better as a two player game, which it can be.

Arcade Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe KINDA NEW: Still fun. Both are hacks of the original 2600 Asteroids, which looked like you were shooting at cotton candy (the arcade version was a vector game). Both are fun upgrades. The

former replaces the "candy" with outlines. The latter lets you use a shield.

Arcade PONG: Still fun. Plays pretty good with the joysticks, but really shines with the paddles. The fact that it is still fun after thirty years is a testament to good gameplay over photorealistic, 3D graphics.

Battlezone: Still fun. Awesome game. Graphically different from the original vector arcade game, but all the elements are still there.

Centipede: Still fun. Great translation of the frantic gameplay. But, you also get

Millipede NEW ALTERNATE VERSION: Still fun. The sequel to Centipede, and slightly different from the original 1984 cartridge release. A trackball game in the arcade, still served well by the tried and true Atari joystick.

Lunar Lander NEW GAME TRANSLATION: It sucks. I remember Lunar Lander from the arcade. A smooth vector game that I would consider the thinking man's videogame. Not flashy, but the gameplay was awesome. Released in 1979 and overshadowed by Atari's monster hit Asteroids. Why does it suck? Because the physics suck. The game was cobbled together in less than two months in order to be finished in time for the FB2's release, and it shows. Graphically, it wasn't much in the arcade, so it wouldn't take much to do a good

translation...but I guess you can't win every time.

Missile Command: Still fun. Another trackball game which manages well with a joystick. It'll kick your ass and have you coming back for more.

Space Duel NEW GAME TRANSLATION: Buggy but fun. Atari arcade game from 1982. Essentially simultaneous two player Asteroids, with bonus levels. Should have been much better.

Caverns of Mars NEW GAME: Pretty good. Reminiscent of the later stages of Konami's 1981 Scramble. Playfield flickers way too much.

Quadrun: Sucks. First 2600 game to have speech synthesis. Plays like the

bastard of Midway's 1980 arcade Space Zap and Imagic's 2600 Cosmic Ark.

Saboteur NEWLY RELEASED PROTOTYPE: Fun. Fresh from 1984. You try to stop the construction of a missile.

Space War: Sucks. This title was discontinued shortly after being released. Almost no graphics, almost no sound. So bad it might be good for a laugh.

Yar's Revenge: Still great fun. Originally intended as a translation of the arcade Star Castle, this game developed a colourful history and style all its own.

Yar's Return NEW GAME: Kinda fun, but will be updated. A sequel originally meant to include a 2600 Vanguard level at first, with this game being the boss area. A future revision of the console might be made, with this added to it.

3D Tic-Tac-Toe: Sucks huge. Who chose this? Why???

Aquaventure NEWLY RELEASED PROTOTYPE: Fun. Still early, but fun. Atari Climber NEW GAME: Fun. Derivative of several climbers, but good. Combat: Still fun. The purity of two tanks pitted against each other.

Combat 2 NEWLY RELEASED PROTOTYPE: Sucks. If it ain't broke, don't fix it...or fuck it up if you're gonna do a sequel.

Dodge 'em: Still fun. Dead simple but good...even better with two players.

Fatal Run: Fun. Released in 1990 only in Europe. It's like 1987's Roadblasters. Frog Pond NEWLY RELEASED PROTOTYPE: Fun. Looks stupid, but try it!

Hangman: A drag, unless with a second player entering the words. Doesn't even hang a guy. The figure depicted is a monkey. Piece of crap. Why?

Human Cannonball: Sucks. Again I ask: Who chose these games?

Maze Craze: Fun...if you like mazes, that is. Generates random mazes.

Off the Wall: Kinda fun. From 1989, and pretty much a weak Breakout ripoff.

Outlaw: Still fun. Looks awful, but has some value as a two player game.

Pitfall: Still really fun. An Activision classic. Its sequel is even better.

Radar Lock: Undecided. From 1989, it's new to me. Too early to tell.

River Raid: Still fun. Another winner from Activision.

Save Mary NEWLY RELEASED PROTOTYPE: Fun, and a unique concept. Video Checkers: Fun, if you like Checkers. Otherwise, it sucks.

Video Chess: Fun, in that it's a chess game, and, it cheats. Seriously!

Breakout and Warlords: Still fun, and Warlords is a timeless multiplayer game. You have to hunt down paddles to play them, as they are the bonus games, and you need to enter 1972 (year of PONG) to play them. After you power up, push the stick up 1 time, down 9 times, up 7 times, and down 2 times. It'll work.

There's plenty more to talk about, but as usual, we're running out of paper. Overall, I'd say that Curt Vendel, the project's hardware leader, delivered the real deal, and did so in a package that is a deal at $46 with tax (available at Zellers at print time). The new games, however, suffer a bit. All they needed was more time, yes, but I would rather have had fewer, but better new games.

The choice of games is slightly, but nevertheless, flawed. Why include Atari dogs like 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, and leave out Atari gems like Night Driver, or the goofy fun of 1978's Basketball? There are many other great 2600 games like Berzerk, Wizard of Wor, Bump 'n' Jump, Ms Pac Man, Frogger, Phoenix, and The Empire Strikes Back, to name just a few, but they couldn't be included because of licensing issues. So yes, some of the games included did indeed define a generation, but others didn't, and still others are missing from their deserved places of honour. Also, the instruction booklet neglects to document the many variations that many of these games have, some of which make a big difference. Thankfully, you can find them all online at the following website:


You might think this is a glorified advertisement for the FB2. Yeah, right. As if Atari would be paying me for anything. I wish.

The graphic and sound palette of the Atari 2600 is just unique–it's a genuine style, and not "old." The retro "fad" was being dismissed as a "fad" as far back as 1995, when classic compilations began showing up on the Sony Playstation, as its processor was able to emulate the previous state of the art in arcade

technology. You might as well dismiss the Beatles as a "fad," too. Has pop music gotten better or worse over the last thirty years? Well, has it? It has not.

If you note the prices in the hock shops, you'll notice that an old Atari now costs more than an old Playstation. I think that says it all. Atari rules. SC

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The manual is passable, but HOW COULD THEY omit all the game variations? We don't know what we're selecting! How to solve the problem? Lose the full colour manual cover, and lose the glossy. That'll give you several more black and white normal paper pages to get into the variations. Print them in a small font, but PRINT THEM.



They is me, at least for the manual content (not the design and layout). And it was left out because I was only given that many pages to work with by the higher ups at Atari. In fact, I was given less then that and pushed for what there was now because it couldn't be done in anything less. All I was told to give were short blurbs that gave the basic game play. How to solve the problem was the direction I put in the manual to visit the website which in turn has the full online manual.

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It was an Atari problem, and not a design flaw.


Still, an online solution isn't best. We all know addresses change, content changes, etc. But, that isn't your fault, either. You actually did a fine job with what you were given to work with :)




The original proposal was to include the manual on CD in html format, but Atari decided not to because they didnt want to create the feeling that someone had to set up the FB2 around their computer and wanted the small print manual instead. So the additional web site based manual (which was my idea) was the next best solution.


Atari.com's web address is not changing any time soon. ;)

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It's actually a darn good idea, it's just that the address for that manual (don't have it here-currently the whole thing is at a bud's house) might change by one character, or maybe Atari might decide out of the blue to focus more on an FB3, and not leave any old manuals up.


Y'know...stuff like that.


I'm really against the glossy, full colour cover. Once they buy it, they don't need to be sold any more with a fancy manual, so the manual shoulda been bigger, inclusive, plain paper and all grayscale.


Just my 2¢...


...which in American dollars equals 0.0000000000023.5¢



Edited by sidcrowe
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