Atari 5200 SuperSystem
The Atari 5200 was introduced in November, 1982 as Atari’s second generation 8-bit video game system. It featured advanced analog joysticks, an arcade-like trak-ball, more sophisticated games than the 2600, and absolutely striking industrial design by Regan Cheng. The Atari 5200 was originally conceived as a direct competitor to Intellivision, though it wound up competing primarily with ColecoVision released just weeks before.
Interestingly, Atari didn’t present the 5200 as a direct replacement for the 2600, but a higher-end alternative to compliment the 2600 in the existing product line. Atari’s strategy was to outflank Mattel on both sides, pinning Intellivision between the extremely popular 2600 on one end, and the advanced 5200 on the other. This led to Atari dividing its focus between the two systems, rather than on a unified path forward.
Much of the 5200′s technology was designed in 1978 as a second generation game system to replace the 2600, which would be obsolete by 1980. As the project neared completion Atari chose to repackage the game system as the more profitable 400/800 personal computers released in 1979. Without a replacement, the 2600 continued far beyond its expiration date. Atari once again folded the technology back into a game system, introduced as the 5200 – only after losing what would’ve been a four-year leap on the market.
Atari’s next generation of fun and games.
Games in the Atari 5200’s library are a near-perfect snapshot of the era. Classic arcade games and Atari favorites are popular titles on the 5200. Launch titles included Super Breakout, Galaxian and Space Invaders. Third party releases include Star Wars, Pitfall!, and Frogger among others. Atari also released other hits like Missile Command, Centipede and Pole Position. A wonderful home-brew community has added original games, along with new ports of Tempest, Crystal Castles, and many others. The 5200 is not compatible with Atari 2600 games, though an adapter is available. An 7800 games adapter was in the works, but never released.
Waka, waka, waka.
Peter Venkman had nothing on Pac-Man when it came to gobbling ghosts. Pac-Man made waves when it came to the 5200, marking the first time a home system offered a real version of Pac-Man that felt like the arcade game. Atari’s first Pac-Man on the 2600 suffered from the limitations of the system, but as time went on renditions of Pac-Man got better, especially on the Atari 5200. Later 5200 systems came packaged with Pac-Man included inside the box. The 5200 also has great renditions of Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man and Super Pac-Man. Who you gonna call? Atari ain’t afraid of no ghost!
Atari games, the way they were meant to be played.
Too often the Atari experience is lost in translation. Atari Flashback consoles have brought classic games to a whole new generation, and emulation democratizes gaming for everybody. But many times there’s something missing. It’s a feeling. An ethereal emotion triggered through the glowing phosphorescence of a television set, or graphics flickering along the curvature of a screen. When you play an Atari game the way they were meant to be played – on an actual Atari – you’re getting the genuine experience. The feel of the joystick in your hand. The responsiveness of the paddle. The artwork on the cartridge label. It’s a window back through time. It all adds up to a sum greater than its parts and it’s an experience that cannot be replicated any other way. Real Atari systems touch our hearts, and that’s something that’s truly magical.
Oh, if it only had a D-Pad.
Chalk it up to Atari’s notoriously poor marketing decisions. The 5200 has what is possibly the worst-received game controller to ever come with a console. To its credit, the 5200’s feature-rich joystick was ahead of its time. It introduced controller-mounted Pause, Select, and Reset buttons, and an analog stick nearly two decades before analog became the standard. However, the soft rubber buttons and non-centering control proved clumsy. Some gamers complained that the Atari 5200 joystick was uncomfortable, cumbersome, even rage-inducing. Atari’s employees saw the error before going to production and petitioned for a simpler design. Atari’s Marketing department pushed ahead, not grasping how deeply flawed the joystick was or how it would affect the company’s reputation.
Retroist Podcast Presents Atari 5200
Atari 5200 Tech Specs
In the Box
Atari Video System X
The Video System X was a pre-production Atari 5200 first introduced to the public at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in 1982. The video above tells the story of how the 5200 came to be, and Atari’s journey in challenging Intellivision and designing the future. Ultimately the Video System X isn’t just an early 5200, it represents an ideal for the bright hopeful video future that never was.
So what happened?
“Atari made a few huge missteps with the 5200. The size, price, controllers and 16kb RAM limitations were all problematic. The inclusion of Super Breakout as the initial pack-in was a horrible decision. While fun, it is barely better than the 2600 version and in 1982 Breakout was stale and dated. Add to that Coleco’s arcade licensing coup that starved the 5200 of many contemporary non-Atari arcade hits.”
– atarilbc, Classic Video Games Expert