Atari 2600+ has arrived

Happy New Year 2024 to everyone! 

It is kind of strange for me to decide to get an Atari 2600+ system, and yet here we are in 2024! 

The reason I say this is because I was never really into Atari back in the day, with the exception of the Atari Lynx and the Atari Portfolio! 
The Atari Portfolio is the only Atari system I still have today, with the exception of the new 2600+ I just bought.

Like most other people, watching the Terminator 2 movie when it was released in cinemas back in 1991 was the reason I wanted to get the Portfolio. It looked so cool and tiny for that era.

Atari did well promoting it via that movie, although using it for hacking ATM's was errr, not the intended use of it. It did show it's portability very well though.

I was interested in the MS-DOS compatibility and that it was the world's first palmtop computer. The reality is the tiny 128k conventional memory meant most PC based DOS games and programs couldn't run in the memory available.

The built in address book, calculator, Diary, Editor and worksheet firmly made this a PDA, back when there were not many of them.

The expansion port allowing additional storage, more software (which was released by Atari and others), and also the Serial and parallel port connections to allow printing and also transfer of software from PC were well thought out. I still reckon they should have enabled external floppy drives to be connected directly.

I wish it could of connected to my Amiga at the time as I didn't have a PC, but of course Atari and Commodore were not exactly best buddies, so that was never going to happen...

The size was so small for the time period, and it was that point and being able to run dos apps on the go without a bulky laptop I liked (remember back then that all laptops were very heavy and bulky). 
I have ordered a new parallel port cable and software solution for PC to link to it, so hopefully I can try out more software for the Portfolio soon.
So that Palmtop size made the Portfolio so attractive and I think it is an important device, much like Palm Pilot PDA even smaller size was a few years later with the graffiti mode and stylus that removed the need for a keyboard like the Portfolio, Psion and others had at the time. I had one of these Palm Pilots for quite a while too:
Ah, Palm...I remember back to a company I worked for in 1998-99 setting up a fleet of Palm PDA's with modem attachments and hearing aid programming add-on for audiologists across offices in Australia to program hearing aids for patients in the late 1990's and early 2000's. I setup a bank of modems and phone lines in the HQ office in Adelaide in the server room to receive the data over phone lines from mobile Palm PDA's for daily server backup and backend database sync. 
Personally I later upgraded to a Palm Tungsten T for email sync, and to play my mods and a handful of MP3's in the early 2000's, before moving to iPod Nano with Nokia, Blackberry and later iPhone for these uses!
Anyway, enough about PDA's!
In my view the Intellivision was way better than the Atari 2600 technically. Of course I had an intellivision back then so I was a bit biased.
I used to laugh at kids at school who had an Atari 2600 when I went around to their places as the games were nowhere near as technically great as the Intellivision was. Intellivision had real speech via Intellivoice and could be a (limited) computer as well with the ECS module - I have this setup at home:

Anyway, sorry for the diversion. Let's get back to Atari and the 2600+!

I bought an Atari 2600jr and 7800 in the mid 1990's when they were NOS going really cheap, and tried them out briefly, but not so interested. 

That said, the Atari VCS (later 2600), is an important marker in the history of home gaming, making it accessible to most of us who were around then, and enabling us to experience at home a blocky, slow and glitchy representation of the superior arcade games Atari was releasing at the time.

Is that a bit rough assessment? I guess so. 

The games that define Atari 2600 in my opinion are not those poor arcade conversions like Space Invaders, Pacman, Pole Position and Asteroids, but rather the unique games that were made specifically for the 2600, especially the multiplayer ones as I used to play those with friends back in the day and remember fondly.

In recent years there is a large retro community around the 2600, with lots of new release home-brew games available on AtariAge and elsewhere in 2023. 

It is because of these new games that I was interested to get an Atari 2600 again to try these new games out. More on those new games later on!

The packaging for the Atari 2600+ is quite nice, and reminds me of the Atari 2600jr packaging when I bought one back in the mid 1990's.

I also bought an extra joystick and also the 4 Games in 1 cartridge with paddles:

Getting everything out of the box, there is a 10 games in 1 cartridge included with the 2600+ to get you started, along with the console, joystick, HDMI cable, and USB cable to connect to a charger, which is NOT included. Seriously, do makers get an allergic reaction when it comes to including a power brick that everyone will need? 

I guess we have Apple to thank for removing power supplies, all under the excuse of environmental sustainability, much like the removal of free shopping bags, which we now have to pay for. 
Sure it may reduce the impact to the environment of this product as shipped, but having to buy another power supply in a separate package is nullifying this, unless of course you already have a suitable power brick to connect it to.

The cartridge included has dip switches on the back to select which game you want to run. This seemed strange to me as many Atari multi-game cartridges have menus to select games to launch.

Here is the cartridge installed in the Atari 2600+ unit. It looks great I have to say. Well done to the builders as it looks and feels like an original 'woody' Atari 2600 or VCS console.

From the back view of the system though, you see the modern touches with the HDMI output and USB-C charger connector, but the joystick ports are the normal DB9 variety, which means you can connect your old Atari 2600 joysticks too if you have them.

The extra 4 games in 1 cartridge which has a set of paddles to play looks very interesting - looking forward to trying breakout with the paddles:

The 4 games in one cartridge also had dip switches on the back to select the games:

Setting this up gave me an excuse to re-jig my setup a little. For a long time the SNES Mini, NES Mini and Neo Geo X were in the cupboard as I didn't have any space to set them up.

I decided to put away the Silicon Graphics Octane for now as I haven't had the time it needs to work on setting it up as I would like to. I used the space gained to fit the Atari 2600+, SNES Mini, NES Mini, and Neo Geo X consoles, along with a second hand HDMI TFT screen I bought from Cash Converters for $40.

I am pretty happy with the setup. I can put the Neo Geo away under the screen when not in use, leaving plenty of room for the Atari 2600+

While at Cash Converters I also picked up a few multi-game cartridges for the Atari 2600, which were released in Australia back in the 1990's, and Othello and California games from Ebay.

I really did forget how blocky Atari 2600 graphics are, especially when blown up on a modern HDMI screen.

Here I was trying out one of the games included with the 2600+, Pinball wizard:

I removed the cart (which returns to the boot screen unlike the original 2600), and I flipped the dip switches to try out another game on the cartridge.

Next I hooked up the paddles:

I had a game or ten of Breakout and quickly got reminded how simple concept games implemented well can be a lot of fun:

Using the paddles to control the bat works brilliantly, and very responsive on the 2600+.

Next up I tried one of the multi-game cartridges I bought from cash Converters. Given the dip switch situation on the included cartridges, I was worried these wouldn't work at all, but to my surprise they worked fine:

The menu selector worked fine, and the games launched as expected. Very happy. Frogger time!

Sometimes when launches a multi-game cartridge I got a glitch screen and no menu, but power off/on fixed it:

Time for Grand Prix:

While waiting for the Atari 2600+ to arrive (as I pre ordered it well in advance of the release date in November 2023), I also ordered the Harmony cartridge, which allows you to play most Atari 2600 games from a SD card connected to it.

Sadly though, it doesn't work on the Atari 2600+

I looked online and found out that it is not compatible at all. I gather you can force it to boot one game by putting it in the root SD card as AUTOROM.bin, but I see little point in that, and it is tedious to change around every time you want to try something else. 

If I was a cynic, I suspect Atari made sure of these multi-carts not working, so they could sell individual games for the Atari 2600...
Something apparently confirmed as I found out Atari is also selling NEW Atari 2600 games. Well I am not sure Bezerk can be called new (heh), but anyway. You can buy new release official Atari 2600 games in 2024.
I picked up Mr Run and Jump, and Bezerk.

Mr Run and Jump is a new game I believe, although quite a frustrating one when I tried it...

I also ordered some new Homebrew Atari 2600 games and damascene demo cartridges from AtariAge, which didn't arrive until 2024, which is why I delayed this blog post, so I could try them out.

As an aside on my travels back home in October 2023, I saw the Atari VCS lego model for sale in the airport Lego shop - might have to get one!

It is 2024, and the homebrew games for the Atari 2600 have now arrived, so let's take a look at them:

Game-wise there is Deepstone Catacomb, Frosty 2, Flappy, Space Rocks, and Blocks, all made between 2012 and 2023.

Also included are two demoscene cartridges - one with 6 demos on it, and one single demo cartridge could Bang, with an Amiga boing ball on the label!

The prospect of trying out NEW games and demos like these for the Atari 2600 was the real reason to get this 2600+ system.

Sadly though, it didn't go as well as I had hoped. Some worked, and most didn't.
The Bang! demo cartridge I tried out first and it worked perfectly. First time for me to watch an Atari 2600 scene demo!

Given the limitations of the original hardware - it is quite an impressive demo.

The Scene demos 6-in-1 multicart didn't work at all on the 2600+:

Next I tried Flappy, which is a clone of the iPhone game Flappy Bird from a number of years ago. It worked, which was a good start!

I played this for quite a while with a top score of 71. Not sure if that is good or not, but my finger was sore after jabbing the fire button to get it, so probably it is the maximum for today at least!

I should note that I ordered the PAL versions of the cartridges - you can get NTSC or PAL depending on your Atari 2600 system region of origin.

Space Rocks looks like a cool game, based on asteroids but supposed to be a cooler version - sadly it doesn't work on the 2600+

The same fate befell Deepstone Catacomb, which also didn't work:

Next I tried Blocks, a game from 2022. I am pleased to say this works!

This game is based on moving colour blocks by swapping with the neighbour if the colour swapped forms a group of 3 or more in horizontal or vertical direction:

When a match is made, that colour group of blocks disappear and more fall from above. 

I found this game quite enjoyable:

Once you get a certain number of groups of blocks cleared, the next level appears. This game is well suited to the Atari 2600.
I imagine Sudoku or other similar puzzle games would work well too.

I tried out Stay Frosty 2, the last of the new homebrew games I bought, which locks up with the screen shown below:

I will say that I enjoyed playing the new release Atari games, the old cartridges I got from Cash converters and the new homebrew games and demos I ran on the Atari 2600+
That said, only 3 out of the 7 homebrew cartridges I bought from AtariAge actually worked on the 2600+
This was quite disappointing since the games were not cheap and I had to wait quite a while to get them. 
Given the lack of support also for the Harmony or other SD based multi-carts, I am left somewhat frustrated with the 2600+ as it doesn't do what I bought it for.
I like the convenient HDMI output, but on reflection I could do that with a older A2600 with AV output mod and AV to HDMI converter, or with a RF to HDMI converter.
So, I have decided that is what I will do. I have ordered a real Atari 2600 with an AV mod done, so I can use all the home brew software and harmony multi-cart I purchased.
If it sounds like I am pissed off with this, I guess I am. The promise of being able to use real Atari 2600 cartridges doesn't really ring true on the Atari 2600+, as a lot simply don't work.
I don't have any Atari 7800 cartridges to try out as I sold on the Atari 7800 system a long time ago. Given my experience with the 2600 cartridges I don't want to sink any more money into the 2600+ at this point.
To sum up, the system looks great, well built, and for the games that work on the Atari 2600+, it is excellent. For the many newer cartridge games and multi-carts that don't work on it, it is a real disappointment for me personally.
Your favourite 2600 games might work on the 2600+, or they might not. Caveat emptor.
I heard there is an update 1.1 coming out soonish for the 2600+ which should hopefully improve cartridge compatibility - I hope it does! 
I'll try it out when it is released and update here if it fixes some of the issues I experienced - hopefully the Atari 2600+ will eventually be what I bought it for in the first place - the ultimate Atari 2600.