Back in the day, if you got an Atari 2600 or Intellivision video game console, you ruled the neighborhood. And now, some 40 years later, those systems are making a comeback — in a way.
While online play, complex gaming and massive, immersive worlds rule today’s high-tech scene, powerful new systems that mimic the look and feel of old devices are tapping into a market for pixelated nostalgia. “Retro is big right now,” says Ryan Burger, 49, publisher of Old School Gamer, a magazine and website. “The kids who grew up with these consoles are remembering their days of playing games and have the money now to buy back some memories.
$300, plus $60 per controller
With its wood-grain front panel and old-school joystick, this unit screams ’70s. One key difference from the original Atari console, though: There’s no slot for cartridges. Instead, games are streamed via apps or downloaded from the internet. More than 100 classic games, going back to Pong, are included, with more available for purchase. And if you’d rather play with a more modern controller — the kind with a directional pad — you can get that, too. Also remember that this is modern technology. When you’re not in the mood to revisit the past, add a wireless keyboard to the unit and use it as a PC.
$100 and up (available January 14)
Who needs the internet? If you’d rather play games on cartridges, the way the 8-bit gods intended, this may be the console for you. British company Blaze Entertainment first released this system as a handheld unit, and each cartridge comes packed with multiple games — collections include classics such as Centipede, Burger Time, Double Dragon and more. Most of those same cartridges will be compatible with the new VS console. Hook it up to your TV, sit on the floor with a friend and play head-to-head, just like in the old days.
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$250 and up (available in 2022)
The original Intellivision console, produced by toy company Mattel, challenged Atari’s dominance. But it’s been decades since a machine has carried the Intellivision brand. Now an independent company, Intellivision promises that the Amico will appeal to gamers who want a return to simplicity. Many games for today’s most popular consoles, such as PlayStation and XBox, practically require that players have a degree in computer science.
Games for the Amico will feature some reworked classics such as Missile Command and Moon Patrol, with an emphasis on family play — games free of graphic violence and profanity. As with the VCS, Amico games can be streamed or downloaded from the internet, although the company is also marketing “physical” product for collectors — essentially download-code cards with other collectible trinkets in an old-school box. Intellivision is also bringing back retro controllers — with a directional disc that you push with your thumb — although a touch screen is now in the spot where a keypad used to be on the original Intellivision unit.
Jim Lenahan is an executive editor for AARP Bulletin and AARP The Magazine.