"This is a labour of love," says Atari CEO Wade Rosen, gazing lovingly at the Atari 2600+ retro console on the table in front of him. (You can see this moment and many other highlights from this interview in the video embedded above!)
It's the end of a long day at the Gamescom 2023 conference, with many of his peers clocking off for the day and cracking open some cold ones mere metres away, but Rosen is still brimming with enthusiasm as he tells us about this surprising new hardware release.
While many retro gaming brands seem content to release plastic reproductions of their classic machines without the option to insert your actual cartridges, often opting to pre-install a selection of memorable titles instead, Rosen's new product zigs where everyone else seems to zag.
The Atari 2600+ has one killer feature that most retro consoles don't — as well as having HDMI output and some other mod cons, this rebuilt version of the classic console can actually run your old cartridges!
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"I have nothing against the mini consoles," Rosen is quick to mention, "and we've had a lot of success with mini consoles in the past. I have a Nintendo and a Super Nintendo and a Genesis Mini, and I'll fire those up sometimes."
Rosen continues: "But I still have consoles to play classic cartridges. And it's necessary for somebody who's an avid gamer, and also somebody who wants to go beyond maybe just the most well-known content on a console — you eventually need to go back to the cartridges themselves."
Gazing down at his creation, Rosen adds: "And there is something, like, beautifully tactile about it. Having the cartridge, plugging it in, the input time is probably a little bit quicker. It just feels that way, so there's a beauty to it that I really like, as well."
The Atari 2600+ is out now (you can order yours from retailers like Amazon) and it comes packaged with both a controller and a cartridge containing 10 classic games. It can run both Atari 2600 and Atari 7800 cartridges, with the option of a wide screen mode, as well.
But that's not all! Atari has also teamed with a number of developers to make new games for this system!
"We actually have a bunch of new Atari games," Rosen explains with a smile. The team at Atari "wanted to find a way to celebrate [the fact that] there's all these great 2600 games being made, 7800 games being made" by enthusiasts around the world.
The first example of note is a new game called Mr Run and Jump. Rosen recalls: "One of our developers brought it to us. Somebody on their team had built it fully in Assembly in their spare time. I played it. It was like Super Meat Boy for the 2600. I was like, 'Okay, this is amazing.'
"We also made a modern version of it, so I think it was the only simultaneous Atari 2600 and PS5 launch to date."
On a roll now, Rosen adds: "And that's the other reason we want to make the console, because it is a living ecosystem. And I think, in a world where everything is super complex, I actually play more Atari today than I did growing up.
"It's beautiful because you turn it on and you're in the middle of shooting centipedes, and there's not a ton of backstory on why you're doing that. You're just playing, it's skill-gated, you're in it immediately.
"And I think, when I was younger, I wanted complexity. But now everything feels incredibly complex, so going back to something so simple and immediately accessible, there's a lot of beauty in that.
"And that's also why these old console ecosystems are important to preserve, because sometimes you don't want to play a hundred hour epic journey. You just want to shoot some robots, and that's okay."
The Atari 2600+ is out now.