5200By Robert Capparell, M.D.
When my brother asked me to write a short article on the new ATARI 5200, I could hear the cries of nepotism throughout the ANTIC readership. But really folks, I own a 5200, and before that was one of the first to own the original Atari VCS (2600). I don't pretend to be an expert gamesman; in fact, a hot arcade jockey could whip me at most games in a New York minute, but I've played enough to be competitive and know what I like.
Which brings me to the 5200. The console is a work of art, well designed for both play and storage. The controls are easy to grip, with fire buttons on either side (for us southpaws), and while the joystick controller takes a bit of play to get used to, it is a tremendous improvement over the older style. The 12-button keypad allows for a variety of play and hints of great games to come.
START and RESET buttons are conveniently located on the controllers, instead of the console, and the PAUSE button is the greatest innovation since indoor plumbing. The instructions about hookup with your television would make an electrician cringe, but after 15 minutes it all makes sense. Lock in the cartridge, press the ON button, and your TV becomes the closest thing to arcade quality available. Graphics, resolution, game play--it's all here!
SUPER-BREAKOUT comes with the machine. This paddle-and-bail classic is still enjoyable, even though newer games surpass it by far in graphics and complexity.
The Super Breakout game cartridge comes with the console, which is a bit surprising, in that it does not demonstrate the true capability of the 5200. My first purchase was Star Raiders, and it lived up to its well-deserved reputation among 400-800 owners. In fact, I found that it was easier to navigate my "ship" with the hand-held controller than with the computer console and old joystick. Star Raiders is a must for all 5200 owners tired of one-dimensional frog hopping. The intricacies of the game, including fore and aft viewing, computer assistance, and navigating from one arid to another, may make this a bit too difficult for youngsters less than ten or so, but this is one game that will not gather dust on your shelf.
In order to compare arcade quality to ATARI 2600, and 5200 graphics and game play, I next tried Missile Command, one of my favorite "old" games. This is a difficult game on any level, and the 5200 version will be greatly improved with addition of the Track Ball. Even without it, the smooth action of the joystick, improved graphics and resolution, as well as the ability to skip to more difficult levels immediately, make this game a hit with kids of all ages. But watch out! The smart bombs will eventually spell THE END for you. The instruction booklet is extremely helpful, especially the part that states you lose all bonus cities held in reserve after reaching 1,000,000 points.
In summary, if you're into games but can't find the time] | or the quarters to feed the electronic-arcade appetite, I suggest that you try the next best thing--the ATARI 5200. Hopefully, newer and more innovative cartridges will hit I the market soon, to take full advantage of the capabilities built into this system.
Robert Capparell, besides being the publisher's brother, practices medicine in Atlanta, GA. His modesty about gamesmanship is belied by the fact that he was New York State pinball champ while in medical school.