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Atari 2600 Plus Review: A Modern Throwback

An updated version of the original Atari home console, the 2600 Plus can connect to modern high-definition TVs.

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Sean Booker Video Producer
As a Video Producer at CNET, Sean has worked on more videos than he can count. He covers video games and video game hardware along with the occasional electric bike. He covers games both on and off camera, through livestreams, press events, and podcasts.
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Sean Booker
6 min read
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The Atari 2600 is back, but with a fresh, modern take on the original '70s classic console. Now called the Atari 2600 Plus ($130), it's smaller and connects to modern TVs through HDMI making it easy to play game cartridges, old and new. If you're a fan of retro games, you'll definitely be interested in this.

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Atari 2600 Plus and original Atari 2600.

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The original Atari 2600 came out back in 1977 with many games that everyone's heard of: Breakout, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac-Man, just to name a few. Now, almost 50 years later, we have an updated version of that exact console, with some small but worthwhile improvements.

Getting an original Atari 2600 to connect with a TV these days is very difficult. Not only do I need a CRT to display the games properly, I have to use an additional adapter so the RCA video cable can screw into the coaxial port. Even then, the image looks grainy and kind of bad, but at least I can play Pac-Man. 

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Original Atari 2600.

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There's a pretty low chance you have a CRT TV lying around somewhere, and who can blame you? These take up a ton of space and are really heavy. This is where the 2600 Plus comes in with its HDMI output to connect to flat-panel high-def TVs. It's the exact same physical design, down to the iconic wood grain, but is 20% smaller. The original 2600 weighed 4.6 pounds and sat 3.5 inches tall, 13.6 inches wide and just over 9 inches deep. The 2600 Plus weighs a scant 1.3 pounds and sits 2.8 inches tall, 10.6 inches wide and 7 inches deep.

This smaller size makes the device much easier to fit on a shelf or entertainment center and puts it in a similar category to the Nintendo and Super Nintendo Classic consoles that came out years ago. Unfortunately, the 2600 Plus is still about twice as large as those devices. It would have been nice to have it even smaller; considering how lightweight it is, I can't imagine there's a ton of internal tech inside.

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Atari 2600 Plus.

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One reason for the larger size may actually be because of one of my favorite features. Unlike other rereleased classic consoles, the Atari 2600 Plus doesn't have games stored directly on the hardware -- it still requires cartridges. Yes, that means you can play the original Atari 2600 cartridges if you have them around. 

The console features the exact same cartridge slot found on the original console and can read those same games. Even though Atari is rereleasing new copies of some of these classic games (although the prices are super high), if you already have a collection or find some cheap games at a second-hand store (which isn't hard to do), you can play them more easily than before. In addition, the 2600 Plus can run Atari 7800 games, giving you access to a larger library of titles. Atari says this console can run 99% of the two platforms' titles and has a list online you can check.

Similarly, the 2600 Plus uses the exact same controllers as before, and just like the games, you can use the old hardware on this new device. Even though there's only one CX40 Plus Joystick controller bundled in the box, if you have an old one lying around, you can now play multiplayer. So instead of solving mazes in Maze Craze alone while the other character sits there motionless, you can race each other through the maze as intended. 

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Atari 2600 Plus joystick and original Atari 2600 joystick.

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It's also really great to see Atari making new joysticks again, since controller hardware often doesn't last terribly long. Even modern game console controllers tend to break down, so you can imagine what almost 50 years can do. They're also selling the CX30 Plus Paddle Controller bundle for $40. This comes with a four-in-one game cart and two paddle controllers. One of the included games is Breakout, a personal favorite of mine. The paddle controllers are notorious for losing traction over the years, so to be able to pick up new ones again is amazing. 

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Atari 2600 Plus paddle controller.

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And don't worry if you can't immediately get your hands on classic cartridges: Atari is producing some new cartridges for the system, such as Mr. Run and Jump and Berzerk. In fact, they actually did some updating to Berzerk, for example, it now has this bizarre voice sample that plays every time you change screens. 

Also, included with the 2600 Plus is a 10-in-one game cartridge so you'll have games to play right out of the box. This cart has four switches on the back and, by setting them to different heights, you change which game is playable. For example, if you want to play Adventure you have to leave all four switches in the up position, but if you want to play Missile Command, you need to set switches 1 and 3 down. Oddly enough, some of these games don't have single-player modes, like Maze Craze or Combat, and you only get one controller, so some of the games are not fun by yourself. 

The 2600 Plus features all the same ports as the original, with some updates to things like video out and power. Like the original, on the front, you'll find switches for power, TV type, game select and reset, and the cartridge slot. The back has the same two controller ports and difficulty switches. New for the 2600 Plus are the aforementioned HDMI out, a USB-C port for power and a switch to change the screen ratio between 4:3 and 16:9. I kept it set to 4:3 when playing since stretching the game into widescreen just looked bad. The console comes with a USB cable for power but doesn't include a power adapter to plug it into the wall. Lastly, the logo on the front now lights up when powered on.

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Atari 2600 Plus.

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One thing you'll quickly notice is that, just like they were in the '70s, these controllers aren't wireless. This does add to the nostalgia factor, and we saw this with the Nintendo Classic consoles as well, but personally, I don't want to sit only a few feet from my huge TV. The controller cables are a bit longer than the original ones but not by enough to make a difference. With all the cables and the physical games I've mentioned, you're pretty quickly going to have a big mess on your hands (just like in the old days!). While the 2600 Plus is a more modern step for the system, it's definitely still rooted in the past. 

Overall, what I like about the Atari 2600 Plus is that you no longer have to mod your original console to work with modern TVs, so your old games are much easier to enjoy. I also like that you can play the original collection of games with old joysticks with this new hardware. Support for 7800 games is also nice to see. And I love that Atari is manufacturing these new controllers that are notorious for breaking down.

What's not great is the console is still pretty large considering how empty it feels inside. And I wish its controller cables were much longer or even wireless.

If you're a fan of classic Atari games but didn't have an easy way to play them, the 2600 Plus helps solve that. Not having to rely on an old, bulky CRT TV means these games look sharper than before. And if you're new to Atari, this is a great way to experience some of gaming's history, especially since picking up old carts from a used game store is very inexpensive.