In 1982 Atari released the Atari 5200 which is also known as the Atari 5200 SuperSystem. The Atari 5200 was released as the next evolution of the Atari 2600 in order to maintain competition with other consoles on the market during the early 80’s including the Intellivision as well as the ColecoVision. The internal hardware used in developing the Atari 5200 was nearly exactly the same as the hardware present in the Atari 2600 model however the software was not compatible between the two consoles. Although the internal hardware was not much different the controllers released with the 5200 model were slightly different and included an analog joystick, a numeric keypad, a start button, a pause button, and a reset button. The analog 360 degree non-centering joystick was the component which was hailed as vastly superior to the previous Atari 2600 controller due to its ability to provide far more precise control compared to the 2600’s eight way joystick controller.
Most of the technology which was incorporated into the Atari’s 8bit home computer systems were developed to be used in second generation gaming consoles which were intended to replace the Atari 2600 however as the system was drawing close to the completion of its development the personal computer market had begun to explode with companies such as Commodore PET and Apple 2. Though the actual specifications of these personal computers were not all that different from the Atari 2600 specifications and capabilities Atari chose not to enter the highly competitive field in favor of repackaging their new technologies into their home video game consoles including the Atari 400 and the Atari 800 which were released around 1979. The early 1980’s included a new wave of video game consoles like the Intellivision which were more advanced than the previous consoles like the Atari 2600. Due to the advances in technology the advanced chips used in the Atari 400 and 800 were designed because Atari was aware the 2600 was on its way to becoming obsolete with the new wave of technology. Atari chose to combat their competition by releasing a console which was very similar to their 1978 release specifications and at this point in time the Atari 5200 was known as the Atari Video System X – Advanced Video Computer System and was codenamed by the company PAM which stood for “Personal Arcade Machine” due to the fact that most of the games released for the system would end up being ports of previously successful and popular arcade games. There were a number of the Atari Video System X Machines which were released and used the exact same specifications and hardware used in the future Atari 5200 although these devices are incredibly rare. The initial release of the 5200 came in 1982 and the console contained four controller ports making the system standout from the competition which for the most part only supported two controllers. The 5200 model also featured a new advanced analog joystick which was an improvement from the eight directional joystick of the 2600, a numeric keypad, and several buttons (start, pause, and reset). Another innovation released with the Atari 5200 was the inclusion of an automatic TV switchbox which allowed for an easier transition between the use of the game system when the console was on and regular television viewing rather than requiring the user to slide a switch manually on the RF adapter in order to change the display on the screen. The Atari 5200‘s RF adapter was also interesting because it not only switched the display but was also the location that the power supply attached to the console. In 1983 when the console was re-released the 5200 had only two controller ports rather than four and it also switched back to the more traditional RF switch and power supply making it almost a downgrade in features compared the initial launch. The 1983 model however did include a change in the cartridge port which allowed the use of an Atari 2600 adapter which made the older consoles games playable on the 5200.
While under development the Atari 5200 prototype controllers used a yoke and gimbal which was taken from an RC airplane controller. This new design was not only far more reliable but also gave highly superior control, however this model of controller would not make it into mass production which was a great disappointment for the development teams. The final design of the analog controllers ended up using a rubber boot rather than a spring which would become the controllers biggest weakness to lower levels of accurate control and were less natural and convenient to use than the prototypes. The controllers did however contain a pause button which was not common for consoles at this time period, and third party developers would release other joysticks which could be used with the console. The 5200 also had a special controller called the Pro-Link Trak Ball which was used with games such as Centipede, and Missile Command. Another paddle controller which was to be an update of the original controller however it would never make it to the market. Games for the 5200 also included a plastic overlay which could be applied to the controllers which would tell the player what each control was used for whether modifying the speed or changing the viewpoint. The basic controller for the 5200 was ranked by IGN as the 10th worst video game controller in industry history.
Compared to the Atari 2600 the Atari 5200 was not very successful despite being graphically superior to both the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision. One factor believed to have played a factor in the lower popularity of the 5200 was the fact that early after its release the console was not compatible with the massive game library of the Atari 2600 especially considering that Intellivision boasted an Atari 2600 compatibility addition. Another problem was that the majority of the 69 games which were officially released for the 5200 were only slightly updated versions of games previously released for the 2600 which did not take full advantages of the superior capabilities of the console and that failed to garner excitement with players. In total the Atari 5200 only sold slightly over one million units making it a massive flop compared to the success of the 2600.
- Pacman review for the Atari 5200 (imagamegeek.co.uk)
- Mario Bros. review for the Atari 2600 (imagamegeek.co.uk)
- Princess Rescue for the Atari 2600: Sorry Mario, But Our Princess is in Another Console (technabob.com)
- Emulator Cabinet Works with 75 Controllers, 30+ Consoles and 2 Happy Players (technabob.com)
- Classic Game Room – CENTIPEDE Review For Atari 5200 (on.aol.com)
- Classic Game Room – MEGAFORCE Review For Atari 2600 (on.aol.com)
- Classic Game Room – VANGUARD For Atari 5200 Review (on.aol.com)
- DIY Homebrew Video Game Cartridges (makezine.com)
- Classic Game Room – BARNSTORMING Review For Atari 2600 (on.aol.com)