Atari Flashback 9 Review – Memories for Cheap

The Atari Flashback 3

Hello Retro Fans, here comes another review: the Atari Flashback 9 is on my radar, today.

As you know, mini consoles are all the rage right now, and some of them deservedly so.

Every once in a while, though, you get a mini retro console that straddles the line between fun and quick cash grab, making a review pretty difficult, because you are not only fighting nostalgia, but also trying to be honest.

The Atari Flashback 9 is not the first attempt at an Atari mini console (hence the number 9), and it is certainly not the best, either.

What is the main problem you might wonder? There are a few but none of them have to do with the collection of games. Most of the titles on offer are what you would expect from an Atari collection and I cannot think of any problems with the emulation on that front.

And as longtime readers know, I am not the biggest fan of Atari products. As I once mentioned, I only got my first Atari console at a flea market, three years ago. Nonetheless, I recognize that it is a product that people love and have fond, powerful memories of playing it.

That is why I am going to be as honest as I can be in my review. Not only do I want you to not waste your money, but also I want you to have fun.

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Considerable improvements needed – where are the paddles?

Atari 2600 original paddle

The Atari 2600 original paddle. Unfortunately, it does not work on the Atari Flashback 9.

The Atari Flashback 9 was announced back in October 2018 and promised a lot but has not really delivered since then. One thing that AtGames promised buyers of their seventh release was the eventual release of bespoke, wired paddle controllers for the system but those are still not out.

That brings us to the biggest overall complaint about this product: Build quality. Even if the wired paddle controllers were available, would anybody want them?

If they improved the gaming experience over what we have, then the answer is “yes.”

Build quality is poor from a larger perspective and the system itself screams cheap. It does somewhat mimic the classic wood grain look of the Atari 2600, but most serious gamers want solid emulation, not faux wood.

The controllers that come with the system are difficult to configure and not really responsive, leading to more than a few awkward if not unplayable moments with the expansive list of games. I am a seasoned gamer and a stubborn individual, yet I was on the brink of giving up and bringing the box back to the shop. Sure, the ports are 9-pins and you can easily replace them with real classic joysticks, but not everybody has one at home and/or is willing to spend some extra money on a 25-30+ year old controller.

The promised HD video output is here with the Atari Flashback 9, but do not expect to get that functionality right out of the box. You will need to go buy an HDMI cable first. I am not kidding about that.

On top of that, only model number AR3050 actually comes with a 720p HDMI output. Model numbers AR3220 and AR3230 – which are cheaper – include a composite video output, so be careful which version you buy.

I cannot lie – there are better alternatives

The Atari Flashback 9 interface

The Atari Flashback 9 interface. Sadly, games like Kaboom, Breakout and others work far better with a paddle…

All of this contributes to a general feeling of disappointment about the console. Prior to the release of the C64 Mini or the SNES Classic, a lot of this would be forgivable. After all, it is not as bad as some of the Sega Genesis mini consoles that are available right now (going to review them soon).

Yet, it is almost impossible to recommend the AF 9 to anyone who is serious about Atari emulation and, above all, actually playing the games.

Its reasonable price point will not bust your budget but, again, there is not any real reason to buy it. From an old but working Atari console to other emulation options, pretty much anything is a better experience than the recent AtGames’s effort.

Considering that it deals with the above company’s seventh release of this franchise, I honestly expected a lot more.

Why featuring games galore that one struggles to enjoy?

A huge collection of games – But that alone is not enough

Frogger, one of the most famous Atari games

Frogger is one of my favorite Atari games ever. An all-time classic!

Let us take a look at some of the games featured on this system.

You get Space Invaders, Missile Command, Frogger, and Pitfall among the big names. In total there are 110 games on the standard Atari Flashback 9. If you go for the Gold edition, you get an extra set of 10 games among which is Pitfall II.

For clarity, the non-Gold version is obviously cheaper. However, as of press, I can only find the Atari Flashback 9 Gold for sale online.

A quick scan of the available list of games for the Atari Flashback 9 reveals that, while there are some bonafide classics, there are some titles that are glaringly absent, such as the glorious PacMan and Super Sprint. It is understandable that Pac-Man might be a license much too big for a release like this, but, then again, it does have Pitfall on it. Instead, I cannot explain why Super Sprint was left out.

Like previous emulators, the console uses the Stella Atari emulation software. It is still considered the industry standard when it comes to Atari animation, and it is not surprising to find it on here.

The emulator is also not what is holding this system back. What really kills the whole gaming experience is the ultra cheap build quality. From a poor looking console and lackluster controllers, there is very little to recommend about this mini-system.

Again, anyone who has played Nintendo’s recent miniature consoles or even SNK’s Neo Geo mini console, cannot possibly think that the AF 9 is a legitimate effort. An effort at parting you from your money, sure, but to bring you a quality product is not part of the plan here.

Final impressions – bad for gaming, interesting for collecting

Atari Flashback 9 game list. It consists of 110 games.

Not being able to properly play so many games is very frustrating.

Still, there must be some kind of market for this console and, indeed, there is. One group of people that I can recommend it to without reservations is the die hard Atari fans out there.

You do not need another emulator, and you certainly do not need one that is far from being perfect. You probably have better options already. But if you are looking to add to your collection of Atari stuff, the Atari Flashback 9 does add something unique to the overall story of this gaming brand.

At the end of the day, it might be this demographic that AtGames is targeting and people like myself are not really a part of the equation.

But who knows? One thing is sure, if Sega’s upcoming Genesis mini console is a hit and high quality, all pressure will be on AtGames guys to give it a more serious effort. Because the Atari Flashback 9 is appalling quality, by any estimation of the word, and Atari fans deserve far better than this.

As far as I am concerned, after the more than disappointing PlayStation Classic, another mini-console is set to collect dust. At least, they will not feel alone…

Till next retro review!
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About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

14 thoughts on “Atari Flashback 9 Review – Memories for Cheap

  1. Matt's Mom

    I loved Atari.  I guess that tells my age when I say that this was the gaming system me and my brother had growing up.  Our game selection was limited to pac man and pong LOL.  I can see buying this for my son.  He is sort of a collector of game systems and I know he does not have this.  Even though it is not that good for gaming, he will love it anyway.

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Matt’s mom and thanks for leaving a comment on my post.
      Atari has a huge fanbase, I know very many people who grew up with the games you mentioned. Like I said, Atari was not my cup of tea, but I have a huge amount of respect both for the brand and for its fans. Moreover there are some titles that I really loved and still play to this day, like Frogger, Pitfall and Super Sprint. For these reasons, my review could not be positive.

      A lot of games, many are classics and fun, but it is very frustrating when you find they are a nightmare to play with the joysticks included. Not to mention the absence of paddles and the original ones not being compatible with this system.

      On top of that, the build quality of the console baffled me. I really cannot explain, one has to hold it in their hands to realize.
      Extremely light and not pleasant to the touch. I just did not get the feel of a real console from it, and If that bothered me, I cannot even imagine how an Atari diehard fan must feel about it.

      But again, collecting is another thing, and there are plenty of fans who certainly bought if anything to extend their collection. There nothing wrong in that, personally I am longing for an Amiga remake and I reckon I would buy it without even reading a review. 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by, I hope you stay tuned for more retro posts!

  2. Todd Matthews

    Hi, Andrew, I think this is still a relatively newer market which can definitely explain the subpar Atari products and the Playstation Classic, which I’ve heard from several sources were disappointments. I’m one who would look forward to these products, especially if Nintendo were to release a classic version of the 64, which better be up to par! But until these classic consoles get some serious competition with one another, quality is likely to lack. The good news is once the competition is there, you’ll see better quality in time. 

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Todd and thanks again for stopping by.
      The thing is, while it is true that few mini-consoles have really delivered so far, you would genuinely expect more from the ninth release of a product, especially when the same company is taking care of that for the seventh time in a row.

      That said, the C64 Mini and the SNes Classic are definitely above average (especially the latter), so I know for a fact that releasing quality classic consoles is possible regardless of the competition. Anyway, I am hopeful about the future: like you say, as more and more retro consoles or home computers are remade, quality is likely to improve.

      Grateful for your comment, stay tuned for more retro reviews!

  3. Lisa

    Thank you for sharing this review. I feel well informed about the Atari Flashback and decided it is not worth the little money they want for it, to me anyway. I loved Atari though. This stroll down memory lane made me want to go to the retro game room we have here and play a little. 

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Lisa and thanks for your comment, I am glad that my post brought back some nice memories. 🙂
      It is cool that you have a retro game room nearby, looks like the good old days are still alive there.
      To be honest with you, I would get rid of some of my beloved consoles in return for an arcade bar near my home. Too many unforgettable memories… A lifestyle that I did enjoy and miss very much.

      Thanks again for stopping by, please stay tuned for more retro stories!

  4. Chris

    Wow this certainly is a flashback for me – my very first games console (it even came before my trusted ZX Spectrum 48k!). 

    Personally, I think it’s great that these older consoles and systems are bringing out mini versions of their former self – my sons for instance have no idea how basic video games were back then (they will not be impressed!). 

    Do these mini devices actually come with the games installed within a set HD inside?

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Chris and thanks for leaving another comment.
      I absolutely agree with you! For someone like me whose goal is keeping my generation’s gaming memories alive, I could not ask for anything better… This is a definitely a great helping hand!

      The good thing is also that while some are obviously not impressed/not interested, there are many more Generation-Z guys than I thought who are becoming interested (if not retro fans).

      In answer to your question, yes these devices come with pre-loaded games on a hard disk. Some of them also come with a SD card slot, in order to add more games. The Atari Flashback 9 is one of them and a recent update allows to successfully add more titles. The thing is, it is like adding more colours to a palette whose paint brush is faulty. You simply cannot enjoy such games with the controllers included, and it is a real pity.

      Thanks again for stopping by, till next retro article!

  5. Mark

    Great review! I’ve seen these around and because of some of the places where I’ve seen them, I’ve always wondered how cheaply made they are. I’d still like to have one, of course. I just don’t want to be too disappointed in what I get. I loved Atari back in the day and I’d love to recapture some of those old memories. I still don’t know if I’ll get one, but after reading this, I’ll at least wait until I have some spare cash I can afford to blow before I do. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Mark and thanks for stopping by, I am glad that you appreciated my review.
      Atari has its fair share of charm, no doubt, and I believe it is absolutely still possible to have fun with a lot of its games.
      The problem with this one is its build quality. Personally, it totally put me off and affected my gaming experience.
      Thanks again for your comment, stay tuned for more retro reviews.

  6. Juan Saladin

    I’ve gotten a lot of fun from that. I would never expect any of my daughters to love it today; after seeing them in love with an hyper-casual game on my phone, I realize that there’s a chance for a 2D game to get into their playground after all.

    I’ve gotten to you trying to figure out if the investment on an Atari-like game would provide me with another mechanism of punishment (by reducing usage time when not behaving) or teaching them some “sharing capacity”  between both of them (Alisha and Jael).

    After researching a little, I realized that having your children exposed to 2D gaming is related to the development of a better appreciation of spaces in 3D (real life) what implies this should increase their ability as adults for blue-prints interpretation (just to mention something).

    I don’t really dream about them to be architects in the future, in any case, the development of these abilities would definitely be quite at least a nice to have one.

    Not to mention I’d enjoy myself by using them from time to time. 

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Juan, and thanks for leaving such an insightful comment.
      When I first introduced retro games to my kids, I would have never expected them to like them. Instead, they immediately connected with them to the extent that they even help me test mini-consoles when I review them.
      Kids can really surprise us at times… My eldest son James, has his own corner on this very blog, he is a retro gamer to the core. 🙂
      We are having a lot of fun together and they are learning things by playing… I cannot ask for more… 🙂
      Thanks again for dropping by, I hope you stay tuned for more retro posts!

  7. Rizza

    An Atari gaming console is one of the most “travel back to the past” kind of thing that you would love to revisit once in a while to reconcile some of your memories back then.

    Time passes us by, it ain’t cared about whether you could catch up or nothing. Ain’t care if you like the past better than your present but the good thing is that it helps us appreciate the “now” and live in the current moment.

    Although going retro every now and then is not so bad and it is quite friendly with the pockets. So thank you for the great review of one of my childhood memories, the Atari gaming console will always relive some warm and nice feelings.

    The games were very simple back then yet entertaining and very addicting, add up the fun with your friends and siblings and it will be an unforgettable moment you will look back to with a smile on your face.

    I might just purchase it because your review reminded me of the good old days, I feel old all of a sudden. 

  8. Andrew A. Post author

    Hello Rezza and thanks for leaving such an exhaustive comment on my blog. I am very pleased that you enjoyed my review. 🙂
    Like I said, I strongly recommend the AF9 to the Atari die hard fans and you appear to be one of them. As a PlayStation fan , and as nostalgic as I am, I can perfectly relate to you.
    When the PlayStation Classic was released , I already knew I was going to buy it on day one and please note that I have already an old PlayStation and a Psx, plus like one hundred original games at home. I criticized the product and I have not used it for months, but I am never ever going to sell it. It is PlayStation at the end of the day…
    What can I do? I just cannot get enough of sweet nostalgia… 🙂

    That said, if you are going to buy the Atari remake, and if you can get an old 9-pin joystick, the situation could partially improve.
    The thing is you will still have to plug the default joystick into port one, but at least your friends and siblings (or whoever plays as player 2) will be able to play properly.

    Thanks again for taking time to read and comment on my post, I hope you become a regular here!


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