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.
(Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that – at no additional cost to you – if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission)
Considerable improvements needed – where are the paddles?
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
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
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 Pac–Man 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
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…