Time Machine: Atari 7800

Past consoles celebrated: revived after the crash into a brave new world

As we skip back in time once a month to scope out old systems, dramatic licence made it inevitable that we'd meet one time-travelling the other way.


The Atari 7800 ProSystem: test-launched then put into suspended animation during the early '80s market crash only to be resuscitated years later, like Brendan Fraser, into a world it wasn't really cut out to deal with.

Atari's windmilling efforts to repeat the success of the 2600 should be required reading for all today's big console hawkers. That first console had wiped the floor with its rivals, but the market crash, Atari 5200 apathy and licensing snarl-ups after the Tramiel buyout did a sound job of buggering up the encore.

Only after Japan's wild bull charge into the West did the 7800 stir in 1986, post-crash, to invite the NES andMaster System to a bracing scuffle. It was dirt cheap,ranhundreds of Atari 2600 games outof the box and had the attention ofAtari's arcade arm, barelybreaking a sweat as it towed coin-powered juggernauts into the living room.

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But when the competition has vital supporters locked down, you can't match their marketing muscle and it's slim pickings on your system beyond those shiny arcade ports, then options are limited. As with some of Nintendo's later consoles, active third-party 7800 publishers could be counted on one hand. A sloth's hand.

Games were enjoying a reignition, and gamers found more thrills careering down the bright neon streets of new Sega and Nintendo IP than sightseeing in Atari's classical but slightly musty old avenue.

By the time they let it fade and got their heads down on the Atari ST, not even a hundred 7800 games had madeit to the market. It's a real shame when you look at just how much effort went into some of those bad boys...