Atari 5200: It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Atari 5200

Atari 5200

     If you’ve read more than a few of my posts, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to be a bit nostalgic when it comes to the playthings of my youth.  Usually, when I acquire something from that time of my life, I feel validated that I have pretty good taste.  But occasionally, like an old girlfriend, the memory of something turns out to be a whole lot better than the reality.  Case in point is my recent acquisition of a “vintage” Atari 5200 video game system.

     I got a 5200 in 1982 or 83.  I can’t remember if it was a birthday or Christmas present from my parents. I can’t imagine getting what was likely a pretty expensive investment just for being the wonder that was me. But I do recall loving it.  Probably burned hundreds of hours playing Defender, Pole Position, and Super Breakout.  For the life of me, I actually can’t remember owning any other games for the system and I don’t have a clue what happened to it.  May have been a garage sale victim once I left home to be all I could be with Uncle Sam.

      So one day, while browsing eBay, I happened to search “Atari 5200” and was blown away by how many systems and games were available.  I knew the 5200 was basically a flop and figured any surviving systems would be fetching premium prices. Guess not so much. I put a bid on a “fully functional” system with 23 game cartridges and won.  Paid something like $150 plus shipping.  All in all, not a bad deal.

     The system arrived in OK shape and was even packed in the original box.  The console itself looks like it has been sitting open in a barn or something.  Despite having been wiped off, there is some pretty serious dust in the nooks and crannies.  Once I got it hooked up, I immediately found the sole included controller (the system originally shipped with two) to be broken.  The joystick worked but the fire buttons and some of the keypad buttons were unresponsive.

     A bit annoyed at the prospect of having to pay $30-$40 for a “reconditioned” controller, I jumped on YouTube and found a couple videos addressing my problem.  The theory amongst the two gurus was that my problem likely had to do with dirt inside the controller.  I broke out a screwdriver and had the controller apart in about 30 seconds. My problem turned out to be a bit more serious than just dust bunnies.

     Before I get into that though, let me just say that this controller looks like something an Orangutan put together from a box of cast off electronic components.  I’m actually surprised these things lasted more than a few days of heavy use.   “Rinky dink” is the term that comes to mind.

     I don’t know what the technical term for the affected components is but they are basically flexible circuit-board thingies.  Pressure from the rubber button over the top of them shoots your lasers, works your gas pedal, etc. Mine looked like they’d been glued to the controller housing.  I think Atari used a piece of double-sided tape (or somebody did, anyway) to secure the ribbons.  Over time, that tape melted/dissolved into a rock-hard goop.  Twenty minutes and some Goo-B-Gone & a dental scraper removed the gunk.  Took me a couple tries to get the controller reassembled as a third hand would’ve been helpful and whatdoyouknow?  I fixed it.  Sorta.

      A run through about 3/4 of the games revealed that the joystick just isn’t all that responsive and the buttons are wonky.   Not sure if I’m just used to 21st Century controllers or if this thing is just worn out, or if it just flat out sucks.  Probably a combination of the three.

     I had hoped to re-capture the glory of the 80s with a few games of Pac-Man, Defender and Pole Position.  As I told my son though, “These aren’t games you sit and play for hours, like Fallout 3. You bang out a couple games and move on with your life.” His response was, “Uh Dad, that probably wasn’t the best 150 bucks you’ve ever spent.”  Can’t say I disagree.

     There’s a line in The Fellowship of the Ring (the film)…something to the effect of “some things that should not have been forgotten were.”  Well, if I can explore the flipside of that, sometimes there are things that deserve to stay in the dustbin of history and the Atari 5200 may be one of those.  Anybody interested in a semi-dusty non-groundbreaking video game system?  Make me an offer.

Copyright 2013 It Came From The Nerd Cave 2013