Atari 7800: The system that could (but didn't)


Well, this is my first article for this publication, and I'm very excited. So, let's start things off right, by detailing one of my very favorite systems: the Atari 7800.

First, let's look at a little history of the system, for all of you who are saying, "7800, whaaa?". The 7800 was made in 1984, according to what gamers wanted at the time, which was arcade quality graphics, backwards compatibility with the 2600, and joysticks better than the 5200's. The 7800 would've crushed every other system in its path, but one thing held it back from gaming glory: the infamous video game crash of 1984 [screams in the background]. Because of this, the 7800 was put on hold.

Well, let's jump ahead to 1985. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released [in the US], and was a mega hit. Games like Super Mario Bros. brought gaming back, and soon video games were returning to homes. Atari, seeing the success of the NES, decided to release the 7800. This would be a good thing, you'd think. But alas, Atari had been taken over by quite possibly one of history's stupidest people: Jack Tramiel. Ol' Jacky was more interested in the home computer division of the company, and so the 7800 got little attention. Marketing was dismal, and the games were rehashes of old arcade games. At this time, gamers wanted newer games, another reason the NES was so successful. Long story short, the 7800 chugged along in third place in the console wars (the Sega Master System held second), and finally gave up in the early '90s.

The system by all means should have been a winner but wasn't. As previously stated, the games were the same thing everyone had on their 2600s, 5200s, Colecovisions... The only distinguishing characteristic was that the graphics were now darn near perfect, but that certainly wasn't enough. Although the system's library consisted of older games, there were a few goodies in the bunch. My favorite example is Double Dragon, the arcade classic that at the time was sweeping the nation. The NES, SMS, and every home computer had a port (even the 2600 got one, but that's another story), so why shouldn't the 7800? The port is well done, though it doesn't look quite as good as the NES or SMS releases. Still, for those that had the system, I'm betting this was one of those "Must-have" games. There were also other arcade hits, such as Xenophobe, and Rampage, two other "Must-haves", if for nothing else than the fact they are somewhat newer and fresh on the system.

So you see, the 7800 could've and should've excelled in the gaming market, but poor distribution, tired games, and the late arrival of the system assured its fate. It's a shame, because it is quite fun, and a definite collector's piece. Thankfully, it's now getting some attention in the classic gamers market. Perhaps the 7800 will get the respect it has long been denied.

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #8, November 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine