April 22, 2024

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The Atari 400 Mini is a nice little slice of video game history

The Atari 400 Mini is a nice little slice of video game history

Now that the mini console trend has already covered most of the big consoles from Nintendo, Sega, and Sony, we're starting to enter more niche areas. The Atari 400 Mini is not a re-release of the company's most popular console (which would be the 2600). It is not full of household names. But that's also part of what makes it so interesting – the little gadget is a nice, fun way to explore a very specific and formative area of ​​video game history.

Like his contemporaries, 400 mini It is a miniature version of the original. This means a small 1970s beige plastic box, with the keyboard and cartridge slot that is purely decorative. I appreciate how old this thing looks. Even the included HDMI and power cords are beige. It has five USB ports (four on the front and one on the back), an HDMI port, and a USB-C port for power. There's a single functional power button on the back, along with a small red light to let you know it's on. You also get a classic Atari joystick, which is equipped with a USB socket and the trick addition of some extra buttons, including a shoulder button and a clickable circle around the actual stick.

This is a plug and play device, so setup is very simple. It doesn't connect to the Internet, and the visual settings are pretty standard. There are two options: 4:3 mode displays games in their original aspect ratio, while Pixel Perfect mode displays pixels in squares. You also have the option to add virtual scanlines to mimic the gaming experience on a CRT monitor. Other than that, there's not much to it. You can scroll through the games in alphabetical order, and they even have console-level save slots, so you can pause and save your progress at any time while playing. It all works well enough, although it took me a while to be able to navigate the menu using the large joystick.

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The most important part is the games themselves. The 400 Mini has 25 built-in games that span the 8-bit Atari era. Includes expected titles such as Asteroids And centipedeas well as slightly more obscure versions such as a nautical-themed shooter Wavy navy And Hovering poufver, Jeff Minter's game about cutting grass using a stolen lawnmower. The simulation is solid, and I was surprised at how well some of these games worked. I never played Crystal castles Before – a platformer where a bear tries to escape a series of magical mazes – but I ended up spending hours playing it with my eight-year-old daughter, passing the joystick back and forth. Likewise, space sim Star Raiders II It's still incredibly exciting all these years later, and I was so happy to discover it Air balla fantasy maze where you play as a bubble bouncer.

It's a well-curated list, and I found basically everything – except the simple stuff Basketball -Still playable by modern standards. The kit does a great job of including what this device can do. And unlike most similar mini controllers, the 400 Mini has room for expansion. Various USB ports allow you to connect a variety of controllers and keyboards, and you can even stick in a flash drive to load games. This opens up a lot of possibilities, especially considering how strong Atari's homebrew scene is.

Star Raiders II.
Image: Atari

This ability to expand the device is also important because the 400 Mini is surprisingly competitive. It's really not that hard to find ways to play Atari games nowadays. The company released a version of the 2600 last year that can play both older and premium cartridges Atari 50 Not only does the collection contain an expanded list of games, but it also adds historical context with its interactive documentary format. With that in mind, a $119 mini console might be a tough sell. But the bookshelf-worthy design combined with its flexibility may push it over the edge – as long as you're craving a few things Star Riders.