Retro Rewind: Atari 5200

The Atari 5200 was introduced in 1982 as a higher end compliment to Atari’s popular 2600 console. It was designed to compete directly with Mattel’s Intellivision but actually ended up competing with the Colecovision, as the two were released at similar times. The 5200 was discontinued after only two years on the market, in favor of the more powerful Atari 7800.

The 5200 was the first video game system I can remember playing at home.

At the time, the Nintendo Entertainment System was still under development and arcade games were only marginally better in terms of graphics and quality.

For a graphic comparison, here is a YouTube video showing the original Mario Bros for Arcade, NES, 2600, 5200 and 7800.

The 5200 was my first foray into the world of gaming, and even though most of the games were pretty awful, it still provided hours of fun and enjoyment.

In reading commentary about the 5200 today, people mention issues with the controls, but honestly when I was a kid, that’s the way I thought it was supposed to be and just dealt with it.

The Atari 5200 controller

Some games used an overlay over the keypad, which had tabs that could be inserted at the top and bottom of the keypad to provide unique functionality for a specific game. Star Raiders is one such game, and its overlay can be seen below:

One thing to remember about games back then: they seemed great at the time because we didn’t know any better, and were certainly technical accomplishments at the time, but they really weren’t that fun and don’t age well (complete trash is a phrase that comes to mind for many of them).

Games back in the Atari days usually had limited variation between levels and most of the games never really ended. Generally the goal was to get the “high score” for a particular game, and there was almost never any in game story, and no in-game instructions either.

I had quite a few of the 5200 games, and some of my favorites are listed below:


Video of Q-bert gameplay on YouTube:

Jungle Hunt

Video of Jungle Hunt gameplay on YouTube:

Congo Bongo

Video of Congo Bongo game play on YouTube:

Star Raiders

Star Raiders in all of its glory (was actually pretty bad)

Video of Star Raiders gameplay on YouTube:

Pole Position

Pole Position on the 5200

Video of Pole Position gameplay on YouTube:

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