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Atari 5200 History


4-port Atari 5200
Atari 5200 SuperSystem
(original 4-port version)

In 1982, Atari introduced the Atari 5200 to the gaming public. The originally planned sequel to the 5200 was a system called the 3200, but development was halted on it as being too difficult to develop for. Atari decided to produce a game system based on its line of 8-bit computers, which also happened to be fairly decent at playing games. Games could be ported very easily from the Atari 400/800 to the Atari 5200, and many were (especially in later years). The biggest hardware difference between the 5200 and 8-bit computers was the inclusion of an analog joystick with the 5200. This controller allowed a full 360 degrees of movement, but unfortunately it was not self-centering. This made it very difficult to play many games, such as Pac-Man. In addition, the controllers were prone to failure, making it very difficult these days to find a 5200 system with working controllers. Several third-party vendors (most notably Wico) did release better controllers and devices that allowed use of 9-pin 2600 compatible joysticks.

Atari 5200 Controller
The Infamous 5200 Controller

In addition to the analog control stick, 5200 controllers also sported a keypad which allowed for overlays in the same fashion as Intellivision controllers. Unlike the Intellivision, most games on the 5200 didn't come with overlays. The 5200 controllers also sported a pause button, one of the first consoles to have this feature. The original 5200 was released with four joystick ports, not unlike the Atari 800 computer. The original 5200 also came with a unique RF switchbox that supplied power to the 5200 on the same cable that provided the video/audio signal to the television. While this was probably an attempt to reduce the number of cables running across the floor, if this adapter happens to break you can't just run down to Radio Shack to buy a new one. The second generation 5200 system reduced the number of ports to two and came with a normal power supply and RF switchbox (something to keep in mind if you're looking to add a 5200 system to your collection!)

Bounty Bob Strikes Back

The 5200 probably has a higher percentage of quality games for it than any other system at the time (or even the present!) Unfortunately, the 5200 also had a short life due to the infamous game crash of 1984. There are quite a few excellent prototype titles that were probably very close to being released, but never made it to market. Today you can play these games through emulation and even on a 5200 console thanks to Sean Kelley's Multicart. The 5200 is a great system to collect for, not only because there are many excellent games for it, but also because it's one of the systems where all the released games can be obtained. And there also seem to be many prototype carts floating around, probably due to the large number of titles under development when the market crashed.