Back to Table of Contents



I don't know that I would call myself anything of an expert on the Atari 5200, but I have played virtually every game for the system and actually like many of them whereas I'm not a real big fan of the 2600.

The one thing that comes to most people's minds when the subject of the 5200 is brought up is its God-forsaken controllers, and rightfully so - they're undoubtedly one of the worst controllers made for any system in my opinion. However, the problem that I'd like to address for a few here is the fact that its lousy controllers have overshadowed the system overall which is NOT cool. Intellivision fans have dealt with what most people consider awful controllers, but they still enjoy many of the good games Mattel put out for the system so it doesn't make much sense why the 5200's faults can't be overlooked in the controller department - or does it.

Atari launched the 5200 on the heels of what was (and still is) one of the most popular videogame systems of all time - the 2600. A system that set a standard for controllers to be followed for decades. Mattel went in its own direction from day one and pretty much went after people looking for a little more out of their video games. Not necessarily "more" overall, but in terms of overall involvement. While the 2600 has several different types of controllers available for it, the system's basic capabilities just didn't offer the programmer much of a chance to get too far into their games no matter what controller they programmed it for.

So as game systems advanced and Atari began to realize that there was only so much that programmers were going to be able to get out of the 2600, they came up with what was called the "Video System X" in its early stages of development. The system was to have a keypad like Intellivision and Colecovision, probably an excellent idea on Atari's part as it allows for a much wider array of gameplay options, but then they apparently felt they had to revolutionize the controller industry once again and decided to attach an analog joystick to that keypad!

The 2600's controllers are what's called "digital," meaning you are either pressing a button or you're not. The joystick itself is simply a set of four buttons under the stick that you unknowingly press when you move the joystick in a direction. An analog signal measures HOW FAR you're moving the joystick which, here again I have to admit, does make for some interesting gameplay options, but since the 5200's sticks do not spring back to the center position when you let go of the stick it's difficult to get used to.

Who's gonna complain about the keypad they came out with though? Start, pause and reset right on the controller? Gotta like that a lot!

Now the games made for the 5200 are a completely different story and pretty much the whole point of my writing here. Most of the games on the system are fantastic! If you look at the games released for the Atari 400/800, which uses standard digital joysticks, they were excellent in many cases. The computer didn't have the controller problems the 5200 had and the games and computer were very well received. Since the 5200 is nothing more than an Atari 8-bit 400/800 with a few minor modifications, like games, for the most part, are quite similar, if not exactly carbon copies! Of course, the 5200 had many games that were not available on its 8-bit computer counterpart (and quite a few games that were available for both systems were superior on the 5200), so it's definitely worth getting into if you haven't already. Some of the classic ports are excellent and still not found on any other system. Space Dungeon immediately springs to mind.

Some of the third-party controllers you will find described here overcome the problems of Atari's controller and could practically be called life-savers for the system. Check into a Competition Pro or Wico joystick if you absolutely cannot stand the Atari sticks. Better still is the Masterplay Interface if you can get your hands on one - they're pretty hard to come by.

Judging the system by its controllers sucks in my opinion. Try and work around them if you can't deal with them and you'll be treated to a library of some of the very best games ever made!


Back to Table of Contents