Hands on with Atari’s first console in 20 years


While many of us are still struggling to get their hands on the new PlayStation, classic video game lovers can snap up a new piece of nostalgia – but it comes at a hefty price. 

It’s Atari’s first console in more than 20 years and all started as a crowdfunding project back in 2017. 

Now the Atari VCS has finally entered the Aussie market, but this console-hybrid isn’t quite what meets the eye. 

9News.com.au went hands-on with the Atari VCS to see how it stacks up against the other new-gen hardware. (Supplied)

9News.com.au went hands-on with the Atari VCS to see how it stacks up against the other new-gen hardware. 

It has seemingly been marketed as a video game console, but there’s much more to it than that. 

The Atari VCS is essentially a mini PC. 

At first glance the console takes you back in time, with a vintage wooden panel on the front of the device. 

The Atari VCS includes its own Atari operating system, Atari Mode, running off the Linux operating system. Windows, Chrome OS and Steam OS are also compatible.  

Atari Mode is where you’ll experience the VCS as a ‘console’. 

In the menu you can navigate to your apps, which includes most video streaming apps, as well as your games library. 

All the classic Atari games are included, all of them briefly filled me with nostalgia, especially while playing with the new Joystick controller. 

But I have to say, likely because we’re all now spoiled for games these days, none of the classics held my attention for long. 

I needed to see what the ‘console’ could really do. 

The Atari VCS is the brand’s first console in over 20 years. (Supplied)

Loaded with 8GB of RAM and the option to upgrade, the VCS does the job for your basic gaming and computer needs. 

But the built-in storage on the console isn’t anything to celebrate, the console’s hard drive is a tiny 32GB.

Sure, this’ll get you by with all the classic Atari games, but if you want to use the console as a PC you’ll need to upgrade. 

Thankfully the VCS has an internal SSD slot ready to go – as well as four USB ports for any external storage, a keyboard, mouse and whatever else you need.

The Atari VCS supports 4K displays, but while reviewing the console I found the frame rate would drop significantly at 4K – even with simple games found on the Atari store. 

You shouldn’t have any problems playing games in PC Mode at higher frame rates, but an increase in frame rate will cost you significantly in resolution. 

All the classic Atari games are included in the new Atari VCS console. (Supplied)

Antstream Arcade, a Netflix library of arcade games, comes preinstalled on the VCS.

Antsream is an online subscription service giving the player access to over 1000 games for about $10 a month. 

You’ll also need a steady internet connection to get the most out of the service, I found the games would need to occasionally buffer, but not enough to stop me playing. 

There’s an app available for iOS and Android which can assist in navigating menus and double as a mouse cursor for the console while browsing the web. 

What’s in the box? The All-In bundle comes with the Atari VCS, wireless classic joystick and a modern wireless controller. 

Each controller comes with it’s own USB charging cable. A power cord for the Atari VCS and a HDMI cable is supplied, as well as a digital copy of Atari Vault which includes a stack of classic Atari games.

The classic joystick is now wireless and features a modern RGB lighting ring and vibration function. It’s an upgrade, that’s for sure. 

The Wireless Modern controller is similar in shape to the Xbox controller, it feels nice in your hands and looks the part. 

The VCS is available in two colours, Black Walnut, as part of the All-In One Bundle, and Onyx – which is just the base VCS system. 

The Atari VCS bundle retails for about $100 more than the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. (Supplied)

Let’s talk about the price. 

If you’re comparing the Atari VCS to the latest consoles, it’s not priced competitively. The All-In One Bundle (which includes the joystick and wireless controller) will set you back about $850, $100 more expensive than the disc version of the PlayStation 5.

That $850 does not include external storage – meaning you won’t be able to boot into Windows without it. 

You could always pick up a 500GB SSD for around $90 – $100, but you’ll also need to factor in the operating system, another 200-odd-dollars. 

The average consumer is going to struggle to build a new gaming PC, with the same specification as the VCS, for under $1000. 

If you’re in the market for a mini PC with a nostalgic flavour, the Atari VCS might just be the PC for you. Going down this path, you could pick up the base version of the VCS for about $699 AUD (controllers not included). And if next-gen console gaming is what you’re after, best to stick to PlayStation and Xbox. 

The Atari VCS is available now from JB HIFI, Amazon, EB Games, Catch.com.au and The Gamesmen. 

 The Atari VCS All-In Bundle was loaned to 9News for the purpose of this review.


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