Telling someone what your first video game console was is one of the easiest ways to give away your age without saying it outright.
For me personally, I started out with handheld game consoles like the GameBoy and Game Gear before getting a Super Nintendo bundled with Donkey Kong Country when I was 8. As such, I’ve been using a more traditional controller ever since I was a kid.
When I’m not working my way through Tears of the Kingdom or Starfield though, I really enjoy trying out retro games I’ve never played before. This is one of the reasons I subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online and recently had a lot of fun trying out all the different games in Antstream Arcade on my Xbox.
While I’m familiar with Atari’s rich history and how its home video game consoles paved the way for Nintendo’s success, I’ve never actually played any Atari games on their original hardware — or even anything close to it. But after seeing my piece on the Chicken McNugget handheld from McDonald’s China, My Arcade — which produces retro gaming accessories — reached out to see if I wanted to try out its new Atari GameStation Pro ($99, My Arcade) mini console.
I’ve now spent the past week diving into the 200+ retro games on the Atari GameStation Pro. Besides taking a closer look at a slice of gaming history I was born too late to experience, I’m really impressed by how it feels to play all these older titles with a joystick instead of with one of the best Nintendo Switch controllers.
Whether you’re like me and didn’t grow up playing Atari or are just looking for a great gift for that older gamer in your life, here’s everything you need to know about My Arcade’s Atari GameStation Pro.
A retro-style mini console with modern conveniences
Even before the NES Classic started the mini console craze back in 2016, Atari clones from companies like AtGames were easy to find on store shelves at Target and other retailers. The Atari GameStation Pro does things a bit differently, though; instead of being a direct clone of the Atari 2600, it has a much more modern design complete with RGB lighting.
The console itself is powered by USB-C and outputs video using HDMI just like with other recent mini consoles. There are two USB-C ports at the front for connecting the two included joysticks to the system but there’s also a microSD card slot on the left side of the console. (You can probably guess what this is for.) On the top of the Atari Game Station Pro, you’ll find a power button and a home button which each have RGB lighting around them which you can change from rainbow to white or amber if you prefer.
One of the things I like about the Atari GameStation Pro when compared to the other mini consoles in my collection is the fact that it has a bit of heft to it. My Arcade likely did this to prevent it from moving around in your entertainment center or on your desk like how I played
The included joysticks can be used wired or wirelessly, but if you go the second route, you’re going to need plenty of batteries as they each take four AA batteries. While rechargeable batteries would have been nice, the AAs add a bit of weight to the joysticks. Plus, you could also pick up some rechargeable batteries.
Each joystick has three primary buttons along with several function buttons. While the A button can be found on the base of the controller, the B button is on the top of the joystick and the C button feels more like a trigger on the side of the joystick. Under the Atari logo, there’s a home button to quickly get out of the game you’re playing along with a start and select button. The menu button on the backside of the controller is used for accessing the save state menu and long pressing it allows you to change both the joystick and the console’s RGB lighting.
Not your average control scheme
Besides these more traditional buttons, My Arcade has also added a built-in paddle like on the Atari 2600 across from the A button for playing classic games like Pong and Breakout. I’ve played Breakout before on the cheap handheld consoles that were around when I was a kid, but this was my first time using a paddle to do so. This did take some getting used to but I’ve had a blast trying to master using Atari’s iconic paddle in the games that support it.
Speaking of the games on the Atari GameStation Pro, there are 200-plus titles organized in two main categories: Featured Games and Bonus Games. Within these two categories, the games are divided by the system they released on (Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800) and by whether or not they support multiplayer or can be played using the paddle on the joystick. In addition to actual Atari games, the Bonus Games section features some titles from other consoles as well as arcade games. Overall, there’s a good mix of games to choose from including some from the 8-bit era as well as the 16-bit era.
As someone who grew up playing with a gamepad before making the move to modern, dual joystick controllers, it was quite the change playing the games on the GameStation Pro with a single joystick. I had a lot of fun trying to play the arcade games World Rally and Snow Board Championship without crashing. It took me a bit but after a few tries, I started to get the hang of things. I also like how you press the Select button to add credits to each game so that you can keep playing without seeing Game Over.
As My Arcade even includes a few Genesis games on the Atari GameStation Pro, I also got to see what it was like playing the 16-bit RPG Brave Battle Saga with a joystick. This was certainly a unique experience as was playing the Super Nintendo platformer Radical Rex using a much different control scheme then a D-Pad.
The Atari GameStation Pro does include save states and pressing the menu button on the back of the controller pulls up the save state menu. Not every game supports them, but most of the more advanced titles do.
Long live the mini console
Even though the mini console craze now seems to have died out, I absolutely love my SNES Classic, Genesis Mini, PC Engine Mini and other mini consoles. At a time when physical media is quickly becoming a thing of the past, mini consoles with officially licensed games are one of the best ways for video game preservation in my opinion.
Sure, you can back up old game cartridges or download ROMs online, but with a mini console like the Atari GameStation Pro, you’re getting the complete experience, along with a system’s original controllers. There may be some differences and upgrades but the essence of what made a particular console what it was is still there.
As a parent, this is especially important for me since I don’t feel that just playing these old games does them justice. Instead, with a mini console, you can explain to your children what it was actually like to play games on these older systems, and they can see how those designs influenced the Nintendo Switch, PS5 and even the Xbox Series X.
Even though we probably won’t see a Nintendo 64 Classic or a Dreamcast Mini anytime soon, it’s great that My Arcade is still in the mini console business. Hopefully, its mini consoles can convince other hardware makers that miniature versions of classic consoles are an excellent way for new generations to experience retro games how — or at least as close to how — they were meant to be played.