Atari Flashback 2: Complete Review and Breakdown

For years innumerable, my favorite hobby has been trolling Craigslist in search of awesome retrogaming gear on the cheap! After weeks of searching with nothing impressing me much, I found an ad for an Atari Flashback 2 at a mere $20, complete in box!

(If meeting potentially dangerous strangers in dark, unfamiliar places is not your bag, you can safely pick up the Atari Flashback 2 from Amazon!)

What makes this little plug-and-play Atari console so slick is that it retains the same woodgrain styling as the original Atari 2600, as well as the joysticks retaining their original design. However, certain elements were improved upon to be more friendly with modern displays.

The original system’s power adapter had an input jack that resembled a pair of old headphones…

Whereas the Atari Flashback 2 uses an AC Power adapter with a more modern (not to mention, safer) input.

(Click to pick up an official Atari Flashback 2 replacement AC adapter if you need one.)

Another improvement on the hardware side of things was the use of composite video and audio cables, opposed to the super old school phono cable. Video is outputted through the yellow cable, and monaural audio through the single white cable.

The reason Atari originally elected to use the old RCA phono output was that television sets at the time utilized a switchbox that had the correct input jack on it. As technology advanced, this peripheral became obsolete as TVs transitioned away from RF to composite RCA inputs.

For those with an original console, an RCA F Adapter can be placed at the end of the phono RCA cable, which connects directly to your TV’s coaxial input! If you own the original Atari 2600 and you’d rather not mod it, this adapter is your best option.

The advantage of the Flashback 2’s modern RCA outputs is that audio and video signals are cleaner due to separation, whereas audio and video are simultaneously piped through the original console’s single output a ‘la the NES’s original RF adapter.

Pro Tip: use the Atari Flashback 2 on an older CRT television because newer flatscreens do not display some of the games properly. I learned this the hard way after hooking up the console to my newer flatscreen and discovering that Asteroids didn’t have any actual asteroids! :-/

The scan rates for newer TVs are too high for the output to handle, but older TVs with lower scan rates work just fine. In fact, it’s always a good idea to keep an old CRT TV available if you are any type of retro gamer, preferably one with the yellow, red and white inputs in the back along with the requisite coaxial input!

Finally, another design aspect that differs from the original console is the elimination of switches in favor of five buttons on the front.

The red one is the Power switch, and five yellow ones for Reset, two Difficulty toggles, and Game Select. On the back, between the power jack and audio/video cables, a toggle switch allows the user to toggle between color or black-and-white displays.

This covers all of the functionality that my old Atari Light Sixer has, but in a much lighter, more modern package!

A giant step-up from the Atari Flashback 1, which was basically an NES-on-a-chip that was rushed into production, the Flashback 2 utilizes internal hardware that closely resembles the original console. What’s the benefit of this, you ask?

Instead of running a ported version of your favorite game, the Flashback 2 is able to faithfully recreate the experience of playing Atari 2600 games in their true form! The internal circuitry is reminiscent of the original console, which for example, accurately represents the flicker one would see if they were playing Lunar Lander on the Atari 2600!

Now that we have gotten the technological bullshit out of the way, onto the games! When you turn on your Atari Flashback 2, you are greeted with a menu screen that separates the games by category.

Bear in mind that some of the listed games are either unreleased titles that never saw the light of day, or hacks and homebrew titles that were created by enthusiasts. First up is Adventure Games, which includes:

  • Adventure
  • Adventure II
  • Haunted House
  • Return to Haunted House
  • Secret Quest
  • Wizard

The second category is Arcade Favorites, and includes:

  • Arcade Asteroids
  • Arcade Pong
  • Asteroids Deluxe
  • Battlezone
  • Centipede
  • Lunar Lander
  • Millipede
  • Missile Command
  • Space Duel

* I should note that some of these games can be played with paddle controllers (not included in box).

Next up is the Skill and Action Zone, the biggest category in the library and includes titles such as:

  • 3D Tic-Tac-Toe
  • Aquaventure
  • Atari Climber
  • Combat
  • Combat 2
  • Dodge ‘Em
  • Fatal Run
  • Frog Pond
  • Hangman
  • Human Cannonball
  • Maze Craze
  • Off the Wall
  • Outlaw
  • Pitfall
  • Radar Lock
  • River Raid
  • Save Mary
  • Video Checkers
  • Video Chess

Whew….that’s a lot already, but we’re not done yet! Onto the final category, Space Station, which includes:

  • Caverns of Mars
  • Quadrun
  • Saboteur
  • Space War
  • Yars’ Return
  • Yars’ Revenge

Add that all up and that is 40 games on this console! But wait…it doesn’t end there! Lurking deep within the console are two additional hidden paddle games!

In order to access this hidden menu, using the controller plugged into port #1, press UP once, DOWN 9 times, UP 7 times, and DOWN 2 times! This represents the first year that Pong’s arcade iteration was released, and takes the player to a menu that includes:

  • Super Breakout
  • Warlords

That’s a grand total of 42 games!

With all those amazing titles, anybody who buys the Atari Flashback 2 is well-equipped to play all of the 2600’s greatest games, eliminating the need to buy an original, outdated console at a more than likely inflated price. In fact, the only thing it’s missing is…wait. What?!

Modders out there will be pleased to know that a cartridge guide can easily be added to the Atari Flashback 2! For those who would like to be able to play their old 2600 titles and do not have the means to get one, it’s totally possible!

Designer Curt Vendel and team were even kind enough to place a diagram inside of the console that tells you what connections need to be made in order for the cartridge guide to work!

Follow this link for instructions on how to perform the mod. Luckily, the difficulty level is low, with carving out the hole for the cartridge guide perhaps being the most difficult step.

(Disclaimer: Neither myself or the author of the above link assume any responsibility for damage that may occur to yourself or your personal property while performing these tests.  Mod at your own risk!)

Finally, another cool perk worth mentioning is that the controller test screens can be accessed by holding down the SELECT and RESET buttons while pressing the POWER button. This allows you to test the controller’s inputs as well as the console’s color and sound, much like playing around in the options menu during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Wrapping Up

In closing, I honestly bought this console having no idea of its true potential, but after countless hours playing it and getting acquainted with its interface, I am pleased to report that this is definitely a must-own for anyone who experiences intense bouts of Atari fever!

This has perhaps been my best plug ‘n play purchase to date, and Atari purists are bound to be pleased at how versatile this little machine can be! Thanks for stopping by, and Lumpz the Clown OUT!

Wanna see some other awesome plug ‘n plays that I’ve picked up over the years? I’ve also reviewed both an Intellivision and Super Pac-Man plug ‘n play!

You like other old games, too? Check out my retrogaming playlist on YouTube!