Hippo Manchester
July 28, 2005

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Throw away your XBox!

Plug-and-play games are cooler, cheaper, less trouble

By John “jaQ” Andrews

Video game consoles are getting more and more expensive.

The latest consoles announced recently by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will debut this Christmas season at prices approaching $300.

Not to mention the games themselves. You want to actually play, right? Each game sets you back about $50 when it’s first released. Wait a few months and you might find it on the discount rack.

But if you’re not going bleeding-edge anyway, why not go retro? Today’s video games suffer from horrendous complexity, long loading times and disappointing sacrifices of fun to the vengeful god of Better Graphics. The mid ’80s to early ’90s are considered by many to be the Golden Age of gaming, and now, through the miracle of ever-decreasing memory chip costs, you can relive those heady days. And not get shackled to one gaming console.

Plug-and-play video games have been around a couple of years now, but they’re just starting to explode in variety and capability. The basic concept is a controller (or two) that has a few games built in and connects directly to your television. It may be powered by batteries or have an AC adapter. You never buy game cartridges or discs — the hardware and software are inseparable. Best of all, they’re cheap: most can be had for under $20.

Atari was one of the first to release a retro collection of games-on-a-controller. It looks just like a classic Atari 2600 joystick with a few extra buttons for power and such. Ten games, including Asteroids, Centipede and even Pong, are stored on a memory chip inside.

Atari followed up with the Flashback Classic Game Console, a two-player model with fifteen 2600 games and five 7800 games, including Saboteur, a game that’s never previously been released.

Of course Atari couldn’t stay the only player (ha!) for long. Radica has since introduced several themed Arcade Legends games, like Tetris and Space Invaders. The Tetris game has two controllers and offers five different modes of play. Space Invaders includes Phoenix, Lunar Rescue, Qix and Colony 7 as well as the title game.

Jakks sells a whole slew of games, and actually packages the first Atari offering. Jakks offers both retro collections from Atari and Intellivision as well as new licensed games with Spiderman, Star Wars and Spongebob Squarepants themes, among many others.

Jakks controllers are often shaped like a character’s face, so you’re grabbing Spongebob’s nose and mashing Darth Vader’s chest buttons. It can be somewhat disturbing, but fun if you can look past the design element.

You might also find various casino games stuffed onto a plug-and-play unit. While they really don’t have the retro appeal of these other games or the cheapness of, say, a deck of cards, they might be useful for practice before your big trip to Vegas.

Possibly the greatest thing about these games is that they’re simple fun. Easy to set up and easy to play, they’re a welcome change from the big-budget, brand-new, complex games of today.

John Andrews, also known as jaQ, is not only a technical wiz but he also writes and sings his own songs. Each week in Hippo he examines some facet of the gadget/techie world and offers his advice for how to get the most technology bang for your buck. Have questions for jaQ? E-mail him at citizenjaQ@softhome.net.