- The vintage-look Atari 2600 Plus is a throwback to the golden age of video gaming.
- The console comes bundled with 10 games, but it is backward compatible with hundreds of Atari system titles.
- Our best pick: Travel back in time to a simpler age of racing games with a vintage copy of Pole Position.
With the film Gran Turismo in theaters, and blockbuster racing sims hugely popular at present, digital racing has never been hotter. There are online racing leagues and in-person tournaments for very real cash prizes. Even the pros use racing sims to hone their skills. But sometimes you want to leave all that complexity behind, and go back to the wood-paneled basement of your youth, when your worries were as limited as the pixels on your screen. Thanks to Atari, you kind of can.
Just released and shipping in November, the Atari 2600 Plus aims to take console gaming back to basics. It comes preloaded with 10 classic games, but that’s not the good part—the 2600+ is backward compatible with nearly all 2600 and 7800 Atari cartridge games. Quick! Scurry up to your attic and dig through those old cardboard boxes to find your old games. It’s time for some Pole Position.
Pole Position is the great-grandfather of the Gran Turismo series of games. In arcade cabinet form, it raked in a total of $9.5 million in quarters every week of 1983, from gamers racing a tiny digital F1 car around a simple model of Fuji raceway. The Atari cartridge version sold in the hundreds of thousands, and if you don’t happen to have one squirreled away, you can likely find one on eBay.
Pole Position was developed by Namco, an early Japanese distributor for California-based Atari. The game was launched just two years after Namco’s iconic video game hit, 1980’s Pac-Man, and it’s considered one of (if not the) most influential racing game ever made. It wasn’t the first, but Pole Position was the one that set the foundations for all subsequent racing video games. Its impact continues to echo down the years.
For a brief period, you could even play Pole Position on the screen of your Tesla. That Easter Egg was rolled out in a software update in August of 2018. Unfortunately, the rights to the classic game were not properly secured. If a video game company goes out of business, some old games can become what’s called “abandonware,” in which case they’re fair game. Namco is still around as a software company, though heavily restructured, and thus Pole Position was not up for grabs.
But you can still get your mitts on it. The 2600+ costs a reasonable $129.99 and comes with a free-of-charge dose of nostalgia. The retro-look switchgear and wood trim is pure early 1980s, but the console can hook up to nearly any modern TV, with widescreen modes and HDMI and USB-C connection ports.
Next, Find the Game
If you snap one up, then you’re really going to want to look for—in that dusty cardboard box or on eBay—Pole Position II. A nearly identical sequel to the original released just one year later, Pole Position II is essentially the same basic game as its predecessor, but it offers three additional circuits to race on. As an Atari 7800 cartridge, it has been third-party tested and confirmed to work on the 2600+. The original Pole Position has also been confirmed to work, but you might as well have a few more tracks to drive.
Preorders for the 2600+ are open now, and the consoles will start shipping in November. If you need to take a break from the overwhelming complexity of modern racing games, or just want to relive part of your childhood, then you better snap one up fast. You’re going to want to take pole position on this one.
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Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.