Golfyssey 05 – Atari 5200

This console was a bad idea that brought lots of bad ideas to the market.  Where to begin?  First of all, it has stopgap written all over it.  When the Atari 5200 was released, the ColecoVision console had already come out, and it had immediately become the number one seller in the market due to its superior graphics and sound – not to mention that its pack-in game was Donkey Kong.  Atari, still recovering from stupid shit like the Pac-Man and E.T. disasters, needed some revenue fast, so they decided to repackage their 8-bit computer line as a new console, remove the keyboard, quickly port some of their arcade games and dump it onto the market just barely in time for Christmas 1982.

Oh fuck, what a shit show.

There still were a lot of creative people at Atari then, and they did try to innovate.  The console did introduce the pause button to gaming, for instance.

The controller of the Atari 5200 is what saw the most innovation, and it’s also what got the most scorn and hatred.  Like the Intellivision and the ColecoVision, the controller has a numeric keypad.  This was the fad I guess.  But the most innovative (read: different for different’s sake) was the fact that the joystick was non-centering.

I have never used a non-centering joystick, and I’m willing to bet that neither have you.  Virtually all joysticks on all gamepads and control systems for all home console systems, arcade games, and even industrial systems are centering, meaning that when you let go of the joystick, it returns by itself to the center.

Someone at Atari thought that it would be great to design a joystick that stayed wherever you left it so that you would have to be responsible for moving it back after every turn, punch, kick, drop, hit, bounce, fire, leap, or whatever.

Most of the system’s games are arcade or Atari 2600 ports, and without an actual non-centering joystick, these games become all but impossible to play.  Take for example the excellent Pitfall II.  The 5200 has a decent enough port, but without a non-centering joystick, once you send Pitfall Harry off in one direction, he will keep going that way until he hits a wall or gets killed if you don’t use the joystick to send him the opposite direction, making him stop.

And all games that require character movement are like this on an emulator.  And it’s a lost cause to try to find a real 5200 joystick and use it with an emulator.  The 5200 joysticks used cheap plastic that literally disintegrated by themselves over time.  They did this whether or not they had even been taken out of their original packaging.

So needless to say, I don’t play my collection of Atari 5200 games very often.  As far as I know, there is no standalone emulator for this system, but it’s playable on the M.E.S.S. emulator.  And using M.E.S.S. is where that Logitech gamepad I mentioned below really shines, because the Joystick support doesn’t work for me with M.E.S.S., so I’ve used the Logitech key-mapping software to map M.E.S.S.’s default control keys to the gamepad.

But since the Atari 5200 had a numeric keypad, that doesn’t help me play “Miniature Golf” at all.

Atari 5200 Miniature Golf 1

You can tell the system had a short lifespan, and that the games were all developed in-house when ALL the games have the exact same loading screen.

Atari 5200 Miniature Golf 2


Atari 5200 Miniature Golf 3

Wow.  Mind-blowing graphics.  Beautiful colours.

Seriously, the Atari 5200 was supposed to compete with the ColecoVision, and that thing could handle almost any arcade game port you could throw at it for its time.  I know the 5200 can do better, just look at the aforementioned Pitfall II or Ballblazer.

Well, there’s really no excuse for this monochrome piece of shit.  The Apple II had a better mini golf game for crying out loud!  This one plays about the same as that, only it uses the Atari 5200’s controller keypad to swing.


The  button aims left, the # button aims right, and the number keys fire shots of different strength.  And The sound effects are terrible.  And this game isn’t fun at all.  “Miniature Golf” for the Apple II is way more fun.

Since the Atari 5200 had such a pathetic and short life, I don’t think there were any more golf games released for it.  Which is fine and dandy for me, because sometimes it hurts to even think of this console.  Especially when I think of how popular the actual Atari 8-bit computers were, and how many genuinely good games and programs they had made for them.