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Can The AtariBox Avoid Suffering The Coleco Chameleon’s Fate?

The Ataribox is an exciting idea, but it brings with it a scary case of deja vu

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A company from console gaming’s golden era returns with the promise of a modern day console meant to attract not only classic gamers and newcomers alike. A sleek, shiny console meant to sit in your entertainment center alongside the rest of your stable of powerful, modern gaming hardware. No, we’re not talking about the recently-unveiled Ataribox, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Instead, we’re talking about the Coleco Chamelon (read The Coleco Chameleon is nothing but a scam).

From the outset, their stories are very similar. After first being unveiled, the ill-fated console set the retro gaming community ablaze with excitement. Gaming’s crustier demographic – of which myself am a member – was enamored with the shiny concept renderings of the Atari Jaguar-like console (which was no mere coincidence, as it was actually constructed using the same mold as Atari’s 64-bit system). The system marked the return of cartridge-based gaming, and was built upon the promise of bringing retro-inspired titles to the modern era.

The Coleco Chameleon wowed many with its glossy yet retro design, but ultimately proved to be an embarrassing case of vaporware.

However, RetroVGS, the company responsible for developing the Chameleon, quickly squandered any good will they had mustered from fans when it was revealed that the prototype unit on display at February 2016’s American International Toy Fair was proven to be little more than a SNES crammed into an Atari Jaguar shell. RetroVGS tried to save face by posting pictures of a revised prototype on their Facebook page, but eagle-eyed gamers noticed this new evidence was nothing but a hastily duct-taped Jaguar shell with a PCI captured card inside of it. Suffice it to say, the damage was done. Coleco Holdings issued an ultimatum, demanding RetroVGS provide them with a working prototype or they would no longer back the project.

Unsurprisingly, no working prototype was ever provided, and the Coleco Chameleon ended up joining Infinium Labs’ Phantom in the annals of console gaming vaporware.

Now, that’s not to say that the Ataribox is destined to suffer the same fate. But the similarities are pretty striking. After all, much like Coleco Holdings was not the same Coleco Industries that rose to prominence in 1982 with the Colecovision, the Ataribox merely shares the same name as the iconic video game company that Nolan Bushnell turned into what would become the multi-billion dollar industry we know today. And while I’d love nothing more than to see more competition in the industry, it’s hard to imagine today’s Atari having the resources to realistically exist in the same ecosystem as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo – let alone go toe-to-toe with gaming’s mighty triumvirate of console manufacturers.

It’s also worth noting that while Atari certainly has a wealth of IP at their disposal, I can’t see many gamers waiting with bated breath for a gritty, modern re-imaging of Adventure, or a reboot of the arcade classic A.P.B. that explores the tensions associated with law enforcement and society today. Though I have to admit, with how crummy the Tony Hawk’ Pro Skater games have been in recent years, I wouldn’t mind seeing 720° get the radical remake it deserves.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind seeing Alien vs Predator get a spiffed up port.

Also, I can’t help but wonder who exactly would develop games for a newly-minted Atari console. The company’s last hardware release, the Atari Jaguar, was a spectacular failure that’s still panned to this day, over two decades after the company pulled the plug on the feisty feline. It’s hard to imagine any major studios taking a gamble and developing games for a platform that is almost destined to have a very slow and painful start finding its footing in the industry. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to see that happen! But then again, I’d also love to see SEGA return to the forefront of console manufacturing. And that’s just not happening.

Of course, none of us really know what’s in store for the Ataribox. And to be fair, Atari has done a good job of keeping expectations in check with today’s announcement:

“We know you are hungry for more details; on specs, games, features, pricing, timing etc. We’re not teasing you intentionally; we want to get this right, so we’ve opted to share things step by step as we bring Ataribox to life, and to listen closely to Atari community feedback as we do so,” Atari stated in today’s newsletter. “There are a lot of milestones, challenges and decision points in front of us in the months ahead. We’ll be giving you lots more information and status updates as we progress, and we are thrilled to have you along for the ride!”

Here’s hoping they’re able to learn from the mistakes of the ill-fated Chameleon and deliver some welcome competition to the market. But if history has taught me anything, I’ll be taking today’s news with a healthy dose of salt and skepticism.

So, what are your thoughts on the Ataribox? Do you think there’s any chance of the console carving out its own niche in today’s market? Sound off in the comments section and let us know.

Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: Dodonpachi Dai-Ou-Jou (Arcade), Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Switch), Neo Turf Masters (Neo Geo)

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