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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. Before founding the site, Frank was a staff writer for the blogs Gaming Judgement and NuclearGeek.
  • hvd hvd

    in a word nope.

    • Francis DiPersio

      I really do hope they manage to surprise us. However, if history is any indication I think they’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

      Some people have already noticed that the ports displayed on the Ataribox are identical to those on the Raspberry Pi. Here’s hoping that this doesn’t end up being a Pi stuffed into a stylish shell. If it is, the parallels to the Chameleon would be pretty unavoidable.

      Still, like I said in my piece, I do want this to be a success. After all, the more games to play, the better off things are for all of us. As it stands I’m just having a hell of a time seeing how Atari can pull this off.

      • hvd hvd

        generally it wont do good at all.only the ps4 and xbox one are popular
        this gen anything else takes a dive at least as consoles go.atari is trying to do what nontendo did with the mini nes and snes..

        • DarthDiggler

          @hvd_hvd:disqus

          Its not directly competing with the XB1 / PS4. It will likely ship for $100 or so, maybe less.

          • hvd hvd

            like i said its like the nes mini or snes mini.

    • DarthDiggler

      @hvd_hvd:disqus

      Do you ever bother to cite the reasons for your opinion or do yo always just present your opinion as fact?

      The fact is the Ataribox won’t have to hit a high sales threshold for it
      to be profitable. We are talking about games that are 35-40 years
      old. You could likely store the entire library of Atari games on a
      floppy disk (1.44MB) so storage wont be a huge cost. The hardware
      needed to emulate the 2600 would be minimal, but likely the minimum
      processing power you can buy these days is substantial enough to run
      other more modern games.

      I am not sure if this will fly on the shelves but if they get it out in time for Christmas they may make some profits off of this box. I will say this, the design it is an excellent take on that old iconic design. Atari is an icon the 2600 was one of the first consumer devices, in some ways it ushered in the home computer age.

      • hvd hvd

        its called common sense some thing you dont have i guess.

        • DarthDiggler

          @hvd_hvd:disqus

          Its called lack of articulation on your part.

  • SinkingSage

    what’s with the horrible scrolling on this website?

    • Francis DiPersio

      Not sure what the problem is – it’s scrolling just fine for me.

      • SinkingSage

        Curiously, it fixed itself.

        • Francis DiPersio

          Happy to hear it! Could’ve been a conflict with a browser extension or some other fluke. In any case, I’m glad it sorted itself out.

          • DarthDiggler

            @francisdipersio:disqus

            I think sometimes Disqus causes issues with that, or “endless pages” can cause issues with that especially with mobile.

  • Galgomite

    It’s frustrating to read about this system. I think everyone’s in agreement that it won’t be competing with the Big 3. So what is it? And what can it do that they can’t? What can it do that even a smart phone or Pi can’t? Does Atari even still own its own IP beyond the logo??
    I HAVE been waiting for a console that improves upon the Wii’s Virtual Console and lets us buy and keep classic games… but I don’t think Atari is even up to that substantial challenge.

  • NeoMahi

    The fact they want to go for the Retro fanbase and there’s no cartridge slot is a major problem. It sounds to me like this is for retro enthusiasts but they can’t treat it like a retro console. Nope, Atari it’s over before it starts. I’ll pull out my boxed 2600, plus, what are you going to sell on it? Atari games are cheap and you own nothing exclusive. You sold off everything you had and dissappeared into the Abyss. I can play Atari games on just about anything I want including my smartphone.

    • DarthDiggler

      @NeoXMahi:disqus

      LOL Do you really think most Atari fans held on to their cartridges?

      Do you understand the cost of that cartridge slot would likely make the whole project not profitable.

      Seriously think about how silly what you said is. You are talking about 30-40 year old cartridges. Not saying you don’t have any, but most people DO NOT. There are few sources to buy these cartridges today so it would be a compete waste of money for Atari to include a slot.

  • DarthDiggler

    @francisdipersio:disqus

    If the mission of this website is to inform people about “news” why was this article published?

    The Coleco Chameleon was crowdfunded. They were supposed to introduce it on KickStarter and it moved to IndieGoGo, which raises major red flags since KickStarter requires a prototype. They also raised the asking price $200 from $150 to $350. Yet another red flag. At that point if anyone was “buying” into the Coleco Chameleon, they only have themselves to blame. Let’s not forget that crowdfunding has risks associated with it. KickStarter and IndieGoGo are not Amazon.

    As far as I know the Ataribox is simply being built and brought to market. Sure Atari is not the company they used to be, but we don’t have any red flags to cite as an issue at this point.

    How can you justify any comparison to Coleco Chameleon is even valid let alone “newsworthy”?

    • Disco Grover

      No, this will indeed be crowdfunded, via a report from Atari SA themselves.

      It’s comparable to the Chameleon because it’s a lot of hype and bluster with no real information. Also, much like “Coleco” today, “Atari” nothing more than a holding company that owns a few IPs with no ties to the brand that they’re trying to glom onto. They’re attempting to cash in on nostalgia and memories that they had no hand in creating – unless you’re particularly fond of Infogrames latter ’00s output.

      “Atari” today is literally about a dozen people in an office, mostly paper pushers. There is no development team, no people on staff capable of creating hardware or software.

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