For the better part of 40 years, chances are you’d catch me with some kind of joystick, gamepad or controller in my hands.
Today, I’ve mostly ceded my “video game enthusiast” title to my son, but every once in a while I delve back into the thrilling worlds of “Halo,” “Call of Duty” or “God of War” for an evening of frantic, digital bliss.
This Christmas, though, something different happened. A few gifts from my thoughtful wife took me back to the golden age of gaming — a simpler time when frames per second, high-definition sound and 3-D graphics were of no concern. We only wanted games that were good.
The three main gifts I found under the Christmas tree this year were a set of “Space Invaders” pins and two portable video game systems. The first was a “Pac-Man” system with three “Pac-Man” games, of course: the original dot chomper, a “Pac-Man”-themed Tetris clone and a 3-D “Pac-Man” game.
The second system was the Sega Genesis — Ultimate Portable Game Player from AtGames. This neat little system is roughly the size of my iPhone and weighs about half as much. It’s got a 3.2 inch LCD display, a rechargeable battery, an earphone jack and an AV port in case you want to hook the system up to a television or computer monitor.
The gamepad itself is smaller than the one found on a traditional Sega Genesis controller, but it still mostly gets the job done. However, its size does make it hard to get off a fireball in “Street Fighter” or a teleport move in “Mortal Kombat.” That’s going to take some practice.
Game-wise, the system has 85 built in. Forty-one of the games are first or third party titles, like “Altered Beast,” “Columns,” the “Golden Axe” and “Mortal Kombat” series, two of the “Phantasy Star” titles and four “Sonic the Hedgehog” games.
The remaining 44 games are home-brew and knock-off titles apparently made by AtGames. Don’t waste your time with most of those. You’ll find more entertaining games on your Roku controller.
Quite possibly the best feature of this Sega Genesis handheld is the SD slot on the top of the system. Its purpose is to store saved games and provide space for additional games downloaded from the AtGames website.
Or, more importantly, you can use it store Sega Genesis ROMs. You have to use a certain type of SD card, one 4GB or smaller, and you have to format it using a special program. Once I jumped through all of those hoops, I easily added an additional 80 Genesis titles to my lineup and have been playing it ever since.
AtGames left off “Street Fighter 2,” a decent racing game, “Madden” football and the entire “Streets of Rage” series. Heresy, I say. It was my duty to correct their slight.
Retro games aren’t anything new. They’ve been around for years with compilations on the original Playstation and in the digital stores of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. On the physical side, retro consoles have been in stores since at least 2004 when Atari began producing its “Flashback” series of systems.
In 2011, AtGames took over the license for Atari and since then has created a nice selection of throwback systems with tons of built-in 2600 games. The company has also produced flashback Colecovision and Intellivision consoles and handhelds with Sega and Atari games.
There are “plug and play” controllers, tabletop arcades and even $300 mini-arcade games that stand about four feet tall. There’s really never been a better time to be a retro gamer. It’s fairly economical, the systems are everywhere and in some cases you can even add games to your library.
So take the retro plunge. I’m sure your thumbs will appreciate it.
Matthew Lane covers Kingsport government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]